Like many of my generation, I’ve remembered my fair share of lines from The Princess Bride. But as an Australian, I always took a small amount of offence at Vizzini’s dizzying intellect:
Man in Black: "You've made your decision then?"
Vizzini: "Not remotely. Because iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you."
Now, we have our fair share of criminals, but entirely peopled with them? Of course, it’s an easy mistake to make. After all, modern Australia was founded as an English Penal Colony.
I recently enjoyed walking with a guest to our country, showing them around the sights of Sydney, where I was able to point out the chiseled stone that had been carved in labour camps by chained convicts almost 200 years ago. Vast architectural achievements stand as a monument, not only to colonial rule, but also the skill of a generation of criminals. As we meandered through these narrow lanes, my guest came to a stop, hands pressed against the cold stone, and whispered, “If only these walls could talk.”
Yet they do speak.
They speak of a system of crime and punishment, of hard unyielding justice, of a cold systemic response to Britain’s social disorder. The laneways we strolled through were hemmed in by walls the law built. And that’s the reality of it. Long before towering buildings cast their shadows over our modern cityscape, the foundations of our harbour-side home were laid as the consequences of transgressors. Every rough chiseled stone is a testimony to our past, that Australia was built on the back of those who were sent here against their will, required to labour under the curse of the law they had broken.
But there are other walls that speak a far greater story—a deeper story that has its foundations in eternal realities. In our gospel-centric pursuit, there are some who seek to tear down these walls, wary of law and the prison it formed.
Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. - Galatians 3:23-26
Don’t despise the walls that law built, they serve a significant purpose. The prison was built in order for us to open our eyes and long for freedom. This guardian hemmed us in, a corral that funnelled us toward grace—and though it could never provide us righteousness, it did (and still does) point us to a righteousness not of our own, a righteousness found in Christ.
For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. - Romans 7:5-6
In the same way, as the walls of old Sydney speak of our past and act as a testimony to where we came from—yet do not define us as a nation—so do the walls of God’s law. Our past does not define our present, and thanks be to God, it does not define our future.
The walls that law built were established through the labour of transgressors—us. The price of sin must be paid, the curse must collect its toll. We laboured and served under the old written code, forever building the walls that tormented our flesh and would only lead to death, until of course, the liberating force of the unrivalled power of God broke through.
Now we still serve, but we serve a victorious Saviour—a prophet, priest, and king, who forever reigns in eternal glory.
The walls that law built live on, but only to reveal the overcoming power of grace.
Come visit me sometime, and I’ll guide you through the alleyways that twist and turn between the walls that convicts built. But lift your eyes a moment and you will see, looming large and casting their shadow long, the towering skyscrapers of modern Sydney.
The walls that law built live on in our lives also, but looming large above them, casting shadows long, is the towering image of the cross of Christ.
I’m grateful for the guardian, but I only have eyes for Jesus.