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Founders/Natural Law

Christianity and Law – Natural and Biblical Law

Natural law includes God’s general revelation to us of both physical and morallaws. Christians believe that we can know God’s will or natural law through ourconscience, our inherent sense of right and wrong. The Apostle Paul says,“Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the [Mosaic] law, do by nature thingsrequired by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do nothave the law . . . ” (Romans 2:14).

William Blackstone, one of the most influential figures in the history of law,describes the Christian view of natural law this way: “Man, considered as acreature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his creator, for he is anentirely dependent being. . . . And consequently as man depends absolutely uponhis maker for every thing, it is necessary that he should in all points conformto his maker’s will. This will of his maker is called the law of nature.”1

Blackstone’s view is consistent with the biblical account of creation, moralorder, and divine law. The Apostle Paul explains the concept of natural law inRomans 1 and 2, claiming that we all have a fundamental knowledge of theexistence of a transcendent law that we must obey, yet that we consciously failto obey it. Our fallen, sinful nature does not destroy our awareness of thisgeneral revelation. We may “see through a glass darkly,” yet we still see. Weknow intuitively that certain things are outside the moral order (Romans1:26–32), such as homosexuality, hating God, spitefulness, pride, boasting,inventing evil, disobeying parental authority, breaking covenants, unnaturalaffections, and unmercifulness.

Christianity and Law – Grounded in God
The general revelation of natural law is grounded in God. Understood properly,natural law explains why each of us is accountable to God for our actions: weknow a transcendent law exists, yet we consciously flaunt it. This truth mustbe incorporated into any successful legal system.

In addition to natural law, Christian legal theory must take into account God’sspecial revelation of His moral order and divine law, the Bible. Natural lawgives us a general concept of right and wrong, while the Bible fleshes out thatskeletal framework, telling us what God considers moral and lawful.

Leviticus 18 provides a good example. Here God tells Moses not to follow thelegal structures either of Egypt, where the Israelites had been, or of Canaan,where they were going. God gave them clear laws that forbade certain practices:incest, adultery, infanticide (abortion), homosexuality, and bestiality. Thesepractices continue to intrigue fallen people throughout history, from NewTestament times up through today. God considers these practices abominationscontrary to human nature (Romans1:26–27), undermining the dignity and sanctity of His vision for theChristian home and family.

God’s general revelation and special revelation, considered together, allow forthe implementation of a legal system that is independent of human wisdom.General and special revelation are accessible to everyone and provide theguidance necessary to create a reasonably just legal system. Blackstonesummarizes, “Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law ofrevelation [the Bible], depend all human laws. . . .”2


Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: TheCollision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), DavidNoebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, andthe Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in theoriginal.

1 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, inBlackstone’s Commentaries with Notes of Reference to the Constitution andLaws of the Federal Government of the United States and of the Commonwealth ofVirginia, 5 vols., ed., St. George Tucker (Philadelphia, PA: William YoungBirch and Abraham Small, 1803; reprint, South Hackensack, NJ: Rothman Reprints,1969), 1:38–9.
2 John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution (GrandRapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 58.

Reviving the Rotten Corpse of Natural Law

When Supreme CourtJustice Clarence Thomas appealed to Natural Law theory in some of his legalopinions and writings, there were those on the Senate Judiciary Committeeduring his confirmation hearings in September 1991 who took exception. The mostvocal critic was former Senator and now Vice President Joseph Biden. As long as Thomas defined NaturalLaw as Biden did, Thomas’ appeal to it was acceptable. But if he defined it as“Higher Law,” the belief that God was its author as eighteenth-century jurist WilliamBlackstone (1723–1780) did, then his view of Natural Law would not be tolerated. Biden wrote an articlethat appeared in the September 8, 2001 issue of the Washington Post[1]in which he claimed the following for hisversion of natural law:

  • It does not “function as being a specific moral code regulating individual behavior.”
  • It is not “a static set of unchanging principles.”
  • It is “an evolving body of ideals.”

Basically, law iswhatever the courts say it is. “In our system,” Biden wrote, “the soleobligation of a Supreme Court justice is to the Constitution. Natural justicecan supply one of the important means of understanding the Constitution, butnatural law can never be used to reach a decision contrary to a fair reading ofthe Constitution itself.” This is why the Left wants to be the gatekeepers tothe Supreme Court by mandating a liberal litmus test to all prospective judges.Biden’s article does not tell us anything about how we determine what’s rightor wrong. Morality is a matter of “individual choice,” and if you can getenough justices to agree with you, then it’s the law, and they are the ones whodetermine what “individual choice” means. But no matter the form of government,authority and law are foundational.

Every system ofgovernment exists to produce or enforce certain laws, and every law necessarilyentails a set of moral assumptions. All morality—even that which is usuallysupposed to be, or touted as being, based upon an “irreligious” oranti-religious” philosophical foundation—is ultimately religious in its nature,since it is founded upon . . . fundamental assumptions about the nature ofreality, about God, man, and things, which are taken on (a usuallyunacknowledged) faith. In this deepest sense, then, the question for everylegal system is not whether it will be based upon “religion” but rather whichreligion or religious philosophy will be its foundation?[2]

The modernconception of law is a far cry from the moral principles on which America wasfounded. Critics point outthat America had its forms of injustice, for example, slavery. True enough, butit was because there was a “Higher Law” ethic based on biblical moral valuesthat slavery was overturned. President Harry S. Truman voiced the commonand prevailing sentiment of his day:

The fundamentalbasis of this nation’s laws was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamentalbasis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings which we get from Exodusand St. Matthew, from Isaiah and St. Paul. I don’t think we comprehend thatenough these days.

If we don’t havethe proper fundamental moral background, we will finally wind up with atotalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody.[3]

We cannot livewithin the fluid boundaries of legal relativism. There must be a definitive andfinal legal standard of appeal to justify moral decisions at the personal andgovernmental levels. If not, then one judge’s opinion is as good (or as bad) asanother.

There is a longhistory in the United States where

John QuincyAdams (1767–1848) stated,“The law given from Sinai was a civil and municipal as well as a moral andreligious code; it contained many statutes adapted to that time only, and tothe particular circumstances of the nation to whom it was given; they could ofcourse be binding upon them, and only upon them, until abrogated by the sameauthority which enacted them, as they afterward were by the Christiandispensation: but many others were of universal application – laws essential tothe existence of men in society, and most of which have been enacted by everynation, which professed any code of laws.” He added that: “Vain indeed would bethe search among the writings of [secular history] . . . to find so broad, socomplete and so solid a basis of morality as this Decalogue lays down.”[4]

John Witherspoon (1723–1794), the president of what latercame to be known as Princeton and a signer of the Declaration of Independence,wrote that “moral law published upon Mount Sinai [is] the publication orsummary of that immutable law of righteousness , which is the duty ofcreatures, and must accompany the administration of every covenant which Godmakes with man.”[5]

John Jay (1745–1829), one of the authors of TheFederalist Papers and served as the first Chief Justice of the UnitedStates Supreme Court, wrote the following in a letter dated April 15, 1818 tohis friend John Murray: “[T]he law was given by Moses, not however in his individualor private capacity, but as the agent or instrument, and by the authority ofthe Almighty. The law demanded exact obedience, and proclaimed: ‘Cursed isevery one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book ofthe law to do them.’”[6] In that same letter, he wrote:

The inspiredprophets, on the contrary, express the most exalted ideas of the law. Theydeclare that the law of the Lord is perfect, that the statutes of the Lord areright; and that the commandment of the Lord is pure; that God would magnify thelaw and make it honorable, etc.

Our Savior himselfassures us that he came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but tofulfill; that whoever shall do and teach the commandments, shall be calledgreat in the kingdom of heaven; that it is easier for heaven and earth to pass,than one tittle of the law to fail [Matt. 5:17–18]. This certainly amounts to afull approbation of it. Even after the resurrection of our Lord, and after thedescent of the Holy Spirit, and after the miraculous conversion of Paul, andafter the direct revelation of the Christian dispensation to him, he pronouncedthis memorable encomium on the law, viz.: “The law is holy, and thecommandments holy, just, and good” [Rom. 7:12; also see 1 Tim. 1:8].

There are a numberof theologians who are trying to resurrect natural law as a secular alternativeto specially revealed law, that is, laws that are found in the Bible. Generalrevelation and its moral compatriot natural law can never stand on their ownwhen it comes to moral particulars. I suspect that advocates of natural laware cheating when they claim that they can build an ethical system independentof special revelation and then further claim that this can be done by moralrebels. They seem to maintain that their moon (natural law) is an independentlight not in need of the reflective light from the sun (special revelation).While they try to establish the independency of natural law, they are secretlyusing the sun’s rays (the whole Bible) to give light to their moon. Natural lawadvocates “are like the Irishman who preferred the moon to the sun, because thesun shines in the day-time when there is no need of it, while the moon shinesin the night time; so these moralists, shining by the borrowed, reflected lightof Christianity, think they have no need of the sun, from whose radiance theyget their pale moonlight.”[7]

A whole‑Bibleethic is the light by which all social theories gain their reflected light. The further we move away from the light ofScripture, the darker our world becomes. With man’s “cauterized andtraumatized” sinful nature, there is no possible way that we can move in thedirection of natural law for the development of a comprehensive ethical socialtheory. “Such has been the deteriorating influence of sin that ‘the [work ofthe] law written on the heart’ and ‘the light of nature,’ although theseremain, no longer suffice as the organ of signifying God’s will to man. Asupernatural revelation has been necessary to reveal the law of duty, as wellas to reveal the method of salvation through redemption.”[8]


Then there isthe Darwin problem. Naturallaw died in 1859 with the publication of On the Origin of Species.“Charles Darwin destroyed natural law theory in biological science. . . . Hissuccessors destroyed natural law theory in social science. In the 1920’s,quantum physics destroyed natural law theory in the subatomic world. Thisimmediately began to undermine modern legal theory.”[9]

Prior to Darwin,“the law of nature,” as English jurist William Blackstone put it, was “dictatedby God himself” and “binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at alltimes: no human laws are in validity, if contrary to this; and such of them asare valid derive all their force, and all their authority, mediately orimmediately, from this original. . . . Upon these two foundations, the law ofnature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, nohuman laws should be suffered to contradict these.”[10] Blackstone could say this because the Biblehad permeated his world, and it was accepted as a direct revelation from God.The people of his day were not finding moral particulars in natural law; theywere reading what they knew of the Bible into nature and created what theyclaimed was a stand-alone moral guide for the nations.

Natural lawadvocates are trying to raise a corpse. The shattered foundation of natural law theory, like Humpty Dumpty,can never be put together again when evolution remains our national religion.If the day ever comes when Darwin is denied, as one day it will be, why wouldChristians want to advocate natural law over against the Bible for the nations?If natural law is to be the objective standard for the “civil kingdom,” thenwhy was Israel, with its repository of special revelation, to be an example tothe nations based on the laws that God had given them?

“See, I have taughtyou statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that youshould do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. So keep and dothem, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of thepeoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation isa wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a godso near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? Or what greatnation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole lawwhich I am setting before you today?” (Deut. 4:5–8).

There was a timewhen world-and-life-view Christianity was a beacon to the nations when thatbeacon was the light of God’s Word. If natural law is what we are offering theworld, then heaven help the world.

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  1. Joseph R. Biden, Jr., “Law and Natural Law: Questions for Judge Thomas,” The Washington Post (September 8, 1991), C-1. []
  2. Archie P. Jones, “Christianity and the First Amendment: The Truth about the Religion Clauses of the Constitution,” (unpublished manuscript), 3. []
  3. Harry S. Truman, Harry S. Truman: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States Containing the Public Messages, Speeches, and Statements of the President—January 1 to December 31, 1950 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1965), 197. []
  4. John Quincy Adams, Letters of John Quincy Adams, to His Son, on the Bible and Its Teachings (Auburn, NY: Derby Miller & Co., 1848), 61, 70. []
  5. John Witherspoon, The Works of Rev. John Witherspoon, 4 vols., 2nd rev. ed. (Philadelphia: William W. Woodward, 1802), 4:117–118. []
  6. John Jay, The Life of John Jay with Selections from His Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers, 2 vols. (New York: J & J. Harper, 1833), 2:385. []
  7. A. T. Pierson, The Second Coming of Christ (Philadelphia, PA: Henry Altemus, 1896), 35. []
  8. A.A. Hodge, Evangelical Theology: Lectures on Doctrine (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, [1890] 1990), 279. []
  9. Gary North, Political Polytheism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), xxii. []
  10. William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, 4 vols. (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, [1765–1769] 1979), 1:38, 41, 42. []

 By Gary DeMar | American Vision, Published: July 17, 2011