By: Jesse Prewitt
Helms School Of Government
Submitted To Dr. Douglas Walker
In Partial Fulfillment Of Requirements For
PhD in Public Policy: Education Policy
Natural Law, The State and The Gospel
May 06, 2022
Is The Christian Conception of Natural Law Indispensable To A Coherent Moral Theory Of The State?
The question proposed for this assignment can only be answered when we discover the beginning, or source of the natural law. For natural law to support a coherent moral theory of the state, we must explore natural law as far back in history as possible, and determine who established it. Could it have been Plato? Plato is said to have lived somewhere between 428 – 347 B.C. We most assuredly find traces of what we can call natural law theories in his writings. In The Republic, Book 1, we find a rather lengthy discussion between Plato, his brothers, and a young man named Thrasymachus. In this discussion the subjects of both injustice and justice are parsed until the young Thrasymachus admits, though reluctantly, that his previous position on the matter was in error. They finally agree that a bad soul rules things badly, but a good soul does all things well. This would give an answer to the morality question. They also discover in their exposition of the subject that just people live better and happier lives than the unjust, as the latter are constantly encountering life coming back at them. I think we all witness this daily, as I know I do. The element of being coherent is also answered here, because it is rather easy to understand. This may be due to our having lived our own lives, and having the benefit of history to help us understand what happens to those choosing to live life outside the law.
Aristotle lived from 384-322 B. C. This student of Plato had some ideas of his own that were critical of Socrates and his guardians of the ideal society Socrates had envisioned. In his Politics, Book 2, Aristotle makes it clear that the Socratic idea of these protectors of his ideal society having wives and children in common, would dilute love and families would be torn, and although he didn’t use the term, moral, he used sufficient language to describe what being immoral is like when it comes to wives and children. This example also answers to a coherent moral theory of life and society.
In the following pages we will explore, argue, question, and work our way through this subject matter, and I intend to demonstrate that the natural law did not begin with either of these aforementioned philosophers, nor with their contemporaries, or even their philosophical progeny in the years after. The concept of natural law has lively roots as far back as King Solomon, some 900 years before Christ. In the pages to follow, we will demonstrate that natural law is actually precepts or principles established long before any of the philosophers of whom we have secular records. There is a Biblical record that establishes this natural law. It comes from God Jehovah. We find it in the Book of Proverbs and even in the Decalogue—The Ten Commandments.
Natural Law From The Beginning
Is natural law a real thing? Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger thinks so. “He views it as a fact”, writes philosopher, professor, and best-selling author, J. Budziszewski. The cardinal, later pontiff, says that natural law is a feature of the world that has much to do with the constitution of the human person, and also with all of created reality as a whole. Budziszewski notes that natural law is actually original law. He gives the concept of murder, and the natural law forbidding it. No reasonable person would argue with murder being a law. But where did that come from? Who wrote that law, inscribed it into the books, and promulgated it for enforcement? The Ten Commandments are recorded in the Bible in Exodus 20:1-17, and again in Deuteronomy 5:7-21. Budziszewski eluded to the second tablet, and it is plain to see that the first half of these are Godward, or vertical, while the second half are manward, or horizontal. I have often referred to this as a requirement for us to make our lives right with God, first, then we are equipped to make life right with our fellow man.
The Decalogue far outdates any of the philosophers we mentioned earlier. Since the first five commandments deal with man’s relationship and fellowship with Almighty God, then the remainder deal with our relationship with each other. I think this equates to the regulation of morality and justice in our society. So much so that leading business management professors are pointing to the Ten Commandments (TC) as a document that needs to be viewed as “general moral guidelines.” The authors note that students of business ethics and management seem to agree, even though the paper reviews the Ten commandments in light of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, that the Ten Commandments are rules that should be the general moral guidelines for both individuals as well as groups. Authors Ali and Gibbs (1998) have previously argued for the regard of the TC as guidelines for personal and business conduct. The article notes that debate and discussion is something that is more often found in religion and philosophical studies, however, most scholars, in general, tend to avoid invoking religious dogma in the academic world, yet issues involving spiritual life are something not to be meddled with. These ancient rules are general rules for living and conducting business in a global society. Christians consider this as the basis of our moral conduct. Penny Noyes writing for Christianity Today says that the Ten Commandments still influence our society today. Noyes states that the law given to Moses provided the foundation for Israel’s society and they also provided the foundation for personal and property rights in our modern legal system. Noyes also notes that although most Christians do not view keeping the 10 Commandments as necessary to, or required for, their salvation, yet they still hold these basic laws as the foundation of God’s moral law. Jesus called us to an even higher standard than simply, mechanically obeying the moral law, but keeping its essence in our hearts. Jesus pointed to the commandment not to commit adultery, found in Exodus 20:14 and also in Deuteronomy 5:18, and noted that even though the physical act is not committed, it is committing adultery in one’s heart to look at a woman with lust. This points to Christians’ conception of natural law as indispensable to a moral society. The Ten Commandments are the original law, therefore the source of natural law.
This original law is further enjoined in the Proverbs. As Dr. Harry Ironside notes, “The last seven verses of Ecclesiastes forms a fitting introduction to the book which in our Bibles immediately precedes it.” Dr. Ironside states that these seemingly, “common-sense epigrams” are meant for the “every-day godliness” of the follower of Christ. This introduction says that the conclusion to all learning is to fear God and keep His commandment, because this applies to every person.
Dr. J. Vernon McGee notes that, “the Book of Proverbs is not a haphazard book.” He states that this book tells a story—a connected story. It is about a young man that is learning from his father and mother about the world and living a moral, godly life, one that honors God. This researcher/author notes that the propositional statement of the book of Proverbs is found in Chapter 1, verse 7: The fear of The Lord is the beginning of knowledge. The idea here is that this young man finds his initial knowledge from God’s Instruction and builds upon that foundation in his life. I have been reading Proverbs, a chapter per day, for most of my adult life, as a devotional. Once I was instructed by Dr. McGee that the book is a connected story, I have never seen Proverbs the same, it comes alive as I read it. I am instructed to live a godly, moral life as I travel through this life with Christ as my King. This expansion of Godly Truth stems from the original law—God’s Law, and it is indispensable to my Christian life.
The ancient pre-cursors of natural law, namely, Plato and Aristotle, were able to extract something of divine origin from that which is apparent to any human being, and it is what we refer to as natural law. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes: “If happiness is activity in accordance with excellence, it is reasonable that it should be in accordance with the highest excellence; and this will be that of the best thing in us.” Aristotle then notes something very profound. He says: “Whether it be intellect or something else (italics mine) that is this element which is thought to be our natural ruler and guide (italics mine) and to take thought of things noble and divine.” I italicized phrases to draw attention to that which can be easily overlooked. Aristotle is musing on what that something may be which is thought to be our natural ruler and guide. That natural ruler is the natural law, which is easily understood to be that which is in our nature as humans to understand. We instinctively know that certain things are right and others are wrong. This is easily seen as what the philosopher is referring to as our guide.
Aristotle knew over 2000 years ago what J. Budziszewski wrote of concerning natural law. Budziszewski notes, “A law is written on the hearts of men, but it is everywhere entangled with the evasions and subterfuges of men.” He is referring to our conscience. The Apostle Paul spoke of it in that God did not leave Himself without witness, even though He had previously permitted the pagan nations to go their own ways. God left us with this “witness” of Himself and His law, the original law, natural law. As mentioned earlier, humans know that sleeping with someone else’s wife or husband is wrong, humans know that stealing is wrong, and this is why they flee from authorities. It is common knowledge that the willful taking of another’s life is wrong. The human conscience is wired with this knowledge. If we were computers we could say we come pre-loaded with this software in our psyche. God has not left Himself without witness to His natural law. It is vital to the concept of a moral society.
Cicero refers to this as being from the origin of laws, or the source of obligations, which he notes as the universal nature of things. Cicero is said to have sought to convince his fellow citizens who held the sentiment of national honor, that the integrity and excellence of the state must also consist of, and be practiced in, the excellence of their lives and manners. As a philosopher as well as a statesman, he knew that the state must be reflected in the morality of the people who make up that state. He knew that man is degenerated and therefore manners are corrupted.
Cicero proclaimed that those who preside over the state should obey the precepts of Plato, that the should ignore their own private interests and watch over the well-being of the citizens of whom they are charged to protect. The other is that the benefit of those in whom they are placed to oversee is to come first. This answers to the question of the coherent moral theory of the state, and whether natural law is necessary to that condition.
With the idea that natural law is derived from original law—from God’s law, and seeing that the ancient philosophers could understand where it came from, or at least that natural law was of divine origin, and further that Cicero understood that natural law was necessary to govern, then it follows that this same natural law is necessary to our society today.
Augustine noted that, “The universal and eternal law governing all things created is but the divine wisdom.” And that, “The divine will itself is the divine law.” Augustine held that the personal will and wisdom of God not only created the moral order of things, but constitutes and maintains it, as well. He further maintained that this fact leads everything to its proper order, which he held was divinely ordained by God. Seemingly hidden in these statements is that it all has an end, a purpose. He also held that this supreme reason/intellect which must be obeyed, but by this same law the wicked deserve their misery (they receive the punishment of their disobedience), but the righteous receive the blessed life, referring to the temporal life lived on this earth, assumed they modified that life to the supreme law.
Augustine believed that not only was God’s law the eternal order of everything that exists or moves, but also is not the only basis for morals and law. He believed that that which is orderly is also good, and the most orderly constitutes the most good. He held that nothing is above God Himself. He believed that the moral value of man’s action and will is not to be found in the freedom of his action, but in the determination of his will, viewed through this eternal order, and man’s acceptance of it as law and good. To this researcher, the crux of the matter, as far as Augustine is concerned, is that he believed the natural law is “imprinted in our soul.” This position held by Augustine, as well as the previous philosophers mentioned in this study, draw a conclusion that what we refer to as the natural law, is not only natural to man in the sense that it is imprinted on man’s soul, but it is placed there by man’s creator, and man cannot help but be aware of its existence. It is natural to him. This imprinted law affects man’s morals, to the good or to the bad, depending on man’s reaction to this law. Man is the owner of a fallen spiritual nature due to the event of the Garden of Eden. Man of the age of maturity, or accountability, is responsible for his own condition, and answerable to God who created him. There is an initial choice to be made. This choice is more like an option seeing that man is already living in his sinful state. Man has the option of continuing as he is to his eternal demise, or turning in faith to the One who extends the offer of Grace, based upon the vicarious work of Christ on the cross of Calvary. The very One who created man is the same One who paid the price for man’s rebellion, and offers Grace to repent and be reconciled to his creator.
In the City of God, Augustine discusses the ultimate ends of good and evil. He mentions that the nature of man sets limits to man and his ability to keep on the right track. He notes that the ultimate good and evil must be found in the man’s soul, body, or both.
Thomas Aquinas wrote that the light of reason is placed by nature in every man. He says that this is to guide him in his acts, toward his end, or purpose. He notes that if man was intended to live alone, he would need nothing further to guide him to his purpose in this life. He would therefore be a king unto himself and God would direct him from on high. However, he states that man is a social being, a political being. He is meant to live with others in a group.
He states that animals are given instincts to guide them; they know their enemy, naturally. This inborn skill, or instinct, is given by God, and they can find food and water by these senses. Aquinas reports that man is not like this. He says man has a general sense of what is needed for his life, but has an inborn need to learn the rest. He holds that man is not capable of learning all these other necessary things alone, but must live in a group so each can help the other. Each has been endowed with different talents or gifts that demonstrate the need for man to live and work together to survive.
This creation of man, as distinguished from the animals, causes man to need to live in villages, or communities with others. It is natural for man to live in this society of many other humans. This need to live with others renders the necessity to have rules to govern this society. There must therefor be a governing body to rule this society. In chapter 2, he discusses the different kinds of rule. He makes it clear that if an unjust government is ruled by one that seeks his own benefit, and not the benefit of the society, he is called a tyrant. In the next section he notes that when many govern, the tendency is to have many differing opinions as to how to govern, and this can create a problem. He makes it clear that his preference is that of a king, a good king, that has the best interest of his people in mind and not simply his own.
As we progress, we can see that this natural law, or original law, is not only present, but necessary for the society of man. It requires that man have rules to live by, because man is a social being and needs to live in groups. There must therefore be rules in place to keep the evil in check. This speaks to the question of the moral theory of the state.
Luther wrote on the subject of secular authorities and to what extent they should be obeyed. Luther holds that the penal law was established from the beginning of the world. He says that when Cain killed his brother Abel, he knew it was wrong, and he lived in terror of its punishment. He would not have had this fear if the knowledge of right and wrong had not been placed in him by his creator. God then declared that whoever sheds man’s blood, that by man shall his own blood be shed.
Luther knew that all power and authority comes from God. This is declared in Romans 13. He went on to say that though many believe that Christ abolished the law, Christ actually came to fulfill it. He goes on to say that the tow kingdoms of this earth are the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of the world. Those who belong to the kingdom of God have Christ as their King. These do not live to break the law, but to serve their Lord. The kingdom of this world is where the secular law is needed. He notes Paul’s writings in 1Timothy1:19, where Paul writes that the law is not for the righteous, but for the unrighteous. The unrighteous does not obey the law, therefore there must be the sword (of the law) to compel them to behave.
Now, this point needs to be made. Those of the kingdom of God are not above the law; if we disobey we will suffer the wrath of the sword of the law, as well as those who are of the kingdom of this world. The difference is that we have the spirit of God in our lives and therefore we are guided to obey God, and thus not disobey the law. Those without Christ do have not have the benefit of the leadership of the Spirit of God living and present in the lives, compelling them to do what is right to please God. Luther knew this very well and I have never had the fullest understanding of the principle before I read his treatise on the subject. I am blessed by it.
Hooker got into some trouble in a sermon he presented which went against the teaching of John Calvin, or so some thought. Hooker held that there are two wills in the Lord. The first is an antecedent and the second consequent. The first is that all men should be saved, and the second is, “that those only should be saved that did live answerable to that degree of grace which he had offered, or afforded them.” It has been noted that Hooker no more saw himself as the first Anglican, than Calvin did see himself as the first Calvinist. Hooker was born when Calvin was 45 years old. Hooker grew up reading Calvin. He had some interesting ideas in regard to Calvin’s writings.
I see this as a good thing. I am not of the reformed group; I am a whosoever believer. I fail to see in the Scriptures where God has predetermined any to not believe in Him. In fact He says plainly that He desires all to come to Him in repentance and faith, yet He knows all things, and He knows who will and who won’t. This knowledge does not equal predestination, or determination beforehand. Just because God happens to know the future does not mean that He desires it, or has determined it to be so. The key is that He left that decision to man. The only predestination in Scripture is when He predestinates us to become like Christ once we exercise faith and trust in Him for salvation. Once the Holy Spirit takes residence in us at the salvation experience, God sets us in motion to sanctify us to be like His Son, Jesus. This is a promise to the believer; we are sealed with His Spirit, according to Ephesians 1:13.
This is what every human needs, life and peace in Christ. Without this life in them, they are of the kingdom of the world, and lawless. They are subject to the sword of the law.
John Locke’s, ‘where-ever law ends, tyranny begins”, concept serves as the lynch-pin of the modern notion of the rule of law in a democratic state. This treatise holds that when the law is transgressed by one to the harm of another, even if he is a magistrate, he then ceases to be a magistrate, and is rendered by his violation as simply another individual. He loses his authority when he violates the law he is sworn to uphold. When this sort of lawlessness occurs, he may be legally opposed as if he were simply a robber or a thief.
This concept is vital to our rule of law, and serves to prevent those who would abuse their power. It may not prevent every occurrence, but it prevents most. In a just society, those who represent the law, the authority, should live by that law, or step aside and allow one to fill the position that respects the law. No person respects one in authority who does not respect the law and not only live by it, but acts according to it in their office. All persons under the law of the state are equal in the sight of the law and therefore must be treated with such respect. This was also part of Locke’s philosophy.
Rousseau held that when the prince, or authority, ceases to administer the state in accordance to the law, and usurps the Sovereign power, a change takes place, he says. He stated that the state undergoes a change, and the state is then dissolved. It is replaced with another form of government than that which was before. The one who usurps the power would place himself as master and tyrant over those who he is to lead, and the social contract is broken.
This concept is vital to any society. Those who rule must abide by the law and not fall into pursuing their own private interests, but serve the interest of the society.
John Rawls was a humanist. Rawls is difficult to read, and Pogge states that early on. But this book is a shock to one when we have read others leading up to the end of this study. Rawls is the opposite of all the others. He travels far around the block to find something that has been right there before him all along. He consistently rails about how society should be something that essentially makes everyone happy, or one that best suits the masses. This is an impossible task, and he spent his life in search of it. Like many others, I respect his hard work and his apparent education and knowledge of so many things. However, he takes off from the premise that we don’t have the opportunity we have in this country. He kept mentioning about how that we could find a system of governing that all could essentially agree on in its fundamental structure, leaving room for disagreement and diversity in other areas.
We have this in America! Why do so many attempt to change the basic structure we have already in place? Our founding fathers did not put into place a government structure that forces one religion over another, but to the contrary. Every time I look at our structure, I am amazed at the way it was put together. Our legal system allows all to worship as they please, and as we have noted in those mentioned before this, one cannot take precedent over another, especially to the harm of another. Yet, I witness so many claiming they want more freedom. How much more freedom do you want when you have more personal liberty than any other nation in the world?
There are certain things one cannot do that would infringe upon the liberty of another. My freedom ends where yours begins. As long as I am not taking from your freedom, I can have all of mine I desire. I can’t come over to your house and have a part in your yard without your permission and tear up your property. But, I can have one in my own, and if I tear up my own it is my own problem.
You can worship how you please, or not worship if you please. You cannot come to my church and disturb me, and I cannot come to yours and disturb you, but we are both free to worship or not worship every day, or once a week, as we please. I can’t tell you what to do in your church, and you cannot tell me what to do either.
We all have the right to be safe and sound in our own homes, and free from illegal searches and such. This is not the case in many nations. As I have noted in the paper where some have publicly taken a stand on these subjects, it was not always that way in this country, until the Constitution was written, and some Amendments added.
Through the past couple hundred years, this nation has come a long way. Many have fought for rights that were written down but not enforced. They were a matter of principle and now they are a matter of practice thanks to some who were not afraid to take a stand for what is right.
Rawls seemed to be searching for something he already had but could not see. This also seems to be the case of many others today. Some are screaming for freedoms they were born with, yet don’t realize they have. To demand more rights often is to impede the rights of others, your neighbor. You have the right to live any way you wish, you don’t have the right to insist I agree with it, and say it is okay. Why do you need my approval?
It has been shown that man is a social being and needs others to survive as he was meant to. Of course, we could live alone, but it would be difficult. We were created to be part of a group of other humans. This is a society. This society must have rules to prevent those who live to break rules from imposing their lawlessness on those who obey the law and live the right way.
When lawbreakers protest for the right to break the law, we have a breakdown in our society. One main hot topic is that of the right to abortion. I have people I greatly respect on both side of this issue. Communication is often difficult when many fail to listen to each other. Some say they don’t want to see the unborn harmed in the womb, but stand with those who have been molested, or other circumstances. The current decision is reportedly to simply return the final decision to the states, which is where is should be.
Some are sensitive about this, but there have been millions of babies killed in the past years for the sake of convenience. This is not acceptable. The part that so many seem to ignore on this issue is that of the personal responsibility of those who engage in the sexual act that brings about the issue.
God never intended we be a promiscuous as we are in this world. He intended that people leave that to marriage and that not be something people rush into. We are all guilty before the Lord of lust and other sins, but somewhere we really must admit that all this is not the fault of the innocent ones, who are the unintended victims of our willfulness.
The question we began with was if the Christian conception of natural law is indispensable to the coherent moral theory of the state. I think that we have shown that it is. Some have said that we cannot legislate morality. This is true. We cannot make anyone be moral, that requires a change of heart and only God can do that. However, the rule of law must exist and any society that means to survive must have law. There must be rules. These rules are already there in the form of natural law—God’s law—original law. It has existed since the beginning; it didn’t start with the classical philosophers nor the ones since then, it has always been in existence. God, our creator, imprinted these natural laws upon the minds, soul, hearts of men. Deep within our being we know they are true, this is why many fight so hard and run so fast, in attempt to escape the guilt of their rebellion. The only hope for mankind is Christ. God knew this before the beginning, that’s why He planned to provide the answer for man’s sin—Christ on the cross. He is man’s only hope.
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_____________ The New Testament. Matthew 5:27-28
_____________ The New Testament, Acts 14:16-17