Natural Law

For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even… [they] did change the natural use into that which is against nature”

Rom. 1:26

“Doth not even nature itself teach you that…”

1 Cor. 11:14



Order of Contents

Natural Law in Scripture
The Westminster Standards


On Specific Natural Laws
.      That the Stronger Guide & Protect the Weaker
On How Natural Law & Scripture Interpret Each Other



Natural Law in Scripture

Fulford, Andrew  2013

An Exegetical Case for Natural Law: the Hebrew Scriptures  35 paragraphs

An Exegetical Case for Natural Law: the Christian Scriptures  35 paragraphs



The Westminster Standards

The Westminster Standards on Natural Law

Fesko, J.V.; Richard, Guy – “Natural Theology and the Westminster Confession of Faith”, 2009, 43 pages, being a chapter in The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century, vol. 3  Buy  p. 223-266  

“Stated simply, the Westminster Confession and the divines that composed the document accept natural theology to a greater degree than present-day Reformed theologians.  In order to demonstrate this claim, we will trace the trajectory of natural theology through the thought of Aquinas; the Reformation (1517-1564) – Calvin, Musculus, and Vermigli; Early Orthodoxy, or the post-Reformation (1565-1630/40) – Perkins, Polanus, Du Moulin, and Ussher; and High Orthodoxy (1630/40-1700), during which the Confession was written.” – p. 224-5

The article also includes an analysis of the natural theology of the Westminster divines: William Twisse, Samuel Rutherford, Anthony Tuckney and Thomas Goodwin.





Barth, Paul

‘Natural Law and Divine Positive Law’  (2017)  23 paragraphs

‘The Propriety of Natural Law’  (2018)  16 paragraphs



Aquinas, Thomas – ‘A Treatise on Law’  being Questions 90-108  Buy  of his Summa, Second Part, Part One

Aquinas (1225–1274).  Here is a blogger’s outline of Aquinas’ treatise.



Calvin, John – ‘The Importance of Customs Being Conformed to Nature’  †1564  13 paragraphs  from his commentary on 1 Cor. 11:4



Leiden Synopsis – ‘Concerning the Law of God’, Theses 12-30, from Disputation 18 of Synopsis Purioris Theologiae / Synopsis of a Purer Theology: Latin Text and English Translation: Volume 1, Disputations 1-23  Buy  ed. Dolf te Velde, Brill, 2015

Gillespie, George – Part 3, ch. 9  of English-Popish Ceremonies  1637

London Ministers – ‘The Light of Nature’  being pp. 8-11 of Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici, or, the Divine Right of Church Government  1646

Roberts, Francis – ‘On the Moral Law and the Law of Nature’  PDF  1675, 3 pages, being Book 3, Chapter 4, Aphorism 1, Question 6 of his The Mystery and Marrow of the Bible: God’s Covenants with Man

This excerpt is from the puritan magnum opus on Covenant Theology.  Roberts (1609-1675) distinguishes between the Moral Law revealed by God in special revelation and the Law of Nature written on man’s heart since creation.  Roberts gives 4 evidences of how they are the same in their substance and 5 evidences of how they are different with regard to their particulars and circumstances.  

Turretin, Francis – ‘Whether there is a natural law, and how it differs from the moral law.  The former we affirm; the latter we distinguish.’  †1687  in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology  Buy  vol. 2, Eleventh Topic: The Law of God, p. 1-7



Lang, August – The Reformation and Natural Law, 1909, p. 56, 42 pages, translated from the German by J. Gresham Machen, from Calvin and the Reformation: Four Studies, edited by William P. Armstrong

A study of “the beginnings of natural law on protestant ground.”



VanDrunen, David – ‘Natural Law in Reformed Theology: Historical Reflections and Biblical Suggestions’  2012  24 paragraphs

Note: While we do not agree with VanDrunen’s conclusions on the modern ‘Reformed Two Kingdom’ (R2K) position, his work on natural law is a good introduction to the topic, with which the Westminster divines and puritans agreed.  For something faithfully, historically reformed on the topic of how Christ’s two kingdoms (one by divine, natural right, the other as Mediator over the Church) relate, see our section on the Establishment Principle.

Haines, David – ‘The Role of Natural Knowledge in Biblical Interpretation as Key to Solving the Protestant Problem’  2018

This is the rough draft of the author’s presentation at the Davenant Convivium in 2018.

Abstract: “This, then, is the protestant problem: How can we “infallibly” determine which doctrines are necessary for a person to be considered orthodox if the only authority for Protestant theology is the Bible, as interpreted by the individual reader?  I will argue that natural knowledge of man, God, and the universe is necessary for biblical interpretation, and is a key element in a well-rounded solution to the protestant problem.”





Hemmingsen, Niels – On the Law of Nature: A Demonstrative Method  trans. & ed. E.J. Hutchinson  (Grand Rapids: CLP Academic, 2018)

Hemmingsen (1513-1600) was a Danish Lutheran theologian.

Zanchi, Jerome – On the Law in General  Buy  †1590  105 pp.  being a single chapter from his Tract on Redemption, which has been called an unfinished Protestant Summa.

Zanchi examines the relationship of the natural law to human law, church tradition, custom, divine laws, and the Mosaic law, offering a rigorous analysis of the nature of law in general.  See the Buy link for the table of contents.



Hemmingsen, Niels – On the Law of Nature: A Demonstrative Method  Buy  d. 1600  2018  256 pp.

Hemmingsen (1513-1600) was a Lutheran and  “one of the sixteenth century’s most widely read Protestant authors…  the “Teacher of Denmark’…  argues that all particular rules of ethical conduct can be derived from immutable axioms or first principles. Though moral philosophy works according to its own rules, Hemmingsen shows that its conclusions, far from being at odds with the divine revelation of the moral law, are identical with the ethical commandments of Scripture. Thus Hemmingsen includes a section on the Decalogue, along with a lengthy account of the traditional cardinal virtues, supported by a myriad of quotations from classical Greek and Roman sources. This important treatise looks both backward to classical and medieval philosophy and forward to developments in the seventeenth century and beyond.”

Grotius, Hugo – The Rights of War & Peace, including the Law of Nature & of Nations…  ed. A.C. Campbell  (1625; Dunne, 1901)

Grotius (1583-1645) was a Dutch humanist, diplomat, lawyer, Arminian, Erastian and Latitudinarian theologian, and a jurist.

“Grotius’ concept of natural law had a strong impact on the philosophical and theological debates and political developments of the 17th and 18th centuries.  Among those he influenced were Samuel Pufendorf and John Locke, and by way of these philosophers his thinking became part of the cultural background of the Glorious Revolution in England and the American Revolution…  Both Biblical revelation and natural law originated in God and could therefore not contradict each other.” – Wikipedia

“Grotius has also contributed significantly to the evolution of the notion of rights.  Before him, rights were above all perceived as attached to objects; after him, they are seen as belonging to persons, as the expression of an ability to act or as a means of realizing something.” – Wikipedia

“The great writers of all ages are cited [by Grotius] with a superfluous lavishness…  as to give a historic catholicity to his doctrine by showing that the laws he is endeavoring to formulate have, in fact, been accepted in all times and by all men.” – Intro, p. 10

Althusius, Johannes – On Law and Power  Buy  †1638  60 pp.  from his Dicaeologicae.  See also this excerpt.

Althusius addresses such topics as common law, natural law, private or individual (civil) law, the nature of sovereign public authority, and limitations on public power.  See the Buy link for the table of contents.

Pufendorf, Samuel

The Whole Duty of Man According to the Law of Nature  (1691; London, 1735)

Of the Law of Nature & Nations, 8 Books  (1672; London, 1729)

Pufendorf (1632-1694) was a German jurist, political philosopher, economist and historian.

“Among his achievements are his commentaries and revisions of the natural law theories of Thomas Hobbes and Hugo Grotius.  His political concepts are part of the cultural background of the American Revolution. Pufendorf is seen as an important precursor of Enlightenment in Germany.  He was involved in constant quarrels with clerical circles and frequently had to defend himself against accusations of heresy, despite holding largely traditional Christian views on matters of dogma and doctrine…

He occupied himself [in captivity] in meditating upon what he had read in the works of Hugo Grotius and Thomas Hobbes, and mentally constructed a system of universal law.  At Leiden, he was permitted to publish, in 1661, the fruits of his reflections under the title of Elementa jurisprudentiae universalis libri duo [Elements of Universal Jurisprudence, in Two Books].  The work was dedicated to Charles Louis, elector palatine, who created for Pufendorf a new chair at the University of Heidelberg, that of the law of nature and nations.  This professorship was first of its kind in the world…

In De jure naturae et gentium, Pufendorf took up in great measure the theories of Grotius and sought to complete them by means of the doctrines of Hobbes and of his own ideas on jus gentium…

As regards public law Pufendorf, while recognizing in the state (civitas) a moral person (persona moralis), teaches that the will of the state is but the sum of the individual wills that constitute it, and that this association explains the state.  In this a priori conception, in which he scarcely gives proof of historical insight, he shows himself as one of the precursors of Rousseau and of the Contrat social [social contract theory]

John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Denis Diderot all recommended Pufendorf’s inclusion in law curricula, and he greatly influenced Blackstone and Montesquieu…

Pufendorf and Leibniz shared many theological views, but differed in their philosophical foundation, with Pufendorf leaning toward Biblical fundamentalism.” – Wikipedia

Pufendorf was Erastian in his understanding of the Church.

Hale, Matthew

Of the Law of Nature, ed. David S. Sytsma  (d. 1676; Grand Rapids: CLP Academic, 2015)

Hale (1609–1676) was an influential English barrister, judge and jurist.  His early works, including A Discourse of the Knowledge of God, reflect his early Puritan and Reformed background.  After ca. 1660 his thought becomes more Arminian.

On the Law of Nature, Reason, and Common Law: Selected Jurisprudential Writings, ed. Gerald J. Postema  (Oxford University Press, 2017)

Rachel, Samuel – Dissertations on the Law of Nature and of Nations  trans. John Bate  (1676; Washington D.C., 1916)

Rachel (1628-1691) was a German professor of ethics and of natural and international law.

“…Samuel von Pufendorf denied the existence of a positive jus gentium (Law of Nations), distinct from the jus naturale [natural law].  He maintained therein that States were universally subject to the Law of Nature only; in addition there were, of course, rights based upon treaties, and also customs observed between civilized States, but (said he) these treaty rights were valid only between the States that had concluded the treaty, and a State might at any time renounce these customs; such conduct would admittedly expose the State to evils–such as reprisals and censure–but Pufendorf does not seem to attach great importance to these evils, and…  they at different times have failed to deter governments and generals…

Accordingly, to attack this doctrine, which favored arbitrariness and based the Law of Nations solely upon the principles of Natural Law established by a priori reasoning, and at the same time to show that by the side of the jus naturae there also exists a positive Law of Nations–this was a signal service.  It was left to Rachel to render that service.” – Intro, pp. 7a-8a

For how Rachel’s theory of the Law of Nations differed from that of Grotius, see the Intro, p. 11a.

Towerson, Gabriel – Discourse 1, ‘Of the Law of Nature’  in An Explication of the Decalogue or Ten Commandments, with reference to the Catechism of the Church of England, to which are Premised by Way of Introduction Several General Discourses Concerning God’s Both Natural & Positive Laws  (London, 1677), pp. 1-7

Towerson (c.1635-1697) was an Anglican clergyman and theological writer.



Grabill, Stephen – Theological Foundation for a Reformed Doctrine of Natural Law  2004  360 pp.  Published as: Rediscovering the Natural Law in the Reformed Tradition  Buy  2006  320 pp.

Grabill wrote the foundational modern work establishing that Natural Law was a significant part of the reformed tradition.  Here he documents the development of the recent bias against natural law in reformed theology, surveys the continuity between the medievalists through the reformers regarding natural law, and the examines the natural law perspectives of John Calvin, Vermigli, Althusius and Turretin.  See the Buy link and then the ‘Look Inside’ link for the Table of Contents.

Wallace Marshall – Puritanism and Natural Theology  Buy  2012  205 pp.  being his PhD dissertation for Boston College

This excellent work surveys the natural theology of the puritans, including their views on natural law.  The work can only be found through libraries or for a fee for printing the dissertation ($38-72, its worth it), though Wallace is looking for a publisher to make it easily available.  See the three paragraph abstract of it here.

Haines, David & Andrew Fulford – Natural Law: A Brief Introduction and Biblical Defense  Buy  2017  142 pp.

Paul Helm: “This is a Guide that has considerable depth, indeed two distinct dimensions. The reader is first guided to the philosophical roots of natural law thinking in ancient and scholastic philosophy; then secondly to the Biblical evidence for natural law. The result makes for a first-rate, thought-provoking introduction.”



Quotes  ** – indicates a Westminster divine

On the Post-Reformation Era

Richard Muller

Dictionary of Greek and Latin Theological Terms  1st ed. (Baker, 1985)

pp. 173-4

“In substance, the lex moralis [moral law] is identical with the lex naturalis [natural law], but, unlike the natural law, it is given by revelation in a form which is clearer and fuller than that otherwise known to the reason.”


pp. 174-5

“The universal moral law either impressed by God upon the mind of all people or immediately discerned by the reason in its encounter with the order of nature.  The natural law was therefore available even to those pagans who did not have the advantage of the Sinaitic revelation and the lex Mosaica [Law of Moses], with the result that they were left without excuse in their sins, convicted by conscientia [conscience].

The scholastics argue the identity of the lex naturalis [Natural Law] with the lex Mosaica or lex moralis [Moral Law] quod substantiam, according to substance, and distinguish them quod formam, according to form.  The lex naturalis is inward, written on the heart and therefore obscure, whereas the lex Mosaica is revealed externally and written on tablets and thus of greater clarity.”



Theodore Beza

The Christian Faith, trans. James Clark (Focus Christian Ministries Trust, East Essex England, 1992)

“The Law is natural to man.  God has engraven it in his heart from creation (Rom 1:32; 2:14,15).  When, a long time afterwards, God made and exhibited the two Tables of the Law, this was not to make a new law, but only to restore our first knowledge of the natural law which, because of the corruption of sin, was little by little becoming obliterated from the heart of man (Rom 7:8-9).”



Samuel Rutherford  1649  **

Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience, Ch. 1, Of Conscience and its Nature

Of this intellectual treasure house [the conscience], we are to know these:

1.  That in the inner cabinet, the natural habit of moral principles lodges, the register of the common notions left in us by nature, the ancient records and chronicles which were in Adam’s time, the Law of Nature of two volumes:

One of the first table, that there is a God, that He creates and governs all things, that there is but one God, infinitely good, more just rewarding the evil and the good;

And of the second table, as to love our parents, obey superiors, to hurt no man, the acts of humanity;

All these are written in the soul, in deep letters, yet the ink is dim and old, and therefore this light is like the moon swimming through watery clouds, often under a shadow, and yet still in the firmament.

Caligula, and others, under a cloud, denied there was any God, yet when the cloud was over, the light broke out of prison, and granted, a God there must be; strong winds do blow out a torch in the night, and will blow in the same light again; and that there be other seeds, though come from a far land, and not growing out of the ground, as the former, is clear, for Christ scatters some Gospel-truths in this chalmer [chamber]; as John 7:28, ‘Then cried Jesus in the Temple; as He taught, saying, Ye both know Me, and whence I am.’  John 15:24, ‘But now they have both seen, and hated both Me and my Father.’


The Divine Right of Church Government…  (1646), p. 76

“What moral goodness nature teaches, that same does the Moral Law teach, so the one excludes not the other.”


Anthony Burgess  **

Spiritual Refining, Sermon 51

The very heathens, though they had but some few sparks of a true knowledge about God, having no other book but that of nature to learn by, yet in how grievous a measure are they punished by God because they did not live according to their knowledge, neither did they glorify God as they knew Him (Rom. 1).


Herman Witsius  1677, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, reprinted den Dulk Christian Foundation, 1990, vol. 1, p. 350

For, as grace supposes nature, and makes it perfect; so the truths revealed in the Gospel are built on those made known by the light of nature.”


James Dalrymple, Viscount of Stair  1693

The Institutions of the Law of Scotland, vol. 1, p. 4

The Law of Nature, as it is impressed upon our hearts, so in the goodness of God, it is expressed in his Word, wherein He has not only holden forth these Sacred Mysteries, which could only be known by Revelation, as having no principles in Nature from whence they are deducible, but also, because through sin and evil custom, the Natural Law in man’s heart was much defaced, disordered and erroneously deduced: He has therefore reprinted the Law of Nature in a viver [more vivid and lively] character, in the Scripture, not only having the moral principles, but many conclusions thence flowing particularly set forth.  This analogy of the Law of Nature even in the heats of heathens and as it is set down in the Law of God evidences sufficiently, that both of them proceed from the same Omniscient Author.



Thomas Peck  American, Southern presbyterian

‘Moral Obligation of the Tithe’  1890  in Miscellanies, vol. 1, p. 146

“Moral obligation can be created only by some intimation of the will of God.  God alone can bind the conscience.  The will of God can be made known to us only in one of two ways: either by the ‘light of nature’ or by revelation. 

The light of nature becomes manifest either through the constitution and consciousness of the individual man, or through those of the human race expressed in the ‘consensus populorum.’ [popular consensus]  That which has been believed always and everywhere and by all is very apt to be true: and that which has been felt to be binding upon the conscience, with the same universality of times, places and persons, may be concluded to be of moral obligation.  The voice of the people in this sense may be regarded as the voice of God.

The moral sense may be undeveloped, or it may be perverted in its judgments by ignorance, prejudice, passion, and habits of wickedness; but where it has a fair opportunity to be heard, and especially upon questions upon which its judgments are opposed to the desires and appetites of man, sinful and selfish, it would seem to speak with the authority of man’s Maker and Ruler.  It is conscience, the ‘categorical imperative,’ against what is voluntary in man.  It is an authority which man feels cannot be resisted with impunity.”



Wallace Marshall, Puritanism and Natural Theology, p. 14

“Grace renewing and perfecting nature was the Puritan missionary paradigm.  As Increase Mather declared, “except men give credit to the principles of natural, they will never believe the principles of revealed religion.””



On Specific Natural Laws

That the Stronger Guide & Protect the Weaker, & the Weaker Look unto & Submit Thereto

Samuel Rutherford

Lex Rex (1644), Question 13, pp. 50-1

“2.  The degree or order of subjection natural is a subjection in respect of gifts or age.  So Aristotle (1 polit., ch. 3) says, “that some are by nature servants.”  His meaning is good,— that some gifts of nature, as wisdom-natural, or aptitude to govern, has made some men of gold, fitter to command, and some of iron and clay, fitter to be servants and slaves…

It is possible Plato had a good meaning, (dialog. 3, de legib.) who made six orders here:

“1.  That fathers command their sons; 2. The noble the ignoble; 3. The elder the younger; 4. The masters the servants; 5. The stronger the weaker; 6. The wise the ignorant.”

Aquinas (22, q. 57, art. 3), Driedo (de libert. Christ, bk. 1, p. 8), following Aristotle (polit. bk. 7, ch. 14) hold, though man had never sinned there should have been a sort of dominion of the more gifted and wiser above the less wise and weaker; not antecedent from nature properly, but consequent, for the utility and good of the weaker insofar as it is good for the weaker to be guided by the stronger, which [principle] cannot be denied to have some ground in nature.”




Bretzke, James T. – Research Bibliography on the Natural Law  2018  75 pp.



On How Natural Law & Scripture Interpret Each Other, & How They Don’t

Richard Baxter

A Christian Directory: a Sum of Practical Theology and Cases of Conscience  Buy  (1673), pt. 3, Christian Ecclesiastics, Question 159, ‘If we think that Scripture and the Law of Nature do in any point contradict each others, which may be the standard by which the other must be tried?’


[1.]  It is certain that they never do contradict each other:

2.  The Law of Nature is either that which is very clear by natural evidence or that which is dark (as degrees of consanguinity unfit for marriage, the evil of officious [white] lies, etc.).

3.  The Scriptures also have their plain and their obscurer parts.

4.  A dark Scripture is not to be expounded contrary to a plain, natural verity.

5.  A dark and doubtful point in Nature is not to be expounded contrary to a plain and certain Scripture.

6.  To suppose that there be an apparent contradiction in cases of equal clearness or doubtfulness, is a case not to be supposed; But he that should have such a dream must do as he would do if he thought two texts to be contradictory, that is, he must better study both till he see his error; still remembering that natural evidence has this advantage, that it is: 1. first in order, 2. and most common and received by all; But supernatural evidence has this advantage, that it is for the most part the more clear and satisfactory.”





Oldendorp, Johann – A Judicial [Forensis] Disputation on Law & Equity  in A Collation of Civil & Canonical Law…  (Leiden, 1547)

Oldendorp (1480-1567) was a German, Lutheran, jurist and reformer.



van der Marck, Frederik Adolf – Academic Readings [Lectiones], in which Selections of Practical Philosophy, Heads of the Law of Nature & Principal Offices Respecting God are Investigated  (Groningen, 1771)  ToC

Marck (1710-1800) was a Dutch professor of law at Groningen in the reformed tradition.  Marck was initially dismissed  in 1773 from Groningen over charges of heterodoxy, for subordinating Scripture to the laws of nature and reason.  He was restored in 1795 to his professorship.




“I count it sufficient to have said that nothing may be found in the world
so abject or lowly that it gives no witness to God.  The poet said,
‘All things are full of Jove.’  So long as it endures, whatever is in the
world has the power of God hidden under it.  If this is discovered
through inquiry and knowledge of nature, God will be revealed to us.”


Peter Martyr  †1562

Commentary on Romans, Chapter 1




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