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

The Westminster Standards
Historic Articles
Modern Articles
Historic Books
Modern Books



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.



Historic Articles 

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

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



Modern Articles

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.



Historic Books

Althusius, Johannes – On Law and Power  Buy  †1638, 60 pages, from his Dicaeologicae

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.

Zanchi, Jerome – On the Law in General  Buy  †1590  105 pages, 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.



Modern Books 

Grabill, Stephen – Rediscovering the Natural Law in the Reformed Tradition  Buy  2006, 320 pages

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 pages, 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.




Quotes  ** – indicates a Westminster divine


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.’

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.””





“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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