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

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.”

Eph. 6:1




Scripture Upholds Nature’s Light & Law



Order of Contents

Natural Law in Scripture
Westminster Standards
Best: Owen

History of
Reformed Natural Law vs. Aquinas
Relation to Presuppositionalism

Natural Disposition as a Ground for Action
Specific Natural Laws
.      Stronger Guides & Protects the Weaker



Natural Law in Scripture

Fulford, Andrew

‘An Exegetical Case for Natural Law: the Hebrew Scriptures’  35 paragraphs  (2013)  at CalvinistInternational

‘An Exegetical Case for Natural Law: the Christian Scriptures’  35 paragraphs  (2013)  at CalvinistInternational



The Westminster Standards


The Westminster Standards on Natural Law



Fesko, J.V.; Richard, Guy – ‘Natural Theology & the Westminster Confession of Faith’  43 pp.  being a chapter in The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century  Buy  (2009), vol. 3, pp. 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.” – pp. 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.

Saunders, Benjamin B. – ‘Hidden in Plain Sight: Natural Law & the Westminster Confession of Faith’  WTJ 84 (2022), pp. 177–202

Saunders’s focus for a main theologian is on Anthony Burgess, though he also quotes or references: Aquinas, Calvin, Vermigli, Ursinus, Althusius, Andrewes, Ames, Perkins, Gillespie, Twisse, Maynard, Leigh, Cawdrey & Palmer, Westminster minutes, London Presbyterians, Sedgwick, Marshall, Burroughs, Durham, Gouge and Baxter.



The Best:  John Owen

The Reason of Faith…  (Glasgow, 1801), ch. 6, pp. 114-116, 118-120  Also in Works, 4.82 ff.

“1.  And in the first place we, may consider that there are three ways whereby we assent unto anything that is proposed unto us as true, and receive it as such.

1.  By inbred principles of natural light, and the first rational actings of our minds.  This in reason answers instinct in irrational creatures.  Hence God complains that his people did neglect and sin against their own natural light, and first dilates of reason, whereas brute creatures would not forsake the conduct of the instinct of their natures, Isa. 1:3.  In general, the mind is necessarily determined to an assent unto the proper objects of these principles; it cannot do otherwise.  It cannot but assent unto the prime dictates of the light of nature, yea those dictates are nothing but its assent.  Its first apprehension of the things which the light of nature embraces, without either express reasonings or further consideration, are this assent.  Thus does the mind embrace in itself the general notions of moral good and evil, with the difference between them, however it practically complies not with what they guide unto; Jude ver. 10.  And so does it assent unto many principles of reason, as that the whole is greater than the part, without admitting any debate about them.

2.  By rational considerations of things externally proposed unto us.  Herein the mind exercises its discursive faculty, gathering one thing out of another, and concluding one thing from another.  And hereon is it able to assent unto what is proposed unto it in various degrees of certainty, according unto the nature and degree of the evidence it proceeds upon.  Hence it has a certain knowledge of some things, of others an opinion or persuasion prevalent against the objections to the contrary, which it knows, and whose force it understands, which may be true or false.

3.  By faith.  This respects that power of our minds whereby we are able to assent unto anything as true, which we have no first principles concerning, no inbred notions of, nor can from more known principles make unto ourselves any certain rational conclusions concerning them…

And this assent also has not only various degrees, but is also of diverse kinds, according as the testimony is which it arises from, and rests on; as being human if that be human, and divine if that be so also.

According to these distinct faculties and powers of our souls, God is pleased to reveal or make known Himself, his mind or will three ways unto us.  For He has implanted no power on our minds, but the principle use and exercise of it are to be with respect unto Himself, and our living unto Him, which is the end of them all.  And a neglect of the improvement of them unto this end, is the highest aggravation of sin.

It is an aggravation of sin when men abuse the creatures of God otherwise than He has appointed, or in not using them to his glory; when they take his corn, and wine, and oil, and spend them on their lusts, Hos. 2:8…  But the height of impiety consists in the abuse of the faculties and powers of the soul, wherewith we are endowed purposely and immediately for the glorifying of God.  Hence proceed unbelief, profaneness, blasphemy, atheism, and the like pollution of the spirit or mind.  And these are sins of the highest provocation.  For the powers and faculties of our minds being given us only to enable us to live unto God, the diverting of their principal exercise unto other ends, is an act of enmity against Him, and affront unto Him.

He does not reveal Himself by his word unto the principles of natural light, nor unto reason in its exercise.  But yet these principles, and reason itself, with all the faculties of our minds, are consequentially affected with that revelation, and are drawn forth into their proper exercise by it…

And concerning these several ways of the communication or revelation of the knowledge of God, it must be always observed that there is a a perfect consonancy in the things revealed by them all.  If any thing pretends from the one what is absolutely contradictory unto the other, or our senses as the means of them, it is not to be received.

The foundation of the whole, as of all the actings of our souls, is in the inbred principles of natural light, or first neceflary dictates of our intellectual rational nature.  This, so far as it extends, is a rule unto our apprehension in all that follows.  Wherefore if any pretend in the exercise of reason, to conclude unto anything concerning the nature, being, or will of God that is directly contradictory unto those principles and dictates, it is no divine revelation unto our reason, but a paralogism [fallacious reasoning] from the defect of reason in its exercise.

This is that which the apostle charges on, and vehemently urges against the heathen philosophers.  Inbred notions they had in themselves of the being and eternal power of God; and these were so manifest in them thereby, that they could not but own them.  Hereon they set their rational discursive faculty at work in the consideration of God and his being.  But herein were they so vain and foolish as to draw conclusions directly contrary unto the first principles of natural light, and the unavoidable notions which they had of the eternal being of God, Rom. 1:21-24.  And many upon their pretended rational consideration of the promiscuous event of things in the world, have foolishly concluded that all things had a fortuitous beginning, and have fortuitous events, or such as from a concatenation of antecedent causes are fatally necessary, and are not disposed by an infinitely wise, unerring, holy Providence.  And this also is directly contradictory unto the first principles and notions of natural light, whereby it openly proclaims itself not to be an effect of reason in its due exercise, but a mere delusion.

So if any pretend unto revelations by faith which are contradictory unto the first principles of natural light , or reason in its proper exercise about its proper objects, it is a delusion.  On this ground the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation is justly rejected, for it proposes that as a revelation by faith, which is expressly contradictory unto our sense and reason in their proper exercise about their proper objects.  And a supposition of the possibility of any such thing, would make the ways whereby God reveals and makes known himself, to cross and interfere one with another; which would leave us no certainty in anything divine or human.

But yet as these means of divine revelation do harmonize and perfectly agree one with the other, so they are not objectively equal, or equally extensive, nor are they co-ordinate, but subordinate unto one another.  Wherefore there are many things discernible by reason in its exercise, which do not appear unto the first principles of natural light. So the sober philosophers of old attained unto many true and great conceptions of God, and the excellencies of his nature, above what they arrived unto who either did not or could not cultivate and improve the principles of natural light in the fame manner as they did.

It is therefore folly to pretend that things so made known of God are not infallibly true and certain, because they are not obvious unto the first conceptions of natural light, without the due exercise of reason, provided they are not contradictory thereunto.  And there are many things revealed unto faith that are above and beyond the comprehension of reason, in the best and utmost of its most proper exercise.  Such are all the principal mysteries of Christian religion.  And it is the height of folly to reject them, as some do, because they are not discernible and comprehensible by reason, seeing they are not contradictory thereunto.

Wherefore these ways of God’s revelation of himself are not equally extensive, or commensurate, but are so subordinate one unto another, that what is wanting unto the one is supplied by the other, unto the accomplishment of the whole and entire end of divine revelation; and the truth of God is the same in them all.”





Barth, Paul

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

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


Anthologies: The Ancient World through History

ed. Hall, Jerome – Ch. 1, ‘Natural Law’  in Readings in Jurisprudence  (NY: 1938), pp. 3-86

Provides selections from: Plato, Aristotle, Windelband, Cicero, Maine, Aquinas, Germain, Suarez, Grotius, Hobbes, Burlamaqui, Rutherforth, Blackstone, Lorimer, Miltner, Hill.



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 Men, Women, and Order in the Church, trans. Seth Skolnitsky, pp. 55-59

Hemmingsen, Niels – On the Law of Nature: A Demonstrative Method  ed. & trans. Hutchinson  Buy  (CLP Academic, 2018)  256 pp.

“In this treatise Hemmingsen [a Lutheran] 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.”



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

Gillespie, George – Part 3, ch. 9, ‘That the lawfulness of the [English-Popish] ceremonies, cannot be warranted by the Law of Nature’  in A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies…  (1637), pp. 197-202

Walker, George – ch. 11  of The Doctrine of the Sabbath…  (Amsterdam, 1638), pp. 60-70

Walker was a Westminster divine.  This is excellent.

“…to know and acknowledge God for his sole Lord and Creator, and one only God, to serve and worship Him with such worship and reverence, as his pure reason taught him to be meet for God, to think and speak of God accordingly…” – p. 61

Cawdrey, Daniel & Herbert Palmer – Sabbatum Redivivum: or the Christian Sabbath Vindicated…  (London, 1645), 1st part, ch. 1

ch. 1, pp. 9-12

On moral-natural laws and moral-positive laws.

ch. 3, section 5, ‘The law of Nature suffers nothing by this alteration [of the Sabbath Day to the 1st Day]’, pp. 415-17

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 & the Law of Nature’  PDF  (1675)  3 pp.  being Book 3, Chapter 4, Aphorism 1, Question 6 of his The Mystery & 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, pp. 1-7



Lorimer, James – Bks. 1-2  of The Institutes of Law: a Treatise of the Principles of Jurisprudence as Determined by Nature  (Edinburgh, 1880)  590 pp.

Lorimer (1818–1890) was a Scottish advocate and regius professor of public law at Edinburgh.  He was an authority on international law.  His legal philosophy was one of Natural law that stood against the prevailing Legal positivism.  Lorimer has some respect for God and religion, but does not strongly hold to Christian orthodoxy in this work.  From the front page:

“All human laws are, properly speaking, only declaratory.” – Edmund Burke



Feser, Edward – ‘Classical Natural Law Theory, Property Rights & Taxation’  (Social Philosophy & Policy Foundation, 2010), pp. 21-52

Feser is a Romanist professor of philosophy and is a Neo-Thomist.

VanDrunen, David

‘Natural Law in Reformed Theology: Historical Reflections a& 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.

‘Why Protestant Christianity Needs a Theology of Natural Law’  (2019)  at The Davenant Institute

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  Buy  (Grand Rapids: CLP Academic, 2018)  256 pp.

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

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

Zanchi (†1590) 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.

Suarez, Francis – A Treatise on Laws & God the Lawgiver  ToC  in Selections from Three Works of Francisco Suarez…  (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1944), vol. 2, The Translation, pp. 3-645

Suarez (1548–1617) was a Romanist, Jesuit, scholastic.



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 & Power  Buy  60 pp.  from his Dicaeologicae.  See also this excerpt.

Althusius (†1638) 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  Buy  (d. 1676; Grand Rapids: CLP Academic, 2015)  295 pp.

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.

“This critical edition is the first ever publication of Hale’s Of the Law of Nature, which previously existed only in manuscript form. After discussing and defining law in general, Hale examines the natural law in particular, its discovery and divine origin, and how it relates to both biblical and human laws. Hale’s treatise, which was likely written as part of his personal meditations and was circulated among English lawyers after his death, reveals not only the close relationship between law and theology in his thought, but also the importance of natural law to early modern legal thought.”

The following is the Introduction to the book

‘Sir Matthew Hale (1609–1676) & Natural Law in the Seventeenth Century’  in Journal of Markets & Morality 17, no. 1 (Spring 2014): pp. 205-256

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

Rachel, Samuel – Dissertations on the Law of Nature & 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.



Anderson, Owen

The Natural Moral Law: The Good After Modernity  (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012)

The Declaration of Independence & God: Self-Evident Truths in American Law  (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2015)  216 pp.

“This book studies the concept of a ‘self-evident’ God in American legal thought from the Revolution to the present.”

Haines, David & Andrew Fulford – Natural Law: A Brief Introduction & Biblical Defense  Buy  (Davenant Press, 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.”

ed. Doe, Norman – Christianity & Natural Law: an Introduction  (Cambridge, 2017)  ToC




** – indicates a Westminster divine




On Laws (De legibus) 1.17, this is his quotation of Chysippus; trans. Charles Johnson

“Law is the supreme reason, inherent in nature, which commands those things which are to be done, and prohibits the contrary.  The same reason is law when it is confirmed and perfected in the mind of man.”

“Lex est ratio summa, insita in natura, quae iubet ea quae facienda sunt, prohibetque contraria. Eadem ratio, cum est in hominis mente confirmata et perfecta, lex est.”


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).”



George Gillespie  **

A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies…  (1637), Part 3, ch. 9, ‘That the lawfulness of the [English-Popish] ceremonies, cannot be warranted by the Law of Nature’, p. 197

“…what is meant by the Law of Nature.  To wit, that Law which God writes and imprints in the nature of man, so that it is as it were connatural and born together with man (Zanchi, bk. 1, Of the Law of God, thesis 8, col. 190).  Now if we consider what law was written in the nature of man in his first creation, it was no other than the Decalogue or the Moral Law (Amandus Polanus, System, bk. 6, ch. 9, col. 49; D. Pau. Explic. Catech., pt. 3, question 92, p. 503).  But the Law which we are here to enquire of is that law, which after the Fall, God still writes in the heart of every man: which (we all know) comes far short and wants much of that which was written in the heart of man before his Fall…

For that law which is simply called jus naturale is innatum, and lays before the minds of men that way, wherein by the guidance and conduct of nature, they may be led to that good which is in the end proportionate to nature (Francis Junius, On the Mosaic Polity).”


Samuel Rutherford  1649  **

Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience, Ch. 1, ‘Of Conscience & 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, The Economy of the Covenants Between God & Man  (1677; 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

‘Moral Obligation of the Tithe’  (1890)  in Miscellanies, vol. 1, p. 146.  Peck was an American, Southern presbyterian.

“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 & 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 the History of Natural Law

In the Medieval Church

Oberman, Heiko Augustinus – ch. 4, ‘Natural Law as Divine Order’  in The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel & Late Medieval Nominalism  (Durham, NC: Labyrinth Press, 1983), pp. 90-120


On the Post-Reformation


In General

Lang, August – ‘The Reformation & Natural Law’  42 pp.  in Calvin & the Reformation: Four Studies, ed. William P. Armstrong  trans. J. Gresham Machen  (1909), p. 56 ff.

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

Plaatjies van Huffel, Mary Anne – ch. 7, ‘Natural Law in the Reformed Tradition’  in ed. Doe, Norman, Christianity & Natural Law: an Introduction  (Cambridge, 2017)

Westberg, D. – ‘The Reformed Tradition & Natural Law’  in ed. M. Cromartie, A Preserving Grace, pp. 103–17

Haakonssen, K. – ‘Divine/Natural Law Theories in Ethics’  in eds. Garber & Ayers, The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Philosophy  (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1998), pp. 1,317-57

Goudriaan, Aza – ch. 5, ‘Divine & Natural Law: Theological & Political Aspects’  in Reformed Orthodoxy & Philosophy, 1625–1750: Gisbertus Voetius, Petrus Van Mastricht & Anthonius Driessen  Buy  (Brill, 2006), pp. 287-325


On Individuals

Raath, A.W.G. – ‘The Origins of Defensive Natural Law in Huyldrych Zwingli’s Covenant Theology’  in Tydskrif vir Christelike Wetenskap 38 (2002, No. 3–4), 1–28

Raunio, A. – ‘Divine & Natural Law in Luther & Melanchthon’  in ed. V. Mäkinen, Lutheran Reformation & the Law  (Boston, 2006)

On Calvin & Calvinism

Pryor, C. Scott – ‘God’s Bridle: John Calvin’s Application of Natural Law’  22 Journal of Law & Religion 225 (2006)

Herdt, Jennifer A. – ‘Calvin’s Legacy for Contemporary Reformed Natural Law’  in Scottish Jounal of Theology, vol. 67, issue 4 (Nov., 2014), pp. 414-435  Ref

Abstract:  “A close look at Calvin’s understanding of natural law, and in particular of conscience and natural human instincts, shows that Calvin himself did not expect the natural law to serve as a source of substantive action-guiding moral norms.

First, Calvin held that conscience delivers information concerning the moral quality even of individual actions. But he also thought that we often blind ourselves to the deliverances of conscience. Second, he argued that our natural instincts predispose us to civic order and fair dealing insofar as these are necessary for the natural well-being or advantage of creatures such as ourselves. But he also carefully distinguished the good of advantage from the good of justice or virtue.

The modern natural lawyers eroded Calvin’s careful distinction between conscience as revealing our duty as duty, and instinct as guiding us towards natural advantage. They also turned away from Calvin’s insistence on the moral incapacity of unredeemed humanity. The modern natural lawyers saw their task as one of developing an empirical science of human nature to guide legislation and shape international law, bracketing questions of whether this nature was fallen and in need of redemption…

A science which could derive moral norms from an examination of human instincts, and a conscience which could deliver universal moral knowledge, proved too attractive to decline simply because of the transcendence of God or the fallenness of humankind. Those who wished to preserve an account of natural law which remained faithful to a fully robust set of Reformed theological commitments could do so only by refusing to regard the natural law as a positive source of moral knowledge.”

Youngwon Lee, Constance

‘Calvinist Natural Law & the Ultimate Good’  The Western Australian Jurist, vol. 5  (2014), pp. 153-75

‘Calvinist Natural Law & Constitutionalism’  Australian Journal of Legal Philosophy 39 (2014), pp. 1-41

VanDrunen, David – ‘The Use of Natural Law in Early Calvinist Resistance Theory’  Journal of Law & Religion,
vol. 21, no. 1 (2005/2006), pp. 143-167

Kirby, W.J. Torrance – ‘Richard Hooker’s Theory of Natural Law in the Context of Reformation Theology’  in The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. 30, no. 3 (Autumn, 1999), pp. 681-703

Gibbs, L.W. – ‘The Puritan Natural Law Theory of William Ames’  in Harvard Theological Review 64 (1971), pp. 37–57

Sytsma, David

‘Sir Matthew Hale (1609–1676) & Natural Law in the Seventeenth Century’  in Journal of Markets & Morality 17, no. 1 (Spring 2014): pp. 205-256

Abstract:  “This is an introductory essay to a critical edition of Hale’s MS treatise on natural law (British Library, MSS Add. 18235, Harley 7159, and Hargrave 485)…  An edition of the entire treatise (chapters 1-13) is now available in the Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law series published by CLP Academic (2015).”

‘Matthew Hale as Theologian & Natural Law Theorist’  in Great Christian Jurists in English History  (CUP, 2017), pp. 163-186  Abstract & Outline

Abstract:  “Sir Matthew Hale (1609-1676) is one of the most celebrated jurists of English common law. This essay introduces the importance of Matthew Hale’s Christian faith for his life in general, as well as his legal thought. It surveys Hale’s theological writings and examines his theory of natural law.”

Richard Baxter & the Mechanical Philosophers  (Oxford, 2017)

ch. 4, ‘A Trinitarian Natural Philosophy’, ‘God’s Two Books’, pp. 106-112

ch. 7, ‘From ‘Epicurean’ Physics to Ethics’, pp. 216-248

Baxter & Reformed Natural Law Theory
The Specter of Necessitarianism
The Problem with Naturalistic Natural Law



eds. Bauer, Dominique & Randall Lesaffer – History, Casuistry & Custom in the Legal Thought of Francisco Suárez (1548-1617): Collected Studies  in Legal History Library: Studies in the History of International Law  Buy  (Brill, 2021)

Jorink, Eric – Reading the Book of Nature in the Dutch Golden Age, 1575-1715  (Brill, 2010)

eds. van Berkel, Klaas & Arjo Vanderjagt – The Book of Nature in Early Modern & Modern History  Pre  (Leuven: Peters, 2006)

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 & 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.  See the three paragraph abstract of it here.

Perichoresis, vol. 20, issue 2 (June 2022)  The whole volume is devoted to natural law in the Post-Reformation era.

Includes articles by Svensson, Sytsma, Littlejohn, Hutchinson, etc.



Reformed Natural Law vs. Aquinas

Grabill, Stephen – pp. 138-39  of Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics  (Eerdmans, 2006), ch. 5

On Zanchi and Rom. 2:14-15.  Rather than natural law in the heart of man being a left over remnant from Adam and God’s image, Zanchi taught that it was reinscribed immediately by God, “because of his goodness,” upon the heart of depraved man.



On Aquinas’s View of Natural Law

Feser, Edward – ‘Natural Law’ & ‘Religion & Morality’  in ch. 5, ‘Ethics’  in Aquinas: a Beginner’s Guide  (OneWorld, 2010), pp. 155-63

Augros, Michael & Christopher Oleson – ‘St. Thomas & the Naturalistic Fallacy’  in National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, vol. 13, issue 4 (Winter 2013), pp. 637-61

Abstract: “Certain scholars wish to acquit St. Thomas Aquinas of the ‘illicit inference from facts to norms’ commonly referred to as the naturalistic fallacy.  Seeing in certain passages his awareness of illegitimate ways to derive morality from natural ends, many have come to read Aquinas as agreeing with the view that knowledge of the moral order does not derive from knowledge of human nature and of the natural ends of its parts and powers.  This paper aims to expose the deficiencies of this reading as a way of bringing more fully into view the whole thought of Aquinas on the question.”

Conclusion: “The central philosophical arguments of the new natural law theorists fail to disprove that the natural ends of man, and of his parts and powers, operate as standards for determining right and wrong.  They are right to insist that there are self-evident truths about what is right and wrong.  They are right again in refusing to say that the deliberate violation of any particular natural inclination or any natural end must be an immoral act.  And they are right, furthermore, in saying that Aquinas agrees with them in these points and that he is not guilty of any naturalistic fallacy.  They are mistaken, however, in thinking that moral knowledge is altogether independent of understanding natural ends and in thinking that Aquinas agrees with them in this.”



Natural Law in Relation to Presuppositionalism

Mauser, Bernard James – ‘A Tale of Two Theories: Natural Law in Classical Theism & Presuppositionalism’  in ed. David Haines, Without Excuse: Scripture, Reason & Presuppositional Apologetics  Buy  (Davenant Institute, 2020)



On a Natural Disposition as a Ground for Action


Samuel Rutherford

Lex Rex (London, 1644), ch. 2, pp. 3-4

“…and it is most true, no man by the instinct of Nature gives consent to penal Laws as penal, for Nature does not teach a man, nor incline his spi­rit to yield that his life shall be taken away by the sword and his blood shed, except in this remote ground: a man has a disposition that a vein be cut by the physician, or a member of his body cut off, rather than the whole body and life perish by some con­tagious disease; but here reason in cold blood, not a natural dispo­sition is the nearest prevalent cause and disposer of the business [in making such a penal law].”



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.”


Greater Gifts amongst Equals are a Superiority to be Submitted to

Samuel Rutherford

A Careful Review of Arminianism, trans. David C. Noe  (RHB, 2023), ch. 27, ‘Synods’

“All friends, brothers, and equals that are endowed with greater grace, experience and knowledge – to the extent that they provide us with good and just counsel from God’s Word – must be acknowledged as our superiors.

If David had rejected Abigail’s advice and suggestion in pushing him away from disproportionate vengeance, he would have also rejected God’s counsel and sinned against the fifth commandment of the Decalogue no less than if the supreme priest or prophet of God had commanded that same thing, according to his prophetic authority, which Abigail had only urged privately.”




Bretzke, James T. – ‘Research Bibliography on the Natural Law’  (2018)  75 pp.





Oldendorp, Johann – A Judicial 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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