- Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory (Is. 6:3b).
O LORD, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches (Ps. 104:24).
For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead (Ro. 1:20).
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork (Ps. 19:1).
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God (Ps. 14:1a; 53:1a).
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves, which show the work of the law written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness... (Ro. 2:14-15).
Of these two parts the adversaries select the Law, because human reason naturally understands, in some way, the Law (for it has the same judgment divinely written in the mind); [the natural law agrees with the law of Moses, or the Ten Commandments] and by the Law they seek the remission of sins and justification (AP:IV:7).
For even our first parents before the Fall [before the Law was given] did not live without the Law, who had the Law of God written on their hearts, because they were created in the image of God (Ge. 1:26; 2:16-17; 3:3) (FC:EP:VI:2)
But recognizing God in His created order, and deriving moral and civil law from that order which appeals to His authority as the one establishing it, has not been limited to primitive agrarian or hunter-gatherer societies, or societies otherwise without the benefit of Special Revelation. The Church had long recognized various categories and sources of God’s Law, Aquinas finally articulating four such categories: eternal law, natural law, human law, and divine law. Dr. Thomas Johnson1 (Professor of Apologetics, Martin Bucer Seminary, Bonn, DE) summarizes these categories from Aquinas’ Treatise on Law:
- Aquinas’ scheme of four types of law systematized ideas developed over the preceding centuries of discussion in Christian ethics. ...[T]he eternal law is that law which exists eternally in God’s reason. “Since the Divine Reason’s conception of things is not subject to time but is eternal according to Pr. 8:23, therefore it is this kind of law which must be called eternal.”
...The natural law, according to Aquinas, is the “participation of the eternal law in the rational creature.” The natural law is how God reveals His will in creation. ...The precepts of the natural law in the human mind are the self-evident, indemonstrable first principles of practical reason that instruct us to seek the good and avoid evil. While some propositions about the natural law may only be self-evident to the wise, all people use the natural law when, by practical reason, they identify goods to pursue and evils to avoid. And while sin can blot out the natural law in particular cases, yet the knowledge of the general principles of the natural law cannot be totally blotted out by sin; all people know the difference between good and evil and know that they should pursue the good and avoid evil.
The human law is framed by human lawgivers and given to the community for the common good of the state. [It] is intended to promote peace and virtue, while protecting the innocent from the wicked.
...The divine law is the special revelation of God in the Old and New Testaments. Aquinas found four major reasons why it is necessary to have a divine law in addition to the natural law and the human law. First, the divine law is oriented to man’s eternal happiness in a way that the natural and human laws are not. Second, because the human and natural laws use fallible human judgments, God also gave a law that allows us to know some things without doubt. Third, the divine law judges hidden, interior motivation in a way that human law cannot. Fourth, human law cannot forbid all evil without also hurting the common good; it is left to the divine law to forbid all evil.
A crucial element in Aquinas’ theory of law is that the human law is to be derived from and evaluated primarily by the natural law, not primarily by the divine law. This means that matters in the legal-political sphere of life are to be evaluated primarily by those principles of justice which God built into human reason, not by revelation in Scripture or in Christ.
General Revelation, Natural Law, and Deity – without Specific Religion
Though acknowledging natural law, Enlightenment philosophers and scientists did so primarily as an enemy of the Church, in an attempt to sweep away any need for, or recognition of, Special Revelation and the divine law it contains. Enlightenment “Natural Theology” represented the notion that all there is to be known of God can be determined from a study of nature. A recognition of God and His law in the created order, while rejecting specific knowledge of Him or of His will from Special Revelation, is the foundation of modernistic deism. Following from this foundation, very sophisticated and intellectually honest attempts to systematize nature produced clear evidence of design and of a nameless “Intelligent Designer” that was admitted with little question.
Yet, the discoveries of science did not yield a tranquility and peaceful harmony as, perhaps, some may have thought that neutering revealed religion, by depriving it of Special Revelation and of a voice in society on that basis, would achieve. Instead, the same observations of the primitives manifested themselves: natural systems are inherently corrupt, they deteriorate and decay; cells, like animals, attack and devour one another; there is struggle, exploitation, and miserable death at every level of nature; over time, entropy is the dominant reality of the universe. Escaping the moral consequences of such observations, it seems, by the end of the 19th Century, even the deity was eliminated from natural law (some of the final blows being struck by the philosophical contributions of Immanuel Kant), making “natural law” entirely anthropocentric3.
By this time also, under the force of modernist natural theology emanating from the Enlightenment, Christianity had been subordinated by Western Society, becoming merely a cultural element, a situation to which Karl Barth and others responded by entirely rejecting natural law as a valid category of God’s law4. This is why the “religious right” in America today is criticized for obsession with enacting “Biblical legislation.” Being in many ways the theological descendants of Karl Barth, they have little, if any, recognition of natural law, and insist on nearly exclusive use of divine law regardless of whether the Ecclesiastical or Political estates are involved. These ideals of pop-Christianity are set against those of modern and post-modern Western Society, which has in the past century rejected any notion that law has a transcendent source, whether naturally or divinely derived, in favor of amoral and arbitrary legal-positivism, and more recently, post-modern deconstructionism5.
General Revelation does not fully reveal God’s Law
General Revelation has long been recognized as sufficient to suggest the existence, power and glory of a Deity, to prompt man’s recognition of its transcendence and authority, and to derive from the testimony of Creation’s order a moral law for the ordering of society. The Scriptures and the Confessions clearly extol this witness of Creation, and testify to the law of God that is written on the hearts of men, such that, even apart from the Scriptures, mankind is without excuse (Ro. 1:18-21). Moreover, observation of natural and pagan societies bear out the testimony of Scripture in this regard: on the basis of God’s witness to Himself within His created order, man has every reason for a healthy fear of God and a recognition of his need to either appease God’s wrath or to purchase His protection. But such fear and recognition is a basis for works-righteousness, only. The law revealed in General Revelation, alone, is not sufficient to reveal to mankind his truly helpless state before God, to reveal to mankind the true depth of his depravity, nor to reveal the truly fearsome wrath of God toward sin and toward those who commit sin. When we say “Law and Gospel,” it is not General Revelation or Natural Law to which we refer. It is God’s Divine Law, revealed to us only in the Holy Scriptures, which He has personally, through His prophets, given to humanity.
The Scriptures reveal to mankind the true reality of his condition before God. When God created the world, He created it “good,” or “fit for its designed purpose” (Ge. 1:4,10,12,18,21,25). On the sixth day, when God created man in His image, holy and righteous (Ge. 1:26-27), He designated man as the crown of His Creation (Co. 3:10; Ep. 4:24), as “very good” – or exceedingly fit and in harmony with His purposes (Ge. 1:31) – and gave him dominion over it (Ge. 1:28-30), whereupon, He rested from, or ceased, His creative effort (Ge. 2:1-3). The Laws of Nature established, Creation proceeded to function as God designed it. There was no sin, thus, there was neither death nor corruption. Man, together with all of Creation, enjoyed a harmonious relationship with God.
Man’s Fall and its Consequences
At the instigation of the Devil, however, Adam transgressed the Law of God (Ge. 3:1-13), falling into sin (1 Jn. 3:4). As a result, corruption entered Creation (Ge. 6:11-12) and became part of Adam’s nature, poisoning his relationship with God. Harmony turned into dissonance: Adam sought to evade God, hiding from Him as He approached (Ge. 3:8). Peace between God and Adam became conflict: Creation along with Adam and his descendants were cursed by God, and He ejected the first humans from Eden (Ge. 3:14-19,23-24). Adam’s nature thus corrupted by sin, his fallen state has propagated to his descendants (Ge. 1:28; 5:3; 6:12b; 46:26), infecting all of mankind (Ps. 14:1-3; Ro. 3:10-19); all of Creation groans under the weight of sin (Ro. 8:22). No longer unblemished as Adam was before the Fall, mankind is now corrupt in the eyes of God. He is sinful both in the nature he has inherited from Adam through his parents (Original Sin) (Ep. 2:3b, Ro. 5:12, Ps 51:5) and in his works (Actual Sin) – that is, in his thoughts (Ge. 6:5; Mt. 15:19; He. 9:14), words (Ro. 3:13-14), and actions (Mk. 7:21-23; Jn. 3:19; Ro. 8:13) – by what he does (sins of commission) and by what he fails to do (Ja. 4:17) (sins of omission).
As a result of the Fall, mankind is sinful in his nature, he has neither sinlessness nor holiness – he is sinful from the time of his conception (Ps. 51:5), his mind dwells only upon evil and regards God’s truth as foolishness (Ge. 6:5; 1 Co. 2:14), he is by nature the enemy of God (Ro. 8:7), and by his works he can in nowise merit favor with Him (Ep. 2:1,3; Ro. 3:10-18). As an enemy of God, he is in a perpetual state of open rebellion against God. Being contrary to his fallen nature, it is impossible for man to perform the works required of him under God’s Law, and consistent with his fallen nature, he actively struggles against it. The Law is thus a curse (Ga. 3:10); it binds those who are under it to obedience while at the same time stimulating their rebellion (Ro. 7:7).
God hates sin. God hates sinners. Sinners deserve God’s punishment.
Because God and His Law are perfect (De. 32:4; Ps. 18:30; Ps. 19:7a), it is necessary for man to possess the same perfect righteousness as God before there can be any fellowship with Him (Mt. 5:48). To know God, is to obey His Law (1 Jn. 1:3). To love God, is to obey His Law (Jn. 14:15; 1 Jn. 1:4-5). Transgression of God’s Law is sin (1 Jn. 3:4) – it is the opposite of knowing and loving God, it is active rebellion against God. Naturally, therefore, God hates sin, and will purge His Creation of everything corrupted by it (2 Pe. 3:10). God also hates sinners (Ps. 5:5; Ps. 11:5; Le. 20:23; Pr. 6:16-19; Ho. 9:15), and on account of their rebellion, has set Himself against them. Therefore, being perfectly Just, God demands that man’s sin be punished (Co. 3:25), and the Just punishment for sin is death and eternal separation from God (Ro. 6:23a) in the torments of Hell.
The Natural Man seeks to appease God on his own terms
At this point, naturally agreeing that the Creator God is powerful, righteous, and angry with sin, the reasonable man, according to his natural recognition of Natural Law, rightly reasons that God’s wrath must be appeased if he is to avoid eternal punishment. There must be atonement for the wrongs committed by man, and a change in man by which God no longer sees him as sinful. Yet also, the reasonable man sees that providing sufficient payment for sin and living righteously will be a challenge. The former will require his life. Perhaps dedicating and giving his life to God, as a sacrificial act before it is demanded of him by God, will suffice? In the latter case, righteous living is opposed to his very nature as man. Yet, perhaps the truly determined and zealous man can overcome himself, gain victory over sin in his life, and live the rest of his life only for God? Surely, God would be proud of such devotion, regard such a one as meritworthy, and reward him with temporal and eternal blessing! In such ways, man resorts to his natural inclinations as he struggles to find his own way to appease God – testing the good he thinks he does against the reward he thinks he has received as a result of it. He does so because he has not yet heard God’s Divine Law in the full force of its fearsome terror.
We are all by nature the children of wrath
- But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. (Is. 64:6-7)
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Ro. 3:10-20)
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Co. 2:14)
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. ...I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. (Ro. 7:14-21)
But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. (Is. 59:2)
Mankind, in his natural state, is spiritually dead in trespasses and sin (Co. 2:10-15; Ep. 2:1-10); and this spiritual death putrifies his flesh, the stench from which is intolerable in the nostrils of God. Each person, like all of Creation, is in a state of decay, and from the time of his birth marches steadily toward eternal death6. These are the true wages of sin: eternal death and eternal separation from God in a place He has prepared for the devil and all his angels – Hell. There is nothing we can do to help ourselves. Nothing. In our nature we reject all the things of God (Ro. 3:10-18, Ro. 8:7-8), and are in open rebellion against Him. All of our works are only evil before God, and in the face of His Divine Law, we are impelled toward even greater rebellion. On account of our sin, we are separated from God, He has hidden His face from us, and He will not hear us. It is impossible for us to achieve meritorious standing in the eyes of God. We are helpless before God Who has prepared His throne for judgment, and will judge the world according to righteousness (Ps. 9:8-9). We cannot save ourselves from His righteous judgment; we deserve His eternal wrath and punishment. If we are to escape it, we need to be saved from it. We need a Saviour to do this for us. Without a Saviour, we are doomed.
The Use of God’s Divine Law in the Church – its Ecclesiastical, or Second Use
This is the Church’s use of the Law – unattenuated by the Gospel or by human reason. Equally applicable to all of humanity, its purpose is not to drive us to obedience, but to work contrition and to drive us to a Saviour. In this way, the Second use of the Law prepares the way for the Gospel7.
- Johnson, T. (2005). Natural Law Ethics: An Evangelical Proposal. Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft. pp. 15-18.
- Ibid. pg. 28.
- Montgomery, J. (2002). Christ our Advocate: Studies in Polemical Theology, Jurisprudence, and Canon Law. Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft. pg. 20.
- Johnson, T. (2005). Natural Law Ethics: An Evangelical Proposal. Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft. pp. 19-23.
- Montgomery, J. (2002). Christ our Advocate: Studies in Polemical Theology, Jurisprudence, and Canon Law. Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft. pg. 32.
- Eternal Death: Physical death while in a state of Spiritual death.
- Which the reader, who is, no doubt, depressed at this point, can expect is forthcoming, about mid-week this week.