The Law of Nature and of Nature’s God
Do you know how many new laws you’re expected to obey in 2015?
Whatever the number, when we combine all lawmaking activities at the federal, state, and local levels, we can see that every U.S. citizen is bound by literally hundreds of new government mandates each year. As business owners and others can attest, it’s becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to comply with these constantly changing legal requirements-or even to keep track of them all!
To Be Just, the Law Must Be Limited
Sadly, this is the very situation our Founding Fathers warned us against. In 1788 James Madison wrote: “It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they… undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?”
Since law is force, it should be restricted to the one purpose for which individuals may legitimately use force–to protect our natural rights. As Thomas Jefferson put it, the law should “restrain men from injuring one another” but “leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits.”
Therefore, whenever a new bill comes before a legislative body, each member ought to ask himself.. “Do I have the right to use force against my neighbor to achieve this goal? Would I be willing to forcibly take his property, lock him in jail, or (in some cases) put him to death for failing to obey this law?” If a legislator isn’t certain it would be just to do so, he should vote against the bill.
Natural Law: The Basis of Proper Government
America’s founders knew that the only reliable basis on which to found a government was on a foundation that never changes. They called it “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.”
What is Natural Law?
First of all, Cicero defines Natural Law as “true law.” Then he says:
“True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands, and averts from wrongdoing by its prohibitions…. It is a sin to try to alter this law, nor is it allowable to repeal any part of it, and it is impossible to abolish entirely. We cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or people, and we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder or interpreter of it. And there will not be different laws at Rome and Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and all times, and there will be one master and ruler, that is God, over us all, for he is the author of this law, its promulgator, and its enforcing judge. Whoever is disobedient is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature, and by reason of this very fact he will suffer the worst punishment.”
It can also be defined as “the rules of moral conduct implanted by nature in the human mind, forming the proper basis for and being superior to all written laws; the will of God revealed to man through his conscience.”
Natural law was central to American thought even before the Revolution. For example, here’s what Massachusetts patriot James Otis wrote in 1764 to oppose an unjust revenue act passed by the British Parliament: “The supreme power in a state is jus dicere [to declare the law only: jus dare [to give the law, strictly speaking, belongs alone to God…. There must be in every instance a higher authority, [namely,] God. Should an act of Parliament be against any of His natural laws, which are immutably true, their declaration would be contrary to eternal truth, equity, and justice, and consequently void.”
When the U.S. Constitution was completed, its framers looked upon it as an expression of this higher law. According to Madison, it was a product of “the transcendent law of nature.” Alexander Hamilton called it “a fundamental law” and concluded that “no legislative act… contrary to the Constitution can be valid.”
Who Taught the Founders About This?
Where did the Founders learn about natural law? In their historical and political studies, it was a familiar thread that ran through the Greek and Roman philosophers (such as Aristotle, Demosthenes, Seneca, and especially Cicero); the Anglo-Saxon tradition of common law; and many of the European and English political philosophers (such as Sir Edward Coke, John Locke, Baron Charles de Montesquieu, and Sir William Blackstone).
This passage from Blackstone is representative of what they encountered in their reading:
“Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his Creator…. These are the eternal, immutable laws of good and evil, to which the Creator Himself in all His dispensations conforms; and which He has enabled human reason to discover, so far as they are necessary for the conduct of human actions. Such, among others, are these principles: that we should live honestly, should hurt nobody, and should render to everyone his due…. This law of nature… is binding over all the globe, in all countries and at all times; no human laws are of any validity if contrary to this.”
The Bible and Natural Law
But the most ancient and most influential source from which the Founders drew their understanding of natural law was the Holy Bible, which they had studied from their childhood. “I will give thee… a law,” the Lord declared to Moses, and He inscribed it on stone tablets to govern the house of Israel. When they vowed to obey this law, God accepted their covenant and promised that if they remained faithful He would make them “high above all nations … an holy people unto the Lord.”
The Israelites were forbidden to alter the words received by Moses, for “the law of the Lord is perfect.” “Great peace have they which love [the] law,” their leaders taught.
“He that keepeth the law, happy is he.” The lord also revealed to the prophet Jeremiah that in the last days He would “make a new covenant with the house of Israel,… I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
In the New Testament, Jesus proclaimed that the two greatest commandments are to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart” and to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” and that “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. ” The Apostle James spoke of Christ’s gospel as “the perfect law of liberty.”
Biblical teachings had a powerful impact on America’s founders. In fact, between the years 1760 and 1805, the Bible was the most frequently cited source in American political writings. John Adams, who regarded politics as “the divine science,” once said: “Suppose a nation… should take the Bible for their only law book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited What a paradise would this region be!”
America Was Built on Natural Law
As our forefathers sought to build “one nation under God,” they purposely established their legal codes on the foundation of natural law. They believed that societies should be governed, as Jefferson put it, by “the moral law to which man has been subjected by his Creator, and of which his feelings, or conscience as it is sometimes called, are the evidence with which his Creator has furnished him. The moral duties which exist between individual and individual in a state of nature accompany them into a state of society,… their Maker not having released them from those duties on their forming themselves into a nation.”
Throughout the first century of US. history, natural law was upheld as a key principle of government by the American people and their leader-not only by Presidents and the Congress, but also by the Supreme Court.
In the view of the Court, its members were to decide cases by exercising “that understanding which Providence has bestowed upon them.” Since the laws they adjudicated were based on “the preexisting and higher authority of the laws of nature,” they relied less on judicial precedent than on “eternal justice as it comes from intelligence and ….. . to guide the conscience of the Court.”
So What Happened in the Twentieth Century?
In the 1900s, however, the Court began to depart from the original American philosophy. By 1947, Justice Hugo Black (following the earlier reasoning of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes) was urging that “the ‘natural law’ formula … should be abandoned”; he even argued that it was “a violation of our Constitution!” The other branches of the federal government have also succumbed to this new line of thinking.
Today, the United States has all but severed its connection to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” We’ve sold our birthright for a “mess of pottage,” and we now find ourselves harvesting the fruits of that decision. In the recent words of Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Edith H. Jones, our country has plunged into a profound moral crisis “because we have lost the sense of a God who takes interest in what we do.” As a result, she says, we have come to tolerate violence, immorality, and the disintegration of our families-and “are only now beginning to reap the whirlwind consequences” of these evils.
We are reminded of this sober admonition from the Old Testament: “Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land…. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, … seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” (Hosea 4:1, 6)
We Must Return to the “Freedom and Unity” Formula
More than ever before, America needs moral, God-fearing statesmen who have the knowledge, integrity, and determination to lead us back to the inspired principles on which this nation was founded. Among the most important of these is natural law. Only by adhering to this law, which is the will of our Creator revealed through the scriptures and through the conscience of every person, can our society enjoy lasting peace, stability, and happiness.
In modern times, many people have accepted the notion that all “truth” is relative and thus every opinion is equally valid, even in life’s most crucial issues. Such a philosophy inevitably tends toward confusion, corruption, and social discord. But absolute, eternal truth-the very substance of natural law-provides a sure standard for consensus by which we can “form a more perfect union” without violating the free will of any citizen.
In fact, we may say that revealed truth is the very center of America’s original “freedom and unity ” formula. Thomas Jefferson pointed out that the divine truths implanted in us by heaven are “those principles … in which God has united us all.” Ironically, they not only unify us but also liberate us, as our Savior assured His disciples. “Ye shall know the truth,” He said, “and the truth shall make you free.”
Earl Taylor, Jr.