The Natural Law and its Use by the Christian and the World

In regard to the natural law, I think my views are the views of the Bible, Calvin, Luther, The creeds and confessions, the historical church, etc.

“As it is evident that the law of God which we call moral, is nothing else than the testimony of natural law, and of that conscience which God has engraven on the minds of men, the whole of this equity of which we now speak is prescribed in it.” Calvin, Inst. 4.20

First, the natural law is an expression of the moral laws of God exhibited in creation itself, so it is perfect. There is no aspect of the natural law that is anything less than the law of God and it is binding upon all creatures perpetually.

Second, the natural law is applied in all three traditional uses of the law: it convicts men of unrighteousness, it drives them to Christ, and it is a perpetual rule of life for the Christian.

From the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Q95: Of what use is the moral law to all men?
A95: The moral law is of use to all men, to inform them of the holy nature and will of God,[1] and of their duty, binding them to walk accordingly;[2] to convince them of their disability to keep it, and of the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives;[3] to humble them in the sense of their sin and misery,[4] and thereby help them to a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ,[5] and of the perfection of his obedience.[6]

1. Lev. 11:44-4520:7-8Rom. 7:12
2. Micah 6:8James 2:10-11
3. Psa. 19:11-12Rom. 3:207:7
4. Rom. 3:923
5. Gal. 3:21-22
6. Rom. 10:4

Q96: What particular use is there of the moral law to unregenerate men?

A96: The moral law is of use to unregenerate men, to awaken their consciences to flee from wrath to come,[1] and to drive them to Christ;[2] or, upon their continuance in the estate and way of sin, to leave them inexcusable,[3] and under the curse thereof.[4]

1. I Tim. 1:9-10
2. Gal. 3:24
3. Rom. 1:202:15
4. Gal. 3:10

Q97: What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?
A97: Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works,[1] so as thereby they are neither justified [2] nor condemned;[3] yet, besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men, it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good;[4] and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness,[5] and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.[6]

1. Rom. 6:147:46Gal. 4:4-5
2. Rom. 3:20
3. Gal. 5:23Rom. 8:1
4. Rom. 7:24-258:3-4Gal. 3:13-14
5. Luke 1:68-6974-75Col. 1:12-14
6. Rom. 7:2212:2Titus 2:11-14

For all, but especially so for the Christian, because though he is not under the law as a means of justification before God he is bound to perfect and personal obedience to God and his law in this life and the next. Heaven will be, if nothing else, the freedom to practice perfect and perpetual obedience to God undisturbed by the ability, opportunity or inclination to sin, sin being the violation of the law of God.

Third, the natural law is wider but includes every one of the Ten Commandments, they being a shorter synopsis of the natural laws. In this, the Ten and the Natural Law are identical at every point (though the natural law and the Ten Commandments are not in themselves identical because the natural law is wider. They are overlapping truths but nature is a broader thing than man).

Following from this, the two great commandments of Jesus, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”” are nothing other than the natural law and the Ten Commandments summarized.

They are not a different law, a better law, a higher law, a more spiritual law or a law for Christians especially.

“The purpose of natural law, therefore, is to render man inexcusable. This would not be a bad definition: natural law is that apprehension of the conscience that distinguishes sufficiently between just and unjust, and which deprives men of the excuse of ignorance, while it proves them guilty by their own testimony.” Calvin

Fourth, the flaw or deficit in the natural law in regard to its use is not a weakness in the law as it is in itself but a wound in the man receiving that law. It is not a problem in the legislation or the Legislator but in those over whom the legislation has authority.

Here, the weakness in the law is a weakness in man is three ways:

First, the fallenness of man has broken his mind. He is no longer a rational being free to receive it because it is simply and obviously true, even though he sees it all around him and lives and moves within its labors. The noetic effect of sin makes man a deeply biased and intellectually stunted figure incapable of using logic even so as to think out moral evils. He thinks that evils are goods and that goods are evils and I mean this not in merely the moral sense but in the rational product of the human mind. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he..” and man outside of Christ does not think well. We are born with the delusion that we are moral genius’ but in practical application closer to the animals.

Paul writes on this

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Romans Chapter Two

Second, we have an acute moral propensity against the goodness of the natural law. We are not neutral, nor ever disposed in ourselves alone, to love what is good. All of our loves are disordered and more so, inclined away from God and toward the dark and demonic. And here is where many that have been saying “yea and amen” will disagree as they could never bear seeing themselves to be so far from God. That all of the darkness of this world is primarily manifest in the chambers of the human heart and our attempts at religion to the contrary show only that we are destitute of godly inclination. The weakness of the law is that we do not love it; our wills are not so inclined as to apprehend it, nor to obey it, if we could.

The Apostle Paul summed this up by saying:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans Chapter One

Third, the disfigurement of the natural order itself, a general fallenness and corruption testified by scripture itself (“The creation waits in eager expectation for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will, but because of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until the present time.” Romans 8) Though the creation is held by God, maintained by God, spoken through by God, the fallenness of Adam includes a confusion of the created order itself due to be cured on the last day.

Nature as a spokesman for God has itself been tampered with by those to whom it has been given. In this, nature itself cannot speak as it would. Man has twisted it with his own corruption, making it into an untrustworthy guide to his own betterment (to Adam, in Genesis chapter 4 God says, “I will curse the Earth because of thee…”). Simply, nature itself does things that are ungodly making us often unsure of what it is trying to say.

Here is part of the reason for sacred scripture, in what we call the Divine Law, or the laws of God being presented in a clear and written form so as to correct that spoken of in nature, to decrease confusion over what the natural law is saying and distribute the knowledge of God over the face of the earth. The Bible is not an optional presentation of the moral law, one among others but is given for the explicit purpose of moral and intellectual clarity. So much so that without the clear presentation of the moral law in scripture a man can never know for sure if he has it, and if it is said in scripture one is required by God to know that he does.

So here, for the world, the natural law is a perfect guide imperfectly apprehended. We should use it and must use it but cannot use it as we should use it, and if we use it toward a good end we should say amen but if we use it badly we should stand up with the word of God and say, “but the Bible says”. Which contrary to the current malaise is a perfectly good answer to almost any question.

The Christian that expects the world to interpret and apply the natural law for themselves is setting upon them a burden neither they nor their children have been able to bear. It’s a doomed experiment in fallen man’s natural propensity to choose the good from their dark human resources.

The Christian though, here through the lens’ of scripture has both the opportunity and duty to read and apply the natural law in regard to his words and works.

Rev. Christopher Scott Neiswonger JD MA

Calvin from the Institutes:


Certain ignorant persons, not understanding this distinction, rashly cast out the whole of Moses, and bid farewell to the two Tables of the Law. For they think it obviously alien to Christians to hold to a doctrine that contains the “dispensation of death” [cf. 2 Corinthians 3:7].

Banish this wicked thought from our minds! For Moses has admirably taught that the law, which among sinners can engender nothing but death, ought among the saints to have a better and more excellent use. When about to die, he decreed to the people as follows: “Lay to your hearts all the words which this day I enjoin upon you, that you may command them to your children, and teach them to keep, do, and fulfill all those things written in the book of this law. For they have not been commanded to you in vain, but for each to live in them” [ Deuteronomy 32:46-47, cf. Vg.].

But if no one can deny that a perfect pattern of righteousness stands forth in the law, either we need no rule to live rightly and justly, or it is forbidden to depart from the law. There are not many rules, but one everlasting and unchangeable rule to live by. For this reason we are not to refer solely to one age David’s statement that the life of a righteous man is a continual meditation upon the law [ Psalm 1:2], for it is just as applicable to every age, even to the end of the world.

We ought not to be frightened away from the law or to shun its instruction merely because it requires a much stricter moral purity than we shall reach while we bear about with us the prison house of our body. For the law is not now acting toward us as a rigorous enforcement officer who is not satisfied unless the requirements are met.

But in this perfection to which it exhorts us, the law points out the goal toward which throughout life we are to strive. In this the law is no less profitable than consistent with our duty. If we fail not in this struggle, it is well. Indeed, this whole life is a race [cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24-26]; when its course has been run, the Lord will grant us to attain that goal to which our efforts now press forward from afar.


Now, the law has power to exhort believers. This is not a power to bind their consciences with a curse, but one to shake off their sluggishness, by repeatedly urging them, and to pinch them awake to their imperfection.

Therefore, many persons, wishing to express such liberation from that curse, say that for believers the law — I am still speaking of the moral law — has been abrogated. Not that the law no longer enjoins believers to do what is right, but only that it is not for them what it formerly was: it may no longer condemn and destroy their consciences by frightening and confounding them. Paul teaches clearly enough such an abrogation of the law [cf. Romans 7:6].

That the Lord also preached it appears from this: he would not have refuted the notion that he would abolish the law [ Matthew 5:17] if this opinion had not been prevalent among the Jews. But since without some pretext the idea could not have arisen by chance, it may be supposed to have arisen from a false interpretation of his teaching, just as almost all errors have commonly taken their occasion from truth. But to avoid stumbling on the same stone, let us accurately distinguish what in the law has been abrogated from what still remains in force.

When the Lord testifies that he “came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it” and that “until heaven and earth pass away… not a jot will pass away from the law until all is accomplished” [ Matthew 5:17-18], he sufficiently confirms that by his coming nothing is going to be taken away from the observance of the law. And justly — inasmuch as he came rather to remedy transgressions of it.

Therefore through Christ the teaching of the law remains inviolable; by teaching, admonishing, reproving, and correcting, it forms us and prepares us for every good work [cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17]

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