Constitutional scholar Randy E. Barnett, in Our Republican Constitution, makes the argument that the “unalienable rights” in the Declaration of Independence, which were “endowed” to men “by their Creator,” are NOT religiously based. He notes, “This is a misunderstanding of the concept of natural rights.” Barnett adds that, “Natural Law operates to guide human conduct even if the natural order was not divinely established.” He argues this was the view of the Founders that built America.

Claiming to paraphrase Rev. Elizur Goodrich (1734-1797), Barnett notes that the reverend viewed the laws of nature as “based on the regularities of nature.” Barnett asserts that it was only after making this claim that Goodrich identified nature’s order as originating from the Creator. From this, Barnett notes the Declaration makes a similar distinction between the two. He writes, “This same relationship is reflected in the distinction between ‘the Laws of Nature’ and ‘Nature’s God.’” For Barnett, there is a great chasm between “the Laws of Nature” and “Nature’s God.” To him, they are disjoint principles that can exist only in isolation. He concludes on the matter, “Even if there is no deity, crops will fail and buildings will fall if these laws are ignored.” At best, this is a humanist’s worldview, at worst, an atheist’s.

Barnett goes as far as to quote Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), a Dutch lawyer and theologian, to point out how great a chasm exists, in his view, between natural law and God’s law. Grotius wrote in his work, The Law of War and Peace in Three Books (De Jure Belli AC Pacis Libri Tres), “What we have been saying [about natural law] would have a degree of validity even if we should concede what cannot be conceded without the utmost wickedness, that there is no God, or that the affairs of men are of no concern to Him.” Grotius was not claiming there was a great chasm between natural law and God’s law. Grotius was merely making a distinction between the application of natural law and that of God’s law.

In referencing Grotius, Barnett attempts to point out that natural law is distinct from the law of nature’s God. There is a difference in application, but not in their source. To wit, natural law does not need Scriptural revelation (the law of Nature’s God) for men to gain knowledge of its function. To avoid making this assertion, Barnett seems to attempt to diminish God’s role in establishing both, natural law as well and His law. This point is made clearer by another reference to Grotius, which he makes in the same book referenced by Barnett. Grotius notes that the law of nature is lacking, and only God’s law can fill this void. He writes, “This [Christian religion], however–contrary to the practice of most men–I have distinguished from the law of nature, considering it as certain that in that most holy law a greater degree of moral perfection is enjoined upon us than the law of nature, alone and by itself, would require.” Thus, Barnett missed Grotius’ conclusion for the establishment of just and moral law. This is to say, that society, in order to endure in justice and freedom, requires the application of the laws of nature as well as the laws of nature’s God (the Bible).

Reverend Elizur Goodrich’s Sermon can be downloaded here. In referencing Goodrich’s Sermon, Barnett neglects to mention the following passage, which appears on the same sermon. To wit, Rev. Goodrich asserts it is from religion that nature is ordered. Contrary to what Barnett claims, Goodrich writes:

The great and most universal principle and law of rational union and happiness, is the love of God and of our neighbour: This in the moral, is like the great law of gravitation and attraction in the natural world, and its tendency in human society, is to universal good. The first maxim derived from it, is that divine precept in the gospel, “whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye also the same unto them.” Hence religion and virtue are the great principles on which the happiness of human societies must be built; and from these principles must be derived the knowledge of all laws, which determine the order of that benevolence, we owe to one another, and point out the means of attaining the greatest good.

Goodrich has much more to say along these lines. He asserts that without the Word of God, civil government would cease to exists. He notes:

How thankful then should we be for the ordinance of civil government, which is a token of divine forbearance to a guilty world; and will continue till the designs of the Christian ministry, are accomplished. How many have no higher conception of the Christian ministry, and the wisdom and goodness of God in appointing it, than as relating to this world? Hence, while they pride themselves in civil privileges, and perhaps, allow the morality of the gospel to have some good influence on the happiness of society, they have no idea of the glory of the Christian scheme of salvation, and despise the gospel, the ministry and the church of God. And yet, were it not, that the gospel might be preached, and the church have a being on earth, civil government would cease among men.

On electing public officials, Goodrich notes, “Make it your constant aim to choose able and faithful men, who fear God and hate covetousness, to be your rulers; honour and encourage them in all their endeavours to make you a virtuous, prosperous and happy people.” On abusing their authority, Goodrich asserts, “If rulers appointed by the people abuse their authority, they may be displaced. A republic has the means of redress within itself; and cannot be oppressed, but by its own fault and neglect. As noted by black activist, and Republican Patriot, Ida B. Wells, “Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty.”

Natural Law

To be sure, nature does not need Biblical revelation in the application of its laws. God has revealed himself to nature and nature is bound by the laws prescribed by God. In Romans 1:19-20 (NASB), Paul writes, “Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, being understood by what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

Humans cannot make laws that violate the laws of nature. For instance, a law prohibiting the earth’s gravitational pull is meaningless because nature is not bound to obey such law. Nature only obeys laws established by God, its Creator. In this way, God has revealed himself to nature. Psalm 19:1 (NASB) notes, “The heavens tell of the glory of God; And their expanse declares the work of His hands.“

William Blackstone (1723-1780), an English jurist and author of the well known, Commentaries on the Laws of England, was the second most quoted human source by the Founders. The first most quoted human source by the Founders was Baron Charles de Montesquieu. From David Barton’s, Original Intent, we learn that, of all the thinkers of the time, Montesquieu was quoted about 8.3% of the time, closely followed by Blackstone with 7.9%. Of the total number of citations made by the Founders, the most cited source, by far, was the Bible, which was cited 34% of the time.

Blackstone wrote his commentaries in four volumes. In Volume I, Chapter II, he writes:

Man depends absolutely upon his maker for everything, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his maker’s will. This will of his maker is called the law of nature. For as God, when he created matter, and endued it with a principle of mobility, established certain rules for the perpetual direction of that motion; So, when He created man, and endued him with freewill to conduct himself in all parts of life, he laid down certain immutable laws of human nature, whereby that freewill is in some degree regulated and restrained, and gave him also the faculty of reason to discover the purpose of those laws.

Blackstone continues:

This law of nature, being co-eval with mankind and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force, and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from its original.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the main author of the Declaration of Independence, and no fan of Blackstone, had to admit to John Tyler that Blackstone was used by American law students with the same dedication that the Quran is used by Muslims. Author David Barton notes in Original Intent, “It was a fundamental precept under the natural law philosophy explained by Blackstone and embraced by the majority of the Founders that civil laws could not contradict the laws of God revealed either through nature [the Laws of Nature] or by the Bible [revelation by Nature’s God].”

If one were to look at wildlife, it can be noted that it is natural for some species to murder another or steal their food. Monogamy is not natural for a bull, which is why one may have one bull for 40 cows. So, if this is all part of the laws of nature, why is it wrong for humans to behave this way? Well, that’s why we have the laws revealed by “Nature’s God” in the Bible. Between “the Laws…

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