Preface

The following is a clarification on two varying definitions of Natural Law, in light of an article entitled, “Natural Law: Greek or Hebrew?” written by Brandon Adams.[1] Before going any further, we ask that the reader take time to read Adams’ excellent article so as to fully grasp the current conversation. Our hope here is to spend less time on what Mr. Adams has already clearly stated, and more time on what he did not say, to further elucidate his position and that of other Christians subscribing to the libertarian legal theory. This should preclude any further confusion so long as those reading take into consideration the historically cited definitions and nuances given here, and in Adam’s article.

In attempting to refute Adams in a counter-article entitled, “The Myth of Natural Law,” Sean Gerety misidentifies and misrepresents Brandon Adams’ beliefs concerning Natural Law.[2] Like Brandon Adams, Mr. Gerety appears to be a devout and respected scholar of Gordon H. Clark; ergo the name of his blog, God’s Hammer — a blog which admittedly contains invaluable material for the ardent Scripturalist that we recommend. Unfortunately, Gerety fails to deliver the same logical acuity and humility as Dr. Clark, in his answer to Adams. Be that as it may, we want to preface this article with a show of respect for Mr. Gerety. He has written extensively, and is a trusted contributor at The Trinity Foundation which is another resource we highly recommend.  Mr. Gerety has written alongside Dr. John W. Robbins, and is highly respected in the relatively small community of Clarkians/Scripturalists. We here likewise respect Mr. Gerety’s contributions and hope the reader will spend some time at his blog.

Introduction

In his own article, Brandon Adams argues against one definition of Natural Law — the Greek philosophical definition, supported by the likes of Aristotle, Aquinas, and “Mr. Libertarian” himself, Murray Rothbard — a definition that both Mr. Gerety and Dr. Robbins rightly argue against, respectively. Adams then later on argues for an Augustinian and Calvinistic [re]definition of Natural Law — a definition altogether different from that of the former, and by all accounts, unaddressed by The Trinity Foundation (i.e. John W. Robbins) as far as we can tell — which is a resource upon which Mr. Gerety so heavily relies in his rejoinder. It’s semantics, really; and for Clarkians, defining terms at the outset of any meaningful dialog is requisite for clarity. Regrettably, Mr. Gerety failed to grant Adams’ definitions, even in subsequent exchanges.

Defining & [Re]defining Terms

To clarify, in defining Natural Law in two different ways, Adams gives quotes from various people (including an alleged article by Dr. Gordon Clark whose authorship, though doubtful, is irrelevant to Adams’ conclusions) to show varying views and to draw clear distinctions. The definition of Natural Law which Mr. Adams supports is defined simply as God’s eternal Moral Law; the law natural to man’s being — natural in the sense that it is part and parcel to his creatureliness as endowed by God. This definition of the Moral Law is not at odds with what is revealed about itself in Scripture. It is a Law implanted upon man’s heart, viz. his mind.

This is not a novel [re]definition of Natural Law. In fact, Augustine, who far preceded Aquinas (and is cited by Adams’), speaks of the Law of God upon the heart of man, and is even cited by John Calvin when he speaks to the equity of God’s Law as such.[3] Calvin likewise explicitly labels this Law on the heart of man as Natural Law in several different locations of his Institutes. So it’s not like Brandon Adams, or any Christian libertarian, just pulled the nomenclature out of thin air and redefined it. To restate R. Scott Clark, John Calvin

made a very sophisticated revision of the concept of natural law by removing it from the Stoic and Thomistic corpus of “self-evident” truths and identifying it with the content of the Law revealed in the Garden and at Sinai and in the Sermon on the Mount.[4]

This [re]definition of Natural Law set a historio-theological precedent that should be taken into consideration when discussing political theory from a Christian worldview. It is a bit disconcerting that neither Clark nor Robbins mention in their works Calvin’s redefining of this term; nor do they even mention his use of Natural Law at all. They rightly scrutinize Aquinas’ definition, but there’s nary a mention of Calvin’s. However, Gordon Clark [in a quote below] and W. Gary Crampton (another disciple of Clark) interpret Romans 2:14, 15 in the same way as Calvin which bears great significance with the Scripturalist position.[5] For in the same chapter that Calvin interprets this passage as the Gentiles having the righteousness of the law naturally engraven on their minds, and that we cannot say they are altogether blind as to the rule of life, he then goes on to explain that what Paul is referring to is, in fact, Natural Law. Calvin says, “The end of natural law, therefore, is to render man inexcusable…” Finnis ergo legis naturalis est, ut reddatur homo inexcusabilis.[6]

Justified Ethics

Perhaps Adams failed to be clear enough in this regard; or perhaps his distinctions weren’t drawn as sharply as they should have been to preclude objection. We cannot be certain. Whatever the case, let it be known that on the most fundamental level, the Natural Law to which Adams holds (and some of us other libertarians) is not akin to that of Aquinas, or Murray Rothbard. In technical terms, normative principles are based upon divine precepts, but Rothbard et al attempts to prescribe ethics that are based squarely upon descriptive premises; this is a logical blunder. It is the former from which the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) can be rightly and consistently deduced from Scripture (the revealed Law); whereas the latter fails to escape Hume’s guillotine and cannot justify the NAP, or any political ethic whatsoever. Rothbard is in good company in this case, with America’s founders who attempted to do the same on the basis of John Locke’s theories.

Therefore, it is inferred from this Law on the heart that man can provide principles “for conduct in civil affairs.”[7] However, the problem is unregenerate man’s inability to justify the bases of these principles. Yet, while being incapable of providing such bases, man is not so depraved that he cannot believe in true propositions (e.g. that murder and theft are wrong). In Clarkian rhetoric, even though unregenerate man does not actually “know” that it’s wrong to murder and to steal, he is still inclined to believe it is wrong to murder and to steal. His thoughts, that theft and murder are wrong are thus mere “opinions” that are true; opinions that are informed by the innate Law of God on his heart via his conscience. It is not that unregenerate man cannot believe that theft and murder are wrong, but rather they have no legitimate basis for why it is wrong; whereas a Christian does. The unregenerate man opines, “Theft and murder are wrong” and believes it. The Christian knows theft and murder are wrong, and believes it too. The former has a true opinion; the latter has true knowledge — the former deduces true normative conclusions from false premises while the latter deduces true normative conclusions from true premises.

The Contributions of Gordon H. Clark & John W. Robbins

Gordon Clark on Ch. XIX of the Westminster Confession of Faith says,

There is further evidence of a moral law imposed by God on man before and apart from the Mosaic code [Positive Law] as such. God not only gave specific commands, such as to keep the Sabbath day and to subdue nature, but he also provided man with an innate moral endowment, referred to in Romans 1:32 and 2:15. This is the law written on the hearts of even the heathen. How extensive it was in the case of Adam is hard to say; and since the fall has defaced the image of God in man, these innate moral principles are woefully ineffective. …responsibility is based on knowledge. The heathen, who have never heard the Gospel of salvation, are nonetheless responsible for their sins because of this original endowment of knowledge which is part of the divine image in which man was created.[8]

Clark, later on in this chapter, reinforces the Reformed belief in one of the three uses of the Law when he says, “The moral law also provides principles for conduct of our civil affairs. It does not spell out the details, but it sets limits and furnishes norms.”[9]

Dr. John W. Robbins is found in agreement with Clark on the three uses of the Law. In an article entitled, “Ethics and Justification by Faith Alone” he even goes so far to say that the dismissal of this use “undermines the whole structure of Christian ethics.”[10] It is unfortunate that Dr. Robbins never fully developed a comprehensive legal theory, but we can at least surmise that he held to a consistent view of the Law of God on man’s heart as a civil guide.

This is really what Mr. Adams’ article all boils down to; it is what much of the work at Reformed Libertarian (RL) is all about. Though while we at TFI do not officially speak for CJay Engel and Brandon Adams, one of our admins is a contributor at RL, and is a firm defender of Biblical Ethics; to include the libertarian legal theory deduced therefrom.

Conclusion and Cursory Defense of the NAP

As for the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP), it is Biblically justifiable in a Christian worldview. In fact, it is logically consistent and can only be justified in a Christian worldview; much to the chagrin of non-Christian libertarians, I’m sure, and especially to that of Dogmatists who scoff at the idea that non-Christians could ever conceive of greater legal theories than most Christians have throughout history — which is a bold statement, to be sure.

To Gordon Clark’s above point concerning principles of conduct in civil affairs, the Non-Aggression Axiom is actually (to use Clarkian language) theorematic; viz. it is a proposition deduced from the Law of God. It is a proposition inferred from God’s eternal Moral Law, obliging the inaction of man vis-à-vis man concerning person and property. It is justified upon these grounds and is therefore the reason why reformed libertarians adhere to it as a legal ethic.

It is inferred from the Sinaitic instantiation of positive law in commandments six, eight, and in some such ways, nine; and it is inferred from the Sermon on the Mount as well. It is not from just the Decalogue which man discerns the Moral Law, but from the whole counsel of God where right and wrong is so thoroughly demonstrated. It is by Scripture that the Christian can live rightly, choose rightly, and believe rightly. It is by the Law of God on the heart of each man that he can conceive of such a superior legal theory; and it is by this same Law in each man that he is condemned without the perfection of Christ.

[1] Brandon Mr. Adams, “Natural Law: Greek or Hebrew,” Reformed Libertarian (blog), March 2, 2017, http://reformedlibertarian.com/articles/philosophy/natural-law-greek-or-israelite/.

[2] Sean Gerety, “The Myth of Natural Law,” God’s Hammer (blog), August 15, 2018, https://godshammer.wordpress.com/2018/08/15/the-myth-of-natural-law/.

[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion: 4.20.16, trans. Henry Beveridge (n.p.: Christian Classical Ethereal Library, n.d.), under “2665,” https://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.vi.xxi.html.

[4] R. Scott Clark, “Calvin On the Lex Naturalis,” Stulos Theological Journal 6 (May-November 1998): 18, http://rscottclark.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/1998rsclexnat.pdf.

[5] W. Gary Crampton, “Man as Created in God’s Image,” THE TRINITY REVIEW (June, 1994): 3, https://goo.gl/obSZxH

[6] Calvin, 2.2.22.

[7] Gordon Haddon Clark, What Do Presbyterians Believe? The Westminster Confession, Yesterday and Today, [rev. ed. (Unicoi, Tenn.: Trinity Foundation, 2001), 185.

[8] Ibid, 182. (emendation, mine)

[9] Ibid, 185. See also Calvin, 2.7.6-13 for his explication of the Three Uses of the Law.

[10] John Robbins, “Ethics and Justification by Faith Alone,” THE TRINITY REVIEW (September, 1995): 5, https://goo.gl/cjuRXg.

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