Natural Law: The Basis for Independence Day
241 years ago, Thomas Jefferson put quill to parchment and penned the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was responsible for much of the content of this magnificent document, but credit is given also to co-authors Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. Though the Colonies and Great Britain had been involved in armed conflict prior to the time the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia early in the summer of 1775, the thought of independence from Britain was far from universal among its delegates. Indeed, while some few delegates advocated independence from the out set of the Congress, John Adams chief among them, these secessionists were considered by most to be on the radical fringe. The object of the Congress was to oversee the conduct of the armed rebellion against the crown. The object of that rebellion was not necessarily independence from Britain, rather a struggle for greater autonomy in governing the affairs of colonists an ocean away from Parliament and King George. Many recent enactments by his majesty’s government were seen by the colonists as capricious and punitive, and therefore, unworthy to be considered law.
Our national forefathers were well read men, and advocates of the concept of natural law. Natural law, as described by philosophers such as Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, is the rational extension of God’s eternal law or the laws of nature as applied by men. This is the source of man’s “unalienable rights” noted in Jefferson’s declaration to include “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Twentieth century author and philosopher C.S. Lewis declared natural law to be universal, and applicable to life on other planets should such life exist. Laws of man, called positive law, that countered the tenants of natural law were considered void, lacking in any moral standing to be considered as law. This was the view of the majority of delegates to the Second Continental Congress of laws and taxes imposed upon them by King George and his government, giving the colonies the right to oppose such laws by armed insurrection, leading to outright rebellion and a battle for independence. When the laws of man lack the moral standing of natural law, such laws are considered evil and are to be avoided and contained.
There are passages in the bible that attest to and agree with natural law. One such passage is Romans 1:18-20. In this scripture, Paul, a legal scholar of his time, wrote,
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 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, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”
Even absent direct divine revelation or His written word, the very nature of His creation speaks of God’s sovereignty and His majesty. Rational man can extrapolate from observation that much of what is contained within the Ten Commandments is a natural extension of God’s divine law. Even before being inscribed on stone tablets, men understood murder, stealing, adultery, and disrespecting their parents were wrong. So is the imposition of punitive taxes without the benefit of representation.
So, this week while you enjoy your barbeque and fireworks, remember the role played in our independence by natural law, and the intellectually curious forefathers who were learned in natural law and believed it right to found our nation. Absent their advocacy of natural law, there would have been no declaration, and you would not be enjoying a holiday this week.
~ Hudd ~
Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek Church in Branson, MO