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June 21, 2010
(Sorry, I like the word "obfuscation.") 
VanDrunen's extensive discussion of natural law in this chapter sheds little more light on the problem than did his singularly unhelpful discussion in chapter 4.  The opening subsection of the main discussion in this chapter starts out promisingly, as VanDrunen quotes Francis Turretin and John Owen on the nature and origin of natural law.  Turretin says that the natural law arises “from a divine obligation being impressed by God upon the conscience of man in his very creation,” and, moreover, “that so many remains and evidences of this law are still left in our nature (although it has been in different ways corrupeted and obscured by sin) that there is no mortal who cannot feel its force either more or less.” 
Now this last bit is intriguing, because it is here, I have suggested, that a crucial part of the question hangs.  For natural law to be a sufficient guide for life in the civil kingdom, then natural law must be clearly and sufficiently knowable by us even in our fallen state.  It isn’t enough for natural law to exist, it isn’t enough for us to have comprehended it in a pre-fallen state, and it isn’t enough for us to have some remaining notions of it.  What VanDrunen needs to show in these thinkers is that we still have a clear and sufficient knowledge of it to conduct our lives by it.  Is this what Turretin says?  I’m not sure--“there is no mortal who cannot feel its force either more or less.”  That doesn’t sound terribly promising to me.  To feel the force of it (more or less) does not seem the same as having a clear apprehension of all its essential dictates. 

The Owen quote increases my doubt.  Owen, VanDrunen tells us, did not want to define natural law as “the dictates of right reason.  Which all men, or men generally, consent in and agree about”--instead, he said, “By the law of nature, then, I intend, not a law which our nature gives unto all our actions, but a law given unto our nature, as a rule and measure unto our moral actions....And this respect alone can give it the nature of a law,--that is, an obliging force or power.”  Now, the way I read this (though I may be misunderstanding), what Owen is trying to say is that natural law is not something within us that tells us how to act, but something that functions as a measure to judge our actions--in other words, not an infallible guide for our actions prospectively, but something by which they may be held accountable retrospectively.  Now this makes good sense to me.  Because of sin, we have an insufficient grasp of the natural law to simply use it in determining what to do, but God can nevertheless judge us by whether we have lived up to it.  
Owen goes on to say, “This law, therefore, is that rule which God hath given unto human nature, in all the individual partakers of it, for all its moral actions, in the state and condition wherein it was by him created and placed, with respect unto his own government of it and judging concerning it; which rule is made known in them and to them by their inward constitution and outward condition wherein they were placed by God.”  Now this seems pretty explicit: the rule was “made known in them and to them,” but in the “condition wherein they were placed by God,” that is, Eden.  Is it still made known in the same way to us in our current condition?  This quote doesn’t say, but I figure VanDrunen would’ve quoted Owen on it if he had said so.  
Based on what VanD has shown me so far, then, his summary comments about these writers are simply unjustified: “the natural law is known by nature apart from special revelation, it teaches the basic content of the moral law, it is written on the heart of every human being and roughly associated with the conscience, and assures everyone’s accountability before God.”  It is known, now, without special revelation?  Do you want to put any qualifiers on that?  Show me where Turretin and Owen said that.  
The next couple of pages discuss the relationship between natural law and God’s nature, which, while a mildly interesting question, does not really assist us in answering the questions at hand.  Following this is a discussion of the connection between the natural law and the conscience.  Now, again, this makes sense to me--natural law speaks to us through our conscience, sure, encouraging us to choose what is good and to turn away from what is evil.  However, conscience is rather vague and notoriously unreliable.  Conscience is much better at telling me, “I don’t think that would be a very good idea” than it is at telling me just what would be a good idea, and inasmuch as for me, as a Christian, it does tell me what would be a good idea, it is almost always relying on what I know to be good because my faith has taught it to me.  Conscience can easily be deceived, or misled by a false set of principles.  If I have come to accept false criteria about what is right and what is wrong (as fallen man is always wont to do), then my conscience will no longer be a reliable guide.  Nor, even when conscience is functioning properly and telling us what to do, can it get us very far on its own.  Its voice is too easily drowned out or misheard.  In short, if the conscience speaks the natural law to us, very well; but this will hardly be sufficient to tell us how to rightly govern a kingdom or set up an economy.  It just doesn’t tell us enough on its own to get us very far.  
A couple pages later, the equation of the natural law and the moral law is mentioned, along with the role of the Decalogue as a summary of the moral law.  I will pause here briefly to consider one of the questions I touched on in my introductory comments about this chapter.  VanDrunen says, “the common teaching of Reformed orthodox theology...equated the content of the natural law with the moral law (as summarized in the Decalogue).  More technical discussions distinguished the natural and moral laws insofar as the former was unwritten and known through general revelation and the latter was written and known through special revelation.  In Turretin’s words, they differ not in substance or principles, but in ‘mode of delivery.’”  If this is so, we may naturally ask what need there was for the special revelation?  If the Decalogue simply tells us what the natural law already told us, then why did God bother to tell it to us?  The simple answer seems to be, “because the natural law was insufficiently clear, and special revelation elucidated it.”  But this answer seems fatal to VanDrunen’s purpose, which is to establish the independent sufficiency of natural law for life in the civil kingdom.
VanDrunen moves on in this section to discuss the relationship between the natural law and the covenant of works, a relationship that demonstrates for him the fact that the natural law is rooted in God’s creating work, as opposed to his redeeming work.  I have touched on VanDrunen’s odd use of this dichotomy a few times before, and will merely reiterate my central objection--rooted in and related to are different.  The natural law may well be rooted in creation, but insofar as it cannot remain unaffected by the basic trajectory creation-fall-new creation, redemption in Christ must needs have an important relation to the natural law, whether it be one of transfiguring, of resurrecting, or of illuminating, depending on your paradigm. 
The invocation of the covenant of works also displays another weak point in VanDrunen’s case, in my opinion.  He quotes Turretin saying that “It [the covenant of works] is also called ‘legal’ because the condition on man’s part was the observation of the law of nature engraved within him.”  Now, what’s all this language of engraving (language that VanDrunen really latches onto)?  Let me quote from another Reformed scholastic source, the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q. 12): “When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.”  This “covenant of life” is what is elsewhere known as the covenant of works, and what does it consist in?  God’s specific commands to Adam about what he was and wasn’t to do.  In Genesis 2, there is no talk of engraving, but rather talk of speaking and commanding.  The terms of the covenant of works, then, appear to be given via special revelation--revealed directly by God to man--rather than by natural man--engraved in man from the moment of his creation.  Now, I am certainly open to the argument that, although the specific terms of the covenant of works were given via special revelation, there were certainly other moral duties, implicit in the covenant, which God simply engraved in Adam’s heart at creation, and these are what we call the natural law.  But if that be the case, then the covenant of works is not the same as natural law, but is in fact an exception to it.  
Two other points need to be mentioned in this section.  First, VanDrunen continues to elide the important distinction between “binding on” and “knowable by.”  To be sure, the natural law remained binding upon men after the Fall, and VanDrunen has plenty of quotes from Reformed scholastics to back that up.  But that fact does not demonstrate that they were able to recognize its binding rules in detail, certainly not in the kind of detail necessary to make it a sufficient basis for successful life in “the civil kingdom.”  VanDrunen claims that “natural law serves to sustain moral life in the world without itself offering a means for attaining to a life beyond this world” (164).  This seems to be an odd dichotomy--I thought that attaining a life beyond this world had something to do with--indeed, depended upon--a moral life in the world.  Perhaps VanDrunen’s paradigm here is dependent on the modern Reformed sola fideism that ignores good works.  In any case, to suggest that natural law allows unredeemed man to live a moral life seems to neglect the robust Reformed teaching on total depravity, which VanDrunen repeatedly glosses over.  
Second, VanDrunen’s sources do not support the neat connection he wishes to draw between the natural law and the civil kingdom.  They clearly believed that natural law related to affairs of the “spiritual kingdom” as well.  For instance, he cites, as an example of the continuing role of natural law WCF 21.1: “The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heard, and with all the soul, and with all the might.”  WCF 21 is concerned with issues of worship and the Sabbath.  In other words, here we have the WCF invoking the role of “natural law” precisely in those areas where, according to VanDrunen, it does not extend, but gives way to special revelation: life with God and duties toward Him, as opposed to horizontal duties toward others in this life.  This tension does not go away, of course, but manifests itself over and over in the thinkers VanDrunen surveys, such as in their claims that magistrates are to enforce both tables of the law.  Of course, VanDrunen himself has highlighted the idea that the Decalogue is a summation of the natural law, so this ought not to trouble him--these thinkers are just saying that the magistrate should enforce all of the natural law.  But VanDrunen wants to continue to insist that the civil enforcement of spiritual duties is wrong and is inconsistent with these men’s teachings.  
This problem continues to be highlighted in the following section on the relation between the natural law and the Mosaic civil law.  To be sure, the way these thinkers construed this relationship seems to be a strong point for VanDrunen’s case.  They generally agreed that the Mosaic civil laws were not to applied in detail in contemporary principalities, because circumstances were different--rather, whatever was enduring and “moral” in these laws, that is to say, the natural law component of them, was binding in the present day.  This paradigm grants hermeneutical authority to the natural law as a grid for using the Mosaic law, and thus privileges the role of natural revelation over special revelation in this situation.  This is very useful for VanDrunen’s argument, to be sure.  But the fact remains that these thinkers thought that the Mosaic civil law was a perfect application of the natural law to the Israelite polity, and if this is so, it is hard to see how they could also think that the natural law pertained only to civil affairs, or authorized rulers only to govern civil affairs, and not spiritual.  And the fact also remains that, for whatever reason, God saw fit to give this law by special revelation, even though, on the natural law paradigm, the Hebrews ought to have been able to deduce it perfectly well for themselves.  
VanDrunen concludes this section with a recap of what he has covered and emphasizes that this natural law thinking was deeply engrained into the structure of Reformed theology in this period, declaring “Clearly, natural law was not an aspect of Reformed orthodox theology and ethics that could be eliminated without serious ramifications for the system of Reformed thought as a whole” (173).
This may be clear, but it is not clear either exactly how much authority natural law wields or how clearly it could be discerned and applied on its own.  And it is certainly not clear how 17th-century natural law teaching could be integrated into the system of theology VanDrunen wants to propound, a system that wants to make natural law the guarantor of a religiously neutral, unredeemed, universally accessible saeculum.  This certainly is not how Turretin, Rutherford, Althusius, et al. envision it.  


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