These terms – ‘the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God’ – made their first appearance in The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America – our Declaration of Independence – in its opening words. “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them to another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal stations to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…” Accordingly, it would follow that all else contained within this document, and any other document based on or springing from this Declaration, would be built upon & around these foundational realities.
So a problem arises if one doesn’t really believe that such a concept as ‘Laws of Nature’ is in fact a reality. Or if it is a reality, but not such a priority that an entire new nation & system of government should revolve around it!
When I first embarked upon my journey into the Founding of America, those words troubled me. Only vaguely, and not enough to search out further answers, but…my knowledge of the Scriptures and spiritual reality, seemed to contradict what the greatest document in American history, and possibly the history of the world, clearly espoused without question. Because other strong evidences pointed to the hand of God in America’s founding just as clearly, I disregarded these troubling apparent contradictions. For me, the one outweighed the other. But it would be so much better if I could find a resolution to this dilemma.
My previous understanding of the ‘laws of nature’ was determined by the Biblical concept of natural versus spiritual. Scripture speaks of the natural man in terms that are not exactly glowing, and clearly juxtapositions him against that far more desirable state, the spiritual man. The very unlovely ‘works of the flesh’ (Galatians 5:19) fall into this ‘natural man’ category listing, and they only get worse, spiraling downward. So you can see why my impression of the ‘laws of nature’ left me wary. And if the Declaration of Independence was founded on such, then…could I truly be in agreement with it? Were some parts of it antithetical to my Christian faith?
Well…Scripture shares with us the concepts of the ‘letter of the law’ as opposed to the ‘spirit of the law’. We are informed that the letter kills, but the spirit gives life. One trumps the other. I have wondered if perhaps this ‘laws of nature’ idea somehow could be resolved within such a framework. But my musings are just that, my musings, and I’ve needed weightier, far more authoritative & definitive answers.
Enter Marcus Tullius Cicero.
Although I knew in a general way that our Founders drew from the theories of ancient Roman & Greek philosophers, orators, and statesmen, etc., in forming our republic, that was all I knew. I may have been reluctant to delve into such historical background, viewing such times & cultures as heathen, and not knowing how to ‘come to terms’ with such facts. Regardless, Marcus Tullius Cicero was considered to be our Founding Fathers’ favorite expositor of Natural Law. And as I’ve begun to learn from Cicero’s perspective about this Natural Law, I’ve found that I need to do a complete 180, as the saying goes. Natural Law turns out to be the exact opposite of what I thought it was!
Cicero was born and died before Christ appeared on the earth. He did not sit at the feet of Jesus, nor learn of such things as were taught or performed by Him. Born in a small town about 60 miles southeast of Rome, Cicero was brought up in a society that has been considered ‘pagan’. Yet even so, during the course of his life, Cicero’s contemplations & observations led him beyond the veil of visible phenomena to see “the brilliant intelligence of a supreme Designer with an ongoing interest in both human and cosmic affairs.” (W. Cleon Skousen, The 5000 Year Leap). The heavens declare the glory of God…day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. (Psalm 19, v.1-2) Marcus Tullius Cicero was given to see and hear these things. God causes the light to shine out of darkness.
Having established in his own thinking the reality of a Creator, Cicero also established a belief in a system of laws set in place by that Creator. In Book Two of his landmark work de Legibus (Latin: On the laws) Cicero writes that law does not, and cannot, begin with men. Men are rather the instruments of a higher wisdom which governs the entire earth. That wisdom, inherent within the Creator, dwells within His laws, laws that would produce & insure the best quality of life possible on earth, in every area, from individual relationships to national government. According to W. Cleon Skousen (mentioned above), Cicero concluded “The Creator’s order of things is called Natural Law”.
Our Founders concurred.
“As all the ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher united than Cicero, his authority should have great weight.”- John Adams ( Mortimer N. S. Sellers, American republicanism: Roman Ideology in the United States )
Thomas Jefferson, in an 1825 letter to Henry Lee, named Cicero as a major figure shaping American understanding of “the common sense” basis for the right of revolution, and as a contributor to the tradition “of public right” that informed his draft of the Declaration of Independence. (Morton Frisch and Richard Stevens,eds., The Political Thought of American Statesmen)
“…to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal stations to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…”
Knowing now the sure foundation upon which our Declaration of Independence was framed, and the entire American experiment, way of life & government has been built, has stunned me. Somehow, everything has become more real. If ever I believed that the hand of God has always been at work in the birthing & existence of America, I believe it even more so now. I believe it with complete abandon.
Marcus Tullius Cicero, way before our time and yet, a powerful voice from that past which has had more influence on your life & my life today then we ever knew. Perhaps just as Cyrus, heathen king of ancient Persia, was stirred up by God to build Him a house (2 Chronicles 22, 23), so Cicero was stirred to be a mouthpiece for the Lord, declaring His existence & laws to a foreign land, and pointing to the glory of a society yet to come, based on those laws.