On the Phrase “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”

Sometimes, some modern writers argue that Jefferson was speaking in a Deistic way when he used the phrase “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” Is that true? Gary Amos provides a compelling critique to that canard. He points out that it was in common usage by Christian sources, long before Thomas Jefferson employed it in the Declaration. He observes:

*“It was a legal phrase for God’s law revealed through nature and His moral law revealed in the Bible.”  Psalm 19 provides a perfect example of this. We see in the first part of the psalm that God speaks through His creation; then in part two we see that He also speaks in His revealed Word.

*“James Otis relied upon the law of nature in his famous protest against the legality of the Stamp and Sugar Acts.”

*“The practice of appealing to the ‘law of nature’ was more than a hundred years old in the colonies. It was firmly established by Puritans coming to New England in the early 1600s.”

*“William Ames [Puritan writer, 1576-1633] said, for example, that ‘the Law of Nature’ was the same as ‘that Law of God, which is naturally written in the heart of all men.’”

*“The longer phrase ‘law of nature or God’ was used as early as the first decade of the 1300s in a debate between rival Catholic monastic orders.”

*“Sir Edward Coke (pronounced Cook)” wrote c. 1610 in Calvin’s Case: “The law of nature is that which God at the time of creation of the nature of man infused into his heart, for his preservation, and direction. . . .”

*“Part of the Christian tradition was to speak of the ‘law of nature’ and the ‘law of God’ as two sides of the same coin.”

*“By using the distributive plural ‘laws,’ Jefferson distinguishes between two laws: the law of nature, and the law of God who is over nature.”

*“. . . the phrase ‘laws of nature and nature’s God’ cannot be a product of deism or the Enlightenment because the term and the ideas embodied in it were in common use in the Christian common law and in Catholic and Protestant theology for centuries before 1776.”


So it’s historically short-sighted and misinformed to say that “nature’s God” refers to the god of Deism which the American citizens (and founding fathers, most of whom were committed Christians) never would have accepted.


And so on this point Amos can dramatically conclude: “In other words, the Declaration of Independence makes the Bible a fundamental part of the legal foundation of America. By referring to the Bible in two distinct ways, the phrase ‘laws of nature and of nature’s God’ incorporates by reference the moral law of the Bible into the founding document of our country!”

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