The Light of Nature

The following is a brief description of the light of nature excerpted from Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici, or, the Divine Right of Church Government, pgs. 8-11, by the London Provincial Assembly of 1646.

A thing may be said to be of divine right, or (which is the same for substance) of divine institution, divers ways. 1. By the true light of nature. 2. By obligatory Scripture examples. 3. By divine approbation. 4. By divine acts. 5. By divine precepts or mandates. All may be reduced to these five heads, ascending by degrees from the lowest to the highest divine right.

I. By light of nature. That which is evident by, and consonant to the true light of nature, or natural reason, is to be accounted of divine right in matters of religion. Hence two things are to be made out by Scripture. 1. What is meant by the true light of nature. 2. How it may be proved, that what things in religion are evident by, or consonant to this true light of nature, are of divine right.

1. For the first, What is meant by the true light of nature, or natural reason, thus conceive. The light of nature may be considered two ways:

1. As it was in man before the Fall, and so it was that image and similitude of God, in which man was at first created (Gen. 1:26, 27), or at least part of that image; which image of God, and light of nature, was con-created with man, and was perfect: viz. so perfect as the sphere of humanity and state of innocency did require; there was no sinful darkness, crookedness, or imperfection in it; and whatsoever was evident by, or consonant to this pure and perfect light of nature, in respect either of theory or practice, was doubtless of divine right, because correspondent to that divine law of God’s image naturally engraved in Adam’s heart. But man being lapsed, this will not be now our question, as it is not our case.

2. As it is now in man after the Fall. The light of nature and image of God in man is not totally abolished and utterly razed by the Fall; there remain still some relics and fragments thereof, some scintilla, some glimmerings, dawnings, and common principles of light, both touching piety to God, equity to man, and sobriety to a man’s self, etc., as is evident by comparing these places, Psalm 19:1-6, Acts 14:17, and 17:27-28; Rom. 1:18-21, and 2:12-15, 2 Cor. 5:1, in which places it is plain:

i. That the book of the creature is able (without the Scriptures, or divine revelations) to make known to man much of God, his invisible Godhead and attributes (Psalm 19:1-6; Acts 14:17, and 17:27-28), yea, so far as to leave them without excuse, (Rom. 1:18-21).

ii. That there remained so much natural light in the minds even of the heathens, as to render them capable of instruction by the creature in the invisible things of God; yea, and that they actually in some measure did know God, and because they walked not up to this knowledge, were plagued, (Rom. 1:18-24) etc.

iii. That the work of the law (though not the right ground, manner, and end of that work, which is the blessing of the New Covenant, Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10) was materially written in some measure in their hearts. Partly because they did by nature without the law the things contained in the law, so being a law to themselves (Rom. 2:14-15); partly, because they by nature forbore some of those sins which were forbidden in the law, and were practiced by some that had the law (2 Cor. 5:1); and partly, because according to the good and bad they did, etc., their conscience did accuse or excuse (Rom. 2:15). Now conscience doth not accuse or excuse but according to some rule, principle, or law of God (which is above the conscience, or at least so supposed to be). And they had no law but the imperfect characters thereof in their own hearts, which were not quite obliterated by the Fall. Now so far as this light of nature after the Fall, is a true relic of the light of nature before the Fall, that which is according to this light may be counted of divine right in matters of religion, which is the next thing to be proved.

2. For the second, how it may be proved that what things in religion are evident by, or consonant to this true light of nature, are of divine right. Thus briefly,

1. Because that knowledge which by the light of nature Gentiles have of the invisible things of God, is a beam of divine light, as the Apostle, speaking of the Gentiles’ light of nature, saith, “That which may be known of God is manifest in them— for God hath showed it to them. For the invisible things” etc., (Rom. 1:19-20). God himself is the Fountain and Author of the true light of nature; hence some not unfitly call it the divine light of nature, not only because it hath God for its object, but also God for its principle; now that which is according to God’s manifestation, must needs be of divine right.

2. Because the Spirit of God and of Christ in the New Testament is pleased often to argue from the light of nature in condemning of sin, in commending and urging of duty, as in the case of the incestuous Corinthian, “It is reported commonly, that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles,” (who had only the light of nature to guide them, 1 Cor. 5:1). In case of the habits of men and women in their public church assemblies, that women’s heads should be covered, men’s uncovered in praying or prophesying. “Judge in yourselves, is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that if a man hath long hair, it is a shame to him? but if a woman have long hair it is a glory to her,” etc., (1 Cor. 11:13-15). Here the Apostle appeals plainly to the very light of nature for the regulating and directing of their habits in church assemblies; and thus, in case of praying or prophesying in the congregation in an unknown tongue, (unless some do interpret,) he strongly argues against it from the light of nature (1 Cor. 14:7-11), and afterwards urges that women be silent in their churches, from the natural uncomeliness of their speaking there, for it is a shame for women to speak in the church, (1 Cor. 14:34-35).

Now, if the Spirit of God condemn things as vicious, and commend things as virtuous from the light of nature, is there not divine right in the light of nature? May we not say, that which is repugnant to the light of nature in matters of religion, is condemned by divine right; and what is correspondent to the light of nature, is prescribed by divine right? And if not, where is the strength or force of this kind of arguing from the light of nature?



2 thoughts on “The Light of Nature

  1. Canons of Dort:

    THIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 4. There remain, however, in man since the fall, the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, or natural things, and of the difference between good and evil, and shows some regard for virtue and for good outward behavior. But so far is this light of nature from begin sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God and to true conversion that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil. Nay further, this light, such as it is , man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and hinders in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God.


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