Richard Hooker has an ‘interesting’ argument. The fact that the nature of God limits the actions which God can do without changing his ‘core’ nature he calls the eternal law; and from this he derives natural law that governs ‘natural agents’, celestial law which governs the angels, and reason which he holds to be the expression of divine law to man. From this he seeks to show that reason is a law from God but apart from scripture and that through the exercise of reason we discern the will of God in the form of a law beyond and before scripture.
My concern about this argument is first that ‘reason’ unlike his ‘celestial’ and ‘natural’ forms is not compulsive or regulative but merely supportive. The sun cannot decide against rising, yet man can decide against reason. Whilst it is true that man is governed by some part of the eternal law of God, that law is expressed foremost in those things which we cannot avoid – in our post-fall condition that means to be born, to perceive God in the witness of the creation, to be sinful, to receive such grace as is given, to suffer death, and to receive judgement.
That reason is not a distillate of eternal law should be further clear by considering the chief end of reason, which is sin. For, every man that sins has reasoned that “there is no God” or “God shall not Judge me”, for else he would not sin. He reasons that God is not God indeed, but merely a powerful adversary, thus reasoning he exchanges the truth of God for a lie so that he might continue to sin. So, the chief end of reason is sin, notably idolatry and blasphemy. Reason recieves early attention in the scriptures, indeed it was through a call to reason by the serpent that mankind fell; God had declared the truth apart from reason, and the reason of man through the prompting of the devil made him judge the Word of God as less than certain.
If reason leads inevitably to sin and death, having done so throughout the scriptures from even the earliest times, then can we truly judge reason to be an expression of God’s eternal law as given to the governing of mankind? Long history – whether Jewish, Christian or Pagan – demonstrates that reason reliably leads peoples away from God. Reason is raised up against faith, for the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith. God has revealed to every man his eternal power and divine nature; yet as the scripture shows, our reasoning is futile and our foolish hearts become darkened, for despite claiming to be wise we become fools, exchanging that truth God revealed apart from reason for a lie derived through reason.
It is true that we may, at times, obtain through our industry some useful rules and regulations, and even be able to discern which path is more in agreement with the will of God. Yet, our ability to determine and discern such things results not from reason, but from the grace of God. Was it not declared by God that every thought of the heart of man was only evil continually? How then can we attribute any good thought or righteous judgement to ourselves? Indeed, it is telling that Paul tells of the fate of us sinners apart from grace, that where God ceases to restrain us we fall straightway into dishonourable passions and in depravity commit the most grieveous of sins. What Hooker percieves as the law of reason is perhaps then not law or reason but rather grace, and that it be called law is to be greatly regretted.
Why should this matter? Well, it all comes down to the Gospel. Just consider the simple but glorious truth – that Christ died for our sins and rose again. There is nothing complex about that statement, there is yet nothing in the grammar or syntax that would confuse a child. But, the Gospel is so strange to reason and in opposition to our fallen and self-centered thoughts, that it is impossible for mortal man to arrive at the Gospel through reason. Further, the evil heart of man will rather at every turn seek to use every tool it can to defeat the Gospel, and amongst the tools available the foremost is reason. The moment the seed of the Gospel is sown then sin attacks it from every angle, reasoning that it cannot mean what it means, that it cannot be true, that even if true it is inconvenient. Given this great assault, to which the scriptures testify amply, how ridiculous it is to raise up the proceeds of reason to being a law from God before and apart from scripture?
No, let us be very clear, that the righteous live by faith. It is not through reason that the Gospel can enter the heart, but by grace. It is not by reason then that we are saved, but it is reason that opposes our very salvation. Hooker’s reason itself is unreasonable by his own definition; for because it steadfastly resists the Gospel, so too does it resist God. As it resists God, it cannot be an expression of God’s eternal law in any form without God thereby being the author of evil and so not God at all.
What do you think? Is reason in itself a form of the eternal law of God as given man for his governing, or can the knowledge of God or his law only come from reason only in so much as it is moved through divine grace, a divine grace which we know can work quite apart from reason?