Rutherford’s work had a profound effect on the formation of the United States Constitution. John Witherspoon became president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) in 1768 and followed in the course of Samuel Rutherford. He profoundly influenced the writing of the Constitution establishing forms and freedoms of the principles found in Rutherford’s Lex Rex. Witherspoon was educated at Edinburgh University in Scotland and immigrated to the American colonies. Witherspoon was a member of the Continental Congress from 1776 – 1779 and 1780 – 1782. He became the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence and was chairman of several important committees.
John Locke (1632-1704) secularized the Presbyterian Lex Rex tradition. Locke stressed inalienable rights, government by consent, separation of powers, and the right of revolution. The Biblical background gave Locke’s whole system a firm foundation which is found in Rutherford’s work. Locke’s empiricism, revealed in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), has no place for “natural rights.” Empiricism rests everything on experience. “Natural rights” must be innate to the nature of man and not merely based on experience or must have an adequate base distinct from experience. Locke clearly stated the results which came from a Christian base but did not have the foundation which produced them. Hence he secularized Christian principles and teaching.
The belief in the law of nature preceded John Locke by thousands of years. Locke’s belief in an original “state of nature” is difficult to reconcile with the biblical account of creation. His view of children beginning life with a "blank slate" is difficult to reconcile with “original sin” as proclaimed in Psalm 51:2 and 58:3. Locke did believe in special creation. He did place faith in man’s power of reason but also recognized that reason is a gift from God. He was neither an agnostic nor a deist. He believed that reason demonstrates the veracity of God’s perfect revelation, the New Testament.
John Locke was a dedicated Christian as well as a student of the Bible.
“In 1695 Mr. Locke published his treatise of “The Reasonableness of Christianity,” in which he has proved that the Christian Religion, as delivered in the Scriptures, and free from all corrupt mixtures, is the most reasonable institution in the world… the last fourteen or fifteen years of his life Mr. Locke spent chiefly at Oates, seldom coming to town; and, during this agreeable retirement, he applied himself to the study of the scriptures…he admired the wisdom and goodness of God in the method found out for the salvation of mankind; and when he thought about it, he could not forbear crying out, “Oh the depths of the riches of the goodness and knowledge of God,” He was persuaded that men would be convinced of this, by reading the scriptures without prejudice; and he frequently exhorted those with whom he conversed to a serious study of these sacred writings. His own application to this study had given him a more noble and elevated idea of the Christian religion.”
John Locke recognized that the “law of nature” had it origin and authority in God.
“Thus the ‘law of nature’ stands as an Eternal Rule to all Men, Legislators as well as others. The Rules that they make for other Men’s Actions, be conformable to the Law of Nature, i.e., to the Will of God, of which that is a Declaration, and the fundamental Law of Nature being preservation of Mankind, no Human Sanction can be good, or valid against it.”
The English jurist William Blackstone's Commentaries reduced English common law to the writing. Blackstone believed that all law had its origins in God, and identified various types of law: scientific law is law as order in the universe; the rule of human action, rules of action dictated by a superior beings; laws of nations, international laws based on compacts, treaties, leagues, and agreements; and municipal law, enacted laws of local government.
“Revealed law. – This has been given manifold occasion for the benign interposition of divine providence; which, in compassion to the frailty, the imperfection, and the blindness of human reason, hath been pleased, at sundry times and in diverse manners, to discover and enforce its laws by an immediate and direct revelation. The doctrines just delivered we call the revealed or divine law, and they are to be found only in the Holy Scriptures. These precepts, when revealed, are found upon comparison to be really a part of the original law of nature, as they tend in all their consequences to man’s felicity. But we are not from thence to conclude that the knowledge of these truths was attainable by reason, in its present corrupted state; since we find that, until they were revealed, they were hid from the wisdom of the ages. As then the moral precepts of this law are indeed of the same original with those of the law of nature, so their intrinsic obligation is of equal strength and perpetuity. Yet undoubtedly the revealed system is of infinitely more authenticity than that moral system, which is framed by ethical writers and denominated the natural law. Because one is the law of nature, expressly declared so to be by God Himself, the other is only what, by the assistance of human reason, we imagine to be that law. If we could be as certain of the latter as we are of the former, both would have an equal authority; but, till then, they can never be put in any competition together.”
According to Blackstone, our ability to apprehend the law of nature is limited because man is in a corrupted state due to the Fall from his first estate while in the Garden of Eden. He strongly believed the "law of nature" is the "will of God" and is binding on mankind.
“Law of nature – This will of his Maker is called the law of nature. For as God, when He created matter, and endued it with the principle of mobility, established certain rules for the perpetual direction of that motion; so, when He created man, and endued him with free will to conduct himself in all parts of life, He laid down certain immutable laws of human nature, whereby that free will is in some degree regulated and restrained, and gave him also the faculty of reason to discover and purport of those laws."
"Considering the Creator; only a Being of infinite power, He was able unquestionably to have prescribed whatever laws He pleased to His creature, man, however unjust or severe. But as he is also a Being of infinite wisdom, He has laid down only such laws as were found in those relations of justice, that existed in the nature of things antecedent to any positive precept. These are the eternal, immutable laws of good and evil, to which the Creator Himself in all his Dispensations conforms; and which He has enabled human reason to discover, so far as are necessary for the conduct of human actions. Such, among others, are these principles: that we should live honestly, should hurt nobody, and should render to everyone his due, to which three general precepts Justinian has reduced the whole doctrine of law."
The law of nature, being coeval with mankind as dictated by God Himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe and all countries, and at all times; no human laws are of any validity, in contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original. But in order to apply this to the particular exigencies of each individual, it is still necessary to have recourse to human reason; whose office it is to discover, as was before observed, what the law of nature directs in every circumstance of life; by considering, what method will tend most effectually to our own substantial happiness. And if our reason were always, as in our first ancestors before his transgression, clear and imperfect, unruffled by passions, unclouded by prejudice, unimpaired by disease or intemperance, the task would be pleasant and easy; we should need no other guide but this. But every man now finds the contrary in his own experience; that his reason is corrupt, and his understanding full of ignorance and error.”
John Locke and William Blackstone are recognized as those men who influenced American legal thinking more than other individuals. Baron Montesquieu, Algernon Sidney, John Calvin, John Milton, Thomas Hooker, John Cotton, Jonathan Edwards, John Witherspoon, and George Whitefield brought about universal acceptance of the natural rights philosophy of American patriots.
Thomas Jefferson was not an orthodox Christian but was strongly influenced by the biblical view of mankind. He was a noted student of the Scriptures and firmly believed in the "law of nature".
The opening paragraph of the Declaration of Independence speaks of people assuming among the powers of the earth, “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitled them.”
He then ascribes their origin to God:
“We hold these Truths to be self evident, that all Men are created (he did not say evolved) equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…”
He closes by “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions” and expressing a “firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence…” Jefferson recognizes and declares it is self evident that God is the author of natural law and unalienable rights.
The founders of our nation did not want to establish a “Christian state” but rather to establish a state that was based upon sound principles in accordance with the law of God as revealed in nature, conscience, and the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.