Divine Law and Human Nature

Book I of Hooker’s Laws: A Modernization



About this book

“Man seeks so many different kinds of perfection”

Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is one of the great landmarks of Protestant theological literature, and indeed of English literature generally. However, on account of its difficult and archaic style, it is scarcely read today. The time has come to translate it into modern English so that Hooker may teach a new generation of churchmen and Christian leaders about law, reason, Scripture, church, and politics. In this second volume of an ongoing translation project by the Davenant Trust, we present Book I of Hooker’s Laws, for which he is perhaps most famous. Here he offers a sweeping overview of his theology of law, law being that order and measure by which God governs the universe, and by which all creatures—and humans above all—conduct their lives and affairs. In an age when the idea of natural creation order is under wholesale attack, even within the church, Hooker’s luminous treatment of the relation of Scripture and nature, faith and reason is a priceless and urgently-needed gift to the church.

Paperback | 130 pages | 5×8 | Published May 31, 2017 | ISBN 978-0692901007

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From the Introduction

In this second volume of our project, we come to the work that Hooker is perhaps most renowned for. Here, in Book I, he offers a sweeping overview of his theology of law, law being that order and measure by which God governs the universe and by which all creatures, and humans above all, conduct their lives and affairs. In an age when Scripture has come under attack, so that the seriousness of one’s commitment to the Christian faith is often simply equated with one’s fidelity to Scripture, Hooker’s seeming attempt to relativize the role of Scripture may cause eyebrows to furrow in suspicion. In carving out a role for natural reason and human law, is he not perhaps an early apostle of the Enlightenment and modern secularism? If not, perhaps he is at least a representative of that type that appears in every age, the lukewarm spokesman for worldly wisdom who advises his fellow Christians about the need for moderation in all things, even in obeying God’s Word. So some readers of Hooker—and many more who have not bothered to read him—have imagined through the centuries.

But such a reading betrays the very confusion that Hooker warns against. As he says of his opponents in the concluding chapter of this book, “they rightly maintain that God must be glorified in all things and that men’s actions cannot glorify Him unless they are based on His laws. However, they are mistaken to think that the only law which God has appointed for this is Scripture.” Rather, even “what we do naturally, such as breathing, sleeping, and moving, displays the glory of God just as natural agents do, even if we do not have any express purpose in mind, but act for the most part unconsciously” (I.16.5; p. 95).[1] In fact, Hooker compellingly argued throughout his Laws that it was precisely those who most exalted Scripture as God’s only revelation to us who were at most risk of secularizing. For this theory, however much it might attempt to find Scriptural teaching for any and every matter, must admit that when there was a matter where such teaching could not be found, here was an area left entirely to our own wits, without a ray of divine wisdom. But we must not so limit the scope of divine wisdom, argued Hooker.

C.S. Lewis, who revered Hooker as both one of the greatest of English prose writers and one of the great theologians of the Christian tradition, wrote that “there could be no deeper mistake” than to think that Hooker was disposed “to secularize.” On the contrary,

few model universes are more filled—one might say, more drenched—with Deity than his. “All things that are of God” (and only sin is not) “have God in them and he them in himself likewise” yet “their substance and his wholly differeth” (V.56.5). God is unspeakably transcendent; but also unspeakably immanent. It is this conviction which enables Hooker, with no anxiety, to resist any inaccurate claim that is made for revelation against reason, Grace against Nature, the spiritual against the secular.

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Bradford Littlejohn, The Davenant Institute

  1. The Reason for Writing the General Discourse
  2. The Law by Which God Has from the Beginning Determined to Do All Things
  3. The Law by Which Natural Agents Work
  4. The Law by Which Angels Work
  5. The Law by Which Man Is Directed to the Imitation of God
  6. How Men First Begin to Know the Law They Should Observe
  7. Man’s Will, Which Laws of Action Are Made to Guide
  8. Of the Natural Way to Find Out Laws by Reason to Lead the Will to What Is Good
  9. The Advantages of Keeping the Law Taught by Reason
  10. How Reason Leads Men to Make the Laws by Which Political Societies Are Governed, and to Agree about Laws of Fellowship between Independent Societies
  11. Why God Has Made Known in Scripture Supernatural Laws to Direct Men’s Steps
  12. Why So Many Natural Laws and Laws of Reason Are Found in Scripture
  13. The Advantage of Having Such Divine Laws Written
  14. The Sufficiency of Scripture Unto the End for Which It Was Instituted
  15. Positive Laws in Scripture, How Some of Them Are Changeable, and the General Use of Scripture
  16. Conclusion: How All of This Pertains to the Present Controversy

Richard Hooker (1553/4-1600) was the pre-eminent theological writer of the Elizabethan church, and many would say in the entire history of the Church of England.

Dr. Bradford Littlejohn (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh) is the Founder and former President of the Davenant Institute. He also works as a Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and has taught for several institutions, including Moody Bible Institute-Spokane, Bethlehem College and Seminary, and Patrick Henry College. He is recognized as a leading scholar of the English theologian Richard Hooker and Has published and lectured extensively in the fields of Reformation history, Christian ethics, and political theology. He lives in Landrum, SC with his wife, Rachel, and four children.

Brian Marr is an editor and researcher at Canon Press and an enthusiast of Reformation theology.

Bradley Belschner is a systems analyst at EMSI and an enthusiast of Reformation theology.


The Davenant Institute endeavors to restore wisdom for the contemporary church. We seek to sponsor historical scholarship at the intersection of the church and academy, build friendships and facilitate collaboration within the Reformed and evangelical world, and equip the saints with time-tested resources for faithful public witness. Below are some of the works we’ve published towards that end.

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