John Locke
Christian Statesman and Theologian


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  • John Locke is said by secularists to have been anti-Christian
  • He was thoroughly Christian, even writing commentaries of Books of the Bible
  • His constitution for the Carolinas excluded atheists from public office.

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Locke would be a vigorous opponent of the ACLU were he alive today. His treatise on government is almost like a commentary on the Bible. In the Thomas Peardon edition of Locke's Second Treatise of Government, Peardon writes:

It can safely be supposed that Locke was familiar with the celebrated treatise, Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, published anonymously in 1579."
(New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1956, xi, n.6.)

Gary Amos adds,

It can also be safely supposed that Locke was familiar with Lex Rex. Locke's father was a leading Puritan in Parliament who knew Rutherford."
(Defending the Declaration, Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1989, 216 n.79.)

The argument in Locke's Second Treatise is almost note-for-note the argument of Vindiciae and Lex Rex. The Vindiciae/Lex Rex tradition as viewed through Locke was the foundation of the American Revolution.

Locke's theory of Revolution began with the Bible. He said first that all laws must conform to Scripture:

[T]he 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 must . . . be conformable to the Law of Nature, i.e., to the will of God. [L]aws human must be made according to the general laws of Nature, and without contradiction to any positive law of Scripture, otherwise they are ill made.
Locke, Two Treatises on Government, Bk II sec 135. (quoting Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity, 1.iii, § 9 [shows Puritan influence])

This thought is found in the Declaration of Independence ("the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God"). More specifically, the Bible requires that office-holders be men who "fear God." This excludes atheists, which is what Locke and every single state in the union did. The constitution he drafted for Carolina did not allow atheists to hold office. And in his Essay on Toleration, Locke specifically exempted the atheist from the civil protection of toleration:

Lastly, those are not all to be tolerated who deny the being of God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of toleration.
Chas Sherman ed., (NY: Appleton-Century, 1937) pp. 212-13

By modern standards, Locke was clearly a Theocrat. Locke would have been no friend of the ACLU.

"God has not been so sparing to men to make them barely two-legged creatures, and left it to Aristotle to make them rational." So wrote John Locke (1632-1704).1

This material is by Greg L. Bahnsen, in Always Ready. Bahnsen earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy (epistemology) at USC

The quip refers to Aristotle's famous work on logic and syllogism, Organon ("The Instrument" or "tool" of knowledge), in which the an­cient philosopher lays out rules of reasoning and distinguishes between correct and incorrect forms of argumentation. Locke was not sold on the epistemological benefit of the syllogistic form of reasoning (viz., major premise, minor premise, deduced conclusion) explored by Aristotle. Locke would have been far happier with Francis Bacon's Novum Organum ("New Instrument"), which was published in 1620 and explored the rules of inductive or scientific reasoning—which was later improved upon by John Stuart Mill's System of Logic (1843), whose own understanding of the tools of rationality in turn has been expanded and bettered by twentieth-century studies of logic, argument, and method.

Locke was, of course, the famous English socio-political philosopher who authored Two Treatises of Government, as well as a student of the human knowing process who became known as the father of "British empiricism." He was raised in a Puritan home and lived through the events which brought about the Westminster Assembly. He was a contemporary of Milton, Newton, and Boyle—and like these great men of letters, he openly professed Christian faith, having high regard for the Bible:

The Holy Scripture is to me, and always will be, the constant guide of my assent; and I will always hearken to it, as containing the infallible truth relating to things of highest concernment.... Where I want the evidence of things, there yet is ground enough for me to believe, because God has said it; and I will presently condemn and quit any opinion of mine, as soon as I am shown that it is contrary to any revelation of the Holy Scripture."2

At age sixty-three, in the year 1695, Locke went to press with a treatise entitled The Reasonableness of Christianity as Delivered in the Scriptures.3

It was five years earlier (1690) that Locke had published his best-known work on the theory of knowledge, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In it he lamented the fact that the word "reason" is often used as though it were opposed to "faith." He wrote that, in his opinion, faith should not be afforded to anything "but upon good reason," thus dispensing with any tension between them. Locke insisted that to believe things arbitrarily, apart from reason, was to insult our Maker. This being so, Christians were called upon to understand, refine and train their faculty of reasoning. With that we must certainly agree -- even if we cannot completely follow Locke's epistemology or theological conclusions. We should surely master the difference between reliable and unreliable ways of reasoning if we would honor Christ and become effective in His service.

God wishes for us to be rational: to exercise and improve our reasoning ability in understanding, propounding and defending the truths of Scripture. And as Locke observed, this reasoning ability does not begin or end with the teaching of Aristotle. To be rational is a trait much broader than the use of syllogisms (although they certainly have their place). The kind of rationality or reasoning that we will employ in defending the Christian faith involves not only study of formal logic (patterns or abstract forms of inference), but also attention to informal fallacies in ordinary language, the use of inductive reasoning, the handling of empirical evidence in history, science, linguistics, etc., and especially reflection upon the demands of an adequate worldview in terms of which all such thinking makes sense.

Indeed, God has not been "sparing" in His provision of various tools which defenders of the faith can use to cross-examine opposing worldviews and rebut the argumentation of those who challenge the Scriptures. These tools are also beneficial in cogently formulating and advancing the Christian worldview, based on the teaching of the Bible. By exploring these tools of rationality (or the conspicuous ways in which they are violated) we can improve our ability to set forth an answer for the hope within us as believers, as well as get a grasp on the elementary errors in reasoning which are often committed by unbelievers.

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book IV, Chapter XVII (New York: Dover Publications, 1959 [1690]), vol. 2, p. 391.

Cited by the editor in the "Introduction" to John Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity as Delivered in the Scriptures, ed. George W. Ewing (Chicago: Gate­way Edition, Henry Regnery Co., 1964 [1695]), p. xi.

3 Locke later explained that the book was chiefly designed as a rebuttal to the Deists; they nevertheless applauded Locke's emphasis upon the place of reason in religion, thus leading secondary scholars too hastily to class Locke as a deist. The English Calvinist, John Edwards (not to be confused with the American, Jonathan Edwards), distorted Locke's intentions even worse, maligning him with the epithets of atheism and Socinanism.

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