Textual Support for the
Legislative Point of View
Several additional textual arguments are available to confirm that Locke believed the law of nature should be understood from a legislative point of view. First, in the Second Letter he explicitly asks, “What if God, foreseeing this force would be in the hands of men as passionate, humoursome, as liable to prejudice and error as the rest of their brethren, did not think it a proper means to bring men into the right way?” (Works, 6:84) This is an explicit indication that Locke thought God would take into account the fallibility of human actors.
Second, Locke's other writings use arguments of the form “God is perfect and would not contradict Himself.” For example, God's perfection implied that reason and revelation would not contradict one another (Essay, 4.18.10). This had important consequences for the interpretation of scripture. Any interpretation of scripture that contradicts reason is ipso facto a bad interpretation of scripture since it falsely impugns God's character. Since reason is the faculty of judgment God has given us, and reason must be used in the interpretation of scripture, the requirement of noncontradiction is an interpretive principle that helps to establish the content of positive revelation. Locke, for example, rejects (at least one interpretation of) the Calvinist doctrine of the Fall because it is inconsistent with reason (Reasonableness, 3–4).
Third, Locke makes the argument quoted in chapter 2 above again at a later point in the Third Letter.
[A]ccording to you, the magistrate's commission to use force for the
salvation of souls, is from the law of nature.… Since the commis-
sion of the law of nature to magistrates, being only that general one,
of doing good, according to the best of their judgments: if that ex-
tends to the use of force in matters of religion, it will abundantly
more oppose than promote the true religion; if force in the case has
any efficacy at all, and so do more harm than good: which though it
shows not what you here demand, that it cannot do any service to-
wards the salvation of men's souls, for that cannot be shown of any
thing; yet it shows the disservice it does is so much more than any
service [that] can be expected from it, that it can never be proved that