The following excerpt comes from Thesis 3 (above) of Girolamo Zanchi’s newly translated On the Law in General. Though the work encompasses a range of topics, from natural law to human laws to divine laws, this particular thesis comes in his first foundational chapter on what the law actually is—its goals, classifications, and functions.
If the basis for law is, in fact, fairness—namely, that all people get what they deserve—then nothing is more fair than that God receives all honor and glory in the highest and that our neighbors receive what benefits their health and happiness of mind and body. Logically, then, it would follow that the goal of every good and just law is the glory of God and the good of human beings, first in public, then in private. The apostle Paul remarked about this primary goal, “Whatever you do,” (but we should do what the natural law and God himself have commanded) “do everything for the glory of God” [1 Cor. 10:31]. This exhortation depends on a universal premise that everything we should and can do must be done for the glory of God. In addition, Christ said about all good works, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven” [Matt. 5:16].
About the second goal, law itself speaks when it includes the promises of the present and future life to those who obey them. This benefit is part of obedience to the law. Also, when it commands first and foremost that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, it teaches that whatever we do to our neighbor we ought to do in such a way that we benefit our neighbors and advance their well-being. If that is not possible, we should at least be concerned with the common good of the church and the human race. Magistrates, who take measures that the laws are observed, were set in place for this reason. Why? “So that,” as the apostle says in 1 Timothy [2:2], “we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity,” and again in Romans 13[:4], “for it is God’s servant for your good.” Now we know the underlying function, the foundation, and goal of all good laws.
On the Law in General is a single chapter of Girolamo Zanchi’s Tractatus de Redemptione, part of what has been called an unfinished Protestant “summa” akin to that of Thomas Aquinas.
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