Law of God


My aim in this volume has been to produce an exposition of the Law of God, Law which must be regarded as the rule for every other law through which men are to be directed and governed.13
Thus God has included in this Law every aspect of that moral doctrine by which men may live well. For in these Laws he has done infinitely better than the Philosophers and all their books, whether they deal with Ethics, Economics or Politics. This Law stands far above all human legislation, whether past, present or future and is above all laws and statutes edicted by men. It follows that whatever good men may put forward has previously been included in this law, and whatever is contrary to it is of necessity evil. . . . This law, if it is rightly understood, will furnish us with true Ethics, Economics and Politics. It is incomparably superior to what we find in the teachings of Aristotle, Plato, Xenophon, Cicero and the like thinkers who have taken such pains to fashion the customs of men.14
For as it can only be God Himself who is able to give us such a perfect Law by which we are truly enabled to govern ourselves, likewise it is only He who can provide us with Princes and Magistrates, Pastors and Ministers gifted with the capacity of applying this Law. Further, He is fully able to shape such men into adequate instruments for His service and to grant them the authority necessary for the accomplishment of the duties of their office. Thus armed they are enabled by God to maintain those over whom they rule (and of whose welfare they are accountable to God) in a spirit of due subjection. For, just as He has granted us this Law in order that we might clearly know what we lack, so He likewise grants us, through Jesus Christ His Son, the Holy Ghost by whom our hearts are renewed and through whom we receive those gifts and graces so necessary for the accomplishment of our vocation.15


There is not any law which could be considered just or holy, except in as far as it is conformed to the Law of God, and based on it. For it is the fountain from which all other laws must flow, like streams flowing from it as their source. Because God who gave it, is the Law himself, according to whose will is the only rule of justice.16


Consequently, in order that men do not undertake anything according to their own caprices, concerning such subjects, God himself has desired to give them a Law and standard, by which he has shown them, how they should regulate all their affections, and all their words, and all their works, in order to conform them to his will. For this same reason, he has declared to them in the Law, which things are right or wrong, and how they please or displease him, and how he can be honored or dishonored by them.17
. . . he felt that "good laws" in a truly Christian state always would be based upon the Ten Commandments of God found in the Holy Scriptures.18


Viret could conceive of no civil government except by law. Furthermore, he differentiated a "true kingdom" from a spurious one on the basis of whether or not the civil laws of the realm followed the written Law of God found in the Scriptures.

. . . In discussing this topic, he cited Plato who had pointed out that a city in which the law dominated the magistracy was politically sound but that a city in which the magistrates managed the law was headed for ruin. Viret’s great emphasis was upon government under civil law, and particularly under civil law derived, as fully as possible within a given political context, from the moral law of God. In this manner the civil magistrate operated indirectly under Divine Law and, to a certain extent, became an agent of God’s will.19


Viret, unlike Calvin, was ready to extend openly the authority of the Bible over the state.

. . . In so doing he made it clear that the authority of the Bible when it shed light on political matters always superseded the authority of the ruler, and the authority of God’s moral law with all its political implications took precedence over any codified civil laws. In fact, Viret taught that the only legitimate kingdoms with valid laws were those which had a legal code based upon the Ten Commandments of God.20
. . . it should be noted that Viret believed that every secular ruler should be subject to a well-defined and codified set of civil laws and that these civil statutes should rest squarely on God’s laws. He conceived of every civil authority being bound by theses laws and of every individual being equal before them.21


Viret’s rule for interpreting the Ten Commandments, and thus for explaining all similar seeming contradictions in Scripture based upon them, was that Table One always took precedence over Table Two, and man’s relationship to God always came before his obligations to his fellow-man. Thus, if the second table commanded honor to fathers, mothers and all superiors, and those superiors ordered disobedience to God, then the requirement to honor them based on Table Two was abrogated by the enjoinder of Table One to have no other gods before the Almighty. In this manner Viret was able to explain away every Biblical command to obey the civil magistrates when those officials legislated or acted in a manner contrary to the first four of the Ten Commandments.22

Back to top of page

13 Jean-Marc Berthoud, "Pierre Viret and the Sovereignty of the Word of God Over Every Aspect of Life," A Comprehensive Faith (Friends of Chalcedon, San Jose, CA), page 98

14 Ibid., page 98

15 Ibid., pages 98-99

16 Viret, Instruction Chretienne, page 91

17 Ibid., page 121

18 Linder, The Political Ideas of Pierre Viret, page 58

19 Ibid., page 59

20 Ibid., page 63

21 Ibid., pages 63-64

22 Ibid., page 135

Lausanne Cathedral
Lausanne, Switzerland

Books Available

Pierre Viret The Angel of the Reformation by R.A. Sheats

Pierre Viret by Jean-Marc Berthoud