The GOSPEL TRUTH
I. Term Government defined.
II. Distinction between Moral and Physical Government.
III. Fundamental Reason of Moral Government.
IV. Whose right it is to govern.
V. What is implied in the right to govern.
VI. Limits of the right to govern.
VII. What is implied in Moral Government.
VIII. Moral obligation defined.
IX. Conditions of moral obligation.
I. Define the term government.
The primary idea of government, is that of direction, guidance, control, by, or in accordance with rule, or law. This seems to be the generic signification of the term government; but it appears not to be sufficiently broad in its meaning, to express all that properly belongs to moral government, as we shall see. This leads me,
II. To distinguish between moral and physical government.
All government, as we shall see, is, and must be either moral or physical; that is, all guidance and control must be exercised in accordance with either moral or physical Law; for there can be no Laws that are not either moral or physical. Physical government, is control, exercised by a law of necessity or force, as distinguished from the law of free will, or liberty. It is the control of substance, as opposed to Free Will. The only government of which substance, as distinguished from free will, is capable, is and must be physical. This is true, whether the substance be material or immaterial, whether matter or mind. States and changes, whether of matter or mind, that do not consist in the actions of free will, must be subject to the law of necessity. In no other way can they be accounted for. They must therefore belong to the department of physical government. Physical government, then, is the administration of physical law, or the law of force.
Thus, the states and changes of our Intellect and Sensibility, come under the department of physical government. These states and changes are effected by a law of necessity, as opposed in the law of liberty, or free will. The Intellect and Sensibility, as we shall abundantly see hereafter, are so correlated to the will, that its free actions produce certain changes in them, by a law of force, or necessity. Thoughts and feelings are not, strictly moral actions, for the reason that they are not voluntary, and must therefore belong to the department of physical, as opposed to moral government. There is a secondary sense in which thoughts and feelings, as also outward actions, may be regarded as belonging to the department of moral government, and consequently, as possessing moral character. As thoughts, feelings and outward actions, are connected with, and result from free actions of the will by a law of necessity, a moral agent must be responsible for them in a certain sense. But in such cases, the character of the agent belongs strictly to the intention that caused them, and not to those involuntary and necessary states and actions themselves. They can not strictly come under the category of moral actions, as we shall more fully see hereafter, for the reason, that being the result of a law of necessity, they do not, can not, with strict propriety, be said to belong to the department of moral government.
Moral Government consists in the declaration and administration of Moral Law. It is the government of free will as distinguished from substance. Physical government presides over and controls physical states and changes of substance or constitution, and all involuntary states and changes. Moral Government presides over and controls, or seeks to control the actions of Free Will: it presides over intelligent and voluntary states and changes of mind. It is a government of motive, as opposed to a government of force--control exercised, or sought to be exercised, in accordance with the Law of Liberty, as opposed to the Law of Necessity. It is the administration of moral as opposed to Physical Law.
Moral Government includes the dispensation of rewards and punishments.
Moral Government is administered by means as complicated and vast, as the whole of the works, and providence, and ways, and grace of God.
III. I am to inquire into the fundamental reason of Moral Government.
Government must be founded in a good and sufficient reason, or it is not right. No one has a right to prescribe rules for, and control the conduct of another, unless there is some good reason for his doing so. There must be a necessity for moral government, or the administration of it is tyranny. Is there any necessity for moral government? And if so, wherein? I answer, that from the nature and relations of moral beings, virtue, or holiness, is indispensable to happiness. But holiness can not exist without Moral Law, and Moral Government; for holiness is nothing else than conformity to Moral Law and Moral Government. Moral Government then, is indispensable to the highest well being of the universe of Moral agents, and therefore ought to, and must exist. The universe is dependent upon this as a means of securing the highest good. This dependence is a good and sufficient reason for the existence of Moral Government. Let it be understood, then, that Moral Government is a necessity of moral beings, and therefore right.--When it is said, that the right to govern is founded in the relation of dependence, it is not, or ought not to be intended, that this relation itself confers the right to govern, irrespective of the necessity of Government. The mere fact, that one being is dependent on another, does not confer on one the right to govern, and impose upon the other obligation to obey, unless the dependent one needs to be governed, and consequently, that the one upon whom the other is dependent, can not fulfil to him the duties of benevolence, without governing or controlling him. The right to govern, implies the duty to govern. Obligation, and consequently, the right to govern, implies, that government is a condition of fulfilling to the dependent party the duties of benevolence. Strictly speaking, the right to govern, is founded in the intrinsic value of the interests to be secured by government; and the right is conditionated upon the necessity of Government as a means to secure those interests. I will briefly sum up the argument under this head, as follows:
1. It is impossible that government should not exist.
2. Everything must be governed by Laws suited to its nature.
3. Matter must be governed by Physical Laws.
4. The free actions of Will must be governed by motives, and moral agents must be governed by moral considerations.
5. We are conscious of moral agency, and can be governed only by a Moral Government.
6. Our nature and circumstances demand that we should be under a Moral Government; because--
(1.) Moral happiness depends upon moral order.
(2.) Moral order depends upon the harmonious action of all our powers, as individuals and members of society.
(3.) No community can perfectly harmonize in all their views and feelings, without perfect knowledge, or, to say the least, the same degree of knowledge on all subjects on which they are called to act.
(4.) But no community ever existed, or will exist, in which every individual possesses exactly the same amount of knowledge, and where the members are, therefore, entirely agreed in all their thoughts, views and opinions.
(5.) But if they are not agreed in opinion, or have not exactly the same amount of knowledge, they will not in everything harmonize, as it respects their course of conduct.
(6.) There must therefore be in every community some standard or rule of duty, to which all the subjects of the community are to conform themselves.
(7.) There must be some head or controlling mind, whose will shall be law, and whose decisions shall be regarded as infallible by all the subjects of the government.
(8.) However diverse their intellectual attainments are, in this they must all agree, that the will of the lawgiver is right, and universally the rule of duty.
(9.) This will must be authoritative and not merely advisory.
(10.) There must of necessity be a penalty attached to, and incurred by every act of disobedience to this will.
(11.) If disobedience be persisted in, exclusion from the privileges of the government is the lowest penalty that can consistently be inflicted.
(12.) The good then, of the universe imperiously requires, that there should be a Moral Governor.
VI. Whose right it is to govern.
We have just seen, that necessity is a condition of the right and duty to govern--that the highest well being of the universe demands, and is the end of Moral Government. It must therefore, be his right and duty to govern, whose attributes, physical and moral, best qualify him to secure the end of government. To him all eyes and hearts should be directed, to fill this station, to exercise this control, to administer all just and necessary rewards and punishments. It is both his right and duty to govern. I will here introduce from my Skeletons, a brief argument, to show that God has a right, and that therefore it is his duty, to govern, and that he is a Moral Governor.
That God is a Moral Governor, we infer--
1. From our own consciousness. From the very laws of our being we naturally affirm our responsibility to him for our conduct. As God is our Creator, we are naturally responsible to Him for the right exercise of our powers. And as our good and his glory depend upon our conformity to the same rule, to which He conforms his whole being, he is under a moral obligation to require us to be holy as he is holy.
2. His natural attributes qualify Him to sustain the relation of a Moral Governor to the universe.
3. His moral character, also, qualifies Him to sustain this relation.
4. His relation to the universe as Creator and Preserver, when considered in connection with his nature and attributes, confers on Him the right of universal government.
5. His relation to the universe, and our relations to Him and to each other, render it obligatory upon him to establish and administer a Moral Government over the universe.
6. The honor of God demands that he should administer such a government.
7. His conscience must demand it. He must know that it would be wrong for Him to create a universe of moral beings, and then refuse or neglect to administer over them a Moral Government.
8. His happiness must demand it, as he could not be happy unless he acted in accordance with his conscience.
9. If God is not a Moral Governor He is not wise. Wisdom consists in the choice of the best ends, and in the use of the most appropriate means to accomplish those ends. If God is not a Moral Governor, it is inconceivable that He should have had any important end in view in the creation of moral beings, or that he should have chosen the best or any suitable means for the accomplishment of the most desirable end.
10. The conduct or providence of God plainly indicates a design to exert a moral influence over moral agents.
11. His providence plainly indicates that the universe of mind is governed by Moral Laws, or by laws suited to the nature of moral agents.
12. Consciousness recognizes the existence of an inward law, or knowledge of the moral quality of actions.
13. This inward moral consciousness or conscience implies the existence of a rule of duty which is obligatory upon us. This rule implies a ruler, and this ruler must be God.
14. If God is not a Moral Governor, our very nature deceives us.
15. If God is not a Moral Governor, the whole universe, so far as we have the means of knowing it, is calculated to mislead mankind in respect to this fundamental truth.
16. If there is no such thing as Moral Government, there is, in reality, no such thing as moral character.
17. All nations have believed that God is a Moral Governor.
18. Our nature is such, that we must believe it. The conviction of our moral accountability to God, is in such a sense the dictate of our moral nature, that we can not escape from it.
19. We must abhor God, if we ever come to a knowledge of the fact that He created moral agents, and then exercised over them no Moral Government.
20. The connection between moral delinquency and suffering is such as to render it certain that Moral Government does, as a matter of fact, exist.
21. The Bible, which has been proved to be a revelation from God, contains a most simple and yet comprehensive system of Moral Government.
22. If we are deceived in respect to our being subjects of Moral Government, we are sure of nothing.
V. What is implied in the right to govern.
1. From what has just been said, it must be evident, that the right to govern, implies the necessity of government as a means of securing an intrinsically valuable end.
2. Also that the right to govern, implies the duty, or obligation to govern. There can be no right in this case, without corresponding obligation; for the right to govern is founded in the obligation to govern.
3. The right to govern implies obligation on the part of the subject to obey. It can not be the right or duty of the governor to govern, unless it is the duty of the subject to obey. The governor and subject are alike dependent upon government, as the indispensable means of promoting the highest good. The governor and the subject must, therefore, be under reciprocal obligation, the one to govern, and the other to be governed, or to obey. They one must seek to govern, the other must seek to be governed.
4. The right to govern implies the right and duty to dispense just and necessary rewards and punishments--to distribute rewards proportioned to merit, and penalties proportioned to demerit, whenever the public interests demand their execution.
5. It implies the right and duty to use all necessary means to secure the end of government as far as possible.
6. It implies obligation on the part of the subject cheerfully to acquiesce in any measure that may be necessary to secure the end of government--in case of disobedience, to submit to merited punishment, and if necessary, to aid in the infliction of the penalty of Law.
7. It implies the right and obligation of both ruler and ruled, to consecrate themselves to the promotion of the great end of government, with a single and steady aim.
8. It implies obligation, both on the part of the ruler and ruled, to be always ready, and when occasion offers, actually to make any personal and private sacrifice demanded by the higher public good--to cheerfully meet any emergency, and exercise any degree of self-denial that can and will result in a good of greater value to the public, than that sacrificed by the individual, or by any number of individuals, it always being understood, that present voluntary sacrifices shall have an ultimate reward.
9. It implies the right and duty to employ any degree of force which is indispensable to the maintenance of order, the execution of wholesome laws, the suppression of insurrections, the punishment of rebels and disorganizers, and sustaining the supremacy of Moral Law. It is impossible that the right to govern should not imply this; and to deny this right is to deny the right to govern. Should an emergency occur, in which a ruler had no right to use the indispensable means of securing order, and the supremacy of Law, the moment this emergency occurred, his right to govern would, and must cease: for it is impossible that it should be his right to govern, unless it be at the same time, and for the same reason, his duty to govern: but it is absurd to say, that it is his right and duty to govern, and yet at the same time, that he has not a right to use the indispensable means of government. It is the same absurdity, as to say, that he has, and has not the right to govern at the same time. If it be asked, whether an emergency like the one under consideration is possible, and if so, what might justly be regarded as such an emergency, I answer, that should circumstances occur under which the sacrifice necessary to sustain, would overbalance the good to be derived from the prevalence of government, this would create the emergency under consideration, in which the right to govern would cease.
VI. Point out the limits of this right.
The right to govern is, and must be, just co-extensive with the necessity of government. We have seen, that the right to govern is founded in the necessities of moral beings. In other words, the right to govern, is founded upon the fact, that the highest good of moral agents can not be secured, but by means of government.
It is a first truth of Reason, that what is good or valuable in itself, should be chosen for its own sake, and that it must therefore be the duty of moral agents to aim at securing, and so far as in them lies, to use the means of securing the highest good of the universe for its own sake, or on account of its intrinsic value. If moral government is the only means by which this end can be secured, then government is a necessity of the universe, thence a duty. But under this head, to avoid mistake, and to correct erroneous impressions which are sometimes entertained, I must show what is not the foundation of the right to govern. The boundary of the right must, as will be seen, depend upon the foundation of the right. The right must be as broad as the reason for it. If the reason of the right be mistaken, then the limits of the right can not be ascertained, and must necessarily be mistaken also.
1. Hence the right to govern the universe, for instance, can not be found in the fact, that God sustains to it the relation of Creator. This is by itself no reason why He should govern it, unless it needs to be governed--unless some good will result from government. Unless there is some necessity for government, the fact that God created the universe, can give Him no right to govern it.
2. The fact that God is the Owner and Sole Proprietor of the universe, is no reason why He should govern it. Unless either his own good, or the good of the universe, or of both together, demands government, the relation of Owner can not confer the right to govern. Neither God, nor any other being, can own moral beings, in such a sense as to have a right to govern them, when government is wholly unnecessary, and can result in no good whatever to God, or to his creatures. Government, in such a case, would be perfectly arbitrary and unreasonable, and consequently an unjust, tyrannical and wicked act. God has no such right. No such right can, by possibility in any case exist.
3. The right to govern can not be founded in the fact, that God possesses all the attributes, natural and moral, that are requisite to the administration of Moral Government. This fact is no doubt a condition of the right; for without these qualifications He could have no right, however necessary government might be. But the possession of these attributes can not confer the right independently of the necessity of government: for however well qualified He may be to govern, still, unless government is necessary to securing His own glory and the highest well-being of the universe, He has no right to govern it. Possessing the requisite qualifications is the condition, and the necessity of government is the foundation of the right to govern. More strictly, the right is founded in the intrinsic value of the interests to be secured by government, and conditionated upon the fact, that government is the necessary means or condition of securing the end.
4. Nor is the right to govern conferred by the value of the interests to be secured, nor by the circumstance of the necessity of government merely, without respect to the condition just above mentioned. Did not God's natural and moral attributes qualify Him to sustain that relation better than anyone else, the right could not be conferred on Him by any other fact or relation.
5. The right to govern is not, and can not be an abstract right based on no reason whatever. The idea of this right is not an ultimate idea in such a sense, that our intelligence affirms the right without assigning any reason on which it is founded. The human intelligence can not say that God has a right to govern, because he has such a right; and that this is reason enough, and all the reason that can be given. Our Reason does not affirm that government is right, because it is right, and that this is a first truth, and an ultimate idea. If this were so, then God's arbitrary will would be law, and no bounds possibly could be assigned to the right to govern. If God's right to govern be a first truth, an ultimate truth, fact and idea, founded in no assignable reason, then He has the right to legislate as little, and as much, and as arbitrarily, as unnecessarily, as absurdly, and injuriously as possible; and no injustice is, or can be done; for he has, by the supposition, a right to govern, founded in no reason, and of course without any end. Assign any other reason as the foundation of the right to govern than the value of the interests to be secured and conditionated upon the necessity of government, and you may search in vain for any limit to the right. But the moment the foundation and the condition of the right are discovered, we see instantly, that the right must be co-extensive with the reason upon which it is founded, or in other words, must be limited by, and only by the fact, that thus far, and no farther, government is necessary to the highest good of the universe. No legislation can be valid in heaven or earth--no enactments can impose obligation, except upon the condition, that such legislation is demanded by the highest good of the Governor and the Governed. Unnecessary legislation is invalid legislation. Unnecessary government is tyranny. It can in no case be founded in right. It should, however, be observed, that it is often, and in the government of God, universally true, that the Sovereign, and not the subject, is to be the Judge of what is necessary legislation and government. Under no government, therefore, are laws to be despised or rejected because we are unable to see at once their necessity, and hence their wisdom. Unless they are palpably unnecessary, and therefore unwise and unjust, they are to be respected and obeyed as a less evil than contempt and disobedience, though at present we are unable to see their wisdom. Under the government of God there can never be any doubt, and of course any ground for distrust and hesitancy, as it respects the duty of obedience.
VII. What is implied in Moral Government.
1. Moral Government implies a Moral Governor.
2. It implies the existence of Moral Law.
3. It implies the existence of Moral Agents as the subjects of Moral Government.
4. It implies the existence of Moral Obligation to obey Moral Law.
5. It implies the fact of Moral Character, that is, of praise or blame-worthiness in the subjects of Moral Government. A Moral Agent must be under Moral Obligation, and one who is under Moral Obligation, must have Moral Character. If he complies with obligation, he must be holy and praise-worthy; if he refuses to comply with Moral Obligation, he must be sinful and blame-worthy.
VIII. Definition of Moral Obligation.
Obligation is a bond, or that which binds. Moral Obligation is the bond, ligament, or tie that binds a moral agent to Moral Law. Moral Obligation is oughtness. It is a responsibility imposed on the moral agent by his own reason. It is a first truth of Reason that he ought to will the valuable for its own sake.
Moral Law is the rule in conformity with which he ought to act, or more strictly, to will.
Obligation we express by the term ought, and say that a moral agent ought to obey Moral Law, or that he ought to choose that which Moral Law requires him to will.
IX. The conditions of Moral Obligation.
1. Moral Agency. The conditions of Moral Agency are the attributes of Intelligence, Sensibility, and Free Will; or in other words power or capacity to know, to feel, and to will in conformity or disconformity with knowledge or with moral obligation. There must be Intelligence or the faculty of knowing the valuable or the good, and that the valuable or the good exists or is possible, that something exists or may exist which is a good in itself, or valuable on its own account. There must be reason to affirm Moral Obligation, to will the valuable because it is valuable. Moral Obligation can not exist where there is no knowledge of moral relations, of the valuable, the good, where there is no Intellect to affirm Oughtness or Moral Obligation--to affirm the rightness of willing good or the valuable, and the wrongness of willing evil or of selfish willing.
It is generally agreed that Moral Obligation respects strictly only the ultimate intention or choice of an end for its own sake. Hence it follows that the idea of this end must be developed as a condition of Moral Obligation. The end must be first known or perceived. This perception must develop the idea or affirmation of obligation to choose or will it. The development of the idea of obligation necessitates the development of the ideas of right and wrong as its correlatives. The development of these last must necessitate the affirmation of praise and blame-worthiness as their correlatives.
The conditions of moral obligation, strictly speaking, are the powers of moral agency with the development of the ideas of the intrinsically valuable, of moral obligation and of right and wrong. It implies the development also of the ideas of praise and blame-worthiness.
2. Sensibility, or the power or susceptibility of feeling. Without this faculty the knowledge of the good or the valuable would not be possible. This faculty supplies the chronological condition of the idea of the good or valuable. Feeling pleasure or pain in the sensibility suggests and develops the idea of the good or the valuable in the intelligence, just as the perception of body suggests and develops the idea of space, or just as beholding succession suggests and develops the idea of time. Perceiving body or succession, is the chronological condition of the idea of space or time. So the feeling of pleasure in like manner suggests or develops the idea of the valuable. The existence then of the Sensibility or of a susceptibility to pleasure or pain must be a condition of Moral Agency and hence of Moral Obligation.
3. Moral Agency implies the possession of Free Will. By Free Will is intended the power of choosing or refusing to choose in compliance with moral obligation in every instance. Free Will implies the power of originating and deciding our own choices and of exercising our own sovereignty in every instance of choice upon moral questions--of deciding or choosing in conformity with duty or otherwise in all cases of moral obligation. That man can not be under a moral obligation to perform an absolute impossibility is a first truth of reason. But man's causality, his whole power of causality to perform or do anything, lies in his Will. If he can not will, he can do nothing. His whole liberty or freedom must consist in his power to will. His outward actions and his mental states are connected with the actions of his Will by a law of necessity. If I will to move my muscles, they must move unless there be a paralysis of the nerves of voluntary motion, or unless some resistance be opposed that overcomes the power of my volitions. The sequences of choice or volition are always under the law of necessity, and unless the Will is free man has no freedom. And if he has no freedom he is not a moral agent, that is, he is incapable of moral action and also of moral character. Free Will then in the above defined sense must be a condition of moral agency and of course of moral obligation.
4. Moral Agency implies as has been said the actual development of the idea of good, or the valuable, of obligation and of oughtness or duty. The mind must know that there is such a thing as the good or valuable as a condition of the obligation to will it. Mind is so constituted that it can not but affirm obligation to will the good or the valuable as soon as the idea of the good or valuable is developed; but the development of this idea is the indispensable condition of moral obligation. When the faculties of a moral being are possessed, with sufficient light on moral subjects to develop the idea of the good or the valuable together with the idea of right and wrong, the mind instantly affirms and must affirm moral obligation or oughtness. Moral Agency commences at the instant of the development of those ideas, and with them also commences moral obligation and of course moral character.
1. If God's government is moral, it is easy to see how sin came to exist; that a want of experience in the universe, in regard to the nature and natural tendencies and results of sin, prevented the due influence of sanctions.
2. If God's government is moral, we see that all the developments of sin are enlarging the experience of the universe in regard to its nature and tendencies, and thus confirming the influence of moral government over virtuous minds.
3. If God's government is moral, we can understand the design and tendency of the Atonement; that it is designed, and that it tends to reconcile the exercise of mercy, with a due administration of law.
4. If God's government is moral, we can understand the philosophy of the Spirit's influences in convicting and sanctifying the soul; that this influence is moral, persuasive, and not physical.
5. If the government of God is moral, we can understand the influence and necessity of faith. Confidence is indispensable to heart obedience in any government. This is emphatically true under the Divine Government.
6. If God's government is moral, we can see the necessity and power of Christian example. Example is the highest moral influence.
7. If God's government is moral, his natural or physical omnipotence is no proof that all men will be saved; for salvation is not effected by physical power.
8. If God's government is moral, we see the importance of watchfulness, and girding up the loins of our minds.
9. If God's government is moral, we see the necessity of a well instructed ministry, able to wield the motives necessary to sway mind.
10. If God's government is moral, we see the philosophical bearings, tendencies, and power of the Providence, Law, and Gospel of God, in the great work of man's salvation.
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