LECTURES ON THE
MORAL GOVERNMENT OF GOD.
NATHANIEL W. TAYLOR, D. D.,
WHAT IS A PERFECT MORAL GOVERNMENT?
MORAL GOVERNMENT IN THE ABSTRACT.
V. A perfect Moral Government Involves the exercise of authority through the medium of law.The nature of the law further unfolded. -- 7. The law of a perfect Moral Government involves sanctions -- 5th. The necessity of legal sanctions shown. -- (3.) because they are the necessary proofs of his benevolence in the forms of his highest approbation of obedience and highest disapprobation of disobedience. -- This is argued; first, from the insufficiency of another mode of proving his benevolence; second, from the nature of legal sanctions as already explained; third, from the view of the sanctions of the supreme law of the state. -- REMARKS: 1. Christianity is not a selfish system of religion; 2. What it is to make light of the divine threatenings; 3. They who deny the view now given of the Sanctions of a perfect Moral Government, cannot prove the benevolence of God.
IN treating of the necessity of legal sanctions in the preceding lecture, I attempted to show, (1.) That they are necessary, in some respect or under some relation, as the proof of the moral governor's authority; and (2.) That they are necessary for this purpose, as being the requisite proof of his benevolence.
I now proceed to show, as I proposed --
(3.) That legal sanctions are necessary for this purpose, as the required manifestations or proofs of his benevolence in the form of his highest approbation of obedience, and of his highest disapprobation of disobedience.
It has been shown that the moral governor is under the necessity of establishing by decisive proof, his authority, or right to reign; that he cannot do this without proving his benevolence, and that he cannot prove his benevolence and so establish his authority, by any thing which he can do in his other relations, nor by any thing which he can do in this relation, without annexing natural good and evil to his law as its sanctions. What I now propose to show is, that he cannot prove his benevolence, without annexing sanctions to his law which shall manifest his highest approbation of obedience, and his highest disapprobation of disobedience; in other words, that natural good and evil cannot become legal sanctions--that is, cannot manifest the benevolence, and so establish the authority of the moral governor, in any other way or mode, except by manifesting his highest approbation of obedience, and his high, est disapprobation of disobedience.
I argue the truth of this proposition,
In the first place, from the insufficiency of certain particular ways or modes in which natural good and evil are, or have been supposed to become legal sanctions, other than that now specified. Here I propose to examine such other modes than the one now specified, some one of which so far as I know, has been considered the proper mode. If natural good and evil cannot become legal sanctions in any of these modes, it is fairly inferred that they cannot in any other than that now maintained. I remark then,
That natural good promised or conferred as the mere dictate of individual kindness, cannot possess the nature of a legal reward; and that natural evil, threatened or inflicted as the mere dictate of individual unkindness, cannot possess the nature of a legal, penalty. In such a case, the lawgiver in annexing the supposed sanctions to his law, and also in their execution, can have no benevolent regard for the public good, and of course no such regard for the establishment of his own authority as the necessary means of the public good. His whole object in conferring the natural good, and in inflicting the natural evil supposed, terminates in the happiness and unhappiness of individuals as such, and in his own selfish gratification. This implies an utter disregard of the highest happiness of all, and of the necessary means of this end. It shows him to be utterly regardless of the function of his high relation, and recreant to his high trust. Whatever other tendencies then his acts may be supposed to have, or whatever results they may be supposed to produce, they can have no tendency to establish his authority, and to secure by means of it the highest well-being of his kingdom. On the contrary, the supposed acts must be--the one in the form of favoritism or indulgent tenderness, and the other in that of resentment or revenge, the dictate of unqualified selfishness, and must therefore decisively disprove his authority.
Nor do natural good and evil employed merely as moral discipline, constitute legal sanctions. It is altogether credible, that a being perfectly benevolent should, prior to assuming the relation of the moral governor of other beings, confer on them much natural good, and inflict some natural evil, for the purpose of securing better results, when they come to act under his moral government, than he could otherwise secure. Such natural good and evil however, cannot constitute legal sanctions. It is also credible, if we suppose a legal economy to be connected, as it may be, with an economy of grace, that natural good and evil should be employed to reform the transgressors of law. Such natural good and evil however, being, merely disciplinary in their design and tendency, cannot constitute legal sanctions. I admit indeed that natural evil inflicted for the purpose of reclaiming an offender, is often called punishment in the popular use of the word. Hence such natural evil is often mistaken for penal evil, or for the penalty of law. Such natural evil, as distinguished from legal penalty, is properly called chastisement. It implies not less than the legal penalty, that the subject is an offender, since otherwise its infliction for the purpose of reformation would be obviously absurd. It differs however essentially, under a perfect moral government, from the legal penalty. Chastisement aims exclusively at the reformation of the subject; legal penalty not at all. Chastisement is inflicted in love legal penalty, in wrath. Chastisement, in its design and tendency, is a blessing to its Subject; legal penalty, an unmitigated curse. Chastisement has a special respect to the individual's benefit; legal penalty respects the good of the public. Hence chastisement cannot, under a perfect moral government, be the penalty of the law, it being a ridiculous a normally to threaten a transgressor of law with the means of his reformation and of his deliverance from the legal penalty; in other words, to threaten a real, and to him the greatest blessing, as a legal penalty.
Nor is the conferring of a legal reward by the moral governor, the payment of a debt, in the sense of that which is due for something received, which is not due. The lawgiver receives nothing in the obedience of his subjects but what is his due. Obedience is a matter of obligation on their part, and of rightful demand on his; and surely he does not reward them for paving their own debt. By this I do not mean that the reward is not that which is due, at least on account of the relation which conferring it has to the public good, as one means of increasing the public good, and that it may not in this sense be properly said that the reward is reckoned of debt ____ __ _______. This however cannot imply that the service claimed or rendered is not due to the lawgiver, and that the reward establishes the authority of the lawgiver simply by satisfying the claim of the obedient subject. Indeed, the act of satisfying the claim of the subject, be the ground of it what it may, may be prompted by selfishness as well as by benevolence, and can therefore furnish no proof of benevolence, and none of authority on the part of the lawgiver. Besides, on the supposition opposed, the lawgiver's authority could not be established, until obedience should exist and the reward be conferred. Of course, in the supposed act of obedience there could be no recognition of authority. In short, if the promise and the conferring of a reward for obedience has no relation except to satisfy, a claim of the subject, then it has no relation to the public good. It does not imply the least degree of approbation of obedience as the means of the public good, and instead of being proof of the lawgiver's benevolence, and so of his authority, it is proof to the contrary.
Nor is the endurance of natural evil as a legal penalty the payment of a debt on the part of the transgressor, by which he satisfies the claim of the lawgiver, and thus establishes his authority. For what has the subject received for which he owes suffering as an equivalent? Plainly, he cannot, in this sense, be said to owe suffering as a debt. He has neither done nor failed to do any thing for which suffering on his part can be rendering an equivalent. The language of a benevolent lawgiver is not, "I will be as well pleased and satisfied with disobedience and the endurance of its penalty, as with perfect obedience." Legal penalty is not a thing claimed by the lawgiver and rendered by the transgressor, but a thing threatened and inflicted by the lawgiver, and endured by the transgressor. Considered simply as so much suffering endured, it can have no tendency to manifest the benevolence of the lawgiver. Nor can it have such tendency except it be considered as suffering inflicted by the act of the lawgiver, and as such, becoming an expression of the emotion which benevolence must feel toward transgression. Voluntary submission to it on the part of the subject, is in no respect necessary to it as a legal penalty. Its infliction is the act of the moral governor, and in no respect the act of the transgressor, by which he may satisfy any demand made on him by the lawgiver, and thus establish his authority.
Nor do natural good and evil become legal sanctions, as being so much motive to secure right and prevent wrong moral action. By this I do not mean, that natural good and evil as the matter of legal sanctions, must not have the influence of motives on the minds of subjects, that they may answer the end of legal sanctions. Nor do mean I mean that the direct influence of natural good and evil as motives, is at all inconsistent with that peculiar influence which we call moral government, so that the two influences may not coexist. But I mean, that the influence of natural good and evil as such, or as so much motive merely, does not constitute them legal sanctions. In such influence merely, there is no influence of authority. The former may exist without the latter. If we suppose the subject to be under the influence of natural good and evil, as so much motive merely, he is not under the influence of authority, and therefore not under the influence of moral government. If we suppose him to conform to the rule of action under the former influence merely, the act would not be done because the moral governor commands it, but done simply to obtain natural good and to avoid natural evil; and of course done without the least regard to the will or character of him who prescribes the rule. Now the object of a perfect moral governor is not merely to secure right moral action, but to secure it in a given way by a peculiar influence--the influence of his authority; to secure it, I do not say exclusively, but really by this influence. It is to bring his subject to act from a respect to his will, as the will of a perfect being. Otherwise the act of conformity to the rule would not be an act of obedience, as involving any recognition of his right to rule. Even supposing the act to be morally right--an act done in view of the true nature and tendency of moral action, still if done from this influence merely, it would no more involve any regard for the character of the lawgiver, as that which gives him the right to rule, than were the subject hired to perform the act by a fellow subject. Natural good and evil then, influencing the subject as merely so much motive, are not legal sanctions.
Nor do natural good and evil become legal sanctions, on the ground that it is right or just to reward obedience and to punish disobedience, irrespective of the tendency of so doing to produce happiness and to prevent misery. The contrary opinion is maintained by some at least in respect to penalty. It is said that it is right to punish the transgressor of law irrespective of the general good--that it is ill-desert, and not the good of society, which is the ground of his just liability to punishment--that sin or transgression is an evil in itself and deserves punishment for its own sake, and without respect to its tendency to evil. Now in such statements as these, it is obvious that distinctions are made without a difference. It is readily admitted, then, that it is right to punish the transgressor of law; that it is ill-desert, which is the ground of his just liability to punishment, and that sin or transgression is an evil in itself. But it is denied that these things are true, or can be conceived to be true, irrespective of the relation of punishment to some good end, or to the public good. The real and only question in the case then is, would it be right or just to punish the transgressor of law, if no good end could be promoted by his punishment? Or thus, would it be right or just to inflict suffering in a case in which not the least good in kind or degree could result, either to the sufferer or to any other being from its infliction? To say that it would be, is to say that it would be right or just to inflict suffering purely for its own sake. Could a being of perfect benevolence do this? Could any feeling short of unqualified malice prompt it? Would such an act sustain the authority of the moral governor? But it will be said that there is inherent ill-desert in the transgression of a perfect law, and that on this account it is right or just to inflict punishment on the transgressor. But the ill-desert of transgression is either its relation to the law as tending to destroy its authority or the authority of the lawgiver and so to destroy the public good which depends on the authority of law, or it is not. If it is, and if punishment is justly inflicted on this account and as the means of sustaining this authority, then it is inflicted in respect to a good end, even for the public good. If it is not, then plainly the transgression of law sustains no relation to law, on account of which it is right or just to punish it. It leaves the authority of the law or of the lawgiver unimpaired and in full force. It has done, and can do no injury to the law or to the authority of the lawgiver. There is no evil to be prevented or to be redressed by punishment, no good to be accomplished in respect to the law. Why then punish the transgressor Is it said that the ill-desert of transgression is not its relation to law as tending to destroy its authority, but its inherent moral turpitude considered simply as wrong moral action? Be it so; but how can this be a good reason for inflicting suffering on the transgressor merely for its own sake, or when no good end can be answered by its infliction? Is it said that it is fit, or proper, or right, or what ought to be done, and that we instinctively feel it to be so? But why is it? Right to inflict suffering purely for the sake of inflicting it! Who are the beings that instinctively feel this to be right, and in what world do they dwell? Of such a species of beings we have no knowledge, and with them if they exist, we utterly disclaim all fraternity. Is it then said that transgression is evil in itself, and that on this account and for its own sake, it deserves punishment? This is only saying in another form the same things. What then is the meaning of the language? There are, generally speaking, two things, and only two, each of which may be properly said to be evil in itself. The one is suffering, including unhappiness and misery, and the other is the direct means of suffering. Each is truly and properly said to be evil in itself, in distinction from being evil as the indirect means of suffering. That suffering, i.e., unhappiness, pain, or misery, is evil in itself will not be denied. So that which is the direct means of suffering or of unhappiness, is properly said to be evil in itself, though it he also the indirect means of it. Thus it is properly said, that ignorance or infamy is evil in itself. But neither of these things is evil in itself in the same sense in which unhappiness or suffering, is. The transgression of a perfect law, sin, wrong moral action, is also evil in itself, not as being itself suffering, but as being in its own nature and true tendency, the direct means of suffering. This is all that can be properly meant by calling transgression or sin evil in itself. Not being identical with suffering or unhappiness, it can be conceived to be evil, only as being in its own nature the direct means of suffering. But how can this fact be a good and sufficient reason for inflicting suffering on the transgressor by a moral governor, when no good can result from the infliction? It would be only to increase evil for evil's sake. And we say again, that nothing short of unqualified malice could inflict suffering in such a case. Or rather, we affirm that the most unqualified malice could not do it. The supposed act is impossible in the nature of things. No being can find a motive to inflict suffering on others any more than on himself, when no good in his view either to himself, or to them, or to others, is connected with or depends on the act. The supposition involves the absurdity of choosing to act without a motive or a reason--the absurdity of an event without a reason. The supposed act bids defiance to even infernal malice. But it has been said, if the justice of punishment is founded in the utility of punishment, then it will follow, that if the public good would be best promoted by punishing the innocent instead of the transgressor, it would be right and just to punish the innocent, which is revolting to every sentiment of our moral nature. It is readily admitted, that to punish the innocent instead of the guilty, would, as things are in their essential nature and relations, be abhorrent to every true sentiment of right and equity. But here two questions arise; why is it thus, and how would it be, were the nature and relations of things changed in the manner supposed? Why is it thus? Is it not because the truth is clearly seen and strongly felt by every mind, that the authority of law, and with it the public good depend on and require the punishment of the transgressor, and forbid the punishment of the obedient subject? Does not every one know, even the culprit at the bar, as well as the judge on the bench, that to assert, that a due regard to the authority of law and with it to the public good require the punishment of the transgressor, is the set thing as to assert that justice requires his punishment? And now, if we suppose the essential nature of things to be so changed, that the authority of law and the public good as depending on it, would be destroyed, and absolute and universal misery follow, unless the innocent were to be punished, would it not be right to make innocence, now become the true and necessary cause of such fearful results, the ground of punishment? Could a benevolent moral governor voluntarily, become the author of such utter ruin and wretchedness, by suffering the innocent to escape punishment? Plainly on the supposition now made, the nature of things would be so changed, that innocence, obedience to law, would possess the same nature, and sustain the same relations as the ground of punishment, which disobedience now sustains; and if our moral nature approve of the punishment of the latter, it must in the case supposed, approve of the punishment of the former. If it is now right or just to punish the disobedient, it would then be so to punish the obedient--to punish for a thing having the same relative nature, though it should have another name. To deny it, is to make a supposition to be reasoned on, and then to disregard and overlook it in the reasoning. It is like supposing the nature of things to be so changed that two and two should be five, and then to deny that on this supposition two and two would be five, or that twice two and two would be ten. Those philosophers then, who maintain the justice of punishment, irrespective of its relations to the public good or to any good--and the same thing is true mutatis mutandis in respect to the justice of reward, evidently fail to analyze their own necessary ideas or conceptions of things. If the question be put, why is it right to punish transgression, they have no answer to give, but that it is right, or that it is right because it is right, or some equivalent answer equally trivial and irrelevant. If pressed further on the point, they tell us, that the idea of moral rectitude or rightness is a simple idea. An idea incapable of analysis and definition, and that the question is wholly unauthorized, why is an action morally right, or what is that in which its moral rectitude consists. This has already been considered.
Nor do natural good and evil become legal sanctions, considered as the dictate of justice as distinguished from benevolence; or, as annexed to law, apart from their subserviency to public good. This view of the subject, which is not perhaps essentially different from that just considered, instead of representing benevolence as the primary attribute, and justice as one particular form of benevolence, represents them "as distinct and primary characteristics" or attributes of a perfect moral governor. Its advocates are obviously led to adopt it, from an inadequate and false conception of the nature of benevolence, as the comprehensive moral perfection of a perfect ruler. By benevolence, they obviously mean that species of sentimental kindness which seeks the welfare of others as individuals, without regard to the highest well-being of the whole. Such kindness is not the benevolence of a perfect moral governor. It not only does not involve or imply the attribute of justice, but would be palpably inconsistent with it. Benevolence, as the attribute of a perfect moral governor, is the supreme love of the highest happiness of his kingdom, or an elective preference of this object to every other that can come into competition with it as an object of preference. It becomes therefore, from its very nature in relation to the promotion of the highest happiness, a disposition or _purpose to promote it, by every means necessary for its promotion. One of these is, the establishment and support of the authority of a perfect law, or of the lawgiver's authority, by legal sanctions. Benevolence dictates and demands this, and in its very nature necessarily leads to a full and fixed determination or purpose to secure and employ this means of the general good, or highest well-being of all; and as such a purpose is what we mean, and all that can be meant, by justice as the attribute of a perfect moral governor--call it by what name we will--righteousness, holiness, justice--it is a disposition or purpose, prompted by benevolence, to uphold the authority of the law, or of the lawgiver, by legal sanctions as the necessary means of the general good. It is therefore one particular form or modification of benevolence, or a particular disposition or purpose, prompted by benevolence. Indeed, all we all moral attributes in a perfect moral being, except benevolence, are only forms or modifications of benevolence in more particular dispositions or purposes. Thus veracity is a particular disposition or purpose, prompted by his benevolence, to speak truth; pity, or compassions is a particular disposition or purpose prompted by benevolence, to relieve suffering; mercy, as an attribute of a moral ruler, is a particular disposition or purpose, prompted by benevolence, to show favor to the guilty. Justice also, as the attribute of a moral ruler, is a particular disposition or purpose prompted by benevolence, to establish and maintain the authority of law by legal sanctions, which, under a merely legal system, is in all cases indispensable to the general good. It is true that general benevolence dictates and requires other things also, for other things are necessary to the general good. But it demands the support of the authority of the moral governor as one necessary, absolutely indispensable means of this end. Thus viewed as a benevolent disposition to uphold his authority, as the indispensable means of the general good, it constitutes, or rather assumes the particular form, which we call justice, as an attribute of a moral governor. Hence benevolence, as the attribute of a perfect moral governor, never requires any thing which is inconsistent with what justice in a perfect moral governor dictates and demands; for the support of the authority of law is always as truly exacted by benevolence as by justice. Nor does justice ever require any thing inconsistent with benevolence; for the support of the authority of law by the requisite means of its support, is what justice demands, and this is always necessary to the general good, and therefore always dictated and demanded by benevolence. Benevolence, no less than justice requires, under a perfect moral government viewed as a merely legal system, the sacrifice of individual happiness in the case of the transgressor; so that justice in seeking his punishment, never claims what benevolence forbids. What justice demands in such a case, benevolence also demands. So if benevolence dictates and demands an atonement, which Shall fully support the authority of law in the pardon of the transgressor, it claims nothing which justice as the attribute of a moral governor forbids. The entire claim of justice is met, provided the authority of law be supported in case of transgression, whether this be done by the execution of penalty or by an atonement. There is therefore no antagonism here--no clashing of different attributes in the moral governor--no violence done to benevolence, in answering the inflexible demand of justice; and none to the inflexible demand of justice, by conforming to any conceivable demand of benevolence. Justice, and all the particular moral attributes of a perfect moral governor, may be distinguished not only from each other, but also from his benevolence. But while each particular attribute, so to speak, acts in subservience to benevolence, all act in perfect harmony. Benevolence is the central sun which gives direction, and power, and results, to the whole constellation of the particular moral attributes of a perfect moral governor. If compassion demands relief for the suffering, or if mercy dictates favor to the guilty, so does benevolence. If justice require legal sanctions, as it does under a merely legal system, benevolence also demands them as the necessary means of supporting the authority of the lawgiver, and as such, of promoting the general good.
Such are some of the ways or modes--and I know of no other--in which it has been supposed that natural good and evil can become legal sanctions, instead of that which is now maintained to be the only mode. It is obvious however that they cannot become legal sanctions in any of these modes. If this be so, it is a fair conclusion that they can become legal sanctions in no other than that now maintained; that is, except as manifestations of the moral governor's highest approbation of obedience, and highest disapprobation of disobedience.
I argue the same thing --
In the second place, from what has been already shown respecting the nature of legal sanctions. We have seen that the moral governor can establish his authority only by natural good and evil annexed to his law as sanctions. Whatever else may be necessary for this purpose besides natural good and evil as legal sanctions, the establishing or sanctioning influence is exclusively from natural good as the reward of obedience, and from natural evil as the penalty of disobedience. But he cannot establish his authority, as we have shown, without manifesting his highest approbation of obedience, and his highest disapprobation of disobedience, and of course cannot establish his authority by natural good and evil as legal sanctions, except as they manifest these feelings. Since then, natural good and evil are necessary as legal sanctions; since they can become such only as manifestations of the moral governor's approval or disapproval, it follows, that they are necessary as legal sanctions, solely because they are requisite for the purpose of such a manifestation.
Or thus: it has been shown that the moral governor cannot establish his authority without manifesting his benevolence; that he cannot do this by natural good and evil as legal sanctions, unless they manifest the necessary feelings of benevolence toward right and wrong moral action; and that these are the highest approbation of the one, and the highest disapprobation of the other. As then the moral governor cannot establish his authority by natural good and evil as legal sanctions, unless they manifest his highest approbation of obedience, and his highest disapprobation of disobedience, it follows, that they are required as legal sanctions, solely because they are necessary for the purpose of such a manifestation.
What has now been said will be more fully confirmed by viewing the subject under some other aspects, and in some other connections. I proceed then to remark --
In the third place, that it is utterly unsupposable and inconceivable, that natural good and evil should become legal sanctions in any other mode, than as expressions or manifestations of the moral governor's highest approbation of obedience, and highest disapprobation of disobedience.
Every one knows, that promising natural good to obedience, in the form of law, and conferring it when obedience is rendered, is the appropriate and most significant possible expression of approbation of obedience; and that the threatening of natural evil to disobedience, in the form of law, and inflicting it when disobedience occurs, is the appropriate and most significant expression of disapprobation of disobedience. The degree of approbation in the one case, and of disapprobation in the other, are justly estimated and measured by the degree of natural good promised or conferred in the one case, and of natural evil threatened or inflicted in the other. Now, when there things are so--when, as we have seen, there is no other conceivable reason that a perfect moral governor should annex natural good and evil to his law as legal sanctions; or rather, when to annex, them for any other conceivable reason or purpose, would disprove his moral perfection and subvert his authority, what good or sufficient reason could he have for annexing natural good and evil to his law as legal sanctions, and to do this for the purpose of establishing his authority, except that they are necessary for this purpose, and because they are the only significant and true, and therefore necessary, expressions of his approval of obedience and disapproval of the opposite.
Again; if natural good and evil can become legal sanctions in any other mode than by expressing the moral governor's highest approbation of obedience, and highest disapprobation of disobedience, it must be either by not manifesting any degree of these feelings, or by manifesting some less degree of them than the highest. Can he then establish his authority by natural good and evil as legal sanctions, without manifesting through them some degree of the feelings specified? This is plainly impossible. For they can be proof of nothing on the part of a moral governor on which his authority depends, unless they manifest on his part some degree of approbation of obedience, and some degree of disapprobation of disobedience. As the appropriate and significant signs of these feelings, they necessarily express them. Even if they are considered as merely so much motive or inducement employed by him to secure obedience and to prevent disobedience, they necessarily imply a preference on his part for some reason or another either a selfish or a benevolent preference--of obedience to disobedience, and of course some kind and degree of approbation of the one, and of disapprobation of the other. It is true indeed, that if they express these feelings in their selfish form, they become proof against his authority. But it is also true, that if they are not regarded as expressions of these feelings in any form, they can imply no preference of one kind of action to the other, and therefore can prove nothing in respect to the will, can establish nothing in respect to the feelings and character of the moral governor which can have the least bearing on the question of his authority, any more than were they the effects of an impersonal cause or physical agent. If there natural good and evil annexed to law as sanctions, do not manifest some approbation of obedience, and some disapprobation of disobedience on the part of the moral governor, they can prove nothing which can have the remotest connection with establishing his authority--nothing in respect to the purpose for which they are annexed to law. They can sanction nothing they can prove nothing which can give him the right to reign, and therefore cannot be legal sanctions.
Again; it has been already shown that the moral governor can make no decisive expression, and therefore can furnish no decisive proof of his benevolence, except by natural good and evil as legal sanctions; nor by these, except as they express his approbation of obedience, and his disapprobation of disobedience. If therefore he does not make such manifestation, he furnishes no proof of his benevolence, and of course none of his authority. On the contrary, his failure to manifest these feelings by this means, decisively proves that he is not a benevolent but a selfish being, and utterly disproves his authority. Who would concede to another the right to govern--the right to impose his will as an authoritative rule of action, who should refuse to furnish the least proof of his approbation of right, and his disapprobation of wrong moral action, and who should thus furnish decisive proof of that selfishness which, to subserve its purposes, is as ready to befriend and patronize wrong as right moral action--to sacrifice as to promote the highest happiness of his kingdom? Plainly the moral governor cannot establish his authority by natural good and evil as legal sanctions, without manifesting through them some degree of approbation of right, and some degree of disapprobation of wrong moral action.
To recur now to the other side of the alternatives; can the moral governor establish his authority by annexing to his law natural good and evil as sanctions, which manifest a less degree of the feelings specified than the highest? I answer; that to suppose that he can, is to suppose what is absurd and impossible. We have already seen that the moral governor, by annexing that degree of natural good and evil to his law as sanctions which would fully express the highest degree of the feelings specified, would thus manifest the true feelings of benevolence toward right and wrong moral action, and thus decisively establish his authority. But it is obvious, that natural good and evil in this case would become proof of his benevolence solely by expressing his highest approbation of obedience, and his highest disapprobation of disobedience. It is equally plain, that no less degree of natural good and evil would express these feelings. To suppose therefore, that any less degree of natural good and evil as legal sanctions than is necessary should manifest them, is absurd. To suppose that the manifestation of any other feelings either in kind or degree, than the true and necessary feelings of benevolence, should prove benevolence, is equally absurd. The benevolence then of the moral governor, and of course his authority, cannot be proved by any degree of legal sanctions less than that which shall manifest his benevolence in the form of its highest approbation of obedience, and his highest disapprobation of disobedience.
Again; the degree of natural good and evil annexed by the moral governor as sanctions to his law, is the measure and criterion of his approbation of obedience, and disapprobation of disobedience. It is undeniable, that by some given degree of natural good and evil as legal sanctions, he may express the highest degree of these feelings toward right and wrong moral action, and that by the lowest possible degree of natural good and evil as legal sanctions, he would express less approbation of right and disapprobation of wrong moral action, than the highest, and of course less of these feelings toward these objects than the necessary feelings of benevolence. But we may as well suppose that the expression of the least possible degree of these feelings toward right and wrong moral action, is an expression of the necessary feelings of benevolence, as to suppose that any expression of these feelings short of the highest, is an expression of such feelings. But I need not say how preposterous would be the attempt of a moral governor to prove his benevolence and so to establish his authority, by expressing the least possible degree of approbation of that kind of action, which is the necessary means of the highest happiness of all, and the least possible degree of disapprobation of that kind of action, which is the sure means of the highest misery of all. If then he annexes to his law a less degree of natural good and evil, than that which is requisite to express his highest approbation of obedience, and highest disapprobation of disobedience, he furnishes no proof of the necessary feelings of benevolence, and of course no proof of his authority. On the contrary, he expresses a lower degree of approbation of obedience and of disapprobation of disobedience, than he as a benevolent being, must feel, that is, he expresses that degree of approbation of right, and that degree of disapprobation of wrong moral action, which none but a selfish being can feel. The moral governor cannot establish or prove his authority, or rather he cannot avoid disproving it, without annexing as sanctions to his law, that degree of natural good and of natural evil which expresses his highest approbation of right, and his highest disapprobation of wrong moral action.
I remark yet again, that natural good and evil, which express a less degree of approbation of obedience, and a less degree of disapprobation of disobedience than the highest, cannot become legal sanctions by combining their influence with other influences, to establish the moral governor's authority. The contrary may be supposed. The supposition however is manifestly absurd, since there could be no legal sanctions in the case. Allowing what is indeed impossible, that benevolence of the moral governor may be proved, and that his authority may be fully or partially established by other evidence than that furnished by natural good and evil as legal sanctions, still neither this other evidence nor its sources can be legal sanctions; for nothing can be legal sanctions except natural good and evil. Nor in the case supposed can they be such, since they do not by their own peculiar and exclusive influence establish the moral governor's authority. Nor is this all. The natural good and evil in the case supposed, cannot have the least tendency or influence whatever to establish his authority. Not expressing his highest approbation of obedience and disapprobation of disobedience, they furnish not the slightest evidence of these feelings, nor of course of the character, which is requisite to authority. They may be evidence of some kind or degree of approbation of right and of disapprobation of wrong moral action, but in no such degree as a perfectly benevolent being must feel. Whatever evidence of authority therefore may be supposed to be furnished by other sources, none can be furnished by the natural good and evil now supposed. On the contrary, these being expressions, are also a proof of a less degree of approbation of right and of disapprobation of wrong moral action than the highest, and are therefore evidence that the moral governor is not a benevolent but a selfish being, and can possess no authority. No other evidence then can establish the authority of the moral governor, except that which is furnished by natural good and evil as legal sanctions manifesting his feelings of benevolence toward right and wrong moral action. No matter what evidence or proof of benevolence he may be supposed to furnish in his other relations, it is altogether neutralized and set aside by his failure to annex as sanctions to his law, that degree of natural good and evil which fully expresses his highest approbation of right and his highest disapprobation of wrong moral action.
If it should here be said--and I know of nothing more plausible on the question at issue (Vide LECTURE VI.)--that a greater amount of right moral action, and with it also of happiness, might be secured by a less degree of natural good and evil as legal sanctions than that now maintained, and that hence benevolence would require that a less degree of such good and evil be annexed to the law as sanctions; I answer, in the first place, that while the natural possibility of the supposed consequence must be admitted in a system including moral beings, the moral governor when assuming this relation in the promulgation of his law, can furnish no proof to his subjects, that a greater amount of right action and of happiness would be secured by the supposed less degree of natural good and evil as legal sanctions. It may be otherwise, and to suppose that it would not be, is to make the supposition, when all the evidence in the case, and the best evidence the nature of the case admits of, is against its truth. It is supposing that a greater amount of right moral action would be secured by a less degree of influence fitted to secure it, than by a greater degree of such influence. The only rational conclusion in the case then is, that a greater amount of right moral action and of happiness would be secured by the degree of legal sanctions now maintained, than by any less degree. I answer, in, the second place, that there could be no evidence or proof of the benevolence of the moral governor, but there would be decisive proof to the contrary. Nothing can be supposed to exist in the case, of the nature of evidence to this main fact, except the mere declaration of a being whose benevolence and of course his veracity are to be decided by what he does as a moral governor, and this too when all the evidence in the case is against the truth of his declaration. His mere declaration therefore in respect to the greater amount of right moral action and of happiness, cannot be received as evidence of the fact nor of his benevolence. In the third place, in the act of assuming this relation of a moral governor, he comes under its high and peculiar responsibility. He must now in the very act of assuming this relation, and in claiming the homage of his subjects, either show himself recreant to this high responsibility, and thus decisively disprove his right to rule, that is his authority; or he must fulfill the grand function of his office by proving his right to rule, that is, establish his authority by the necessary means of doing so. He cannot establish or prove his authority without furnishing decisive proof of his benevolence; and this he cannot do without annexing that degree of natural good and evil to his law as its sanction, which shall express the feelings of benevolence. On the contrary, without annexing such sanctions to his law, he shows himself selfish and recreant to his high and peculiar responsibilities as a moral governor, disproves his benevolence, and in consequence subverts his authority.
Nor can this decisive proof against his authority be set aside or weakened by any supposable results in the conduct of his subjects. Let us suppose a law without such sanctions as I advocate, and this law or rule of action to be followed with perfect conformity on the part of those to whom it is given, except in one single instance. In this case there could be no proof that a law with such sanctions as I advocate in its stead, would not be followed by perfect conformity without even one exception. Of course, there could be no proof that the lawgiver, in giving the law without such sanctions, acts benevolently. On the contrary, the proof as above stated, that he does not act benevolently, remains unimpaired and decisive. He makes no strong expression of the feelings of a benevolent being toward right and wrong moral action, which he must do, or disprove his benevolence and therefore his authority. Let us now suppose the same law to be given, and to be followed with perfect conformity on the part of subjects, without even a solitary exception. This would furnish no proof that the supposed law would be followed by the supposed result, even for an hour or a moment beyond the time in which it actually exists, nor that a law with the sanctions which I advocate, would not be followed with the supposed perfect obedience forever. There can of course be no proof that the lawgiver, in the case supposed, has annexed those sanctions to his law which benevolence requires him to do. Nor is this all. There can be no proof that he would annex such sanctions to his law as I advocate, did he know that the greatest good required it. By annexing therefore the supposed limited sanctions to his law, he not only does not prove his benevolence, but he never can prove it. He, can furnish no evidence that he has any other feelings toward right and wrong moral action than those of a selfish being. The proof then of his benevolence, depends not on any present amount of right moral action on the part of subjects, under a law without the sanctions which I advocate; nor on any conjectures, or supposed possibility respecting what would be the amount of such action under such a law. It depends not on what he declares respecting the result on right moral action, but on what he does in the time, and in the act of assuming the relation of one having a right to govern. The law must come forth from the throne, bearing the testimonial of such authority in its nature and form. It must be in itself, i. e. in its sanctions, a decisive testimonial of the feelings and the character of the lawgiver. Instead of waiting for the conduct of subjects to create its authority by their conformity to its demands, or leaving them to conjecture its authority, which implies that it has no authority, it must bear unqualified and decisive proof of this in its very promulgation. As an expression of the feelings of perfect benevolence toward right and wrong moral action by the moral governor, that is, of his highest approbation of the one, and of his highest disapprobation of the other, its very announcement must invest it with authority. It must thus show what the moral governor is in his character, by showing what his feelings are toward right and wrong moral action, and as depending on these, toward the weal and woe of his kingdom. Why? Because, in this way, and in this way only, can the question of his authority be settled, when it should and must be, viz., when he gives the law. Because, as we have seen, in this way the best evidence which the nature of the case admits of would be furnished, because such evidence is imperiously demanded--because if he has the character which invests him with authority, it will be furnished, and because therefore if it is not furnished, it is decisive proof that he does not possess the character. Make what other supposition you will concerning his declarations or his doings, it is nothing better, and can be regarded by his subjects as nothing better than the barefaced hypocrisy of saying to a sufferer, `Be warmed, be filled, and giving nothing.' He can easily settle the question of his character and his authority--he can at once place it beyond all reasonable doubt; he can thus bring that highest, best influence on the minds of his subjects, an influence as desirable as the highest happiness, and the prevention of the highest misery of his kingdom. If he expects confidence in his character or homage to his authority, why does he not show that he has the feelings toward the conduct of his subjects and the welfare of his kingdom, which alone can entitle him to their confidence, and their homage, and enthrone him in rightful dominion. Plainly if he does not do it--if he does not annex those sanctions to his law which express the feelings of benevolence toward right and wrong moral action, feelings which as a benevolent being he must not only have but must express, then he authorizes the belief that he is selfish and not benevolent, and in consequence disproves his authority. And it will not be pretended, that presenting himself to his kingdom in character nothing better than an infinite fiend, that he uses that degree of influence to secure right moral action, which will secure the greatest amount of such action which can be secured, or that he can secure the least degree of it, by that influence which is essential to secure to the greatest amount of it, the influence of authority. Natural good and evil then, which as legal sanctions express the moral governor's highest approbation of right, and highest disapprobation of wrong moral action, are necessary to prove his benevolence, and so to establish his authority.
In the third place, I remark, that the view now given of the nature of legal sanctions, is substantially that which all men entertain of the supreme law of the state, so far as they regard its authority. I say, so far as they regard its authority, meaning so far as they regard the law of the state as established and administered by disinterested love of country. Such indeed is the evidence of selfishness, even on the part of civil rulers, as distinguished from true patriotism, that in our utmost respect for civil government, we regard it as having a quasi authority rather than a real authority, and find ourselves under the necessity of imagining the latter, and acting as if we believed it, rather than actually believing it. Whether this be an imaginary or real regard for the authority of the law, I include it under the language which I use, and contemplate it as real. By that law of the state, which I call supreme, I mean that which is essential to the government of the state as a moral government, and obedience to which is the test of loyalty. The reward of obedience to this law, in language which admits of some qualification in extreme cases, but needs none for our present purpose, is the protection of life, liberty and property. The penalty of this law is death.
If now we contemplate the nature of this reward, and the condition on which it is conferred, we cannot fail to see its peculiar characteristic as a legal sanction. In its nature, it is obviously the highest good which a civil government can confer as a common blessing on its obedient subjects. It is conferred solely on condition of the subject's obedience to the supreme law of the state. It is therefore a plain and unequivocal expressions direct and decisive proof of the moral governor's highest approbation of obedience to this law. No subject can fail to regard it in this light, who reflects at all on its design; nor can he regard it in this light, without regarding it as a decisive manifestation of that character of the lawgiver, which alone becomes him as the guardian of a nation's welfare, and which alone gives him a right to rule. The subject doubtless will regard the reward as so much natural good, and as such, a motive to conform to the demand of the law. But as an obedient subject, as under and submitting to authority, he must regard the reward as something more than simply so much natural good as a motive. He must regard it as that which by manifesting the lawgiver's design to secure the highest welfare of the state, gives majesty to his law, and inspires reverence for his authority. Otherwise all we call the majesty of law or the authority of civil government, is reduced to the contemptible conceit of a mere contract or stipulation of so much hire for a certain amount of service. To call such a contract government or law, or to speak of its authority, is to talk of what has no existence. Viewed as a legal sanction then, reward is something more than so much natural good as a motive to fulfill the claim of law. It manifests the moral governor's highest approbation of that on the part of the subject which ought to be most highly approved, viz., his obedience, and carries to every mind the conviction of that character of the governor which gives him a right to rule, and thus establishes his authority.
The same thing is true in respect to the penalty of the civil law, viz., it is designed to establish the authority of the governor. This, as I maintain, it does, and is designed to do, a's a direct and decisive expression and proof of his highest disapprobation of disobedience to the supreme law of the state. The penalty of this law, as I have said, is death. Here it were highly desirable, did our limits allow, to distinguish this penalty of the supreme law of the state from those punishments or penalties as they are often called, which are annexed to various particular and subsidiary legislative enactments, as merely so much good or evil in the form of motive to prevent transgression. This distinction I have attempted to trace in an appendix to this lecture. I will only say here, that it is evident that this class of punishments are not legal sanctions; inasmuch as the subject who incurs them, is virtually treated as an obedient subject, that is, he is virtually rewarded as such by being protected, with some qualification greater or less, in his life, liberty and property. The offenses for which this class of punishments is inflicted, do not, in the eye of the law, involve a principle of hostility to the state. But the penalty of death the penalty of the supreme law of the state, is inflicted only for such crimes as treason or murder--crimes, which in the eye of the law, do involve a spirit of war on the happiness and existence of the state; and which therefore require the expression of the highest disapprobation of him who is the guardian of the state. If now we consider this penalty in its adaptation and fitness to this end, we shall see that there can be no ground to doubt that it is designed to answer this end. And here it may be safely assumed that there can be no hesitation on this point, except this one, that death without torture is not, in the strictest accuracy of speech, the highest degree of natural evil which the governor can inflict for disobedience. Hence it may perhaps be inferred by some, that it is not designed as a direct and decisive expression of his highest disapprobation of disobedience; but only as so much natural evil to deter from disobedience in the form of motive.
Admitting then, that in the strictest use of language (and who makes such a use of it in common life?) death without torture, is not the highest degree of natural evil which is possible in the case, there are three suppositions to be made and considered. One is, that on this account death is not according to the true mode of judging, viewed either by the governor or his subjects as an expression and proof of his disapprobation, or that it is not designed to be such by the governor, nor to be so regarded by his subjects. From this supposition, it follows that there is nothing in civil government, either as viewed by the governor or his subjects, which answers to the idea of authority. There is no evidence from the penalty, and therefore none from any source, that he has the least degree of disapprobation of obedience, and therefore no evidence that he has a right to rule. On the contrary, there is decisive proof that he has not this right. Civil government of course is not in the lowest sense a moral government. In its highest perfection, it involves not an iota of that influence which is called authority. Another supposition is, that the governor and his subjects according to the true mode of judging--and it is difficult to see how it can be otherwise--regard to penalty of death as expressing some, degree of disapprobation of disobedience to the supreme law of the state, but not the highest degree. On this supposition there can be no ground of confidence in his character as a civil ruler; and of course no recognition of his authority. As the head of an empire, that he may secure the confidence of his subjects, and command their submission to his authority as the rightful guardian of all, he is under a necessity of annexing a penal sanction of peculiar severity to the supreme law of the state. He is obliged to show that he will sacrifice the life of any subject, who like the traitor or the murderer, shall war on the welfare and existence of the state, rather than sacrifice the state itself. To test the truth of this remark, let it be supposed that he refuses to execute the traitor or the murderer, because he is his friend, or his favorite, or even his son; and would not an enlightened and just public sentiment frown him into infamy and contempt, as unworthy of his place and as having no right to rule? And why? Is it that as the only guardian of the state, he does not express some degree of disapprobation of a deed so hostile to the state which is less than the highest degree? Or is it, that in their estimation he does not express the highest disapprobation of the crime by the infliction of death as the requisite penalty? Plainly the latter, for without this view of the penal sanction, there could be no proof that the moral governor regarded the welfare of the state as the supreme good; that he would not sacrifice it to any inferior object or end. Whether the penalty of death can be justly regarded as the expression and proof of his highest disapprobation or not, it is undeniable that it must be so regarded, or there can be no ground of confidence in his character as the ruler and protector of the state, and of course no recognition of his authority. A third supposition then is not merely that it is, so regarded, but that it is justly so regarded; in other words, that according to the true mode of judging in the case, both the governor and his subjects regard the penalty of death as a direct and decisive expression and proof of his highest disapprobation of disobedience to the supreme law of the state, and as such a legal sanction. But here the question arises, how can death without torture be justly regarded as such an expression? I answer, that in the common conceptions of all men, death is the supreme evil to man. It is, as it were, constantly in common speech, and of course in the common conceptions, of the human mind, distinguished as the greatest of evils to man, considered as a being of earth and time. As such it is signalized in all human thought, familiarized as the evil most to be dreaded, and even personified as the king of terrors. The idea of it, is of so great an evil--it so absorbs thought and feeling by its own magnitude, that the ordinary suffering which is an attendant circumstance, is unthought of as enhancing it. If we dread its approach, if we adopt means to escape it ourselves or to prevent it in others, it is death as death that we think of, and not the sufferings it may bring with it. Or if we suppose a degree of suffering to be connected with it, it would be apt to attract and engross thought and feeling, and so to divert the dread of the greater evil to the less; and it is easier, as every one knows, to harden the mind against bodily suffering than against death, when the mind conceives the latter as an evil in its true magnitude. Nor can it be reasonably doubted, that the threatening of death--of death simply--death as the supreme evil in the habitual thought and feeling of the human mind, is fitted to make a stronger impression than the threatening of any other evil. Different effects might to some extent be produced on different minds by the supposed difference of penalty. But I now speak of the most general effect, and the thought and the fear of death are ever present to every mind in their practical and controlling power. Now it is of this universal habitual thought and fear of death, that the moral governor in presenting the penalty of his law avails himself. He conforms to this universal and familiar conception of the human mind; and when he would impress most effectually every subject with his highest disapprobation of disobedience to his supreme law, he makes that which in their constant and familiar conceptions is signalized as the supreme evil--the greatest of all evils--the expression and the proof of his disapprobation. What so natural, what so fitted to his design? They know how the language ought to be understood. He knows how it will be understood. He knows their conceptions of the evil, and is sure of the judgment which they will form of the degree of his disapprobation of disobedience, when thus measured by death as the penalty of his law. He thus shows himself the benevolent protector of the welfare of the state, by showing himself in their just estimation the mortal enemy of rebellion against it. In the most natural, obvious and impressive manner, even in the only possible way, he manifests the highest disapprobation of disobedience to his supreme law; and so also the feelings and the character on which his authority depends.
Thus I have attempted to show, that the view now maintained of the nature of legal sanctions in a perfect moral government, is substantially that which mankind generally entertain of the sanctions of the supreme law of the state. If indeed we find, in the wisest and best administration of human government, some occasional departures from, or even violations of the principles contended for, still we also find the most distinct recognition of the principles themselves. Every such departure or violation is so obviously the result of the comparative inferiority of the interests to be protected, and the necessary imperfection of a human administration, not to say of its corruption, as clearly to show, that they cannot mar the moral administration of a Being infinitely perfect. Here no departure from the principles of eternal truth and righteousness can arise from weakness or error, from indifference or aversion to the end to be accomplished. The magnitude of the interests concerned, the value of the law as the indispensable means of securing these interests, the ill-desert of transgression as the destruction of this law, the relation and the authority of the lawgiver, are to be estimated, not by the standard of earth and time, but by that of eternity. And if what has now been said in respect to the sanctions of the law of the state be true, what can truth, and wisdom, and goodness demand in the government of a king. dom, where every act of every subject is virtually the perfect and endless happiness or misery of all, but a full and unqualified manifestation of the benevolence of Him that sitteth on the throne, in his highest approbation of right and disapprobation of wrong moral action'? What other influence can command respect and reverence, or be fitted to secure confidential and cheerful submission to his will, except that which emanates from the sanctions of his law, revealing that character which alone becomes the friend and guardian of universal happiness an influence from the manifestation of himself, clothing him with majesty as with a garment?
I shall conclude this lecture with three remarks:
1. Christianity is not a selfish system of religion. Infidels have often said, that Christianity, inasmuch as it aims to influence men by rewards and punishments, is a selfish, mean, and mercenary system. And I am sorry to say, that many of the friends and advocates of Christianity have furnished too much occasion for this reproach. It has often been said in the pulpit, that man cannot act under the influence of the divine threatening without acting in a selfish manner; and yet oftener, how this can be otherwise has been deemed an unsolvable problem. The question more fully stated, is this: how can the promised good and the threatened evil involved in these sanctions be presented to the mind of man, without directly appealing to his selfishness; or, how can man act in view of these motives without acting in a selfish manner?
I answer, that according to the view now given of legal sanctions as involving natural good and evil, they appeal not to human selfishness at all, but only to self-love, or to the constitutional susceptibility of the mind to happiness and misery. They do not appeal to selfishness, because that would be to offer a less good than the greatest. But these sanctions proffer the highest good of which man is capable--the happiness of being good and doing good. And to choose this is to be disinterestedly benevolent. It is voluntarily renouncing every good which can come into competition with the public weal, and therefore truly virtuous. And further: the direct influence of these sanctions on the mind, as natural good and evil, wholly terminates in awakening constitutional desires to secure the one and avoid the other. Such desires are not voluntary states of the mind, not acts of the will, and therefore not selfishness, which is an act of will. They are simply constitutional feelings, inseparable from the nature of man as a sentient being, without which man could become neither benevolent nor selfish, but must be as insensible as a stone or a clod. By these susceptibilities, with their resulting states of desire, he is qualified, in one respect, to become either benevolent or selfish, and can therefore become selfish only by his own fault, only by the perversion of the influence, which is designed to secure the opposite result, benevolence. Nor is this all. For, while the reward and the penalty are designed and fitted to awaken strong constitutional emotion, the design by no means terminates in this. They are designed to be subservient to another and a higher purpose--to show God to the mind, and to do it in the most impressive manner conceivable; to rouse thought and sensibility and emotion to behold God in his supreme approbation of obedience and supreme disapprobation of disobedience; to see and know this fact as one in which the mind has a direct personal concern. The design is to show, in such a manner that the mind shall not fail to see God in the glory of his holiness--with the full strength of his infinite will fixed on securing right and preventing wrong moral action. Such is the object presented through the medium of these sanctions. And is it selfishness, for man thus seeing clearly and exactly what God is, to love him? Is there any influence more directly sanctifying in its tendency, more fitted to make holy than that which is furnished by this vision of the perfect God? And is it mean or mercenary for man to yield himself to do the will of infinite wisdom and goodness, and thus in heart, in will and character, to become like God himself?
2. In the view which has now been given of legal sanctions, we may see what it is to make light of the divine threatenings. I here speak hypothetically. If God is administering a perfect moral government over men, then in view of the sanctions of such a government, what is it to make light of them? What are they? Manifestations of God, peculiarly bright, glorious, and awful. They are manifestations of God in that character, under that high relation to man, which is more desirable, more exalted, more worthy of Himself, and more useful to man, than any the human mind can conceive. If a perfect God is not also the perfect moral governor of his moral creation, what is he? I am not now saying that he is. But if he is not, I ask you what he is? Have you decided, can you decide surely and beyond all doubt, what that relation is which God sustains to moral beings if not that of their moral governor? Do not, then, make light of what are and what must be if he is their moral governor--the sanctions of his law. Prove Christianity to be false if you can. But do you know, can you prove, that God is not administering a perfect moral government over his moral creation? This is at least a possible truth. There may be such a God, such a government, such sanctions. And it is any thing but philosophy, reason, or magnanimity to trifle with such possible reality as this. Say if you must, that you do not believe that proof is wanting; but do not ridicule, do not despise and make light of it, lest haply you make light of God in the brightest splendors of his glory.
3. Those who deny the view now given of the sanctions of a perfect moral government cannot prove the benevolence of God. Deists, universalists, all those who deny either the fact or the nature of God's perfect moral government, profess to believe that God is perfectly benevolent. This belief, to man in his weakness and consequent dependence on his Maker, it would seem must be quite welcome, not to say natural. It is the only source of light in this dark world; the only refuge from terror. What an amount of misery must result from the thought of a tyrant in the heavens, and of the cruelties to which his creation must be exposed. Ignorant as men may be of goodness, and little as they may esteem or desire it for themselves, all know how to appreciate it when compared with the opposite character, as that of the Being who holds in his hands their destiny. Hence, even with those who entertain inadequate and false views of its nature and its necessary doings, it is a fond and favorite belief that God is good.
But it is a momentous question, can they, on their principles, show any ground for this belief; can they prove that God is good? I answer, not unless they can show that he is administering a perfect moral government over men. If this can be proved, if it can be seen from the light of nature that he is administering a perfect moral government over men involving on his part the highest approbation of right and the highest disapprobation of wrong moral action; if it can be shown that he has so begun the administration of his moral government in this world, that he can, and that he furnishes sufficient evidence that he will finish it in another; that he is carrying forward such a system in respect to each individual of our race as rapidly as its perfection demands, and this with a singleness of purpose to complete what he has begun, and with a benignity of execution which foretells results worthy of infinite goodness, especially if it can be proved that he is administering such a government under an economy of grace, then indeed it may not be difficult to prove his perfect benevolence. Then we may be able to show that he has adopted the best conceivable system, that moral evil is incidental in respect to divine prevention to this best system; that natural evil is the necessary means of the greatest good; and that the system itself, with its issues here and hereafter, is as decisive a proof of the goodness of its author, as had no evil but the perfect and universal happiness of his creation been the actual result. But if on the other hand, it cannot be shown that God is administering a perfect moral government, involving the manifestation of his highest approbation of right, and his highest disapprobation of wrong moral action, then his benevolence or moral perfection cannot be proved. Yet more is true. If the proof of benevolence is wanting in respect to a being who has been acting for thousands of years in the view of his intelligent and dependent creatures, the want of such evidence is itself proof of the opposite character.
If you say, that aside from the fact that God is administering a perfect moral government over men, there is abundant proof of his benevolence, I ask, what is it and what are your promises? You must know or prove something to be true of God, that you may frame an argument. If God then is not a perfect moral governor of men, what is lie? What relation or relations does he sustain toward his dependent creatures, and what are his designs and purposes concerning them? If you cannot decide these questions, then you know and can decide nothing to your purpose. On the question of his moral character you have no data, no premises; and you must either believe nothing respecting it, or believe that he is a selfish or malignant being, or that he is good without evidence, and merely because you wish to believe it.
What then is the proof that God is benevolent, on the supposition that he is not a perfect moral governor? Is it said, that as a being of infinite natural perfection, he must be also a being of infinite benevolence? I answer, not so, not of necessity, for he is a free moral agent; nor yet of certainty, for other moral beings are wholly selfish, and yet are not so through the imperfection of their natural powers. I admit indeed, that the natural perfections of God furnish a presumption of his moral perfection, even sufficient proof of it, if it can be shown to be uncounteracted by opposing evidence. But it is a kind of evidence which in its nature admits of opposing evidence, and may be wholly neutralized and set aside by his acts and his doings, by his treatment of his creatures. His natural perfections then, in view of the existing evil under his government, furnish no proof, nothing like proof, of his benevolence, until the existence of evil be accounted for consistently with his benevolence. If a father, in all that he has done for his dependent offspring from birth to manhood, has furnished no proof of affection and kindness toward them by his conduct, to what purpose should we appeal to his intellectual and physical superiority, or even to the fact that he is their father? The evidence from his doings, from the utter want of benevolent action, would be decisive against his benevolence. Do you then appeal to the doings of God, and claim that he proves himself to be good by imparting more happiness than misery to his creatures, and thus rendering their existence far preferable to non-existence? This fact, though it may be necessary to the proof, is not itself proof of the goodness of the Creator. Beings who are not benevolent but are wholly selfish, often produce more happiness than misery. Why then does not an omnipotent Creator impart perfect and unmingled happiness to his sentient creation; why, under his government, is there misery at all? Do you say, that nothing is contrived to produce misery, that every design and adaptation is to produce good, that "teeth are made to eat and not to ache." This is not true in such a respect as your argument requires. Teeth are made to ache. He who made them, knew that they would ache, and for some reason or other intended that they should ache. And the question is, why not make teeth which would not ache? Is there any pretense that God has produced all the natural good he can, so far as mere power is concerned? Do you then say, that the fact that creatures are not perfectly happy, is not owing to the want of power in God, but to some limitation in the nature of things; that the system by which alone the greatest good possible to the Creator can be produced involves, in respect to his prevention, evil in the nature of things? What evil? You cannot say all the natural evil which exists. Do you then say moral evil, and as a necessary and useful consequence, natural evil? Be it so. But then, what is that system which thus necessarily in the nature of things involves moral evil? Plainly a moral system, a moral government; and if it be proof of a perfect God, then it must be a perfect moral government. But now you are on our ground. You are reasoning from the fact that God is administering a perfect moral government over men. And thus you are compelled to reason, if you would find the shadow of proof that God is benevolent, or rather if you would set aside the most decisive proof that he is not benevolent. And now if you mean to reason in proof of the divine benevolence on this ground, then do not forget it. God, you believe, is administering a perfect moral government over men. If you do not, and say that there is some other mode of proving his benevolence than on the ground that he is administering a perfect moral government over men, then tell us what it is. This is one of the great points in the argument for God's benevolence. It is not to be passed over lightly, to be conceded for the moment, to be used for the purpose of establishing a conclusion and then forgotten as the most momentous relation of God to his moral creation. If God is not the perfect moral governor of men, we want to know what he is, what are his relations, designs, and doings toward the children of men; we want to know what his character is; we want to know whether there is nothing on the throne of the universe but omnipotent selfishness or infinite malignity; we want to know, in a word, what the God of the infidel is.
He is not to have the benefit to his argument and his system of the belief in a benevolent God, unless he can prove that in truth there is such a God. This he cannot do without admitting the fact--which, as I maintain, is fatal to his infidelity--the truth that God is administering a perfect moral government over men. He is shut up to this alternative. He must admit either that God feels the highest approbation of right and the highest disapprobation of wrong moral action, or that he does not; that God reigns over us in the glory of a perfect moral dominion, or that the Being who holds all destiny in his hands is a being of unqualified selfishness, or even of infinite malignity. From this dilemma there is no escape.
And now I request those infidels, universalists--all who deny that God feels the highest approbation of right and highest disapprobation of wrong moral action, and as a perfect moral governor will express these feelings--to look carefully at this point. You believe in the perfect benevolence of God. But is your faith rational according to your own principles; has it the least foundation or warrant unless God is the perfect moral governor? You believe in God's perfect benevolence. Why? Have you examined the foundations of your faith? Have you seen, that if you believe in God's benevolence, you must believe in God's perfect moral government over yourself and all men? Have you looked at the monstrous incongruity in a God perfectly benevolent, and yet not feeling the highest approbation of right, and the highest disapprobation of wrong moral action? Or rather, for you will allow me to ask the question, is not this aspect of God unwelcome and repulsive, and excluded from your faith for the sake of what seems to you the more attractive and lovely view of a being who is good without being just, and virtually indifferent to the best thing as the means of happiness, and to the worst thing as the means of misery, right and wrong moral action? If so, see where you stand. As a rational being you are bound to believe in an infinite God who is virtually indifferent to that action in his creatures, which will secure their highest happiness or misery--indifferent to the weal and woe, the life and death of his own creation--a being who has no rectitude of principle, and who, for aught that appears, will sacrifice to self-will, to favoritism, to selfishness in some form, every interest of every creature whose character can excite no love, awaken no hope, inspire no confidence--whose heart is unmoved by pity, untouched by woe--a being, the bare thought of whom is enough to fill the soul with consternation and dismay. If there is any thing in reason, such is--such must be the God of the infidel. And if the aspect of the God of Christianity is unwelcome and repulsive, what is that of the God of infidelity? The character of the former to a wise and good man (I know I speak with the approbation of every man's conscience) is ground only for hosannas of rapture--that of the latter would make all things tremble but the dark throne on which he himself sitteth.
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