« PreviousContinue »
previously encompassed. There is in a single sentence which he has uttered, while it takes for granted the existence of evil in all its extent and magnitude, stronger proofs of the goodness of God, and ground for greater wonder and admiration, than the starting of the universe from nothing into being, fresh with beauty from the hand of its Creator. “God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
THE DISTINCTIONS OF RIGHT AND WRONG IMMUTABLE AND
In forming man after his own image, in righteousness and true holiness, God has rendered him capable of approving of certain actions as right, and of other actions as wrong. From the constitution of our nature, we cannot but mark a difference between virtue and vice, and approve of the one as morally good, and disapprove of the other as morally evil.
Are those distinctions of right and wrong, of virtue and vice, which are thus observed and felt by the human mind, founded in the nature of things, and consequently immutable and eternal,-in other words, are they included in necessary truth, which is as independent of my constitution, as the equality of the three angles of a triangle to two right angles? This
question is answered in the negative by many sceptical writers, who allege that the distinctions of virtue and vice are mere perceptions or emotions of the mind, and have no existence separate from it. There are also some authors, professedly friendly to the interests of religion, who deny the immutability of moral distinctions, and maintain that they have their sole origin in the enactments of will and power.
Of this description is Archdeacon Paley, who has followed some writers that preceded him in their most dangerous statements, and has deduced from these statements their most exceptionable consequences. Such principles as the following are at the foundation of his system of morals. Whatever is expedient is right. It is the utility of any moral rule alone which constitutes the obligation of it. Actions are to be estimated by their tendency. To be obliged to do an action, according to his view, is to be urged to it by a violent motive, resulting from the command of another. This motive, he tells us, can only be selflove,-as we are under no obligation to do any thing which does not contribute to our interest; so that, on the supposition of there being no future state, an action by which we could get nothing would be perfectly indifferent to us. What makes the difference according to him between prudence and duty is, that in the one case we consider what we shall get or lose in this world, and, in the other, what we shall get or lose in the next. A man, therefore, who either does not believe in a future world, or who does not carry his views to it, can have no perception of duty.
We cannot be surprised that an author who held
principles so exceptionable as these, should, at the same time, hold notions subversive of the moral obligation of some most important religious duties, and directly calculated to overturn all public securities depending on tests and subscriptions. His moral philosophy has contributed much to the prevalence of a loose and unscriptural morality. It has led men to disregard the law of God as the only measure and rule of morals, and to substitute, in room of it, their own views of expediency.
Are the distinctions of right and wrong necessary, immutable, and founded in the nature of things?
I regard this question as fundamentally important in relation to the interests of morality and religion. In expressing my conviction of the truth of the affirmative, I am bound to believe that some of those who hold opposite opinions abhor the consequences which, I think, are fairly deducible from them.
In affirming that moral distinctions have a real existence independent of my perception,--an existence immutable and eternal, to which law owes its force and authority, I conceive I am maintaining, and not derogating from, the glories of the Deity. For he is as necessarily holy and good as he necessarily exists. His infinite goodness and rectitude form his moral attributes, and are as essential and unchangeable as his being. His power, therefore, though omnipotent, is bounded in its exercise by his holiness, justice, goodness, and truth: hence, he cannot do what is at variance with these perfections: he cannot lie,-he cannot deceive, he cannot fail in his promises. From the necessary perfection of his nature,
he cannot compromise a single iota of the claims of the high honours of the Godhead.
By the will of this great and glorious being must be understood, not any thing arbitrary, but the act of a mind possessing infinite intelligence as well as power, infinite rectitude as well as goodness. His will does not create moral distinctions, but is the expression of distinctions which eternally and unchangeably exist, and which are founded in his own nature. The boundless perfection of his nature is not the effect of his will, but his will is the effect, and when revealed, the announcement of his supreme and necessary moral excellency.
This is the view which is everywhere given of God in scripture. His name (an expression well known as denoting his nature) is there represented as excellent in all the earth. He is said to be glorious in holiness-excellent in working—to be righteous and to love righteousness,-to be a God of truth and without iniquity,--to exercise judgment and righteousness in the earth; and to delight in these things. The same passage that makes known his almighty power, declares the moral excellences of his nature, and the perfection of his government. “ Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand. Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne : mercy and truth shall go before thy face.” Hence the chief ground on which it is our duty to love the Lord God with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the mind, and with all the strength.
To suppose, then, that the will of God is the sole origin of the distinctions of right and wrong, shews that the framers of such a supposition have erroneous views of the necessary and eternal moral excellences of the divine nature. If such distinctions were erected and depended on mere power and enactment, would it not follow as a consequence, that all which we approve of as virtue, uncontrollable power might present to our view as vice,—that we might be commanded to love and imitate the conduct of a malevolent friend, and to hate and shun the example of angelic virtue,—and that had God so willed it, what we regard as the differences between moral actions would have been entirely reversed, and good would be put for evil, and evil for good, darkness for light, and light for darkness, bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. According to this scheme there is no justice, no truth, no benevolence, essentially, in God or in the universe; and the attempt of ascertaining what are the moral attributes of the Deity is rendered unnecessary, since whatever he is, has been determined by an act of his will.
How contrary this is to scripture and to enlightened reason, it is needless for me to say. That revelation which God has given of himself represents him as possessing unchanging and boundless excellency, as of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and as righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works. It is because the moral excellences of his nature are infinite, that it is the duty of every intelligent creature, antecedent to all law and to all enactment, to love him supremely; and it is on the same ground that his will must ever be the expression of what is holy, and just, and good. He is, indeed, as has been remarked, so absolute, that he can do