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trinsically evil, and deserves to be condemned and punished. Moral good is essentially the same in every moral agent ; and moral evil is essentially the same in every moral agent. It is the moral nature of benevolence, that renders it morally excellent; and it is the natural tendency of benevolence to promote happiness ; that renders it naturally excellent. It is the moral nature of selfishness, that renders it morally evil; and it is its natural tendency to promote misery, that renders it naturally evil
. The nature of benevolence is one thing, and its tendency another. The nature of selfishness is one thing, and its tendency another. The nature of benevolence is immutable, and cannot be altered by the Deity. The nature of selfishness is immutable, and cannot be altered by the Deity. But the tendency of benevolence, and the tendency of selfishness may be altered. The selfishness of Judas in betraying his master for thirty pieces of silver, was a great moral evil in its own nature; but its tendency under the circumstances it was committed, was to promote the highest good of the universe. And this holds true of all the sin in the world. For God has declared that “ the wrath of man shall praise him, and the remainder of wrath he will restrain.” Now, it is easy to see, that it was not necessary for Abraham to know, what would be the tendency of God's punishing the innocent with the guilty, in order to know, whether it would be wrong in God to do it. If it had been possible for him to have known, that God's punishing the innocent with the guilty, would have had a direct tendency to promote the good of the universe, he would have known, that he would not have done right in doing it. Or had he known, that his doing it would have had an indirect tendency to promote the good of the universe, still he would have known that it would not have been right for him to do it. He was perfectly able to judge of the nature of God's conduct, without knowing either the direct or indirect tendency of it. If it were supposable, that benevolence should have a natural tendency to promote misery; still it would be morally excellent in its own nature. Or if it were supposable, that selfishness
should have a natural tendency to promote happiness ; still
; it would be in its own nature, morally evil. If there were not an intrinsical excellence in benevolence, and an intrinsick deformity and turpitude in selfishness, it would be absolutely impossible for any man to know whether he ought to exercise benevolence, or selfishness, under different circumstances. Or in other words, it would be impossible to see any distinction between moral good and natural good; moral evil and natural evil. It is the nature of a voluntary exercise in a moral agent, that renders it morally good, and not its tendency. And it is the nature of a voluntary exercise in a moral agent, that renders it morally evil, and not its tendency. Abraham, therefore, knew the moral rectitude of God, in precisely the same way, that God himself knew his own moral rectitude. He knew it, by knowing the intrinsick excellence of his benevolent affections ; and not by the tendency of them to promote the highest good of the universe. His perfect benevolence was prior, in the order of nature, to his forming his great design of creation, and therefore the excellency of his benevolence did not depend upon its tendency to create, and promote the good of the universe. God did not, and to speak with reverence, could not discover the moral excellence of his own perfect benevolence, by its tendency to do good; for its moral excellence actually existed before he had determined to do good. And it is equally true, when one of our sinful race becomes truly benevolent, he discovers it by the nature of the exercise, and not by its tendency to do good. Men often do that from selfishness, which under present existing circumstances, has a tendency to do good. And on the other hand men often do that from true benevolence, which under present existing circumstances tends to do evil. But who will say, that the moral excellence of benevolence is destroyed by producing an unintended, and undesirable effect? Or who will say that the moral deformity and turpitude of selfishness is destroyed, by producing an unintended, but desirable effect? If the moral nature of benevolence cannot be determined in
one case, by its effect, it cannot be determined in any other case by its effect. And if the moral nature of selfishness cannot be determined in one case, by its effect, it cannot be determined in any other case by its effect. No case can be mentioned, nor conceived, in which the moral nature of any free voluntary exercise of the mind can be determined by the good or evil effect produced. It is absurd, therefore, to suppose, that the moral excellence of virtue consists in its tendency to produce happiness, or that the moral evil of sin consists in its tendency to produce misery. They are both founded in the nature of things. The one is morally excellent in itself considered ; and the other morally evil in itself considered, without any regard to the cause that produces them, or the effect that follows from them." This Abraham knew, and consequently knew, that it would be totally inconsistent with the moral rectitude of God, to punish the righteous with the wicked. He judged
He judged so not from the unknown consequences of God's punishing the innocent, but from the well known nature of punishing the innocent. He knew, that it was as morally impossible for God to punish the innocent, as it was for him to lie, or to do any other iniquity : And every other man in the world would have judged as Abraham did.
1. If God be a being of moral rectitude, then he can never do evil, that good may come. His benevolence is under the constant and infallible guidance of his moral rectitude. It is morally impossible that he should do what is wrong in the nature of things, to promote his own felicity or the felicity of any of his creatures. If it were possible for him to see, that by speaking any thing false, or by doing any thing unjust, he could promote the highest good of the universe for ever, his moral rectitude would render it morally impossible for him to do any such act, which is in its own nature wrong. It is upon this ground alone, that the in
spired writers assert, that God cannot "lie; that it is impossible for him to lie; and that there is no unrighteousness in him. Though he can overrule the sins of others to promote his own blessedness and the general good of the universe; yet he cannot destroy the criminality and ill desert of sinners, and cause them to become innocent. And though it were naturally possible for him to overrule a sinful action in himself to promote the highest good of the whole universe ; yet he could not destroy the criminality and guilt of that action, and consequently it is morally impossible, that he ever should do a sinful action, to answer any purpose whatever. But if the criminality of a sinful action consisted in its mere tendency to promote misery and not in the nature of it, it is difficult to see why he could not do iniquity, and overrule it for his own glory, as well as he can suffer his creatures to do iniquity, and overrule it for his own glory; for he could alter the tendency of his own sin as easily, for aught we know, as he can alter the tendency of sin in his creatures. But since his moral rectitude consists in the nature of his benevolence, and not in its tendency to do good, it is morally impossible, that he should do evil that good may come.
His moral rectitude perfectly governs his boundless benevolence and Almighty power, so that he can no more do evil, than he can cease to be. He cannot punish the innocent with the guilty. He cannot break his promises. He cannot punish one of his creatures for the sin of another. And he cannot injure the least of his rational creatures, to promote the happiness of all the rest. His moral rectitude binds him, in all cases, to do right.
2. If God be a being of moral rectitude, then he can never approve of his creatures doing evil
, that good may come. Though he has given them abundant evidence in his werd and providence, that he does overrule all the evil they commit, for his own glory, and for the good of the universe ; yet he has never given them the least reason to believe, that he approves of their doing evil. I know they have endeavoured to
justify themselves in doing evil, because he has let them know, that he will overrule it for his own glory. But the apostle sharply rebukes them for pretending to draw this inference from his overruling their sin for his own glory and the good of his holy creatures. He asks, “What if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid : yea, let God be true, but every man a liar: as it is written, that thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged. But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)” or an objector ; “ God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world? For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my life unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? and not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil that good may come? whose damnation is just.” The apostle here does not deny, that he had said that God would overrule the unrighteousness of men to his own glory, but he denies, that he had ever taught that sinners might do evil that good may come, or that God could not or would not punish them for all their unrighteousness. For he says their damnation would be just, and God would be unjust, if he did not condemn and punish them according to their ill desert.
3. If God be a being of moral rectitude; then he will not punish the finally impenitent the less, on account of the good they have done in the world. It cannot be denied, that sinners have done a great deal of good in the world. The builders of the ark did a great deal of good in building it. They were the means of saving the human race from utter destruction. But this was no reason why they should not perish after they had built it. The utility of their conduct did not alter the nature of their sins, nor diminish their desert of everlasting punishment. Judas did a great deal of good by betraying Christ. He was instrumental of promoting the salvation of all that will