« PreviousContinue »
must surely be possessed of wisdom and understanding to a degree incomprehensible by us. With these perfections he is not only acquainted with all possible substances, together with their properties and powers,
, but with all their possible relations, and the effects which in these relations they are capable of producing: knowing, therefore, in all cases what is best to be done, and the best time for the performance of all things, the creation and preservation of the world can only be considered as the effects of supreme and unerring wisdom. These are the grounds on which it is obvious that he who has given being to the universe, and who conducts it to that consummation which he alone comprehends, possesses wisdom, which in point of extent is far beyond the limits of our understanding, and which in itself must be truly infinite.
His power is also unlimited. The omnipotence that can call an insect from nothing into life, is really as incomprehensible by us as that which can create and suspend in space a thousand systems of revolving worlds. The effect of the one exertion, indeed, is more astonishing and magnificent; but the other is not less illustrative of infinite powerThe will of the self-existent Creator is power. His will, and his will alone, forms the reason why any other being besides himself exists in infinite space, and it is the active energy which formed and sustains all things. He, therefore, is omnipotent, as he is the source of all the power that anywhere exists. There can be no virtue or influence in any cause or agent but what depends on, and has proceeded from him, the Supreme Agent, and the first cause. His pleasure is sovereign and irresistible: for he doth according to his will, in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? He commandeth the sun, and it riseth not; and sealeth up the stars: he alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waters of the sea.
He doth great things past finding out, yea, and marvellous things without number. Hell is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering. He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing. Lo, these are part of his ways, but how little a portion is heard of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand ?
The Almighty is also possessed of the most perfect liberty of action; that is, he is a free agent. I shall make no other observation in proof of this than this single remark, that the existence of the most perfect liberty of action is essential to the personality of the Deity. His goodness, therefore, in its exercise and communication, is the goodness of a being infinitely wise, powerful, free, and holy, and imparted in accordance with the laws and designs of his moral government. We are thus unavoidably led to a perception and acknowledgment of his moral as well as his natural perfections, and consequently to believe, that he conducts the government of his intelligent creatures with a reference to their moral as well as to their physical good. His love to moral purity and loveliness, must, from the boundless excellency of his nature, and from his intuitively beholding what is right, be infinite; and therefore we are warranted in
the conclusion, that He who rules all things wisely and well, has subjected man to that moral authority and government which are adapted to his nature. This is necessary to secure his greatest and ultimate good; and it is impossible that the Deity, pure, and powerful, and free, who views with the approbation or disapprobation of a righteous Governor and Judge the conduct of his rational offspring, could have been restrained by any internal cause or external circumstance, from appointing it.
This conclusion is strengthened, when we consider the moral agency, the capacities, and the elevated rank of man in the scale of being: that is, a free agent, or accountable creature, who is endowed with intelligence and understanding, with a sense of the desert of moral good and evil, of approbation and disapprobation, reward and punishment, with a liberty of choice, and a power of acting according to that choice; and who wants not the means necessary
for the practice of virtue, and for abstaining from vice. Such a being is man; he is endowed with the capacity of perceiving certain actions as right or as wrong, as beautiful or the contrary; and as conferring merit or demerit on the agent. He has the feeling of pain in the recollection of evil which he has done, and of pleasure and self-approbation, of the good which he has performed. There is within him a power which forces him to pass judgment upon himself and upon his actions; which pronounces some actions to be in themselves just, right, good; others to be in themselves, evil, wrong, unjust; which, without being consulted, without being advised with, magisterially exerts itself; and approves or condemns the doer of them accordingly; and which, if not forcibly stopped, naturally and always of course goes on to anticipate a higher and more effectual sentence, which shall hereafter second and affirm its own. This is the power by which man is a law to himself. The mighty operation of which makes tyrants tremble in the midst of their guards, which, in the doom it previously pronounced in Belshazzar's breast, almost conveyed to him the meaning of the hand-writing on the wall, and which by its peaceful and approving voice has cheered the loneliness of a prison to patriots and martyrs.
Thus, man has a perception of the qualities of actions, as morally right or wrong in consequence, not of arbitrary appointment, but of eternal distinctions, which are antecedent to all law, and to which laws of every kind owe their force and obligation. His perceptions of right and wrong denote the qualities of actions as they really and necessarily are, and not what they are in virtue of an arbitrary decree, or power, or enactment. Does not this moral constitution with which man is endowed, and which he cannot violate without the infliction of pain and misery on himself, shew how well he is made acquainted with his obligations to obey the authority of God, the supreme moral governor and judge? There are certain elementary and fundamental principles in morals so thoroughly engraven on the heart, that mankind in all circumstances and ages are familiar with them, and take their truth for granted; as, for example, that there are some things in human conduct
that merit approbation and praise, others that deserve blame and punishment; that different degrees either of approbation or of blame are due to different actions; that we may be highly culpable in omitting what we ought to have done, as well as in doing what we ought not; that we ought to perform our duty so far as we know it; and should use the best means in our power for informing ourselves concerning it.
It has been alleged as an objection to the moral endowments and accountableness of man, or rather, to the existence of an original moral faculty, that a diversity of opinion has prevailed in different ages and nations in regard to the morality of particular actions. If that which is the object of moral approbation in one age or country, be the object of disapprobation in another, have we any good ground for thinking that there is an inherent faculty in our nature by which we judge of actions as right or wrong, and of their doers as praise or blame worthy ? Are we not aware that among some nations it has been held lawful for a parent to sell his children for slaves, and in their infancy to abandon them to wild beasts ; that it has been lawful to punish children even capitally for the crime of their parent; that the murdering of an enemy in cold blood was once a common practice; and that human sacrifices, impious no less than immoral, were of old very general ? But these facts do not disprove the reality of conscience as natural to man; they only shew that it has been at different times, and in different countries, re. strained in its exercise, and perverted in its judgments. Its operation is somewhat perverted in