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they could not ascribe too much to God. This apprehension is, without doubt, generally just ; yet it is not just in the absolute
There is neither irreverence, nor mistake, in saying, that Omnipotence cannot create that, which will be self-contradictory; make two and two five ; nor recall the existence of a past event; because these things would be impossible in their own nature. the same manner, to ascribe to God that, which is not done by him, though the ascription may flow from reverence to his charac. ter, is not yet dictated by reverence. That, which God in fact does, is more honourable to him, than any thing else can be; and no error can in its nature be reverential towards God, or required by him of his creatures.
The Doctrine, that Virtue is founded in the will of God, supposes, that that, which is now virtue, became such, became excellent, valuable, praiseworthy, and rewardable, because God willed it to be so; and, had he not willed it to be so, it would not have been virtue. Of course, if we were to suppose Intelligent beings created, and left, without any law, to choose their conduct; or, if we were to suppose
the universe to exist, just as it now exists, and exist thus either by chance, or necessity; that, which is now virtuous, excellent, and praiseworthy, would at the utmost possess a nature merely indifferent; and, although all other beings remained just as they now are, would cease to be excellent, lovely, and deserving of approbation. According to the same scheme also, that, which is now sinful, or vicious, would cease to be of this nature; and no longer merit hatred, blame, or punishment. In plainer language, veracity and lying, honesty and fraud, justice and oppression, kindness and cruelty, although exactly the same things which they now are, and although producing exactly the same effects, would no more possess their present, opposite moral character; but would equally deserve our love and approbation, or our hatred and disesteem. If virtue and vice are such, only because God willed them to be such ; if virtue is excellent, and vice worthless, only because he willed them to be so; then vice in itself is just as ex. cellent as virtue, and virtue just as worthless as vice. Let me ask, Can any man believe this to be true ?
Further, the supposition, that virtue is founded in the will of God, implies, that God willed virtue to be excellent without any
If virtue and vice had, originally, or as they were seen by the eye of God, no moral difference in their nature; then there was plainly no reason, why God should prefer, or why he actually preferred, one of them to the other. There was, for example, no reason, why he chose, and required, that Intelligent creatures should love him, and each other, rather than that they should hate him, and hate each other. In choosing, and requiring, that they should exercise this love, God acted, therefore, without any motive whatever. Certainly, no sober man will attribute this conduct to God.
This supposition, also, is inconsistent with the Omniscience of God. Every thing which exists, or which will ever exist, was, antecedently to its existence, or in other words, eternally and immutably, present to the divine mind. In the same manner, all other, possible things, that is, things which God could have created if he had pleased, were also present to his view. Every man knows, that a vast multitude of such things are successively present to his own imagination ; and that he can think of new worlds, new beings to inhabit them, and new furniture to replenish them. But, unquestionably, God knows all things which are known by his creatures, and infinitely more. When created things were thus present to his eye, antecedently to their existence, they were exactly the same things in his view, which they afterwards were, when they began to exist ; had exactly the same natures; sustained exactly the same relations; and were just as good, indifferent, or evil, just as excellent or worthless, as amiable or hateful, as commendable or blameworthy, as rewardable or punishable, as they afterwards were in fact. This may be illustrated by a familiar example. Most persons have read more or less of those fictitious histories, which are called novels ; and every person knows, that the several actors, exhibited in them, never had any real existence.
Yet every one knows equally well
, that the characters, which they severally sustain, are as really good or evil, lovely or hateful, praiseworthy or blameable, as the same characters of the same persons would be, had they all been living men and women. It is, therefore, unanswerably evident, that moral characters,when merely seen in contemplation, are, independently of their actual existence in living beings, and therefore before they have existed in such beings, as well as when they never exist at all in this manner, good or evil to the eye of the mind. Of course, they are good or evil in their own nature. Of course, they were seen to be good or evil by the Omniscience of God. It is, therefore, inconsistent with the doc. trine, that God is omniscient, to say, that virtue is founded in the will of God.
Again; The scheme, which I am controverting, not only involves in it, that mankind, with all their impiety, injustice, cruelty, oppression, wars, and butcheries, are in their nature equally amiable, and excellent, as Angels, with all their truth and benevolence; but also, that the character of Fiends is in itself, and independently of the fact, that God chose it should be otherwise, just as lovely, ex. cellent, and praiseworthy, as that of Angels. If, then, God had willed the character, which Satan adopted, and sustains, to be moral excellence, and that, which Gabriel sustains, to be moral worthlessness; these two beings, continuing in every other respect the same, would have interchanged their characters. Satan would have become entirely lovely, and Gabriel entirely detestable. Must not he, who cán believe this doctrinė, as easily believe, that if God had willed it, two and two would have become five? Vol. III,
Is it at all easier to believe, that truth and falsehood can interchange their natures, than that a square and a circle can interchange theirs ?
Finally; if virtue and vice, or sin and holiness, are founded only in the will of God; then, I ask, What is the Nature of that Will: We are accustomed to say, the Scriptures are accustomed to say, that God is holy, righteous, good, and glorious in holiness : expressions which, together with many others of the same nature, indicate that God himself, and therefore, that the will of God, is excellent, and supremely deserving of his own infinite love, and of the highest love of all intelligent creatures. Does this excellence of God depend on the fact, that he willed his moral character, and therefore his Will, to be excellent? Or is the character of God, and of consequence his will, excellent in its own nature? If the divine character be not excellent in its own nature, and independently of any act of the divine Will, determining that it should be so; then, if God had been a being infinitely malevolent, and by an act of his will had determined, that his character should be infinitely excellent, it would of course have become infinitely excellent; and he himself would have deserved to be loved, praised, and glorified, for his infinite malice, cruelty, and oppression, just as he now does for his infinite goodness, truth, faithfulness, and mercy. According to this scheme, therefore, there is no original moral difference between the characters of an infinitely malevolent being, and an infinitely benevolent one; because this difference depends on a mere arbitrary act of will, and not at all on the respective natures of the things themselves. That a malevolent being would have made this determination, there is no more reason to doubt, than that it would be made by a benevolent being : for it cannot be doubted, that a malevolent being would have entirely loved and honoured himself. The question, whether God is a benevolent, or malevolent, Being, seems, therefore, to be nugatory : for all our inquiries concerning the subject, which have any practical importance, terminate in this single question: What has God chosen?
We have of course no interest in asking what is his moral nature.
The Scriptures certainly exhibit this subject in a very different light. They every where consider moral things, that is, both moral beings, and their actions, as differing altogether in their several natures, and independently of any act of the divine will, determining that they should thus differ. Particularly, they exhibit God himself not only as being holy, righteous, just, true, faithful, kind, and merciful, but as excellent on account of these things ; infinitely excellent; infinitely glorious; infinitely deserving of the love, that is, the Complacency, (the kind of love every where intended in this discourse) of his Intelligent creatures. Accordingly, God is often spoken of as excellent; and as excellency, in the abstract. Thus, he is styled the Excellency of Jacob. His name is said to be
excellent in all the earth. How excellent, saith the Psalmist, is thy loving kindness. The Lord of hosts, says Isaiah, is excellent in working. In all these passages it is plainly declared, that God is excellent in his own nature. In the same manner, the Scriptures assert, that his law is perfect, and his commandment pure; that his statutes are right, and his judgments altogether righteous ; and that his commandment is holy, just, and good: that is, that these things possess the several kinds of excellence, attributed to them in their own nature. For if the Scriptures intended only, that they were good, because God willed them to be so, when they were before neither good nor evil; it would have been mere tautology to have used this language. It would have been no more, than saying, that the law, the commandments, and the statutes, of God were his law, commandments, and statutes : this fact being, according to the scheme here opposed, all that, in which their excellence lies. In the same manner, when it is said, Thou art good, and doest good; it ought to be said, Thou art, what thou art, and doest what thou doest, for this is all that is meant, according to the scheme in question.
In the same manner, the Scriptures declare, that the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; and thus teach us, that there is in righteousness a cause, a reason, or, in other words, a nature, for which it is, and deserves to be, loved. They also assure us, that he hates wickedness, and that it is an abomination to him. There is, therefore, a reason, why he hates it. As he always hated the latter, and loved the former; and, therefore, before the one was forbidden, and the other required, of his Intelligent creatures; it is certain, that the one was hateful, and the other lovely, in its own nature.
In Jer. ix. 24, it is said, Let him that glorieth glory in this ; that he understandeth, and knoweth me; that I am the LORD, which exercise loving-kindness, judgment and righteousness, in the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the Lord. In this passage God requires mankind to glory not merely because he acts, but because he acts in such a manner; because he exercises loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth ; and informs us, that he himself delights in these things : in other words, because they are lovely in his sight.
In Hebrews vi. 18, it is said, that it is impossible for God to lie. If at any given time it is impossible for God to lie; it has been always impossible. For what reason? If truth and falsehood are in their own nature indifferent; then, certainly, it was once just as easy for God to lie, as to speak truth. The only reason, why it is now impossible for him to utter falsehood, is, that he is utterly indisposed to this conduct. But if falsehood and truth have the same moral nature in themselves ; there can be no reason, why he was originally disposed to speak truth, rather than falsehood. Yet he is infinitely disposed to speak truth, and infinitely indisposed to
utter falsehood. Falsehood is therefore totally odious in itself, and truth altogether desirable.
Every thing contained in the Scriptures, relative to this subject, is of the same tenour, so far as I have been able to understand them, with the passages which I have quoted. Nor have I found in them a single hint, that virtue and vice have not in themselves a totally different moral nature; or that they depend for their excel. lence, and worthlessness, on an act of the divine will. On the contrary, the whole drift of the Scriptures is to exhibit them, as possessed of these characteristics in themselves; and as, for this reason, chosen and required on the one hand, and rejected and forbidden on the other.
There are persons, who speak of the Will of God as constituting the nature of things, when they only mean, that it gives them existence. These persons appear not to discern, that the nature of the thing is exactly the same, whether it exist, or is only seen in contemplation. The Achilles of Homer, the Æneas of Virgil, the Lear of Shakspeare, and the Grandison of Richardson, have all the same character, which real men, answering severally to the de. scriptions of them, would possess. The will of God gives birth to the existence of all things. But the things themselves, as seen by the divine Mind, have exactly the same nature, and sustain the same relations to each other ; have the same value or worthlessness, the same excellence or turpitude ; which they have, when they really exist. This nature is what makes them desirable, or undesirable, to the eye of God; and induces him either to choose, or reject them. While it is true, therefore, that the will of God gives birth to all things, and to their several natures, as really existing in fact; it is equally true, that, as seen by the divine Mind, the same things had exactly the same nature before they existed. A house, before it is built, and when formed merely in a plan, bas exactly the same figure and proportions, as seen by the mind of the builder, which it has, after it is built according to this plan. Truth and falsehood, right and wrong, in creatures, were exactly the same things to the eye of Omniscience, before, and after, they existed.
From these considerations it is, I apprehend, evident, that the Foundation of virtue is not in the Will of God, but in the Nature of things. The next object of inquiry, therefore, is, Where in the nature of things shall we find this foundation? I begin my answer to this question by observing,
2dly. That there is no Ultimate Good but Happiness.
By Ultimate Good, I intend that, which is originally denominated good. Good is of two kinds only: Happiness, and the Causes, or Means, of happiness. Happiness is the ultimate good : the causes, or means, of happiness, are good, only because they produce it. Thus fruit is good, because it is pleasant to the taste. The tree, on which it grows, is good, because it produces it.