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ON THE MORAL GOVERNMENT OF GOD.
ARGUMENT.-The natural government which God exercises over us here, is moral, or righteous; not being tyrannical or capricious, but rendering rewards and punishments generally, according to the viciousness or virtuousness of men's conduct. The Divine government, however, which we now experience, is admitted not to be the perfection of moral government; men not being in all cases rewarded or punished in exact proportion to their merits or demerits—owing to accidental causes which occur to prevent it. But yet there are the principles or rudiments of a moral government clearly discernible in it, quite sufficient to lead us to conclude, that it shall be completed and carried on to perfection in a future state.
GOD's natural government over the world has been shown to be of the very same kind with that which a
master exercises over his servants, or a magistrate over his subjects. But this alone seems not to afford any certainty as to the moral character of His government, or prove Him the righteous judge of the world. Moral government consists, not merely in rewarding or punishing men for their actions, but in rewarding the righteous, and punishing the wicked; in rendering to men according to their actions, considered as good or evil; and the perfection of it consists, in doing this to all intelligent creatures, in an exact proportion to their personal merits or demerits.
Now the thing here to be inquired into is, whether in the constitution and conduct of the world, a righteous government be not discernibly planned out; whether besides the proof arising therefrom, that God is a governor over us, there be not clear and distinct intimations therein, that His government is righteous or moral; clear to every observant person, at least, though not to the careless ones.
The Divine government, however, under which we are in the present state, taken alone, is not allowed as the perfection of moral government; but still a righteous government may plainly appear to be carried on in it, to some degree; sufficient to give us an apprehension that it shall be carried on to that degree of perfection, which religion teaches us it shall; but which cannot appear, till much more of the Divine
administration be seen than can be in this present life. And the design of this chapter is, to inquire how far the principles of a moral government over the world, may be discerned, amidst all its confusion and disorder.
Were it even a doubtful question (as it is not), whether virtue, in itself, be not on the whole happier than vice, in the present world; yet the beginnings of a righteous administration may be certainly found in
I. God does plainly manifest himself to us, as governing mankind by the method of rewards and punishments, according to some settled rules of distribution. What presumption therefore can there possibly be, against His finally rewarding or punishing them according to this particular rule, viz: as they act virtuously or viciously? This rule falls in completely with our natural apprehensions; and the adoption of any other rule, would be harder to be accounted for, by minds formed as He has formed ours. Be the evidence of religion more or less clear, the expectation it raises in us, that the righteous shall upon the whole be happy, and the wicked miserable, cannot be absurd or chimerical; because it is no more than an expectation that a method of government already begun, shall be carried on; and that, by a particular rule, at first sight
more natural than any other,-viz. the rule of distri
II. Tranquillity and external advantages are the consequences of our prudent conduct; and rashness, profligacy, and folly, bring inconveniences and sufferings. These afford instances of a right constitution of nature; just as the prudent correction of children is a part of right education. Since then God governs the world by fixed laws,-and has endued us with a capacity of foreseeing the good and bad consequences of our behaviour; this plainly implies some sort of moral government. For in such a constitution of things, prudence and imprudence (which are of the nature of virtue and vice) must be, as they are, respectively rewarded and punished.
III. From the natural course of things, vicious actions are, to a great degree, actually punished, as mischievous to society. It is necessary to the very being of society, that vices destructive of it should be punished, as being so ; e. g. falsehood, injustice, cruelty. The punishment of these, therefore, is as natural as society is; and this is an instance of a kind of moral government. And since this natural course of things is the government of God (though it be through the instrumentality of men) it follows, that mankind are so placed by Him, as to be accountable for their
behaviour; and are often punished or rewarded under His government, as they are mischievous or beneficial to society.
Nor does the objection avail, that good actions are sometimes punished (as in cases of persecution), and mischievous ones rewarded. For, First, this is not necessary; and therefore it is not natural, in the same sense that it is necessary, and therefore natural, that mischievous actions should be punished. And, Secondly, good actions are never punished, as being beneficial to society; nor ill actions rewarded, as being hurtful to it. Hence it appears that the Author of Nature has put mankind under a necessity of punishing vicious actions, as such, just as they are necessitated to preserve their lives by food.
IV. In the natural course of things, virtue, as such, is actually rewarded, and vice, as such, punished; affording an instance, in the strictest sense, of a moral government begun and established, though not carried to that degree of perfection, which religion teaches us to expect. To see this clearly, however, we must make a distinction between actions themselves, and their qualities-as being virtuous or vicious. The gratification of any natural passion must be attended with delight,-abstracted from all considerations of the morality; the pleasure is gained by the action itself, not by the virtuousness or viciousness of it.