« PreviousContinue »
certain cases by education, which has so great an influence on the formation of our opinions and moral habits. Its decisions are rendered less clear and decided also by a long-continued resistance to its admonitions, and by erroneous speculative opinions. No one doubts the close connexion between the notions which we imbibe concerning our duty and the manner of our performing it. When I consider the errors which in almost every country are blended with the most important truth, and the gross ignorance and superstition in which the majority of so many nations are involved, in place of being surprised that there are deviations in their moral sentiments, I am struck with the nearness of the uniformity, and cannot but regard it as a conclusive proof of conscience being an original and inherent power in the mind of man. This is the monitor which God has superadded to reason, which while it shews us the essential distinction between what is right and wrong in actions, between virtue and vice, reminds us of the high and glorious purposes for which our nature has been formed.
A being thus constituted, it is obvious, must feel himself to be the subject of God's moral government. Capable, as he is, of knowing, loving, and obeying the Creator, and of reverencing his glorious perfections, he is the only creature in this world who can shew his gratitude for the divine goodness, and give religious worship and adoration. The possession of such powers prove, that while a leading end of every thing around him is to secure the convenience and happiness of man, the great design of his being is, to glorify the God that made him, by conforming himself to his will, submitting to his law, and acquiescing in his appointments. Can He who has conferred these powers, to be employed for this end, be indifferent whether this willing obedience be given him? Does not the existence of such powers and capacities in our nature create obligations which our own hearts tell us cannot be violated with impunity, and for the discharge of which, our reason and our feelings inform us, that we are accountable to the supreme moral Governor and Judge ?
This conviction is confirmed when we observe, even in the present life, the existence and operation of the divine moral government. The authoritative decisions of conscience within, in regard to the qualities and awards of actions as virtuous or vicious, are ratified by the established order of providence. We find in actual experience that conformity with the will of God, whether that is made known by the voice of conscience, or in any other way, is attended with tranquillity of mind; while the violation of it is followed by remorse and misery. As the exercise of pure and benevolent affections gives pleasure and exhilarates the mind, the indulgence of evil passions wounds and depresses it. He who made us for the exalted purposes of his own glory, has rendered it impossible for us to entertain any wrathful passion, any selfish affection, or malignant feeling, without suffering a proportional privation of happiness; and accordingly, the man who lives in malice and envy, who repines at the prosperity of others, or who wishes them evil, injures his own peace.
This connexion between virtue and happiness,
and between evil affections, or evil actions and the retributive awards of divine justice, is seen in the daily history of mankind, and we have the most ample attestations of its reality within our own personal observation and experience. The tendency, as every one knows, of integrity, uprightness, industry, and honesty, is to secure respect and comfort; while the natural tendency of the opposite is, to lead to wretchedness and want. Profligacy is followed by remorse, and disease and embarrassment; and intemperance has in its train, peevishness, an impaired constitution, and a premature death. Idleness and negligence bring after them disorder in our affairs, and consequent poverty and disgrace. Oppression, though surrounded by power, generally produces its own overthrow, and ambition, though it sweeps all resistance before it, cannot long subdue the elements that work its destruction. The whole established arrangements of providence are, in no inconsiderable degree, retributive, as they secure to different virtues appropriate rewards, and to different vices appropriate punishments. So fixed and permanent is this order, that parents take it for granted while they attempt, in the education of their children, to implant those principles and maxims in their minds, which will lead them in future life to the exercise of integrity, and prudence, and industry. This divine system of moral government under which we are placed, though not complete, and though in some cases it would seem to make no distinction between the righteous and the wicked, is far more perfect even now in its retributive awards, than we are sometimes ready to believe ;-as it is conducted impartially, and without respect of persons,- as it punishes vice and rewards virtue in the same way, whoever may be the individuals by whom they are practised, -as it visits the negligence, imprudence, or indolence of the pious and upright with poverty and distress, while it secures to the industry and activity of the wicked abundance, and as it follows sin with chastisement, even when the persons by whom it is committed give ample evidence otherwise of their general integrity and uprightness.
In the distribution of the light and darkness, the happiness and misery of human life, it is clearly shewn, that man is now the subject of the supreme moral government, and that God, who neither is, nor can be, indifferent to his conduct, holds him accountable. He, the Great Lord and Ruler of all, convinces him of this, not only by the favourable regard with which he treats the virtuous, but by the marks of his displeasure which the established order of his providence has affixed to all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. To shew that all are, to some extent, blameable, having failed, and come short of the great end of their being, it is appointed unto all once to die. This
appointment is so fixed and irreversible, that it is viewed as one of the ordinary dispensations of the divine government, and is as confidently reckoned on, as the return of the seasons.
The truth of these observations, illustrative of the reality of the supreme moral system of government to which man is subject, is confirmed, when we consider the design and necessity of human government. It is
the ordination of providence that human beings should be placed under authority from the period of their entrance into the world ;-that they should be trained up in families, where they are taught submission to parental direction and control, and are prepared to discharge all the duties and relations of life with propriety and attention. They are also under civil government, to render obedience to its laws, and enjoy its protection. Every such government is, and necessarily must be, both from the constitution of man, and from the course and order which God has established, of a moral nature; that is, its avowed and fundamental principle must be, the reward of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked, the rendering unto men according to their works, whether good or evil. Though the imperfection of man, and of all his institutions, may prevent him from exactly proportioning his awards to the personal merits or demerits of those whom he governs, the administration of his government must, professedly, at least, be carried on according to this rule. For this is beyond the power of tyranny itself long and with impunity to alter. The appointed course of nature and providence, fixed and regular as the unchanging ordinances of heaven, renders it necessary to the very existence of society, that vice, as such, should be the object of punishment, and that virtue, as such, should be the object of protection and reward. When was it ever heard, that any government, the most oppressive and unprincipled, professed to encourage the vices of falsehood, injustice, cruelty, deceit, and dishonesty, and to proscribe the virtues of truth, integrity, and