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may confidently believe, that he possesses the perfection of moral rectitude. And to close this connected train of reasoning, I would observe,
6. That God has appointed a day for the very purpose of giving all his intelligent creatures the best possible opportunity of judging of his moral rectitude. The day of judgment is called the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. At that day God will unfold all his own designs and conduct towards all his intelligent creatures; and their designs and conduct towards him, and towards one another. When all these things shall be exhibited before the minds of the whole intelligent creation, God will give them the best possible opportunity to know, with the highest certainty, whether he has always felt and acted perfectly right, in the creation, government, and redemption of the world. And his prediction of this future day of decision, affords the fullest assurance, at present, that he knows the absolute perfection of his own moral rectitude. But though this be a truth of the first importance, and capable of being established by plain, conclusive, irresistable evidence; and has been generally believed in all ages, by those who have enjoyed the sacred oracles; yet it may be a question how they came to the knowledge of the moral rectitude of their great Creator, and supreme Sovereign. This leads me to consider,
II. How Abraham could know that God is a being of moral rectitude. Here I would observe,
1. That he could not know the moral rectitude of God, by knowing what God would do, to promote the highest happiness of the universe. God, indeed, knew what he had designed to do to promote this great and important object; but he had not told Abraham, or any other man, what he had actually designed to do. Abraham could not judge of the rectitude of his moral character, by knowing all his purposes, respecting the whole intelligent universe. But without knowing all the purposes of God, he well knew, that it was not right for him to punish the innocent.
2. Abraham could not know the moral rectitude of God, by knowing, that the punishing of the innocent would not promote the highest good of the universe. Tho' he knew this to be sinful and wrong; yet he could not know that it could not be beneficial in the final result. For he knew, that God had, for some reason or other, introduced ten thousand moral evils into the world. And if moral evil committed by men might promote the highest good of the universe, how could he know but that moral evil committed by God, might promote the same important purpose? If it should be said, that the reason, why moral evil committed by men, may promote the general good, is because God overrules it to this end; why may it not be said with equal propriety, that God may overrule his own moral evil to serve the same purpose! How could Abraham, then, know, that it would be inconsistent for God to punish the innocent with the guilty, for the purpose of promoting the greatest good of the universe, if he should overrule it to that purpose? But,
3. Though Abraham could not know what would be right, or wrong, for God to do, either by knowing what had a direct tendency to promote the highest good of the universe; or what had an indirect tendency to promote that great and important object; yet he could know what was right, or wrong, for God to do, to answer any purpose whatever, by knowing that right and wrong, or moral good and evil, are founded in the nature of things. Moral good, which consists in true benevolence, is morally right in its own nature. And moral evil, which consists in selfishness, is morally wrong in its own nature. This mankind know to be true, not by their reason, but by their conscience. Every moral agent has a moral sense, by which he is capable of distinguishing right from wrong, or moral good from moral evil. The child seven years old is as capable of doing this, as in any period of his life. The peasant is as capable of doing this, as the philosopher, and the pagan, as the christian. Benevolence is intrinsically excellent, and deserves to be approved and rewarded. Selfishness is in
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 în 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 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