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I. I am to show, that God is a being of moral rectitude. To make this
be observed I. That God ought to be a being of moral rectitude.
Though we do not know every thing about God, yet we know something about him. We know that he has an eternal and underived existence, and that he possesses almighty power, perfect knowledge and wisdom, and all the essential attributes of a moral agent. He knows the natures, relations, and connections of all beings in the universe. And this knowledge necessarily confers moral obligation. For that which the Apostle lays down as a maxim is an eternal truth: 66 To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” This applies to the Deity as well as to all other intelligent agents. As God perfectly knows the relation he bears to his creatures, and the relation they bear to him ; so he perfectly knows how he ought to treat them, and how they ought to treat him. He knows what is right and wrong respecting his own conduct, and respecting the conduct of all other moral beings in the universe. He ought, therefore, to feel and act according to his moral discernment of what is right in the nature of things. And as he feels much more sensibly his obligation to moral rectitude, than any other being ; so we have far more reason to believe, that he possesses moral rectitude, than that any other being
. in the universe does.
2. God claims to be a being of moral rectitude. When Moses requested him to show him his glory, • The Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.” Moses says, “ He is the rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are judgment : a God of truth; and without iniquity, just and right is he !" Elihu says, “ Far be it from God that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that he should commit iniquity.” David says, “ The righteous Lord loveth righteousness. Justice
and judgment are the habitation of his throne ; mercy and truth go before his face. He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” He is represented as a Being of immutable veracity. Balaam under a divine impulse says, “ He is is not a man, that he should lie; neither is he the son of man, that he should repent : hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good ?” We read of the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began. To give greater security to the heirs of this promise, God confirmed the immutability of his counsel by an oath, “ That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, they might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them.” In these divine declarations, God claims to be immutably holy, faithful, righteous, just, and good ; and these immutable moral attributes constitute the highest possible perfection of moral rectitude.
3. God has made his rational creatures capable of discerning his moral, as well as natural attributes. He has implanted in their minds a moral sense, by which they can distinguish moral beauty from moral deformity in moral characters. But can we suppose, that he would have done this, if he knew that his own moral character would not bear examination? He must have known, that if his rational creatures should discover any thing in his heart, or conduct, which was contrary to moral rectitude, it would dissolve their moral obligation to love his character, to obey his commands, or to submit to his government, and lay them under moral obligation to hate him supremely. For if his heart were evil, he would be the most odious instead of the most amiable Being in the universe. His conduct in making us competent to judge of his moral rectitude, is complete evidence of the perfection of his moral rectitude, and confirms his own declarations concerning it in his word.
4. God has not only made us capable of judging of his moral rectitude, but commanded us to do it. “Judge, I pray thee, between me and my vineyard.” “ Are not
my ways equal ? are not your ways unequal? saith the Lord.” His knowledge of his own moral perfections, is the only ground, upon which he can, with propriety, or even safety, appeal to us in respect to his moral rectitude. And since he has made the appeal, it amounts to irresistable evidence of the moral perfection of his nature.
5. God has not only commanded his intelligent creatures to judge of his moral rectitude, bụt has placed them under the best advantages to judge. He has placed them all in a state of trial, and in different parts of the universe, where they have had great opportunities and strong inclinations, to examine his conduct with the strictest scrutiny. All mankind have been in a state of trial in this world ; but some have been more tried, than others. No men on earth, perhaps, were more severely tried than Abraham and Job. And their peculiar trials led them to examine the hand and heart of God, and to discover, if possible, some injustice, or want of goodness in God. But after all their investigations into the divine character and conduct, they were obliged in conscience, to proclaim to the world
his perfect rectitude in all his dealings towards them. The angels of heaven have had much greater abilities, advantages, and opportunities to look into the works and ways of God ; but though they have looked with the greatest diligence and attention, yet they have been constrained to proclaim, in the strongest terms, the perfect rectitude of the divine character and conduct. Isaiah heard the heavenly hosts “ cry one to another and say, Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." And John says he heard them “ Sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty ; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.” Now, if the greatest and best of God's intelligent creatures, after their strictest scrutiny of his conduct in the various parts of the universe, have not been able to discover the least moral defect or imperfection in his character and conduct, we
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 rea• son, 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