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You will easily perceive, I imagine, that in regard to what has just been mentioned, the divine requirements could not be less than they are. It can hardly be said, after a moments reflection, that external actions alone ought to be matter of retribution; or that God, as a wise Governor and Judge, ought to suffer to pass unnoticed, the selfishness, pride, revenge, or malignity of his creatures, even should those qualities never be exhibted to the view of men. Such a retribution as this, would be perfectly irreconcilable with our best ideas of the Supreme Being. That account which Deity gives of himself, is such, therefore, as to obtain ihe full approbation of human reason, “ I the Lord, search the hearts : I try the reins of the children of men, to give to every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
It is next to be inquired, whether the divine law is, in its application, general or particular. Are we bound to subject our feelings to this law on great occasions only, or at every moment of a rational existence ? On this question as well as on the preceding, human reason will give a right decision. Where there is a right and a wrong, whether the occasion is more or less important, it is most evident, that the right is to be pursued, and the wrong rejected. Obliquity is essentially different from rectitude. Whether an offence is small or great, its nature is the same. If, therefore a small variation were allowed, a great one could not consistently be punished. I should be perfectly confident, in appealing to any person of judgment and reflection, whether he could view bis Creator with undiminished respect and reverence, were it ascertained, that although the divine law prohibited perverseness of disposition and feeling, when carried to a high degree, the same perverseness when existing in a lower degree, escaped its cognizance ? Is it possible, that a perfect God, and a perfect law, should allow any, even the smallest degree of ingratitude, envy, or malignity? Is it possible that such a Being, and such a law, should not condemn every want of the opposite quali
“ All rational creatures, says Dr. Clark, whose wills are not constantly and regularly determined, and their actions governed by right reason, and the necessary differences of good and evil, according to the eternal and invariable rules of justice, equity, goodness, and truth; but suffer themselves to be swayed by unaccountable, arbitrary, humorous, and rash passions ; by lusts, vanity, and pride; by private interest, or present sensual gratification: These, setting up their own unreasonable self will, in opposition to the nature and reason of things, endeavor, as much as in them lies, to make things be what they are not, and cannot be: which is the highest presumption and greatest insolence imaginable: It is acting contrary to that reason and judgment, which God has implanted in their natures, on purpose to enable them to discern the difference between good and evil. It is attempting to destroy the order by which the Universe subsists. It is offering the highest imaginable affront to the Creator of all things.” (Nat. and Rev. Rel. p. 51.)
No law could be reasonable and consistent, which did not require perfect obedience. On the same ground, on which we are required to abstain from any sin, we are required to abstain from all. Our depravity and guilt are therefore in direct proportion to our moral imperfection.
The justice and propriety of so much strictness, in re. gard to innocent beings, the progenitors of our race, for instance, before their apostacy, will not perhaps, be questioned: but is no allowance to be made, you inquire, for crea. tures, frail as we are at present, and surrounded by temptations? I answer, if strong passions, and what is called frailty, destroys moral agency, and renders us incapable of doing either right or wrong, it must be granted, that we are not subjects of re tribution. But, by the term frailty, the objector would probably mean, either strong temptations, or an inherent propensity to sin. As to the first, if actions are innocent, merely because there are temptations to perform them; it is doubtful, whether there is any sin in the
world. On this ground, the first transgressors might have pleaded innocence. To comply with temptation is either right, or it is not. Compliance with temptation to do a wrong action, cannot be right; but if such compliance be wrong, it is justly punishable.
If the term frailly is used in the other sense, to signify inherent propensity to evil, such propensity is doubtless criminal, and exposes the transgressor to the displeasure of God. We should not excuse a man guilty of robbery, were he to tell us, that he had long possessed peculiar fondness for a life of plunder; nor an incendiary, should he plead inveterate malignity.
The truth is, there can be but one law for the good and the bad : and that law must require universal rectitude. “ All rational beings, says the writer already quoted, ought, i. e. are obliged to take care that their wills and actions be constantly deternined and governed by the eternal rule of right and equity."
Perhaps it will be demanded, says Mr. Locke, why did God give so hard a law to mankind, that, to the apostles time no one of Adam's issue bad kept it? To which he answers, It was such a law, as the purity of God's nature required, and must be the law of such a creature, as man, unless God would have made him a rational creature, and not required him to have lived by the law of reason, but would have countenanced in him, irregularity and disobedience to that light, which he had, and that rule, which was suitable to his nature ; which would have been, to have authorized disorder, confusion, and wickedness in his creatures. For this law was the law of reason, or of nature: and if rational creatures will not live up to the rule of their reason, who shall excuse them? If you will admit them to forsake rea. son in one point, why not in another? Where will you stop? To disobey God, in any part of his commands, (and it is he that commands what reason does,) is direct rebellion, which if dispensed with in any point, government and order are at an end, and there can be no bounds set to the lawless
exorbitancy of unconfined men. The law, therefore, was, as St. Paul tell sus, holy, just, and good, and such that it could not, and ought not to be otherwise."
Perhaps it may still be necessary to make some observations on the criminality of negative qualities. It is implied in some of the preceding remarks, that the law condemns not orly dispositions, which are positively wrong, such as hatred, cruelty, &c. but likewise the want of benevolence, and compassion. If this should be apprehended, at first, unjust or improper, the error will be corrected by a little attention to scripture, and to what passes in common life. A certa in man, our Savior tells us, as he journeyed from Jerusalem to Jericho, fell among thieves, who stripped him of his raiment and left him wounded. A priest and a levite came in sight of the sufferer, and passed by without relieving him. But why is this circumstance mentioned? Was it to their praise or dishonor? To the latter no doubt. They were criminal. But for what? Not for doing any positive injury to the unfortunate man; but for omitting to give him relief. No one will doubt, that they were criminal, and justly liable to punishment for the want of that benevolence, which they ought to have felt. In the xxvth chap. of Matt. Christ has briefly described the process of the last judgment; and exhibited the charges, on which, those on his left hand, will be condemned.
These charges, it is remarkable, relate not to positive offences, but to the neglect of duty. I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat : I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink : I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me nol : sick and in prison, and ye visited me not.
We are not to conclude from this passage of scripture, that negative qualities, or the want of right dispositions and actions will be the exclusive ground of condemnation : but surely, unless these were to be taken into the account, such a representation as that, which has been cited, would not have been made. Nor is the sentiment here conveyed, discorda nt with opinions, most commonly received. Should a per
son know, that an incendiary designed to fire a town, on such a night, and yet give no information to the inhabitants, the public opinion would scarcely be less unfavourable concern ing him, than concerning the incendiary himself. He, who conceals a plot against the State, is punished by human laws, for misprision of treason.
Let it not be considered, therefore, as arbitrary or severe, that the divine law condemns defects, as well as positive offences. We could scarcely find a person, who would deliberately deny the criminality of being indifferent to God, and the happiness of his creatures. It has now been shown, I conceive, that every action of man ; that every intention and desire; and that every defect in devotion, gratitude, kindness and purity, is just matter of punishment. If it is not so, the contrary may be shown: but if it is so, to complain of the extent and preciseness of divine requisitions, will be worse than useless. If reason approves the divine law, it is unreasonable to complain.
The way is now prepared to make some direct inquiries, as to the human character. If the law has been correctly stated, nothing remains, but to apply it to human feelings and actions. That there is universally prevailing some degree of departure from this law; that there neither is, nor has been any person on earth, living to years of discernment, by whom the reasonable requirements of God have not been violated, in a degree, greater or less, is what may, without any impropriety, be taken for granted. For, although we sometimes hear persons mentioned, as perfectly innocent, and pe rfectly pure, the language is evidently the result either of passion or levity; and the person using it, when called upon, will hardly essay to make any defence. It is evidently true, then, as the scriptures declares, that all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Therefore, whatever be the penalties of the divine law, all are exposed to them.
If there is any difficulty in admitting this conclusion, you will consider, that to the determination of the general ques