Lecture 2 Moral Government

The primary idea of government, is that of direction, guidance, control by, or in accordance with, rule or law.

All government is, and must be, either moral or physical; that is, all guidance and control must be exercised in accordance with either moral or physical law; for there can be no laws that are neither moral nor physical.

Physical government is control, exercised by a law of necessity or force, as distinguished from the law of free will, or liberty. It is the control of substance, as opposed to free will. The only government of which substance, as distinguished from free will, is capable, is and must be physical. This is true, whether the substance is material or immaterial, whether matter or mind. States and changes, whether of matter or mind, that are not actions of free will, must be subject to the law of necessity. They must therefore belong to the department of physical government. Physical government, then, is the administration of physical law, or the law of force.

Moral government consists in the declaration and administration of moral law. It is the government of free will by motives as distinguished from the government of substance by force. Physical government presides over and controls physical states and changes of substance or constitution, and all involuntary states and changes. Moral government presides over and controls, or seeks to control the actions of free will: it presides over intelligent and voluntary states and changes of mind. It is a government of motive, as opposed to a government of force control exercised, or sought to be exercised, in accordance with the law of liberty, as opposed to the law of necessity. It is the administration of moral as opposed to physical law.

Moral government includes the dispensation of rewards and punishments; and is administered by means as complicated and vast as the whole of the works, and providence, and ways, and grace of God.

The fundamental reason of moral government.

Government must be founded in a good and sufficient reason, or it is not right. No one has a right prescribe rules for, and control the conduct of another, unless there is some good reason for his doing so. There must be a necessity for moral government, or the administration of it is tyranny. Moral government is indispensable to the highest well-being of the universe of moral agents. The universe is dependent upon this as a means of securing the highest good. This dependence is a good and sufficient reason for the existence of moral government. Let it be understood, then, that moral government is a necessity of moral beings, and therefore right.

Our nature and circumstances demand that we should be under a moral government; because no community can perfectly harmonize in all their views and feelings, without perfect knowledge, or to say the least, the same degree of knowledge on all subjects on which they are called to act. But no community ever existed, or will exist, in which all possess exactly the same amount of knowledge, and where the members are, therefore, entirely agreed in all their thoughts, views, and opinions. But if they are not agreed in opinion, or have not exactly the same amount of knowledge, they will not, in every thing, harmonize, as it respects their courses of conduct. There must, therefore, be in every community, some standard or rule of duty, to which all the subjects of the community are to conform themselves. There must be some head or controlling mind, whose will shall be law, and whose decision shall be regarded as infallible, by all the subjects of the government. However diverse their intellectual attainments are, in this they must all agree, that the will of the lawgiver is right, and universally the rule of duty. This will must be authoritative, and not merely advisory. There must of necessity be a penalty attached to, and incurred by, every act of disobedience to this will. If disobedience be persisted in, exclusion from the privileges of the government is the lowest penalty that can consistently be inflicted. The good, then, of the universe imperiously requires that there should be a moral governor.

Whose right is it to govern?

We have just seen that the highest well-being of the universe demands, and is the end of moral government. It must, therefore, be his right and duty to govern, whose attributes, physical and moral, best qualify him to secure the end of government. To him all eyes and hearts should be directed, to fill this station, to exercise this control, to administer all just and necessary rewards and punishments. It is both his right and duty to govern.

That God is a moral governor, we infer:

1. From our own nature. From the very laws of our being, we naturally affirm our responsibility to Him for our conduct. As God is our creator, we are naturally responsible to Him for the right exercise of our powers. And as our good and His glory depend upon our conformity to the same rule to which He conforms His whole being, He is under a moral obligation to require us to be holy, as He is holy.

2. His natural attributes qualify Him to sustain the relation of a moral governor to the universe.

3. His moral character also qualifies Him to sustain this relation.

4. His relation to the universe as creator and preserver, when considered in connection with the necessity of government, and with His nature and attributes, confers on Him the right of universal government.

5. His relation to the universe, and our relations to Him and to each other, render it obligatory upon Him to establish and administer a moral government over the universe. It would be wrong for Him to create a universe of moral beings, and then refuse or neglect to administer over them a moral government, since government is a necessity of their nature and relations.

6. His happiness must demand it, as He could not be happy unless He acted in accordance with His conscience.

7. If God is not a moral governor He is not wise. Wisdom consists in the choice of the best ends, and in the use of the most appropriate means to accomplish those ends. If God is not a moral governor, it is inconceivable that He should have had any important end in view in the creation of moral beings, or that He should have chosen the most desirable end.

8. The conduct or providence of God plainly indicates a design to exert a moral influence over moral agents.

9. His providence plainly indicates that the universe of mind is governed by moral laws, or by laws suited to the nature of moral agents.

10. If God is not a moral governor, the whole universe, so far as we have the means of knowing it, is calculated to mislead mankind in respect to this fundamental truth. All nations have believed that God is a moral governor.

11. We must disapprove the character of God, if we ever come to a knowledge of the fact that He created moral agents, and then exercised over them no moral government.

12. The Bible, which has been proved to be a revelation from God, contains a most simple and yet comprehensive system of moral government.

13. If we are deceived in respect to our being subjects of moral government, we are sure of nothing. What is implied in the right to govern?

1. From what has just been said, it must be evident, that the right to govern implies the necessity of government, as a means of securing an intrinsically valuable end.

2. Also that the right to govern implies the duty, or obligation to govern. There can be no right, in this case, without corresponding obligation; for the right to govern is founded in the necessity of government, and the necessity of government imposes obligation to govern.

3. The right to govern, implies obligation, on the part of the subject, to obey. It cannot be the right, or duty, of the governor to govern, unless it is the duty of the subject to obey. The governor and subjects are alike dependent upon government, as the indispensable means of promoting the highest good. The governor and the subject must, therefore, be under reciprocal obligation, the one to govern, and the other to be governed, or to obey. The one must seek to govern, the other must submit to be governed.

4. The right to govern, implies the right and duty to dispense just and necessary rewards and punishments distribute rewards proportioned to merit, and penalties proportioned to demerit, whenever the public interest demands their execution.

5. It implies obligation, on the part of the subject, cheerfully to acquiesce in any measure that may be necessary to secure the end of government, and in case of disobedience, to submit to merited punishment, and also, if necessary, to aid in the infliction of the penalty of law.

6. It implies obligation, on the part both of the ruler and the ruled, to be always ready, and when occasion arises, actually to make any personal and private sacrifice demanded by the higher public good to cheerfully meet any emergency, and exercise any degree of self-denial, that can, and will, result in a good of greater value to the public than that sacrificed by the individual, or by any number of individuals, it always being understood, that present voluntary sacrifices shall have an ultimate reward.

7. It implies the right and duty to employ any degree of force, which is indispensable to the maintenance of order, the execution of wholesome laws, the suppression of insurrections, the punishment of rebels and disorganizers, and sustaining the supremacy of moral law. It is impossible that the right to govern should not imply this, and to deny this right, is to deny the right to govern. Should an emergency occur, in which a ruler had no right to use the indispensable means of securing order, and the supremacy of law, the moment this emergency occurred, His right to govern would, and must, cease: for it is impossible that it should be His right to govern, unless it be at the same time, and for the same reason, His duty to govern; and it is absurd to say, that it is His right and duty to govern, and yet at the same time, that He has not a right to use the indispensable means of government. If it be asked, whether an emergency like the one under consideration is possible, and if so what might justly be regarded as such an emergency, I answer, that should circumstances occur under which the sacrifice necessary to sustain, would overbalance the good to be derived from the prevalence of government, this would create the emergency under consideration, in which the right to govern would cease.

The limits of this right.

The right to govern is, and must be, just coextensive with the necessity of government. We have seen, that the right to govern is founded in the necessities of moral beings. In other words, the right to govern is founded upon the fact, that the highest good of moral agents cannot be secured, but by means of government. But to avoid mistake, and to correct erroneous impressions, which are sometimes entertained, I must show what is not the foundation of the right to govern. The boundary of the right must, as will be seen, depend upon the foundation of the right. The right must be as broad as the reason for it. If the reason of the right be mistaken, then the limits of the right cannot be ascertained, and must necessarily be mistaken also.

1. The right to govern the universe cannot be founded in the fact, that God sustains to it the relation of Creator. This is by itself no reason why He should govern it, unless it needs to be governed unless some good will result from government. Unless there is some necessity for government, the fact that God created the universe can give Him no right to govern it.

2. The fact that God is owner and sole proprietor of the universe is no reason why He should govern it. Unless either His own good or the good of the universe, or of both together, demand government, the relation of owner cannot confer the right to govern. Neither God, nor any other being, can own moral beings, in such a sense as to have a right to govern them, when government is wholly unnecessary, and can result in no good whatever to God, or to His creatures. Government, in such a case, would be perfectly arbitrary and unreasonable, and consequently an unjust, tyrannical and wicked act. God has no such right. No such right can, by possibility, in any case exist.

3. The right to govern cannot be founded in the fact, that God possesses all the attributes, natural and moral, that are requisite to the administration of moral government. This fact is no doubt a condition of the right; for without these qualifications He could have no right, however necessary government might be. But the possession of these attributes cannot confer the right independently of the necessity of government: for however well qualified He may be to govern, still, unless government is necessary to securing His own glory and the highest well-being of the universe, He has no right to govern it. Possessing the requisite qualifications is the condition, and the necessity of government is the foundation of the right to govern. More strictly, the right is founded in the intrinsic value of the interests to be secured by government, and conditioned upon the fact, that government is the necessary means of securing the end.

4. Nor is the right to govern conferred by the value of the interests to be secured, nor by the circumstance of the necessity of government merely, without respect to the condition just above mentioned. Did not God's natural and moral attributes qualify

Him to sustain that relation better than any one else, the right could not be conferred on Him by any other fact or relation.

5. The right to govern is not, and cannot be, an abstract right based on no reason whatever. The idea of this right is not an ultimate idea in such a sense, that our intelligence affirms the right without assigning any reason on which it is founded. The human intelligence cannot say that God has a right to govern, because He has such a right; and that this is reason enough, and all the reason that can be given. Our reason does not affirm that government is right because it is right; and that this is a first truth, and an ultimate idea. If this were so, then God's arbitrary will would be law, and no bounds could possibly be assigned to the right to govern. If God's right to govern be a first truth, an ultimate truth, fact, and idea, founded in no assignable reason, then He has the right to legislate as little, and as much, and as arbitrarily, as unnecessarily, as absurdly, and injuriously as possible, and no injustice is, or can be done; for He has, by the supposition, a right to govern, founded in no reason, and of course without any limit. Assign any other reason, as the foundation of the right to govern, than the value of the interests to be secured and the necessity of government, and you may search in vain for any limit to the right. But the moment the foundation and the condition of the right are discovered, we see instantly, that the right must be coextensive with the reason upon which it is founded, or in other words, must be limited by, and only by the fact, that thus far, and no farther, government is necessary to the highest good of the universe. No legislation can be valid in heaven or earth no enactments can impose obligation, except upon the condition, that such legislation is demanded by the highest good of the governor and the governed. Unnecessary legislation is invalid legislation. Unnecessary government is tyranny. It can, in no case be founded in right. It should, however, be observed, that it is often, and in the government of God universally true, that the sovereign, and not the subject, is to be the judge of what is necessary legislation and government. Under no government, therefore, are laws to be despised or rejected because we are unable to see at once their necessity, and hence their wisdom. Unless they are palpably unnecessary, and therefore unwise and unjust, they are to be respected and obeyed as a less evil than contempt and disobedience, though at present we are unable to see their wisdom. Under the government of God there can never be any doubt nor of course any ground for distrust and hesitancy as it respects the duty of obedience.

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