MORAL ATTRIBUTES OF GOD
FIRST. Show what is meant by a moral attribute.
SECOND. What are some of the moral attributes of God.
THIRD. Prove that he possesses such attributes.
First. Show what is meant by a moral attribute.
A natural attribute is that which belongs to the nature of a being. A moral attribute is a disposition or state of the will. It is a permanent choice or preference of the mind, in opposition to a constitutional or natural attribute, on the one hand, and to individual exercises, on the other.
Second. What are some of the moral attributes of God.
Benevolence may be considered either as an attribute of God, or as the sum of all his moral attributes. It seems to be convenient sometimes to speak of his benevolence as an attribute, and at other times as the sum of them all. It should however, always be understood, that God's entire character, and every moral exercise of his infinite mind, is only some modification of his benevolence. And that when we speak of benevolence as an attribute we do it merely for convenience sake, and for the purpose of directing the mind particularly to that expression of it, that consists in willing good to its object. When we speak of justice, mercy, truth, wisdom, holiness, etc., we also use these terms for convenience sake, for the purpose of confining the attention to those particular modifications or expressions of benevolence. I shall consider these attributes in the order in which I have just named them, viz., Benevolence, Justice, Mercy, Truth, Wisdom, Holiness.
Moral attributes, presuppose moral agency. I will therefore, in this place, premise a few remarks upon the subject of the moral agency of God.
1. A moral agent, as has been remarked in a former lecture, is a being who possesses understanding, reason, conscience, and freewill. Understanding, reason, and conscience are all plainly implied in omniscience, for it is impossible that God should know all things without possessing these faculties.
2. That God has a will, must be certain from the fact that the whole power of mind to produce any effect without itself, lies in the will. This we know from our own consciousness to be true of ourselves, and from the phenomena exhibited to our senses, with respect to the existence and nature of God, we necessarily infer that he is a mind like ourselves, and that his power to produce effects without himself, lies wholly in his will. We are so constituted that we cannot conceive of any other possible manner in which he should produce effects without himself, any more than we can conceive the existence or nature of a class of objects which would require the addition of another sense to enable us to perceive them.
3. The existence then, and phenomena of the universe afford as high evidence that God possesses a will, as that he exists at all.
4. That the will of God is free, I infer,
(1.) From the fact that we know ourselves to be free, with as much certainty as we know that we exist.
(2.) We can form no conception of a voluntary being that is not free, for volition always implies freedom.
(3.) Volition and necessity are terms of opposition. Volition can no more be produced by force, than material changes can be produced by motives. Volition can be produced in no other way than by motive, and if produced by motive, it is absurd, and a contradiction to say that it is not free.
Third. Prove that God possesses such attributes.
1. God must be benevolent, or malevolent. It is impossible that he should be indifferent, or have no will at all, in respect to his own good, and the good of the universe. It were absurd, to say that he is omniscient, and yet neither wills the happiness or misery of himself or any other being.
2. God can, by no possibility, be both benevolent and malevolent at the same time. In other words, he cannot will both the happiness and misery of himself, and the universe at the same time. These are opposite states of the will, and it is absurd to suppose that they can both exist at the same time.
3. If God is malevolent at all, he must not only be perfectly, but infinitely and unchangeably malevolent. As God is an infinite being, perfect malevolence in him, is infinite malevolence, and it is absurd to say that what is infinite, can be changed.
4. If God is malevolent, he is immutably so, because he can never have any new thoughts as motives that shall induce any change in him. He cannot, from himself, or from any of his creatures, by any possibility, ever get any new information, or possess any new thoughts, and consequently his moral character, whatever it is, is unchangeable. His mind must be made up. He must have decided his own character and benevolence, or malevolence must be the unalterable state of his will.
That he is benevolent, I argue,
5. From the fact of his omniscience. He could not but know all the reasons in favor of benevolence, and all the reasons against malevolence. He could not by any possibility be ignorant of the reasons on either side, nor so divert his mind from them as that they should not have their full influence in deciding his character, and in confirming it forever. Finite beings are ignorant of many of the reasons for benevolence, and against malevolence. They may and often do divert their attention from those reasons with which they are really acquainted, and do not act under the influence of what knowledge they have. But God is omniscient. Every motive that exists, lies with all its weight upon his mind, and that constantly And as there are infinitely higher motives to benevolence than to malevolence, and as these motives are fully known, to and appreciated by God, we reasonably infer from this consideration, that he is benevolent.
6. I infer the benevolence of God, from the fact, that the motives to benevolence are absolutely infinite, just as great as the value of his own eternal happiness, and the happiness of the whole universe.
7. I infer his benevolence from the fact that the motives against malevolence are absolutely infinite. Malevolence naturally and necessarily creates mutiny and war, and misery in the mind of a moral agent, while benevolence just as naturally and necessarily produces harmony; peace, and happiness. The motives against malevolence that must be constantly and fully before the mind of God, that are perfectly comprehended and weighed by him, are just as great as his own eternal and infinite misery with the eternal and perfect misery of the whole universe. For certainly perfect and infinite malevolence in God would make himself and the whole universe as miserable as possible.
8. That God is not malevolent, I infer from the fact that the universe as it actually exists, is not what it certainly would be under the government of an infinitely malevolent being.
9. That he is benevolent, is shown in many ways from the constitution of our own nature.
(1.) He is a moral being, and must therefore deserve the respect and esteem of other moral beings. We are so constituted that we admire and esteem benevolence, but naturally and necessarily abhor malevolence. Now if God is benevolent, we are so constituted that we must respect and approve his character in spite of ourselves. The wickedest moral agent in the universe, must respect and approve his character if it is benevolent. But on the contrary, if it is malevolent, he has so created us that we only need to know him to be under the constitutional necessity of abhorring him. It is absurd therefore to say that God is a moral being, and has so created other moral beings, that they are under a constitutional necessity of abhorring him whenever they know him.
(2.) Another evidence of the benevolence of God, which is to be found in our own constitution is the conscious fact that the sight of misery excites compassion in us. If God were a malevolent being, and willed the misery of his creatures, it is absurd to suppose that he would so have constituted moral agents, as that they would feel naturally prompted by the very laws of their being, to relieve misery, and as far as possible prevent it.
Another fact to be noticed in our own constitution is that compassion or benevolence produces happiness in us, and is both accompanied with and followed by a feeling of complacency and happiness. If benevolence is necessarily attended with and followed by happiness and self-complacency, this must afford almost a demonstration that the author of our nature is benevolent and not malevolent. The conscious fact that benevolence always produces peace and happiness, and malevolence a sense of guilt and misery in us, is most decisive proof that the author of our nature is benevolent, and not malevolent.
(3.) The decisions of conscience are also a striking proof that the author of our nature is benevolent and not malevolent. It unhesitatingly approves of benevolence and condemns malevolence, and would as readily condemn malevolence in God as in any of his creatures.
(4.) The place which conscience holds in our mental constitution, is a striking evidence of the benevolence of God. It is manifestly the supreme moral faculty, i.e., it possesses a rightful supremacy, although it has not always the power to control the will. It possesses the right though not always the power of government. Now to suppose that God is malevolent and still the author of our nature is absurd, as it would be equivalent to supposing that his disposition is malevolent, and his works benevolent.
10. If God is not benevolent, he must abhor himself. We naturally and necessarily abhor malevolence, both in ourselves and everybody else. And if God is a moral being and malevolent, he must abhor himself from the very constitution of his being.
11. If God is a malevolent being, he is infinitely miserable.
12. If he is a benevolent being, he must be infinitely happy.
13. Benevolence is everywhere manifest in the works of God. There is not only in every department of nature evidence of design, but of benevolent design. There is not only contrivance manifested, but these contrivances manifestly tend to happiness as their end. The universe not only affords the highest evidence that the whole system of events sustain the relation of means to an end, but that this end is happiness. The adaptation of external nature to our intellectual and moral constitution affords the highest proof that the author of the universe consulted the happiness of sentient and moral beings in its creation.
14. The Bible expressly declares that God is love. And all its representations of his character are in accordance with the assertion that God is benevolence.
(1.) The Bible represents God as exercising a universal providence over the universe, and the history of this world shows that it has not been as miserable as it would have been under the providence of a perfectly and infinitely malevolent being.
(2.) His moral law proves his benevolence. Law is an expression of the will of the law-giver. In other words: it is the law-giver's will expressed. But this law requires universal and perfect benevolence. But God's will and law are the same thing. Therefore God is benevolent.
(3.) The sanction as well as the precept of his law, proves him benevolent. The sanction is in the first place indicated,
a. By the natural and necessary connection of benevolence with happiness, and of malevolence with misery.
b. The Bible informs us that God will award eternal happiness to the benevolent, and eternal misery to the malevolent. These sanctions afford the highest evidence that we are capable of receiving of God's infinite benevolence.
(4.) The Bible as a revelation from God, is both an instance and a striking proof of the benevolence of God. Its doctrines are a most stupendous revelation of God's benevolence, and afford the highest evidence of its being infinite, that the mind of man or angel can conceive.
The evidences of God's benevolence are as numerous as all his works and ways. It is unnecessary to proceed any farther in the direct proof of his benevolence. I shall therefore now consider such objections to the benevolence of God as seem to require notice.
It is admitted on all hands that God must be in some degree benevolent. But it is contended by some that so far as the light of nature goes, it would appear that he is of a mixed character, and that neither his providence nor his works, indicate unmingled benevolence in him. The mixture of both moral and natural good and evil in this world, has induced many heathen nations to adopt the idea of two Gods of opposite characters, a benevolent and malevolent one. Others have supposed that good and evil were eternally existing principles, forever conflicting with each other, and that the prevalence sometimes of one and sometimes of the other, and the modified influence of both, accounts for the actually existing state of the universe.
Many who have possessed the Bible have felt unable to answer the objections that seem to lie against the perfect benevolence of God in the actually existing state of things in the universe. Before I enter upon the consideration of these objections, I must remind you of the substance of what has been said in a former lecture, in regard to the influence of objections in setting aside evidence.
1. When a proposition is well established by evidence, an objection interposed to overthrow it, must be a matter of fact, and not a mere conjecture or assertion.
2. If a fact, it must be plainly inconsistent with the truth of the proposition against which it is alleged, for if the existence of the fact may be consistent with the truth of the proposition which is well established by evidence, it does not by any means invalidate the evidence in favor of the truth of the proposition. The objector is therefore bound to show not only that his objection is a reality and a truth, or a fact, but that it cannot be reconciled with the truth of the proposition. Otherwise, when the proposition is well supported by evidence, his objection will not overthrow it. I come now to notice the objections.
Objection I. It is objected that many animals are furnished with weapons or instruments with which to inflict pain. To this I reply:
1. These weapons were many of them given for self-defense, which shows God's regard for the happiness and rights of their possessors.
2. Many of them were given as means of securing their prey, or the food on which they are to subsist. In neither of these cases was the infliction of pain the end for which these weapons were given. The end, in both cases, was benevolent, and the infliction of pain is only incidental to the securing of these benevolent ends.
Obj. II. It is objected that the fact that different species of animals prey and subsist upon each other, is an evidence that God is not perfectly benevolent, To this I reply:
1. Animal life, while it lasts, is a real blessing, and probably in every instance, more than compensates for the pain of death.
2. From the very constitution of animals, they are necessarily mortal, and it is certainly good economy to make the carcass of one, food for others, as in this case a greater number of animals can subsist upon the earth. E.g.: Let the earth be filled with vegetable eating animals, as many as could subsist upon that species of diet. Then let us suppose another class of animals to subsist upon the flesh of the vegetable-eating animals, and another class to subsist upon the milk both of the vegetable and flesh-eating animals. It is easy to see that in this way a greater amount of animal life, and consequently of bestial happiness can be secured than would be otherwise possible. The fact that animals do so subsist, is therefore a striking evidence of the economic benevolence of the Creator. Just so in the sea. One species of fish may live on certain marine substances, and when the number is so multiplied as that no more can be supplied with such kinds of aliment other species may exist that will prey upon these, as is actually the fact, and thus a greater number of fishes may exist than were otherwise possible.
3. It is a sufficient answer to this objection to say, that it cannot be shown that the whole amount of animal happiness is not greater than if animals and fishes did not prey upon one another.
Obj. III. It is objected that the pains and evils to which we are naturally and necessarily subjected in this world, are inconsistent with the perfect benevolence of God. To this I reply:
1. It cannot be shown that pain was ever purposed as an end, either in the formation or government of anything in the universe, and wherever there is pain, it is only incidental to the obtaining some benevolent end. Teeth were not made to ache, but for a benevolent purpose. Yet pain is incidental to their existence, or rather arises out of their abuse.
2. All pain or natural evil is the result of an infraction of laws that were established for the accomplishment of wise and benevolent ends. The pain is incidental to the existence of those laws. Those laws are wise and good and benevolent. But the infraction of them produces pain.
Obj. IV. It is objected that infants and innocent animals are often involved in the calamities and evils which they have not deserved by any violation of law physical or moral. Answer,
1. Infants and innocent animals are parts of a great system, and so connected with holy and sinful beings as to be benefited by their virtues, and injured by their vices. They receive the benefits on the one hand, and the injuries on the other, not because of their own good or ill desert, but as a necessary consequence of the wise and benevolent arrangement that has so connected them with this system of existences.
2. Notwithstanding all the injuries of which they are sometimes the subjects, in consequence of this connection, their existence as a whole, is nevertheless a blessing.
3. It cannot be shown, that in a world like this, sickness, pain, death, and other apparent ills are, after all, real evils. They certainly are often only blessings in disguise. And it cannot be shown, that upon the whole they are not invariably so.
4. With respect to the death of infants and of animals, their death may be mercifully ordered to prevent still greater calamities befalling them. And in the case of infants, there is no reason to doubt that their natural death is only the entrance upon eternal life.
Obj. V. It is objected, that the existence of sin or moral evil in the universe sets aside the proof of the perfect benevolence of God. It is affirmed by some, that aside from revelation, the perfect benevolence of God cannot be proved, as the existence of sin in the universe must appear to be inconsistent, either with his wisdom, power, or goodness. To this I reply:
1. That to set aside the proof of God's benevolence, it must be made to appear, that the universe, as it is, is not, in itself, a good---that upon the whole it is not better than no universe at all; but this can never be shown; because, even in this world, life is regarded as a blessing and as a real good.
2. To set aside the proof of the perfect benevolence of God, it must be shown, that the universe is not as perfect as it might have been---that upon the whole, a better and more desirable universe was possible; but this can never be shown. For,
(1.) The universe is valuable only as it results in happiness; and it cannot be shown, that a greater amount of happiness, upon the whole, could have been procured by any possible arrangement, than will result from the present system.
(2.) Freedom, or liberty, is essential to virtue.
(3.) Virtue is essential to happiness.
(4.) The amount of happiness depends upon the amount and strength of virtue.
(5.) The strength of virtue depends:
a. On the perfection of liberty,
b. On the amount of temptation resisted and overcome. Hence:
(6.) There is the most virtue where there is the highest liberty, and the most temptation overcome. Hence:
(7.) The most happiness will result from that system in which there is the most perfect liberty, with the greatest amount of trial or temptation, resisted and overcome. Hence:
(8.) It cannot be shown that the present system, with all its natural and moral evils, does not, after all, result in a greater amount of virtue and happiness than any other system would or could have done. Had there been more temptation, it might have destroyed all virtue. Had there been less, virtue had certainly been less valuable, and final happiness less complete.
3. The existence of sin is no valid objection to the perfect benevolence of God, unless it be shown that sin could have been prevented, under a system of moral government. It is manifest that sin could have been prevented in only one of two ways:
(1.) By a refusal on the part of God, to create a universe of moral beings and administer over them a moral government; or,
(2.) By so modifying the administration of moral government, as to have suffered so much less temptation as should have secured universal obedience.
But to have created no universe of moral beings would not have been benevolent, if their existence is a real blessing.
When they were created, to have so modified the administration of government as to have secured universal obedience, might not, to say the least, have resulted upon the whole, in so great strength of virtue, and so perfect happiness in those who are virtuous as will result from the present form and circumstances of God's government. It cannot be shown, therefore, that it would have been either wise or benevolent, so to have modified the form and administration of moral government, as to have excluded sin entirely from the universe.
4. It cannot be shown that wholly to have excluded sin from the universe was naturally possible. Mind is influenced by motive. Motive implies knowledge. All moral beings, except God, begin to be. They are at first entirely destitute of knowledge. Many things they must learn by experience, and can come to a knowledge of them in no other way. And as there would be in the universe no knowledge, either of the nature or tendencies of sin, without experience, it can never be shown, that the prevention of sin, under a moral government, and among races of beings who commenced their existence in a state of entire ignorance, is naturally possible. But until this is shown, the existence of sin is no valid objection to the perfect benevolence of God.
Let it be remembered, that in view of the abundant proof of God's benevolence that everywhere exists, we are called upon only to show, that natural and moral evil may be accounted for in consistency with the supposition that God is perfectly and infinitely benevolent. We are not bound to show how sin came to exist, or how God will dispose of it; but only that its existence may be accounted for in consistency with the truth of all the evidence for the benevolence of God. It is doubtless true that all natural evil does at the time, or will ultimately result in salutary restraint upon moral beings. And as all moral evil is increasing the experience and knowledge of the universe in respect to its nature and tendencies, it is certain that its ultimate result will be confirmatory of the divine authority over all virtuous minds. Just as the developments of the nature and tendencies of alcohol, give strength and efficiency to the principles and moral obligations of the temperance reformation.
Obj. VI. If God is benevolent, says the objector, why did he create moral beings, knowing as he must have known, that so many of them would fall into sin and perish.
Ans. 1. If the creation of the universe finally results in greater good than evil, its creation was a dictate of benevolence.
2. That it will finally result in greater good than evil we have every reason to believe, from the fact that all virtuous beings will be happy of course, and abundant means are provided for the reclaiming and saving myriads of sinners.
INFERENCES AND REMARKS.
1. If God is infinitely benevolent, it is said that the salvation of all men is secured.
Ans. This assumes, that God can wisely save all men.
2. If God is infinitely benevolent he loves all men alike, and will of course save them all.
Ans. With the love of benevolence God does love all men and devils, irrespective of their character; but with the love of complacency, or delight in their character, upon which kind of love his final treatment of them as judge of the world must be based, he does not and cannot regard all men alike. For as a matter of fact, they are not alike.
3. It is said, that if God does not save all men, his love is partial and not universal.
Ans. This would be true, if he were not alike benevolent to all; but it would be partiality itself for him finally to treat all men alike. This would be partiality to the wicked, or treating them with unreasonable favor, and not according to their real characters.
4. If God is benevolent, then he is not angry with the wicked every day, as the Bible affirms that he is.
Ans. He is angry with the wicked every day, and his anger against the wicked is only a modification of his benevolence to the universe. His anger against sinners is equal to and a modification of his love of the order and happiness of the universe.
5. If God's benevolence is infinite, he cannot sin; i.e. he cannot be made willing to sin. There can be no such amount of temptation existing as to overcome the infinite strength of his virtue.
6. If God is love, it is certain that he will employ the whole of his natural attributes in promoting the virtue and happiness of the universe, to the full extent of his power.
7. What an infinite privilege it is to live under the government of such a Being, possessing infinite natural attributes, with a heart to use them all with most divine economy for the promotion of happiness and virtue forever.
8. What an infinite amount of happiness must finally result to the universe, from the administration of a moral government by such a Ruler: