Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER III.

ON THE JUSTICE OF GOD, AS A MODIFICATION

JUSTICE

OF HIS GOODNESS.

In our analysis of the Social Affections, under the article BENEVOLENCE, we endeavoured to shew, that this principle indicates itself in the human species, under various characters, according to the state and circumstances of its objects. It is sometimes confined to sympathy; at others it assumes the title of generosity, of pity, commiseration, compassion, mercy. These terms express, in a concise manner, the distinctions which take place in the exertions of Benevolence, according to the exigencies, mental distresses, dangers or delinquencies, of those upon

whom it is exercised. The same distina tions are applicable to that Being who implanted the benevolent principle within us. For, although the goodness of God be immutably the same in its nature, yet the manifestations of it are diversified, according to the state and situation of the subject. The inanimate creation

[ocr errors]

cannot be susceptible of the divine goodness ; but as its formation, and every law by which it is regulated, respect the accommodation of living and susceptible beings, and their various powers of enjoyment, the material world is an evidence of the Divine goodness. In the different endowments of living Beings with capacities for enjoyment, the goodness of God assumes the character of beneficence; and when the number and greatness of his gifts forcibly strike the mind, we prefer the term Munificence, as more ample and dignified. In relief administered to distress, it is compassion; in the suspension or remission of deserved punishment, it has the character of forbearance and mercy; in the approbation of right conduct, it is complacency. Nor is the Justice of God to be considered in any other light than as an emanation from the immutable principle of goodness.

When we were examining the nature of Justice, we perceived that it consists in that conduct towards others which preserves their rights inviolate; and we remarked that a regard to equity is essentially obligatory upon moral agents, because it secures to every man a certain portion of good, which he claims as his own, or which is according to the extent of his rights. The deprivation which it prohibits, is always the deprivation of a good, which is the property of another. It restrains from the infliction or diffusion of evil; and thus it secures to every one his portion of welfare. It co-operates, therefore, with benevolence in the production of beneficial effects; and, whenever the laws of justice are respected, more from the love of order, and the desire of promoting good, than from the apprehension of a penalty, or the expectation of a reward, it is a most valuable species of benevolence. The truly benevolent man cannot be unjust. His earnest desire to promote the welfare of another, will secure him from committing an intentional injury. When we apply this mode of reasoning to the Deity, it acquires strength in proportion to our conceptions of his benignity.

In contemplating the moral government of God, as it respects his intelligent offspring, the character of a Legislator immediately presents itself; and we cannot advert to those laws which we pronounce to be of moral obligation, without perceiving how essential they are to universal and permanent well-being. The wisdom and goodness of God have adapted all the duties of morality to the state and situation of moral agents, because personal welfare, and the felicity of social beings, so inmediately depend upon the observance of them. Therefore it is that the divine governor has annexed punishment to guilt, and recompense to obedience. Human laws

may

be unjust and cruel in their penalties, by rendering the suffering much too severe for the demerit of the offence; and they are seldom capable of distributing rewards according to theextent of merit. To the supreme legislator these imperfections are unknown. It is in the power, and also in the nature, of infinite beneficence, to reward far beyond the deserts of the obedient; but the attribute of Justice cannot punish beyond the degree of criminality.

Thus it appears obvious, that the divine justice itself co-operates with beneficence in the production of good. In its principle, it protects froin the violation of rights; and it is the guardian of laws which have no other object than the general welfare.

In the above statement our readers will observe, that our attention has been solely directed to that conduct which is due from one being to another, in their social or relative characters. Nor can it, strictly speaking, be considered in any other point of view. For, although it be

[ocr errors]

nihilate mercy.

self-evident that whatever is due to ourselves we have a right to claim, yet we are not absolutely compelled, by the law of justice, to receive according to the extent of our claim. We are not guilty of a personal injustice when we yield up, for the benefit of others, what is properly our own. This would annihilate every species of liberality. Nor are we compelled to demand satisfaction for every injury; for this would an

It
may

sometimes be prudent, and highly necessary, to punish offenders, for the sake of example, or for their reformation, but never to satiate revenge. A benevolent disposition will, if possible, cheerfully remit the punishment, whenever there is reason to believe that the penitence is sincere, and the reformation is accomplished. A total change of character deserves a change of conduct; and justice now inclines the balance in favour of the offender.

In the application of these principles to the justice of the Supreme being, a complete parallel does not exist, because he cannot suffer personal injury by the most nefarious practices; nor can he feel the resentments of impassioned

When he inflicts punishments, denounced against transgressors, it is in his official charac. ter of Legislator and Judge, who demands a

man.

« ÎnapoiContinuați »