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ON THE ATONEMENT IN ITS RELATIONS TO DIVINE
The Elements of Moral Government.
Divine moral government is that control which the blessed God exercises over the minds of accountable beings by reasoning with them, that is, by exhibiting motives and inducements addressed to their hopes and fears.
God governs every thing according to its nature. He manages the sea, and regulates the planets by physical force, and the various tribes of animals, by the laws of instinct. Every one knows that the waves of the sea, the revolutions of the planets, and the migrations of birds, are not to be regulated by reasoning with them. But man can be governed and controlled by reasoning with him; and his conduct can be regulated by exhibiting to him sufficient motives and inducement. We keep our oxen to the plough by physical force, but we keep the ploughman at his work by moral government, that is, by giving him sufficient motives and inducements to be so. He is not chained, nor bound, nor yoked, but acts freely.
Physical force can never become an element of moral government. In proportion as force enters it, it ceases to be a moral government.
The more freedom there
is in a government, the more purely moral is it. Such a freedom is not the freedom of licentiousness and anarchy, for these encroach always on the freedom and liberty of some of the subjects.
It is by reasoning, and presenting motives, that we govern our own minds, and influence the minds of other men: and it is by the same means that God governs us. If minds become so debased and obstinate as to refuse or to dislike such a control in a community, then coercion will be employed to subdue them. The slaves at the gallies are governed by coercion, and criminals are drawn to the place of execution by force; but this in a just and wise government, only befals those who have voluntarily rejected the control of reason and justice.
Man is a reasonable being, and, as such, is a member of the great moral commonwealth of the universe. That commonwealth supplies him with a law as the rule of his conduct towards the whole universe. This law surrounds him with rich and copious exhibitions of reasons, motives, and allurements, to lead him to the formation of a good character, and to the choice of a wise course of conduct. It forces him to nothing, but leaves him perfectly free. In this government man, as a reasonable being, is free from every thing except from the moral obligation to do good, and from accountableness to his Ruler if he do wrong.
Law must indispensably have the sanctions of rewards and penalties. Without these a law would be a mere advice, a recommendation only, and of no authority. The penalties of the moral law are sufferings and pains. In this inquiry it is no work of ours to account for the reasons why sufferings were annexed as penalties to the moral law, any more than it is to discover why injury and destruction are, in the physical laws, the penalties for falling down a precipice, &c. We can only say, that such is the moral constitution of which we are members; and such, do providence, conscience, and the scriptures, declare it to be.
By doing wrong, or sinning, man becomes liable to this penalty. Nothing else but sin will bring us into contact with sufferings as the penalty of the law. No perfection of God, no decree of God, no measure or work of God, no malice of enemies—in short, nothing in the whole universe will bring us within the reach of the punishments of the law, but sin.
The sufferings of a sinner, of one who transgresses the law, are right and good for the ends of the government of which we are members. The penalty is inflicted, not for the sake of putting the delioquent to pain only, nor of gratifying the private revenge of a ruler, but to secure and to promote the public ends of good government. These ends are to prevent others from transgressing; by giving a decided and clear demonstration of the dignity of the law, and a tangible proof of the evil of crime.
If a member, then, break the rule of the great moral constitution, it is right that he should suffer, that the evil of his sufferings might restrain the evil of transgressing. As far as sufferings answer these public ends, they are right and useful; but when they fall short of these ends, or in severity of infliction go beyond these ends, then, they are only natural evils added to moral ones, without removing them.
It is due to the character of the governor, as the public organ of a commonwealth, and due to the welfare of the government, that the penalty should be executed on the offender. It is right and good that the man who injures you should feel an inconvenience, a pain, a suffering for it, -not to gratify your spleen and revenge, but to prevent others from again daring to injure you. You approve of the penalty when it is executed on others for injuring you; if you disapprove of it, when inflicted upon yourself for injuring others, it is because you are selfish, and foel no concern for the public good.
Sinners have transgressed the law, have wronged God, have spoiled his works, and have injured his liege sub
jects; therefore, for the public good, they deserve to suffer as transgressors.
The Penalties of Moral Government administered on
the Principle of Public Justice.
Obedience is the first thing which man as a member of government owes to God. If man gives not obedience to the law, then punishment is due from him for the ends of good government. In the classical writers of Greece and Rome, the "supplicium” or punishment is always represented as being given or paid by the offender, and as what was due from him to the govern
And this language expresses the reality of the case of an offender in moral government. The promotion of the public good by his obedience is due from him: f he do not promote it in this way, then it is due from him to promote it by sustaining the penalty of the law.
The question now occurs, “Upon what principle shall this penalty be administered?” Private individuals will answer this according to their own feelings and inter
Some will say, “let power be employed to inflict a severe chastisement and intense sufferings for the crime.” Others will say, "let mercy be exercised to administer the penalty gently and sparingly.” Neither of these principles alone will administer the penalty safely and honorably for the ends of government. All honest subjects will say, "let justice administer it, whatever be the consequences. All may assent to this, but the difficulty of administering the penalty is not removed.
Another question occurs, "Upon what modification or principle of justice would you execute the penalty?” Justice takes many modifications. There is commutative justice, which gives to another an equivalent for value received. Divine moral government does not ad
minister the penalty upon this principle, for it is perfectly inconsistent with an administration on moral principles, to deal out a mathematical measurement of punishment for an arithmetical amount of injury and wrong. For though the punishment of the sinner will be no greater than deserved, yet all his sufferings and pains will never be an equivalent, in commercial or commutative justice, for the honors and the homage of which God has been wronged. Commercial or commutative justice cannot be exercised here, for the government is a moral one. No moral quality or action can be recompensed with a commercial payment. It were absurd to suppose a father, a husband, or a master, governing his family on the commercial principle of paying so much, in money or goods, for so much love and obedience.
The execution of the penalty on the principle of distributive justice, is inconsistent with the present administration of moral government, as it is a state of probation and trial. Such an execution would render our present state not a state of trial. If every swearer, or sabbath-breaker were immediately dealt with according to his character, men would no longer be in a state of probation, to try whether they would swear and keep the sabbath or not. If men would be always seeing the immediate and summary consequences of sin, they would not be proved any longer as to what was in their heart, whether they would keep His commandments or no. They would be walking by sight, and not by faith.
The exercise of what is called vindictive justice in the administration of the law, ill accords with the present connection between God and man. There is so much goodness, and mercy, and clemency, and bounty, in our present circumstances, as to assure us that God has thoughts of peace and not of evil concerning us. Even the evils and the inflictions of the present state are not vindictive, but are evidently under the control and direction of a benevolent principle.