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Command and Obligation to Obedience, consistent with moral
Inability to obey.*
It being so much insisted on by Arminian writers, that necessity is inconsistent with law or command, and particularly,
The subject of “ obligation to obedience," or MORAL OBLIGATION, though expressed in the title of this section, is not professedly handled by our author, either here or in any other part of the work. His professed object in this place is to prove that obligation to obey commands is not weakened by moral inability. But though this conclusion is established by many considerations, yet the nature and grounds of obligation are not pointed out, which might afford evidence why moral obligation is consistent with moral inability ? The subject is confessedly profound; but, perhaps, the following series of remarks may contribute, in some degree, to assist our enquiries, and to bring them to a satisfactory conclusion.
1. Obligation, if we regard the term, is a binding power, or an irresistible force; but, in reference to morality and voluntary actions, obligation is expressive of a hypothetical indispensable connection between an antecedent and a consequent ; or be. tween an end proposed, and the means of obtaining it. Thus, if a moral agent would attain the end, he is obliged, or bound indispensably, to use the required means. And, on the contrary, if a moral agent adopt a different antecedent from what is required, not only he shall not attain to the proposed consequent, but another consequent is to follow, indispensably connected with the antecedent actually adopted, by a necessity of consequence. Therefore,
2. The consequent, or the end, which is proposed by the moral Governor, is always a supposed good; for it would be unworthy of a governor wise and good to propose any other, especially as the antecedent prescribed and required is inļispensably connected with it. But if the connection be broken by the free agent, by the adoption of an antecedent naturally connected with a different consequent, he then becomes naturally obliged, or forced, to sustain a proportionable evil.
3. In the system of moral government, it is the prerogative of the supreme Governor to propose the consequent of the indispensable connection; and it is the part of the moral agent, who in the act of choice is left free, to choose the antecedent, which the governor has objectively furnished, and indispensably required. To this choice he is morally, or hypothetically bound, yet is naturally free; and if the required choice be made, the good follows; but if not, the corresponding evil follows. For instance; if the forgiveness of sin be the consequent proposed, and repentance the antecedent required: the agent is morally bound to repent, but naturally free. If, however, he break through the moral bond, which is done by abusing his natural freedom, or continuing his wrong choice, forgiveness does not follow, but he stands exposed to the natural and threatened consequence of that wrong choice, or impenitence.
4. Hence it is obvious, that in the system of providence, and the execution of all decretive designs, it is the prerogative of the Sovereign of the Universe to establish the chain of all antecedents, and the consequents follow from the nature of things : but in the system of moral government, it is equally obvious, the reverse takes place; for here the supreme Governor proposes, and establishes objectively, the chain of consequents, while the moral agent, or the obligee, establishes optionally the antecedents; and as the actual choice of an antecedent is, such will be the actual consequence. When the moral agent chooses that antecedent which is required, or which is conformable to rectitude, the proposed consequent is obtained by the naturo of things; but when that which is not required, or is not
that it is absurd to suppose God, by his command, should require that of men which they are unable to do; not allowing, in this
conformable to rectitude, is chosen for an antecedent, the evil consequence flows from the same nature of things, that is, from the essence of eternal truth.
5. Required antecedents are either a state of mind, or voluntary actions ; according as the particular consequent proposed may be. For example, if happiness be the end, or consequent proposed, holiness, or a holy state of mind is the mean, or antecedent required. If we would see the Lord, we must be holy, or pure in heart, by a new birth unto righteousness. If justification be the end proposed, believing is a mean required. For to us righteousness shall be imputed, if we believe. If a subsequent favourable treatment of the obligee be the end proposed ; obedience, or conformity to rule, is the mean required.
6. When an agent is said to be obliged in or by any thing or consideration, that thing or consideration in or by which he is obliged, is to be considered as the consequent proposed; and the state or act leading to it is the antecedent required. To be obliged in conscience, in duty, in law, in honour, &c. expresses the end to be obtained by a certain state or conduct as the mean or antecedent required. Thus, for instance, if conscience be satisfied, if duty be discharged, if law be conformed to, or if honour be secured, the required antecedent means must be adopted, or such acts must be performed.
7. If the required antecedents be not performed, it is manifest that the free agent has voluntarily established other antecedents, and the injurious consequents of these last flow (as before observed) from the nature of things; which consequents will be similar or dissimilar to those proposed by the supreme Governor, in proportion as the antecedent established voluntarily by the agent, is similar or dissimilar to what was required. Hence we may see the true standard and measure of guilt, and of the different gradations of praise or blame.
8. Having considered the NATURE of moral obligation, let us now advert to the SUBJECT of it. This enquiry has more immediately for its object the qualifications of the moral agent, or those considerations whereby he stands obliged, in contradistinction to those beings in the universe that are not moral agents. An attentive and long continued investigation of the subject has taught us, that they are included in these three particulars: (1.) A natural capacity of moral enjoyment. (2.). A sufficiency of suitable means. And (3.) A freedom from compulsion in the choice of means -Whatever being is possessed of these qualifications is morally obliged; for he has a suitable ability to establish his own antecedents as required, in order that the proposed consequents may follow.
9. The first qualification is a NATURAL CAPACITY of moral enjoyments. This belongs to no being that is not a free agent: but to every being who is so, it insepatably belongs. This, more than any superior degree of reason, (however great, and however forcible the influence from that superiority) constitutes the chief and Trost essential difference between men and brutes. That such a capacity is an indispensably requisite qualification, is clear. For free agency necessarily implies a consequent moral advantage, or a natural good to be morally enjoyed, either explicitlý proposed by the moral Governor, or fairly implied in the system of moral government; but this could not be proposed if there were no capacity of enjoy. ment as now stated. And this consequent advantage may properly be called the perpetual enjoyment of God, the chief good ; because the chief end of all subordinate enjoyments, as well as of all obedience, and the sum total of all happiness, is the conscious enjoyment of divine favour and excellence.
10. The second qualification is a sufficiency of suitable Means. This is indispensably requisite; for to require an end while the means are out of the agent's reach, or physically out of his power, and that under the forfeiture of the Governor's displeasure, is of the very essence of injustice. But the divine Governor is “a God of truth, and without iniquity; just and right is he.” And that these means ought to be sufficient and suitable in their own nature to attain the end ; in other words, that the antecedents required to be adopted by the agent, are infallibly connected with the proposed consequent, is equally plain, for the same reason that there should be any means at all. For means in themselves insufficient and unsuitable have no true connection with the end proposed; even as a law in itself had, has morally no obliging power.
11. The third qualification is a FREEDOM from constraint and compulsion in the
case, for any difference between natural and moral Inability; I would, therefore, now particularly consider this matter. And for greater clearness, I would distinctly lay down the following things.
1. The will itself, and not only those actions which are the effects of the will, is the proper object of Precept or Command. That is, such a state or acts of men's wills are in many cases properly required of them by Commands; and not only those alterations in the state of their bodies or minds that are the consequences of volition. This is most manifest ; for it is the soul only that is properly and directly the subject of Precepts or Commands ; that only being capable of receiving or perceiving Commands. The motions or state of the body are matter of Command, only as they are subject to the soul, and connected with its acts. But now the soul has no other faculty whereby it can, in the most direct and proper sense, consent, yield to, or comply with any Command, but the faculty of the
choice of means, or in the voluntary establishment of antecedents. By constraint" and “compulsion,” we mean a physical interference with the free agent in his act of choice, in such a sense, as that the choice would not be the genuine effect of the motive ; or, that the nature of the fruit should not correspond with the nature of the tree; but some extraneous force interposing would make the nature of the voli. tion to be different from the nature of the mind or disposition, which otherwise would be its immediate cause.
12. Divine influence is admitted to be requisite, in order to prepare the state of the mind for a right choice, even as a good tree is requisite for good fruit; but this is no interference with the act of choice itself, nor has it the least tendency to break the connection between motive and choice, or between the mind and its volition.-Such influence, indeed, forms one glorious link of the decretive chain, which the sovereign Governor has established as so many antecedents; and a right choice, in a frec agent thus divinely influenced, or formed anew, is the unrestrained and unimpelled effect which follows by a necessity of consequence. In other words, no bad choice can possibly follow, but by a failure in the cause, the mind or disposition itself.
13. On this principle it is, that the sovereign Being himself never errs in his choice. The source from which the act of choice proceeds is perfectly good, (an infinitely holy nature) and the connection between this cause and the effect, which is a right choice, is infallibly and in the nature of things necessarily secure. Hence it is that we never admit, or suspect, an error in his choice, however great his freedom; and hence we have a firm ground of confidence, that the Judge of the whole earth will do right.
14. The three qualifications mentioned belong to man as a free agent; but we must not confound this idea with that of a subject of moral government An infant may be the subject of government, both human and divine; but cannot be, properly speaking, a free agent. Here it follows, that the first of the qualifications mentioned alone is essential to constitute a subject of moral government, in the most extensive sense of the term, but in order to constitute that class of subjects who are also free agents, the other two are essential.
15. When these three qualifications are found in any free agent, nothing more is requisite to constitute moral obligation. An end is proposed means firmly connected with that end are afforded, and required to be used—these means are physically in the poroer of the agent--who is also free from all constraint and compulsion in his act of choice. If these qualifications are not sufficient morally to oblige, we are fully persuaded nothing can be sufficient. As to the notion, that moral ability is nccessary to constitute moral obligation, which is maintained alike by many Arminians and most Antinomians, (for extremes will sometimes meet) our author abundantly demonstrates its futility and absurd contradictions.-W.
will; and it is by this faculty only, that the soul can directly disobey, or refuse compliance : for the very notions of consenting, yielding, accepting, complying, refusing, rejecting, &c. are, according to the meaning of the terms, nothing but certain acts of the will. Obedience, in the primary nature of it, is the submitting and yielding of the will of one to the will of another. Disobedience is the not consenting, not complying of the will of the commanded, to the manifested will of the commander. Other acts that are not the acts of the will, as certain motions of the body and alterations in the soul, are Obedience or Disobedience only indirectly, as they are connected with the state or actions of the will according to an established law of nature. So that it is manifest, the will itself may be required : and the being of a good will is the most proper, direct, and immediate subject of Command ; and if this cannot be prescribed or required by Command or Precept, nothing can ; for other things can be required no otherwise than as they depend upon, and are the fruits of a good will.
Corol, 1. If there be several acts of the will, or a series of acts, one following another, and one the effect of another, the first and determining act is properly the subject of Command, and not only the consequent acts, which are dependent upon it. Yea, this more especially is that to which Command or Precept has a proper respect ; because it is this act that determines the whole affair : in this act the Obedience or Disobedience lies, in a peculiar manner ; the consequent acts being all governed and determined by it. This governing act must be the proper object of Precept, or none.
Corol. 2. It also follows from what has been observed, that if there be any act, or exertion of the soul, prior to all free acts of choice in the case, directing and determining what the acts of the will shall be; that act of the soul cannot properly be subject to any Command or Precept, in any respect whatsoever, either directly or indirectly, immediately or remotely. Such acts cannot be subject to Commands directly, because they are no acts of the will ; being by the supposition prior to all acts of the will, determining and giving rise to all its acts : they not being acts of the will, there can be in them no consent to, or compliance with any Command. Neither can they be subject to Command or Precept indirectly or remotely; for they are not so much as the effects or consequences of the will, being prior to all its acts. So that if there be any Obedience in that original act of the soul, determining all volitions, it is an act of Obedience wherein the will has no concern at all ; it preceding every act of will. And therefore, if the soul either obeys or disobeys in this act, it is wholly involuntarily; there is no willing Obedience or rebellion, no compli
ance or opposition of the will in the affair : and what sort of Obedience or rebellion is this?
And thus the Arminian notion of the freedom of the will consisting in the soul's determining its own acts of will, instead of being essential to moral agency, and to men being the subjects of moral government, is utterly inconsistent with it. For if the soul determines all its acts of wili, it is therein subject to no Command or moral government, as has been now observed ; because its original determining act is no act of will or choice, it being prior, by the supposition, to every act of will. And the soul cannot be the subject of Command in the act of the will itself, which depends on the foregoing determining act and is determined by it; in as much as this is necessary, being the necessary consequence and effect of that prior determining act, which is not voluntary. Nor can the man be the subject of Command or government in his external actions ; because these are all necessary, being the necessary effects of the acts of the will themselves. So that mankind, according to this scheme, are subjects of Command or moral government in nothing at all; and all their moral agency is entirely excluded, and no room is left for virtue or vice in the world.
So that the Arminian scheme, and not that of the Calvinists, is utterly inconsistent with moral government, and with all use of laws, precepts, prohibitions, promises, or threatenings. Neither is there any way whatsoever to make their principles consist with these things. For if it be said, that there is no prior determining act of the soul, preceding the acts of the will, but that volitions are events that come to pass by pure accident, without any determining cause, this is most pal. pably inconsistent with all use of laws and precepts; for nothing is more plain than that laws can be of no use to direct and regulate perfect accident: which, by the supposition of its being pure accident, is in no case regulated by any thing preceding ; but happens this way or that, perfectly by chance, without any cause or rule. The perfect uselessness of laws and precepts also follows from the Arminian notion of indifference, as essential to that liberty which is requisite to virtue or vice. For the end of laws is to bind to one side ; and the end of Commands is to turn the will one way: and therefore they are of no use, unless they turn or bias the will that way. But if liberty consists in indifference, then their biassing the will one way only, destroys liberty ; as it puts the will out of equilibrium. 'So that the will having a bias, through the influence of binding law laid upon it, is not wholly left to itself, to determine itself which way it will, without influence from without.
II. Having shewn that the will itself, especially in those acts which are original, leading and determining in any case, is the proper subject of Precept and Command—and not only