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deny the criminality of their own sinful conduct, by denying the immutable distinction between virtue and vice. Agreeably, therefore, to the spirit of the text, I shall endeavor to make it appear, that there is in the nature of things an essential difference between virtue and vice.
I shall first explain the meaning, and then confirm the truth, of this observation.
Every thing has a nature which is peculiar to itself, and which is essential to its very existence. Light has a nature, by which it is distinguished from darkness. Sweet has a nature, by which it is distinguished from bitter. Animals have a nature, by which they are distinguished from men.. Men have a nature, by which they are distinguished from angels. Angels have a nature, by which they are distinguished from God. And God has a nature, by which he is distinguished from all other beings. Now, such different natures lay a foundation for different obligations; and different obligations lay a foundation for virtue and vice in all their different degrees. As virtue and vice, therefore, take their origin from the nature of things; so the difference between moral good and moral evil is as immutable as the nature of things, from which it results. It is as impossible in the nature of things, that the essential distinction between virtue and vice should cease, as that the essential distinction between light and darkness, bitter and sweet, should cease. These distinctions do not depend upon the bare will of the Deity; for so long as he continues the nature of things, no law or command of his can change light into darkness, bitter into sweet, nor virtue into vice. And this is what we mean by the assertion, that virtue and vice are essentially different, in the nature of things. Having fixed the meaning, I proceed
to show the truth, of this assertion. And the truth of it will appear, if we consider,
1. That the essential difference between virtue and vice may be known by those, who are wholly ignorant of God. The barbarians, who saw the viper on Paul's hand, knew the nature and ill desert of murder. The Pagans, who where in the ship with Jonah, knew the difference between natural and moral evil, and considered the former as a proper and just punishment of the latter. The natives of this country know the nature and obligation of promises and mutual contracts, as well as our wisest politicians, who form national treaties and compacts with them. And even little children know the nature of virtue and vice, and are able to perceive the essential difference between truth and falsehood, justice and injustice, kindness and unkindness, obedience and disobedience, as well as their par ents, or any other persons, who are acquainted with God and the revelation of his will. But how would children and heathens discover the essential difference between moral good and evil, if this difference were not founded in the nature of things! They are totally ignorant of God, and of consequence, totally ignorant of his revealed will. It is impossible, therefore, that they should know, that any thing is either right or wrong, virtuous or vicious, because God has either required, or forbidden it. But if the essential difference between right and wrong results from the nature of things, then those, who are entirely unacquainted with God and his laws, may be able to discover it. Hea thens, on this supposition, may know, that murder is a crime, though they never knew God nor heard of the sixth commandment, which says, "Thou shalt not kill." And children, who know no difference between the Bible and other books in respect to divine
authority, may know the criminality of lying and stealing, and feel their moral obligation to refrain from these and other moral evils. Accordingly we find, that both those, who never heard of the Bible, and those, who never read it, are as capable of discerning the difference between moral good and evil, as even those, who make it their business to study and explain the sacred Oracles. And this is a clear evidence, that the essential difference between virtue and vice results, not from the will of God, but from the nature of things.
2. Men are capable of judging what is right or wrong, in respect to the divine character and conduct. This God implicitly allows, by appealing to their own judgment, whether he has not treated them according to perfect rectitude. In the context, he solemnly calls upon his people to judge of the propriety and benig. nity of his conduct towards them. "And now, Q inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it? Wherefore when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?" He makes a similar appeal to the same people, by the prophet Jeremiah. "Thus saith the Lord, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?" He says by the prophet Ezekiel, "Hear now, O house of Israel; is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?" And he repeats the question, to give it a greater em. phasis. "O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal?" By the prophet Micah, he appeals not only to Israel, but to all the world, whether he had not treated them with the greatest
propriety and tenderness. "Hear now what the Lord saith: Arise, contend before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice. Hear ye, O mountains, the Lord's controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the Lord hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel. O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me. For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted; and what Balaam the son of Beor'answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal; that ye may know the righteousness of the Lord."
In these solemn appeals to the consciences of men, God does not require them to believe, that his character is good, because it is his character; nor that his laws are good, because they are his laws; nor that his conduct is good, because it is his conduct. But he allows them to judge of his character, his laws, and his conduct, according to the immutable difference between right and wrong, in the nature of things; which is the infallible rule, by which to judge of the moral conduct of all moral beings. In every instance, therefore, in which God refers his conduct to the judgment of men, he gives the strongest attestation to the immutable difference between right and wrong in the nature of things.
3. God cannot destroy this difference without distroying the nature of things. If he should make a law, on purpose, to destroy the distinction between virtue and vice, it would have no tendency to destroy it. Or if he should make a law, which should forbid us to love him with all our hearts, and our neighbors as
ourselves, it would not destroy the obligation of his first and great command. As no positive precepts can destroy the nature of things; so no positive precepts can destroy our obligations to do what is right, and to avoid what is wrong. While God remains what he is, it will be our duty to obey him, and not his duty to obey us. While we remain what we are, it will be our duty to do unto others as we would that they should do unto us. And while all moral beings remain what they are, it will be criminal in them, to exercise cruelty, injustice, or malevolence towards one another. Hence it is evident, that even Omnipotence cannot destroy the essential distinction between virtue and vice, without destroying the nature of things. And this clearly proves, that virtue and vice are immutably different in the nature of things, independently of the will or pleasure of the Supreme Being. I may add,
4. That the Deity cannot alter the nature of things, so as to destroy the essential distinction between vir tue and vice. We can conceive, that God should make great alterations in us, and in the objects about us; but we cannot conceive that he should make any alterations in us, and in the objects about us, which should transform virtue into vice, or vice into virtue, or which should destroy their essential difference. No possible alteration in the nature of things, can make it our duty to lie, or steal, or murder, or exercise the least malevolence towards our fellow creatures. This must always be sinful in our world, and in any other world of moral agents. Suppose God should create a new world, and fill it with a new race of moral beings. We cannot conceive, that he should so frame the new world, and so constitute the minds of the new race of moral agents, as that they should feel themselves under