Home > Systematic Theology > Works of God- Providence: Moral Government- Book Third- Chapter 3- Section 4

Works of God- Providence: Moral Government- Book Third- Chapter 3- Section 4

Book Third



A voluntary agent, with a sense of right and wrong, we call a moral agent. Such an agent is a proper subject of moral law. He may be commanded, and he can obey or disobey. He can feel the force of moral obligation, and be affected by self-approbation or remorse.

Moral law is not an established order of sequence, as the laws of nature are. Some have sought to find an agreement between them in this particular, by referring to the fact, that a moral action has consequences inseparably connected with it, which result from its moral quality. But the connection of these consequences with the moral action belongs rather to the class of natural sequences. Like other natural sequences, the order is inviolable. But moral law may be violated. The order of sequence which moral law aims to regulate, is that which subsists between the command and the action, not between the action and its consequences. In the first of these sequences, not in the last, the obedience or disobedience of moral law appears. If moral law were an established order of sequence, as natural law is, none but God could violate it, as none but he can work miracles. But, while God cannot commit sin, which is a transgression of moral law, it may be committed by angels and men, as sad experience has proved.

The distinction which has been drawn between natural and moral law must be kept in view, to understand the difference between natural and moral government. Moral government is a department of God’s universal administration, specially adapted to moral agents, furnishing scope for the exercise of their moral agency, as, also, on God’s part, for the exercise of his justice. It is not inconsistent with the rest of his administration, but is distinct from the rest, and is the holy of holies, in which the great Supreme manifests his highest glory. It is true, that in this the will of God is not invariably done; whereas, in his natural government, he worketh all things after the counsel of his will; but it must be remembered that the term will is used in different senses. This will which is violated in moral government is the will of precept; that which is invariably executed in natural government is the will of purpose. The whole of God’s moral government perfectly accords with his purpose. It was his purpose to institute it; to create moral agents, to give them a moral law, a will of precept, which they, as free agents, might violate or not; to permit the violation, and to hold them responsible for it. All this God purposed, and all this he has accomplished. Because the term will is used in two senses, manifestly distinct from each other, it becomes necessary, in our use of it, to keep the distinction in view, lest our reasonings be confused.

The general proposition, under the head of Government, page 117, was stated thus: “All god’s creatures are so under his control, that their changes take place according to his purpose.” The truth of this, with respect to his natural government, will be readily admitted. An important part of the changes which take place in the world, consists of the actions performed by moral agents. In applying the proposition to these, it becomes necessary to distinguish between the efficient and permissive purpose of God. Even the most sinful action cannot take place without his permission; and, in this view, the proposition extends to the moral, as well as to the natural government of God.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology

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