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cannot be exercised about them, and conse: quently there is no morality in it. All in. telligences, who have the faculty of distina guishing right from wrong, of discerning rules of conduct, and knowing when they are conformed to, and when violated, together with the power of chusing or refusing, are moral agents. The actings of the mind towards things, which are eligible or not, on account of their moral qualities, as they are exercises of will, do bespeak the subject a moral being. Having voluntary exercises, upon subjects of a moral nature, is the only thing, of which I can possibly cun. ceive, as giving one a right to be denominated a moral agent. This is, certainly, as much as the terms imply. The universal tenour and style of the scriptures is in harmony with this idea.. In these sacred writings God addresses mankind, as moral agents, and, as such, enforces moral obligation upon them. And how does he do it? By exhi. biting a clear representation of truth, or more al objects in general, and then exhorting to a right choice. “ I call heaven and earth to record against you this day,” said Moses, “ that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing : therefore, choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” If scripture truth is calculated to move us to choose the good it offers, and this be the evi. dent drift and design of the whole word of God, does it not strongly convey the idea, that our moral agency consists in choosing
the moral objects, which present themselves before us ? Surely God would not teach us that, which is not moral, nor make any solemn addresses to us concerning it, either to lead us to it, or to withdraw us from it : neither would he omit to enjoin any thing of moral obligation, nor to warn us against any thing morally wrong. But all divine injunctions and prohibitions are fulfilled, when we choose the good and refuse the evil. This is evidence, that moral agency consists in the choice of moral objects, and in nothing else.But says the objector
That must be a free choice, for which the subject is to be held accountable, and not the chiid of an eternal, uncontrolable necessity, which leaves him no room or chance, to act otherwise than he does.
So, then, it seems, it is not enough for a man to chuse God for his portion, but this choice must be free, or it can turn to no good account. And it is not enough to make one a sinner and expose him to the wrath to come, that he chooses a life of impiety and rebellion against God, unless this choice also be free. What then have we now to do, but to find out the difference there is between a choice, that is free, and one that is not ? or to learn the proper distinction between will and free will ? My hearers, I hope, will not think ill of me, if I recoil from this task, as too arduous to be undertaken. I would as soon attempt to point out a difference between four and twice two. After
Stating a choice, or mere exercise of will, and then comparing it with an act of free will, I should have no terms by which to show how the one is unlike the other.
I know that, for a long time, a very free use has been inade of the term liberty, in relation to moral exercises, as if there were such a thing, as moral liberty, in distinction from moral restraint. Accordingly, nothing is more common, than to speak of men, in regard to their moral exercises, as free agents.
As these terms have been introduced and established by the most respectable authorities, it would be reckoned presumptuous, no doubt, to speak against them, as useless, impertinenty, and unmeaning But they should not be allowed to hinder our search after truth.. Liberty, applied to natural things, is very determinate and intelligible. No one can mistake its meaning. When a man is saidi tu have liberty to walk abroad, it is under-. stood, that he is not in prison, or under any forcible confinement. A liberty to act is, generally, understood to mean an exemption from all outward restraint, or limitation ; so that a person is not prevented acting out the whole of his inclination, or desire. If he has formed a resolution, and nothing without comes in his way to hinder his executing it, then he may be said to be free. Will any man say he is not free, so long as he is able to do whatever he wills? that is, meets with no insurmountable obsta cles to the fulfilment of his purposes ? hace
are always supposed to act freely, when their wills and external actions harmonize ; and their liberty is infringed, only when this ceases to be the case. When a man is seizi. ed as a prisoner, and compelled to enter the dungeon, he does not ace freely ; because his will is to make his escape, but superior power restrains him.
In our common use of the term liberty, we, therefore, combine two ideas, one of which respects the mind, and the other the external organs. How, then, can this be a proper term to express that, in which mind alone is concerned. If two or more objects are placed before me, out of which number I am to select one, as my own judgment or fancy shall dictate, it will be proper to say, I have liberty to take which I will; that is, on which soever my choice falls, there is nothing to hinder its becoming mines. But can it be said, that there is any liberty, as it respects making the choice? I know some will answer in the af. firmative, and say, I have liberty to chuse which soever I will : that is, I may chuse the one I chuse, or the one I have willed to chuse; or, which is the same thing, the one which I have chosen to chuse. And what great idea of liberty is there contained in all this ? Let the charm of words be dispelled, and all will be dissipated. But are not men free in all their actions, relative to religion, whether to embrace or reject it? I answer that they "t voluntarily, or what they do is an exer
et of the will, and if any liberty, not nem
cessarily implied in this, is contended for ; concerning that I can give no answer, for it must be something, of which I can form no idea. But is it coming to this, that men in the exercises of their hearts, in loving and fearing God, or in chusing the ways of sin and lusting after their multiplied abomina. tions, are not free agents ? May we not then safely obliterate from our minds every idea of a future retribution, of a heaven or hell, in the world to come ? I reply, that if the influence of bible truths, concerning an aw: ful hereafter, rests wholly upon a single unmeaning, or, to say the least, indeterminate word, and all is to fall to the ground, as soon as that is given up, it is quite immaterial when this takes place. It is enough that men are moral agents, that they have understandings to discern moral truth, and wills to acquiese in, or reject it. thing more they have no occasion to fit them for a place under the government of God, as subjects of commands and threatenings, of rewards and punishments. If we have a discovery of our relation to God, and of the services we owe him, and immediately upon this, find our wills strongly inclining towards: our duty, and do actually chuse the part, to which truth invites us; will it be rash, or premature, to judge favourably of ourselves, before we have inquired, whether it was a. constrained or free choice? Or, on the other hand, can we never be conscious of guilt, on account of willing an act of disobedience