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Having shown in the last Chapter that, as the appearances of Final Causes prove an Intelligent Maker of the World, so tile particular instances of Final Causes, there mentioned, prove an Intelligent Governor of it. In this Chapter, it is shown that He is a MORAL Governor. Omitting to consider that the natural notion we have of God is as a Moral Governor, and that, from the Nature He has given us, we may conclude that Vice will finally be punished, and Virtue rewarded—and not dwelling on the proof that, even in this Life, Virtue has its own reward, and Vice its punishment, it is shown that the Government by Rewards and Punishments is to be moral.

I. Because no other seems so suited to our minds.

II. Our Prudence is here rewarded, and Imprudence punished

III. Vicious Actions, as injurious to Society, are, in a great degree, punished.

IV. Virtue, as such, is actually rewarded, and Vice punished; 1st, by their effect on the Mind; 2d, by the opinion of the World in general.

V. The natural tendency of Virtue and Vice, if not so much obstructed, is to produce good and bad effects in a greater degree than they do; and it is probable that these Obstructions will be removed in a Future State.

I. HAVING seen that we are under a government of rewards and punishments in this life, we shall next inquire whether this government be moral, and, if so, to what extent? For moral government consists, 49 not barely in rewarding and punishing men for their actions, which the most tyrannical person may do, but in rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked—in rendering to men according to their actions, considered as good or evil. And the perfection of moral government consists in doing this, with regard to all intelligent creatures, in an exact proportion to their personal merits or demerits. Let us, then, examine whether there be in the constitution and conduct of the world any intimations of a moral government—clear to those who will carefully examine it1616The objections against religion, from the evidence of it not being universal, nor so strong as might possibly have been, may be urged against natural religion as well as against revealed. And, therefore, the consideration of them belongs to the first part of this treatise as well as the second; but, as these objections are chiefly urged against revealed religion, I chose to consider them in the second part. And the answer to them there (Chap VI.), as urged against Christianity, being almost equally applicable to them as urged against the religion of nature; to avoid repetition, the reader is referred to that chapter.—Butler.—and consequently of a Moral Governor. That simple absolute benevolence is the only character and principle of action of the Author of nature—which makes him disregard the actions of his creatures farther than they might produce higher degrees of happiness—requires to be proved before it is asserted. But the possibility of its being proved or disproved is foreign to our purpose, which is to inquire whether in our world a 50 righteous government be not discernible, which implies necessarily a righteous Governor. It may at once be granted, that, if there be a moral government here, it is not perfect; the question is, therefore, reduced to this, can there be discerned any principles of a moral government, further than the moral nature which God has given us, and our natural notion of Him as a Moral Governor?

It might be urged that, in general, less uneasiness and more satisfaction are the natural consequences of a virtuous than of a vicious course of life; but it is difficult so to weigh pleasures and uneasinesses as exactly to estimate the overplus of happiness on the side of virtue; this is more difficult in the case of those who have led a vicious life for some time. They have, upon their reformation, their former passions craving for their accustomed gratification; their former vices will be more frequently thrown in their way, by the conversation of men, or otherwise, after their amendment, when, from having acquired a deeper sense of shame, the infamy will be more felt; for, though this properly belongs to their former vices, yet it will, in part, be attributed to their change of life. We, therefore, rather dwell on the following considerations: Since it has appeared that we are under the government of God, by the methods of rewards and punishments, according to some settled rule of distribution, what rule for finally rewarding and 51 punishing appears more natural to us than that of distributing justice?

II. In this world our prudence is rewarded, and our imprudence punished; the one by satisfaction and external advantages, the other by inconveniences and sufferings. These afford instances of a right constitution of nature.

III. Vicious actions are, to a great degree, punished, as mischievous to society, by the actual infliction of the punishment, or by the fear of it. And this is necessary for the very being of society; therefore these punishments are as natural as society itself.

OBJECTION. Actions beneficial to society are often punished, as in the case of persecutions, &c., and actions injurious to it rewarded.

ANSWER. This is not, in the same sense, necessary, and, therefore, not natural, neither are they punished as being beneficial, nor rewarded as being mischievous.

IV. Virtue, as such, is actually rewarded, and vice, as such, punished. In order to see this more clearly, we must distinguish between actions in the abstract, and with morality attached to them. An action by which any natural passion is gratified, or fortune acquired, procures delight or advantages abstracted from all consideration of the morality of such action. Consequently the pleasure or advantage in this case is gained by the action itself—52not by the morality, the virtuousness, or the viciousness of it; though it be, perhaps, virtuous or vicious. 1st. Then it appears, from the effects of virtue and vice on the mind and temper, that un easiness arises from vice—pleasure from virtue This is evident from daily experience. A man says, he is vexed with himself, when the uneasiness does not arise from a sense of mere loss or harm, but from a sense of some action being vicious in a greater or less degree. This feeling, in more serious language, we call remorse. Again, a man laments an accident or event, and, besides that, feels additional grief, when he has to admit that it was his own doing; or else some redeeming satisfaction, if he can not blame himself. Thus also vice, even where there is no reason to fear resentment or shame, causes disturbance from a sense of being blameworthy. And it may be added—where there are some fears, not to be got rid of, of the possibility of retribution in after life. On the contrary, satisfaction and complaisancy are found in the real exercise of virtue, together with the peaceful hopes of a better life. 2d. From the opinion of the world in general—from the encouragement given by good and honest men, and even by most men, to a person considered to be virtuous. Public honors are the consequences of actions considered as virtuous—for example, patriotism, eminent justice; while actions considered as vicious have been punished; 53 e. g., tyranny, from a sense of its own nature, independent of the miseries it brings with it. For men resent injuries under the notion, not merely of having received harm, but for having received wrong, and they feel this resentment in behalf of others as well as of themselves. In returning kind actions, we are influenced, not only by the actions themselves, but by the kind intention and good desert they imply in the doer. In domestic government, children are punished for falsehood, injustice, &c., as such, and rewarded for the contrary. The authors of crimes, punished by civil government, merely as being prejudicial to society, are brought to justice very much from the sense which men have for their actions as immoral. Absence or aggravation of guilt in the moral senses often effects the remission or retention of penalties annexed to civil crimes. These instances may seem trivial, but they borrow importance from the subject to which they are applied. But whence is it that virtue, as such, is often rewarded, and vice, as such, punished, and this rule never inverted It proceeds, in part, from the moral nature which God has given us1717That we have an approving and disapproving faculty of this kind is evident from our own experience—from the words right and wrong, odious and amiable, base and worthy, with many others of like signification in all languages applied to actions and characters—from the many written systems of morals which suppose it—from our natural sense of gratitude, which implies a distinction between merely being the instrument of good and intending it, &c., &c.—Vide Bishop Butler on the Nature of Virtue. (and is an additional proof to 54 that furnished by the possession of such a nature; for this last is a proof that he will finally favor and support virtue effectually; while the former is an example of his favoring and supporting it at present, at least in some degree), and it proceeds, in part, from his having given us, together with this nature, so great a power over each other’s happiness and misery. For, from the first, we are so made, that well-doing, as such, gives us satisfaction, at least, in some instances—ill-doing, as such, in none. And, from both conjoined, vice must be, in some degree, infamous, and men disposed to punish it, as detestable. There is nothing on the side of vice to answer this, because there is nothing in the human mind contradictory, as the logicians say, to virtue. Any instances of such a thing, if they be not imaginary, are, at least, unnatural perversions. There are, it is admitted, cases where persons are prosperous, though wicked—afflicted, though righteous—and even rewarded for wicked actions, and punished for virtuous ones. But this arises not from the reversion of the natural tendencies of virtue and vice, which is impossible, but it may arise from there being other wise rules for the distribution of happiness, besides that of personal merit or demerit., as, for example, the way of 55 mere discipline. We see enough to know on which side the Author of nature is; and, in the degree that we co-operate with Him, we naturally feel a secret satisfaction and sense of security, and an implicit hope of somewhat farther; and this hope is confirmed by—

V. The natural tendency in virtue and vice to produce the good and bad effects now mentioned, in a greater degree than they do, in fact, produce them. For instance, good and bad men would be much more rewarded and punished, as such, were it not that justice is often artificially eluded. With regard to individuals, these tendencies are obvious. But it may require more particularly to be considered, that power in a society, by being under the direction of virtue, naturally increases, and has a natural tendency to prevail over opposite power not under the direction of it; in like manner as power, by being under the direction of reason, increases, and has a tendency to prevail over brute force. The superiority which reason gives to power is considered to be, not the accidental, but the natural tendency of reason; and yet it could not prevail over altogether disproportionate force. It is possible that brute force, either by excess of numbers, by union, by want of sufficient length of time, or of some other opportunities in the rational creatures, should gain the superiority over them. No one would, notwithstanding, hesitate to consider this as 56 an inverted order of things; i. e., that the natural tendency of reason is—to be superior. Now, virtue in a society has a like tendency to procure superiority and additional power, considered either as the means of security from opposite power, or of obtaining other advantages. It has this tendency, among other ways, by rendering public good an object and end to every member of society, and by uniting society by the chief bonds of union—veracity and justice. But yet there must be some proportion between the natural power or force which is under the direction of virtue, and that which is not: there must be sufficient length of time; for the complete success of virtue, as of reason, can not, from the nature of the thing, be otherwise than gradual. There must be a fair field of trial, a stage large and extensive, proper opportunities for the virtuous to join together, to exert themselves against lawless force, and to reap the fruit of their united labors. Since much less power, under the direction of virtue, would prevail against power not under the direction of it, good men, if united, would prevail even here, to a considerable degree, over the bad. But there are various obstacles to their being united; for example, they can not be sufficiently assured of each other’s characters. These obstacles may be removed in a future state (which implies a more perfect one, like the state of mature ago compared with that of childhood), where men may 57 unite among themselves and with other orders of virtuous creatures. Virtue is here militant. Among other things, the shortness of life denies to it its full scope in several other respects. In a future state it may prevail, and enjoy its consequent rewards. There may be scenes there lasting enough, and, in every other way adapted to afford it a sufficient sphere of action; and it may be added, if this tendency were carried into effect, it would serve as an example to those orders of creatures capable of being recovered to a just sense of virtue. These are merely suppositions, which are not to be considered true, because not incredible; but they are mentioned to show that there can be no objections against the natural tendency of virtue, from the obstacles that prevent it in this world, as we can easily conceive how these obstacles can be removed; and the presumption that they will be removed, as they are only accidental, is proportionate in degree to the length of time through which the natural tendency will continue. The happy tendency of virtue might be seen by imagining an instance even in this world, by supposing a kingdom, or society of men, perfectly virtuous for a succession of many years—every individual contributing to its preservation by contentedly employing his capacity in its proper sphere; injustice, whether by fraud or force, would be unknown among themselves, and their wisdom, inviolable 58 union, &c., would fully secure them against their neighbors, devoid of such virtuous qualities, allowing both a sufficient time to try their force. The head of this society, by the tendency and example of virtue, would, in time, become a universal monarch in another sense than any mortal has yet been, and all people, nations, and languages would serve him, And thus the wonderful power and prosperity promised, in Scripture, to the Jews, would be, in a great measure, the consequence of what is also predicted of them—“that the people should be all righteous and inherit the land forever;” i. e., taking the term “forever” to mean length of time sufficient to acquire this power. Suppose the obstacles against the fulfillment of this prediction to be removed, and the dominion and pre-eminence promised must naturally follow to a very considerable degree. All this might appear of little importance, if we did not consider what would be the consequence if vice had naturally these advantageous tendencies, or virtue the direct contrary ones.

OBJECTION. But prove that the obstacles will be removed in a future state.

ANSWER. Even if they were not removed in a future state, if there was to be a continuation of the apparent confusion of rewards and punishments that exists in this, it could not be said that vice, upon the whole, would have the advantage rather than virtue. But that the future state is to be one 59 perfectly moral, can be proved by the usual arguments, of which the things here alleged afford a strong confirmation; for, 1st, they show that the Author of nature is not indifferent to virtue and vice, so that even the course of nature, as here explained, furnishes us with a real practical proof of the obligations of religion. 2d. The distributive justice, which Scripture declares is to take place in a future state, will not be different in kind, but only in degree, from what we experience here: it will be that in effect to which we now see a tendency. 3d. Our experience that virtue and vice are actually rewarded and punished at present in a certain degree, gives us just ground to hope and to fear that they may be rewarded and punished in a higher hereafter; and 4thly, there is sufficient ground to think that they will, from the natural tendencies of virtue and vice—obstructed, indeed, in this life by obstacles, which being, in numberless cases, only accidental, are more likely to be removed in a future state than the natural and necessary tendencies.

From these things joined with the moral nature which God has given us, considered as given us by Him, arises a practical proof (vide chap. 6., ad fin.) that it will be completed—a proof from fact, and, therefore, a distinct one from that which is deduced from the eternal and unalterable relations, the fitness and unfitness of actions.1818Vide the Note, Part II., Chap. VIII., 2.



1. Explain the meaning of the term, “Moral Government,” and show in what it consists.

2. In commencing the inquiry “whether in our world a righteous government be not discernible,” what considerations, that might fairly be adduced in proof of it, does Butler omit to press as arguments? What reasons does he give for these omissions?

3. State the four general heads, under which the arguments, showing that God’s government is to be moral, are comprehended in this chapter.

4. How does it appear from their effects on the mind and temper, that the uneasiness arises from vice, and pleasure from virtue?

5. Show that from the world in general, virtue, considered as such, is actually rewarded; and vice, considered as such, punished.

6. Whence is it that the above-mentioned rule of judging and acting is never inverted by mankind in general?

7. To the proof of what assertions does Butler apply these two facts; viz., that mankind possess a moral nature, and that they (taken as a whole) judge and act according to it?

8. How may we answer the objection “that some persons are even rewarded for wicked actions, others punished for virtuous ones?”


9. Give a summary of the comparison which Butler institutes between reason and virtue; as to their natural tendency in causing power under their direction to increase in a society.

10. Name some of the obstacles which counteract the natural tendency of virtue to prevail. How and when does Butler suppose they may be removed?

11. For what purpose are the above-mentioned suppositions brought forward?

12. By what supposed case (the possibility of which, however, is intimated in Scripture) may the natural happy tendency of virtue in a society be seen?

13. All the reasonings here alleged, affording confirmation of the usual arguments that the future state is to be perfectly moral, are summed up under four heads. Name them distinctly.

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