What is "The Moral Government of God"?
Dean H. Harvey
I believe that the term "Moral government
of God," is equivalent to the Biblical term "Kingdom of God," or
it's equivalent "Kingdom of Heaven." The earliest I have been able to
find the term is in the writings of Hugo Grotius in the 17th century, but it
occurs commonly in Jonathan Edwards in the 18th century. N.W. Taylor defines
moral government as:
"Moral government consists in the declaration and administration of moral law. It is the government of free will by motives as distinguished from the government of substance by force... Moral government presides over and controls, or seeks to control the actions of free will: it presides over intelligent and voluntary states and changes of mind. It is a government of motive, as opposed to a government of forceful control excersised, or sought to be execised, in accordance with the law of liberty, as ooposed to the law of necessity. It is the administration of moral as opposed to physical law."2
In the author's simplified definition, "the moral government of God is the method God uses to get free moral beings created in His image to live according to the way He designed them to live." God is the "moral governor" in His government of the universe of free moral beings. Moral government is the means by which every moral being is governed in most situations. Family government is moral government, with the father and mother in the role of "moral governor." Civil government is moral government, with the role of the "moral governor" being shared by various branches or individuals in that particular government. Unless some means of force or causation is used to force, cause, or coerce conformity to a governor's will, it is a moral government. A prison would have less moral government and more causative government than an human institution I can think of.
So moral government is nothing to be afraid of, and nothing to be ashamed of. It is a perfectly good theological term, even though it is not found in the Bible, but neither are "trinity", nor "rapture." The concept is certainly found in the Bible, as early as Gen. 2:16-17, where God "governed" Adam by giving him a law, with the attendant consequences, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." Adam did not obey God, and therefore suffered the consequences of disobedience.
I am convinced that everyone who believes that man is really free believes in moral government, whether or not he knows it or has ever heard of the term. Every set of parents believes in moral government, since nothing else is possible as they try to raise their children.
The theological system of Calvinism practices
moral government in the everyday life of individual believers, but denies it in
its creeds and theology by saying that everything which happens is the will of
God, and has been decreed by Him from some time in eternity past. Calvinism's
definition of God as "sovereign" requires that nothing happened which
is not controlled by God. This raises all kinds of questions and theological
dilemmas, such as:
So since the concept of moral government touches all aspects of life, living, and theology, the term "Moral Government" has also become a title for a system of theology which begins with the Biblical revelation that God is free, that He created men to be free, and He is "governing" them as truly free beings. This touches every aspect of theology, and would result in quite different answers from Calvinism, and in some differences from Arminianism. It is this system of theology which is sometimes feared, sometimes called heresy, and mostly misunderstood. We will address various aspects of this wonderful subject in future issues.
1Taylor, Nathaniel W., Lectures on the Moral Government of God, Vol. 1, published by Clark, Austin & Smith, 1859, pp. 70
2Finney, Charles G., Lectures on Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eeardman's Publishing Co., 1969, p. 6
Reprinted from Notes & Quotes © 1990 Evangelical Education Ministries. All rights reserved. This article may be freely copied and distributed as long as it is not altered and no charge is attached.