Morality always supposes rational, intelligent and free beings.
In order for any actions to be morally good or evil, they must be capable of being known, and also capable of being chosen or refused.
We perceive in ourselves the powers of thinking, understanding, reasoning, choosing, or refusing. And the Scripture always recognizes these powers within us.
God says to sinful men through his Prophets: "Repent and turn yourselves from all transgressions, so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby you have transgressed, and make in you a new heart, and a new spirit." (Ezek. 18:30-31)
God speaks to Cain, telling him, “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen. 4:7)
The word 'morality' is used in two senses: the one more restrained, the other comprehensive. In the restrained sense are included sobriety, justice, equity, goodness and mercy, or the duties more respecting ourselves, others, and our neighbors. In the more enlarged and comprehensive meaning of the word are included not only these duties, but also the duties owed to God.
This comprehensive sense of these terms are morality, virtue, moral righteousness, include all the necessary duties of a rational being, and is the more proper sense of the terms as they are generally used.
The things said to be morally good are reasonable in themselves, according to the case and circumstances which are beings are in, and the relations we have with others. To mention some instances, it's reasonable that a rational and intelligent being should preserve and use his rational powers and not lose the ability to govern himself by being intemperate or by any passions and affections excited by external things, whether good or evil.
It is also worthy of a rational creature that they should, according to their abilities, praise and adore the Author of their being
, acknowledging the power, wisdom and goodness of which they see proofs and traces in themselves, and in all things around them; and that they should be thankful to Him for all His benefits and fear and reference Him.
Intelligent beings should also bear good will and kind affection to one another, since they all share in the same powers and benefits and are all exposed to the same weaknesses and wants and are dependent upon one another.
Thus, then, virtue, or moral righteousness, is and appears to be in itself fit and reasonable, and has a tendency to promote the happiness of particular beings and of societies.
This reasonableness of things is itself an obligation, and lays an obligation on every rational being by whom it is perceived. For whatever is fit, reasonable and equitable must be right, and the contrary, wrong.
Virtue, morality, or moral righteousness are therefore things of great importance, encompassing everything that is in itself reasonable
: our duty to God and to each other, the duties of every relation, and due regulation of our thoughts and affections, as well as our outward actions.
Even in the more ordinary sense of the expression, it takes in everything that is reasonable, and includes honorable sentiments as well as outward worship and referential expressions about the Deity. It requires also kind affection, as well as good relations with others.
It consists of not only strict justice, but goodness, and mercy, and equity, and even forgiveness of injuries and offenses. For this also is reasonable in a world of creatures that are weak and fallible, who often offend against each other through mistakes or passions.
This law of nature, or reason, teaches repentance to all those who offend, for since virtue is right, whoever has transgressed and has done what's wrong must turn from that course and change it. It's the only way to become good, and become accepted in the sight of the holy, wise and impartial judge of all: God.
The duties of morality, or moral righteousness, are taught also by revelation.
One who has just sentiments of God and a serious regard to moral obligations is in a great measure fit and prepared for revelation
, because we must be disposed to pay a regard to one who speaks in the name of God and teaches a doctrine of real holiness.
Jesus says, "If anyone desires to do his will, he will know about the teaching, whether it is from God, or if I am speaking from myself." (John 7:17) And when one acknowledged that there is one God and that "to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself is more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." Jesus said that he was "not far from the Kingdom of God." (Mark 12:33.)
Though we don't find the words virtue and vice, moral good and evil in Scripture, it often speaks of good and evil as a truly and intrinsically so, by which the characters of men are distinguished, and not by observing any ritual ordinances.
"What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices, says Yahweh... Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me... Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.” (Isaiah 1:11, 13, 17)
Says the Psalmist: "A little that a righteous man has, is better than the riches of the many wicked." (38:16) and "the righteous God loves righteousness, his face sees the upright." (11:7)
Micah writes: “He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”(6:8)
These texts speak of justice, mercy and piety as GOOD; intrinsically good, in a superior degree to all sacrifices and oblations.
The righteous - those who practice virtue and true holiness – are seeking to fulfill the will of God.
The righteous, the virtuous are acting rightly and with sincerity in their state of trial. They have attained some resemblance of the divine nature and some preparedness for the heavenly state, of which others are lacking.
Those who despise, or speak lightly, of morality should consider that morality, its proper meaning, isn't merely honesty in the ways of this world.
Nor is it only outward action. But virtue, or morality, in its comprehensive meaning, takes in the love of God and our neighbor, and everything that is reasonable. Its laws and precepts regulate thoughts, as well as outward actions.
It is true holiness. It is the image of God in man, and it is a worthiness for the rewards and happiness of the next life.
(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Nathaniel Lardner)