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THE LAW OF THE LAND.
THAT part of mankind, who are beneath the Law of Honour, I often make the Law of the Land their rule of life; that is, they are satisfied with themselves, so long as they do or omit nothing, for the doing or omitting of which the law can punish them.
Whereas every system of human laws, considered as a rule of life, labours under the two following defects :
I. Human laws omit many duties, as not objects of compulsion ; such as piety to God, bounty to the poor, forgiveness of injuries, education of children, gratitude to benefactors.
The law never speaks but to command, nor commands but where it can compel; consequently those duties, which by their nature must be voluntary, are left out of the statute-book, as lying beyond the reach of its operation and authority.
II. Human laws permit, or, which is the same thing, suffer to go unpunished, many crimes, because they are incapable of being defined by any previous description. Of which nature are luxury, prodigality, partiality at voting at those elections in which the qualifications of the candidate ought to determine the success, caprice in the disposition of men's fortunes at their death, disrespect to parents, and a multitude of similar examples.
For, this is the alternative: either the law must define beforehand and with precision the offences which it punishes; or it must be left to the discretion of the magistrate, to determine upon each particular accusation, whether it constitute that offence which the law designed to punish, or not; which is, in effect, leaving to the magistrate to punish or not to punish, at his pleasure, the individual who is brought before him ; which is just so much tyranny. Where, therefore, as in the instances above mentioned, the distinction between right and wrong is of too subtile or of too secret a nature to be ascertained by any preconcerted language, the law of most countries, especially of free States, rather than commit the liberty of the subject to the discretion of the magistrate, leaves men in such cases to themselves. ANNOTATION.
Paley has pointed out very clearly, and justly, the two defects of any system of human laws considered as a 'rule of life;' that is, in reference merely to the external acts, done or omitted. But in warning Men (as he does) against the error of being satisfied with themselves so long as their conduct is not in violation of the Laws, it is needful to add a third consideration; the reference to the inward motive of the agent. For even if it were possible for the laws to enjoin everything that is good, and prohibit everything that is wrong, still, a man who should act rightly merely in obedience to the laws, and for the sake of avoiding legal penalties, would not be at all what any one would account a good man; because he would not be acting from a virtuous motive ; and it is entirely on the motives and disposition of the mind that the moral character of any one's conduct depends. An action, indeed, which is done from a bad or from an inferior motive, may be in itself right, as being what a good man would be disposed to do; as when a man pays his debts for fear of being imprisoned, or having his goods seized; but this does not make him an honest man.
W HOEVER expects to find in the Scriptures a specific
W direction for every moral doubt that arises, looks for more than he will meet with. And to what a magnitude such a detail of particular precepts would have enlarged the sacred volume, may be partly understood from the following consideration :—The laws of this country, including the acts of the legislature, and the decisions of our supreme courts of justice, are not contained in fewer than fifty folio volumes; and yet it is not once in ten attempts that you can find the case you look for, in any law-book whatever: to say nothing of those numerous points of conduct, concerning which the law professes not to prescribe or détermine anything. Had then the same particularity which obtains in human laws so far as they go, been attempted in the Scriptures, throughout the whole extent of morality, it is manifest they would have been by much too bulky to be either read or circulated; or rather, as St. John says, ' even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.' .
Morality is taught in Scripture in this wise.—General rules are laid down, of piety, justice, benevolence, and purity : such as, worshipping God in spirit and in truth ; doing as we would be done by ; loving our neighbour as ourself; forgiving others, as we expect forgiveness from God; that mercy is better than sacrifice; that not that which entereth into a man, (nor, by parity of reason, any ceremonial pollutions,) but that which proceedeth from the heart, defileth him. These rules are occasionally illustrated, either by fictitious examples, as in the parable of the good Samaritan; and of the cruel servant, who refused to his fellow-servant that indulgence and compassion which his master had shown to him : or in instances which actually presented themselves, as in Christ's reproof of his disciples at the Samaritan village ; his praise of the poor widow, who cast in her last mite; his censure of the Pharisees who chose out the chief rooms, and of the tradition, whereby they evaded the command to sustain their indigent parents : or, lastly, in the resolution of questions, which those who were about our Saviour proposed to him ; as his answer to the young man who asked him, 'What lack I yet ?' and to the honest scribe, who had found out, even in that age and country, that 'to love God and his neighbour, was more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifice.
And this is in truth the way in which all practical sciences are taught, as Arithmetic, Grammar, Navigation, and the like.Rules are laid down, and examples are subjoined: not that these examples are the cases, much less all the cases, which will actually occur ; but by way only of explaining the principle of the rule, and as so many specimens of the method of applying it. The chief difference is, that the examples in Scripture are not annexed to the rules with the didactic regularity to which we are now-a-days accustomed, but delivered dispersedly, as particular occasions suggested them; which gave them, however, (especially to those who heard them, and were present on the occasions which produced them,) an energy and persuasion, much beyond what the same or any instances would have appeared with, in their places in a system.
Besides this, the Scriptures commonly presuppose in the persons to whom they speak, a knowledge of the principles of natural justice; and are employed not so much to teach new rules of morality, as to enforce the practice of it by new sanctions, and by a greater certainty ; which last seems to be the proper business of a revelation from God, and what was most wanted.
Thus the 'unjust, covenant-breakers, and extortioners, are condemned in Scripture, supposing it known, or leaving it, where it admits of doubt, to moralists to determine, what injustice, extortion, or breach of covenant, are.
The above considerations are intended to prove that the Scriptures do not supersede the use of the science of which we profess to treat, and at the same time to acquit them of any charge of imperfection or insufficiency on that account.
It is highly important that the Student should attentively notice, and steadily keep in mind, Paley's remark (near the close of this Chapter) that 'the Scriptures presuppose in the persons addressed a knowledge of the principles of natural justice, and are employed not so much to teach new rules of Morality, as to enforce the practice of it,' &c.
This is most true and highly important; but I do not see how it is to be reconciled with the subsequent parts of the Treatise. For supposing Man a Being destitute of all Moralfaculty, and deriving all notions of right and wrong that he can ever possess, entirely from a consideration of the Will of God, and the expectation of reward and punishment in the next World from Him, one does not see how those to whom our Scriptures were addressed—the Gentile-Converts at least —could have had any notion at all of 'Natural Justice.' Not only must they have needed · New Rules of Morality,' but the very idea of any such thing as Morality must have been entirely a Novelty to them. Of the Eternal Supreme Creator they seem to have scarcely had a thought. The gods they worshipped were little better than evil Demons. And as for a future state of retribution, they had little, if any, belief in any such thing. Paul accordingly speaks of the rest,'—i.e. all the unconverted Gentiles? as sorrowing for their departed friends, from 'having no hope. Now, on Paley's theory, these persons could have had no more idea of moral right and wrong than a blind-born man has of light and colours. And yet he speaks of their being addressed as understanding what (on his theory) must have been a totally unknown language.
THE MORAL SENSE.
"THE father of Caius Toranius had been proscribed by the
1 triumvirate. Caius Toranius, coming over to the interests of that party, discovered to the officers, who were in pursuit of his father's life, the place where he concealed himself, and gave them withal a description, by which they might distinguish his person, when they found him. The old man, more anxious for the safety and fortunes of his son, than about the little that might remain of his own life, began immediately to inquire of the officers who seized him, whether his son was well, whether he had done his duty to the satisfaction of his generals.
That son (replied one of the officers), so dear to thy affections, betrayed thee to us; by his information thou art apprehended, and diest. The officer with this, struck a poniard to his heart, and the unhappy parent fell, not so much affected by his fate, as by the means to which he owed it."
Now the question is, whether, if this story were related to the wild boy caught some years ago in the woods of Hanover, or to a savage without experience, and without instruction, cut
i oi Nouttoi, not others,' as in our Version, but all the rest.' : Caius Toranius triumvirûm partes secutus, proscripti patris sui prætorii et ornati viri latebras, ætatem, notasque corporis, quibus agnosci posset, centurionibus edidit, qui eum persecuti sunt. Senex de filii magis vitâ et incrementis, quam de reliquo spiritu suo sollicitus, an incolumis esset, et an imperatoribus satisfaceret, interrogare eos coepit. Equibus unus : ‘Ab illo, inquit, 'quem tantopere diligis, demonstratus nostro ministerio, filii indicio occideris :' protinusque pectus ejus gladio trajecit. Collapsus itaque est infelix, auctore cædis, quam ipsâ cæde, miserior.- Valer. Max. lib. ix. cap. 11.