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ment is completed when we find, as we do find, from the study of heathen moralists, that this defect in their religious systems did not arise from their incapacity to be 'a law unto themselves,'from iguorance of the character of virtue, or of its tendency to increase human happiness in this life; though the system of moral truth which they had the skill to form was so much neglected and so much set at nought by their religion.
“Let him, then, not neglect the study of ethical writers, and especially profane writers, who wishes both to derive the greatest benefit from the Gospel-revelation, and to obtain and impart the most satisfactory conviction of its divine origin. The doctrine that human nature is corrupt, and needs to be renewed and purified (i. e., that Man is prone to transgress the dictates of his own better judgment),—a doctrine which some Christians, as well as infidels, seem to regard as one of the burdens which Christianity has to support, will, on the contrary, appear (mysterious as it is) one of the bulwarks of evidence which sustain it, when we contemplate the strong and independent testimony borne to it by a comparison of the heathen moralists with the heathen historians. When we find them acknowledging. that in itself to be right and good, which they also acknowledge Man is of himself too weak to practise, and which the Bible proclaims as well pleasing to God; we see Man himself bearing witness to the purity of the divine laws, to the corruption of his own nature, and to the need he has of a Redeemer and Sanctifier: and when we consider the discrepancy of philosophical principles of morality with the absurdities and wickedness of the Pagan religions, and the agreement of those same principles with the precepts of the Gospel (that Gospel which was preached by unlearned fishermen), we have the heathens themselves testifying, as it were, that their religions do not proceed from the God of Nature, and that ours does.'
In truth, Paley's distinction between an act of duty and an act of prudence, is one which is not recognised in the expressions or the notions of any class of men in any country; and amounts (as far as regards the present question) to no distinction at all. Whatever is done wholly and solely from motives of personal expediency,—from calculations of individual loss or gain-is always accounted a matter of prudence, and not of
virtue. If you could suppose a man who had no disapprobation whatever of cruelty, injustice, and ingratitude, as things bad in themselves, and who would feel no scruple against committing theft or murder, if he could do so with impunity, but . who abstained from such acts purely from fear of suffering for it, whether in this life or the next, just as he would abstain from placing his money in an insecure bank; and if he relieved the distressed, and did services to his neighbours, without any kindly feeling, or any sense of duty, but entirely with a view to his own advantage, hoping to obtain,-suppose,—votes at an election, or some benefit in another world,-just as a grazier feeds his cattle well, that he may make the better profit of them,
-we should not, if we thought thus of him, call him a virtuous man, but merely prudent.
Revelation was not bestowed on Mankind to impart to them the first notions of moral good and evil, but to supply sufficient motives for right practice, and sufficient strength to act on those motives. And accordingly you find in the New Testament, that those to whom the Gospel was preached are not addressed as persons having no notion of any difference between right and wrong; but are exhorted to add to their faith, virtue, brotherly love, charity,' and to follow after 'whatsoever things are pure, and lovely, and honest, and of good report.'
And this indeed is distinctly and fully admitted by Paley himself; who says, in the opening of his Treatise, that 'the Scriptures pre-suppose 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. It is strange he did not perceive that this admission overthrows his theory of the nonexistence of a natural conscience. For, the far greater part of those whom the New Testament Scriptures address had been brought up in Paganism ; a religious system as immoral as it was absurd. They could not therefore have originally derived their principles of natural justice from calculations founded on a knowledge of the divine will; but must have had (as Paul assures us) “the law written in their hearts; their conscience also bearing witness.'
But the great heathen Moralist, Aristotle, after having given a full and glowing description of what virtue is, and on
the whole, not an incorrect one, laments (in the conclusion of his treatise) that so few can be induced in practice to model their life on the principles he has laid down. He is like the fabled Prometheus, who was said to have succeeded in fashioning a well-constructed human body, but found it a cold and lifeless corpse, till he had ascended up to heaven, to bring down celestial fire to animate the frame. And thus it is that the writings of this, and of other Heathen Moral Philosophers furnish a strong confirmation of the divine origin of our religion ; since it is morally impossible, humanly speaking, that ignorant Galilæan peasants and fishermen could have written in a moral tone partly coinciding with, and partly surpassing, that of the most learned Philosophers of Greece.
THE WILL OF GOD. As the will of God is our rule; to inquire what is our duty, A or what we are obliged to do, in any instance, is, in effect, to inquire what is the will of God in that instance ? which consequently becomes the whole business of morality.
Now there are two methods of coming at the will of God on any point:
I. By his express declarations, when they are to be had, and which must be sought for in Scripture.
II. By what we can discover of his designs and disposition from his works; or, as we usually call it, the light of nature.
And here we may observe the absurdity of separating natural and revealed religion from each other. The object of both is the same,—to discover the will of God,—and, provided we do but discover it, it matters nothing by what means.
An ambassador, judging by what he knows of his sovereign's disposition, and arguing from what he has observed of his conduct, or is acquainted with of his designs, may take his measures in many cases with safety, and presume with great probability how his master would have him act on most occasions that arise : but if he have his commission and instructions in his pocket, it would be strange not to look into them. He will be directed by both rules : when his instructions are clear and positive, there is an end to all further deliberation (unless indeed he suspect their authenticity); where his instructions are silent or dubious, he will endeavour to supply or explain them, by what he has been able to collect from other quarters, of his master's general inclination or intentions.
Mr. Hume, in his fourth Appendix to his Principles of Morals, has been pleased to complain of the modern scheme of uniting Ethics with the christian Theology. They who find themselves disposed to join in this complaint, will do well to observe what Mr. Hume himself has been able to make of morality without this union. And for that purpose, let them read the second part of the ninth section of the above essay; which part contains the practical application of the whole treatise,-a treatise which Mr. Hume declares to be incomparably the best he ever wrote.' When they have read it over, let them consider, whether any motives there proposed are likely to be found sufficient to withhold men from the gratification of lust, revenge, envy, ambition, avarice; or to prevent the existence of these passions. Unless they rise up from this celebrated essay with stronger impressions upon their minds than it ever left upon mine, they will acknowledge the necessity of additional sanctions. But the necessity of these sanctions is not now the question. If they be in fact established, if the rewards and punishments held forth in the Gospel will actually come to pass, they must be considered. Such as reject the christian Religion, are to make the best shift they can to build up a system, and lay the foundation of morality, without it. But it appears to me a great inconsistency in those who receive Christianity, and expect something to come out of it, to endeavour to keep all such expectations out of sight in their reasonings concerning human duty.
The method of coming at the will of God concerning any action, by the light of nature, is to inquire into the tendency of the action to promote or diminish the general happiness.' This rule proceeds upon the presumption, that God Almighty wills and wishes the happiness of his creatures; and, consequently, that those actions, which promote that will and wish, must be agreeable to him; and the contrary.
As this presumption is the foundation of our whole system, it becomes necessary to explain the reasons upon which it rests.
*The will of God is our rule.' There is a distinction noticed and dwelt on by most writers on Morality, between what are called Moral (natural] precepts, and Positive precepts. And, as Butler has remarked, such passages as 'I will have mercy and not sacrifice : The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness,' &c. :
Ye tithe mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law,' are manifest recognitions of this distinction, and of the superiority of moral to positive laws. This distinction Paley does not notice; it being excluded by the very character of his theory, which teaches that Man has no Moral-faculty by which to judge anything to be intrinsically good or evil.
The distinction however, being a real and an important one, I have noticed it in the Lessons on Morals [less. 2. $$ 1, 2].
'In order to have a clear view of this subject, you must be careful to observe the distinction (which some persons are apt to overlook) between what are called moral precepts [or'natural precepts] and positive precepts. We are bound to comply with both; but 'moral precepts' are what relate to things right and wrong in themselves, independently of any command; and
positive precepts' are what relate to things originally indifferent, but which are made right or wrong by the command of a Superior who has a just claim to obedience.
"Thus, when children are forbidden to tell lies, or to quarrel, these are things forbidden because they are wrong in themselves. And when they are told to improve their minds by learning what is useful, and to be kind and helpful to each other, and the like, these things are commanded because they are right in themselves. But when they are forbidden to go beyond the bounds