« PreviousContinue »
of the play-ground, and are charged to come in at a certain hour, these are what are called 'positive' precepts. To go beyond a certain spot was originally nothing wrong in itself; but became wrong, after the rule had been laid down, because it would be an act of disobedience. And to come in from play at twelve o'clock, or at one, is in itself a matter of indifference, but it is made a matter of duty, as soon as the master or parent has appointed the time.
So also it is a moral duty to obey the laws of the Land when not wrong in themselves; and some of these relate to things originally and naturally right or wrong; others, to things originally indifferent. For instance, to import tea, or wine, or to manufacture candles or malt, is a thing originally indifferent. But when a tax has been laid on these things, then, to evade this tax, is to rob the revenue—that is, to rob the nation.' And, accordingly, to sell, or to buy, smuggled goods, is a thing morally wrong.
The like holds good with private contracts. In these, a person may be bound, as to matters originally indifferent, not by the command of a superior, but by his own act. For it is clearly a moral duty to fulfil one's engagements. Thus, a husband and wife are bound, by the marriage-contract they have made, to their mutual duties, though they were not bound to each other before. Children, on the other hand, are bound by an original and natural obligation, to honour their parents.
Again, when the Israelites were commanded, in the Mosaic law, to be kind to their neighbours, and liberal to the poor, this was commanded because it was in itself right. But when they were commanded to keep the feast of the Passover, and to perform certain appointed ceremonies, and to set aside certain specified days and years as sanctified, this was right because it was commanded.
'So, also, the prohibition of murder and theft were what are called 'moral' [or natural] precepts, as relating to things wrong in themselves; but to eat the flesh of the animals specified as 'unclean,' which is a matter originally indifferent, was wrong—for Israelites—because it was forbidden in their
I Lessons on the British Constitution.
'In such cases, the command of a rightful Superior makes things morally right and wrong which were not so before the express command was given. And when such a command does exist, we are bound in duty to obey it.'
THE DIVINE BENEVOLENCE. W HEN God created the human species, either He wished
V their happiness, or He wished their misery, or He was indifferent and unconcerned about both.
If He had wished our misery, He might have made sure of his purpose, by forming our senses to be so many sores and pains to us, as they are now instruments of gratification and enjoyment; or by placing us amidst objects so ill-suited to our perceptions, as to have continually offended us, instead of ministering to our refreshment and delight. He might have made, for example, everything we tasted, bitter ; everything we saw, loathsome ; everything we touched, a sting ; every smell, a stench ; and every sound, a discord.
If He had been indifferent about our happiness or misery, we must impute to our good fortune (as all design by this supposi. tion is excluded) both the capacity of our senses to receive pleasure, and the supply of external objects fitted to produce it. But either of these (and still more both of them) being too much to be attributed to accident, nothing remains but the first supposition, that God, when He created the human species, wished their happiness; and made for them the provision which He has made, with that view, and for that purpose.
The same argument may be proposed in different terms, thus : Contrivance proves design ; and the predominant tendency of the contrivance indicates the disposition of the designer. The world abounds with contrivances : and all the contrivances which we are acquainted with, are directed to beneficial purposes. Evil, no doubt, exists; but is never, that we can perceive, the object of contrivance. Teeth are contrived to eat, not to ache; their aching now and then, is incidental to the contrivance, perhaps inseparable from it: or even, if you will, let it be called a defect in the contrivance; but it is not the object of it. This is a distinction which well deserves to be attended to. In describing implements of husbandry, you would hardly say of the sickle, that it is made to cut the reaper's fingers, though from the construction of the instrument, and the manner of using it, this mischief often happens. But if you had occasion to describe instruments of torture or execution, this engine, you would say, is to extend the sinews; this to dislocate the joints ; this to break the bones; this to scorch the soles of the feet. Here, pain and misery are the very objects of the contrivance. Now, nothing of this sort is to be found in the works of nature. We never discover a train of contrivance to bring about an evil purpose. No anatomist ever discovered a system of organization calculated to produce pain and disease; or, in explaining the parts of the human body, ever said, this is to irritate; this to inflame; this duct is to convey the gravel to the kidneys; this gland to secrete the humour which forms the gout: if by chance he come at a part of which he knows not the use, the most he can say is, that it is useless : no one ever suspects that it is put there to incommode, to annoy, or to torment. Since then God hath called forth his consummate wisdom to contrive and provide for our happiness, and the world appears to have been constituted with this design at first; so long as this constitution is upholden by Him, we must in reason suppose the same design to continue.
The contemplation of universal nature rather bewilders the mind than affects it. There is always a bright spot in the prospect, upon which the eye rests; a single example, perhaps, by which each man finds himself more convinced than by all others put together. I seem, for my own part, to see the benevolence of the Deity more clearly in the pleasures of very young children, than in anything in the world. The pleasures of grown persons may be reckoned partly of their own procuring ; especially if there has been any industry, or contrivance, or pursuit, to come at them; or if they are founded, like music, painting, &c. upon any qualification of their own acquiring. But the pleasures of a healthy infant are so manifestly provided for it by another, and the benevolence of the provision is so unquestionable, that every child I see at its sport, affords to my mind a kind of sensible evidence of the finger of God, and of the disposition which directs it.
But the example, which strikes each man most strongly, is the true example for him: and hardly two minds hit upon the same; which shows the abundance of such examples about us.
We conclude, therefore, that God wills and wishes the happiness of his creatures. And this conclusion being once established, we are at liberty to go on with the rule built upon it, namely, ' that the method of coming at the will of God, concerning any action by the light of nature, is to inquire into the tendency of that action to promote or diminish the general happiness.'
In what Paley says, both here, and in his Natural Theology, and, universally, in all that relates to the Moral attributes of the Deity, he labours under a disadvantage resulting from his peculiar views on the subject of morality. Not that he is to be complained of for not satisfactorily explaining—what no man can explain—the existence of evil in the universe. But considering what a mixture of good and evil actually does present itself to our view, it would be impossible for Man, if he really were such a Being as Paley represents him to be, to form those notions of the divine benevolence which Paley himself contends for.
Man, according to him, has no moral faculty,—no power of distinguishing right from wrong,—no preference of justice to injustice,or kindness to cruelty,except when one's own personal interest happens to be concerned. And this he attempts to establish by collecting all the instances that are to be found in various ages and countries, of anomalies in men's moral judgments; showing that this kind of crime was approved in one country, and that kind in another : that one vice was tolerated in one age, and another in another. And even so, one might collect specimens of anomalies in the human frame; showing that some persons have been born without arms or without legs; some, deaf-mutes, some blind, and some idiots. Whence it might be inferred, that Man ought not to be described as a rational Being, or one endowed with the faculty of speech, or having eyes, and hands, and feet. A man then, according to his
view, being compelled, by the view of the universe, to admit that God is benevolent, is thence led, from prudential motives alone, to cultivate benevolence in himself, with a view to secure a future reward. The truth, I conceive, is exactly the reverse of this; viz., that Man having in himself a Moral-faculty (or taste, as some prefer to call it) by which he is instinctively led to approve virtue and disapprove vice, is thence disposed and inclined antecedently, to attribute to the Creator of the universe,—the most perfect and infinitely highest of Beings,—all those moral (as well as intellectual) qualities which to himself seem the most worthy of admiration, and intrinsically beautiful and excellent. For, to do evil rather than good, appears to all men (except to those who have been very long hardened and depraved by the extreme of wickedness) to imply something of weakness, imperfection, corruption, and degradation. I say 'disposed and inclined, because our admiration for benevolence, wisdom, &c., would not alone be sufficient to make us attribute these to the Deity, if we saw no marks of them in the creation ; but our finding in the creation many marks of contrivance, and of beneficent contrivance, together with the antecedent bias in our own minds, which inclines us to attribute goodness to the Supreme Being—both these conjointly lead us to the conclusion that God is infinitely benevolent, notwithstanding the admixture of evil in His works, which we cannot account for. But these appearances of evil would stand in the way of such a conclusion, if Man really were, what Dr. Paley represents him, a Being destitute of all moral sentiment, all innate and original admiration of goodness. He would, in that case, be more likely to come to the conclusion (as many of the Heathen seem actually to have done) that the Deity was a Being of a mixed or of a capricious nature; an idea which, shocking as it is to every well-constituted mind, would not be so in the least, to such a mind as Dr. Paley attributes to the whole human · species.
To illustrate this argument a little further; suppose a tasteful architect and a rude savage to be both contemplating a magnificent building, unfinished, or partially fallen to ruin; the one, not being at all able to comprehend the complete design, nor having any taste for its beauties if perfectly exhibited, would not attribute any such design to the author of it, but would