« PoprzedniaDalej »
with whatever is most interesting to us, collectively or individually, as social beings. Not even the highest attainments of physical science tend equally to elevate and dignify our nature, or can place us equally high in the scale of being to which we naturally belong.
It is not, then, to such men as Plato, Aristotle, or Cicero, in former ages, or to such as Cudworth, Cumberland, or Clarke, in later times, that the censure is to be applied of adulterating moral truth by any perversion of principle, or of culpably neglecting higher and better sources of knowledge. The virtuous heathen could not slight that treasure which he had never possessed, nor shut his eyes to that light which had never shone upon his path.
his path. Neither does the Christian moralist disparage the faith he has received, by shewing its conformity with that which genuine and unsophisticated reason might demonstrate to be the duty of man towards God, his neighbour, and himself. The labours, whether of these earlier or later
sages, ought rather to be regarded as tending to dispose mankind to receive with greater readiness, and a more cheerful submission, that pure and perfect knowledge of the truth which the Gospel supplies, and which rests upon wisdom and authority infinitely surpassing any to which the utmost extent of human ability can pretend.
But the utility of these speculations has its limits. Now that “the day-spring from “ on high hath visited us,” we are no longer dependent on the success of such inquiries, for light and information to “guide our feet “ into the way of peace.” The chief danger now to be apprehended is that of presumptuously “ leaning to our own understandings", and substituting some fallible imaginations of our own for that truth which cannot err. This danger can only be averted by a steadfast adherence to the revealed will of God, as paramount to every other authority.
It is not to be denied, that the fundamental principles of moral duty are deducible from a correct view of the fitness of things, of general expediency, of the known relations which subsist between man and his Maker, and between man and man: nor is it to be questioned, that there prevails generally among mankind a moral sense, or consciousness of obligation to regulate the conduct by that which they recognise to be right and good. But in the application of these principles, and even in the establishment of the principles themselves, there is a liability, at least, to error; and there is a defect, an insuperable defect, of adequate sanction and authority to enforce them. Here it is that revelation comes in as supreme in judgment. Human fallibility is corrected by infallible wisdom. Human authority is controlled by divine. The standard of morals is thus elevated to a higher pitch. Virtues become duties; vices become sins. Obligation springs from the purest of all sources, obedience to the Divine will; and is sanctioned by the most influential of all motives, the assurance of eternal rewards and pnuishments.
f Prov. iji. 5.
This is briefly the state of the question between ethics abstractedly considered, and ethics considered as associated with the faith and promises of the Gospel. It is not that they are essentially, or in any respect necessarily, at variance with each other; but that the weight of security, of certainty, of authority in the one case, infinitely preponderates over that in the other. They may, and doubtless they will coincide together and harmonize, if each be rightly understood. But where this coincidence and harmony may seem doubtful or defective, it is evident which ought to yield. If the inquirer cannot gainsay the Divine character of the one, it will be in vain to oppose to it the most specious reasonings of the other. He will rather mistrust his own judgment, and that of the most discerning of mankind, than call in question the declarations of holy writ.
It is when these obvious rules of judgment are disregarded, that the danger is incurred of “calling evil good, and good evil ;" of
putting darkness for light, and light for “ darkness ;" “ bitter for sweet, and sweet. “ for bitter.” And if any doubt could remain of the probable result, we have but too abundant confirmation of it before our eyes. For to what other source can we trace the pestilential doctrines incessantly obtruded upon us, by men “wise in their own con
ceits,” and discarding all other wisdom than their own ? The attempts of scoffers in the present day to bereave us of our hope and confidence in the Gospel, cannot but excite our pity and indignation ;—our pity for those who are victims of the delusion, our indignation towards the authors and abettors of the evil. But it
But it may tend to open the eyes of those who have hitherto been indisposed to see the full extent of the mischief, that already its influence upon a large portion of the community is felt, in an increased propensity to turbulence and discontent, and in a perceptible diminution of that abhorrence of moral turpitude which serves as an almost instinctive safeguard against many atrocious offences. It needs no laboured arguments to prove, that when a quickness of perception with regard to moral evil, and the sense of shame attending it, are lost or blunted, the case is beyond the reach of ordinary methods of correction. This, however, follows as the natural and almost necessary consequence of loosening the hold which religion has upon the mind, and without which, the sense of honour or of shame, notions of moral fitness or expediency, theories of vice and virtue in the abstract, are feeble, very feeble securities for public or private conduct.
Within the last thirty years, what a lesson has been read to us on this subject ! How much anarchy and bloodshed have been the fruits of miscalled philosophy and reason usurping the throne of the Most High ! What destruction and havoc have been their attendants! How many new codes have been palmed upon mankind as the perfection of human wisdom, substituting insubordination and insurrection for obedience and social order; incredulity and scepticism, for faith and hope; unrestrained indulgence of liberty and appetite, for conjugal fidelity and pa