« PoprzedniaDalej »
in view of the facts, which are before it. It will follow, therefore, if we adopt wrong opinions, whatever they may be, they will have an effect upon the conscience. If these opinions be important, be fundamental, they will be likely to lead us in a course, which under other circumstances we should regard as wrong in the very highest degree. The belief, that men by nature possess equal rights, is in itself nothing more than a speculative opinion; but this opinion, simple and harmless as it may seem in its enunciation, is at this moment shaking thrones, unbinding the chains of millions, and remodelling the vast fabric of society. The opinion, that the rights of conscience are inalienable, and that no one can regulate by violent means the religion of another, is breaking the wheel of torture, and quenching the fire of persecution, and quickening into life the smothered worship of the world. The speculative opinion, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, appeared in the form of man, and by his death made an atonement for sin, is a truth, simple and ineffective as it may at first sight appear, which has already changed the face of domestic and civil society, and like a little leaven which leaveneth the whole lump, is secretly regenerating the whole mass of human nature.
We infer, therefore, that it is highly important to consider well what truths we adopt. The doctrine, that it is no matter what we believe, if we are only sincere in it, is derogatory to the claims of human reason and full of danger. What persecutor, what tyrant, what robber, what assassin may not put in his claim for a sort of sincerity, and in many cases justly too? It is a sincerity, a conscientiousness, based on all the wisdom, which human intelligence in its best efforts can gather up, and nothing short of this, which stands approved in the sight of human reason and of a just Divinity.
§. 302. Further remarks on the same subject.
The important remark of the Savior to his disciples, "and ye shall know the TRUTH, and the TRUTH shall make you free," seems to have a connection with this subject. It indicates, that the truth, in other words, substantial and wellbalanced knowledge, (whatever other aids and appliances may be requisite in the progress of the religious life,) is nat
urally effective, in a very high degree, in the renovation of the character, and the support of just morals. In that great day, when all hearts are tried, our Conscience itself will frown upon us, as guilty of a great dereliction of duty, if we have not taken every possible means to enlighten it.
The false practices of heathen nations, as we have had occasion to see in a former chapter, are very many of them based on false speculative opinions. The effect of their reception of the truth, as it is revealed in the Christian system, is at once to do away these practices. Touched by the quickening influences of divine knowledge, the benumbed and torpid conscience starts into a newness of life, and exercises once more its long abdicated authority. The whole heathen world, so far as it has come under the influence of the Gospel, is a proof of this remark. It is the Word of God, filled as it is with moral and religious truth, which is destined to be instrumental, under the superintendence of a beneficent Providence, of the rectification of the moral errors of the human race.
§. 303. Of the knowledge of the Supreme Being, and of the study of religious truth generally.
And in connection with what has been said in the preceding section we proceed to remark further, that all morality must necessarily be defective, in a greater or less degree, which proceeds on the principle of excluding RELIGION. It is true, that a man, who is not religious, (in other words, who has not a sincere regard for the character and institutions of the Supreme Being,) may do many things which are right and are morally commendable; but he does not do all that is right; he comes short in the most essential part; and he thus throws doubt and perplexity, a sort of dimness and obscuration, over whatever lustre might otherwise have shown itself in his other acts. In fact, the amount in which such a person fails to do right is so very great as compared with the amount, in which he does not fail to do right, that it is almost a common remark, although not strictly true, that an irreligious person does nothing right. At the same time, although he may do some things right, yet his failure in infinitely the most essential point renders it impossible to speak
of him, with any degree of propriety and truth, as a right, that is to say, as a just or holy person.
We assert, therefore, that moral education must include, as a leading element, some instruction in regard to the existence and character of God and those religious duties, which are involved in the fact of his existence and character. Our conscience, the office of which is to adjust our duties to our ability and the relations we sustain, imperatively requires this. In the eye of an enlightened intellectual perception, God stands forth, distinct from and preeminent above all others, as an object infinitely exalted; and a want of love to his character and of adhesion to his law is, in the view of conscience, a crime so grossly flagrant in itself, as not to be atoned for by any other virtue. And not only this, a proper regard for the character of the Supreme Being has such a multiplicity of bearings and relations, in consequence of the diffusion of his presence and the multiplicity of his acts and requirements, that the crime involved in the want of it seems to spread itself over the infinite number of transactions, which taken together constitute the sum of life. So that the doctrine of the existence of God, received into the intellect, and attended as it should be with perfect love in the heart, is beyond all question the great foundation and support of a truly consistent moral life.
§. 304. Of the application of the principle of habit in morals.
The law of HABIT, the nature of which and some of its applications have been explained in former chapters, has an important bearing here also. The more scrupulous and exact we are in the observance of the practical part of morals, the more easy it will become. Every repetition of morality, in whatever acts it may show itself, will strengthen the moral tendency. So that at last the whole life will run easily and vigorously in the path of rectitude.
The utterance of the truth is morally right; deviation from the truth or utterance of falsehood is morally wrong. And here perhaps we may find an illustration of the effects of the law of Habit, in its connection with morals. It probably has come within the reader's notice, that there are some men, who, in practice as well as in principle, are exceedingly
scrupulous in the utterance of the truth. When they repeat either what has come under their own observation or what they have learnt from the narrations of others, they are strictly and seriously exact in their statement. They are conscientiously anxious not to admit the slightest deviation; and this anxiety extends not only to the statement itself, but to the manner in which it is received and understood by others. They thus form a HABIT of veracity; and those results, which might naturally be supposed to be involved in a case of habit, are witnessed. Such persons have so long and so steadily exhibited this trait of strict veracity, that it seems to be inherent in them, something incorporated in the constitution itself. No temptations, whether sudden or remote, are able to make them swerve from the truth; and their assertion, whenever and wherever made, instead of being met with misgivings and monitory cautions, is readily and fully received by those who hear it.
There is a second class of persons, who would esteem themselves injured in having their veracity suspected, but who have formed habits, which render it necessary, that their testimony should be carefully examined. We allude particularly to the habit, which some have formed of telling extraordinary stories, or anecdotes of whatever kind, which are intended, and are calculated to interest. They consider themselves in a measure pledged to meet the interest, which they know to be excited on the part of those present, and are, therefore, under an extraordinary temptation to enliven and embellish their narration. If any circumstances have escaped their memory, which were essential to the unity of the story, their own invention is taxed to furnish them, since it is too late to search for, and of too much consequence to omit them. In this way they become in time not a little insensible to the false coloring, which they give to their statements, and convey erroneous impressions, without being conscious of an intention to deceive.
The former habit,that of great and conscientious strictness in what we say, is not only favorable to truth,but is favorable to character; it raises a man in our estimation, and gives him a weight, which he might not otherwise possess. The latter contributes, in a greater or less degree, to falsehood;
and by inevitably throwing some perplexity and doubt over his integrity, essentially lowers the subject of it in the general confidence.
§. 305. Further views on the influence of moral habits.
The effects of HABIT, in its connection with moral character, may be seen frequently in the outward deportment; in simplicity and modesty, in a benevolent civility in the common intercourse of life, in strict propriety of demeanor and expression, and in many other things, which taken by themselves seem to be of small consequence, but which in their collective influence have unquestionably an important bearing on morals.
The effects of HABIT, both for good and evil, are constantly seen in the various exercises of the appetites and passions. Whatever is good and commendable in that part of our nature may be strengthened by repetition and encouragement; and on the other hand whatever is evil may be weakened and gradually done away by an opposite system of repression. It is very desirable in a moral point of view to keep the angry or resentful passions entirely under control, which it is difficult to do without the aid of the law of habit. These passions, like all the other natural and implanted passions, reveal themselves outwardly by certain natural signs, such as a kindling eye, a flushed countenance, violent gesticulation, and a hurried and raised tone of voice. And it is an interesting fact, that the suppression of the outward signs, which in general is a thing entirely within our power, operates powerfully to suppress the internal passion. While, on the other hand, the outward manifestation, whenever it exists, the fierce look, the angry tone, the violent action, generally imparts a renovated impulse to it. Accordingly a habit of repressing the outward signs of Resentment will be found to give great power in properly regulating a state of mind, which, whatever may be its character under other circumstances, cannot be otherwise than wrong, and deeply wrong, in its excess.
It would certainly not be difficult to point out other applications of the principle of habit, where it may obviously be made auxiliary to moral improvement. Our moral principles, however correct they may be, will be of but little value to