Page images
PDF
EPUB

but is this the reason ? Can there be no other reason ? Am I not shut up of necessity to this conclusion ? If so, then why not sin on and perish? There is small motive to repentance in the reflection, that my ceasing to sin will necessarily subtract from the happiness of the universe, and from the blessedness and glory of the Creator. In accomplishing such a result, I cannot, at least, expect the assistance of the Spirit of God in leading me to repentance." Now we certainly have no desire to confuse the minds of our readers on this subject. We have stated a case or two, just to sbow, that it may be necessary, on points of the very highest practical importance to mankind, to resort to some speculation and inquiry, in order to satisfy the mind in trouble, and show men how they are to act; to examine with freedom existing theories, and, if there be cause, to reject them. Were we able to form no definite theory in the place of those rejected, would it be of course true, that our speculations had done no good? In the latter of the two examples above given, might we not say, that there may be reasons unknown to us, for the acknowledged fact, that God has adopted a system embracing sin and misery as a part of it, without affirming, that the sin and misery are better in their place than perfect holiness and happiness would be, and that this was the reason why they were introduced. We would not, therefore, discard all speculating, nor all theorizing, as hurtful even in theology. We think that they are sometimes useful; that the cause of truth and piety is advanced by them. Only let men speculate in the fear of God, and with a simple, honest desire to know the truth, and on matters not too bigh for them, and we cannot then forbode evil as the result. The past history of the church leads us to hail such investigations, conducted in such a spirit, as the forerunners of good to mankind. Above all, let prayer be offered to God unceasingly, that in the search after truth, which in many repects is now so extensively going on in the world, he would not withhold the guidance and guardianship of his Spirit; that he would make men love one another, and love the truth; and would bring all their speculations and inquiries to harmonize in this one grand object, the discovery of what is right, and the detection of what is wrong, without regard to private and party considerations, that the right may be embraced, and the wrong shunned, on which side soever they may

be found to lie.

ART. IV.-MORAL SCIENCE. Essays on the Principles of Morality, and on the Private and Political Rights and Obligations of Mankind. By JONATHAN DYMOND, Author of "An Inquiry into the Secordancy of War with the Principles of Christianity," etc. With Preface, by the Rev. GEORGE BUSH, A. M., Adjunct Professor of Hebrew, and Oriental Literature, in the New York City University; author of the Life of Mohamıned,” “ Treatise on the Millennium," etc. New-York : Harper & Brotliers. 1834. pp. 432.

THERE never was a time, when a work on moral philosophy, which shall develop and enforce the true principles of evangelical ethics over the whole ground of private and relative duty; was more imperiously needed, than at present. The state of common sentiment is now, in a good degree, ripe for such a treatise. The public mind is somewhat in that condition of keen inquisitive ness, and comparative ductility, which requires a safe and authorita tive guide. The moral leaders of the age have gone many lengths beyond Paley; and they, whose business it is to follow, inquiring, and unsettled, are looking out for a conductor in whom they can confide. Much is depending on the direction which shall be given to the roused moral energies of the public, within the present half century. We have reached, if we are not greatly deceived, or at least we are rapidly approaching, one of those turning points in the history of a people, at which the ordinary work of generations is sometimes accomplished in a day. I is, therefore, a matter of infinite importance, at a time like this, that our youth should be thoroughly instructed in the principles of scriptural morality. We do not expect, indeed, the regeneration of the world, nor of any portion of it, from simple moral instructions. But we do believe, that this matter has been shamefully neglected : that the young and the old have been too long content with indefinite notions on all moral subjects; and that the present aspect of the times imperatively demands that moral light, emanating from the bible, but concentrated or diffused, as the case shall require, by means of ethical discussion, shall be thrown into the nursery, and the college-hall, and upon all the walks of subsequent life. It is needed for the preservation of our liberties; it is needed for the consummation of that mighty work of moral reform which has already wrought miracles of human improvement; it is needed by christianity herself, that, having as yet discovered to the world as it were but the “crescent horn" of her beauty, she may at length shine forth in all the fullness of her celestial glory.

With these views, we are gratified to call the attention of our readers to the work before us. Its great distinctive aim is, to place ethical science on the sure foundation of christian principle : and though we cannot agree with the author in all his conclusions, his treatise, as a whole, is worthy of the most respectful consideration of the religious public.

of Mr. Dymond's history, so little has been transmitted to this country, and, in fact, so little is generally known in England, that we bave no means of informing our readers satisfactorily, where, or how, or how long be lived, in what manner he was educated, or under what circumstances he wrote. A letter is annexed to the editor's preface, from a gentleman in Liverpool, from which it appears, as well as from various parts of the volume, that he was a member of the society of Friends. From the same letter it also appears, that he kept a shop as linen-draper, somewhere in the south-west of England, the writer believes in Exeter; that his first literary effort was, “ An Inquiry into the Accordancy of War with the Principles of Christianity;" and that “ he was taken from this mutable state" in the enjoyment of great peace and religious tranquillity, in the year 1828." The work before us is supposed to have been principally written during the incipient stages of his disease, which seems to have been of a pulmonary character. It, nevertheless, discovers great vigor and compass of mind; and rarely, we are persuaded, has a work appeared in this department of science, displaying more independent thought, more calm and luminous reasoning, and a more complete elucidation of the numerous topics properly claiming the attention of a moral writer.

The treatise consists of three elaborate essays : in the first of which are discussed the “ Principles of Morality;" in the second, " Private Rights and Obligations;" and in the third, “ Political Rights and Obligations.” Mr. Dymond introduces his work with the following pertinent remarks :

Of the two causes of our deviations from rectitude, want of know ledge, and want of virtue,—the latter is undoubtedly the more operative. Want of knowledge is, however, sometimes a cause ; nor can this be any subject of wonder, when it is recollected in what manner many of our notions of right and wrong are acquired. From infancy, every one is placed in a sort of moral school, in which those with whom he associates, or of whom he hears, are the teachers. That the learner in such a school will often be taught amiss, is plain : so that we want information respecting our duties. To supply this information, is an object of moral philosophy, and is attempted in the present work.'

The object is certainly important, and the attempt reasonable and worthy of commendation. With what success it has been made, the reader will perhaps be better able to judge, after we shall have presented somewhat more at large, the plan of the work, and some of its more prominent features.

At the opening of the first essay, the author is very careful to refer us directly to the will of God as the standard of rectitude.” On this point he is far more explicit than Paley, or any other ethical writer with whom we are acquainted. He endeavors to

show, that the other standards which have been proposed, such as the “Understanding,” by Price; “Sympathy," by Adam Smith; “ The eternal and necessary differences of things," by Dr. Clarke ; and “A conformity or disagreement with truth," by Wollaston; may all be referred back to something higher, viz., the will of God.

On this point, however, there is a little confusion, as the editor has very happily shown. In the second chapter, we have the following language :

• If we examine those sacred volumes in which the written expression of the divine will is contained, we find that they habitually proceed upon the supposition, that the will of God, being erpressed, is for that reason our final law. They do not set about formal proofs, that we ought to sacrifice inferior rules to it; but conclude, as of course,

that if the will of God is made known, human duty is ascertained. They refer to the expression of the will of God. The whole system of moral legislation, as it is exhibited in scripture, is a system founded on authority. We conclude that the cominunicated will of God is the final standard of right and wrong.'

This is no doubt correct, if we understand by standard, nothing more than the decisive rule of human conduct. But, as Mr. Bush justly remarks: “The rule of duty is not the same with the ultimate ground of duty. The grand question is, Does the expressed will of God make the distinction between right and wrong, in regard to moral conduct, or does it simply declare it?” It may be, and it unquestionably and universally is, so far as it extends, the expositor of human duty; but it surely is not philosopbical to say, that it is in itself the constituting cause of moral good and evil. For this, we must look farther back, to what exists in the nature of actions themselves. Actions are, we contend, either right or wrong, independent of all circumstances, and all

and all expressions; just as much as a proposition in geometry is true, independent of the diagram and the demonstration. The obligations of veracity, justice, and benevolence, are just as truly eternal and immutable in their nature, as are the attributes of the Deity, and as little dependent, philosophically, for their binding force, upon any collateral or adventitious circumstances.*

* What, then, is it in the nature of an action which constitutes it right, or morally excellent? The conductors of this work consider the true answer to be given in the following remarks, taken somewhat detached, from Dr.Dwight's sermon on the " Foundation of Virtue," "We are accustomed to hear so much said, and truly said, concerning the excellence, beauty, and glory of virtue, that we are ready to conceive, and speak of it, as being original or ultimate good, independently oftbe happiness which it brings with it. Nay, we are ready to feel dissatisfied with ourselves and others, for calling this position in question; to consider this con

Notwithstanding this palpable confusion of language, perhaps confusion of ideas, we are happy to find the doctrine, that the will of God, and his expressed will, is the final and paramount standard to which human actions are practically to be referred, occupying so conspicuous a place at the opening of an elaborate treatise on morality. As a rule, it is elevated to its proper place, the absokate supremacy, presiding over all questions of duty, so far as it has any discoverable relevancy to them. But, as the “written expression of the divine will” does not contain,--and no writings can contain, — directions for our conduct in every conjuncture of life, there are “ subordinate authorities,” to which it is both necessary and agreeable to the will of God that we should refer. These, such as the law of the land, the law of nature, the promotion of human happiness, or expediency, the law of nations, etc., are considered, and their respective obligations unfolded, in a clear, and, in general, satisfactory manner. But the great excellence of this part of the work, and one of the brightest features of the whole

, is the prominence which is given to the Divine will, as rerealed in the scriptures, as the paramount rule of duty; while every other rule is held in its proper subordination. In this way, our author succeeds in avoiding, for the most part, those inconsistencies into which many christian writers have fallen, in their zeal to apologize for certain established usages, while they maintain the binding authority of the scriptures, which obviously declare against them. Whatever may be thought of the manner in which Mr. Dymond interprets certain scriptural expressions, such as "Resist not evil," _“ Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right

duet as involving a kiod of irreverence towards this glorious object; as dimininhing its importance, and obscuring its luster. This, however, arises from mere naisapprebension. If virtue brought with it no enjoyment to us, and produced ho happiness to otbers; it would be wholly destitute of all the importance, beauty, and glory, with which it is now invested.' • Were sin in its own proper tendency to produce, invariably, the same good, which it is the tendency of viride to produce ; were it the means, invariably, of the same glory to God, and of the same enjoyment to the universe ; no reason is apparent to me, why it would not become excellent, commendable, and rewardable, in the same manner sa virtue now is. Were virtue regularly to effectuate the same dishonor to God, and the same misery to intelligent creatures, now effectuated by sin ; I see no reason why we should not attribute to it all the odiousness, blame-worthiness, and desert of punishment, which we now attribute to sin. All this is, I confess, impossible ; and is rendered so by the nature of these things. Still the supposition may be allowably made for the purposes of discussion.' Virtue in God, or benevolence, is on all bands considered as the glory and excellency of the

divine character. What is benevolence? The love of doing good; or a disposition to produce happiness. In what does its excellence consist? In this; that it is

cause of happiness. Take away this single attribute of virtue; and it will be easily seen, that its excellence is all taken away also. The excel. lence of virtue, therefore, consists wholly in this; that it is the cause of good, that is, of happiness; the ultimate gond; the only thing for which virtae is valua ble. Theology, vol. iii. pp. 448–451.

52

the voluntary

Vol. VI.

« PreviousContinue »