CONSCIENCE AND THE BIBLE.
CONSCIENCE and the Bible have a common meeting-point
behind, as it were, or above, in law; and a common meeting-place in front, in
virtue. As they point upwards or backwards, their lines meet in divine law; as
they tend forwards or downwards, their lines meet in human virtue.
This thought might be presented in a sort of diagram. Look at an elongated diamond-shaped figure. At the extremities of a line drawn across between the two larger angles, let conscience and the Bible stand inscribed; conscience on the left, the Bible on the right. The other two extremities, those of a line joining the smaller angles, may indicate the relative positions, tile one of law, the other of virtue. Beginning at a point marked for law, draw two diverging lines till they reach two other points, opposite to one another, marked for conscience and the Bible respectively ; thereafter let the lines converge till they come together in a fourth point ; that point may be marked as denoting virtue.
Such is a sort of geometrical representation of the positions occupied by law, the Bible, conscience, virtue, relatively to one another. Law is prior to both conscience and the Bible; it is recognised as prior by both of them; both of them look up to it and do it homage. Virtue again is under them; it appeals to them; they judge it. Conscience and the Bible acknowledge law; they approve virtue. And across the line joining law and virtue, conscience and the Bible meet.
What then is law, as acknowledged by conscience and the Bible? What is the virtue which they approve? These are the two questions on the answer to which the solution of a third question, as to the mutual relations of the two authorities, - conscience and the Bible, - may largely depend.
I. What is law, as acknowledged by conscience and the. Bible? It is a moral law; a law of right and wrong. But of what nature?
It is, perhaps, unfortunate that the word law is ambiguous. It has one meaning when it is used as a term of jurisprudence, and another meaning altogether when it is applied to the phenomena of natural science. What is called the law of the land, for instance, is felt by all men to be a thing quite distinct, generically, from the physical laws, or the laws of instinct. These last are generalization.s of facts observed; the other is a rule authoritatively promulgated and judicially enforced. The result of a fair induction of particular instances is embodied and expressed in a general formula, to which we give the name, of law. It is a natural law, or a law of nature, thus ascertained, that bodies gravitate towards one another, and that the force of gravitation is inversely as the squaxe of the distance. To most minds this language conveys a very different idea from what they receive, when they are told that the laws under which they live as citizens forbid and punish crime.
That the divine law is essentially the same in principle with human law, both conscience and the Bible clearly teach. The obligation to obey the law of God, commends itself to conscience as identically of the same kind with the obligation to obey the law of the land. And in the Bible, the magistrate is represented as wielding an authority of the same kind with the authority of Deity. The rulers of the people are called gods. The mere mention of this distinction must be enough. But as it touches a point of supreme importance, and as a view adverse to that now stated is widely prevalent in influential quarters, it is necessary to go into the subject more fully.
The order established in creation is one of the surest evidences of a creative mind. The more thoroughly it is observed, tested, ascertained and developed, by the inquiries of science, the more conclusively is it seen and felt to be so. Ranging over the myriads of ages of which our globe retains the traces; subjecting the multitudinous stars of heaven to her far-seeing telescope, and the all but prophetic calculations of her exact mathematics; embracing all the living tribes that have ever peopled the earth; mastering all the relations of social life, and all the conditions of social prosperity ; - science seeks to reduce the whole complex mechanism and manifold movements of the universe to a sort of uniformity, if not to unity. And the more successful she is in this, the more thoroughly does she establish the reign of one infinite and omnipotent Intelligence, planning all, and presiding over all.
Now, law is the index, the assertor, the vindicator of order. If there is to be order, there must be law. And it must be law with its appropriate penalty. The more simple and universal the law - the more self-acting and self-enforcing - the more perfect the order. Hence the tendency, in the various departments of physical knowledge, to resolve particular inductions into more comprehensive general maxims - to trace a similarity of proportion throughout them all - to find the principles of sound, of colour, of form, of weight and motion, identical; so that music, painting, architecture, and the kindred art are said to be based on similar ratios or relations of number; and such powers as those of light, heat, electricity, galvanism, gravitation, converge towards some one radical element in the constitution of matter, that is to cover the phenomena of them all. Even apart from these higher speculations, the sense of law, as the security of order, which is originally strong in the human mind, gains additional strength through the investigation of nature. All things proceed according to law; and law implies intelligence and design.
It seems but another step in the same direction, to reduce the moral world also under the same rigid uniformity of rule and order with the physical. There, too, the empire of law reigns. There are laws according to which our intellectual, our active, our social, and our moral faculties are respectively regulated in their exercise. There are laws of association governing the intellect; laws of motive and habit guiding the active powers; laws of taste and feeling controlling the social propensities; and laws of truth, righteousness, and love, determining the moral judgments. Thus man, as to his whole nature, is the subject of law. He thinks and acts, he likes or dislikes, he approves or condemns, according to law - according to laws proper to the different departments of his complex constitution. The violation of any of these laws is his misfortune, or fault, - and his misery. It is so, whichever of them it may be that is violated. The disorder, the evil, may be greater, when it is the law of a higher department of his nature, than when it is the law of a lower one. Redress and reparation may be more difficult. But it is an injury of the same kind that is done in both cases; it is a law of the same kind that is broken.
The apparent symmetry of a system like this has an attraction for minds of a certain order. But how does it stand the test of an appeal to consciousness? Try it in a single instance.
I dash my foot against a stone. A physical law is outraged by me. It vindicates itself: I suffer. But look at the different circumstances in which this may happen. It is a mere accident - I am pitied. It is the result of gross carelessness - I am pitied and laughed at. It is an injury inflicted on me - I am pitied, and a desire is felt to avenge me of my adversary. It is, on my part, a deliberate attempt to put an obstacle in the way of a crowded train - I am execrated as a monster. It is a prompt impulse, at the risk of life, to take an obstacle out of its way - I am lauded to the skies for my benevolence and bravery.
Here there are several distinct laws - call them laws of nature if you will - under which the same act or event~~ is considered, tried, and judged. It is not with the same sentiment, - it is not even with similar sentiments, - that the violation or observance of these several laws is regarded. The violation or observance of the physical law which regulates the contact of two hard bodies, as of my foot and a stone, cannot be reduced to the same category with the violation or observance of the law which injustice and wanton cruelty are felt to break, and which courage in a good cause fulfils and honours. No sophistry can identify things which differ so widely.:; The instinct of mankind revolts against the attempt
Let it be granted that God governs by law all his creatures, from dead and shapeless matter, up through all. the gradations and developments of organization and life, to the highest order of mind. Is it law of the same kind throughout? Does not mind, intelligent and free, as it is found in man, come in contact with a law wholly unlike~ what holds dominion in the region of matter, - and in the region of mind, as it unfolds itself among the most sagacious of the other living races around us? Some points of contrast may be noted between this higher law and all the other laws of nature and being.
In the first place, these other laws are, all of them, we apprehend them, the products of induction. That higher law we have by pure and simple intuition. That there are certain fixed and general laws to which the processes of nature and the energies of life in the universe are amenable, we learn - and what they are we learn - a posterior by observation and experience - the observation and experience of ourselves and others. The study of these laws is an inductive study. The sciences which treat of them are inductive sciences. It is true, that we can and do bring to bear upon them the intuitions of mathematics, - the a priori laws of thought which give us the necessary conditions of time and space. It is under these conditions that we investigate the phenomena of creation, and systematize or codify its laws.
Still, essentially, they are laws forced upou us, a posteriori, by induction. The moral law is impressed upon us, a priori, by intuition. That there is a law of right and wrong, we know - and what it is, we know - by an original and primary intuition. It is a law of thought, exactly as those laws are, out of which geometry and algebra are evolved. The study of it is a deductive study. The science of ethics is a deductive science. It is true, that as we have to apply this law to the phenomena of voluntary action, there is occasion for observation and experience; and the more there is of a large and wise induction the better. In that view, the science which deals with this law is a mixed science. It is like the science which applies the axioms and demonstrations of the pure mathematics to the phenomena of practical astronomy. Still, the law itself is not one which we arrive at through any process of induction. It is known by intuition. It is given as an a priori law of thought - an original principle of moral judgment.
In the second place, this law is necessary, universal - eternal. These others are contingent. There is no absolute necessity, in the nature of things, for their being always and everywhere the same. We can conceive a world in which the law of gravitation might be different from what it is here. The idea is not felt to involve contradiction in terms, or an impossibility in thought. But we cannot even imagine the possibility of an alteration of the law of right and wrong. We can no more conceive of its being right to commit murder, and wrong to love our neighbour, than we can conceive of two and two being five and not four. It is easy, indeed, to make difficulties about this, sceptical writers have often done. Look, they say, the varieties of opinion among nations - some justifying and commending as virtues what others condemn crimes: Sparta encouraging cleverness and success in theft; the Hindoos admiring the conjugal devotion of the widow, as she casts herself on her husbands funeral pile, and commending the maternal piety which sent the tender babe away from the pollutions and ills of Man once, through the holy river, into a better land. All such instances as these, however, the bare statement of them, if it be a fair statement, shows that what really is commended is some quality universally felt and allollowed to be commendable. The ill-informed and ill-regulated mind, misled by a partial or erroneous induction, comes exclusively to dwell on that quality, - to the omission other features of the transaction which impart to it entirely opposite character. There is nothing, therefore, in these instances that militates against the truth, which consciousness attests, that the law of right and wrong is not contingent,. - that it is not arbitrary or discretionary, like those other laws of nature which, for anything we can see, might have been, and may yet be, different from what they are - but that it is necessary and universal, like the axioms of intuitive science. In other words, the law of God is, like God himself, eternal and immutable.
But thirdly, and chiefly, this law has in it an element which none of these other laws, not even the laws of number and extension, possess,. - the element of command. lt speaks as having authority. It says, Thou shalt, and thou shalt not. It makes me say, I ought, and I ought not. The physical law of heat tells me a fact, that fire bums; and it suggests an inference, that if I go into yonder burning fiery furnace, I shall be consumed and perish. It does not certainly say, Thou shalt go; neither, however, does it say, Thou shalt not go. And if the alternative be between that and worshipping the golden image, there is a law which says, imperatively, Thou shalt go; for it says, Thou shalt worship the Lord alone, and him only shalt thou serve.
The physical law of health tells me a fact, that excessive toil and scanty food wear out the body; and it suggests the inference, that if I toil the livelong day and night, and give myself but a crust of bread to eat, I must ere long sink and die. It does not certainly say, Thou shalt thus work in thy want; neither, however, does it say, Thou shalt not. And if the alternative be between that and theft, there is a law which says, imperatively, Thou shalt; for it says imperatively; thou shalt not steal.
Even when the physical law comes nearest the moral law, this distinction is to be observed. The physical law of health tells the young man a certain fact, that sinful indulgence breeds disease; and it suggests the salutary inference, that if he continues in the sin, he must expext to reap the fruit of it in loathsome agony. Even here however, it is not that law which speaks with a voice of command, but the law which says, Thou shalt not commit adultery; Lust not in thy heart; Thou shalt not covet. In the fourth place, it is a consequence of this eleme~ of rightful supremacy residing in the moral law, and tinguishing it from all the others, that the breaking of is something radically and essentially distinct from the breaking of any of them. A man might be so wrong-headed as to insist on wording a question in arithmetic in defiance of the law number, that two and two are four; or he might try to master a problem in geometry by going in the teeth the law of extension, that two straight lines cannot close a space. Of course he makes a mess of his sum and his solution. It is an instance of mental aberration the man is mad, we say; and that is all. A simple madness or wrong-headedness might lead some extravagant idealist, out-Berkeleying Berkeley, to act upon theory of the non-existence of matter, so as to knock head against every post, - coming into collision with the material laws of force and weight
But apart from extreme cases, what are the terms, even the strongest terms, which we can fairly use in characterizing conduct that is opposed to what these natural laws would seem to recommend? It is ignorance, or inadvertence, or imprudence. The worst we can say of it is, that it is imprudence. And none of these terms are terms of reproach necessarily - not even imprudence. They are quite consistent with innocence, and indeed even with merit. A strong sense of duty, an impulse of patriotic or generous feeling, will be accepted, any day, by the people, - the best judges by far in such a matter, - as a set-off against the most flagrant disregard of all the ordinary considerations of caution and wisdom. And when either ignorance, or inadvertence, or imprudence is alleged as a moral imputation against any one who has acted otherwise than these natural laws, if they had been duly attended to, would have led him to act, and who has consequently brought misfortune on himself and others, it will invariably be found that the higher law comes in. Some precept or some principle of that law has been outraged. And the measure of reproach is not the violation, more or less wilful, of those natural laws, but the indifference, or the opposition, which tbe act in question involves, to the eternal law of rectitude and duty.
Then again, on the other hand, ignorance, inadvertence, imprudence, - any of these pleas, - may explain or palliate my conduct, viewed as in antagonism to the natural laws. But none of them, nor all of them, will meet the case when the moral law is concerned. I did it because I knew no better; I did it without consideration and by mistake; it was very senseless and unwise in me to do it; so you say when you have gone against any of the laws which regulate the sequences of events, their following one another according to a certain order in the physical, mental, and social world; so you say, and there is no more to be said. You take the consequence. Or, perhaps, by some happy chance, or some shrewd afterthought, or some wise appliance under a system that admits of remedies and compensations, you escape the consequence. At all events, learning by experience, you are more wary in time to come.
Look now at Saul of Tarsus, consenting to the death of Stephen. He does it ignorantly, not knowing what he does, thinking that he is doing God service. He does it inadvertently, not considering sufficiently what he is about. It is the height of imprudence; even with the light which he has he had better pause, according to the sagacious counsel of Gamaliel. A wiser and calmer man would not at that juncture commit himself against the Christians. Is that all? Does that exhaust the case? Then, what is the meaning of the keen remorse which seems always, in the midst of his happiest experience of mercy, to haunt the memory of Paul? "For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God" (1 Cor. xv. 9).
There is a law, the breach of which - whatever plea of ignorance, or inadvertence, or imprudence, may be urged - is a very different matter from the crossing or traversing of any of the instituted laws of nature. It is the eternal law, the transgression of which is sin.
Hence, finally, in the fifth place, it would seem to follow that the manner in which offences against these other natural laws are dealt with, affords no safe analogy for judging of the procedure on the part of the lawgiver, which transgressions of this moral law may require. Every law of nature is enforced, or enforces itself, by an appropriate penalty. The penalty is the destruction of whoever or whatever thwarts the law. It is a penalty sure and inevitable, unless means are found to make the person or thing offending conformable again to the law, and to prevent or repair the injury which his or its nonconformity might do to the system of which he or it is a part. It is a principle of the divine government, even in the lower spheres of material and sentient nature, that the evil resulting from a breach of any of its laws is either worked out of the system by the destruction of the peccant member, or is repaired by some process of amelioration and neutralization; amelioration as to the peccant member, and neutralization as to the tendency of what is peccant to grow and perpetuate itself.
I fall, and break my ann. I break a physical law, and the penalty is the destruction of the limb. But there is a provision of nature which not only knits the fractured bone, but compensates the system for any harm that the fracture might do to it. So I escape the penalty; I am safe in the use of my forfeited member still; and my body is all the stronger for the accident.
Upon this analogy, an attempt has been made, not wisely, as I think, nor successfully, to explain the manner in which, according to tlìe Christian system, the great Lawgiver deals with sin as the transgression of his jaw. That law is held to be of the very same nature with the other laws on which the order of creation seems to depend. And the wonderful provision made by God for meeting the case of mans violation of it, is represented as identical in principle with those remedial provisions which abound in nature, and by which injuries happening under the laws of nature are repaired and redressed, with no ultimate damage, either to the member offending - or to the system to which it belongs, but rather with benefit to both.
It would be unsuitable to enlarge on this topic here, and now. Let it suffice to say, that such a view is not more dangerous in its theological aspect than it is madequate, at least, if not unsound, in its philosophy. It confounds things that differ. It makes no sufficient account of that moral government, that divine and eternal system of jurisprudence, which such ideas as those of authority, right, duty, obligation, responsibility, guilt, blame, crime - ideas expressed in every language, and, therefore, indicating a universal instinct or intuition of the human mind - prove to be the highest order in the universe. And surely we speculate somewhat too wildly when we aspire to master the policy of Heaven; as if we could grasp, in some principle or formula of unity that we think we have found out, the whole vast and complicated plan of the divine administration. It is more in accordance with the humility of true science, as well as with the humility which does not seek to be wise above what is written, to accept the facts of conscience and the statements of revelation on the particular subject in hand, - the transgression of the moral law, - in their plain meaning, instead of aiming at so wide a generalization. And if we do, we shall stand on surer ground. We receive the combined testimony of conscience and revelation as to the demerit of sin, the reality of judgment, the necessity of satisfaction. And we adore the righteousness and love of the mysterious propitiatory sacrifice of the cross.1 Such, then, is law, as acknowledged by conscience arid tile Bible; the law to which both do homage. 1. The homage which conscience does to it is the recognition of its legitimate authority. That faculty or principle of our moral nature asserts a right of supremacy over all the particular affections, whether of self-love or of social love, by which men are moved to action. It has paramount authority within tile domain of voluntary choice. It is, however, a delegated authority, and it is felt to be so. In fact, its own authority lies in its apprehension of the authority of law. To assert and vindicate the authority of law is its proper function. It is only in so far as it is competent to the discharge of that function, that its own title to command is valid. Can, then, its competency be relied on?
To interpret and apply the law is an office requiring information. The bearing of the law on any particular case can be rightly deterimined only when the information respecting that case is exact and full. It is not the province of conscience to collect information. It calls for information. It imposes the duty of inquiry. But the conduct of the inquiry is devolved on the ordinary power of the understanding. These are liable to err through:. their own infirmity, or the absence of the means of knowledge. They may represent the case otherwise than it really is. The obligation of the law of right and wrong may, in consequence, be asserted erroneously. But, strictly speaking, that is not the fault of conscience.
Again, if the power whose function it is to vindicate the law is to discharge that function well, it must rule de facto, or in faet, - as well as de jure, or in right. A usurper, displacing it from its seat of authority, may succeed in silencing it; or he may impose upon it by false representations; or he may subject it to a torture that makes it incapable of true discernment. Such a usurper is the will - the masterful will - backed by his accomplice, habit. No faculty or affection in us, except the will, can set aside conscience. But the will can do it. And it can do it so perseveringly, and so violently; it can so imprison conscience in its own den, and so bandage the eyes through which conscience sees, that law - the law of right and wrong - shall be asserted very fitfully and very feebly, and shall soon cease to be asserted at all. But I neither is this, strictly speaking, the fault of conscience.
Still, in so far as the understanding is fallible, and the will powerful, the competency, or at least the sufficiency of conscience, as the vindicator and assertor of law, is indirectly, if not directly, affected. And if the understanding is darkened, and the will debauched by sin, the risk of fraud or force interfering with its fair and free dis.charge of that function is immensely increased.
In itself: moreover, directly as well as indirectly, conscience is injured and defiled by the entrance into the human constitution of that blight of moral evil which has vitiated the whole nature of man. The very facility with which it accepts the representations of a darkened understanding, and yields to the force of a debauched will, proves it to be not only infirm and irresolute, but inclined towards the side which these other powers would have it to tolerate, if not to favour. It has lost that high tone of faithful and cordial loyalty to the law and the Lawgiver to which, were man in a right state, both the understanding and the will would be constrained to defer.
Nevertheless, as regards its capacity of recognising both the character and the authority of divine law, the conscience is upon the whole intact. The corruption of our nature has not so vitiated the conscience as to invalidate its conclusions when it discriminates between right and wrong, or deprive it of its right to rule and be obeyed. If it had, our guilt would have been less, and our recovery would have been impossible. For it is through the conscience alone that a fallen, but yet free, intelligence can be reached. It is to the conscience that the violated law appeals. It is the conscience that accepts the sentence of condemnation. It is the conscience that pleads guilty of sin as the transgression of the law, and welcomes the assurance of a sufficient expiation, and an adequate satisfaction. Liberated from the aberrations of an understanding darkened by alienation from God, and from the excesses of a will at enmity with God, - liberated both of these extraneous influences - quickened, and purged, by the Spirit, through belief of the truth, - the conscience rejoices in its recovered power, - a power flowing from its own free and loving allegiance to law, as the law of liberty and love, - to be the effectual as well as the legitimate vindicator of its authority.
There is another manner in which the conscience may be set free - free to see, to know, to assert, the whole melancholy and appalling truth - when the guilty is to be dealt with, not in mercy, but in judgment; when they stand to receive their sentence at the bar of God, - and pass away to endure it, - compelled, in their own despite, to own the righteousness and majesty of law. Such is the homage which conscience does to the law.
2. As to the Bible, not to speak of the glorious eulogies, in either Testament, which extol and celebrate the excellency of the law of the Lord, nor of the deep emotions of reverence and delight with which holy men meditate on its perfection; let the view which the Bible gives, throughout all its revelations, of the actual present government under which the human race is placed, be well considered it is impossible to find consistency in the sacred records on any other supposition than this - that mankind are living on the earth under a respite. The analogy of religion, natural and revealed, can be fully brought out only upon that hypothesis. Men, here and now, are spirits in prison. The whole human family under sentence of condemnation. The sentence is pended. For the race, it is suspended till what Scripture calls the consummation of all things; for individual members of the race, it is suspended till the moment of death. It is, however, only suspended. And the condition on which it is suspended, the end for which it is suspended, - as well as the ultimate issues of the experiment in regard to those who do, and those who do not, acquiesce in the condition of its suspension, and reach the end which the suspension is designed to serve, - are all unfolded in the Bible. They are so unfolded, moreover, as to present and submit to the free choice of all men the one only alternative of which the case admits, - the alternative of prompt submission carrying with it an immediate, legal justification, or of prolonged lawlessness and rebeffion, sealing the inevitable doom of legal condemnation. It is homage to law throughout.
On this subject it is relevant to quote, as summing up the argument, the closing paragraph of the Examination of Maurices Theological Essays" (p. 480), in which the controversy at issue between him and his examiner is reduced to a single question: - That question, as it seems to me, concerns the nature of the government of God. Is it a government of law? Does God rule intelligent beings by a law? Certainly, I may be told. Who doubts it? The government of God is a government of law, - of the law of love. But I must be allowed again to ask, In what sense is it a government of law? For the familiar use of the expression, laws of nature, has introduced an ambiguity into this phrase. What is a government of law, a government by law? If I am absolutely dependent upon a being possessed of certain tastes, under the influence, let it be supposed, of a particular ruling passion, - if he and I are inseparably bound together, so that I must make up my mind to receive all my good from him, and find all my good in him, such as he is; then, in his tastes, in his ruling passion, I have a law, conformity to which is th condition of my wellbeing. Obviously, however, ruling passion in him is a law to me, in precisely the same sense in which any quality in matter is a law to me; in that sense and in no other. My intimate connection with the material world makes conformity to the unchanging principles, according to which its movementa. proceed, a condition of my wellbeing as a creature endowed with a physical nature. My intimate connection with the being or person with whom I am living, and am always to live, makes conformity to the unchanging principles, or habit, or ruling passion according to which being uniformly feels and acts, the condition of my wellbeing as a being endowed with the capacity of feeling and acting as he does. Let his ruling passion be pure charity or love. Then, in one sense, there is a law of love is brought into contact with my will. The law of love is unbending, and it has in it an element of wrath against the unlovely. My will is perverse, apt to incline towards subjection to a usurping tyrant or an intruding tempter, capable of almost infinite resistance. But the law of love works steadily on. It unfolds and reveals itself, it embodies itself in action, it is manifested wonderfully in redeeming and regenerating economy, and ultimately one cannot see how it can fail to bring my will, and every reasonable will, into accordance with itself. For any.thing I can perceive, government by law in any other sense than this, is not recognized at all in the theology of these Essays.
It is needless to add, that the whole theology of those who are commonly considered orthodox and evangelical divines, is based upon an entirely different conception both of government and of law. According to them it is an administrative government that God exercises, - a government embracing in it legislation, judicial procedure, calling to account, awarding sentences. It is an authoritative law, with distinct sanctions annexed to it, that God promulgates and enforces. This is what they understand when they speak of God being a moral Ruler as well as a holy and loving Father. They cannot rid themselves of the impression that both Scripture and conscience attest the reality of such a government and such a law. It is under that impression that they draw out from Scripture, to meet the anguish of conscience, those views of the guilt of sin and its complete expiation, the corruption of nature and its thorough renovation, - those views of pardon, peace, reconciliation, reward, which they delight to urge upon all men in the name of Him who hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked should turn unto him and live."
And it is under the same impression that they think they find, in the essential freedom of the will of man as a responsible agent, an explanation, on the one hand, of the possibility of evil entering into the universe under the rule of a good and holy God; and on the other hand also, a probable explanation of the impossibility of there being any provision of mercy brought Within the reach of men, which does not imply a provision also for the case of that mercy being neglected or refused."
II. Conscience and the Bible approve virtue as they acknowledge law. What is this virtue? And what is the approbation with which not only man, but Go regards it? The first of these questions it is not very important either for philosophical or for practical purposes, to answer. What is virtue? Is there any common quality that characterizes and identifies all the actions or dispositions that are said to be virtuous? Yes, one may say they are all useful; useful to the individual; useful to society. Utility is the test of virtue. It may be so. Perhaps this is the simplest and most obvious common quality that can be named. The habits and frames of mind that win approbation are such as are useful. What then? Is it for their utility that they are approved? The instinct of mankind says, No. As supplying an argument from final causes for the goodness of God, till fact that the things which we approve as virtuous are found invariably, on the whole, to be useful, may deserve notice. That is not, however, the element which constitutes their virtue, or, if the term may be allowed, their, virtuousness. Nor is much gained when we add the element of intention or choice, and resolve all virtue into a desire to be useful, or into benevolence, or good-will, or any other single affection. The truth is, the affections which we approve as virtuous vary indefinitely in their nature, and in the circumstances in which they are exercised. No attempt to run them up into one common attribute has succeeded. To discriminate, describe, and classify them is all that can be done. That is the province of practical ethics.
The second inquiry, into the nature of the approbation with which virtue is regarded, or into the state of mind which it occasions in one contemplating it, is more interesting. Here, too, an extreme passion for simplicity is to be deprecated. What we call approbation, is a complex state of mind. It is not easy to give in short compass an exhaustive analysis of it. But if allowance be made for what, perhaps, may appear to some to be too fanciful a theory, - I think the harmony of conscience and the Bible on this subject may be placed in a somewhat striking and graphic light.
Take one of those states of mind which are admitted to possess a moral character, whether good or bad, and trace it in its effects upon the moral observer.
In the first place, the mere conception of it - the bare, naked apprehension of it in the mind - gives rise, instantaneously, to a double movement in the department with which it first comes in contact. That department cornprehends the power or faculty of distinguishing what is true from what is false, as well as what is fair and beautiful from what is the reverse. These two functions, the judgment and the taste - the discernment of truth and the sense of beauty - are intimately connected, if, indeed, they are not all but identicaL They are both of them immediate and instantaneous in their action, and they are mutually the handmaids of each other. A mathematic proposition or demonstration, seen to be true, is felt to be beautiful. It appeals to the taste, as well as to judgment; and in proportion as it satisfies and convinces the judgment, it pleases and gratifies the taste. We speak of a beautiful theorem, and it is the sense of beauty no less than the perception of truth, which, when the difficulty of the search is overcome, and the discovery successfully made, prompts the exclamation of delight I have found it! I have found it! On the other hand, the peculiar field of taste, if any object awaken the sense of. beauty, it will be found, at the same time, to command the acquiescence of the judgment in it, as in what is true. When the eye rests on a fair form or a beauteous scene, not only is it agreeable and soothing to the taste, but judgment also approves of it as consistent with the truth of things. When I am admiring a picture, or statue, landscape, I am conscious of a calm conviction of reality similar to what I experience when I assent to an abstract demonstration, just as, in return, when I perceive conclusive certainty of an abstract demonstration, and a gratification of taste, precisely such as the visible completeness of nature calls forth. Nor is this connection between the judgment and the taste altogether unaccountable They are both simple acts or operations of the mind; what is common to both is the apprehension of contrariety and disunion removed, and consistency, compactness, or, in a word, unity, established or restored.
In morals, this blending of the judgment and the is very discernible. Let an evil action or an evil state of mind be contemplated, and there is an uneasy apprehension of its opposition to truth, along with a painful and oppressive sense of its deformity and unloveliness. The judgment finds the true relations of things divided and dissevered, and the taste recoils from the dislocation. Let the opposite virtue be observed, and the faculty of comparison discerns agreement, coherence, union, in the fitness of things as now adjusted, while the sense of beauty rests and reposes in the harmony.
But there is a second and inner chamber into which these actions or states of mind, apprehended, in the first or outer chamber, as either true and beautiful, or false and foul, must now pass; and that chamber is the seat of the emotions. The transition here is from the head to the heart - from the mind, sitting in judgment at the gate, and looking out with quick eye for all that is grand or fair, to the bosom in whose depths the springs of feelilig lie. Through the judgment and the taste, moral actions or states of mind reach and set in motion the affections; and, as in the department of simple apprehension, - the outer hail of the soul, - there is a double exercise of vigilance, and, as it were, a double scrutiny of all corners, so, in their reception within, there is a double movement or excitement among the dwellers there. The affections are doubly stirred. Are both of the watchers satisfied? Do both of them concur in warranting the entrant? Does the judgment attest his truth, and the taste relish his beauty? Then, as lie enters in, the emotion of reverence or awe rises to bow before him; the affection of love opens her arms to embrace him. Thus the moral action or state of mind which, in the seat the intellect, carries conviction of truth to the judgment awakens, in the region of the affections, the feeling of profound veneration; while, again, in so far as it approves itself as beautiful to the taste, it calls forth complacency and love. For, as truth is venerable, so beauty amiable. What is true is to be revered; what is fair is to be loved.
There is still, however, a third apartment in which these objects of our moral cognizance and observation -these moral actions or states of mind - undergo yet another process. Behind, and farther in than the region of the affections, lies the secret closet of the soul, the one of self-inspection and self-judgment. From the mind head, with its twofold faculty of judgment and taste- the discernment of truth and the sense of beauty - throughout the heart, deeply stirred with the emotion of reverence and the affection of love-there is a passage to the conscience, where the final act in this sifting trial is performed. And here, again, there is a double function, responding to the double functions of the other departments. In that sanctuary, that inner court of last resort, these states of mind come to have final sentence passed upon them, and the sentence has respect to the discernment which the judgment has of what is true, and the apprehension which the sensibility has of what is false! Truth, compelling conviction, and commanding reverence asks a verdict of acquittal or acceptance, and will nothing more. Beauty, again, gratifying the taste, and winning the affection of love, solicits a warmer welcome, and would wish to receive approbation and applause. In the one view, there is a demand to be justified; in the other, there is a desire to be praised and to be embraced.
It may be some recommendation of this analysis, or induction, that it combines different theories, and comprehends various principles of our moral nature, which the framers of moral systems have been accustomed to isolate. Thus, the accordance with truth, or the fitness of things, which some have made the foundation of moral judgment (Clarke, Cudworth, &c.), and the moral sense or instinct to which others have appealed (Hutcheson, &c.), unite and conspire in the first act of simple apprehension, by which the mind takes in the conception of a moral action, or a moral quality, as right and good. Nor is moral rectitude and goodness, on this scheme, a matter of reason exelusively, or a matter of instinct or taste. The emotions and affections have a large share in the work of identifying virtue, and giving it life and warmth (Sir James Mackintosh). The emotion of reverence, and the affection or sentiment of love, dealing with what has passed the calm scrutiny of the judgment and the taste, touch the deep springs of holy awe and worship in the soul, and open the fountain of its tears and gladness. Nor does the trial end here. The judge, whose verdict is final, sits within. The moral action, or moral quality, under review, must enter within the vail - into the very shrine, the holiest of all in this living temple - where, on the throne, is the great arbiter, entitled authoritatively to justify what is true (Butler), and at the same time, ready, with lively sympathy, to commend what is fair (Adam Smith). The award of this ruler of the soul which is the power or principle of conscience, is conclusive. It determines what is just and righteous, and bestows meed of commendation on what is excellent and worthy.
But the scheme, as it would seem, has a still high value. It is in fine accordance with the moral system the New Testament. For it is no rude or unskilled artist, but a master-hand, that has constructed the noble climax in the Epistle to the Philippians (chap. iv. 8, Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, what ever things are honest" (honesta, venerable), whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure" ( chaste, fair, clean, undefiled, and holy), whatsoever things are lovely" (amiable, loveable), what ever things are of good report" ( commend such as to move sympathy, approval, applause); if there be any virtue" ( power, stability, firmness), there be any praise" ( what solicicits commendation), - " think on these things." There is something more here than a casual enumeration of mere motives. The apostle was too much a master both ethics and of rhetoric to heap up such materials miscellaneously and at random. There is symmetry in structure; there is method and system in his fervid approach. He traces and marks out the double line of approach entrance, along which actions or qualities, admitted at door of the mind, are conducted, through the heart the conscience. For there are two sets of connected of observation in this sketch - two distinct series of successive mental acts. The six names read over in this muster, or roll-call, fall into two ranks; and each of these, at its termination, is represented by a single leader, as in the following tabular view: -
"Whatsoever things are true," . . . . . . . . . . . .Whatsoever things are pure," (fair,)
"Whatsoever things are honest," (venerable,) Whatsoever things are"lovely," (amiable,)
Whatsoever things are "just," . . . . . . . . . . . . Whatsoever things are "of good report,"
"if there be any virtue," . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .If there be any praise"
Thus, of these epithets, the first three - what is true, what is venerable, what is just - rank as a column under the one head, virtue; the remaining three on the other hand - what is pure or fair, what is lovely or amiable, what is of good report or commendable - are marshalled in the line of praise.
Or, to change the application of the figure, let us trace the subject of our scrutiny - the particular action or quality, whose moral character is to be ascertained - from post to post, in the citadel of our moral nature. At the gate it is challenged by the faculties of simple apprehension, the judgment and the taste, the sense of natural agreement or fitness, and the sense of beauty; is there in it anything true - is there in it anything pure? Let it enter. Farther on it has to encounter the emotions or affections, and they have to deal with it - the capacities of reverence and of love must be satisfied; is there anything honest - venerable? is there anything lovely - amiable? Let it pass, - the soul standing in awe of its majesty, and rapt in the love of its gentler grace. But once more it is arrested. One having authority, but at the same time full of sympathy, calls it to account; is there anything just - right, righteous, coming up to the high standard of strict duty? is there anything of good report - worthy, commendable, meet for being warmly honoured and approved? If there be any virtue, any inherent strength of conscious rectitude - if there be any praise, any moral beauty meet to be applauded - then, by all that is true, venerable, and right, in the stern integrity and firm standing of that virtue, and by all that is pure, amiable, and worthy in the fair and soft charms of that praise or that commendableness, and in its warm yearning for sympathy - let us be adjured, let us be persuaded to give earnest heed and full practical effect to that gospel, whose highest aim it is to restore and re-adjust the whole moral nature of man, so that truth and righteousness, grace and love, may once more meet and embrace each other, in the holy home of a reconciled and renovated soul.
Were further illustration needed of this complex system, it might be found in the discrimination, so exquisitely true to nature, which the same apostle makes between two different kinds of character to be observed among. men. Magnifying the divine benevolence, as manifested in the death of Christ, he puts it as an all but impossible supposition that "a righteous man" should find a friend prepared to lay down his life for him. He allows it to be more conceivable that "a good man" might win affection thus devoted and self-sacrificing. And he places in strong contrast that love of God, whose miserable objects had neither "righteousness" nor "goodness" to recommend them, but only sin (Romans v. 7, 8).
"A righteous man" is such a one as the poet describes, "just and firm of pmpose," one who is moved by neither fear nor favour from his solid mind. Regulus, calmly turning away from his weeping family and the awe-struck Senate, to redeem his pledge to the Carthaginian enemy, and meet the death prepared for him, with its worse than Indian refinement of cruelty - Hampden defying unjust power - Latimer cheering brother Ridley at the stake - Knox before Queen Mary, and Melville before King James, maintaining allegiance to a Heavenly Master against both the tears and the frowns of royalty - rise as examples before the mind. In each there is a stern integrity - which we apprehend to be "true " - which we feel to be "venerable" - which compels us to recognize it as inexorably and inflexibly "just " - presenting, on the whole, a spectacle of moral courage and steadfast "virtue," almost beyond the reach of our commendation or compassion, such as rather inspires a sort of deep and silent awe. We scarcely presume to praise or pity - we stand apart and reverently look on. But let a touch of tenderness mingle in the scene - let it be the Roman matron presenting to her trembling husband the dagger plucked from her own bosom - " It is not painful, Petrus " - or Lady Jane Grey bidding adieu to her lord, as he passed on to the scaffold, to which she was soon to follow him - or Lady Russell, pen in hand, gazing on the noble features she had loved - or Brown of Priesthills widow, meeting the rude taunt of the persecutor as he interrupted her in her melancholy task - " What thinkest thou of thy husband now, woman? - I thought ever much of him, and now as much as ever " - or, coming down from the heroic to ordinary life, let it be a character marked rather by gentle maimers and kind affections than by strength of nerves, that is exhibited to us ; - and our moral taste is charmed with its "pure" beauty - our heart is warmed with "love" towards it - we speak of it as not only unimpeachably correct, but positively "worthy," and we award to it the meed of our cordial sympathy and "praise."
The combination of the two kinds of character, as in some of the instances referred to, is the consummation of moral excellence. To be true, yet, at the same time, not stern or severe, but fair, pure, graceful - to be both venerable and amiable, calling forth in equal measure the emotion of reverence and the affection of love - to stand before the tribunal of conscience and receive, not only the cold verdict which strict justice, caring for nothing more, extorts, I find no fault, but that also, which a softer sensibility asks, Well done - in short, to be both great and good - such is the idea of a perfect man. Such was He who was not only "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from. sinners," but also "meek and lowly in heart" - .: "full both of grace and of truth." Such His Gospel intended and fitted to make all those who, following, at a humble distance, His example, and changed, by His Spirit, into His image, unite with the "faithfulness unto death" which challenges "the crown of life," "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit," which not only is of good report and praiseworthy among men, but, "in the sight of God himself, is of great price."
III. Conscience and the Bible thus agreeing, on theone hand, in the acknowledgment of law, and, on the other hand, in the approbation of virtue, are of necessity closely related to one another. Their mutual relations form the third subject of inquiry, on which a slight indication of the beads or topics must now suffice.
1. In the first place they are to be recognized as distinct from one another, and independent of one another. It may be true, and probably is true, in point of fact, that God never has left us to discover our duty by the dictation of conscience alone, as he has never left us to arrive at the knowledge of his own being and perfcctions by the discoveries of reason alone. From the beginning God revealed himself and his will, by means of words, to men. He spoke to them of his own character, purposes, and plans. He placed them under an explicit and formal obligation of obedience to an explicit and formal commandment. That, however, does not impeach either the competency of reason to prove the truths of natural religion, or the competency of conscience to establish the principles of natural morality. It is of the utmost consequence, for the interests of revelation itself, to vindicate the independent validity, both of natural theology and of natural ethics; to assert, not the sufficiency indeed, but the legitimacy and trustworthiness, of the light of reason and the jurisdiction of conscience.
2. In the second place, conscience, when once for all satisfied that the Bible is the word of God, bows in lowliest reverence before its paramount authority. She asks, and she has a right to ask, to be satisfied that the Bible is the word of God. She asks this humbly and with docility - feeling how much she would be the better for the guidance of Him who sees the end from the beginning, who knows all things, and always judges right She asks it calmly, dispassionately - calling in the help of manly reason to authenticate the voice of the Sovereign Ruler. But being satisfied, she gladly takes her place, beside her sister Faith, at the feet of Him who speaks from heaven; of Him who, coming from heaven, speaks on earth, and speaks as one having authority. She receives the law at his lips. She learns of him what things are true, honest, just; what things are pure, lovely, of good report; what virtue is, and what is praise. And if in any difficult or doubtful instance, there occurs any apparent discrepancy between her conclusions and the clear intimations of his mind, she remembers how an erring understanding, and a wayward will, and her own infirmity or vice, make her judgments at the best but probable, - fallible, even when it is the conduct of man that is judged, - still more fallible when it is the conduct of God. And having confidence in the rectitude, truth, and love of the great Being to whom she owns allegiance, - for to none but a being possessed of these attributes would she, who approves them so warmly herself, yield any homage, - she is content to acquiesce, to adore, and to wait ; the rather when she hears such words as these: - What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.
3. In the third place, Conscience looks to the Bible for an explanation of much, in the present state of things, that she feels to be anomalous and inconsistent, or at least incomprehensible. In vain does she look elsewhere for even a tolerable guess upon the subject.
I cast my eye around the world, and long "for a lodge in some vast wilderness." It is not merely that my heart bleeds at the sight of suffering; my bosom swells under the sense of wrong. In the abodes of squalid misery, in the very haunts of reckless crime, what cases innumerable meet my view, not only of injustice at the hand of man, but, it would even seem, of most unequal treatment at the hand of God! That shivering victim of anothers lust; yonder little one, bred in filth and profligacy from the cradle; the children of Africa, crushed into brutal apathy or lashed into brutal madness; those sons and daughters of our own happier clime, that, by the force of circumstances, amid the cankering, festering sores of our social state, become well-nigh as degraded as they! Why are they what they are? What makes them what they are? What chance had they of ever being otherwise? How can these things be, and yet this goodly world be justly governed? Alas! it is little wonder if a sullen fatallsm or an angry atheism, - begotten of sad despair, and a vehement resentment of oppression, - reigns among the outcasts, whom neither earth nor Heaven seems to pity! No wonder if, looking on, conscience stands aghast, and feels as if she had no plea to urge in justification of God, nor any word in season to speak to weary man! In vain you tell her of general laws of righteousness and love, which, through inevitable evil, are slowly and painfully working out the highest good. Bid her go with that solution of the mystery into the streets, and see what a scowl of leering contempt or exasperated rage darkens every brow. Let her take it into her own study, and ponder it there: the memory of one beggar-boy, one thin and naked girl, the gaunt face of famished manhood, the sigh of a wasted frame, the sickening groan of a broken heart, - one such dismal vision will scatter speculations by the thousand to the winds. It is darkness all - darkness more than ever.
Conscience cannot say it is well, it is good, it is right. But she opens her Bible; she learns there why the race of man is so miserable as it is. Yes. And she learns there also why it is not more miserable still. Sin has entered into the world, and so also has salvation. Sin has entered; it has tainted deeply, it has doomed, the entire human family, and every member of it. Hence these tears, these groans of creation. But salvation has entered too. Hence these tears and groans are not yet, bitter as they are, what otherwise they must have been, - what elsewhere, if not in one only way met and relieved here, they must inevitably be, - "weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth," amid the irremediable anguish of "the worm that dieth not and the fire that is not quenched." Struck and startled; struck with the truth of a representation which, bringing so vividly out the sentence, the respite, the remedy, the issue, really accounts at last for this condemned worlds, strange and sad state; startled at the thought that, whio the respite lasts, the remedy is available for every one, for any one, of its condemned inhabitants;- conscience, the open Bible still in hand, rises in haste from her study, from her knees, and rushes forth on the trembling wings of fear and love, to speak of judgment and of mercy to whatever child of Adam she can reach to speak affectionately, for the case is worse than had been thought; to speak wisely, for there is need of delicacy; yet to speak earnestly, for the crisis is urgent; to speak promptly and at once, for the time is short.
4. Once more, in the fourth and last place, conscience finds in the Bible the solution of a problem which vexes her not a little, - the reconciliation of law and liberty. How may virtue or moral goodness possess that element of freedom, of voluntary and spontaneous choice, which would seem to be essential, if it is to be approved as venerable and lovely, and yet retain its original and inherent character of obedience to law? There is difficulty in answering the question; and, apart from the Bible, the difficulty may be pronounced insuperable. The idea of law, and of the supremacy of law, however it may be acknowledged by conscience, is irksome to the will. That masterful power is impatient of subjection to another, and inclined to boast of what it wifi do if left to itselE If it is to choose the good and reject the evil, it must be of its own accord. To expect that it is to do so upon compulsion and by command, for whatever reward or hire, and yet feel itself to be acting freely, is as unreasonable as it would be to imagine that bribes and blows can give a sense of liberty to the slave, as he drudges doggedly at his masters task. This attitude of the will conscience is at a loss to meet She owns herself perplexed and at fault. She cannot tame the proud spirit, or win its consent to be under authority.
But she goes to the Bible, and there discovers the charm. And the charm lies mainly in the insight which she gets into the heart of God, whose holy nature the law expresses, whose just right of sovereignty the law asserts. That great heart of the Eternal Father is opened up; in his Son. God is light; God is love. That law which conscience binds me to acknowledge, the everlasting God acknowledges too. It is the law of his will, and he will himself see to it that it shall become the law of my will also. Yes; he will himself see to it. For this end, he rights my position, my standing, in his Son, and renovates my nature by his Spirit. The removal of the sentence of condemnation, the passing of an opposite sentence in my favour, - a sentence of acquittal, acceptance, justification;- all in terms of the law, perfectly fulfilled, adequately satisfied; this amazing harmony of law and love in the Fathers manner of dealing with me, as represented by his Son, disarms me. My criminal grudge against law,. my servile jealousy of law, cannot stand out against treatment like that. My whole soul undergoes a change The law is in my heart, as it is in the heart of God. It is no more a yoke of bondage to me than it is a yoke of bondage to him. Spontaneously, through his own Spirit moving me, - more and more spontaneously as my hearb learns more and more to beat in unison with his heart, - I do the things that are true, honest, just, pure, love of good report, virtuous, praiseworthy And I do them in obedience to Him whose service is perfect freedom whose law is the law of liberty.
Home | Biography | Literature | Letters | Links | Photo-Wallet