GENERAL AND INTRODUCTORY.
1. ONE science might advantageously he the object of out
preliminaryattcntion before entering on the study of another, although the
latter should not be dependent on the former for its main evidence, or for the
stability of the foundation on which it rests. It might be well,
notwithstanding, for the mind to have been previously furnished with the views
and principles of the first at the commencement of its systematic inquiries
into the second, even though no single proposition in the acquired science
should be so related to any doctrine of the one that is yet before us, as the
premise of an argument is to its conclusion. The study of the Natural is
rightly held a proper introduction to the study of the Christian Theology
although the latter, with its own peculiar lights and its own proper evidences,
is certainly not based upon the former in the same way that any system of truth
is based on its first and fundamental principles. It may be right for the
student to traverse the one theology, ere that, as a student, he makes ingress
either on the evidences or subject matter of the other. And, in like manner, it
might prove in the highest degree serviceable that in the order of the sciences
the study of ethics should be anterior to the study of both these theologies of
the greatest use, it may be, both in guiding us over the new field of
invcstigation, and determining the best points of view from which to look at
the objects there set before us, while these objects at the same time may be
seen in their own proper light, and be shone upon by an independent ewidence of
their own. Were the dependence of the one science upon the other, in all its
parts and propositions, a strictly logical one, then whatever of doubt or
obscurity rested on the one, would, in the process of deduction, be necessarily
communicated to the other also. We disclaim all such connection between the
human science of ethics and the divine science, if not of the natural, at least
of the revealed theology; nor does it follow that, because moral philosophy is
in the order of scholarship a fit precursers to the divinity of our halls and
colleges, that therefore the mist of its controverted questions, the subtlety,
and so the skepticism of its yet unsettled disputatious, shall bedim those
truths which we behold in the light of heaven, and which have been made known
to us on the faith of satisfying credentials by an authentic and authoritative
voice from the upper sanctuary.
2. Nevertheless there are certain important bearings in which the propositions even the yet unresolved questions of ethical science stand to theology; and of these we now proceed to give a few specimens.
3. The first of these questions that we shall notice is perhaps the most general and elementary of them all, as it respects the very substance or ground of morality, and may be put in this form Wherein is it that the rightness of morality lies? Not, whence is it that this rightness is derived? Whether, more particularly, it have an independent rightness of its own, or it be right only because God wills it? It might be proper to state that between the two terms of the alternative as last put, our clear preference or rather, our absolute and entire conviction is on the side of the former. We hold that morality has a stable, inherent, and essential rightness in itself, and that anterior to or apart from, whether the tacit or expressed will of any being in the universe that it had a subsistence and a character before that any creatures were made who could be the subjects of a will or a goyernment at all, and when no other existed beside God Himself to exemplify its virtues and its graces. We, on the one hand, do not deny that it is absolutely and in itself right to obey the will of God, when we deny the assertion of certain moralists who tell us of all virtue that it is right only because God wills it while they, on the other hand, cannot escape from the concession that there is at least one virtue which has this rightness in itself, and that is obedience to the Divine will; for if asked why is it right to obey God's will, they cannot run it up by the endlessly repeating process of making always the same thing the reason or principle of itself, but must stop short at the conclusion that there is a rightness in the very nature of a thing, and that irrespective of anything different from or anterior to itself into which it can be resolved. But even after this matter has been adjusted,, there remains this essential difference betwixt us. They might allow that in the virtue of obedience to God there is a native and independent rightness; but that no other virtue has this property, for that this obediance is comprehensive of all virtue, and that every other moranly which can be named is virtuous only because God, the sovereign Legislator, in framing the articles of His own code of government or law, hath so ordained it. Now it is here that we join issue with our antagonists, and affirm that God is no more the Creator of virtue than He is of truth - that justice and benevolence were virtues previous to any forthputting of will or jurisprudence on His part, and that He no more ordained them to be virtues, than He ordained that the three angles of a triangle should be equal to two right angles. The moral and the mathematical propositions have been alike the objects of the divine approbatjon and the divine perception from all eternity; but He no more willed the rightness of the one or the reality of the other, than He willed Himself into being, or willed what should be the virtues of His own character, or what are the constitutes of His own understanding. There is a wrong order in the conceptions of those moralists who resolve the virtuousness of morality either in respect of its essence or its foundation into the law of God.
4. The resolution of all virtue into the will of God has been designated the theological system of morals, and they who hold it have had the title given to them of theological moralists. Whether this have been meant as a stigma on our profession or not, the principle on which it has been affixed to us is one that we disclaim as alike inconsistent with sound ethics and sound theology. We can never consent to a proposition so monstrous as that, if an arbitrary God had chosen to reverse all the articles of the decalogue, He would thereby have presented the universe with a reverse morality that should be henceforth binding in point of duty and rectitude on all His creatures. Vice and virtue cannot thus be made to change places at the will or by the ordination of any power, whether dependent, or original and uncreated; and the same God of whom it has been so emphatically said that "He cannot lie", can neither alter the characteristics nor repeal the obligations of a morality which is immutable and everlasting.
5. And let it not be said that we hereby detract from the high prerogatives of the Eternal, or exalt a mere abstraction over the living Deity, by saying of morality that it is prior to His will and independent of His ordination. We dissociate, not virtue from the Godhead, for apart from Him, it is but a shadowy and abstract conception existing only in the region of the ideal; and nowhere but in His character, unchanged and unchangeable, has it existed from everlasting as a concrete and substantive reality. In the Divinity alone it is that virtue has its fountainhead and its being not, however, in the fountainhead of the divine will; but higher than this and anterior to this, in the fountainhead of the divine nature. It is not the will of God which determines His nature; but the nature of God which determines His will. That is a code of pure and perfect righteousness which is graven on the tablet of the divine jurisprudence. But it did not originate there, for there it is but a transcript from the prior tablet of the divine character. Virtue is not right because God wills it, but God wills it because it is right. The moral has antecedency to the juridical having had its stable and everlasting residence in the constitution of the Deity, before that He willed it into a law for the government of His creatures.
6. This argument is alike applicable both to the credentials of Revelation and to its practical lessons. For one can image a professed message from heaven resting its pretensions on the evidence of undoubted miracles, yet in its subject matter palpably and glaringly immoral. There would be no perplexity in this, if we could believe that it was the law of God which constituted morality for whatever the character of those mandates might be which came to it from the upper sanctuary, the very fact of their issuing thence could of itself turn vice into virtue, and sanctify every utterance that thus fell upon the world, because with a voice of authority from the throne of God. But if morality be not thus the creature of ordination, if it be fixed and everlasting as is the nature of Deity itself, and if the image of God in which man was formed, not yet altogether effaced, still remain with him in some of its lights and lineaments then might He, too, recognize that, and nothing else, to be righteous, which has been the object of Gods perfect discernment and perfect love from all eternity. There might thus have arisen a serious and inextricable dilemma, had the external revelation come into conflict with the internal sense in a mans own breast of what is morally good or morally evil. If, in opposition to our mathematical sense, we had been told by one in the character of a prophet, and who worked miracles in support of his claim, that two and two made five the very announcement would have darkened all the prior evidences of his mission, and thrown us back if not into a state of positive disbelief, at least of distressing skepticism. And the same would ensue, if in opposition to our moral sense, cruelty or falsehood or injustice had been canonized and enjoined as virtues, it is thus that our present argument bears directly on the proofs of revelation, and lays open at least one ligament of connection between ethics and theology. Should the morals and miracles of the gospel stand to each other as opposing forces the one might neutralize the other; and the whole external evidence of the record be nullified by the internal difficul ties which lay in its subject matter. But if; instead of this they operate as conspiring forces if, besides the historical evidence for its miracles, we can allege the purity arid excellence of its morals, then instead of a balance ending perhaps in a cancelment or mutual destruction, there might be a summation of arguments; and the conviction grounded on the testimonies both of first and of subsequent witnesses, be enhanced by other reasons drawn from other and distinct quarters of contemplation.
7. But the speculation which now engages us is not oniy applicable to the object of settling our belief in the truth of the Christian revelation, it is alike applicable to the work of urging and enforcing its lessons. The rightness, the absolute and independent rightness, of any grace or virtue, is not to be lost sight of by the preachers of gospel morality; for certainly it was not lost sight of by the first teachers and apostles of our faith it being not only present as a consideration to their own minds, but urged as a motive on the observance of their disciples. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord,for this is right. Nothing can be more unquestionable than the rightness of our obedience to God; and this singly, or of itself, is sufficient to infuse the element of moral obligation into every mandate which proceedeth from His mouth. But even in the eye of His own messengers, this did not overshadow the native and inherent rightness of that which is enjoined by Him; and so, instead of resting exclusively on the naked authority of God, we find them making a direct appeal to the moral judgments of men mingling as it were the transcendental light of heaven with the light of nature in human consciences; and meeting with a response and a manifestation there, when they dealt in those lessons, which were not only backed by all the authority of that inspiration wherewith they were charged, but the rightness of which might without inspiration be read and recognized of all men. There is an obvious respect both for the voice within the heart of indvidual man, and for the collective voice of society in the fullowing memorable deliverance. "Finally, brethren. whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.
8. The next theory of virtue which we propose briefly to consider, is the utilitarian system of morals, based on the experience that nothing is morally good which is not useful, an experience which even though it held unversally, does not of itself warrant the conclusion which has been raised upon it that it is the usefulness of any given act or habit which constitutes its virtuousness, or in which its virtuousness altogether lies. This was strenuously advocated by Hume, and is identically the system of our present utilitarians. The elements of its conclusive refutation are to be found in the Sermons of Bishop Butler. But our object at present is not so much to estimate the soundness of any ethical dogma, as to point out the bearing which its subject. matter has on the science of theology.
9. This system is subject to the like modifications with that which we have already considered, and which has been denominated or stigmatized as the theological system of morals. It is true that to do the will of God is a virtue, yet it follows not that in this and this alone the rightness of all virtue lies; and it is also true that God wills all virtue, yet it follows not that all morality is virtuous only because God wills it. In like manner, to do or desire that which is useful is one of the virtues, and one of high eminence in the scale, but it may not on that account form the essence or constituting quality of all the virtues; and it may be also true, that all virtue is useful, and yet that much of virtue has a rightness and obligation in itself apart from its usefulness, With these points of analogy, however, between the two systems, there is one respect in which they differ most glaringly. In the first, God is regarded by its advocates as all in all, and rightly, had they but kept free of their mistake in dating the origin of morality from the will of God, when they should have dated it from His uncreated and essential nature. In the second, God may be said to be altogether excluded, there being no account taken by its disciples of either His character or will. We have but to imagine ourselves placed under a different economy, with such other laws, whether of the mental or material constitution, as that vice should yield a greater amount of happiness than virtue and then virtue and vice would instantly change places. Morality, instead of being referred to the pre existent character of God, or being the prescription of divine authority, becomes the mere product of human experience what man finds to be most useful being the rule and the standard of duty. The former has been called the theological system of morals. It might be harsh to denominate the other the atheistical system of morals ; but certain it is that its principles, and all the materials for its regular construction, can be found and put together without so much as the recognition of a God. It were a system which might be framed by atheists, though in itself so defective and unpractical as not to be the best fitted for meeting the exigencies even of a state of atheism.
10. On this question, too, there hinges an argument for a God, which is either nullified or made good according as it is determined whether morality lies in usefulness alone, or, in itself the object of our simple and direct perception, it has an underived primary and peculiar character of its own? Should the former opinion be adopted, then to affirm the usefulness of morality, is but to affirm an identical proposition a mere verbal or logical or necessary truism, from which no inference can be drawn. Should the other and we hold the sounder opinion be adopted then to affirm the usefulness of morality is to affirm the actual conjunction of two different things, which are separable in idea, and might have been separate in fact, but for the determination of that power which hath ordained the laws and the connections of our actual universe. If righteousness on the one hand, and usefulness on the other, be two distinct categories then, not in their unity, but in their union, do we behold a contingency which of itself affords the glorious manifestation of a presiding morality in the system of our world. If it indeed be true that a universal virtue would, under the actual economy of things, bring a universal happiness in its train, and that generally the miseries and manifold discomforts of human existence can be traced to deviations from the rule of rectitude there cannot be a more complete experimental demonstration of the regimen under which we live being indeed a regimen of virtue. But virtue by itself is but an abstraction, a character which without a being is efficient of nothing, but which as the efficient cause of the system in which we are placed, and all the laws and tendencies of which are so palpably on the side of righteousness, infers a real and living and withal a righteous sovereign. The utilitarian system of morals would make this argument void, or at least cast an obscuration over it, while the orthodox and accredited system restores to it that full effect and clearness and significancy which makes it distinctly available for the demonstration of a God. This affords another specimen of the bearing which subsists between these cognate themes of academic discipline and instruction or another proof how intimately blended the two sciences of ethics and theology are with each other.
11. If utility be virtue, then, in some other economy of things taken at random, it is imaginable both of mind and matter as so differently constituted, that society might have found its greatest happiness in a morality the reverse in all its characteristics to that which now commands and unites the suifrages of mankind, At this rate the moral is but the handmaid of the physical; and virtue becomes a mere derivative.....a manufacture out of the existent materials and laws of the actual system, whatever that may be. It is difficult to see how an ethics thus framed and originated could at all help to build up a theology, or could contribute any evidence for a God. Not so if virtue, instead of an originated product, is an original principle, in conformity to which, at the same time, a world has been so constructed and ordained that the greatest enjoyment of those who live in it would be the result of a general adherence to its lessons and its rules. We should say of the natural government of such a world, that it was a government of virtue. But as we could not rest in aught so imaginary and ideal as the government of a mane abstraction, we should pass from the abstract to the concrete, and find a residence fir this virtue some Being who realized upon His own character its perfection and its graces. In other words, let virtue be distinct from utility, yet ours be a world so constituted as that utility is the actual and the universal product of virtue then, instead of stopping short at a generality or a name, we should find our way to a living God; and from such a natural government of righteousness as this, would instantly conclude for at once a righteous and a reigning Governor.
12. But let us now descend to certain of the particular virtues, and notice more expressly the views of those speculators in ethical science who look on truth and justice as having no distinct or independent virtuousness of their own, but as being the mere offshoots or modifications of benevolence, their one great and all pervading morality. Nothing can be more obvious than the vast and important subserviency both of truth and justice to the cause of usefulness, whereof in fact they are the direct and indispensable ministers in the converse and mutual transactions which take place between man and man in society. Yet it follows not that these are virtues, because of this subserviency alone; or that to their beneficial influence on the affairs of the world, the whole of their moral rectitude or moral obligation is owing. Certain it is that when men either fulfill a promise, or pay a debt, or deliver a conscientious testimony, they do so without any respect held by the mind to the usefulness of these observances, or any consideration of this element being at the time present with it. They, again, who would vindicate the analogies by which they resolve all the virtues into benevolence alone, tell us of the extreme rapidity of our mental transitions so rapid and so fugitive as to pass unnoticed, or with a celerity too evanescent for human consciousness. It might well be replied that this is a confession of a total want of positive evidence for their theory; and that it seems a very insufficient basis for any doctrine, thus to ground it on an argumenium.ab ignoranhia. But, without entering into the controversy any farther, it is enough for our purpose that we state the sides of it; or that while the one party would claim for truth and justice and holiness an independent status as moral virtues, co ordinate with, while distinct from the virtue o~enevolence the other party contend, that not only in the system of abstract ethics are they all reducible to benevolence alone, but that when lifting our contemplations to the character of Him who is supreme and eternal, though we speak of His various moral perfections as if they stood apart or had a substantive distinctness from each other, yet all are briefly comprehended in this saying that God is love.
13. Now we do not advance it as a full and definite solution, because too well aware of the confusion and mischief which have ensued from making inroad by the proper views and principles of one science on the distinct territory of another; yet we can see that at least one doctrine in the Christian theology, and that of weightiest importance among them all, might well serve to strengthen and confirm the advocates of the former opinion we mean the doctrine of the atonement. In this great and solemn transaction, devised in heaven and consummated on earth, there seems a wondrous homage to the high claims and the immutable authority of that truth and that justice which stood in the way of a worlds reconciliation; and to provide for which in a manner consistent with these sacred attributes, was that mystery of the divine jurisprudence whichangels de. sired to look into. The raising of such an apparatus, if we may so express it, as that of a redemption by sacrifice, and this in order to harmonize the overtures of mercy to our guilty species, with the high prerogatives of that law which they had violated, speaks powerfully to our apprehension for the underived and original character of those great moral perfections which were exhibited and put forth by God in the high capacity of a Lawgiver of that justice which both ordained and executes the law, and of that truth which stood committed to the enforcement of its penalties. If that system which affirms the separate and independent virtuousness of these high characteristics be entitled from the number and authority of its supporters to the appellation of the orthodox system of morals, then is it interesting here to observe so close a relationship of the two sciences, and how at this place of meeting between them, the orthodox ethics and the orthodox theology are at one.
14. This example will make apparent, we hope, the soundness of our observation on the study of ethics as a useful preliminary to the study of theological science. While at the same time this latter science, this theology, rests and is mainly supported, not on the lessons of any previous science, but on a proper and independent evidence of its own. Who, for instance, should ever think of basing the doctrine of the atonement on any ethical category whatever or of making it hinge on the determination of the question, whether truth and justice have in themselves an intrinsic or only a subordinate and derived virtuousness? Let this controversy be settled as it may, the previous truth of our atonement stands on the same unaltered and impregnable footing as before even on the clear averment of a perfect revelation, having distinct and satisfying credentials to authenticate the reality of its descent from the upper sanctuary. And yet it is well for the thoughtful inquirer, that he should bring this great theological proposition into contact and comparison with the dogmata of his prior school; and that he should enjoy the reflex light and confirmation which it casts on his earlier and more elementary studies. It is interesting to remark that the meagre theology which disowns an atonement and denies the need of one, chiefly prevails among the disciples of the utilitarian philosophy, or those who would resolve all the perfections of the Almighty into the single attribute of benevolence; while, on the other hand, they who have been accustomed to view truth and justice as in themselves the objects of direct and ultimate recognition, if they carry this contemplation upward to the throne of heaven, will regard Him who sitteth thereon as the Sovereign as well as Parent of the human family. They will feel that not only as a tenderness to be indulged, but an authority to be upheld and vindicated; and should they contrast aright the sinfulness of man with the sacredness of God, will they prize the revealed doctrine of the atonement as they lould the alone specific for a mortal and universal disease which had come upon the species the best suited to the moral exigencies of our nature, and so the worthiest of all acceptation.
15. For our next example of a close and interesting application between the two sciences of ethics and theology, would we now select, not any controverted doctrine, but rather an aphorism or undoubted axiom of the former science. It might be announced with all the certainty of a first principle, that nothing is virtuous, or vicious either, which is not voluntary. Ere an act, or a disposition, or a mental state of whatever kind, can become susceptible of a moral designation, can be rightly characterized either as morally good or morally evil, the will must have somehow had to do with it, either as an immediate or remote antecedent, which gave occasion or birth to the thing in question. This is a proposition which requires no argument to carry it, for it must command the instant assent of every conscience. Whether it be a deed, or a desire, or a belief on which we are called to pass sentence, the choice must have had some part in it before it can come within the scope of a moral or judicial reckoning at all, or be properly the subject either of moral blame or moral appi obation. In other words, we must be able to allege that a volition which should or should not have been put forth has had some concern in the matter, ere we can say of anything that either, on the one hand, this is its praise, or, on the other hand, that this is its condemnation.
16 Now, it may be thought, that this as being a truism rather than a truth, scarcely deserves the formality of so express an introduction to the notice of the mind. Yet we have thus signalized it, and that notwithstanding its extreme simplicity or obviousness; for though plain in itself as the lesson of any school boy, it, like other initial or elementary principles, teems with the weightiest and most important applications. For instance, it is by the help of this principle, and we think in no other way, that we establish the important position of a mans responsibility for his belief; and that we can point out wherein lies the criminality of wrong affections; and that we can even vindicate the transcendental, or, as some would term it, the hard and revolting dogma of predestination, from the aspersions cast upon it as at war with the moral sense of mankind, and subversive of all moral government. We do not say of ethical science alone, dealing as it does only with abstractions, that of itself it is competent to these achievements. But the ethical principle which we have just announced enters into and forms an essential part of these various demonstrations, to complete which, however, we must have recourse to the phenomena and laws of the mental physiology a department on which we propose to set foot afterwards. Meanwhile we tiuink it right to single out for special notice and recoilection that maxim in ethics by which the rnanifestations now promised can in our view be abundantly made good ; and the theology of our evangelical system, in full accordance with all that is sacred in the academic philosophy, can be amply justified against the indignation and abuse that have been heaped upon it.
17. There is still another lesson given forth by ethical writers wherewith it were well if the student of theology could make himself familiar, and carry forth to its right and legitimate bearings on the questions of his own science. We advert to the distinction made by them between the duties of perfect and imperfect obligation. That is a virtue of perfect obligation where, corresponding to the duty on one side, there is a counterpart right upon the other. Truth and justice are virtues of this class. If I make a promise to any man, it is not only my duty to fulfill the same, but, counterpart to this, I have invested him with a right to exact it of me. If I even but deliver a testimony in his hearing, it is my duty to be most scrupulously accurate; and he, on the other hand, has a right upon my faithfulness. Should either of these turn out to be false then, unless from my want of power or knowledge I could not have helped it, has he a right to complain of an injury in the first instance, that I have disappointed, in the second, have deceived him; in the one case by raising in his mind a treacherous expectation, and in the other, a wrong belief. Then, passing on from truth to justice, should I contract a bargain with another, it is not only my duty to make good its terms, but it is his right to demand the execution of them; or should I owe him a debt, it is not only my duty to render, but it is his right to enforce the payment of it. These cases make quite clear what that is which constitutes a duty of perfect obligation; and, on the other hand, we might exemplify in like manner those of the imperfect class where there is a duty on the one side, but no corresponding right upon the other. It is my duty to forgive a wrong; but it were a contradiction in terms to say of the culprit who had committed the wrong, that he had a right to this forgiveness. It is my duty to give of my own to the necessitous around me; but it were a like contradiction to speak of their right to this liberality for whatever they have a right to, is not my own, is not mine, but theirs; or, in other words, their right to a thing makes that thing their property, and in giving it to them we fulfill not an act of liberality but of justice. Benevolence is an undoubted duty; but it involves a paralogism to say of any man that he has a right to my benevolence and proceeds on the mistake of confounding two virtues which are essentially distinct from each other the virtues of justice and humanity. Benevolence is my duty to him, but it is not therefoi e his right upon me; and so, in terms of the usual definition given by moralists, benevolence, in its various modifications and forms, is still a virtue of imperfect obligation. .
18. The distinction, though it sounds somewhat scholastically, and has so far fallen into desuetude that many look upon it as exploded, is still an eminently practical one, and of capital importance in the business of legislation. Some of the greatest errors into which statesmen have fallen have arisen from the neglect of it. The proper object of law is to enforce the duties of perfect, but not those of imperfect obligation. It is to make sure for each man the undisturbed possession of his rights, which it does by repressing the infraction of them; or what is tantamount to this, the great use and function of law in society is to protect the members of it from wrong. And thus it is that it has to deal principally and pre eminently with questions of justice between man and man; but never was a greater blunder committed than when, overstepping her own boundaries, law, not satisfied with the enforcement of justice, aimed further at the enforcement of humanity. It does not lie within the province of human law to compel those duties on the part of one man, for which there is no correspondent right on the part of any other man. They may be morally binding; but it is by an unwarrantable stretch beyond the limits of a rightful jurisprudence, if on that account singly they are made to be legally binding also. It is only with a part of virtue that human law has to do. There is a remainder on which it cannot intrude without serious injury both to the cause of morals and to the best interests of society.
19. But not so with divine law, which takes cognizance of all virtue, and claims ascendency over the whole man. Man, though he has right to the justice, has no right to the benevolence of his fellow. But God has. He has full right to all our services, and in reference to Him the distinction ceases; and the obligation not of one class of duties, but of all duty, is perfect and entire. And so He is alike peremptory in requiring benevolence, as in requiring truth or Justice at our hands; and with perfect reason too for to every duty which can be named on the part of man, there is a corresponding right on the part of God. Man has no right upon us for any part of that which is our own. But in reference to God, we are not our own; and that distinction which in the morals and jurisprudence of earth is of so much importance, and should never be lost sight of, is not so recognized, and not so proceeded on in the jurisprudence of heaven. Even under the system of natural theology, God has a full and perfect right upon us for those duties which are said to be of imperfect obligation; and this more special right of His to our performanc of the so called imperfect duties, has a still more special and distinctive character of strength and prominency given to it in the Christian theology. Because Christ died for us we should live to Him: or, in other words, all our powers and affections and virtues of any sort should be consecrated to His service. Because he laid down His life for us, we should lay down our lives for the brethren a duty this to which, in the reckoning of an earthly morals, or under an economy of earthly law, there would be the most imperfect of all obligations. Because God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. Because God for Christs sake hath forgiven us, we should forbear and forgive one another: and so, absolute is the obligation of this latter duty, though perhaps in the system of natural ethics the most obviously imperfect of any that on our failure in the performance of it, we forfeit the blessings of our redemption. (Matt. vi. 15.) Nay, in the description of the final judgment, we find that upon benevolence are made to turn the rewards of an eternity; and that which on the mere platform of human society would be the mere rendering of a gratuity to a neighbour rises from the imperfect to the perfect, when viewed in the light of a return for the kindness, or as if it were in payment of a debt to the Saviour.
20. Nay, so great is the pre eminence given in the gospel of Jesus Christ to this benevolence, this virtue of imperfect obligation, that it is made to overshadow the others in a way which almost seems to supersede them, or to dispense with the necessity of making these the objects of our recognition at all. And accordingly we read of love being the fulfillment of all the law, and of all the other virtues, including both truth and justice, not that they are abrogated, but that they are briefly comprehended in this saying Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. It is thus that the law of the gospel has been called the law of liberty of which no better definition can be given than freedom to do as we like so that if we like our neighbour, we shall be sure, and tliat not of constraint, but of our own spontaneous choice to work him no ill a practical security, and that of the best sort, against any infraction of any of the virtues of perfect obligation. And thus it may be thought of these virtues that they may forthwith disappear from the system of Christian ethics altogether that charity absolves all, because, itself a universal substitute, it comes in place of all; and thus with it the speculation of all the moralities being reducible to benevolence, which we have so recently ventured to denounce, will come to be realized and exemplified in that state of perfection which is contemplated by the apostle when he tells of the glorious liberty of the children of God.
21. Does it follow, then, that after charity or love has had ts perfect work in the heart, it so monopolizes the whole field of vision that a Christian, when thus far advanced, loses sight of truth and justice so as that henceforth they disappear from observation, and resign that distinctive individuality for which we have been contending, to the benevolence which, in accordance with the tenet of those ethical philosophers against whom we have hithem to been listed, is now all in all? Our reply, on the contrary, is that the normal virtues of truth and justice, and that too in their distinctive peculiarity, continue the perpetual objects of recognition and reverence to the Christian disciple throughout all the stages of his spiritual advancement, and in this way, it is quite true, that in virtue of the benevolence wherewith his heart is now charged, he Will not be inclined to the violation of them, any more than the spirit of a just man made perfect, and so filled with all moral excellence, is inclined to sin. But with the real perfection of a saint in heaven, or with an aspiring progress and tendency towards it on earth, thei e wdl be something more than disinclination to sun. There will be an abhorrence of sin not a mere negative indifferency, but a strong positive energetic recoil from the very conception of sin. It is this, in fact, which constitutes holiness of which it were a wrong definition to say that it consisted in pemfect virtue. This is not what holiness properly and precisely is. To have a right understanding of what that is, and nothing else, which we call holiness we must look, not to virtue in itself but to virtue in relation to its opposite; and the specific or essential characteristic of holiness lies in the repugnance, a repugnance which with the Godhead is infinite and invincible, that is felt to sin. Now, applying this to the present question, the mere fact of one or any number of Christians having had the law of love put into their hearts, cannot possibly affect the abstract system of ethics, which will remain in all its parts, and in all its diversities between one part and another, the same doctrine or body of propositions after this event as before it. More particularly, there would remain as wide a distinction between justice and benevolence as ever, and no change whatever in concrete persons could, in any conceivable way, lead to such a change of abstract principles as would merge these two unto one and the same object of contemplation. Take two persons of great and nearly equal generosity, so near as that when tested it was found of the one that fom the relief of the same case of distress he gave half a farthing more than the other. Take other two persons, each acquitting himself of the same contract ; and let it be found that while the first rigidly kept by the terms of his bargain, the second in the settlement of his, knowingly, deliberately, and by a dishonest artifice, contrived to secrete and appropriate for himself half a farthing which did not belong to him. Who would ever think of estimating these two differences on the same principles or in the same manner? How comes it that while the material differences are precisely the same, the moral differences are so wholly unlike, and that not in degree but in species? Why, it is because the virtues concerned in the two transactions are of different species. The defect of the one mans generosity from the others is of no sensible estimation. The contrast between the one mans dishonesty and the others faithfulness, is as distinctly marked and as broadly discernible as is the contrast between light and darkness. In the first case, we are presented with gradations of the same color. In the second, we are presented with the different hues of two opposite colors. It is all true that the same Christian love which prompted the generosity would also refrain from the injustice; but if a Christian in all his parts, he would do more than simply refrain from the injustice he would recoil from it, and that with the clear and full and instant determination of one who had been well taught in the lesson, that he who was unfaithful in the least was unfaithful also in much. Such morality, the morality though it may seem of grains and scruples, is the highest toned morality of all not that which takes alarm only at the grosser and more glaring enormities of human conduct, but that which would shrink from the minutest violations whether of truth or of justice. If to recoil from the first approaches of impurity or profaneness be the holiness of the sacred then to recoil from the first approaches of falsehood or dishonesty, however venial they might appear to this every day world, may well be termed the holiness of the social virtues a holiness for which there is place and exercise even under the full reign of that charity which never faileth; and accordingly heaven is at once the abode both of love and of holiness. And thus it is that the Christian servant told not to purloin, would spurn away every teniptation to taste or to touch a forbidden thing; and the Christian overseer would resolutely keep himself from every unhallowed freedom with the property of his employer; and the Christian merchant would disdain the paltry deception or concealment which might magnify his gains. There is nothing in the power or prevalence of Christian love to obliterate the virtues, or to banish from the society of earth the sacred and venerable forms, either of unswerving fidelity, or of high and untainted honor. And the same truth and justice which flourish here are transplanted to the land of uprightness beyond the grave, and are there the themes of immortal celebration. Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints, thou only art holy.
22. We have already intimated that there is a certain laxity of doctrine associated with the ethical speculation of those who would put truth and justice on the background, by making them a sort of secondaries or subordinates to the great master virtue of benevolence. And we may further say of many in society, that, though not enertained as a theory, yet felt as a sentiment, it is. in them associated with a certain laxity of practice. Free and fearless in expenditure, and with an openhandedness which passes for generosity, they can be profuse in hospitality, nay, even munificent in the exercise of compassion, when a tale of wretchedness is brought to their ears. Yet, just because there is more of impulse than of principle in all their well doing, are they somewhat loose withal to the virtuesof perfect obligation not very punctual to their engagements not very faithful to the days or the terms of stipulated payment not over scrupulous should there be any openings of escape from the tribute which is due by them not very observant of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, when biggling in markets, they would either unconscionably cheapen down the article they want to buy, or try to palm off on others the commodity in which they deal in a word, with many of the frank and companionable virtues of good neighborhood, not very strict or literal in the discharge of those cardinal duties over against which there stand the counterpart rights of creditou s or customers or employers. Theirs is what may be called the liberalism of virtue; and it is among them that splendid bankruptcies and splendid phoenix-like revivals, and to account for these, we fear, splendid frauds, are often to be found. But this relaxation is not confined to such. It is met in every class of society; nor are we aware of a fitter theme in all Chu istian ethics for the pulpit, and that to serve the purposes both of conviction and of direct moral tuition, than to denounce and to expose it. The minister when thus employed is standing up for what we have just styled the holiness of social virtue, when he tells the servants in a family not to purloin, and labourers in the field not to serve with eye service, and men in the walks of merchandise not, in their love of money, which is the root of all evil, to forget the simplicity and godly sincerityof Christian disciples, even though their fellows should laugh at them as simpletons. And; in short, when he charges all and sundry of his hearers against those secret and unseen but innumerable peccadilloes which are so currently practiced in the various departments of service, or housekeeping, or trade, or confidential agency, of far too various a character in the complicated relations of business and society for our enumeration.
23. But a just sense of this ethical distinction may serve not only to enlighten and confirm our views of Christian practice it should also rectify our apprehensioums of Christian doctrine. I should like you to ponder well the difference between a legal right and a moral rightness or which is the same thing, between a right in the substantive and rightness in the adjective sense of the term. The character of moral rightness is predicable of all virtue, but it is only a part of virtue to my performance of which any of my fellows in society can have a legal or judicial right. It is right for me to be benevolent, but no man can allege a right to my benevolence as he can a right to my justice. It is right for me to forgive, but no man can allege a right to the forgiveness of an injury, as it can to the payment of a debt. In short, it is right that I should acquit myself of all the virtues, even those of imperfect obligation; but none on earth have a right upon me for any other virtues than those of perfect obligation. Now it is the équivoque of two terms so neat in language, yet applied to things so different in reality, which has led to a certain sense of ambiguity in our understanding of certain passages, and So in our attempts to estimate aright certain doctrines of the New Testament; and it is only by attending to the distinction between a judicial right and a rnoral rightness that the ambiguity is resolved. The righteousness of which we read there, as well as its counterpamt in the Greek, is expressive sometimes of that righteousness which has acquired or made good a right to reward, and sometimes of that righteousness which, apart from the judicial element altogether, stamps a moral or personal worth upon the character . Now, in the former sense, the righteousness of man is utterly held at naught under the Christian dispensation; and by its economy the most ruinous error into which man can fall is attempting to establish such a righteousness of his own the very stumblingblock at which the Jews stumbled; and a stumbling block to the men of all generations who think, by theiu own obedience, ta substantiate a legal claim to the divine favour, or to the preferments of a blissful eternity. But in the latter sense the righteousness of man is not only in highest demand ; but his restoration to entire personal virtue is announced to be the ultimate design of the Christian dispensation the terminating object of which is that the man of God may be perfect and thoroughly furnished unto all good works. It is in virtue of the distinction now explained, that we are enabled to resolve the seeming inconsistency of these seemingly opposite representations. The righteousness of man is of no possible avail for the establishmnent of his judicial right to a place in heaven; and for this we must look exclusively and altogether to the righteousness of Christ. But the righteousness of man is indispensable to his personal meetness for heaven; and this can only be made good by his working mightily in the strength of that Spirit for whom he prays, and who works in him mightily. In other words, the righteousness of man contributes nothing to his justification. It is all in all for his sanctification; and it is thus that passages .and doctrines which some regard as destructive of each other admit of being fully harmonized.
Righteousness is judicially understood when associated with the doctrine of justification, and morally understood when associated with sanctification. Rom. x. 3, 4; Matt. v.20.
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