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It is a fundamental principle of common sense, that we exist; that we are intellectual, rational and moral agents, capable of discerning between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, and capable of doing right. We cannot help perceiving that two and two are equal to four, that honesty and faithfulness and benevolence are right and ought to be practised; and that murder, and slander, and deceit, and fraud, and every other exercise of selfishness, is wrong, and can and ought to be avoided. The fact that we are able and bound to do right, and able and bound to avoid all moral evil, is assumed by every court of justice, by every person in his secret judgment of all others, and indeed by every rational being in the universe. To deny that we have, to a certain extent, an intuitive perception and certain knowledge of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, and that we are able and bound to do right always; is to inock our common sense, and insult our own consciousness. Did not mankind possess this sense of truth and right, who could ever convince them of the existence, propriety and moral fitness of any thing that exists? Nothing but this knowledge can ever bind them to do right.
It is a dictate of common sense, that the mind or soul of man, is "all spirit and activity"-that it is simply a rational, moral and spiritual existence, which has "neither length, nor breadth, nor figure, nor visibility, nor any other property of matter," or any thing material in its nature-that its essence and existence consist in the various states of perception, memory, reason, conscience, volition, sympathy, consciousness, &c.; and not in any thing dormant and inactive. We know, that any imaginary thing which cannot be conceived to be true, is false. And we can form no real notion of any thing inactive in mind. In the language of a late eminent divine: "Separate activity from the soul, and its existence is no longer conceivable. The essential properties of the soul, constitute its essence, as much as the essential properties of matter constitute the essence of matter." It is an association of properties that constitutes the essence of matter, and an association of exercises that constitutes the essence of mind.The association of the properties of matter is made to exist in a permanent state, and the association and continuation of the exercises of mind form our mental, permanent existence. The same First Cause that could commence, can continue the existence of both matter and mind, though there be no visionary substratum or substance to either, separate from properties and exercises, of which we can form any distinct idea. Nor is it possible for Deity to create any independent substance or substratum, in either matter or mind, which would continue to exist, as many suppose, without the continued agency of the First Cause. Independence is a peculiar attribute of the Deity, which can never be imparted. If it should be said that an exercise, or action, implies an agent, or actor, to whom the action belongs; and therefore there must be some substratum or substance in mind, from which its actions flow; it is a sufficient reply to say, this is but begging the question. One exercise may as well be conceived to belong to all the others, which compose our mental and mortal existence, as to belong to any dormant substratum, of which we can form no distinct idea. There is nothing absurd in the idea of a simple active existence, any more than in an inactive one; and the absurd conjectural notion of an inactive substance to mind, never originated in the field of common sense, but is a remnant of that vain infidel philosophy, which would crowd the great First Cause of all things far from us. On the supposition of inactive substance to mind, it may be as pertinently asked, to what does that belong? and so ad infinitum. Nothing, therefore, is gained, but absurdity. If it should be objected, that God's creating and constantly upholding a simple active existence, would make
it a part of himself; why would not his creating and upholding a dormant principle in mind, make that a part of himself? It is true, there is something respecting mind, which the mind cannot comprehend. We cannot comprehend how the soul and body are connected with, and influence each other, nor are we required to know this. We cannot tell how many mental exercises co-exist in one mind; though we know that but one moral exercise ever exists in our mind, at once. And what we cannot know, we are not required to know; yet we are required to know ourselves. But if one thing, essential to the nature of mind, of which we are never conscious, and can form no distinct idea, may exist; then why not two, ten or ten thousand; and on this supposition, who could ever comply with the divine precept, to know himself, or ever acquire any true knowledge of his mind? We are never conscious of any thing but activity in our mind; we can form no distinct idea of any inactive mental substratum which is absurd; therefore it is a dictate of common sense, that no such thing exists.
It is a dictate of common sense, that sin and holiness can never be blended in one exercise. Many things in nature cannot be blended; much less can those which are morally opposite, be mixed. We can form a distinct idea of an exercise of holiness, and an exercise of sin; but we can form no distinct idea of an exercise, partly holy, and partly sinful. How can selfishness be partly benevolent, or real benevolence be partly selfish? Such a supposition is as absurd, as it is unscriptural. On this principle, a particular action might be both praise-worthy and blame-worthy. Some suppose, that a holy exercise may be partly sinful merely on account of its weakness. But this view is equally absurd; for "our exercises can never be perfectly strong; that is, as strong as the divine affections." We know, intuitively, that every person always acts with all his heart, when he acts at all. The causes of mental weakness may indeed be criminal, but weakness itself is
It is a dictate of common sense, that the nature of moral exercises is alike, in all moral beings. It would be absurd to suppose that we are bound to love or hate the character of any beings, of whom we can form no just conception. And since we are obliged to reason respecting the nature of all other minds from the nature of our own; we must suppose, that mental views, exercises and emotions, are of the same nature, wherever they exist. Benevolence and complacence, joy and grief, love and hatred, justice and mercy, perception and reason, compassion and sorrow, and imagination and sympathy, are of the same nature, in all moral beings, wherever they exist. Hence, by knowing the nature of our own minds, we may know the nature of others. If this were not true, we could form no idea of other existences. Divest a man of his conscience, and he could form no idea of a moral being; or take away a person's reason, and he could form no idea of an intellectual being. God made man after his image; and as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.
It is a fundamental principle of common sense, that holiness is more amiable, and its existence more important, than happiness. Holiness has a tendency to promote happiness; but happiness has no tendency to promote holiness. Happiness is a natural good; but holiness is good of a different and entirely superior nature, which receives the esteem and approbation of conscience; but happiness never does. For this reason, we know that moral good is more excellent and important, than natural good; and for the same reason, we know that, holiness, and not happiness, is the chief good. Hence every person, that consults his own conscience, knows, that it is criminal and shameful, for any moral being to pursue happiness as his "being's end and
aim." The intuitive moral sense, which every rational being has, of the supreme moral excellence, loveliness and importance of moral virtue, is instead of a thousand arguments to prove this obvious truth, that holiness is the chief good and highest end which can be conceived.
It is a fundamental principle of common sense, that sin is more odious and undesirable, than misery. It is evident from the divine law, that God hates one sin, more than he does endless misery, which he has threatened for one transgression. Sin is morally odious and hateful; but misery is not. Sin receives the disapprobation of conscience; but misery does not. For this reason, every person, who hates misery, more than he does sin, appears contemptible in the eyes of all moral beings. Those, who affirm that misery is a greater evil than sin, would be wise to consult their own consciences on this serious subject, and not remain so much like the horse and the mule, who are without moral discernment. The simple fact, that mankind are made capable of seeing the supreme odiousness, and hateful nature of sin, is a perfect moral demonstration, that sin is unspeakably the greatest evil in existence.
It is a dictate of common sense, that justice is amiable. Mankind are capable of seeing, not only the supreme odiousness and ill-desert of sin, but also of seeing the congruity, fitness and moral beauty of God's connecting natural evil with ill-desert. Whoever read the history of Haman, without involuntarily admiring the justice displayed in his overthrow? Who can conceive of any thing just and right, without conceiving of something amiable and glorious? Let their moral character be what it may, mankind uniformly approve and admire the justice displayed in the punishment of thieves, and knaves, and murderers; unless some particular selfish interest prevents. And the greater the ill-desert of the individual, the greater will appear the moral beauty of the vindictive justice displayed in his punishment, and the greater will be the involuntary joy and approbation that will be felt by those who witness it. Hence Moses saw, and the heavenly hosts, who will sing the song of Moses, will see the greatness of the divine excellency, in punishing the incorrigibly wicked.
It is a dictate of common sense, that guilt can never be annihilated. We cannot conceive that time, or punishment, or forgiveness, or even a divine declaration, can ever remove the guilt of sin. When a parent punishes a child for disobedience, it does not make him innocent of that disobedience. When the State punishes individuals for crime, the punishment has no tendency, neither is it intended, to make them innocent of their crimes. It may make them obedient, and submissive, and dutiful; but as long as it remains true, that they have violated their obligations to the State; so long will their ill-desert remain. If a person should suffer even more than he deserves, for a given period, it would not make him any more innocent. For if a just punishment has no tendency to remove guilt, we cannot see that an unjust one can remove guilt. It might indeed remove the reason for his being punished, for a given time; but nothing more. Saints in heaven will always be ill-deserving creatures, which will doubtless be the foundation of some of their sweetest songs of praise. All rational beings are made capable of seeing the immutable nature of guilt, which is a moral demonstration that it can never be diminished.
It is a dictate of common sense, that moral good and evil ought to be measured by the motive and intention of the agent. Mankind always secretly excuse or condemn all others, by their apparent motives and intentions. It is more criminal for a man to design to commit murder, than to design to pilfer the treasures of a prince; and it is
more criminal to design to murder a number of persons, to accomplish the same purpose, than to design the death of but one. Just so, it is a greater moral virtue to design the accomplishment of a great good, than, with the same light, opportunity and ability, to design the accomplishment of a less one. Knowledge, favors, strength of mind, and other circumstances, may contribute to the amount of good or evil, in any given action; but the motive or intention of the person, is the primary and immediate measure of good, or ill-desert. We know that some persons have much more selfish and malignant designs and motives, than others. Soine persons, at some times, design a great natural evil to others, to promote but a contemptible and momentary good of their own. Hence to find out the degree of guilt, in any action, we always search, in the first place, for its motive and design. No person can honestly praise or condemn himself for the tendency of any one of his actions, any farther than he foresaw its tendency.There is no reason to suppose, that Adam knew that his first sin would have a tendency to spread sin, "death and all our woe,' among the countless myriads of his posterity, as it actually did. And if not, it would be absurd, to suppose him guilty of the evil consequences, which ensued.
It is a dictate of common sense, that all moral virtue consists in the various modifications of disinterested benevolence, which excludes all selfishness from the heart, whenever it exists. Disinterested benevolence consists in regarding all the interests of holiness and happines, within the circle of our knowledge, for their own sake, and according to our knowledge of their sacredness and importance. It implies a willingness to give up any or all of our own good, if necessary, to promote a greater good, or if the general good requires it. God seeks, and ought to seek, his own holiness and happiness supremely, only because it is the chief good. The benevolence of Deity leads him to punish some persons according to their deserts, to promote the general good; and disinterested benevolence in them, would lead them to choose to accept the punishment of their iniquity, for the same reason. It is as impossible to conceive of any moral excellence, that is not an exercise of this benevolence, as it is to conceive an exercise of it to be sinful, hateful and ill-deserving.
It is a fundamental principle of common sense, that all selfishness, and nothing but selfishness, is sin. Selfishness consists not merely in seeking our own interests supremely, but in seeking them because they are our own. I know it has been supposed and published, that self-love, or selfishness, in its elementary form, is not criminal, but becomes so only when it is carried to excess, or exercised towards improper objects. But this is absurd; and in order that any person may feel its absurdity, let him suppose, that five degrees of love are due to himself, and five million to the kingdom of God. Five degrees of self-love, then, would be exactly right, and all above, if not all below this, would be sin. But if a man should exercise one thousandth part of a degree more than five, how great would be his sin? How many degrees, or how great a fraction of a degree, more than five, would consign him to endless punishment? To state such a notion, is to refate it. The obvious fact is, that every degree of selfish self-love, by which I mean seeking our own interests merely because they are our oen, is sin. We cannot conceive of any moral evil, that is not an exercise of this selfishness.
It is a fundamental principle of common sense, that there is an eternal and self-existent First Cause, who is the efficient producing eanse of every creature, object and event that ever began to exist. We are not only unconscious of existing independently, but we are
made capable of seeing the nature and necessary relation of cause and effect. By seeing that men and things are made capable of existing by a cause, we equally see that they cannot exist without a cause. When we perceive a curious piece of workmanship on the earth, or in the heavens, we not only perceive, instantly, that it must have had a cause, but we also see something of the nature of the cause, by seeing the effect. This perception of the nature and relation of cause and effect, is a moral demonstration of the existence, and constant, and universal agency of the great First Cause of all things.
The constant and absolute dependence of matter and created mind, upon this great First and independent Cause, is another plain dictate of common sense. We cannot conceive of the nature of a creature, or created object, without conceiving of its perfect dependence for every motion and action. There is nothing absurd in the idea of a voluntary, accountable and dependent being. God's causing our actions has no more tendency to destroy our acting, than his causing our existence at first, had a tendency to prevent our existing. We are conscious of activity and accountability, and our perfect dependence is one of the first and most obvious truths we apprehend.
It is a dictate of common sense, that every sin we commit, is simply a violation of moral obligation, which is perceived only by our conscience. We intuitively know, that nothing out our moral sense of right and wrong, binds us to do right, and consequently that nothing can bind us to act contrary to our conscience. Hence the scriptures affirm, "He that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” By intellectual perception and reason, we know what is true and false, but not what is right and wrong. If even Gabriel should be divested of his conscience, nothing could bind him, or enable him, to continue holy, or enable him to become sinful. Hence when conscience is said to be weak, defiled or seared, we cannot suppose the scriptures mean, that our moral sense of right and wrong is destroyed, or its nature so changed that a knowledge of our duty ceases entirely, or in a great measure, to exist. For, this would weaken or destroy our moral agency and accountability. But the conscience may be said to be defective, when the heart becomes so hard, blind and obstinate, that it ceases entirely, or in a great measure, to be affected by its dictates, or when it circumscribes the operations of conscience in such a manner, that its dictates, in some respects, are different from what they would be, under different circumstances. This is not uncommon phraseology; for we say, 'a hot sun,' when it heats us, and a clear and bright sun,' when it reflects a clear light; though the nature of the sun does not change. The scriptures every where recognise this obvious truth, that the present dictates of conscience, whether enlightened or unenlightened, seared and defiled or not, always bind the heart to obey them; which implies, that nothing else can bind the heart contrary to them. Hence the apostle said, "We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is but one God, of whom are all things, &c. Howbeit, there is not in every man that knowledge: For some with conscience of the idol unto this hour, eat it as a thing offered unto an idol, and their conscience being weak, is defiled." Here the defect of conscience mentioned, was in consequence of a want of knowing that an idol was nothing; and however much they might have been to blame for neglecting to obtain that easy knowledge, the apostle did not intimate that their defiled conscience did not bind them to obey its present dictates, but the contrary. For he continues to say, "If any man see thee, which hast knowledge, sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him that is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered