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inquiry is how the habit arose. It is only explaining the qualities of a thing by a statement of its nature.
Custom may explain what one man does; but how can it possibly explain what mankind do, or how men came to do it? It accounts for this or that man's doing this or that particular act; but never can explain the mighty motives that have swayed the hearts of mankind through long ages, the same internal principles under a thousand varying forms of custom and outward habit. Ito never can account for the noble actions of men, done for the sake of conscience in defiance of custom and amidst the frowns of the world. This proposed explication of the phenomena is as utterly inadequate as the celebrated explanation of the fossil shells on the Alps by the droppings from the pilgrims over the passes.
But further, the accounts which the opponents of the moral sense are by Paley supposed to give of custom seems as false as it is inadequate. It assumes that any custom, touching any society of men in the feeblest degree, inevitably spreads through the whole mass, not in the intensity in which it first existed, but to a far greater degree; and this though the habit in question arose but from a blunder of association, and was throughout its leaven-like dissemination persistently opposed by all the selfishness and all the immoral passions of every member of the society in question. Surely there is nothing in the history of human society that lends any pretence to such an account of the origin and spread of customs as that here given.
The religious aspect of the theory of moral obligation which has been propounded by Paley would well deserve a fuller discussion than we can accord to it now; more especially as there is a large class of persons, entirely opposed to him as a theologian, who, as Dr. Whately has remarked (p. 23),
“ from a well-intentioned but misdirected desire to exalt God's glory and set forth man’s sinfulness,” strenuously maintain the validity of it. The Archbishop has justly observed (p. 24), that if we attach " no meaning to the words 'good' and just' and 'right,' except that such is the divine command, then to say that God is good, and His commands just, is only saying in a circuitous way that He is what He is, and that what He wills He wills; which might equally be said of any being in the universe:" and further, that if we adopt this theory, we can no longer refer to the pure and moral tone of the New Testament as an internal evidence; if all our moral notions are entirely derived from that book, to say that the morality of the book is correct is merely to say that it is what it is" (p. 25).
But he who adopts this theory is necessarily involved in results more irreligious still: for it is evident that he worships and serves God, not because He is holy and good and true, but
because He is strong; and that if Satan could ever offer a more violent motive than God, he should be followed, and not God. It is evident that to him might makes right; that the sole distinction between God and Satan is one of strength, not of justice; and that (if we may reverently put such a supposition) had Satan and his angels conquered in the wars of heaven, he, and not the God of truth, had rightly challenged our obedience. We confess that the worship of power, as distinct from right, has ever seemed to us to be the very essence of devilworship; and Paley is satisfied if God be but the strongest of the devils. Such a theory appears to us so revolting and irreligious, that we almost hesitate to embody its conclusion in words.
If Paley be right in his general theory of moral obligation, and in his proposition that the Scriptures are the expressed will of God, we should find in them a very simple mode of teaching. It would be simply a setting forth of certain things as commanded and others as forbidden, with the addition of a promise of heaven and a threat of hell for the doing of the one or the other class of deeds respectively: and if ever any thing beyond this were to be found, it would be somewhat about the tendency of actions to promote or diminish the general happiness: whereas the method we find employed in the Scriptures is as remote as possible from such a one. They do, indeed, enforce the commands of God with the terrible sanctions of a future state of reward or punishment; but hope and fear are never set forth as the sole or the principal reason why an action should be done or forborne; but the primary appeal ever lies to the moral nature of man, and to the eternal distinction between right and wrong. Even the reference so often made to God's will is something far different from a mere appeal to our selfish desire of pleasure or dread of pain ; rather it is like vouching the authority of one whose moral qualities are so infinitely exalted, that the conscience cannot choose but presume that what is to Him well-pleasing must be immutably and eternally right.
Again, if Paley be correct, the manner in which God is described, and His attributes set before us, in the Scriptures, is impertinent and irrelevant in the last degree. For then the one thing of all account to us—the one thing, indeed, we ever could know or understand about Him--would be His strength, His power beyond any other being to give us pleasure or pain. Then all that is said about His righteousness, His justice, His truth, is but mocking us with lofty but idle words; nay, more, it is a base attempt to deceive us with the belief that He has claims on our allegiance which neither He nor any other being ever can have. If the Scriptures be true and Paley right, God would
have been set forth with the attribute of power only, not as just, and true, and righteous altogether.
The scriptural mode of inculcating duties may be well illustrated by an instance which Paley himself has given:
66 Obedience to parents,” he remarks, "is enjoined by St. Paul to the Ephesians: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right;' and to the Colossians, Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing unto the Lord'” (p. 245). Now surely, if Paley's theory of moral obligation be right, the sole motive set before the children would have been that obedience would hereafter bring reward, and disobedience pain: St. Paul would never have made so irrelevant an observation as that this was right; he would never have embarrassed the innocent minds of the children with such a roundabout
of stating the motive as that obedience was well-pleasing to the Lord.
Paley himself, in an unguarded moment, admitted what we are contending for. “The Scriptures,” he says, “commonly presuppose in the persons to whom they speak a knowledge of the principles of natural justice; and are employed not so much to teach new rules of morality, as to enforce the practice of it by new sanctions, and by a greater certainty; which last seems to be the proper business of a revelation from God, and what was most wanted” (p. 16). How it is possible to reconcile this statement with the moral system subsequently laid down, is not clear or easy to understand. What has justice to do with the matter, when by Paley's definition all moral obligation consists in “the expectation of being after this life rewarded if I do, or punished if I do not”? (p. 59.) It is a simple question of command: and how can any question arise about justice?—still more, how can it be natural, when by Paley's hypothesis the nature of man is but a tabula rasa, a dumb dog, with no voice or utterance of its own, and influenced only by the hope of reward or the fear of punishment, according as it does or does not the behest of its tyrant? The whole sentence is an admission of that which Paley means to deny.
Morality involves two things, knowing and doing; and these are unfortunately but too distinct from one another. It seems strange that a man knowing the better should do the worse-so strange, that it was some time before men could bring themselves to the belief of it. Socrates, as all know, thought vice and ignorance one and the same thing: he conceived that men's minds were confused, that mere semblances were taken for realities, and things evil were mingled in conception with things good; and accordingly all his efforts were but to draw out from the consciences and hearts of his hearers, or rather answerers, those
truths which lay within their hearts, buried, hidden, and asleep. He never dreamed that when those truths were really aroused, when men had become distinctly conscious of them, they could or would go on doing the evil whilst thus knowing the good.
A few years, however, sufficed to dispel the illusion : a little space of time was enough to show that to know and to do were not identical or co-extensive; and the great Peripatetic was obliged to admit the existence of this failing in the soul-this impotency to do what it knows is best to be done, and what it, indeed, does desire to do. Aristotle wisely discriminated between this incapacity to follow the better, and the desire to follow the worse-between the impotency or incontinence of the soul and its intemperance, if we may strive so to distinguish vices which our English tongue has no specific words to express at all equivalent to the άκρασία and ακολασία of Aristotle.
Now it is exactly here, as it seems to us, that the great point of incidence of Christianity on the moral nature of man is to be found, -in overcoming this impotency of man to do what he knows he ought to do. It is just in this part of the battle-field, in this moment of the strife, that Christianity comes to the rescue, with its mysterious influences, its divine aids, its superhuman strength. Before it came, there was the moral law, the sense of right and wrong, the consciousness of good and evil, the desire to follow the one and to eschew the other; but there also came the passions—greed, and lust, and self in its myriad forms of evil; and all these principalities and powers were joined together in the strife of a ceaseless battle, waged with varying and uncertain issue, where the voice of conscience was drowned mid the war-cry of contending desires and the shout of triumphant passions. Then heaven was opened, and its hosts were seen ready to join in the conflict, and to subdue all this confused medley into a state of perfect harmony, where conscience is as supreme in power as before she had been in right.
We are not saying that the communication of this superhuman aid was all that Christianity has effected, or was designed to effect, even as regards morality alone. It unquestionably did much more.
It not only supplied fresh motives for right practice, and fresh obligations for the pursuit of virtue, through its revelations, but it expanded and improved the text of the moral law. On this point Archbishop Whately has well observed, that “all the peculiarities of the gospel morality appear manifestly, on an attentive inspection, to consist not in departures from natural morality, but in the correction, completion, and exaltation of what had been laid down by human moralists. It is not in contradiction, but in conformity to the purest ethical principles that Christianity amends what is faulty, supplies what
is deficient, and improves what is right in human systems" (p. 66).
In the admirable essay in the Friend,* in which Coleridge has discussed Paley's doctrine of the utility of actions considered as the criterion of their morality, he has pointed out how our author's system is opposed to the Christian scheme in the confounding of morality with law; in the substitution of obedience for "faith; and how it necessarily denies the doctrine propounded by the Scriptures of the judgment of God on our actions. For the Scriptures tell us of an Omniscient as well as All-powerful Being, who shall judge us hereafter according to the thoughts and intents of the heart, and not according as our actions have resulted in apparent good or apparent evil to our fellows: whereas Paley, in fact, tells us that motives—that is, these thoughts and intents--are of no moment at all. - One of the most persuasive, if not one of the strongest, arguments for a future state," as Coleridge remarks in the essay to which we have referred, “ rests in the belief, that although by the necessity of things, our outward and temporal welfare must be regulated by our outward actions, which alone can be the objects and guides of human law, there must yet needs come a juster and more appropriate sentence hereafter, in which our intentions will be considered, and our happiness and misery made to accord with the grounds of our actions. Our fellow-creatures can only judge what we are by what we do; but in the eye of our Maker, what we do is of no worth, except as it flows from what we are. Though the fig-tree should produce no visible fruit, yet if the living sap is in it, and if it has struggled to put forth buds and blossoms, which have been prevented from maturing by inevitable contingencies of tempests or untimely frosts, the virtuous sap will be accounted as fruit; and the curse of barrenness will light on many a tree from the boughs of which hundreds have been satisfied, because the Omniscient Judge knows that the fruits were threaded to the boughs artificially by the outward working of base fear and selfish hopes, and were neither nourished by the love of God or of man, nor grew out of the graces engrafted on the stock by religion.”
There is one, amongst the somewhat miscellaneous observations with which Paley concludes his first book, to which we must briefly call attention before concluding,—that, we mean, in which he lays down the well-known rule in morality about the safe side. “In every question of conduct, where one side is doubtful and the other side safe, we are bound to take the safe side.” A very little consideration will tell any one that, though this may be true, it is far from being the whole truth; and Dr.
• Vol. ii. Essay xi,