« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Art. I. — Sermons on the Principles of Morality incul
cated in the Holy Scriptures, in their Adaptation to the present Condition of Society. By W.J. Fox. Boston. Leonard C. Bowles. 1833. 12mo. pp. viii. and 291.
We refer again to these Sermons, for they possess no common degree of interest. They come not within the ordinary range of sermons. Their aim is higher and broader; it is not their object so much to throw new light on specific moral duties, as to bring out and set to work those great and immutable principles of right, which are the source and the life of morality itself. This, to us, is their chief excellence. It is of little use to dwell on the mere details of duty. In these, men need but little instruction. It is not in these, but in those first principles that would make morality something living, controlling, and abiding, that they are most deficient.
We are aware that there has gone abroad a deep and obstinate prejudice against all disquisitions that touch first principles. Such disquisitions are termed "abstract reason
“ ing' " "metaphysics”; and that, in this age of steam-boats and rail-roads, is enough to stamp them with reprobation. The great cry of the times is for something practical,” something material, something that will spare the labor of thinking. But we can have no practice worthy of reliance without correct first principles. When not attached to first principles, our morality is only the fragment of a morality, without power to touch the heart and kindle the spirit, to make itself loved or its obligation felt. We have no true
N. S. VOL. XII. NO. III.
morality till we have a living foun'ain within us, from which it may unceasingly flow.
We look in vain for a moral conmunity where first principles are disregarded. Where nothing is said concerning first principles, where there is instruction only in the details of duty, there is only a routine of decencies or of heartless conventionalisms. Only a low standard of virtue is adopted, only a depressed moral tone obtains. But where first principles, - principles broad and comprehensive, - are brought out and insisted upon, we witness a result wholly different. At first, indeed, they may not be obeyed, they may touch only the understanding ; but they become subjects of thought and conversation; gradually they find their way into the very heart of the community, become the mainsprings of its actions, the controlling influence of its measures.
Nobody is better convinced of this truth, than Mr. Fox. He therefore rises into the philosophy of morals, and attempts to furnish us, or to direct us where we may furnish ourselves, with first principles, which we may always bear about us, not only to point to right actions, but to create the will and the power to perform them. He may not always succeed, but we give him our hearty thanks for his aim, and the example he has given us. He considers himself a Utilitarian, but his Utilitarianism is so modified by enlightened thought, liberal feeling, and just sentiment, that he scarcely deserves the name. It is true, he makes happiness “our being's end and aim," and commends us to consult general utility, as the only means of securing it; but he understands by happiness little else than the developement and perfection of our intellectual faculties, and of our moral and religious sensibilities. In this there is not much to disapprove, except the application of the terms of one system to another, which sometimes confuses and misleads him.
The Utilitarian scheme of morals, however, as it generally is, and almost inevitably must be understood, is very far from being satisfactory to us. Like the selfish scheme, it takes it for granted, that happiness is the only legitimate object of pursuit. But this is a point by no means self-evident. The Deity, so far as his designs are manisest, seems very far from having made this system of things, of which we are a part, expressly for enjoyment. It, at best, is but a mixed state. It may have its smiles, but they are smiles through tears. Pain grows by the side of pleasure, and often springs from the same root.
Bitter waters are everywhere mingled with the sweet. When we propose happiness as the end of our exertions, we never obtain it. It invariably and eternally flies from those who pursue it, and no people are more miserable than those who try the hardest to be happy. It is with happiness as with health. He who is always nursing his health, making its preservation the end of life, is always sickly. He and the one who pursues happiness alike fail; and is it not because both make that which God has not made the end of existence ?
The misery, however, which attaches to this system of things, does not necessarily detract from the goodness of God. The end he proposes is not happiness, but spiritual growth; we were placed here, not to enjoy, but to perfect ourselves. Nothing then, which contributes to this end can, relatively to this system, be an evil; and to this end pain contributes full as much, often more than pleasure. The only question, therefore, respecting the goodness of God, is,' whether the end he proposes be a good one.
Good or not, we can conceive nothing better. There is nothing but mind to which we can attach any real value. This outward universe, with all its furniture of worlds and beings, is valuable only as it displays the marks, or ministers to the wants, of mind. It is mind that seizes upon the idea of God, that is, that image of God in which we were created, and that enables us to be followers of God as dear children." Nothing so completely fills us with admiration and awe, as the strong, varied, and continued exertions of mind. We do them homage, and secretly desire them, although coupled with the greatest possible sufferings. The unconquered and unconquerable mind, which Milton ascribes to Satan, and which sustains him, makes him a greater favorite with almost every reader of the “Paradise Lost," than Michael, with all his glory, and obedience, and happiness; and would, were it not for his guilt, be a rich indemnity for the "lowest hell” to which he is condemned. We look with infinitely warmer emotions of approbation upon the brave man, struggling with adversity and converting all he may suffer into the means of enlarging his mental and moral power, than we do upon the quiet, prosperous man, who never meets a cross incident to disturb his tranquillity, and knows not what it is to have
his course run roughly. And is not this because we never entirely lose all sentiment of the end for which we were made ? Torture me with pain, load me with afflictions, and I can thank my God for it, if it become the means of the growth and maturity of mind.
That happiness is not the end of existence, few people who reflect on the nature of our ideas and duties, will be disposed to deny. Whenever happiness, whether it be our own or that of others, comes in collision with the right, it is pretty generally agreed, that the happiness should be sacrificed and the right maintained. This proves, that we have the sentiment of something superior to happiness, to which happiness must always be held as subordinate. Can that be the end of existence which is itself subordinate to another end, to one which we are to seek, let the consequences be what they may ?
But were happiness the only legitimate object of pursuit, it might still be a question, whether consulting general utility would secure it; and this too, whether it be our own happiness, or that of others, that we would promote. Mankind are made happy only by satisfying their desires. But, however great our exertions, new desires will be pushed out, faster than we can satisfy the old ones. He, who is starving
, may fancy a good supper will make him happy ; but should you provide him a supper, and then leave him to lodge in the street, he would hardly thank you. Could we multiply physical comforts a hundred fold, satisfy a hundred desires where now we satisfy but one, we should in no degree lessen the amount of misery. There would be remaining the same, if not a greater number of desires unsatisfied, to prey upon the soul and fill it with torment. Indeed all experience proves, that we cannot be more successful in laboring for others' happiness, than we are in laboring for our own.
Our prospect is not more flattering, to say the least, if general utility be consulted as the means of making ourselves happy. Mr. Fox tells us, — and it is the language of all Utilitarians, — that our duties are interests, and that we should seek the happiness of others as the only means of securing our own. What he has in mind is doubtless true. The pleasures of benevolence are the most exquisite and the most lasting of any which are allotted to mortals ; but they are pleasures only for the benevolent. He, who loves
only himself, can find no pleasure in laboring for the happiness of others. The malicious, the envious, do not find their own happiness increased by seeing others happy. To be made happy by making others happy, we must love them and make their good the end of our exertions. But be, who seeks the happiness of others as the means of promoting his own, makes his own happiness the end to be gained; and, consequently, throws himself out of the condition, in which seeking the welfare of others could give him pleasure ; he is selfish, not benevolent, and therefore cannot, although he do the deeds, taste the pleasures, of benevolence.
We know that it is customary to urge people to the practice of benevolence, by the consideration that the benevolent are happier than the selfish ; and, although this is an appeal to selfishness, and might, if made the motive of action, defeat itself; still, under a certain aspect, it is very proper. People are all in the pursuit of happiness, but they fail, and this is merely telling them the cause of their failure. It assures them, that if they would be successful, they must cease to be selfish and become benevolent. It has an influence in fixing attention upon benevolence, in quickening the desire and in promoting exertions to become benevolent. Appeal may be made to men's hopes and fears. We may hold out the promises of the gospel to allure men to holiness, and its threatenings to make them pause in their downward, course, and inquire the demands of duty; but he, who has no higher principle of action than fears of punishment or hopes of reward, is not virtuous. Hopes and fears may be useful means to prepare men to be virtuous, but they cease to influence, in proportion as they become perfect.
True, it is said that Jesus acted with a view to the “joy set before him;" but we see no necessity for supposing, that he had respect to any personal reward, nor to any joy that he himself was to receive. There is a higher reward, a
. nobler recompense to the good, than any thing which can be bestowed on themselves. The philanthropist, whose soul is wedded to humanity, who “hungers and thirsts” to set mankind forward in holiness and happiness, smiles in exile or in death, if he see them reaping, as the fruits of his exertions, the good he wished them. A just conception of the character of Jesus would, it appears to us, assign him a re