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and all to answer ends remote from the intention of the perpetrators, it must be overset by its own disorders.
To regard every other being, created or uncreated, only for our own sakes, is supreme self-love; and instead of being a source of virtue, is itself abominable, and the source of all the mischief and misery in the universe. All the evils just enumerated are to be traced to this principle, as their common parent; nor is there any ground of hope that it will ever produce effects of a different nature. Some persons have talked much of "self-love ripening into benevolence." Had it been said malevolence, it had been nearer the truth; for it is contrary to all experience that any thing should change its nature by becoming more mature. No, a child in knowledge may discern, that, if ever genuine benevolence exist in the breast of an individual, or extend its healing wings over a bleeding world, it must be by the subversion of this principle, and by the prevalence of that religion which teaches us to love God supremely, ourselves subordinately, and our fellow creatures as ourselves.
To furnish a standard of morality, some of our adversaries have had recourse to the laws of the state; avowing them to be the rule or measure of virtue. Mr. Hobbes maintained that The civil law was the sole foundation of right and wrong, and that religion had no obligation but as enjoined by the magistrate. And Lord Bolingbroke often writes in a strain nearly similar, disowning any other sanction or penalty by which obedience to the law of nature is enforced, than those which are provided by the laws of the land.* But this rule is defective, absurd, contradictory, and subersive of all true morality. First, It is grossly defective. This is justly represented by a prophet of their own." It is a narrow notion of innocence," says Seneca, "to measure a man's goodness only by the law. Of how much larger extent is the rule of duty, or of good offices, than that of legal right? How many things are there which piety, humanity, liberality, justice, and fidelity require, which yet are not within the compass of the public statutes?"
*Works, Vol. V. p. 90.
+In Leland's Advantages and Necessity of Revelation, Vol. II. Part II. Chap. III. p. 42.
Secondly, It is absurd; for if the public statutes be the only standard of right and wrong, legislators in framing them could be under no law: nor is it possible that in any instance they should have enacted injustice. Thirdly, It is contradictory. Human laws, we all know, require different and opposite things in different nations; and in the same nation at different times. If this principle be right, it is right for Deists to be persecuted for their opinions at one period, and to persecute others for theirs at another. Finally, It is subersive of all true morality. "The civil laws," as Dr. Leland has observed, "take no cognizance of secret crimes, and provide no punishment for internal bad dispositions, or corrupt affections. A man may be safely as wicked as he pleases, on this prinple, provided he can manage so as to escape punishment from the laws of his country, which very bad men, and those that are guilty of great vices, easily may, and frequently do evade."
Rosseau has recourse to feelings as his standard. "I have only to consult myself," he says, "concerning what I ought to do. All that I feel to be right is right. Whatever I feel to be wrong is wrong. All the morality of our actions lies in the judgment we ourselves form of them."* By this rule bis conduct through life appears to have been directed; a rule which, if universally regarded, would deluge the world with every species of iniquity.
But that on which our opponents insist the most, and with the greatest show of argument, is the law and light of nature. This is their professed rule on all occasions; and its praises they are continually sounding. I have no desire to depreciate the light of nature, or to disparage its value as a rule. On the contrary, I consider it as occupying an important place in the divine government. Whatever may be said of the light possessed by the heathen as being derived from revelation, I feel no difficulty in acknowledging that the grand law which they are under is that of nature. Revelation itself appears, to me, so to represent it; holding it up as the rule by which they shall be judged, and declaring its dictates to be so clear, as to leave them without excuse.† Nature and scripture appear, to me, to be as much in harmony, as Moses and Christ; both are celebrated in the same Psalm.‡
*Emilius, Vol. I. pp. 166–168.
+Rom. ii. 12-16, i. 20. Psa. xix.
By the light of nature, however, I do not mean those ideas which heathens have actually entertained, many of which have been darkness; but those which were presented to them by the works of creation, and which they might have possessed, had they been desirous of retaining God in their knowledge. And by the dictates of nature, with regard to right and wrong, I understand those things which appear to the mind of a person sincerely disposed to understand and practice his duty, to be natural, fit, or reasonable. There is, doubtless, an eternal difference between right and wrong; and this difference, in a vast variety of instances, is manifest to every man who sincerely and impartially considers it. So manifest have the power and Godhead of the Creator been rendered in every age, that no person of an upright disposition could, through mere mistake, fall into idolatry or impiety; and every one who has continued in these abominations is without excuse. The desire also which every human being feels of having justice done to him from all other persons must render it sufficiently manifest to his judgment that he ought to do the same to them; and wherein he acts otherwise, his conscience, unless it be seared as with a hot iron, must accuse him.
But does it follow from hence that revelation is unnecessary? Certainly not. It is one thing for nature to afford so much light, in matters of right and wrong, as to leave the sinner without excuse; and another to afford him any well-grounded hope of forgiveness, or to answer his difficulties concerning the account which something within him says he must hereafter give of his present conduct.
Farther: It is one thing to leave sinners without excuse in sin, and another thing to recover them from it. That the light of nature is insufficient for the latter, is demonstrated by melancholy fact. Instead of returning to God and virtue, those nations which have possessed the highest degrees of it have gone farther and farther into immorality. There is not a single example of a people of their own accord, returning to the acknowledgment of the true God, or extricating themselves from the most irrational species of idolatry, or desisting from the most odious kinds of vice. Those nations where science diffused a more than ordinary lustre, were
as superstitious, and as wicked as the most barbarous; and in many instances exceeded them. It was, I doubt not, from a close observation of the different efficacy of nature and scripture, that the writer of the nineteenth Psalm, (a Psalm which Mr. Paine pretends to admire,) after having given a just tribute of praise to the former, affirmed of the latter, The law of Jehovah is perfect, converting the soul.
Again: It is one thing for that which is natural, fit, or reasonable, in matters of duty, to approve itself to a mind sincerely disposed to understand and practice it, and another to approve itself to a mind of an opposite description. The judgments of men concerning the dictates of nature are greatly influenced by their prevailing inclinations. If under certain circumstances they feel prompted to a particular course of conduct, they will be apt to consider that incitement as a dictate of nature, though it may be no other than corrupt propensity: and thus, while the law of nature is continually in their mouth, their principles, as well as their conduct, are a continual violation of it. How was it that, notwithstanding the light of nature shone round the old philosophers, their minds, in matters of morality, were dark as night, and their precepts, in many instances, full of impurity? Did nature inspire Plato to teach the doctrine of a community of wives; Lycurgus to tolerate dextrous thieving; Solon to allow of sodomy; Seneca to encourage drunkenness, and suicide; and almost all of them to declare in favour of lewdness? No, verily; it is a perversion of language to call the principles of such men the dictates of nature; they are unnatural and abominable; as contrary to reason as to religion.
It is true, what is called nature, by modern Infidels, is not quite so gross as the above; but it falls very little short of it. So far as relates to the encouragement of theft, and perhaps of unnatural crimes, they would disavow; and for this we are indebted to Christianity but as to fornication and adultery, they are not a whit behind their predecessors. Lord Herbert, the father of the English Deists, and whose writings are far more sober than the generality of those who have come after him, apologizes for lewd
* See Leland's Advantages and Necessity of Revelation, Vol. II. pp. 147, 50, 50, 210, 213.
ness, in certain cases, as resembling thirst in a dropsy, and inac tivity in a lethargy. Lord Bolingbroke unblushingly insinuates, that the only consideration that can reconcile a man to confine himself by marriage to one woman, and a woman to one man, is this, that nothing hinders but that they may indulge their desires with others. This is the same as accusing the whole human race of incontinency, and denying that there is any such thing as conjugal fidelity; a plain proof that whoever was clear of this indecent charge, Lord Bolingbroke was not. Mr. Hume, who has written a volume on the principles of morality, scruples not to stigmatize self-denial as a “monkish virtue ;" and adopts the opinion of a French writer, that "adultery must be practised if we would obtain all the advantages of life; that female infidelity, when known, is a small thing, and when unknown, nothing." These writers will, on some occasions, descant in favour of chastity, as being conducive to health and reputation; but on others they seldom fail to apologize for the contrary, and that under the pretence of indulging the dictates of nature. Yet the same things might be alleged in behalf of oppression, revenge, theft, duelling, ambitious war, and a thousand other vices which desolate the earth; they are practices which men, placed in certain circumstances, will feel themselves prompted to commit: nor is there a vice that can be named but what would admit of such an apology.
Finally: It is one thing for the light of nature to be so clear as to render idolatry, impiety, and injustice, inexcusable; and another thing to render the whole will of our Creator evident, and in the most advantageous manner. If a person, possessed of only the light of nature, were ever so sincerely desirous of knowing God; or grieved for the sins of which his conscience accused him; or attached to the holy, the just, and the good; or disposed to obey his Creator's will if he did but understand it; though he should be in no danger of confounding the dictates of nature with those of corrupt propensity, yet he must labour under great disadvantages; which, allowing they might not affect his eternal state, yet would greatly injure his present peace and usefulness. To illustrate
* Leland's Review, &c. Vol. I. Let. I.
+ Works, Vol. V. p. 167.