From: Essays on the Principles of Morality, and on the Private and Political Rights and Obligations of Mankind (1834).
Author: Jonathan Dymond
Published: Harper & Brothers 1834 Philadelphia


  ONE of the very interesting considerations which are presented to an inquirer in perusing the volume of Scripture, consists in the variations in its morality. There are three distinctly defined periods, in which the moral government and laws of the Deity assume, in some respects, a different character. In the first, without any system of external instruction, he communicated his will to some of our race, either immediately or through a superhuman messenger. In the second, he promulgated through Moses a distinct and extended code of laws, addressed peculiarly to a selected people. In the third, Jesus Christ and his commissioned ministers delivered precepts, of which the general character was that of greater purity or perfection, and of which the obligation was universal upon mankind.

  That the records of all these dispensations contain declarations of the will of God is certain; that their moral requisitions are not always coincident is also certain; and hence the conclusion becomes inevitable, that to us one is of primary authority:—that when all do not coincide, one is paramow1t to the others. That a coincidence does not always exist may easily be shown. It is manifest, not only by a comparison of precepts and of the general tenor of the respective records, but from the express declarations of Christianity itself.

  One example, referring to the Christian and Jewish dispensations, may be found in the extension of the law of love. Christianity, in extending the application of the law, requires us to abstain from that which the law of Moses permitted us to do. Thus it is in the instance of duties to our “neighbour,” as they are illustrated in the parable of the Samaritan.1 Thus, too, in the sermon on the mount: “It hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, love your enemies.”2 It is indeed sometimes urged that the words “hate thine enemy” were only a gloss of the expounders of the law: but Grotius writes thus; “what is there repeated as said to those of old are not the words of the teachers of the law, but of Moses; either literally or in their meaning. They are cited by our Saviour as his express words, not as interpretations of them.”3 If the authority of Grotius should not satisfy the reader, let him consider such passages as this: “An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord. Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt, Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever.”4 This is not coincident with “Love your enemies;” or with “Do good to them that hate you;” or with that temper which is recommended by the words, “to him that smiteth thee on one cheek, turn the other also.”5

  “Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not on thy name,”6—is not coincident with the reproof of Christ to those who, upon similar grounds, would have called down fire from heaven.7 “The Lord look upon it and require’ it,”8—is not coincident with, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”9 “Let me see thy vengeance on them,”10—” Bring upon them the day of evil, and destroy them with double destruction,”11—is not coincident with, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”12

  Similar observations apply to swearing, to polygamy, to retaliation, to the motives of murder and adultery.

  And as to the express assertion of the want of coincidence:—“The law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did.”13 “There is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before, for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.”14 If the commandment now existing is not weak and unprofitable, it must be because it is superior to that which existed before.

  But although this appears to be thus clear with respect to the Jewish dispensation, there are some who regard the moral precepts which were delivered before the period of that dispensation, as imposing permanent obligations; they were delivered, it is said, not to one peculiar people, but to individuals of many; and, in the persons of the immediate survivors of the deluge, to the whole human race. This argument assumes a ground paramount to all questions of subsequent abrogation. Now it would appear a sufficient answer to say,—If the precepts of the patriarchal and Christian dispensations are coincident, no question needs to be discussed; if they are not, we must make an election; and surely the Christian cannot doubt what election he should make. Could a Jew have justified himself for violating the Mosaic law, by urging the precepts delivered to the patriarchs? No. Neither then can we justify ourselves for violating the Christian law, by urging the precepts delivered to Moses.

  We, indeed, have, if it be possible, still stronger motives. The moral law of Christianity binds us, not merely because it is the present expression of the will of God, but because it is a portion of his last dispensation to man,—of that which is avowedly not only the last, but the highest and the best. We do not find in the records of Christianity that which we find in the other Scriptures, a reference to a greater and purer dispensation yet to come. It is as true of the patriarchal as of the Mosaic institution, that “it made nothing perfect,” and that it referred us, from the first, to “the bringing in of that better hope which did.” If then the question of supremacy is between a perfect and an imperfect system, who will hesitate in his decision?

  There are motives of gratitude, too, and of affection, as well as of reason. The clearer exhibition which Christianity gives of the attributes of God; its distinct disclosure of our immortal destinies; and above all, its wonderful discovery of the love of our Universal Father, may well give to the moral law with which they are connected, an authority which may supersede every other.

  These considerations are of practical importance; for it may be observed of those who do not advert to them, that they sometimes refer indiscriminately to the Old Testament or the New, without any other guide than the apparent greater applicability of a precept in the one or the other, to their present need: and thus it happens that a rule sometimes acted upon, less perfect than that by which it is the good pleasure of God we should now regulate our conduct.—It is a fact which the reader should especially notice, that an appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures is frequently made when the precepts of Christianity would be too rigid for our purpose. He who insists upon a pure morality, applies to the New Testament: he who desires a little more indulgence, defends himself by arguments from the Old.

  Of this indiscriminate reference to all the dispensations there is an extraordinary example in the newly discovered work of Milton. He appeals, I believe, almost uniformly to the precepts of all, as of equal present obligation. The consequence is what might be expected—his moral system is not consistent. Nor is it to be forgotten, that in defending what may be regarded as less pure doctrines, he refers mostly, or exclusively, to the Hebrew Scriptures. In all his disquisitions to prove the lawfulness of untruths, he does not once refer to the New Testament.15 Those who have observed the prodigious multiplicity of texts which ho cites in this work, will peculiarly appreciate the importance of the fact.—Again: “Hatred,” he says, “is in some cases a religious duty.”16 A proposition at which the Christian may reasonably wonder. And how does Milton prove its truth! He cites from Scripture ten passages, of which eight are from the Old Testament and two from the New. The reader will be curious to know what these two are:—“If any man come to me and hate not his father and mother—he cannot be my disciple.”17 And the rebuke to Peter; “Get thee behind me, Satan.”18 The citation of such passages shows that no passages to the purpose could be found.

  It may be regarded, therefore, as a general rule, that none of the injunctions or permissions which formed a part of the former dispensations, can be referred to as of authority to us, except so far as they are coincident with the Christian law. To our own master we stand or fall; and our master is Christ.—And in estimating this coincidence, it is not requisite to show that a given rule or permission of the former dispensations is specifically superseded in the New Testament. It is sufficient if it is not accordant with the general spirit; and this consideration assumes greater weight when it is connected with another which is hereafter to be noticed,—that it is by the general spirit of the Christian morality that many of the duties of man are to be discovered.

  Yet it is always to be remembered, that the laws which are thus superseded were, nevertheless, the laws of God. Let not the reader suppose that we would speak or feel respecting them otherwise than with that reverence which their origin demands,—or that we would take any thing from their present obligation but that which is taken by the lawgiver himself. It may indeed be observed, that in all his dispensation there is a harmony, a one pervading principle, which, without other evidence, indicates that they proceeded from the same authority. The variations are circumstantial rather than fundamental; and after all, the great principles in which they accord far outweigh the particular applications in which they differ. The Mosaic dispensation was “a schoolmaster” to bring us, not merely through the medium of types and prophecies, but through its moral law, to Christ. Both the one and the other were designed as preparatives: and it was probably as true of these moral laws as of the prophecies, that the Jews did not perceive their relationship to Christianity as it was actually introduced into the world.


  Respecting the variations of the moral law, some persons greatly and very needlessly perplex themselves by indulging in such questions as these:—“If,” say they,” God be perfect, and if all the dispensations are communications of his will, how happens it that they are not uniform in their requisitions? How happens it that that which was required by Infinite knowledge at one time, was not required by Infinite knowledge at another?” I answer,—I cannot tell. And what then? Does the inquirer think this a sufficient reason for rejecting the authority of the Christian law? If inability to discover the reasons of the moral government of God be a good motive to doubt its authority, we may involve ourselves in doubts without end.—Why does a Being who is infinitely pure permit moral evil in the world? Why does he who is perfectly benevolent permit physical suffering? Why did he suffer our first parents to fall? Why, after they had fallen, did he not immediately repair the loss? Why was the Messiah’s appearance deferred for four thousand years? Why is not the religion of the Messiah universally known and universally operative at the present day? To all these questions, and to many others, no answer can be given: and the difficulty arising from them is as great, if we choose to make difficulties for ourselves, as that which arises from variations in his moral laws. Even in infidelity we shall find no rest: the objections lead us onward to atheism. He who will not believe in a Deity unless he can reconcile all the facts before his eyes with his notions of the divine attributes, must deny that a Deity exists. I talked of rest:—Alas! there is no rest in infidelity or in atheism. To disbelieve in revelation or in God, is not to escape from a belief in things which you do not comprehend, but to transfer your belief to a new class of such things. Unbelief is credulity. The infidel is more credulous than the Christian, and the atheist is the most credulous of mankind: that is, he believes important propositions upon less evidence than any other man, and in opposition to greater.

  It is curious to observe the anxiety of some writers to reconcile some of the facts before us with the “moral perfections” of the Deity; and it is instructive to observe into what doctrines they are led. They tell us that all the evil and all the pain in the world, are parts of a great system of benevolence. “The moral and physical evil observable in the system, according to men’s limited views of it, are necessary parts of the great plan; all tending ultimately to produce the greatest sum of happiness upon the whole, not only with respect to the system in general, but to each individual, according to the station he occupies in it.”19 They affirm that God is an “all-wise Being, who directs all the movements of nature, and who is determined, by his own unalterable perfections, to maintain in it at all times the greatest possible quantity of happiness.”20 The Creator found, therefore, that to inflict the misery which now exists, was the best means of promoting this happiness—that to have abated the evil, the suffering, or the misery, would be to have diminished the sum of felicity—and that men could not have been better or more at ease than they are, without making them on the whole more vicious or unhappy!—These things are beacons which should warn us. The speculations show that not only religion, but reason, dictates the propriety of acquiescing in that degree of ignorance in which it has pleased God to leave us; because they show, that attempts to acquire knowledge may conduct us to folly. These are subjects upon which he acts most rationally, who says to his reason—be still.



  It is remarkable that many of these precepts, and especially those of the Christian Scriptures, are delivered not systematically, but occasionally. They are distributed through occasional discourses and occasional letters. Except in the instance of the law of Moses, the speaker or writer rarely set about a formal exposition of moral truth. The precepts were delivered as circumstances called them forth or made them needful. There is nothing like a system of morality; nor, consequently, does there exist that completeness, that distinctness in defining and accuracy in limiting, which, in a system of morality, we expect to find. Many rules are advanced in short—absolute prohibitions or injunctions, without assigning any of those exceptions to their practical application which the majority of such rules require.—The inquiry, in passing, may be permitted—Why are these things so? When it is considered what the Christian dispensation is, and what it is designed to effect upon the conduct of man, it cannot be supposed that the incompleteness of its moral precepts happened by inadvertence. The precepts of the former dispensation are much more precise; and it is scarcely to be supposed that the more perfect dispensation would have bad a less precise law, unless the deficiency were to be compensated from some other authoritative source:—which remark is offered as a reason, a priori, for expecting that, in the present dispensation, God would extend the operation of his law written in the heart.

  But whatever may be thought of this, it is manifest that considerable care is requisite in the application of precepts, so delivered, to the conduct of life. To apply them in all cases literally, were to act neither reasonably nor consistently with the design of the lawgiver: to regard them in all cases as mere general directions, and to subject them to the unauthorized revision of man, were to deprive them of their proper character and authority as divine laws. In proposing some grounds for estimating the practical obligation of these precepts, I would be first allowed to express the conviction, that the simple fact that such a disquisition is needed, and that the moral duties are to be gathered rather by implication or general tenor than from specific and formal rules, is one indication among the many, that the dispensation of which these precepts form a part, stands not in words but in power: and I hope to be forgiven, even in a book of morality, if I express the conviction that none can fulfil their requisitions,—that none indeed can appreciate them,—without some participation in this “power.” I say he cannot appreciate them. Neither the morals nor the religion of Christianity can be adequately estimated by the man who sits down to the New Testament, with no other preparation than that which is necessary in sitting down to Euclid or Newton. There must be some preparation of heart as well as integrity of understanding,—or, as the appropriate language of the volume itself would express it, it is necessary that we should become, in some degree, the “sheep” of Christ before we can accurately “know his voice.”

  There is one clear and distinct ground upon which we may limit the application of a precept that is couched in absolute language—the unlawfulness, in any given conjuncture, of obeying it. “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man.”21 This, literally, is an unconditional command. But if we were to obey it unconditionally, we should sometimes comply with human, in opposition to divine laws. In such cases, then, the obligation is clearly suspended; and this distinction the first teachers of Christianity recognised in their own practice. When an “ordinance of man” required them to forbear the promulgation of the new religion, they refused obedience; and urged the befitting expostulation,—“Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.”22 So with the filial relationship: “Children, obey your parents in all things.”23 But a parent may require his child to lie or steal; and therefore when a parent requires obedience in such things: his authority ceases, and the obligation to obedience is taken away by the moral law itself. The precept, so far as the present ground of exception applies, is virtually this: Obey your parents in all things, unless disobedience is required by the will of God. Or the subject might be illustrated thus: The Author of Christianity reprobates those who love father or mother more than himself. The paramount love to God is to be manifested by obedience.24 So then we are to obey the commands of God in preference to those of our parents. “All human authority ceases at the point where obedience becomes criminal.”25

  Of some precepts, it is evident that they were designed to be understood conditionally. “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret.”26 This precept is conditional. I doubt not that it is consistent with his will, that the greater number of the implications which man offers at his throne shall be offered in secret; yet, that the precept does not exclude the exercise of public prayer is evident from this consideration, if from no other, that Christ and his apostles themselves practised it.

  Some precepts are figurative, and describe the spirit and temper that should govern us, rather than the particular actions that we should perform. Of this there is an example in “Whomsoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”27 In promulgating some precepts, a principal object appears to have been to supply sanctions. Thus in the case of civil obedience: we are to obey because the Deity authorizes the institution of civil government,—because the magistrate is the minister of God for good; and accordingly, we are to obey, not from considerations of necessity only, but of duty: “not only for wrath, but for conscience sake.”28 One precept, if we accepted it literally, would enjoin us to “hate” our parents: and this acceptation Milton appears actually to have adopted. One would enjoin us to accumulate no property; “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth.”29 Such rules are seldom mistaken in practice; and it may be observed that this is an indication of their practical wisdom, and their practical adaptation to the needs of man. It is not an easy thing to pronounce, as occasions arise, a large number of moral precepts in unconditional language, and yet to secure them from the probability of even great misconstructions. Let the reader make the experiment.—Occasionally, but it is only occasionally, a sincere Christian, in his anxiety to conform to the moral law, accepts such precepts in a more literal sense than that in which they appear to have been designed to be applied. I once saw a book that endeavoured to prove the unlawfulness of accumulating any property; upon the authority, primarily, of this last of quoted precept. The principle upon which the writer proceeded was just and right,—that it is necessary to conform, unconditionally, to the expressed will of God. The defect was in the criticism; that is to say, in ascertaining what that will did actually require.

  Another obviously legitimate ground of limiting the application of absolute precepts, is afforded us in just biblical criticism. Not that critical disquisitions are often necessary to the upright man who seeks for the knowledge of his duties. God has not left the knowledge of his moral law so remote from the sincere seekers of his will. But in deducing public rules as authoritative upon mankind, it is needful to take into account those considerations which criticism supplies. The constructions of the original languages and their peculiar phraseology, the habitat, manners, and prevailing opinions of the times, and the circumstances under which a precept was delivered, are evidently among these considerations. And literary criticism is so much the more needed, because the great majority of mankind have access to Scripture only through the medium of translations.

  But in applying all these limitations to the absolute precepts of Scripture, it is to be remembered that we are not subjecting their authority to inferior principles. We are not violating the principle upon which these essays proceed, that the expression of the Divine will is our ultimate law. We are only ascertaining what that expression is. If, after just and authorized examination, any precept should still appear to stand imperative in its absolute form, we accept it as obligatory in that form. Many such precepts there are; and being such, we allow no considerations of convenience, nor of expediency, nor considerations of any other kind, to dispense with their authority.

  One great use of such inquiries as these is to vindicate to the apprehensions of men the authority of the precepts themselves. It is very likely to happen, and to some negligent inquirers it does happen, that seeing a precept couched in unconditional language, which yet cannot be unconditionally obeyed, they call in question its general obligation. Their minds fix upon the idea of some consequences which would result from a literal obedience, and feeling assured that those consequences ought not to be undertaken, they set aside the precept itself. They are at little pains to inquire what the proper requisitions of the precept are,—glad, perhaps, of a specious excuse for not regarding it at all. The careless reader, perceiving that a literal compliance with the precept to give the cloak to him who takes a coat, would be neither proper nor right, rejects the whole precept of which it forms an illustration; and in doing this, rejects one of the most beautiful, and important, and sacred requisitions of the Christian law.30


  There are two modes in which moral obligations are imposed in Scripture,—by particular precepts and by general rules. The one prescribes a duty upon one subject, the other upon very many. The applicability of general rules is nearly similar to that of what is usually called the spirit of the gospel, the spirit of the moral law: which spirit is of very wide embrace in its application to the purposes of life. “In estimating the value of a moral rule, we are to have regard not only to the particular duty, but the general spirit; not only to what it directs us to do, but to the character which a compliance with its direction is likely to form in us.”31 In this manner some particular precepts become, in fact, general rules; and the duty that results from these rules, from this spirit, is as obligatory as that which is imposed by a specific injunction. Christianity requires us to maintain universal benevolence towards mankind; and he who, in his conduct towards another, disregards this benevolence, is as truly and sometimes as flagrantly a violator of the moral law, as if he had transgressed the command, “Thou shalt not steal.” This doctrine is indeed recommended by a degree of utility that makes its adoption almost a necessity; because no number of specific precepts would be sufficient for the purposes of moral instruction: so that if we were destitute of this species of general rules, we should frequently be destitute, so far as external precepts are concerned, of any. It appears by a note to the work which has just been cited, that in the Mussulman code, which proceeds upon the system of a precise rule for a precise question, there have been promulgated seventy-five thousand precepts. I regard the wide practical applicability of some of the Christian precepts as an argument of great wisdom. They impose many duties in few words; or rather they convey a great mass of moral instruction within a sentence that all may remember and that few can mistake. “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them,”32 is of greater utility in the practice of life, and is applicable to more circumstances than a hundred rules which presented the exact degree of kindness or assistance that should be afforded in prescribed cases. The Mosaic law, rightly regarded, conveyed many clear expositions of human duty; yet the quibbling and captious scribes of old found, in the literalities of that law, more plausible grounds for evading its duties, than can be found in the precepts of the Christian Scriptures.


  There are few precepts of which the application is so extensive in human affairs, that I would, in conformity with some of the preceding remarks, briefly inquire into their practical obligation. Of these, that which has just been quoted for another purpose, “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them,”33 is perhaps cited and recommended more frequently than any other. The difficulty of applying this precept has induced some to reject it as containing a maxim which is not sound: but perhaps it will be found, that the deficiency is not in the rule but in the non-applicability of the cases to which it has often been applied. It is not applicable when the act which another would that we should do to him is in itself unlawful, or adverse to some other portion of the moral law. If I seize a thief in the act of picking a pocket, he undoubtedly “would” that I should let him go; and I, if our situations were exchanged, should wish it too. But I am not therefore to release him; because, since it is a Christian obligation upon the magistrate to punish offenders, the obligation descends to me to secure them for punishment. Besides, in every such case I must do as I would be done unto with respect to all parties concerned,—the public as well as the thief. The precept, again, is not applicable when the desire of the second party is such as a Christian cannot lawfully induge. An idle and profligate man asks me to give him money. It would be wrong to indulge such a man’s desire, and therefore the precept does not apply.

  The reader will perhaps say, that a person’s duties in such cases are sufficiently obvious without the gravity of illustration. Well,—but are the principles upon which the duties are ascertained thus obvious? This is the important point. In the affairs of life, many cases arise in which a person has to refer to such principles as these, and in which, if he does not apply the right principles, he will transgress the Christian law. The law appears to be in effect this, Do as you would be done unto, except in those instances in which to act otherwise is permitted by Christianity. Inferior grounds of limitation are often applied; and they are always wrong, because they always subject the moral law to suspension by inferior authorities. To do this, is to reject the authority of the Divine will, and to place this beautiful expression of that will at the mercy of every man’s inclination.

  “Whether ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”34 I have heard of the members of some dinner club who had been recommended to consider this precept, and who in their discussion over the bottle, thought perhaps that they were arguing soundly when they held language like this: “Am I, in lifting this glass to my mouth, to do it for the purpose of bringing glory to God? Is that to be my motive in buying a horse or shooting a pheasant?” From such moralists much sagacity of discrimination was not to be expected; and these questions delighted and probably convinced the club. The mistake of these persons, and perhaps of some others, is that they misunderstand the rule. The promotion of the Divine glory is not to be the motive and purpose of all our actions, but, having actions to perform, we are so to perform them that this glory shall be advanced. The precept is, in effect, Let your actions and the motives of them be such, that others shall have reason to honour God:35—and a precept like this is a very sensitive test of the purity of our conduct. I know not whether there is a single rule of Christianity of which the use is so constant and the application so universal. To do as we would be done by, refers to relative duties; Not to do evil that good may come, refers to particular circumstances: but, To do all things so that the Deity may be honoured, refers to almost every action of a man’s life. Happily the Divine glory is thus promoted by some men even in trifling affairs—almost whether they eat or drink, or whatsoever thing they do. There is, in truth, scarcely a more efficacious means of honouring the Deity, than the observing a constant Christian manner of conducting our intercourse with men. He who habitually maintains his allegiance to religion and to purity, who is moderate and chastised in all his pursuits, and who always makes the prospects of the future predominate over the temptations of the present, is one of the most efficacious recommenders of goodness,—one of the most impressive “preachers of righteousness,”—and by consequence, one of the most efficient promoters of the glory of God.

  By a part of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, it appears that he and his coadjutors had been reported to hold the doctrine, that it is lawful “to do evil that good may come.”36 This report he declares is slanderous; and expresses his reprobation of those who act upon the doctrine, by the short and emphatic declaration,—their condemnation is just. This is not critically a prohibition, but it is a prohibition in effect; and the manner in which the doctrine is reprobated, induces the belief that it was so flagitious that it needed very little inquiry or thought: in the writer’s mind the transition is immediate, from the idea of the doctrine to the punishment of those who adopt it.

  Now the “evil” which is thus prohibited, is, any thing and all things, discordant with the Divine will; so that the unsophisticated meaning of the rule is, that nothing which is contrary to the Christian law may be done for the sake of attaining a beneficial end. Perhaps the breach of no moral rule is productive of more mischief than of this. That “the end justifies the means,” is a maxim which many, who condemn it as a maxim, adopt in their practice; and in political affairs it is not only habitually adopted, but is indirectly, if not openly, defended as right. If a senator were to object to some measure of apparent public expediency, that it was not consistent with the moral law, he would probably be laughed at as a fanatic or a fool: yet perhaps some who are flippant with this charge of fanaticism and folly may be in perplexity for a proof. If the expressed will of God is our paramount law, no proof can be brought; and in truth it is not often that it is candidly attempted. I have not been among the least diligent inquirers into the moral reasonings of men, but honest and manly reasoning against this portion of Scripture I have never found.

  Of the rule, “not to do evil that good may come,” Dr. Paley says, that it “is, for the most part, a salutary caution.” A person might as well say that the rule “not to commit murder” is a salutary caution. There is no caution in the matter, but an imperative law. But he proceeds:—“Strictly speaking, that cannot be evil from which good comes.”37 Now let the reader consider:—Paul says, You may not do evil that good may come: Ay, but, says the philosopher, if good does come, the acts that bring it about are NOT evil. What the apostle would have said of such a reasoner, I will not trust my pen to suppose. The reader will perceive the foundation of this reasoning. It assumes that good and evil are not to be estimated by the expressions of the will of God, but by the effects of actions. The question is clearly fundamental. If expediency be the ultimate test of rectitude, Dr. Paley is right; if the expressions of the Divine will are the ultimate test, he is wrong. You must sacrifice the one authority or the other. If this will is the greater, consequences are not: if consequences are the greater, this will is not. But this question is not now to be discussed: it may however be observed, that the interpretation which the rule has been thus made to bear, appears to be contradicted by the terms of the rule itself. The rule of Christianity is, evil may not be committed for the purpose of good: the rule of philosophy is, evil may not be committed except for the purpose of good. Are these precepts identical? Is there not a fundamental variance, an absolute contrariety between them? Christianity does not speak of evil and good as contingent, but as fixed qualities. You cannot convert the one into the other by disquisitions about expediency. In morals, there is no philosopher’s stone that can convert evil into good with a touch. Our labours, so long as the authority of the moral law is acknowledged, will end like those of the physical alchymist: after all our efforts at transmutation, lead will not become gold,—evil will not become good. However, there is one subject of satisfaction in considering such reasonings as these. They prove, negatively, the truth which they assail; for that against which nothing but sophistry can be urged, is undoubtedly true. The simple truth is, that if evil may be done for the sake of good, all the precepts of Scripture which define or prohibit evil are laws no longer; for that cannot in any rational use of language be called a law in respect of those to whom it is directed, if they are at liberty to neglect it when they think fit. These precepts may be advices, recommendations, “salutary cautions,” but they are not laws. They may suggest hints, but they do not impose duties.

  With respect to the legitimate grounds of exception or limitation in the application of this rule, there appear to be few or none. The only question is, What actions are evil? Which question is to be determined, ultimately, by the will of God.



  In inquiring into the great principles of that moral system which the Christian revelation institutes, we discover one remarkable characteristic, one pervading peculiarity, by which it is distinguished from every other, the paramount emphasis which it lays upon the exercise of pure benevolence. It will be found that this preference of “love” is wise as it is unexampled, and that no other general principle would effect, with any approach to the same completeness, the best and highest purposes of morality. How easy soever it be for us, to whom the character and obligations of this benevolence are comparatively familiar, to perceive the wisdom of placing · it at the foundation of the moral law, we are indebted for the capacity, not to our own sagaciousness, but to light which has been communicated from Heaven. That schoolmaster the law of Moses never taught, and the speculations of philosophy never discovered, that love was the fulfilment of the moral law. Eighteen hundred years ago this doctrine was a new commandment.

  Love is made the test of the validity of our claims to the Christian character—“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples.”38 Again,—“Love one another. He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”39 It is not therefore surprising, that after an enumeration in another place or various duties, the same dignified apostle says, “Above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.”40 The inculcation of this benevolence is as frequent in the Christian Scriptures as its practical utility is great. He who will look through the volume will find that no topic is so frequently introduced, no obligation so emphatically enforced, no virtue to which the approbation of God is so specially promised. It is the theme of all the “apostolic exhortations, that with which their morality begins and ends, from which all their details and enumerations set out, and into which they return.”41 “He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.”42 More emphatical language cannot be employed. It exalts to the utmost the character of the virtue, and in effect, promises its possessor the utmost favour and felicity. If then, of faith, hope, and love, love be the greatest,—if it be by the test of love that our pretensions to Christianity are to be tried,—if all the relative duties of morality are embraced in one word, and that word is love,—it is obviously needful that, in a book like this, the requisitions of benevolence should be habitually regarded in the prosecution of its inquiries. And accordingly the reader will sometimes be invited to sacrifice inferior considerations to these requisitions, and to give to the law of love that paramount station in which it has been placed by the authority of God.

  It is certain that almost every offence against the relative duties has its origin, if not in the malevolent propensities, at least in those propensities which are incongruous with love. I know not whether it is possible to disregard any one obligation that respects the intercourse of man with man, without violating this great Christian law. This universal applicability may easily be illustrated by referring to the obligations of justice, obligations which, in civilized communities, are called into operation more frequently than almost any other. He who estimates the obligations of justice by a reference to that benevolence which Christianity prescribes, will form to himself a much more pure and perfect standard than he who refers to the law of the land, to the apprehension of exposure, or to the desire of reputation. There are many ways in which a man can be unjust without censure from the public, and without violating the laws; but there is no way in which he can be unjust without disregarding Christian benevolence. It is a universal and very sensitive test. He who does regard it, who uniformly considers whether his conduct towards another is consonant with pure good will, cannot be voluntarily unjust; nor can he who commits injustice do it without the consciousness, if he will reflect, that be is violating the law of love. That integrity which is founded upon love, when compared with that which has any other basis, is recommended by its honour and dignity, as well as by its rectitude. It is more worthy the man as well as the Christian, more beautiful in the eye of infidelity as well as of religion.

  It were easy, if it were necessary, to show in what manner the law of benevolence applies to other relative duties, and in what manner, when applied, it purifies and exalts the fulfilment of them. But our present business is with principles rather than with their specific application.

  It is obvious that the obligations of this benevolence are not merely prohibitory—directing us to avoid “working ill” to another,—but mandatory— requiring us to do him good. That benevolence which is manifested only by doing no evil, is indeed of a very questionable kind. To abstain from injustice, to abstain from violence, to abstain from slander, is compatible with an extreme deficiency of love. There are many who are neither slanderous, nor ferocious, nor unjust, who have yet very little regard for the benevolence of the gospel. In the illustrations therefore of the obligations of morality, whether private or political, it will sometimes become our business to state, what this benevolence requires, as well as what it forbids. The legislator whose laws are contrived only for the detection and punishment of offenders, fulfils but half his duty; if he would conform to the Christian standard, he must provide also for their reformation.

1 Luke x.30.
2 Mat. v.43.
3 Rights of war and peace.
4 Deut. xiii.3, 4, 5.
5 Mat. v.39.
6 Jer. x.25.
7 Luke ix.54.
8 Chron. xxiv.22.
9 Acts vii.60.
10 Jer. xx.12.
11 Jer. xvii.18.
12 Luke xxiii.34.
13 Heb. vii.19.
14 Heb. vii.18.
15 Christian Doctrine, p. 860.
16 P. 641.
17 Luke xiv.118.
18 Mark viii.33.
19 This is given as the belief of Dr. Priestly. See memoirs, Ap. No. 5.
20 Adam Smith: Theory of Moral Sentiments. See also T. Southwood Smith’s Illustrations of the Divine government, in which unbridled license of speculation has led the writer into some instructive absurdities.
21 Pet. ii.13.
22 Acts iv.19.
23 Col. iii.20.
24 If ye love me ye will keep my commandments. John xiv.15.
25 Mor. And Pol. Phil.
26 Matt. vi.6.
27 Matt. v.41.
28 Rom. xiii.5.
29 Matt. vi.19.
30 Matt. v.38.
31 Evidences of Christianity, p. 2, c. 2.
32 Matt. vii. 12.
33 Matt. vii. 12.
34 1 Cor. x.31.
35 “Let your light 10 shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.”—Matt. v. 16.
36 Rom. iii. 8.
37 Mor. and Pol. Phil, b.2, c.8.
38 John xiii.35.
39 Rom. xiii.9.
40 Col. iii.14.
41 Evid. Christianity, p.2, c.2.
42 1 John iv. 16.

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