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
THAT hope which was intimated at the commencement of this work,—that a period of greater moral purity would eventually arrive,—has sometimes operated as an encouragement to the writer in enforcing the obligations of morality to an extent which few who have written such books have ventured to advocate. In exhibiting a standard of rectitude such as that which it has been attempted to exhibit here,—a standard to which not many in the present day are willing to conform, and of which many would willingly dispute the authority, some encouragement was needed; and no human encouragement could be so efficient as that which consisted in the belief that the principles would progressively obtain more and more of the concurrence and adoption of mankind.
That there are indications of an advancement of the human species towards greater purity in principle and in practice cannot, I think, be disputed. There is a manifest advancement in intellectual concerns Science of almost every kind is extending her empire;—political institutions are becoming rapidly ameliorated;1 and morality and religion, if their progress be less perceptible, are yet advancing with an onward pace.2
Lamentations over the happiness or excellence of other times have generally very little foundation in justice or reason.3 In truth, they cannot be just, because they are perpetual. There has probably never been an age in which mankind have not bewailed the good times that were departed, and made mournful comparisons of them with their own. If these regrets had not been ill-founded, the world must have perpetually sunk deeper and deeper in wickedness, and retired further and further towards intellectual night. But the intellectual sun has been visibly advancing towards its noon; and I believe there never was a period in which, speaking collectively of the species, the power of religion was greater than it is now: at least, there never was a period in which greater efforts were made to diffuse the influence of religion among mankind. Men are to be judged of by their fruits; and why should men thus more vigorously exert themselves to make others religious, if the power of religion did not possess increased influence upon their own minds? The increase of crime, even if it increased in a progression more rapid than that of population and the state of society which gives rise to crime,—is a very imperfect standard of judgment. Those offences of which civil laws take cognizance form not a hundredth part of the wickedness of the world. What multitudes are there of bad men who never yet were amenable to the laws! How extensive may be the additional purity without any diminution of legal crimes!
And assuredly there is a perceptible advance in the sentiments of good men towards a higher standard of morality. The lawfulness is frequently questioned now of actions of which a few ages ago few or none doubted the rectitude. Nor is it to be disputed, that these questions are resulting more and more in the conviction, that this higher standard is proposed and enforced by the moral law of God. Who that considers these things will hastily affirm that doctrines in morality which refer to a standard that to him is new are unfounded in this moral law? Who will think it sufficient to say that strange things are brought to his ears? Who will satisfy himself with the exclamation, These are hard sayings, who can hear them? Strange things must be brought to the ears of those who have not been accustomed to hear the truth. Hard sayings must be heard by those who have not hitherto practised the purity of morality.
Such considerations, I say, have afforded encouragement in the attempt to uphold a standard which the majority of mankind have been little accustomed to contemplate; and now, and in time to come, they will suffice to encourage, although that standard should be, as by many it undoubtedly will be, rejected and contemned.
I am conscious of inadequacy,—what if I speak the truth, and say, I am conscious of unworthiness—thus to attempt to advocate the law of God. Let no man identify the advocate with the cause, nor imagine, when he detects the errors and the weaknesses of the one, that the other is therefore erroneous or weak. I apologize for myself: especially I apologize for those instances in which the character of the Christian may have been merged in that of the exposer of the evils of the world. There is a Christian love which is paramount to all; a love which he only is likely sufficiently to maintain who remembers that he who exposes an evil and he who partakes in it, will soon stand together as suppliants for the mercy of God.
And finally, having written a book which is devoted almost exclusively to disquisitions on morality, I am solicitous lest the reader should imagine that I regard the practice of morality as all that God requires of man. I believe far other; and am desirous of here expressing the conviction, that although it becomes not us to limit the mercy of God, or curiously to define the conditions on which he will extend that mercy,—yet that the true and safe foundation of our hope is in “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
1 “The degree of scientific knowledge which would once have conferred celebrity and immortality is now, in this country, attained by thousands of obscure individuals.”—Fox’s Lectures. “To one who considers coolly of the subject, it will appear that human nature in general really enjoys more liberty at present, in the most arbitrary governments of Europe, than it ever did during the most flourishing period of ancient times.”—Hume.
2 Not that the present state or the prospects of the world afford any countenance to the speculations—favourite speculations with some men—respecting “human perfectibility.”
In the sense in which this phrase is usually employed, I fear there is little hope of the perfection of man. At least there is little hope, if Christianity be true. Christianity declares that man is not perfectible except by the immediate assistance of God; and this unmediated assistance the advocates of “human perfectibility” are not wont to expect. The question, in the sense in which it is ordinarily exhibited, is in reality a question of the truth of Christianity.
3 “This humour of complaining proceeds from the frailty of our natures; it being natural for man to complain of the present and to commend the times past.”—Sir Josiah Child, 1665. Thia was one hundred and fifty years ago: the same frailty appears to have subsisted two or three thousands of years before: “Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this.”—Eccles. vii. 10.
All Sub-Works of Essays on the Principles of Morality, and on the Private and Political Rights and Obligations of Mankind (1834).:
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- Preface to the American Edition.
- Introductory Notices.
- Moral Obligations.
- Standard of Right and Wrong.
- Subordinate Standards of Right and Wrong.
- Standard of Right and Wrong Footnotes.
- Collateral Observations.
- Immediate Communication of the Will of God.
- Immediate Communication of the Will of God Footnotes.