Page images
PDF
EPUB

secret and artful kinds of injury. Indeed such are placed beyond their cognizance and their power. I have often thought that some of the most striking instances, both of the folly and of the corruption of mankind, might be found in the laws of almost all nations. I am confident that this opinion would not be refuted by inquiry.

After all, the motives of conduct, whether virtuous or vicious, are seldom regarded by human enactments. Provided external action is conformable to their standard, their end is attained. Thus pride, avarice, inordinate ambition, ingratitude, despicable cunning, and certain kinds of malice, are allowed to remain without animadversion ; and many of the most lovely virtues, such as gratitude, sympathy with distress, generous friendship, comprehensive charity, and the most sublime benevolence, are entitled to no reward from human governments. Hence, Seneca has justly observed, “ How circumscribed is that probity which is measured by the civil law! How much more extensive is the rule of duty than that of legal obligation! How many things, which are not prescribed by the civil code, are dictated by piety, humanity, liberality, justice, and fidelity!" We find, to the same purpose, a passage in Ter

a

Quam augusta innocentia est, ad legem bonum esse! Quanto latius officiorum patet, quam juris regula! Quam multa pietas, humanitas, liberalitas, justitia, fides exigunt, quæ omnia extra publicas tabulas sunt !-Seneca de Ira, lib. ii. c. xxvii.

tullian's Apologeticus. “We (Christians) are blameless; and what wonder if we are constrained to be so ? But we are constrained. Being taught rectitude by God, we both perfectly know it as revealed by a divine master, and observe it as commanded by an overseer whom none can contemn. As for you, (addressing the heathens,) human opinion delivers your law, and human authority enacts it.

Hence it is so imperfect, and so little calculated to make a deep impression. Of how little avail is human wisdom to point out what is truly good; and of how little weight human power to enforce its observance! The former is easily deceived; the latter easily contemned. Say, which of these precepts is most comprehensive,- Thou shalt not kill, or thou shalt not give place to wrath ? Which is the most perfect,—Thou shalt not commit adultery, or thou shalt not look on a woman to lust after her ? Which is the wisest,--to forbid a wicked action, or to prohibit even evil speaking? Which the most refined,—to forbid injury, or even to prohibit to return evil for evil? But how feeble is the authority of human laws, when secrecy may

insure impunity, and contempt of them may be produced by the plea of necessity, or by reflection on the shortness of the

punishment, which can never extend beyond death! But we who are placed under the eye of an allseeing judge, and apprehend eternal punishment,

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

must of necessity devote ourselves to rectitude and, while we consider the plenitude of his knowledge, and the impossibility of concealment, and the greatness of the punishment, which is not merely of long duration, but eternal, must fear him who strikes terror into the hearts of earthly judges,-must fear God, and not a proconsul!"a

It is well known that heathen theology never improved civil laws, and that the priests, satisfied if the people brought their victims and offerings to their altars, took little concern about their morals. Thus religion and morality were entirely distinct; and, in fact, it was fortunate that such a religion had no direction of conduct, which it could not fail to mislead and corrupt.

a Nos ergo soli innocentes. Quid mirum, si necesse est ? Enimvero necesse est. Innocentiam a Deo edocti, et perfecte eam novimus, ut a perfecto magistro revelatam, et fideliter custodimus, ut ab incontemptibili dispectore mandatam. Vobis autem hu. mana æstimatio innocentiam tradidit, humana item dominatio imperavit. Inde nec plenæ nec adeo timendæ estis disciplinæ ad innocentiæ veritatem. Quanta est prudentia hominis ad demonstrandum quid vere bonum ? quanta auctoritas ad exigendum? tam illa falli facilis, quam ista contemni. Atque adeo, quid plenius dictum est, non occides, an vero ne irascaris quidem ? Quid perfectius, prohibere adulterium, an etiam ab oculorum solitaria concupiscentia arcere? Quid eruditius, de maleficio, an et de maliloquio interdicere ? Quid instructius, injuriam non permittere, an nec vicem injuriæ sinere ? Sed quanta auctoritas legum humanarum, quum illas et evadere homini contingat, plerumque in admissis delitescenti, et aliquando contemnere, ex involuntate vel necessitate delinquenti; recogitatè etiam pro brevitate supplicii cujuslibet, non tamen ultra mortem remansuri ? Enimvero nos, qui sub Deo, omnium speculatore, dispungimur, quique æternam ab eo pænam providemus, merito soli innocentiæ occurrimus, et pro scientiæ plenitudine, et pro latebrarum difficultate, et pro magnitudine cruciatus, non diuturni, verum sempiterni, eum timentes, quem timere debebit et ipse qui timentes judicabit; Deum, non proconsulem, timentes.- Tertulliani Apologeticus, cap. xlv.

The philosophers were the great instructors in morality. Such were Socrates, Zeno, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Antoninus, among the Greeks and Romans; and among the Chinese, Confucius. All these were illustrious and wise men, and delivered many excellent precepts, by which even Christians may profit. But the same justice which allows them this tribute of praise, must lead us to acknowledge how inferior all of them were to the great moral teachers of Christianity.

1st, Their notions of human duty were extremely imperfect. They had no conception of our obligation to love God above every other being, to regard him in all our actions, to seek our happiness in his favour, to be zealous for his service and glory, to invoke his aid and guidance in all situations, and to render him the exclusive object of our adoration. On the contrary, they appear to have entertained great indifference in regard to deity, and to have even tolerated and approved the grossest idolatry, and many other abominable practices ' sanctioned by custom. Neither understood they the great precept of charity in all its branches, or derived its obligations from a source so pure as that which Christianity unfolds. As far as relates to temperance and chastity, they granted almost boundless indulgence to the passions, and passed no censure on the most shocking abominations. Some passages of their writings must disgust every Christian heart. Humility, which adds lustre to every virtue, and renders it doubly amiable, has as little place in their moral disquisitions as it had in their lives. Even the Stoics, the most austere of all the sects, as much as they reprobated voluptuousness, flattered and nourished in the same degree the pride of the human heart. Besides, their notions of virtue, however elevated they may in some respects appear, were neither correct in their conception, nor comprehensive in their application, nor founded on solid principles, nor undebased by a mixture of error.

2dly, Although the moral principles of the ancient philosophers had been sufficiently correct and well founded, they wanted nevertheless one essential requisite, namely, authority capable of giving them due weight, and of rendering them fully obligatory. Unless we have recourse to the Deity, as possessed of infinite wisdom, goodness, and power, the creator and absolute sovereign of the universe, whose eyes are continually on our conduct, and who will judge us according to our works, moral precepts will lose much of their weight. Without referring them to God as their author, all that we call duty, obligation, and

« PreviousContinue »