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odmit that human reason, though not worthless, is at least fallible, in dealing with religious questions; and that the probability of error is always increased in proportion to the
partial nature of the evidence with which it deals.
who set up some one supreme criterion of religious truth, their “ Christian consciousness," their “religious intuitions," their “moral reason,” or any other of the favorite idols of
the subjective school of theologians, and who treat with
contempt every kind of evidence which does not harmonize
with this, are especially liable to be led into error. They use the weight without the counterpoise, to the imminent peril of their mental equilibrium. This is the caution which it was the object of my concluding Lecture to enforce, principally by means of two practical rules; namely, first, that
the true evidence, for or against a religion, is not to be found in any single criterion, but in the result of many presumptions examined and compared together; and, secondly, that
in proportion to the weight of the counter-evidence in favor
of a religion, is the probability that we may be mistaken in
supposing a particular class of objections to have any real weight at all.
These considerations are no less applicable to moral than to speculative reasonings. The moral faculty, though fur
nishing undoubtedly some of the most important elements
for the solution of the religious problem, is no more entitled than any other single principle of the human mind to be
accepted as a sole and sufficient criterion. It is true that to
our sense of moral obligation we owe our primary concep
tion of God as a moral Governor; and it is also true that,
were man left solely to a priori presumptions in forming
his estimate of the nature and attributes of God, the moral
sense, as being that one of all human faculties whose judgments are least dependent on experience, would furnish the principal, if not the only characteristics of his highest conception of God. But here, as elsewhere, the original pre
sumption is modified and corrected by subsequent experience.
It is a fact which experience forces upon us, and which it is
useless, were it possible, to disguise, that the representation
of God after the model of the highest human morality which
we are capable of conceiving, is not sufficient to account for
all the phenomena exhibited by the course of His natural Providence. The infliction of physical suffering, the permission of moral evil, the adversity of the good, the prosperity of the wicked, the crimes of the guilty involving the misery
of the innocent, the tardy appearance and partial distribution of moral and religious knowledge in the world, these are facts which no doubt are reconcilable, we know not how, with
the Infinite Goodness of God; but which certainly are not
to be explained on the supposition that its sole and sufficient type is to be found in the finite goodness of man. What
right, then, has the philosopher to assume that a criterion which admits of so many exceptions in the facts of nature
may be applied, without qualification or exception, to the
statements of revelation ?
The assertion that human morality contains in it a temporal and relative element, and cannot, in its highest manifestation, be regarded as a complete measure of the absolute
Goodness of God, has been condemned by one critic as “ rank Occamism,"1 and contrasted with the teaching of “that marvellously profound, cautious, and temperate thinker," Bishop Butler; it has been denounced by another, of a very different school, as
66 destructive of healthful moral perception.” That the doctrine in question, instead of being op
posed to Butler, is directly taken from him, may be seen by any one who will take the trouble to read the extract from
the Analogy quoted at p. 211. But it is of little importance
1 It is in fact the very reverse of the doctrine usually attributed to Occam, which admits of no distinction between absolute and relative morality, but maintains that, as all distinction of right and wrong depends upon obedience or disobedience to a higher authority, therefore the Divine Nature must be morally indifferent, and all good and evil the result of God's arbitrary Will. The above assertion, on the other hand, expressly distinguishes absolute from relative morality, and regards human virtue and vice as combining an eternal and a temporal element, - the one an absolute principle grounded in the immutable nature of God; the other a relative application, dependent upon the created constitution of human nature. But I am by no means sure that the “Invincible Doctor” has been quite fairly dealt with in this matter.
by what authority an opinion is sanctioned, if it will not
itself stand the test of sound criticism. The admission, that
a divine command may, under certain circumstances, justify an act which would not be justifiable without it, is condemned by some critics as holding out an available excuse
for any crime committed under any circumstances.
can suspend, on any one occasion, the ordinary obligations
of morality, how, it is asked, are we
to know whether
any criminal may not equally claim a divine sanction for his
crimes ? Now where, as in the present instance, the supposed exceptions are expressly stated as supernatural ones, analogous to the miraculous suspension of the ordinary laws of nature, this objection either proves too much, or proves nothing at all. If we believe in the possibility of a supernatural Providence at all, we may also believe that God is
able to authenticate His own mission by proper evidences.
The objection has no special relation to questions of moral
duty. It may be asked, in like manner, how we are to distinguish a true from a false prophet, or a preacher sent by God from one acting on his own responsibility. The possibility of a special divine mission of any kind will of course be denied by those who reject the supernatural altogether; but this denial removes the question into an entirely
different province of inquiry, where it has no relation to any
peculiar infallibility supposed to attach to the moral reason,
above the other faculties of the human mind.
Those who believe, with the Scriptures, that the Almighty has, at certain times in the world's history, manifested Himself to certain nations or individuals in a supernatural manner, distinct from His ordinary government of the world by
the institutions of society, will scarcely be disposed to admit the assumption, that God could not on such occasions justify by His own authority such acts as are every day justified by the authority of the civil magistrate whose power is delegated from Him. To assert, with one of my critics, that upon this principle, “the deed which is criminal on earth may be praiseworthy in heaven," is to distort the whole doctrine and to beg the whole question. For we must first answer
the previous inquiry: Does not a deed performed under such
circumstances cease to be criminal at all, even upon earth ?
The question, so far as moral philosophy is concerned, is
simply this: Is the moral quality of right or wrong an attribute so essentially adhering to acts as acts, that the same act
can never vary in its character according to the motives by
which it is prompted, or the circumstances under which it
is committed ?
If we are compelled, as every moralist is
compelled, to answer this question in the negative, we must
then ask, in the second place, whether the existence of a
direct command from the supreme Governor of the world,
supposing such a command ever to have been given, is one of the circumstances which can in any degree affect the character of an act. On this question, to judge merely by the