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character. The capacity for moral character must be ascertained, and the standard of moral character must be determined, from the constitutional powers and qualifications of the being, before the question of conformity or non-conformity to that standard can be tried or decided. If there is truth in any thing, sin—depravitydoes not and cannot consist in any created structure or attribute of the human mind, nor in the ill-desert of one being transferred to another. The question here is not, how early those mental exercises which constitute the depravity or sinfulness of man begin. So early, in our opinion, that, according to the popular representalions of the scriptures, it is properly said, that all men are sinners from the first. The question is not, what those changes are, either in the mind or out of it, which, in consequence of the first apostasy, became the occasion of the universal sinfulness of our race,provided only, that we do not make the cause of the first sin, to be a previous sin. But the question is, what is sin, -what is depravity, as it first exists in the human mind? And we say, that to talk of a depraved nature, or a sinful nature, meaning any attribute of the mind which is the product of the creative power of God, or even any state of mind which does not involve an intelligent preference, is to talk of a depraved nature which is not depraved, and of a sinful nature which is not sinful. It is to substitute a false doctrine of depravity for the true doctrine, and one which, most calamitously for the cause of truth, the opposers of christianity, whether of the Deistic or Pelagian school, know by absolute intuition to be false and self-contradictory. We are aware, that some philosophical divines, to avoid the pressure of absurdity and selfcontradiction, speak of a sinful nature, which is not sinful, meaning not ill-deserving. Without saying, that this is a mere subtersuge which needs no exposure, we do say, that no usage will au-' thorize this import of the word sinful; and, that to turn such a word,-a word only as it is,—on this momentous subject from its true and only meaning, is to incur the responsibility of protecting error in its strong-bold. Definitions and explanations here will not, in our view, exempt from this responsibility ; for every one knows, or ought to know, that the enemies of truth will understand the word in the only import which usage authorizes. They will thus regard known error as the scriptural doctrine, and so reject both. “Depravity,--sin, and all in the scriptures which is meant by sin, consists in a preference of ourselves to others, to all others,—to the universe and to God."* It involves, of course, the free, voluntary perversion of those high powers and attributes of the mind in which it is created after the similitude of God, and which qualify it as truly for right as for wrong moral preference. These powers and attributes of the mind, not the use that is actually made of them in forming a moral character, show, in their nature and adaptation, the end for which they are created and the design of their Creator. They no sooner become, in their nature and adaptation, known in our own consciousness, than they reveal the knowledge of the right and wrong use of them; that use by which alone the end of our being can be secured, and that by which, with equal certainty, this end will be defeated. Instead, therefore, of a necessary ignorance on the part of man, there is a necessary knowledge of right and wrong, arising from the knowledge of his own powers, and their adaptation. Not only is this apparent from a moment's reflection on these powers themselves, as the pre-requisites to moral character, but also from the essential elements of moral action. One essential element involved in the very existence of moral action, is, the knowledge of right and wrong, and of the difference between them. But how shall this knowledge be acquired ? Not by mere words, surely. Things must be known, before words can become the signs of them to the mind. Is it then said, that this knowledge is acquired by the character actually formed ? But this is too late for the purpose to be answered by it; for how can moral character be formed, prior to any possible or actual knowledge of right and wrong? We are aware, that Dr. Wardlaw denies this plain principle of reason and common sense, and supposes the actual existence of moral character in man, prior to the existence of all knowledge of right and wrong. We shall not stop to discuss this point, but submit the question, whether the position we have taken is not the infallible dictate of the competent, unperverted reason of man, as well as of the revelation of God. Even Dr. W. himself tells us, “ that where there is no law, there can be no sin ; and that, on the part of the creature, there cannot be any knowledge of sin at all, but in as far as the law is known, of which sin is the transgression.” p. 145. Can there then be a law, where no law either is or can be known ? Dr. W. says, “the absence of all knowledge and all means of knowledge, nullifies accountableness." Hence it follows, from Dr. Wardlaw's own premises, that there can be no sin, without the previous knowledge of right and wrong; and that of course this knowledge must exist prior to the formation of a sinful character.
* Dr. Dwight.
+ Jas. iii.9.
To what purpose then does Dr. W. ask, how can we « discover the principles of moral rectitude from the constitution of a depraved nature,” "extract a pure system of ethics from the elements of corruption ?” We answer, (if Dr. Wardlaw means moral corruption,) that he who knows what moral pravity is, must of necessity know what moral rectitude is. But we answer again, (if Dr. W. means, and this must be his meaning, that the mind is corrupted in its very constitution,--that its corruption lies in the
very nature, powers and properties of the mind, in distinction from the use or exercise of these powers ;) then, we say, he begs the main question. He has no right to assume, that the human mind comes from the forming hand of God a mere mass of physical corruption. The true doctrine of moral depravity involves no such fact as he reasons from. His doctrine of depravity has not even a claim to orthodoxy; much less is it the doctrine of revelation. We feel constrained to say, therefore, that in his statements of the doctrine of human depravity, Dr. W. palpably misinterprets revelation itself, and furnishes another proof, that the interpreter of the word of God is as truly liable to error, as the interpreter of the works of God; and, that his theology is as erroneous on this point, as his philosophy. And here, as we consider it, is the fundamental error of his treatise, and the source of all bis difficulties and objections in respect to forming a system of ethics from the light of nature. Let Dr. Wardlaw correct this single error,-- let him learn to distinguisha what man is in his constitution, from what man is in moral character,-- let him understand what the human mind is, as God creates it; and if he cannot satisfy himself from his own consciousness, let him consult the oracles of God without the prejudices of a sectarian theology; and we venture to predict, that all his difficulties on this subject will vanish. He will find that if there is any meaning in revelation, it finds man a sinner, with the knowledge of right and wrong, and under a just condemnation from the light of nature,—that if there is any truth in the revealed law of God, the absolute moral perfection of man, depraved as he is, consists in the right use of powers which he actually possesses that in respect to his nature, properly so called, that is, in his constitutional attributes, man is made in the image of God,—that sin is not and cannot be a literally corrupt property of a corrupted substance, but consists in the transgression of law-a perverted use of constitutional powers which belong to man as man, whether he be perfectly holy or perfectly sinful,--and, that it is the possession of these high powers which makes man a moral agent, and the fit subject of God's moral government. And now, to decide what such a creature of God ought to be ; to decide what he ought to be from the constitution which God has given him, and to bring out from this source of knowledge the same system of morals which christianity inculcates, and to enforce this system on the human conscience by the combined authority of philosophy and the word of God, would, we think, but slightly tax the powers of Dr. Wardlaw himself.
We have said, that we are not fully confident that we understand Dr. Wardlaw on this part of the subject. With more propriety we might say, that in our opinion, he does not fully understand himself. We cannot doubt, that he often reasons on the Vol. VII.
assumption, that a depraved being, such as man is, cannot come to the knowledge of right and wrong from the knowledge of himself and of his relations. And yet he tells us, that “ Reason and conscience are not obliterated, but do certainly continue to bear testimony for God,”—that the means of knowing the will of God from the light of nature are sufficient,—that the law of revelation, and the law of nature and of conscience are, substantially, the same,-and, that “the absence of all knowledge and of all means of knowledge, would have nullified accountableness.” We might here put several questions, which would show a great want of precision of thought and language, in what Dr. W. says respecting “the second source of error” in moral science. So great, indeed, is the confusion which seems to have possessed the mind of the writer as to the exact thing of wbich he would treat, that we dare not trust ourselves to express, in any well-defined proposition, what his meaning is, in this his great position. On this he plumes himself, it would seem, as being his grand discovery of an error common to all previous philosophy. We, however, cannot imagine what other difficulty lies in the way of sound reasoning, than à known perversion of the powers of moral agency. We do not believe, that to an honest inquirer, a deep and obscure darkness rests on the question, what sort of action is right and what is wrong, or upon any other of the vexed questions in the science of morals.
Though this second difficulty, in the path to truth, is so vaguely stated by Dr. W., that we have been unable to conclude precisely what was his own apprehension of it, he yet keeps this in view by a constant reference to it, in his examination of some of the more noted philosophers, both ancient and modern. As these pass in order, before his critical eye, he discerns in them all a deficiency arising from this single source, this “root of all evil.” He applies this as a test, a touch-stone, to each, and the secret of their error is at once revealed. We do not pause upon this examination, for the same confusion accompanies each step of the application of this principle, as attended its first announcement. We have given our own opinions sufficiently at large, and the reader can compare them at his leisure with those advanced by Dr. Wardlaw.
Lecture IV. is devoted to an extended investigation of the moral system of Bishop Butler, and is characterized by the same defects which mark the more rapid view of other systems. Clearness and accuracy of statement are, to a great extent, wanting; while there is occasionally displayed acuteness of remark and vigor of expression. We would direct our reader, who would judge of the truth of so summary an account of this part of the work, to his comment on Butler's interpretation of Rom. ii. 14, 15. No genuine disciple of Butler will sit with patience, while such rea
soning is attempted to be substituted for his master's luminous conceptions and rigid logic.
Lecture V. has for its subject and title the “Rule of moral obligation.” Its doctrine is the followiny: “If the moral government of God be granted, and the consequent subjection of man to that government, it evidently follows, as an instant and unavoidable consequence, without even a single link of intermediate reasoning, that the rule by which his conduct is to be regulated, must be the will of the Supreme Governor.” No man could ever have doubted the truth of such a statement, who could derive a conclusion from a premise.
Lecture VI. is upon “ The original principle of moral obligation.” The views of Dr. Wardlaw on this subject, are marked with the same confusion of thought and language to which we have adverted on other topics. Our design is not to examine his opinions, any farther than to correct what we think his misapprehensions of the doctrines of an American writer. This writer is Dr. Dwight. His sermon entitled “ Utility the foundation of Virtue, we have long considered the most lucid and satisfactory discussion of this important subject, within our knowledge. His doctrine is presented in various forms of expression, as follows: “The foundation of virtue is not in the will of God, but in the nature of things.”
To prevent all misapprehension, he states the question to be this: “What constitutes it virtue makes it valuable, excellent, lovely, praiseworthy and rewardable.” Having frequently said, that the foundation of virtue , is in the nature of things, he proceeds to the inquiry, “ Where, in the nature of things, shall we find this foundation ?” He answers this question in different forms of phraseology. He exhibits the nature of virtue, by designating it as the cause or means of happiness, or, as that which produces, or tends to produce, happiness; inaintaining, that this nature of virtue is that which constitutes it valuable, excellent, lovely, etc. He says, “if virtue and vice had originally, or, as they were seen by the eye of God, no moral difference in their nature, then there was plainly no reason why God should prefer, or why he actually preferred, one of them to the other.” On this exhibition of the subject, as made by Dr. Dwight, Dr. W. thus remarks: “ Now the moral difference in their nature does not consist in their different tendencies and effects; but their different tendencies and effects are the appropriate indications of their respective natures.
“The nature of things and tendencies of things, it seems very inadmissible thus to confound.” He repeats this charge of confounding different things again and again. We are disposed to ask, who could have found confusion in these statements, except Dr. Wardlaw ? Every one, acquainted with philo