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principle, which forbids his proceeding in that direction; and there is another principle equally clear, though not an intellectual but a moral one, which urges him, if not to move, at least to look in the opposite direction. We are not asking him, situated where he is, to believe in God. For the time being, we as little expect a friendly as we desire a hostile decision upon the question. Our only demand for the present is, that he shall entertain the question. And to enforce the demand, we think that an effective appeal might be made to his own moral nature. We suppose him still to be an atheist, but no more than an atheist-for, in all right Baconian logic, the very farthest remove from theism, at which he or any man can be placed by the lack of evidence for a God, is at the point of simple neutrality. We might well assume this point, as the utmost possible extreme of alienation from the doctrine of a Creator, to which the mind of a creature can in any circumstances be legitimately carried. We cannot move from it, in the direction towards antitheism, without violence to all that is just in philosophy; and we might therefore commence with inquiring, whether, in this lowest state of information and proof upon the question, there can be any thing assigned, which should lead us to move, or at least to look in the opposite direction.
9. In the utter destitution, for the present, of any argument, or even semblance of argument, that a God is there is, perhaps, a certain duteous movement which the mind ought to take, on the bare suggestion that a God may be. An object in moral science may be wholly unseen, while the Ethics connected with that object may not be wholly unfelt. The certainty of an actual God binds over to certain distinct and most undoubted proprieties. But so also may the imagination of a possible God -in which case, the very idea of a God, even in its most hypothetical form, might lay a responsibility, even upon atheists.
10. Here then is one palpable use for the distinction between the ethics and the objects of Theology, or between the Deontology and Ontology of it. We may have a moral nature for the one, even when in circumstances of utter blindness to the other. The mere conception of the objects is enough to set the ethics agoing. Though in the dark as to the question whether a God exists, yet on the bare imagination of a God, we are not at all in the dark as to the question of the gratitude and the obedience which are due to Him. There is a moral light in the midst of intellectual darknessan ethics that waits only for the presentation of the objects. The very idea of a God, even in its most hypothetical form, will bring along with it an instant sense and recognition of the moralities and duties that would be owing to Him. Should an actual God be revealed, we clearly feel that there is a something which we ought to be and to do in regard to Him. But more than this; should a possible God be imagined, there is a something not only which we feel that we ought, but a something which we actually ought to do or to be, in consequence of our being visited by such an imagination. The thought of a God not only suggests what would be our in
cumbent obligations, did such a Being become obvious to our convictions_but the thought of a God suggests what are the incumbent obligations which commence with the thought itself, and are anterior even to the earliest dawn of evidence for a Deity. We hold that there are such obligations, and our purpose now is, if possible, to ascertain them.
11. To make this palpable, we might imagine a family suffering under extreme destitution, and translated all at once into sufficiency or affluence by an anonymous donation. Had the benefactor been known, the gratitude that were due to him becomes abundantly obvious; and in the estimation of every conscience, nothing could exceed the turpitude of him, who should regale himself on the bounties wherewith he had been enriched, and yet pass unheedingly by the giver of them all. Yet does not a proportion of this very guilt rest upon him, who knows not the hand that relieved him, yet cares not to inquire ? It does not exonerate him from the burden of all obligation that he knows not the hand which sustains him. He incurs a guilt, if he do not want to know. It is enough to convict him of a great moral delinquency, if he have gladly seized upon the liberalities which were brought in secret to his door, yet seeks not after the quarter whence they have come_willing that the hand of the dispenser should remain for ever unknown, and not wanting any such disclosures as would lay a distinct claim or obligation upon himself. He altogether lives by the bounty of another; yet would rather continue to live without the burden of those services or acknowledgments that are due to him. His ignorance of the benefactor might alleviate the charge of ingratitude ; but it plainly awakens the charge again, if he choose to remain in ignorance, and would shun the information that might dispel it. In reference then to this still undiscovered patron of his family, it is possible for him to evince ingratitude; to make full exhibition of a nature that is unmoved by kindness and withholds the moral responses which are due to it, that can riot with utmost selfishness and satisfaction upon the gifts while in total indifference about the giver—an indifference which might be quite as clearly and characteristically shown, by the man who seeks not after his unknown friend, as by the man who slights him after that he has found him.
12. And further this ingratitude admits of degrees. It may exist even in a state of total uncertainty as to the object of it; and without the smallest clue to the discovery of him. But should some such clue be put into his hand, and he forbear the prosecution of it—this would enhance the ingratitude. It were an aggravation of his baseness if there cast up some opening to a discovery, and he declined to follow it—if the probability fell in his way that might have guided him to the unseen hand which had been stretched forth in his behalf, and he shut his eyes against it—if he, satisfied with the bounty, were not merely content to live without the slightest notice of the benefactor, but lived in utter disregard of every notice that transpired upon the subject-loving the darkness rather than the light upon this question; and better pleased to grovel in the enjoyment of the gifts without the burden of any gratitude to that giver whom he rather wills to abide in secrecy. There is most palpable delinquency of spirit in all this; and it would become still more evident, should be distinctly refuse the calls that were brought within his hearing to prosecute an inquiry. The grateful man would not do this. He would be restless under the ignorance of him to whom he owed the preservation of his family. He would feel the uneasiness of a heart whose most urgent desire was left without its object. It is thus that anterior to the knowledge of the giver, and far anterior to the full certainty of him—the moralities which spring from the obligation of his gifts might come into play. Even in this early stage, there is, in reference to him who is yet unknown, a right and a wrong—and there might be evinced either the worth of a grateful disposition, or there be incurred the guilt of its opposite. Under a discipline of penalties and rewards for the encouragement of virtue, one man might be honoured for the becoming sensibilities of his heart to one whom he never saw; and another be held responsible for his conduct to him of whom he utterly was ignorant.
13. It may thus be made to appear, that there is an ethics connected with theology, which may come into play, anterior to the clear view of any of its objects. More especially, we do not need to be sure of God, ere we ought to have certain feelings, or at least certain aspirations towards him. For this purpose we do not need, fully and absolutely to believe that God is. It is enough
feelings of this purpos hat God is.