« AnteriorContinuar »
We conclude this section in the words of Dr. McCosh ; “ It is surely an ominous circumstance that in this, the nineteenth century, there should arise a system of philosophy, supported by very able men, and with very extensive ramifications and applications, especially in social science, but which contains within it no argument for the Divine existence, or sanctions to religion. The founder of the school was an avowed, indeed a rabid, Atheist ; and I am not aware that any of his French followers have made any profession of religion; most of them are favourers of a materialism which does
l not admit of a Spiritual God. The British branch of the school seems, with one accord, to decline uttering any certain sound on the subject; they certainly do not pretend that their philosophy, embracing though it does, all mental, moral, and social problems, requires us to believe in the existence of God, in the immortality of the soul, or a day of judgment.
We will now consider Mr. Mill's opinions of the morals of Christianity. He writes, page 28 : “ But before pronouncing what Christian morality is or is not, it would be desirable to decide what is meant by Christian morality. If it means the morality of the New Testament, I wonder that anyone, who derives his knowledge of this from the book itself, can suppose that it was announced, or intended, as a complete doctrine of morals. The gospel always refers to a pre-existing morality, and confines its precepts to the particulars in which that morality was to be corrected or superseded by a wider and higher; expressing itself, moreover, in terms most general, often impossible to be interpreted literally, and possessing rather the impressiveness of poetry or eloquence than the precision of legislation.” “What is called Christian, but should rather be termed theological, morality, was not the work of Christ or the Apostles, but is of much later origin, having been gradually built up by the Catholic church of the first five centuries, and though not implicitly adopted by moderns and Protestants, has been much less modified by them than might have been expected.” Further on he says, “ Christian morality (so called) has all the character of a reaction; it is, in great part, a protest against Paganism. Its ideal is negative rather than positive; passive rather than active; innocence rather than nobleness; abstinence from evil rather than energetic pursuit of good: in its precepts (as has been well said) - thou shalt not' predominates unduly over thou shalt. In its horror of sensuality, it made an idol of asceticism, which has been gradually compromised away into one of legality. It holds out the hope of heaven and the threat of hell, as the appointed and the appropriate motives to a virtuous life; in this falling far below the best of the ancients, and doing what lies in it to give to human morality an essentially selfish character, by disconnecting each man's feelings
of duty from the interests of his fellow creatures, except so far as a self-interested inducement is offered to him for consulting them."
These adverse criticisms of Christian morality may be summed up in the following order: 1. It is not a complete doctrine of morals. 2. It is, in many respects, impracticable. 3. It is expressed in terms too general. 4. It is of a negative character, and inculcates only passive virtues. 5. Its motives to a virtuous life fall far below the best of the ancients. 6. Its tendency is “ to give to human morality an essentially selfish character.”
These are certainly very grave charges against the moral doctrines of Christianity, and, we think, all of them are included in the foregoing lengthy quotation; and the importance of the point now at issue warrants not only our extended transcription of our author's words, but also a careful examination of the contextual passages.
Before dealing directly with these six points, we must note that Mr. Mill is arguing, not merely against what be terms theological morality, but clearly and definitely in opposition to the Christian morality in its plainest sense, that is, the teachings of Jesus Christ. For he says, “It is in the Koran, not the New Testament, that we read the maxim : 'A ruler who appoints any man to an office, when there is in his dominions another man better qualified for it, sins against God and against the State ? What little recognition the idea of obligation to the public obtains in modern morality, is derived from Greek and Roman sources, not from Christian." “Many essential elements of the highest morality are among the things which are not provided for, nor intended to be provided for, in the recorded deliverances of the Founder of Christianity." From these sentiments we must conclude that Mr. Mill's objections are really delivered against New Testament morality, the teachings of Jesus Christ and his apostles, and, as such, we now purpose to deal with them.
On comparing the first objection with the third, we find they mutually nullify each other; the first charges the gospel with being too narrow, and the third accuses it of being too broad or too general; this is only one of the many instances of self-contradiction which our author furnishes for the wonder of the careful student of this and other of his treatises. The morality of the Bible is expressed in general terms, and this we hold to be one of the best evidences of its completeness; its sublime doctrines are not for a class or classes of men, but for humanity; not for this time or that, but for all time; Christianity claims for its morals this specific mark of completeness and perfection, namely, their general fitness, or adaptability to universal application. But, at the same time, no one can deny that such universal precepts must be expressed in general terms : and however much Mr. Mill may object to general terms, they are alone the possible conditions of a system of universal morality which the gospel claims for itself to be; for if detailed rules for the conduct of men were to be given for all possible contingencies and circumstances in the present life, the world would not be large enough for the books that would have to be written ; or to take a parallel case for illustrative purposes, the general principles of geometry can be embodied in a moderate volume, but the application of these principles is capable of an almost infinite variety, which would more than fill all the books in existence with its details.
The second and fourth of these points are, we consider, also selfcontradictory. How can a system be at once impracticable and of too negative a nature ? The very fact that the objector finds in it something which, in his opinion, cannot be performed, is a proof that the Gospel is a system of positive morality, and not a mere negative system; in short, it inculcates something more than mere passive virtues, since it enjoins the performance of some things which a secular philosophy chooses to term impracticable; but our philosopher wots not that the apparent impracticability of the precepts of Christianity, instead of arising from an inherent defect of the system, is to be found in the entire degeneracy of humanity itself, which latter is also one of its cardinal doctrines. But as Mr. Mill does not give any special instances of the impracticable precepts of the Gospel, we will pass from this charge, it being only a gratuitous assertion which waits substantiation ; we wish to notice more at large the other point, namely, the negative or passive character of the teaching of Christianity.
We scarcely can believe that Mr. Mill has ever devoted much time to the real study of New Testament morality, or he could not make such one-sided statements as we have previously quoted ; the doctrines of the New Testament are both negative and positive, that is, they contain not only prohibitions, but also precepts; they teach us what things we are to abstain from, as well as what things to practice. How otherwise can we interpret such passages as the following ? “ Abstain from that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.” Bishops are exhorted thus : “For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover
e of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate ; holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught.” Aged men and women are to be “ sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.” Servants also are counselled in the following
“Servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things : not answering again, not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity.” And to the Church in general is the following exhortation : “For the grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.
In all these passages we have exhortations and commands, not only as to those things we are to shun, but also the duties we are to perform ; our duties to ourselves, to our neighbours, and to God; sobriety, uprightness, and godliness. Lord Mansfield was once called upon to advise a man of practical good sense, who being appointed governor of a colony, had to preside in its court of justice, without previous judicial practice or legal education. The advice was to give his decision boldly, for it would probably be right; but never to venture on assigning reasons, for they would most infallibly be wrong. Now we think in Mr. Mill's examination of Christianity, not only are his decisions palpably erroneous and unjust, but his reasons are also utterly worthless, and unworthy of one who is said to possess an extra share of logical acumen, and, who also, we are certain, has had all necessary facilities for the formation of an impartial judgment. His comparison of the Koran with the New Testament, to the disparagement of the latter, is a piece of foregone conclusion, which we are sorry to find in one who has been said to be one of the greatest thinkers of this century. This fact, however, further proves to those who have entered into the spirit of the Christian system, and who, by a more constant communion with its blessed truths, have risen to the appreciation of its own peerless glory, and the recognition of the beauty of holiness to which it seeks to conduct its followers, that the pride of man's heart, and the stubborn maintenance of the entire supremacy of human intellect, are stumblingblocks in the way of the reception of the doctrines of the Gospel. Notwithstanding this, the sublime morality of the New Testament has never failed to command the admiration of unprejudiced minds, both in civilized and barbarous countries ; even the wild Arab of the desert has acknowledged its superiority over the Koran, as is shown in the following incident. A Christian gentleman travelling in the east, had for his guides a band of Arabs, under the leadership of one of their chiefs, or “sheiks.” For some time they had journeyed into the interior of a desert, travelling during the day, and halting during the night. The Christian man thought it best to keep his religion a secret, and performed his devotions and reading of the Scriptures with the curtain of his tent drawn close around him. One evening, after they had pitched the encampment, and made a great camp fire, they all gathered round for conversation, and the traveller amongst them. At length, in a lull of the conversation, the old sheik, fixing his eyes stedfastly on the Englishman said : “Have you English any religion? for," said he, "you never fast nor pray, and we have
not seen you worship; you have no religion, you don't pray, you do nothing." “God forgive me," thought the traveller, the rebuke is not altogether unjust.” “Now we,” continued the Arab, “ are required by our Prophet to be faithful and obedient in matters of devotion, charity, and self-denial.” “ While he spoke of these things,” says the traveller, “ I lifted up my heart to God, and sought courage to bear a feeble testimony to his word. When the sheik paused, I put my hand into my bosom and drew forth a New Testament. I have a religion, I said. Would you like to hear what it teaches me on these high matters ?” “Certainly, will you tell me?” said the Arab. By this time the attention of all my guard was directed to me. Their quick, sparkling eyes were fixed fiercely, as I thought, upon me, their dark visages looking more grim by the flashing fire around which they were seated, and their hands ready to grasp a weapon that would speedily bring down vengeance upon the head of the infidel who should dare to speak against their prophet. I opened my New Testament and commenced to read to them the words of Jesus in his sermon on the mount. As I read on to them verse after verse of the heavenly truths contained in the fifth chapter of St. Matthew's gospel, I was interrupted only by exclamations of wonder and approbation. “Wonderful,” exclaimed my swarthy friend the sheik, when at length I closed the book ; “but this is wonderful; and what good people you Christians ought to be.” We place this unprejudiced judgment of the children of the desert side by side with that of the philosopher of civilization, which latter is, we fear, like the taste of the epicure, far removed from a state of normal simplicity.
As to the motives of Christian morality being “ far below that of the ancients," we are at a loss to know whence Mr. Mill has taken his views of Christian motives to morality; not certainly from the New Testament. The great duty of mankind, according to the Christian view, is the love of God and the love of our fellowmen, that is, godliness and universal benevolence; but it is an entire perversion of the fact to say that the promise of heaven or the threat of hell is the motive to these duties; it would be unnatural and absurd to suppose that men can be compelled to the love of God by such motives. But does the teaching of the New Testament exclusively include such motives ? On the contrary, the chief inducement set before mankind to the love of God is, that God has loved us; and the same motive is also placed before us for the love of our fellow-men. As we have been loved, so we are to love; as we have been forgiven, so we are to forgive; and the universal benevolence of God to man is the just reason which Christianity gives for the benevolence of man to man.
We must confess our amazement at these charges; and, on reading the further statement that the tendency of the Christian