« AnteriorContinuar »
commended by Socrates, was unquestionably permitted by Plato. He likewise allowed the exposure of feeble or deformed infants. Indeed the object of Plato seems much to have resembled that of Lycurgus; it was to rear citizens and soldiers for the State, though at the expense of individual happiness and social affections. In the following direction, there is a brutal insensibility, which no parent will ever read without indignation. (Anach. iii. 105.) The children, which shall be born, shall be immediatly taken from their parents, and lodged in a place, to which their mother shall repair, without knowing them, to distribute, sometimes to one, and sometimes to another, that sustenance, which nature has provided for infants, and which they shall not be permitted to reserve exclusively for the fruit of their own affections."
By various quotations from this celebrated philosopher, it appears, that he permitted, and even on particular occasions, inculcated the violation of truth. (Lel. ii. 249.)
In that very beautiful piece of pagan morality, the oration of Isocrates to Dominicus, contained in Collectanea Majora, we find this most antichristian sentiment, “Be not surpassed by your friends, in doing them good; or by your enemies, in doing them injuries.” A similar precept is found among the Memorabilia of Socrates. (Xen. 319, 322.) I lay no stress on that charge of extreme impurity, which has been brought against this philosopher, by several authors of high reputation. The probability, ifone may be permitted to give an opinion, on superficial view of evidence, is, that the accusation is groundless. But there is another charge of no inconsiderable nature, which rests on the authority of Xenophon, who was both his disciple and panegyrist: it is that of giving such advice, in presence of two of his disciples, to Theodota, a profligate woman of Athens, as must be severely condemned by every person, who is even slightly imbued with christian philosophy.
The subject before us might easily be treated at much greater length. We might here notice that remarkable passage
from Cicero, which was quoted in the last lecture. Those, who desire further information, may obtain it by consulting Stanley's Lives of the philosophers, or Enfield's Abridgment of Brucker's History of philosophy. Enough has been said, it is hoped, to show that the dark cloud of ignorance and error, which lowered over the nations, was not likely to be dispelled by human means. It has been shown, that the philosophers had no sufficient knowledge on the subjects of morality and religion, to direct mankind in the way of truth and salvation; and that even the light, which they did acquire by their superior talents and application, they took no pains to communicate; but by their own example confirmed the common people in belief of the current superstitions. But had the philosophers been much less deficient, than they were both in knowledge and in moral purity, they would still have been incompetent guides, as they could not have spoken with sufficient authority. Mankind were not in a condition to attend to a long train of reasoning in support of a new religious theory. Their slavish subordination to their vices and their passions, disqualified them for impartial inquiry, and rendered them averse from it. They needed evidence, addressed directly to their senses. They needed to hear the dumb speak, to see the lame walk, and the dead rise. . .
What would it be reasonable to expect, as to the contents of a revelation, made under such circumstances, and to such a world ? Could it represent mankind, as fond of truth, and observant of moral rectitude ? Or must it say, that they are dead in trespasses and sins ? Could it represent them, as in need only of some improvement in virtue, such as would naturally result from importunate persuasion ? Or must it plainly tell them of passing from death unto life—from the power of Satan to God : of being raised from the dead by the energy of Almighty grace ? would it think, that enough were done, when the beauty and proportion of virtue were represented, and the deformity of vice portrayed? Or would it not rather speak of indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, to every soul of man, that worketh evil; but glory, honor, and peace to him, that worketh good ?
As it appears to be universally conceded among the advocates for revelation, that the advent of Jesus Christ had an important relation to the moral condition of man, it should seem, that the ascertaining of this moral condition well deserves our first inquiries.
Our views, as to our own characters, ought doubtless to correspond with truth. If guilty but of slight aberration, penitence and self abasement may rise to a degree, altogether disproportionate to our crimes. And persons ought to abstain from excess, as well in condemning, as in applauding themselves. On the other hand, if our disobedience is general, unyielding, and inveterate, our conviction and humility, it is evident, ought not to be superficial.
Besides the effects, which christianity ought to produce on the human character, will be very different in the two supposed cases. In the former, all reformation is not superseded; in the latter, nothing will be satisfactory, but a change that is radical and extensive ; and whether the change is produced by ourselves, or ab extra, the force to be applied, so to speak, must be in the two cases, very clifferent.
As all sin is a transgression of law, it is impossible to form any correct estimate of the demerit and the extent of sin in any supposed instance, without having just thoughts, as to the extent of what the law requires. By the term law I do not mean the Mosaic law, or any particular establishment, human or divine ; but that eternal, immutable rule of rectitude, conformity to which the Almighty demands of all his intelligent offspring. This law results necessarily from the nature and relations of things, and not merely from the will of any being whatever ; i. e. while things exist, as they are; while there is a God of such attributes; and while He has creatures in such and such conditions, it is impossible, but that certain feelings and actions on the part of these creatures should be suitable, and those which are opposite, unsuitable. Under given circumstances, the will of no being can change right into wrong, or wrong into right.
This immutable law, to which the Almighty requires his creatures to conform, takes cognizance, not of overt actions alone, which are only modifications of sound or motion ; but regards these, together with the purpose and choice of intelligent creatures. We are not unfrequently led to entertain wrong opinions of the divine law, by our views of civil legislation. If a man offers no injury to the State or to individuals; if he contributes his part to the support of the one, and discharges his debts to the other, he is, in the estimation of civil law, an upright man. The law requires nothing, which he refuses to yield. Whether in discharging his debts, or in supporting, and defending the State, he is actuated by regard to personal convenience and aggrandizement, or by a generous love to public happiness, is a matter concerning which human laws make no inquiry.
Hence, we readily believe it to be no difficult matter to satisfy the demands of God. While our fellow men receive from us little injury, and some benefit; while the name of our Maker is not blasphemed, nor mentioned contemptuously, we scarcely imagine, that the justice of God can have any further demands.
In the true spirit of such reasoning, the Pharisee said, “I thank God, I am not as other men are: I fast twice a week ; I pay tithes of all that I possess.” Under the influenee of the same mistake, though perhaps not with an equal degree of pride and self complacency, the young nobleman, when different parts of the law were brought to his recollection, replied, “ All these things have I kept from my youth.”
Now, it is extremely evident, that if there is a fitness in actions, there is prior fitness in dispositions and feelings. If it is suitable, that I should, by my countenance, tone of voice, words, and actions, express gratitude to a friend, who has saved my life at the hazard of his own, it is previously suitable that I should feel gratitude. This is, indeed, comprchended in the phraseology; for strictly speaking, I cannot express my gratitude, if I have no gratitude to express. If there is an acknowledged propriety in certain words and actions, relating to Deity and our fellow men, it is because there is a previous propriety in those dispositions, of which these words and actions are the sign. No parent is satisfied with the attention and caresses of a child, if he does not consider them, as the sign of an affectionate temper. It is this which causes pleasure to thrill through the heart, and glitter in the eyes. Let the professions of a person be what they may, and let his actions, by which you are benefitted, be ever so numerous, your gratitude inevitably ceases, the moment you are ascertained, that his views are exclusively fixed on his own emolument. The case is not different in regard to our Creator. His law takes cognizance of the taste, desires, and purposes of men; a moral corruption is to be estimated by the agreement, which there is between the former and the latter. So far as men pursue those ohjects, which God and reason approve, they are innocent or virtuous. So far as they pursue different ends, they are sinful. It is a maxim, taken from the morals of Aristotle, that many actions, which seem worthy of commendation, lose all their value, when we investigate the principle that produced them.