Page images
PDF
EPUB

BOOK V.

ON THE DUTIES WHICH MEN OWE TO ONE ANOTHER.

CHAPTER I.

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.

THOUGH all the duties which, as moral agents, we are bound to perform, are duties which we owe to God, inasmuch as we discharge them in obedience to his will, and in subserviency to his glory, they admit of classification according to their immediate objects.

The duties of the second class, or those which we owe our fellow-creatures, may be classed under the following heads : benevolence; justice; the obliga. tions involved in the constitution of mankind as male and female; and those which arise from the institution of society. Moralists, and more especially writers on jurisprudence, have called the duties of benevolence indeterminate, because force cannot be employed to ensure their practice; while they have styled those of justice determinate, because we may use force to secure ourselves against their violation. It should be remembered, however, that many, perhaps the greater part of our duties, in order to be performed aright, must be discharged under the combined operation of benevolence and justice. The obliga

a

tions that arise out of the benevolent feelings and principles of our nature, are just as binding, since they are enjoined by the authority of conscience and of God, as those which are founded upon right and equity. Has not a benefactor a right to a return of gratitude from those on whom he bestows his gifts ? Yet he has no power to force the person whom he has obliged to render it. Benevolence, as well as justice, requires that children be affectionately educated by their parents, and that parents be treated with kindness and reverence by their children; but if these claims be resisted, how are they to be enforced!

“ The terms right and duty, are, in the strictest sense, in morality at least, corresponding and commensurable. Whatever service it is my duty to do to any one, he has a moral right to receive from me. I do not speak at present, it is to be remembered, of the additional force of law as applied to particular moral duties, a force which it may be expedient variously to extend or limit, but of the moral duties alone; and in these, alike in every case, the moral duty implies a moral right, and the moral right a moral duty. The laws, indeed, have made a distinction of our duties, enforcing the performance of some of them, and not enforcing the performance of others; but this partial interference of law, useful as it is in the highest degree to the happiness of the world, does not alter the nature of the duties themselves, which, as resulting from the moral nature of man, preceded every legal institution *." Though he is not answerable to men if he refuses

* Brown's Lectures, vol. iv. p. 394.

For, every

to confer upon them those benefits which he has a discretionary right to bestow or withhold, he is accountable for that refusal to his God. opportunity of doing good to one of his fellow-creatures without being obliged to omit some other duty of equal or superior importance, is an opportunity afforded him of serving his Maker, and thus promoting his own final happiness; and he is bound never to neglect that primary end of his being *

CHAPTER II.

THE RIGHTS OF MEN DEDUCED FROM REASON AND

REVELATION.

The rights of men are derived from the will of God; and their nature and number are pointed out by those relations which exist between man and God, between man and his fellow-creatures, and between man and that moral happiness and eternity for which he is designed. It is God who has constituted him what he is, a being endowed with reason and conscience, capable of being instrumental in his own happiness or misery, of being the object of moral approbation or disapprobation, and of knowing, loving, and serving God. By him is he placed in his present circumstances, in the bosom of the family of mankind, the greater part of which he has never seen, with a great part of which he has only a casual connexion, and with some members of which he has that union and

Gisborne's Principles of Mor. Phil. P. 106.

a

intercourse which involves the most important obligations.

What are the original rights of mankind, and how are they to be ascertained! The knowledge of these is necessary to furnish a rule by which men are to regulate their conduct in regard to others, and to direct themselves in the use and disposal of that which is their own.

That every man has originally a right, by the will of God, to life—to freedom from personal injury and restraint—to as much of the unappropriated productions of the earth as are necessary to his subsistence-to accept from others such rights as they are authorized to transfer to him,-is a position so clear as to require neither proof nor illustration in its support. Nor can it reasonably be doubted, that every man is authorized to defend his own rights, and the rights of those who are under his protection, by the use of requisite force against an aggressor—to obtain restitution or indemnification in the case of an injury sustained, --and to waive, abridge, or alienate any of his alienable rights at his discretion. I have said alienable rights, because it is clear that there are certain rights which are unalienable. Thus, a man may give away his

property, but he cannot part with his right over his own knowledge, thoughts, and responsibility: he cannot give up his right to judge for himself in matters of conscience, nor divest himself of his accountableness as a moral agent. He is, of course, accountable in proportion to his talents and opportunities; but from tlie constitution of his nature, he is in every situation accountable.

Are there any cases in which man is authorized to

deprive another of the gifts which God has given to him, or to restrain him in the enjoyment of them? According to Mr. Gisborne, and in his opinion I entirely concur, he is authorized to do so, when he proceeds in such deprivation and restraint so far, and so far only, as is necessary for the defence of the gifts of God to himself, or in defence of the gifts of God to those whom he is bound by natural ties to protect, or those by whom his aid is solicited, against attacks unauthorized by God: or, when he proceeds to such deprivation or restraint in consequence of the consent of the individual suffering it.

“ He may conclude, that for important purposes he is invested with a right to employ the powers of which he is possessed in defending himself against every kind of injury; whether it be likely to arise from famine or from nakedness, from the violence of a savage animal, or from the unwarranted attacks of a savage of his own species. And since he can in no case defend the divine gifts committed to his charge, without depriving the aggressor of some of his natural powers, or restraining him in the use of them; the arguments which justify him in defending himself against an unauthorized attack, evidently justify such deprivation or restraint, as far as may be necessary for his defence. He, therefore, who by invading the rights of another, has met with resistance, and has thereby lost any of the gifts conferred upon him, his property, his health, his limbs, or his life, must impute the loss wholly to himself. He runs upon a weapon pointed against him by the hand of God *.”

* Gisborne's Principles of Mor. Phil. p. 83.

a

« PreviousContinue »