Page images

universe of pure and intelligent beings as well as upon ourselves. Revelation teaches us to consider the salvation of one individual as the means of increasing the happiness of every member of the family of God. "There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, who need no repentance.'

To holy beings the repentance of a sinner is calculated on many grounds to afford joy; but, chiefly, as it illustrates the boundless compassion of God who is rich in mercy,—as it is the token of a begun deliverance from the guilt and bondage of sin, and as it is the commencement of a career of virtue that will never terminate. In entering on this career, then, and in pursuing it, we are doing far more than securing our own individual happiness: we are now, and we shall, in every future stage of our existence, in a still higher degree, be the means of diffusing joy over the universe of God. Ought we not to make it the business of our lives to attain an object of such superlative magnitude? How different are the feelings and principles which its pursuit implies from the unmingled selfishness which the doctrine of expediency recommends!

III. In seeking eternal life, in obedience to the divine command, we are seeking that which directly advances the glory of God. This position is so fully established by scripture, that I do not consider it necessary, at any length, to prove it. There is thus an object of infinite grandeur and magnitude inseparably connected with our individual happiness; and an object which we are commanded intentionally to

pursue in all things, and above all things. This is to be our ultimate end in every pursuit, even in that of everlasting salvation. In acting thus, we only give to God what he is entitled to receive, the supreme love of the heart.

But how opposite is this to the scheme of utility, which makes our own individual gain to be every thing, which is so far from representing the glory of God as an object of superlative importance, that it authorizes us to violate his laws when we can persuade ourselves to believe, that we shall derive greater advantage from the violation than from the observanceand which, in place of pointing to God as the first object of disinterested regard, maintains, that he is on no other ground entitled to our love and obedience, than in consideration of the evil which he can inflict, and the good which he can communicate?



THAT the consequences which follow from the actions of moral agents are endless, is a proposition, the truth of which few will controvert. Moral evil, no less than moral good, perpetuates itself. The effects of a single good action may reach into eternity. It is only a Being of infinite understanding who can know the number and duration of those results to which one deed of beneficence gives rise. It is he only who can

The Principle of Utility proved to be Untenable. 61 estimate all the evil of which a single act of impiety and immorality may be productive.

If, to be instrumental in the restoration to virtue and to happiness, of a being destined for immortality, is a measure of good which a single individual may, by his exertions or example, be the means of attaining; an individual also may, by his exertions or example, be the means of producing an extent of moral ruin which the conceptions of man cannot reach. Hence Scripture teaches us that the results of every man's conduct here will meet him in the day of final retribution; and that his eternal condition, either of happiness or of misery, shall be fixed accordingly. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

[ocr errors]

Nor are these remarks merely applicable to those actions, respecting the morality or immorality of which, it is presumed, there cannot exist a difference of opinion. Actions, which may seem trivial, and the real character of which as to right or wrong may appear doubtful to those who have not divine revelation to guide them, may be productive of important and endless consequences. How desirable, how necessary, is it for moral agents to have an infallible rule of action prescribed to them by Him whose wisdom and knowledge are infinite?

But if we cannot foresee all the consequences of our actions, how can we derive from the principle of expediency the rule to direct our moral conduct? "Is the degree of expediency which we can discern, in any case such as to justify us in inferring that we have a tolerable insight into general expediency? Surely no one will answer in the affir

mative. As well might an Abyssinian pretend to delineate the whole course of the Nile, in consequence of having traced the windings of the infant river for a few miles contiguous to his hut. As well might a fisherman infer, that his line, which has reached the bottom of the creek in which he exercises his trade, is capable of fathoming the depth of the Atlantic.

"If this argument wanted confirmation, it might receive it from a view of the moral, to say nothing of the natural, government of the world. Even though we are previously convinced that the great object of the Almighty is the happiness of his creatures, in numerous instances we see very imperfectly how the detail of his operations conduces to the end which he has in view. Sometimes presumptuous ignora would lead us to imagine that we per e cir stances which militate against it, as this moral evil: others, wherein there is

imperfection, as in the late establis

diffusion of Christian

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

diency attainable by the wisest of men is unfit to be adopted as the basis of moral rectitude; and that if it were adopted, we should very frequently be acting in direct opposition to the will of God, at the time when we had fondly persuaded ourselves that we were most strenuously employed in promoting it*."



HAVING shewn the grounds and principles of moral obligation, and having attempted to prove that moral distinctions are immutable and eternal,-I shall conclude this divi on of my subject with a few observarent theories of morals.


all such theories is to account for the oral sentiments. The earliest formed es is that of Hobbes, an author whose genius have seldom been surpassed. A ma with him, in common with some of was, that the notion of the being and of God, and of religious worship, is the man fear and weakness. Yet, he elsets, that the mechanical contrivance of the y affords so clear a proof of a wise Maker, st be without a mind who does not admit its

Gisborne's Principles of Moral Philosophy.

« PreviousContinue »