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worship, idolatry itself—are appa: duct. He can be satisfied only by rently practiced by the heathen what he believes to be a full' and without compunction. They plead, candid investigation ; and it is imthat it is an act of humanity to de- probable, if nothing more, that such stroy the aged who can only suffer an investigation would lead him to if they live, and also infants of fee- a false conclusion in regard to a ble constitution or of poor parent. question of natural duty. age. They claim also, that it is What indeed is this hypothesis their duty to worship idols, accord- but the pernicious doctrine of infiing to the custom of their ancestors. delity, that sincere differences of Such, in general, is their blindness, opinion in regard to religious and that if they sin by such conduct, it moral obligations, may be honestly is a sin of ignorance. But is it entertained ; and that such opinions, true, that they commit no sin against if erroneous, are only to be pitied, conscience by these acts, which it not condemned. This spreads a is admitted are naturally wrong? shield over the conscience and repIs it true, that their faith in a false utation of wicked men ; for whatgod, renders it their duty to wor- ever may be their misconduct, they ship him? Is it possible, in other feel justified, if it corresponds with words, that they should be so fully their creed, and they expect the persuaded of the truth of these er. community will pronounce on them rors, as to feel, on reflection, no the same favorable judgment. doubt respecting them. Paul teaches This hypothesis farther implies, us the contrary. In Rom. i, 32, he that human governments may justly informs us, that they who do such punish men for doing their duty to things as he had charged upon the God. Whoever commits murder heathen, are worthy of death. He or robbery is punished, on detecrepresents them to be guilty for tion, by the civil power; yet who performing those actions which are knows, if a person may be unenaturally wrong, of which he gives quivocally impelled by his conan extended catalogue, and of the science to do what is naturally obligation of which we should sup- wrong, that the most atrocious crimes pose them to be ignorant, if entire may not be committed under this ignorance is possible. Nor does he conviction ? And if so, the crimes justify their idolatry, which it is ought, in those instances, to be
, reasonable to suppose they consci. committed; or the agent is placed entiously practiced, if man can be under the embarrassing necessity truly conscientious in any conduct of sinning, whichever course he may which is condemned by the light of adopt. nature.
The Bible, we believe, invariaThis hypothesis is moreover lia. bly charges man with guilt when ble to the objection, that it supposes he does things which are naturally a person may be led by such an
wrong; and represents his igno. examination of the subject, as seems rance to be only a palliation of to him candid and complete, to an the crime. Thus, Luke xxiii, 34, unhesitating belief that he ought to “ Then said Jesus, Father forgive do that which is naturally wrong. them; for they know not what they For if, on reflection, he can not do.” They were ignorant in some refer to any such ground of convic. respects, which mitigated their of
. tion, that he is doing his duty, his fense ; in other respects, they knew reason will tell him, that he may better; and hence they needed for. be wrong, and conscience will re- giveness. Luke xii, 47, 48. Those fuse to pronounce an unequivocal who are destitute of a written reve. sentence of approbation on his con- lation, are represented as not knowVol. I.
ing the will of their master, and out ambiguity; it must be obeyed yet doing things worthy of stripes. before the conscience can insist unTheir ignorance is comparative, not equivocally on the performance of absolute; which mitigates their de. the other act. Thus in all cases, sert of punishment. This is the in which a person thinks himself uniform representation of the subject under obligation to do that which in the Bible, with only one apparent God forbids, he would, on reflecexception. Paul declares in his ser- tion, see reasons for a different mon on Mars Hill, Acts xvii, 30, opinion. This prior reflection, or that God winked at the ignorance a candid and full examination of of former ages, but now command- the subject, is demanded by the eth all men every where to repent. conscience before it can pronounce But this language can mean no an unequivocal approval on our more than the forbearance, with conduct. Although a religious bigot, which God had looked upon the under the influence of pride and sins and impenitence of the heathen, malignity, may feel he ought to in consideration of their partial igno- persecute heretics, yet his self-ap: rance; not that he acquitted them probation can not endure the ordeal of all blame. For the Bible else- of calm inquiry, such as his conwhere charges them with guilt, science requires. He must feel on and represents the wrath of God to reflection, that he is acting with be revealed from heaven against wrong feelings, or without due de. their wickedness. Rom. i, 18, 19. liberation. We must admit it to Hence, as a person is manifestly be universally true, that conscience not culpable for actions which are thus demands, first of all, an honest naturally wrong, as murder and and full examination of the ques. idolatry, if he is impelled by an tion of duty, and that such an ex: unequivocal sense of duty to do amination never leaves the mind in them, we see no way of reconciling incertitude, at least not bound by the fact with the Bible, but by de- an unhesitating belief that a wrong nying that such an unhesitating be action is right and obligatory; or lief is possible. A perfectly pure else that God has placed us in a conscience belongs to those only, condition, where we can not ascer. who, with pure motives, do acts tain his will. which are not naturally wrong- We have discussed this point at which are to them in every sense length, because it is only by an right. It often happens that the accumulation of probabilities, that mind decides, in view of certain the result can be established. considerations, that a given act ought While, however, it seems certain to be performed, which, in view of that every voluntary act of a moral other considerations of higher aué agent, which to him is naturally thority, it decides ought not to be wrong, is also morally wrong; his done ; at least not at present, not ignorance may very much palliate with existing feelings, not until some the criminality of his conduct. The prior act or further deliberation. degrees of guilt, which mankind This feeling of the mind, that we contract by violating the same law, ought to reflect, or ought to do some depend on various circumstances, other thing before we proceed to a familiar to all, such as their regiven action, which we deem to be spective ages, professions, informa. our duty, is a dictate of conscience tion, and even habits which are the paramount to that which urges us result of their own conduct. A to perform that given action. It strictly temperate person who betakes precedence of it; it speaks lieves the use of intoxicating drinks decisively, without hesitation, with. to be unlawful, and has strong hab
its of self-control, would incur more will progressively improve; that is, be. guilt than a common drunkard by He is assured of enjoying all the bene
come more and more capable of virtue, deliberately drinking to intoxication. fits which can result from such improve
The question, therefore, arises, ment. If he use these faculties as he whether man is responsible for all ought not, and become less and less cathe natural results of his misconsible for all the consequences of his mis
pable of virtue, he is bence held responduct. It is the opinion of President improvement. Now as this misimprove. Wayland, that a person may be inent is his own act, it manifestly does equitably punished for acts, which not affect the relations under which he is at the time he thought it his duty these relations; that is, he stands in
created, nor the obligations resulting from to do, because his conscience was respect to the moral requirements under blinded by previous misconduct. which he is created, precisely in the This notion embraces the hypothe. his moral powers correctly."
same condition as if he had always used sis, which we have endeavored to " As he is at this moment responsible refute, that a person may be un- for such a capacity for virtue, as would equivocally impelled by his con-
have been attained by a previously per. science, to do that, which is natu- fect rectitude; and as his capacity is infe
rior to this; and as no reason can be sugrally wrong; and then, to relieve gested why his progress in virtue should, the difficulty, which attends the sup- under these circumstances, be more rapid position, that he is blameless for than that of a perfect being, but the consuch acts, affirms that he is guilty, fall short of what is justly required of
trary; it is manifest that he must ever because, if he had always done his him-nay, that he must be continually duty, he would not have mistaken falling farther and farther behind it." it in the present case.
“And hence, although it were shown manifestly throwing the whole guilt his being, incapable of that degree of vir
that a man was, at any particular period of of the agent, whatever it may be, tue which the law of God required, it back upon the misdeeds which lead would neither follow that he was not unto his present blindness. It virtu- der obligation to exercise it, nor that he
was not responsible for the whole amount ally asserts that he is not directly of that exercise of it; since, if he have guilty, that he may even deserve dwarfed his own powers, he is responsicommendation, for the actions of ble for the result. And, conversely, if to-day, though they are naturally it will not prove that man is now capable
God require this whole amount of virtue, wrong ; but that he contracted the of exercising it; but only that he is either same amount of guilt by the pre- thus capable, or that he would have been vious misconduct, from which his so, if he had used correctly the powers
which God gave him."-Moral Science, mistake arises, which he would in
pp. 93, 4, 5. cur by performing his present actions with a full conviction of their These opinions we think erroneunlawfulness.
ous. Suppose, for illustration, that This hypothesis is carried still A and B commence life together, farther by the supposition, that a with similar advantages. A emperson may be justly held responsi- braces all his opportunities of selfble, for whatever amount of virtue improvement, and becomes distinand usefulness he would have at- guished for piety and usefulness. tained, by a life of undeviating obe- B takes a different course, and sinks dience to the moral law--that no into vice and imbecility. The represent incapacity to do good, which sult is, that A now recognizes and is the result of past negligence, or performs cheerfully a multitude of crime, absolves from the obligation duties, to which B is either incompeof doing it.
tent or indisposed. Is B responsible
for failing to do from day to day " Man," our author says, " is created the same amount of good which with moral and intellectual powers, capa. ble of progressive improvement. Hence, accomplishes, or which he would if he use his faculties as he ought, he do if not prevented by past mis
conduct? To this it may be re- increase in power. This disposition plied :
measures the guilt of the agent, beSo far as the previous misconduct cause he is worthy of the displeas. of B has merely increased his aver- ure of God in proportion to the viosion to right moral conduct, his pre- lence with which his will resists his sent duty is what it would have duty. been, if his past conduct had been B, then, is not responsible for all right. A mere indisposition and in the unhappy results of his misconaptitude to right conduct, since it is duct. In consequence of previous no proper inability to do his duty, negligence and crime, he is now unis no excuse for omitting it. able, in many respects, to do the
So far as his past misconduct has good of which he might have bedestroyed his capacity or proper come the author. His sins have re
, ability to do good, he is under no duced him to want, to disease, to obligation to do good. He is re- mental imbecility. Repentance itsponsible for only that amount of self will not completely repair the piety and well-doing to which he is injury which he has done to his pow. now competent. The talents, the He can not serve God with the knowledge, the health, the influence, ability of A. Nor, as we have seen, which he might have acquired, and is he now under equal obligations. which he is guilty for having failed His present duty is bounded by his to acquire, he does not now possess. present capacity. Neither are the A can, therefore, do more good than acts which have led to this incapaci. he, and more than he is under obli. ty chargeable with the same amount gation to do. His present powers are of guilt which he would incur, if, all which he can refuse to devote to possessing the requisite power, he God, and all which he can choose should now refuse to perform the to prostitute.
duties for which he has neglected to The criminality of each wrong qualify himself. His past misconact of the life of B, is measured by duct is loaded with that amount of the violence with which he then re- guilt only, which was contracted at sisted his obligations. This is the the time by the violence which he reason why wrong actions are ag. did to obligation. The results, which gravated in proportion to the light it was impossible for him to anticiwhich the agent possesses respecting pate, had no effect on the moral the nature of his conduct. The quality of his actions. Because a more he knows of the moral turpi- person steals a pin in his youth, he tude of an action, and of its bad ef. may in manhood steal a horse ; but fects, the more criminality he con- in stealing the pin, he may contract tracts by performing it. The clearer no more guilt than by a like act in his conviction is, that he ought not subsequent life, and probably less, to do an act, the more guilt he con- since in mature life he sins against tracts by doing it, because he resists clearer light. So far as he knew, more powerful motives to obedience. in childhood, the effect of small Thus, every foreseen and probable thefts on character, and anticipated bad consequence of an action aug. as probable the consequent crime of ments the guilt of the act, because horse-stealing, his guilt in stealing the agent chooses, for the sake of the pin was enhanced. But since forbidden gratification, to give birth many of the bad consequences of to those evils. The bad disposition wrong conduct it is impossible to which he manifests, acts with differ- foresee, they are not to be consident degrees of intensity, in propor- ered in estimating the guilt of the tion as the counteractive influences agent. Take a familiar case: A which it encounters and overcomes man, who knows he can not drink
wine freely without losing his rea. pated the loss of life, as one of the son, drinks to excess, and in a fit of consequences of his act, much less derangement kills his wife and chil. have certainly foreknown it, and dren, whom in his sober moments hence he is not guilty of the crime he tenderly loves. In this dreadful of murder. act he is not a moral agent. Is he Thus, universally, the acts which then guilty? Not for this act. He occasion an incapacity of doing manifestly contracts no guilt in do- good, which it was impossible to ing what he has no free agency in foresee, are not chargeable with doing. Of what then is he guilty ? guilt for the subsequent omission of Of the act of consenting to expose
what would otherwise have been obhimself to the possibility of such a ligatory. Nor is any thing more distressing deed. His criminality is required of a person, than the right not precisely that which he would use of his present powers. have incurred, if he had foreseen But is not man responsible at the the result, not that which would have outset of life, for the highest excelaccrued if he had killed his wife and lence to which he would attain by children in his sane moments, but uninterrupted acts of duty during that which is involved in his con- his whole life? Certainly not. He senting, for gross pleasure, to ex- is not responsible to-day for the conpose his family to the fury of a ma- duct of futurity. He is responsible niac. Thus, too, if a man sells for his actions as they rise from day ardent spirits to a drunkard, and to day. He is bound to use his powthe drunkard is consequently thrown ers in discharging his whole duty as from his horse and killed, though the it meets him. But if at any time vender is guilty, he is not guilty to he fails to do so, and this failure imthat precise amount which he would pairs his capacity for virtue, he will have incurred, if he had murdered subsequently be responsible for that his customer, or if he had foreseen amount of virtue only, to which his the consequent catastrophe. This impaired capacity is adequate. Were might, if necessary, be made still it true that man's natural capacity more evident, by less doubtful ex- for moral excellence is not affected amples of the same general charac- by his misconduct, but only his mo
Suppose a man cuts off his ral disposition, it might be said that hand, to avoid fulfilling an engage. he must answer for that amount of ment to labor. Is he responsible virtue and usefulness, to which unfor all the results ? What if, in pro- deviating obedience to God would cess of time, he stands on the bank lead him; for this would only be of a stream, in which a fellow crea- saying that he will be responsible for ture is struggling, and, without as- all these duties as they rise, and sistance, must perish? What if he this on the ground that he will have can not render this assistance, solely capacity to do them. Since, howbecause he has only one hand ? He ever, it is true, that the misdeeds of stands an afflicted spectator of the to-day may result in diminishing his death of his brother, lamenting his capacity for virtue and usefulness, inability to rescue him.
Is he as
to an extent, which in early life partruly guilty of the crime of murder ticularly he could not anticipate, it as he would have been if he had not is manifest he did not incur the same maimed himself, and had stood there guilt when he committed them which withholding voluntarily the relief in he would have contracted if all these his power? Or did he, when he cut results had been foreseen. off his hand, contract the guilt of But although no one is responsimurder? The answer is obvious. ble, at the commencement of life, He could not rationally have antici- for all the personal excellence and