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good, and putting forth the requisite effort to obtain it. And in coming to this point, we offend not against any moral sentiment. It is obedience to an instinct, a law of sentient being, apart from any regard to moral faculty or accountability. We have it in common with the lower orders of the creation. But when we place ourselves in connection with our fellow-beings, then a law comes over us adapted to that new relation, regulating the instinct so far as it affects the interests of social life, and limiting our desire of personal good to a rigid impartiality. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. No commentary can simplify the conception of our obligation in this respect. To have an exclusive regard for our own advantage, or a selfish complacency in it, is a violation of the law; and to seek that advantage, in a course of competition, aggravates the criminality, just in proportion to the excitement of the race. When we have attained the objects of our wrong ambition, we perceive that we have invaded the territory of conscience, and have lost the assurance and the recompense of spiritual integrity. The laurel and the crown are the price of disinterested virtue.
The ideas, related to those which have been already considered, of imitating a model, of appreciating our own abilities, or of taking a place corresponding to our merits, have been often confounded with that of emulation. Let it be considered with how little reason. We are made to perceive and to admire the beautiful, the sublime, and to approve the right. By Christianity we are inclined to love true virtue, and reach forth to new degrees of moral excellence. Aspiration after greatness and goodness is legitimate; and eminence, honor, power, consequent upon the cultivation of our abilities, are as necessary, in the moral economy of God, as the proportion between gravitation and the quantity of matter, under the physical laws. They are the product, justly proportioned, of every man's seed sown. But this love of the excellent is distinct from the principle in question. It belongs to another class of our sentiments, and tends to abase and subdue the selfish passions. They propose distinction for an end ; this receives it as a consequence. They run before that they may win; this follows that it may resemble. It obeys a universal law of Providence and of moral government; while they contemplate no divine arrangement or requirement, but a mere private interest, and that in circumstances and conditions where such a limitation constitutes transgression. You may be a Bacon, a Newton, a SECOND SERIES, VOL. V. NO. II.
Paul, with corresponding powers and advantages, and that by a constitutional necessity, and in harmony with all the divine counsels and arrangements. And so you may be an angel, may be like God. But to aim at that distinction for the distinction's sake, contemplating, not the positive, but the comparative elevation; that is a fatal incongruity. You become, indeed, the philosopher, the reasoner, the preacher, but not the Christian ; a spirit fallen, an archangel ruined. You violate the social order, you overstep the law.
I charge thee Aling away ambition.
By that sin fell the angels. Let us suppose a perfect state of society, in which all minds are conformed, invariably, to the divine will. Such was heaven, till that mad ambition, which the poet has so significantly described, took possession of the tall archangel
. We cannot, by any effort, bring the mind to entertain the idea of competition, the lust of pre-eminence, as a trait of such a society. On the contrary, it was just that feeling which divided heaven, and cast down the spirits who kept not their first estate into chains and darkness. But the same law, which binds the angels, rests
It is eternal over the universe of mind; and every sentiment and act, partaking of a moral character, and not conformed to that perfect standard, are forever wrong. They deserve a place no more on earth than in heaven. They should have no allowance where Christianity is admitted as a rule of life; least of all in institutions set up for the glory of Christ, and the conversion of the world.
It may be thought that these sentiments are too refined for a world like ours; that we cannot govern fallen beings by a perfect law; that we cannot move them but by motives suited, in some measure, to their present character. But, who cannot govern them? Who cannot move them ? Not their Creator ; not their Judge. We do not find his requirements mitigated and let down in accommodation to the immoral sentiments of apostate beings: and, certainly, neither the scenes of Sinai nor Calvary are fitted to diminish our sense of the efficiency of his administration. Shall man be wiser than his Maker ? On what principle shall we introduce into our administration, and apply as indispensable to our success, a rule of action which would be fatal to the divine integrity ?. On what principle shall we disparage a rule which God pronounces essential to his moral
government, or bring it into such unnatural alliance with our own short-sighted arrangements, as to dishonor it, and make it ineffectual ? Shall we do this in our families, in the church of God? Have we forgotten the half-way covenant of NewEngland ?
But, it may be said that principles of acknowledged validity and authority are yet to be restrained and limited in their application, by other principles equally true and worthy of regard; as in physics, many theories, established by general reasonings, cannot be carried out in practice, without great allowance for conflicting influences in the processes of nature. He who should abate nothing for friction, for different and opposite forces, would find himself materially wrong in his calculations, and unsuccessful in his results. He might be a consistent reasoner from partial or erroneous premises, but an unskilful machinist, or a dangerous navigator.
If by this it is intended, that, on moral subjects, different and opposite principles may be equally true and important, it is sufficient to say that such a sentiment carries its own refutation. It can never impose upon a thinking mind. If it is intended that, although moral truth is in its own nature immutable, it must be limited in its application by the opposing forces in the human will, by the errors, prejudices and passions of society,
this is begging the question, and it is sufficient to meet it by a contrary assertion. It is not invidious to charge upon so broad a declaration the vice of submitting an acknowledged principle to the construction of a self-seeking expediency, and making a trade of our morality. It is arresting the progress of knowledge, and virtually giving our countenance to admitted error. It is holding up the lamp, but covering it with an extinguisher. It is obscuring the sun, in kindness to diseased
eyes, and leaving those who otherwise would rejoice in the good light of heaven, to grope in darkness at noon-day.
That we shall not, in point of fact, attain to a theoretical perfection in the application of our general principles, in the present imperfect state of society, is doubtless true; and so far the analogy between physical and moral science is admitted. But as this admission affects not the essential truth and obligatoriness of any revealed precept, or settled principle of morality; it is of no little importance to the virtuous man to secure himself against the evil consequences which must result when such a precept or principle fails of its proper influence in society. Moral truth
cannot be acceptable to depraved minds. It is not likely to be admitted when proposed in real or imagined opposition to any established policy, or by way of objection to the projects of interested men. But he who, on that account, refrains from the assertion of his principles, in positions where moral action is required of him, Towers the standard of virtue, without getting any corresponding advantage in his influence over other minds, and generally, with no other result than to be classed himself with evil-doers. Far different was the attitude of Paul, when he took his weeping brethren to record that he was pure from the blood of all men, for he had not shunned to declare unto them the whole counsel of God.
The disinclination or resistance of disordered mind to moral truth is no reason for holding that truth in our own judgments
, in any qualified or restricted sense. Much less is it a reason, when the well-being of others depends on the expression of our sentiments, for yielding it in accommodation to human weakness and depravity. We cannot, indeed, have impossibilities. We may not treat infancy as mature age, nor compel the progress of civilization, nor the action of any moral causes; and it were chimerical to make our efforts disproportioned to the capacity or condition of society, to shape our measures merely to its prospective stages, or an ideal model. There is a law of correspondence and congruity, as well as charity, which it is preposterous to violate. But all this has relation, not to the substance of truth, but its accidents, to quantity and manner, to time and place, and so far from being a reason for the compromise of principle, should awaken a greater jealousy and carefulness, lest in making allowance for human imperfection, we create an impression unfavorable either to general rectitude, or our personal integrity. The innumerable obstacles in our way, resulting from human ignorance and sinfulness, while they call for tolerance and patience, for good taste and temper, should, nevertheless, urge us to more assiduous labor, till society shall become wiser and better through our honest, yet judicious exposition of those principles by which only it can be saved. If any are unable to receive meat, the sincere milk of the word is their only proper aliment; and we do well to be advised, that although we acknowledge the fundamental principles of moral truth, yet, if we build upon them wood, hay and stubble, our salvation, though possible by divine mercy, will be effected only through the fire that burns up the monuments of our folly.
It is a poor justification of silence, when truth requires a testimony, that our speech will be liable to misconstruction or abuse, and of inaction, when all the world is in motion, that there are pitfalls or lions in the way. Of all the secondary virtues, prudence is, perhaps, the most important, but, at the same time, the most likely to degenerate into a vice. the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step,” is as true in morals as in policy. When our simple wisdom admits a tincture of worldliness it defeats its own ends, and descends from its elevation. It renounces the Providence of God for the miserable supports of earth, and these yield in the very extremities, which, but for our timorousness and unbelief, he would have made occasions of exhibiting his faithfulness and power.
The divine administration presents analogies, obscure but intelligible, to aid us in these difficult solutions. Many evils, occasionally tolerated by the Old Testament, have been sometimes drawn into an argument for justifying, or at least excusing infractions of the social law. But polygamy, divorce, slavery, and other kindred irregularities can hardly admit, with any reason, of so loose an interpretation. They were all the while declared evils, inconsistent with the original constitution; suffered, not allowed; tolerated, not excused; and when not remediable by the motives of an ill-understood economy, limited and restrained by various prudential legislation. The moral law did not the less stand out against them. It did not the less require a different habit of the public mind and life; and although Ġod winked for a season at such sins of ignorance, they did not the less certainly work out the natural ruin of society:
It is still more observable, that Christianity was not introduced with any mitigation of moral principle, but a more imperative enforcement of it; and that the very evils, which a ruder dispensation had not been sufficient to extirpate, were declared to admit of no apology, in view of the clearer illustrations which Christ and his ministers gave of the principles and sanctions of moral government. Its first preachers were remarkably tolerant in matters indifferent, but they endured all things, they laid down their lives in maintaining essential truths, as well the moral pertaining to human obligation, as the evangelical, which concerned more intimately the mysteries of redemption. It was the same to them, whether men would hear or forbear. They had not learned the way of avoiding difficulties which the more subtle casuists of later times opened