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Most of the objections which are urged at the present day against the preceding view of the subject, are candidly stated and fully answered, in the work before us. In reply to one objection, Dr. B. proceeds to account for the absolute certainty that all will sin as soon as they are capable of transgression, on the same ground that we did in the review to which we have referred.
God only creates the naked essence of our souls, our natural faculties, a power to think, and will, and to love and hate; and this evil bent of our hearts is not of his making, but is the spontaneous propensity of our own wills: for we, being born devoid of the divine image, ignorant of God, and insensible of his infinite glory, do, of our oun accord, turn to ourselves, and the things of time and sense, and to any thing that suits a graceless heart, and there all our affections center; from whence we natively hecome averse to God, and to all that which is spiritually good, and inclined to all sin. So that the positive corruption of our nature is not any thing created by God, but arises merely from a privative cause.
And on the same page he further remarks, “ It is a plain matter of fact, that we are born into the world devoid of the divine image, ignorant of God, insensible of his infinite glory. And it is a plain matter of fact, that in consequence hereof, we are natively disposed to love ourselves supremely, live to ourselves ultimately, and delight in that which is not God, wholly.” Now this is precisely the theory of Pres. Edwards, as well as of Dr. Bellamy, and we know of no other that accounts for the certainty and mode of moral corruption, in a manner so consistent with the character of God, the nature of sin, and the philosophy of the human mind. It belongs to the nature of the soul to be active, both as a percipient and a sensitive agent; and, created as it is, with strong constitutional propensities, such as sympathy, the desire of the approbation of others, etc. and connected as it is with a body, whose appetites though innocent in themselves, demand indulgence, and with an external world whose influence in the absence of positive moral rectitude in the heart, must be ensnaring, what can be more certain than that its first, and all subsequent moral acts of choice, will be fixed “not on God, but on something else” in preference to him, until renewed by the Holy Spirit? So reasoned Bellamy and Edwards; and in the exhibition of our own views on this point in the above-mentioned review, we did but walk humbly, and as we think securely, in their broad footsteps. And while they thus reasoned, they had in their eye no physical necessity of sinning, but merely, to adopt the language of the latter, " that necessity of connection and consequence, which arises from such moral causes as the strength of inclination, or motives.” This manner of accounting for the fact that the whole of our race are by nature entirely depraved, and become so as soon as they are capable of moral action, may be denominated presumptuous speculation, and vain philosophy. We on the contrary, consider it as a rejection of vain speculation; as a simple statement of facts, which, while they accord with observation and the word of God, account satisfactorily for the universality of sin, rest all the guilt of depravity on the sinner himself, and throw a lustre on the moral government of God which no other theory can do. Were we disposed, we might retort the charge. For who that advocates a different theory, does not entertain notions respecting the nature of sin, and the cause by which it is produced, which are not only founded on philosophy, but on a philosophy altogether
occult and inexplicable, unless we make God the author of sin ? But we turn to another subject.
According to Dr. B. all sin consists primarily in selfishness ; every form of it being but a modification of an undue love of one's self.* This position is ably maintained throughout the first part of his work; and we allude to it, not because it was new in his day, nor because it is generally denied by the orthodox in our own; but chiefly for the purpose of introducing its much disputed correlate, namely, the doctrine of disinterested benevolence. Now although he seldom employs the word disinterested, generally using in its stead the epithets universal and impartial, he means, as is evident from all his statements and reasonings on the subject, just what was intended by Edwards and Hopkins when they spoke of disinterested love to God and our neighbor, or love to being in general.
It is most humiliating to see pious men violently opposed to the use of this phraseology, as if its signification must necessarily be heterodox; when, according to the most approved lexicographers, the usage of the best ethical writers, and the definition assigned to the term by the divines who employ it, it imports no more than those respected objectors themselves admit must be true of evangelical love, namely, that it be free from selfishness. We know of no man prosessing to derive his views from the bible, who explicitly recognizes selfishness as a part of evangelical virtue. There are indeed many, who from mistaken views, regard certain affections which arise from selfish motives, as being parts of true religion; but with the exception of those who adopt the infidel theory of Bolingbroke, so elegantly developed by Pope, there are none who maintain that selfishness itself is either an essential or possible constituent of holiness. Even Paley, than whom few writers claiming to be orthodox entertain lower notions respecting vital godliness, observes, “But from the motive, the reputation of the deed, and the fruits and advantages of that reputation to ourselves, niust be shut out, or, in whatever proportion they are not so, the action in that proportion fails of being virtuous." It is strange, if we may be allowed a passing remark, that such a man should be so inconsistent with himself, as to speak on other occasions of dispositions and actions as being virtuous, which in the circumstances specified by himself, can be considered only as the offspring of the very selfishness which he here so explicitly condemns. We ascribe this inconsistency to inadvertence.
* When Dr. Bellamy speaks of an “undue” love of one's self, he does not mean an undue desire of happiness. Like Edwards he believed, that, if this desire be directed to the proper objects, it cannot be excessive.“ Resolved,” saya Edwards in his twenty-second resolution, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.” The love of self,” (selfishness) spoken of by Dr. B. is not an involuntary desire of happiness, but a preference or choice of some inferior object to God, a " sceking happiness not in God, but in some. thing else.” Why then does Dr. Bellamy call it a love of self or self-ishness? Bem cause in such a cho.ce we range ourselves against God, by choosing inferior objects in preference to him. Self and God thus become opposing parties; and the whole force of our constitutional desire of happiness, is voluntarily turned into the channel of opposition to our Maker.
It is therefore a mistaken notion, that the simple desire of happiness ever riscs by excess into a sinful affection. The sin lies wholly in the resulting choice or preference of wrong objects. This is the doctrine of Bellamy, though his language is sometimes confused from his ambiguous use of the term self-love. The same ambiguous use of terms by a respected friend, and his adopting the mistaken idea just alluded to, have led him to attack us for maintaining the very principles, which are the basis of all the reasonings of Bellamy and Ed. wards.
But it is interesting to inquire why so many excellent men, both in England and in our own country, so warmly oppose the doctrine of disinterested benevolence, or universal good will to all intelligences.
We say, they mistake its import. They suppose it implies such a total absorption of the mind in the well-being of others, as necessarily excludes a proper regard to one's own interest. But Bellamy, Edwards, Hopkins, etc. explicitly assert the contrary, and prove it. In the spirit of the text on which our author constructs his first discourse, he makes the love which it becomes us to exercise towards ourselves, the standard of that which we ought to extend to others. So that what he calls impartial benevolence, instead of precluding, secures a proper concern for our own wellbeing.
On no slight grounds would we arraign the representations or the reasonings of such a man as the amiable and eloquent Robert Hall; but we must consider the exceptions he takes against disinterested affection, or love to being in general, as founded in misapprehension, and therefore exceedingly frivolous. Waving, as we necessarily must, his remarks on this subject in his discourse on modern infidelity, we shall limit our attention chiefly to three objections stated in a note to that celebrated performance. They are directed against “certain metaphysical divines in America,” and more particularly against President Edwards, by whom he says, the position
hat virtue primarily consists in love to being in general, was " first invented and defended." The first objection is, “That virtue on these principles, is an utter impossibility; for the system of being, comprehending the great Supreme is infinite; and therefore, to maintain the proper proportion, the force of particular attachment, must be infinitely less than the passion for the general good; but the limits of the human mind are not capable of any emotions so infinitely different in degree."
It is here taken for granted by Mr. Hall, that when the abettors of impartial love to being in general, speak of good will to others in a degree proportioned to their respective rank and importance in the general scale, they mean to be understood absolutely; as if the relative value of each individual belonging to the mighty mass, were actually known. But this they never assert, and never but at the expense of their understanding, can be supposed to imply. Our most exalted conceptions of the great Supreme," must in every respect be finite, and therefore imperfect, since no man by searching can find out the almighty unto perfection. Hence Edwards teaches only that our love to God is to be, not infinite, but supreme. “A truly virtuous mind,” he says, “being as it were, under the sovereign dominion of love to God, does above all things else, seek the glory of God, and makes this his supreme and ultimate end.” Neither Edwards, Bellamy, nor the bible, insists upon any thing beyond this. And who sees not the immense difference between an affection in a limited being, that is only paramount to every other, and an affection that is infinite? It is ob vious then, that a transcendent love to the general system of being comprehending the great Supreme," does not require “the force of particular attachment to be infritely less," or which is the same thing infinitely small; for what can be more compatible than a very strong affection for various inferior objects, and a stronger, that is a supreme, attachment to a general good of far more value? When has a child found it necessary to bear just the same degree of affection towards each of his brothers and sisters, and to reduce even that almost to a nibility, in order to feel the glow of a superior love to his parents, or to the family viewed as a trhole? In loving the universal good then preeminently, and individual objects of inferior importance in a degree proportioned to our apprehension of their worth respectively, no affection infinitely great or infinitely small is requisite; and it is absurd and frivolous to urge it as an objection against the writers in question, that "the limits of the human mind are not capable of any emotion so infinitely different in degree.”
The next objection is, - since our views of the extent of the universe are capable of perpetual enlargement, admitting the sum of existence is ever the same, we must return back at each step to diminish the strength of particular affections, or they will become
disproportionate; and consequently, on these principles, vicious; so that the balance must be continually fluctuating by the weights taken out of one scale and put into the other.”
Nothing can be more erroneous or mistaken, than this view of the subject. The way to restore the proportion demanded, is not to return back” from an inadequate estimate of the superior good, “to diminish the strength of particular affections,” but to go forward from a proper adjustment of these latter affections to a higher and more suitable valuation of the greater object. The doctrine of Edwards is, that we are to regard all objects according to their real worth, so far as it can be ascertained and appreciated, by beings of such limited faculties. But does it follow from this, that if a man does not love the universal good as he ought, i. e. supremely; his guilt is to be canceled by trampling upon his obligation to love, according to their full and known value, the individuals around him? In proportion then “as our views of the extent of the universe are enlarged,” we are to prevent “the balance” from continually fluctuating," not by “taking weights out of the scale” of the particular affections, (unless indeed these, as compared with the nature of their objects, are excessive,) but by permitting those “ weights” to remain, and by properly estimating at the same time, the value of the higher objects thus newly brought to view.
The other objection is thus stated, "If virtue consist exclusively in love to being in general, or attachment to the general good, the particular affections are, to every purpose of virtue, useless, and even pernicious; for their immediate, nay, their necessary tendency is to attract to their objects a proportion of attention which far exceeds their comparative value in the general scale." This objection, at the very outset, discloses a palpable misunderstanding of the authors whom Mr. Hall has in view. Edwards no where says that “virtue consists exclusively in love to being in general.” On the contrary, he admits that there are many other forms of virtuous affection; and when he asserts that virtue consists in benevolence to being in general, he commonly qualifies the verb with such words as “most essentially," "mainly,” or “primarily." But passing by this mistake, how can it be inferred from the sentiment objected to, that the particular affections are, to every purpose of virtue useless, and even pernicious," when all these writers demonstrate their utility, their necessity, and their consistency with the doctrines which they maintain? They all show that every holy affection for particular objects, springs from a disposition to love the whole intelligent universe, of which God is infinitely the greatest part. Thus Edwards says, no affections towards particular persons, or beings, are of the nature of true virtue, but such as arise from a generally benevolent temper, or from that