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C H R IS TIAN EX. A MIN E R .
ART. I. — Christian Ethics, or Moral Philosophy on the
THIs is the very book which we have long wished to see. For we have long been convinced that there is a question connected with the Calvinistic controversy, more important than all others, going beyond all others, and that is nothing less than a question about the essential principles and grounds of right and wrong. What is rectitude 2 And what are the principles on which we are to arrive at the knowledge of it? These are the questions, which Dr. Wardlaw has undertaken to discuss in the work before us. And what now, do our readers suppose, is the legitimate theory of Calvinism on the subject of morals : Why, truly, that human nature, which has always been supposed to be both the subject of moral philosophy and its investigator, is neither one nor the other ; that it neither furnishes the facts on which a just theory of morals can be built up, nor contains the power that is able to discriminate among any facts, so as to arrive at a safe conclusion. Human nature is totally depraved ; therefore it furnishes no data for a moral theory. Its very conscience is perverted ; the very labors of conscience in its own appropriate sphere, that of moral philosophy, have resulted in error; and in such serious, wide-spread, universal error, that it cannot be trusted, as
a principle to decide between right and wrong. “It is preposterous,” says Dr. Wardlaw, “to commit the decision of an inquiry respecting the true principles of moral rectitude, to a creature subject to all the blinding and perverting influences of moral pravity.” Such is, substantially, Dr. Wardlaw's theory, though his adherence to it is not quite so unflinching as we had expected to find it. He admits that there is some dim light of conscience left in human nature. But that light is put out by a single consideration, to which we beg our readers to attend with us for one moment. The Calvinistic doctrine, be it remembered, is, that mankind are totally depraved, that human nature, in its ordinary state and in the mass of mankind, is not a mixture of good and evil, but that it is unmixed evil; that there is nothing truly good in it. Now it is notorious, that men in all ages and among all nations, have been accustomed to make, what they have called, moral discriminations; to pronounce some things bad, and other things good, in the character of their fellow beings. But this judgment, according to the Calvinistic theory, has been a total mistake. Conscience has been as much depraved as any other part of human nature. It has been worse than an unsafe or defective guide; it has been the grand arch-deceiver of the world; leading mankind in all ages to suppose there was good, where there really was no good whatsoever. It will be perceived that we use the word conscience here for the faculty of moral discrimination in general, though that word is usually restricted in its application, so as to designate only the judgments we pronounce upon ourselves. The power, however, which morally discriminates good from evil, must be essentially the same, whether it is applied to ourselves or others. But now, we repeat, according to the Calvinistic theory, this moral discrimination is utterly at fault; it is entitled to no confidence whatever. Its judgment about right and wrong is a mere pretence, a mere farce. Its very use of terms, its very nomenclature, has been a succession of blunders from the creation of the world to this day. There is really no such thing as right and wrong among the mass of mankind. All is wrong, and nothing but wrong. The complexion of human nature is nothing but black; and the eye, that has fancied it saw white spots and various intermingled hues, has been totally deceived. And after ten thousands and millions of such mistakes, that eye, the moral eye in man, is not to be trusted at all. Now moral philosophy, in utter disregard of these remonstrances of Calvinism, has built up its theories on the basis of human nature. It has taken, analyzed, and classified the facts of human nature, — that is to say, human feelings, passions, desires; it has pronounced some things in human nature to be right; it has held itself competent to decide which are right and which are wrong, and thus to establish principles of duty, to show that some things ought to be done, and others avoided. But here Calvinism and moral philosophy are at issue. And it is the object of the first part of Dr. Wardlaw’s work to plead the cause of Calvinism against all the systems of moral philosophy in the world. He passes them in review, the systems of Aristotle, of Zeno, and of Epicurus, and the modern ones of Cudworth, Adam Smith, Dr. Hutcheson, Dr. Brown, Hume, and Bishop Butler; and, because they have not recognised the Calvinistic view of human depravity, he pronounces them essentially defective and wrong. It is not our intention to follow Dr. Wardlaw through the several parts of his work. We are at too great a distance from him, to make it a question of much interest here, whether or not he has done himself credit as a philosopher or as a reasoner. Our chief business is with the main question, Whether the doctrine of total depravity is to overthrow all our moral theories, and to unsettle the very grounds of moral truth. But we cannot help observing, that Dr. Wardlaw seems to us to have been neither steady to his main point, nor just to the systems he attacks, nor very discriminating with regard to those claims of the Bible which he undertakes to set up. If human nature be totally depraved, then, indeed, the moral theories are all wrong, totally wrong. This main point and the main inference, the writer should have steadfastly adhered to, or, as it seems to us, he should not have written this book. That is to say, he should not have written a book of such violent and wholesale attack upon all former moral writers; because the moment he quits the positions above stated, he steps upon the very ground, which these writers themselves occupy. In consistency, there should be none of these qualifying phrases, “in a measure,” “to a certain degree,” so freely scattered up and down in this book, none of these loopholes of escape from the theory, none of these old Calvinistic
practices of asserting much in the body of the discourse and denying it in the “improvement”; since these qualifications, or any qualifications, instantly carry the Calvinistic philosoher upon the very ground which he opposes and contemns. É. all moral philosophers have admitted that there is much wrong and evil in human nature, and much liability to error in the human conscience ; else why should they labor to set up a true and right standard P. And herein it is, that we think Dr. Wardlaw has not been just to them. He treats them as if he supposed they had taken the whole of human nature in its present condition, as their standard; than which nothing can be more untrue. As an illustration of his meaning, he suposes a chemist to take and analyze a portion of polluted hames-water, and to present us the result, as an account of the pure element. But see how unfair this is, and how fatal too, to the Doctor's theory. The polluted stream, of course, is human nature. But does the moral chemist present the whole result of his analysis, as an account of moral purity ? Does he incorporate all the vileness of the human affections into his theory of moral rectitude 2 Nothing can be farther from the truth. But, moreover, cannot the chemist find pure water in the most tainted stream : When he has analyzed a portion taken from the “sluggish river,” into its component parts, can he not present to us pure water, and tell us what it is ? This is what the moral examiner has done. With regard to the use of the Scriptures, in the formation of a just moral philosophy, nothing would delight us more, than to see them fairly and understandingly applied to that purpose. That they have been too much neglected by philosophers is certain. That they will contribute more than they have done, to the establishment of more and more correct moral theories, we have no doubt, and we are glad to have the public attention directed to this point. But to assert that the Scriptures are the source of our original moral conceptions, or of all our moral conceptions, is attempting to do them honor, as we hope to show, not only in defiance of reason, but in disregard of their own implied and obvious character. After all, we cannot help asking, what truth, what one truth has Dr Wardlaw added to the theory of morals : What one discovery has he made in this new field of inquiry 2 Not one. The world has heard of no new discovery. This single fact shows how baseless are the assumptions, and how