Изображения страниц

for forming correct judgments, both respecting its character and the proper modes of expressing that character in action. The will, which may be called the principle of personality, knows that the understanding will tell the truth respecting its character, so far as it has opportunity; and that its decisions will be followed by a corresponding judgment of the moral faculty. Now if the will is in a bad state, the temptation is very strong to conceal it from the understanding, and thus avoid the reproof of the moral faculty, This it can accomplish in a good degree by bringing out fully, and giving great prominence to, all that is favorable to itself, and by keeping in the background, or perhaps entirely out of sight, all that is unfavorable. As the state of the will is inferred from the conduct which it prompts, by attending exclusively or unduly to certain parts of the conduct, a favorable decision may be secured when an unfavorable one is deserved. The Saviour recognizes this principle when he says: "Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God." Instances of this are familiar to every man in his own experience, while others often come under his observation. Let us look at the workings of the mind in a case of doubtful morality. A young man who has been educated in the belief that theatrical amusements

are injurious in their tendency, and that it is morally wrong for him to countenance them by his presence, visits a distant city. He learns by the advertisements that a favorite play of Shakespeare is to be acted on a particular evening. He has a strong desire to witness it. But the moral faculty stands in the way, tells him that it is wrong; that is, it tells him that a state of will is wrong which inclines him to do what his judgment has decided is injurious to the best interests of society. Now how shall he gratify his desire, and still avoid the reproof of the moral faculty? In other words, how shall he make his moral faculty approve what he desires? To accomplish this, he must secure from the understanding a

favorable judgment of his desire. It must pronounce the desire good—such as is fitted, if gratified, to do good to himself and others. But how can this be done? He reasons with himself somewhat as follows: If I attend the theatre my influence on others will not be injurious, as I am a perfect stranger in the city. The effect on myself in attending but once, cannot be unfavorable. My reputation also is safe, since what I do here will not be known elsewhere. Again, if I attend, I shall know better what a theatre is, and shall be able to advise others intelligently respecting it. Moreover, I may expect to derive advantage to myself in various ways: I shall better understand the great poet; learn something of human nature; be able perhaps to present truth more forcibly; know how to influence men more effectively for their good. Thus he reasons; and, by keeping all opposite views of the subject out of sight, it is not strange that his arguments appear conclusive to him, and that he comes to the full belief that attendance on the play is his duty. But why does he give this undue attention to some features of the subject, while he entirely overlooks those of a different character, which are equally important to a correct decision? Because the will is bent upon a particular course, and naturally influences the mind to take those views of the subject which will justify it in this course. The understanding, thus unduly influenced, presents the case, and the moral faculty pronounces its verdict. It says, a state of will which has such tendencies is right. But whether the individual has or has not such a state, it does not decide. The will has virtually made the decision itself by its unfair and dishonest treatment of the understanding.

It is not a difficult matter for a person thus to deceive himself; to secure such a judgment of the understanding as the will may desire. The will is so thoroughly educated in this deceptive work, that we are often unconscious of its influence.

We have here the explanation of a very important practical truth, namely, that the approbation of the moral faculty

is not conclusive evidence that the will is in a right state. This is obvious from what has been said.. A full view of the state of the will, in all its relations, does not, in such cases, come before the mind. The understanding is left to infer the character from a single class of feelings and actions, which are naturally right, and which may be in part a proper expression of a virtuous state of the will, though not in themselves virtuous; while another class of feelings and actions from which a very different inference would be drawn, are kept out of sight. This will explain more fully such cases as that of the heathen mother to which we referred. We said that the moral faculty approves the state of will which prompts her to seek the good of her child. But she is not virtuous, not approved of God. The reason why the moral faculty decides as it does in the case, is, that only so much of the character of the will as is concerned about the child comes before the mind. The decision of the moral faculty is correct according to the case presented or contemplated. But let the other relations in which she stands come into view, her relation especially to God; let her feelings and conduct towards him be considered, and the decision respecting her character would be very different. A very different case indeed would be before the moral faculty.

It is on this principle that so many whom we call moral men, men of integrity, who are exemplary in all respects in their social relations, deceive themselves as to their true character. They infer the whole state of the will from conduct which is altogether suitable to human relations, and which would be essentially the same in that respect if all their relations were taken into the account. But as only a part of their relations are taken into the account, the conduct in which they are deficient is not considered. Their judgment of themselves, consequently, is incorrect.

On the same principle the moral faculty of the wrong-doer is much more active and troublesome, on the exposure of his crime to public view, than when it was concealed in his own bosom. The reason is, that the will can no longer keep from

the understanding a correct view of its real state. It is now thrust upon the mind from without, and kept constantly before it. Such being the case, the moral faculty has opportunity to do its appropriate work. We notice a similar effect upon the moral faculty caused by the presence of a person whom we have injured. While he is absent from us, the wrong we have done him is easily kept out of the mind, and the moral faculty is quiet. But as soon as he appears, all the efforts of the will to turn off the mind from the subject are of no avail. One reason, doubtless, and it is an important one, why we are so little disturbed by our sins against God is, that he seems to us a great way off. We are not forced to think of him.

But of what use, it may be asked, is such a faculty, if it neither tells us the actual state of the will, nor is a rule of conduct; if it is thus dependent for its action upon the understanding and the will? Of great use, we answer. It is only through the moral faculty that we obtain a knowledge of right and wrong, that we experience a sense of obligation; in this way only are we raised to the dignity of moral and accountable beings. This is its office, and a noble office it is; and surely we have no reason to complain of it, that it does no more than its appropriate work; that it does not do the work of other, faculties, which they are perfectly competent to perform, and which, with a right state of the will, they would always perform correctly. We may as reasonably complain that the written law is of no use, because it only decides that a particular state of the will is right or wrong, without deciding who has such a state, without preventing a person's deceiving himself as to his own character. The law says that love is right. It requires it, and passes its approving judgment upon the man who has it. But it does not tell us who has love, or who that thinks he has it, is deceiving himself. Each man must do this for himself, in the exercise of his appropriate faculties. It is a part of his probation. There is danger of wrong judgment in this respect, and the scriptures warn us against it. No one finds fault with the

VOL. XXIV. No. 95.


law because this is so. Now the moral faculty is that law so transferred to the mind, so placed within the soul, that it will execute itself, pronounce judgments intuitively, whenever a case comes before it. To expect more from the moral faculty than it was designed to accomplish, will only tend to shake our confidence in its appropriate work.

We have said that it is the exclusive office of the moral faculty to pronounce judgments upon states of the will, and that in these judgments it never errs. We have also said that it is the office of the understanding to decide in what mode the state of the will approved by the moral faculty should be expressed in action, and that in these decisions the understanding is liable to error. The inquiry may arise at this point: Does not the moral faculty so act in connection with the decisions of the understanding as really to indorse them as its own? In other words, if the decision of the understanding is wrong in respect to conduct, and the moral faculty requires a person to act when he has such views of conduct, does not the responsibility rest upon the moral faculty? It is the common impression, and the view presented by ethical writers generally, that the moral faculty does require the particular action which the understanding approves, and that we are morally bound to perform it for that reason. The moral faculty is thus made a rule of external conduct which we must obey; but which may lead us into sin if we do obey it. Thus Dr. Alexander says: "It is true, if a man's conscience [meaning evidently the moral faculty as we have explained it] dictates a certain action, he is morally bound to obey; but if that action is in itself wrong, he commits sin in performing it, nevertheless. He who is under fundamental error is in a sad dilemma. Do what he will, he sins. If he disobey conscience he knowingly sins, doing what he believes to be wrong; and a man never can be justified for doing what he believes to be wrong, even though it should turn out to be right. And if he obey conscience, performing an act which is in itself wrong, he sins, because he complies not with the law under which he is placed."

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »