« PreviousContinue »
without the same reason, be obliged to do what is right, to practise virtue, or to obey the commands of God *."
When it is recollected what the doctrine of expediency really is,—that it resolves the virtue or worth of moral actions into their tendency to procure some benefit to ourselves or others,—that it rests the obligation to obey the commands of God on the gain which obedience brings,--and that it authorizes us to violate the most express laws of God, when we can induce ourselves to think that their violation will bring us greater benefit than their observance; it is surely not necessary to make many observations to prove, that the promise of reward, held forth in the gospel, to persevering faith and obedience, is totally different.
In what does that promised reward consist? In the case supposed, that is, in regard to mankind, it consists in deliverance from sin, and in the everlasting possession of all the happiness of which our nature is capable. To be perfectly virtuous, is to be perfectly meet for the enjoyment of that happiness which virtue ever yields. Is not this a good of incalculable value,—the magnitude of which is to be estimated, not merely by its eternal duration, but by its perpetual accumulation? That it is in itself an object of súpreme desire, and that it justly ought to be so, no one can doubt. But in this desire, however intense, when indulged aright, there is nothing selfish, nothing at variance with the disinterested love of God and of man which is the fulfilling of the law :-there is nothing
* Vol. i. p. 60.
akin to the perfect selfishness recommended by the doctrine of expediency.
I. Because our personal happiness is in itself an object of desire, in proportion to its magnitude, as well as the happiness of all other beings who are capable of enjoying happiness. When I say personal happiness is in itself an object of desire, I mean to affirm, that it is so, or ought to be so, to others, as well as to us. It is that which God, in our creation, designed to confer upon us, and which he has rendered it a duty in us to seek after. There is, therefore, nothing selfish in the adequate love of ourselves, any more than there is selfishness in desiring that our neighbour should have all the happiness which God has made him capable of enjoying. To pursue it with an ardour and perseverance corresponding to its importance, and to make all temporary interests subservient to our pursuit of this, is so far from being at variance with disinterested benevolence and virtue, that there can be no disinterested benevolence and virtue without it.
In this pursuit we are, indeed, influenced by a concern for the favour of God. But can there exist any thing virtuous, any thing estimable, in any being who has not a supreme regard to the approbation of Him who possesses in himself whatever is lovely and excellent, and a resemblance to whose moral perfections, however faint, is itself happiness?
II. In desiring the happiness, the eternal life, promised in the gospel as the reward of faith and obedience, we are desiring what will confer benefit on the universe of pure and intelligent beings as well as upon ourselves. Revelation teaches us to consider the sal. vation of one individual as the means of increasing the happiness of every member of the family of God. " There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, who need no repentance."
To holy beings the repentance of a sinner is calculated on many grounds to afford joy; but, chiefly, as it illustrates the boundless compassion of God who is rich in mercy,—as it is the token of a begun deliver. ance from the guilt and bondage of sin,--and as it is the commencement of a career of virtue that will never terminate. In entering on this career, then, and in pursuing it, we are doing far more than securing our own individual happiness : we are now, and we shall, in every future stage of our existence, in a still higher degree, be the means of diffusing joy over the universe of God. Ought we not to make it the business of our lives to attain an object of such superlative magnitude? How different are the feelings and principles which its pursuit implies from the unmingled selfishness which the doctrine of expediency recommends!
III. In seeking eternal life, in obedience to the divine command, we are seeking that which directly advances the glory of God. This position is so fully established by scripture, that I do not consider it necessary, at any length, to prove it. There is thus an object of infinite grandeur and magnitude inseparably connected with our individual happiness; and an object which we are commanded intentionally to pursue in all things, and above all things. This is to be our ultimate end in every pursuit, even in that of everlasting salvation. In acting thus, we only give to God what he is entitled to receive, the supreme love of the heart.
But how opposite is this to the scheme of utility, which makes our own individual gain to be every thing,—which is so far from representing the glory of God as an object of superlative importance, that it authorizes us to violate his laws when we can persuade ourselves to believe, that we shall derive greater advantage from the violation than from the observanceand which, in place of pointing to God as the first object of disinterested regard, maintains, that he is on no other ground entitled to our love and obedience, than in consideration of the evil which he can inflict, and the good which he can communicate ?
THE PRINCIPLE OF UTILITY PROVED TO BE UNTENABLE FROM THE INCAPABILITY OF MAN TO DISCERN THE CONSEQUENCES OF HIS ACTIONS.
That the consequences which follow from the actions of moral agents are endless, is a proposition, the truth of which few will controvert. Moral evil, no less than moral good, perpetuates itself. The effects of a single good action may reach into eternity. It is only a Being of infinite understanding who can know the number and duration of those results to which one deed of beneficence gives rise. It is he only who can
The Principle of Utility proved to be Untenable. 61 estimate all the evil of which a single act of impiety and immorality may be productive.
If, to be instrumental in the restoration to yirtue and to happiness, of a being destined for immortality, is a measure of good which a single individual may, by his exertions or example, be the means of attaining ; an individual also may, by his exertions or example, be the means of producing an extent of moral ruin which the conceptions of man cannot reach. Hence Scripture teaches us that the results of every man's conduct here will meet him in the day of final retribution; and that his eternal condition, either of happiness or of misery, shall be fixed accordingly. “ Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
” Nor are these remarks merely applicable to those actions, respecting the morality or immorality of which, it is presumed, there cannot exist a difference of opinion. Actions, which may seem trivial, and the real character of which as to right or wrong may appear doubtful to those who have not divine revelation to guide them, may be productive of important and endless consequences. How desirable, how necessary, is it for moral agents to have an infallible rule of action prescribed to them by Him whose wisdom and knowledge are infinite ?
But if we cannot foresee all the consequences of our actions, how can we derive from the principle of expediency the rule to direct our moral conduct ? “ Is the degree of expediency which we can discern, in any case such as to justify us in inferring that we have a tolerable insight into general expediency ? Surely no one will answer in the affir