Page images
PDF
EPUB

acceptation of which I have given so many examples) it applies to some power of the mind of which we can have no possible conception either from Reason or Revelation, and as such may justly be called in question.

- If we believe that the spirit of God, or a divine monitor in the soul, operates universally in man, when it is not slighted and resisted, we shall not easily make out the difference between its operations and those of what is called a moral sense or natural conscience, which prescribes to the heathen the path of duty, and at the same time excludes the two Scripture ideas just noticed. For, it will hardly be said that there are two principles, distinct in their nature, yet pointing to the same end; the one earthly, the other heavenly; the one a natural faculty, the other a divine principle; whose office and operation are the same :-small in the beginning-humble in the appearance-slow in the developement-improved by docility and obedience-heard only in the calm-in the storm of passion, silent or unheeded-not only premonitory in counsel, and checking in temptation, but swift in reproof for evil,-comforting the good even in affliction-goading the wicked with remorseand ceasing to strive when constantly rejected.

SECT. III.

The Reasonings of Locke on Innate Moral Principles considered.

:

To the opinions of Locke I have already made some allusion and as I have before hinted, it would ill become any one to make light of so great a name—an ornament to his country, a profound and candid philosopher, a devout and humble Christian, exemplary in his life and character.

His reasonings on the subject of Conscience and of moral distinctions, have drawn upon him, notwithstanding, the severe animadversions of some eminent authors. But whether he meant to imply all that is inferred from his writings, I will not take upon myself to determine. If his opinions be not correct, the errors of so good a man must be diffused as widely as his fame, and make an impression on the mind deep and lasting, in proportion to his virtues, and the depth of his understanding.

In so far as Locke considered Conscience to be "nothing else but our own opinion or judgment of the moral Rectitude or Pravity of our own actions;" his observations seem to be pertinent, and his reasonings on them conclusive. For, according to this meaning, Conscience may be said to follow the moral

rule or notion of duty in the mind (however it be acquired), to be directed by it, and to do nothing more than bear its secret testimony to the fulfilment or transgression of this rule. If this rule be misunderstood, or by any means perverted, Conscience will be perverted also. But there is another most important question relative to the origin, principles, and foundation of this rule itself. And when he undertook to prove that there was no other foundation for it than the light afforded by our own experience, and the labour of our natural abilities--a doctrine implied in these words and in his subsequent reasonings, that "without being written on their hearts, men may, by the same way that they come to the knowledge of other things, come to assent to several moral rules, and be convinced of their obligations"" and that a man by the right use of his natural abilities may, without any innate principles, attain the knowledge of a God and other things that concern him❞—and also that "some people are wholly without ideas of God and principles of Morality"*-consequently must be without any Conscience, so far as, by his own definition, principles of morality are concerned; he seemed to take a widely different view of the rights and supremacy of Conscience, as well as of the immutable foundation of moral truth, from those whose opinions are already quoted.

And when we add to this, the leading points of his system, that the human mind in its infant state is a

[ocr errors][merged small]

perfect blank, equally indifferent to good or evil, and without any seed or element of virtue; it is scarcely surprising that he should have appeared to some to overturn the basis of moral and religious obligation, by denying an innate source of moral sentiment, or implanted principle of duty,-by whatever name it may be distinguished the name signifying little, if the fact be admitted.

It is indeed true that, to enforce his argument, he has collected a number of alleged facts, some of them of doubtful authenticity, from such obscure travellers as Garcilasso de la Vega, Thevenot, and Baumgarten, to prove the existence of certain moral enormities in different countries, practised, he says, "without the least remorse of conscience." And he argues that, seeing such atrocities are committed, there can be no internal rule of moral conduct-no standard of duty, natural to mankind, and therefore no universally acknowledged practical principles among men; some nations generally approving what others condemn.

But, admitting these reports to be true to their full extent, they would only show-what we have evidence of every day-the depravity of human nature: and we need only look to the uneducated rustic, the uncultivated Indian, the idiot, and the insane, for proof of man's moral imbecility, when he is placed in circumstances unfavourable to his improvement, or physically incapacitated for attaining it.

A seed thrown among rubbish will not grow and bear fruit; yet it does not cease to be a seed. And,

likewise, admitting the reasonings of Locke to be just, they would prove as much against the Gospel principle of Light and Truth, which is said to be given to every man to profit with, and to be a law written in the heart, as against the instinctive direction of a natural Conscience. For, it surely is not pretended that mere outward education can give the Spirit of God to man. It is incommunicable by man, unless under immediate inspiration, when he is employed instrumentally to call it forth, to increase its growth and power, and to shed upon it the dew of heaven.

Nay, as it will afterwards appear, the same reasonings would also prove against the existence of the faculty of Reason.

It was one thing to assert, what cannot well be denied, that, as man is constituted, he can adopt an inferior and variable rule of duty, and bring himself to abide by that rule, and make what is called a Conscience of obeying it; and another thing to maintain the proposition, that there is no moral principle implanted in the human mind distinct from Reason, that is, from outward observation: "For moral principles," says Locke, "require reasoning and discourse, and some exercise of the mind to discover the certainty of their truth." But if it be true of all moral principles "that they require reasoning and discourse, &c."-it must be true of the simplest as well as the most complicated, of the groundwork and elements, as well as of the elaborate system. Consequently the tendency of this argument is to

« PreviousContinue »