Outlines of Moral Science by Archibald Alexander

Outlines of Moral Science.

by Archibald Alexander

Chap. 26. The Nature of Virtue. (Continued).

posted 5 Apr 2014, 06:07 by Stephen Chaffer   [ updated 5 Apr 2014, 06:07 ]

Chapter 26.

The Nature of Virtue. (Continued).


VIRTUE is a peculiar quality of certain actions of a moral agent, which quality is perceived by the moral faculty with which every man is endued; and the perception of which is accompanied by an emotion which is distinct from all other emotions, and is called moral. This quality being of a nature perfectly simple, does not admit of being logically defined, any more than the colour of the grass, the taste of honey, the odour of a rose, or the melody of tune.


As some actions are morally good, which are virtuous; so there are other actions which are morally evil, or vicious. The perception of these, also, is accompanied by a feeling of a moral Virtue, then, may be said to be that quality in certain actions which is perceived by a rational mind to be good; and vice, or sin, is that which a well-constituted and well-informed mind sees to be evil.

The moral faculty necessary.

Whatever may be the rule or standard of virtuous actions, the immediate judgment of the moral faculty on contemplating the act is necessary. Without a moral faculty we never could have the least idea of a moral quality, good or bad; therefore all actions must be brought before this faculty, and its judgment is ultimate. We can go no further. While the good or evil of some actions is self-evident, much discrimination and reasoning are requisite to arrive at a clear view of the true moral character of others. But the end of these processes is to bring the true nature of the action in question fairly before the mind, when it is judged by the moral faculty. Those actions, then, which a sound and well-informed mind judges to be morally good, are virtuous, and those which such a mind judges or feels to be evil, are sinful.

The moral judgment is peculiar.

As has already been explained when treating of conscience, the judgment of the mind respecting moral qualities, is the judgment of the understanding, and differs from other judgments only by the subject under consideration. The mind must possess the faculty of moral perception, of which all the inferior animals are destitute. To see that an action is useful, and will produce happiness to him that performs it, or to others, is one thing; but to perceive that it is morally good, is quite a distinct idea; and virtue and mere utility should never be confounded. It may be thought that this account of virtue makes the moral faculty the only standard of moral excellence. In one sense, this is true. It is impossible for us to judge any action to be virtuous, which does not approve itself when fairly contemplated by our moral sense. To suppose otherwise, would be to think that we had some other faculty by which to judge of moral actions than the moral faculty. Whether infallible. As no judgment of colours can be formed but by the eye, nor of sounds but by the ear, nor of odours and tastes out by the senses of smelling and tasting; so no judgment can be formed on moral subjects, but by the moral faculty. It may be asked, then, whether the judgments of this faculty are infallible, and if so, how it is that we have so many discrepant opinions, respecting the morality of actions. To which it may be answered, that when the mind is in a sound state, and any moral action is presented to it, with all the circumstances which belong to it, the judgment of this faculty is always correct and uniform in all men. As an eye in a sound state judges infallibly of colours, in which judgment all in precisely the same circumstances will agree in their perceptions; so it is in regard to moral qualities. If in looking at an object, one man has more light than another, or if one occupies a more favourable point of observation, the object will appear differently to the persons thus situated; but this does not argue that their eyes are differently constructed, or that there is any other faculty than the eye, by which the object may be surveyed. So, in regard to moral qualities, when they are presented to different minds with precisely the same evidence, the moral judgment will be the same. Discrepant judgments, whence. The differences observable in the dictates of the consciences of men, may be all traced to some cause which prevents the object from being perceived in its true light; such as ignorance, error, or prejudice. In regard to sin and duty, the ultimate appeal must be to conscience. We may bring considerations of various kinds to bear on the conscience, or to enlighten the mind, so that the moral faculty may be rightly guided; but still our ultimate rule must be the judgments of our own moral faculty.

New relations occasion views of new duties.

And here it may be remarked, that con science will recognise every new relation into which a moral agent enters, and will dictate the obligation to perform the duties obviously arising out of such relations. Or, if such an agent should for a time be ignorant of its relations, and afterwards discover them, it would, upon such discovery, feel an obligation not before experienced. Let us then suppose the case of a child educated in a cave, who, while the intellectual powers were cultivated, and the faculties developed, had never been informed respecting the existence of its parents and the relation it sustains to them. Of course, while in this state of ignorance, there would be no sense of obligation to them; but so soon as the nature of this relation should be clearly made known, the obligation to the obvious duties arising out of this relation, would immediately be felt. Let it be supposed, also, that this human being, until grown to maturity, had never heard of God, and of course possessed no idea of such a being.

Duty of a creature as such.

While in that state of ignorance, it could have no sense of the obligation to reverence, love and serve its Creator; but as soon as the mind should take in distinctly, the conception of God as the Author of its being, and as possessed of every adorable attribute, the duties arising out of this newly-discovered relation, would be felt to be obligatory. The will of God seen to be obligatory. A just consideration of this relation would lead to the conclusion that, in everything, the will of such a Being, standing in such a relation to the creature, should be obeyed. Thus the important principle would be learned, that the will of God, so far as made known by reason or revelation, should be the supreme rule of moral conduct. Conscience, henceforth, would act under the influence of this truth. And making the will of God—so far as made known—the supreme and only rule of moral conduct, would not be found at all inconsistent with the obligation to obey the dictates of conscience; for it would now become evident that God, being the author of our minds, had constituted them with this moral faculty, to admonish them of duty, so that the dictates of an enlightened conscience are the clear indications of the law or will of God. It is the law written on the hearts of all men.

Virtue predicable only of objects of moral approbation.

Nothing can be considered as partaking of the nature of virtue which does not meet with the approbation of the moral faculty. This will by some be thought a dangerous principle, merely from a misapprehension of its nature. They allege that the will of God is the only perfect and immutable standard of moral rectitude. They allege, moreover, that to define virtue to be only such actions as the moral faculty in man approves, is to make it a very uncertain and fluctuating thing, depending on the variable and discrepant moral feelings of men.

Answer to objection.

This objection confounds two things which should be kept distinct, viz., the quality of an object and the light or medium through which it is viewed. The colour of an object can be perceived only by the eye; but in order to have the object fairly before the eye, there must be light reflected from it, and that light on entering the pupil, must be reflected so as to be conveyed to a focus on the retina. But without an eye it would be useless to descant ever so long or so learnedly on the nature of colours, or the laws by which light is reflected and refracted. In the case of sight, it is evident that all the perception which is experienced, must be by the eye. If the light is insufficient, it must be increased, and if any cause hinders it from being duly refracted, vision will not take place; but still, it is only by the eye that we can have any perception of colours.

Analogy of taste.

Perhaps an illustration, drawn from the faculty of taste, may be more appropriate. A beautiful landscape is presented; I am charmed with its beauty. This emotion or feeling of the beautiful depends on the faculty of taste. If that were absent, I might see all the objects as they stand, and perceive nothing of the beautiful. Beauty in the works of nature or art can be perceived only by taste, and the emotion will depend on the perfection of the faculty, provided the object is presented in a favourable light. A person of cultivated taste sees beauties where a rude savage sees none. Thus also in regard to moral acts, or a connected series of moral actions, every idea and feeling of a moral kind must as necessarily be through the moral faculty as colours through the organ of vision. We have no other faculty which takes cognizance of moral qualities. The judgments and emotions which are produced by the contemplation of such actions, are always infallibly correct, when the mind is duly enlightened and the faculty itself in a sound and healthy state. There is no inconsistency between this opinion and that which considers the will of God as the real standard and ultimate rule of moral conduct. 

Moral feelings dependent on the dictates of understanding.

For, as has been shown, although conscience can act within a narrow sphere without even the knowledge or belief of a God; yet so soon as this knowledge is obtained, and the mind recognises its relation to its Creator, a new field is opened for the operations of conscience. It is soon perceived that the clear dictates of conscience, in cases of self-evident truth, are nothing else than the indication of the law of God written on the heart of every man, as was before taught. We can refer to the will of God as a rule of moral conduct no other way than by the exercise of the moral faculty, by which it is clearly perceived that our Creator and Preserver has a just claim on our obedience, and ought in all things to be obeyed. But if conscience did not thus dictate, all appeals to the will of God, to show what is morally right, would be in vain. The certainty and immutability of our moral standard of rectitude will then be in proportion to the knowledge which the mind possesses of the existence of God and the creature’s relation to Him. Instead, therefore, of making our moral feelings mere instinctive emotions, as is done by Hutcheson and Shaftesbury, we make them depend on the clear dictates of the understanding; for, as we have often explained, the judgments of conscience are no other than the understanding judging on moral subjects.

Evil of attempting undue simpification.

If that, and that alone is virtue, which is approved by a mind duly enlightened, and in a sound state, then the attempt to reduce all virtuous actions to someone kind—as to benevolence, for example—is not the way to arrive at the truth. For while benevolent actions generally meet with the approbation of the moral faculty, we can easily conceive of an exercise of benevolence which, instead of being approved. would be viewed as morally indifferent, or merely amiable—as a natural affection, or even as evil. We never ascribe morality to the kind feeling of brutes to one another. The natural affection of parents, called storge by the Greeks, is no more of a moral nature than the same affection in inferior animals. The natural affection of our relatives, our neighbours, and countrymen, is amiable and useful, but not of a moral character. If a judge should feel a strong benevolence toward all criminals, so as to avoid inflicting on them the penalty of the wholesome laws of the country, we should judge it wicked. It might be said that a benevolence which counteracts a greater good, is not virtuous but sinful; yet it is an exercise of benevolence, and serves, on the concession of those who make all virtue to consist in benevolence, to show that all benevolence is not virtue, which is the very thing to be proved. Again, there are acts of moral agents, which have nothing of the nature of benevolence, yet which the moral faculty judges to be morally good. For example, if a man for the sake of moral improvement, denies himself some gratification which would in itself be pleasing to nature, we judge such self-denial to be virtuous.

Prudence a Virtue.

A thousand acts of prudence which have regard to our own best interests, without interfering with the interest of others, have always been reckoned virtuous. Indeed, among the ancient sages, prudence was one of the four cardinal virtues. The attempt, therefore, to reduce all virtue to the simple exercise of benevolence, must be unsuccessful. It is so evident that some actions which have our own welfare as their object, are virtuous, that rather than give up their theory that all virtue consists in benevolence, they enlarge the meaning of the word, so as to make it include a due regard to our own welfare. But this is really to acknowledge that al] virtue does not consist in benevolence, according to the usual meaning of that word. Any term may be made to stand for the whole of virtue, if you choose to impose an arbitrary meaning upon it. Benevolent affections, however, is a phrase which has as fixed and definite a meaning as any in the language, and by all good writers is used for good will to others. Benevolent affections are, therefore, constantly distinguished from such as are selfish. If, however, any one chooses, contrary to universal usage, to employ the words in a sense so comprehensive as to include self-love, be it so. We will not dispute with such a one, about the meaning of the word, provided he agree that the judicious pursuit of our own improvement and happiness is virtuous.

Actions to be classified.

To determine how many different kinds of actions are virtuous, we must pass them in review before the moral faculty, and then classify them; being in the whole process governed by the light of true knowledge, and taking into view all the relations in which the human race, or any portion of it, is placed. Something of this kind we may attempt in the sequel of this work; in which we shall endeavour to survey the moral duties incumbent on men, in their various relations.

Chap. 27. Whether Virtue and Vice belong only to Actions.

posted 5 Apr 2014, 05:54 by Stephen Chaffer   [ updated 5 Apr 2014, 05:55 ]

Chapter 27.

Whether Virtue and Vice belong only to Actions.

Moral acts are complex.

IT has repeatedly been brought into view that moral qualities are found only in actions of moral agents, and not in all actions, but only in those performed under certain circumstances. But when we consider those actions which are of a moral nature, we find that they are complex, consisting of an external and internal part. At once we can determine that a mere external or corporeal action can possess no morality, except as connected with the internal or mental exercise which produced it, and of which it is the exponent. But here again there are several acts of the mind clearly distinguishable from one another, and it is of importance to determine in which of these the moral quality exists. On this subject there is a diversity of opinion. It seems commonly to be taken for granted, that the act bf volition is, so to speak, the responsible act, and this has led to the maxim almost universally current, that “no action is of a moral nature which is not voluntary.” 

Moral acts voluntary.

Accordingly, writers of great eminence have entertained the opinion, that to render our desires and affections moral, they must directly or indirectly proceed from volition. But here arises a serious difficulty. Our desires and affections are not subject to our volitions.

Desires not subject to volition.

We may will with all our energy to love an object now odious, and our will produces no manner of effect; except to show us our inability to change our affections by the force of the will. On the contrary, we find by constant experience that our volitions are influenced uniformly by our prevailing desires. No man ever put forth a volition which was not the effect of some desire, feeling, or inclination. Now, after the most attentive examination of our minds, we find that certain affections which are neither produced by volitions nor terminate in volitions, are, in the judgment of all reflecting men, of a moral nature. Yet desires have moral quality. For example, envy at the prosperity of a neighbour is not the result of any volition, and it may be cherished inwardly without leading to any volition, the will being controlled by other feelings which prevent action; yet all must admit it to be a morally evil disposition. The truth then appears to be, that our affections are properly the subject of moral qualities, good and evil.

Whence volition has its quality.

Volitions take their character entirely from the internal affections or desires from which they proceed. The volition, viewed abstractly, is always the same, when the external action is the same; but the moral character of the acts, where the volitions are the same, may vary exceedingly. If I will to strike a man with a deadly weapon, the simple volition which precedes and is the immediate cause of the action, is the same whether I give the stroke in self-defence, in execution of the law, or through malice prepense. Indeed, the volition of an insane person to strike a blow is exactly similar to the volition of a sane person striking a similar blow. Hence it is evident that the proper seat of moral qualities is not in the will, considered as distinct from the affections, but in the affections themselves, which give character to the volition as much as to the external action.

The true spring of actions.

These internal affections or desires are properly the springs of our actions, and our wills are the executive power by which they are carried into effect. They are commonly called motives, and very properly, as they move us to action;


but I have avoided the use of that word, because it is ambiguous, and has occasioned much misconception on this subject. By motives, many understand reasons or external qualities in the objects of our desires; that which excites or moves our affections. Then when it is asserted that the will is governed by the strongest motives, some understand the meaning to be the strongest reasons, or those qualities in an object best adapted to excite our affections. In this sense the proposition is not true.

Whether governed by the strongest reasons.

Minds are often in such a state that they are not governed by that reason which in their own view is the strongest; that is, which in their better judgment seems wisest and best. And often our minds are not influenced or governed by those external objects or considerations which in the judgment of impartial reason are most weighty.

In what sense will follows the strongest motives.

But if by motives be understood the desires themselves, actually in exercise at the time, however produced, then it may be truly said that the will is always determined by the strongest motives, that is, the strongest desires. But even this proposition needs qualification. The strongest single desire does not always govern the man, but the strongest combination of desires, as may be thus exemplified. A man in returning from a journey on a cold day has a strong desire to reach home without delay; but passing a house where he knows he can enjoy a warm fire, and good refreshment, and the company of a friend, though his desire to reach home is stronger than his de. sire to see his friend, stronger than his desire to enjoy the fire, or his desire for food or drink, yet all these combined prove sufficient to induce him to stop.

Morality of an act from its intention.

It is often said that the intention or end for which an action is performed, determines its moral character; and as our desires always point to some object which is the end of the action, this account of the matter coincides with the view already given. As if a man gives money to another, though we see the action, and are sure that it was voluntary, yet that determines nothing respecting the moral character of the action. Before we can judge anything correctly, we must know the intention with which the act was performed. If it was to pay a just debt, we approve it as a moral act, but of small merit. If it was to supply the wants of a poor suffering family, unable to help themselves, we still approve, but our approbation is much stronger; the act is more meritorious than the former. But if we are informed that the person on whom the benefit was conferred was an enemy who had sought every opportunity to injure him who is now his benefactor, we esteem it the highest degree of Christian virtue. But if it should appear that the money was given to a common drunkard, to enable him to procure intoxicating drink; though the external act and volition are the same, instead of approving the action, we censure it as culpable. And finally, if it should appear that the intention was to hire an assassin to murder an innocent person, and that person a benefactor, our emotion rises to the highest degree, and we reprobate the action as evil in the extreme. In all these cases, the action and the volition producing it, are the same. The only difference is in the end or intention with which it was done.

The assertion qualified.

The intention will serve to characterize actions very well, but is not comprehensive enough to take in all the exercises of mind which possess a moral character. I feel habitually a kind disposition to my fellow-creatures, but for much of my time I have not the opportunity of performing any particular acts of kindness. All impartial persons will say that this habitual feeling is of a virtuous character; but there is no intention in the case. It is merely a feeling which terminates in no volition or action.

Intention not comprehensive enough. My neighbour, who has been a bad man, undergoes a real change of character, and from being profane and quarrelsome, becomes pious and peaceable. I rejoice in the change. This joy is a virtuous emotion, though it has no intention accompanying it. This will serve to show that making the intention the sole characteristic of morality, is correct in regard to actions, but is not comprehensive enough to take in the whole of morality. 


It may seem that in what has been said, we contravene the maxim, that all moral actions are voluntary, a maxim which has received the sanction of ages, and may be considered an intuitive principle: whereas it is now maintained that there are exercises of mind which do not involve any exercise of will; and that our volitions themselves have nothing of a moral nature but what they derive from the motives from which they proceed.

The maxim admitted. The maxim, rightly understood, is no doubt just, and we should never affect the wisdom of being wiser than the common sense of mankind, where we meet with truths in which all men of sober reflection have been agreed. It is safer to take them for granted, as believing that universal consent in such matters furnishes the best evidence of truth.

The objection removed.

But the explanation is easy. The maxim applies primarily to actions, which must be voluntary to have the character of morality. If the action is not voluntary, it is not properly the action of the person who seems to perform it, for we can act in no other way than by the will.

Ambiguity of term voluntary.

But again, the word voluntary as employed in the maxim under consideration, includes more than volition; it comprehends all the spontaneous exercises of the mind; that is, all its affections and emotions. Formerly all these were included under the word will, in loving his friend or hating his enemy; but by this is not meant that these affections are the effect of volition, but only that they are the free spontaneous exercises of the mind. That all virtue consists in volition, is not true—as we have seen; but that all virtuous exercises are spontaneous, is undoubtedly correct. Our moral character radically consists in our feelings and desires. These being the spontaneous actings of certain latent principles or dispositions, this hidden disposition is also judged to be morally evil, because it is productive of such fruit. And of good dispositions we judge in like manner.

Chap. 28. The Author of our being considered in Relation to Moral Science.

posted 5 Apr 2014, 04:13 by Stephen Chaffer   [ updated 5 Apr 2014, 04:13 ]

Chapter 28.

The Author of our being considered in Relation to Moral Science.

Preceding truths lead to argument for a Supreme Being.

IT has already been intimated, that the very existence of conscience seems to indicate, that man has a Superior to whom he is amenable for his conduct. The feeling of moral obligation which accompanies every perception of right and wrong, seems to imply, that man is under law; for what is moral obligation but a moral law? And if we are under a law there must be a lawgiver, a moral governor, who has incorporated the elements of his law into our very constitution. This argument for the existence of God, is solid, and independent of all other arguments; and it goes further than arguments derived from the evidences of design; which abound in the world around us; for these prove no more than that the Author of our being is intelligent, but this argument proves that he is a moral Being, and exercises a moral government over us. The Atheist, when he feels, as he must, remorse for some great crime, can scarcely help believing, that there is a God who is displeased with his wicked conduct, and who will punish him hereafter; for the keen anguish of remorse seems to point to a punishment which is future. Hence it is that when Atheists come into those circumstances which have a tendency to awaken the conscience, they for the time become believers in the existence of God.

Atheism practically recanted.

Thus in a storm at sea, even the most confirmed Atheist has been found calling upon God, for deliverance; and when death is suddenly presented to them, they often find, that their atheistical theories cannot withstand the power of an awakened conscience. Certainly the existence of an accusing conscience cannot in any way be so well accounted for, as by the supposition that man is the creature of a Being who intended to form him in such a manner, that he should have a control over his actions, and who has left an indelible proof of his authority in the mind of every man.

Argument against Atheism.

But omitting to press this argument further at present, let us attend to some of the other evidences of the existence of a God. No one can contend that there is anything absurd in the idea of an eternal, all-powerful, intelligent, First Cause, from whom all things have received their being. No one can doubt that the supposition of the existence of such a Being seems to account for the phenomena of nature; and it is equally certain, that they cannot be rationally accounted for on any other hypothesis.

Teleiologic argument.

To deny that in animals and vegetables there are evident marks of design, would be as unreasonable as to deny that anything exists. Thus the eye was formed to see, the ear to hear, the mouth to masticate our food, the stomach to digest it, the various internal organs to separate the particles suited for nutrition from the mass, and by a wonderful and inexplicable process to convert, or assimilate these particles into the various forms and organs which constitute the human body. For any man to affirm that in all these contrivances and operations, there is no evidence of design, is certainly to contradict the intimate conviction of his own reason. It may on many accounts be expedient and highly profitable, to accumulate arguments from design, as manifested in the rational, animal, vegetable, and mineral world;

A few instances of design sufficient.

but for mere argument and demonstration, these details are unnecessary. A man cast away on a desolate shore, would be as certain that some rational beings had been there, if he found one watch, or one quadrant, as if he should see a thousand of such like or other works of art, strewed along the shore. His mind is soon satisfied with the force of this evidence, as observed in a few particulars, and the conviction of the truth, that these things are the effect of a designing cause, is as perfect as it can be, by the contemplation of ever so many instances. It may, I think be taken for granted, and even Atheists will admit, that we cannot conceive of any works, or contrivances, which would more clearly evince design, than those which are found in the human, and other animal bodies. Chance. Though it is said that some ancient Atheists attributed everything to chance, yet it seems unnecessary to take up much time in combating such a theory. Atheists no longer resort to this very absurd notion. As then design manifest in any effect, leads necessarily to the conclusion, that intelligence exists in the cause; there is no escape from the conclusion, that the cause of the existence of animals and vegetables is a wise and powerful Being, but by one of the following suppositions. 

1. That everything in which design is manifest, has existed from eternity; or, 

2. That there are in the material universe, causes possessing power and intelligence to produce these effects, but no one great intelligent person; or, 

3. That there has existed from eternity a succession of these organized beings, producing one another in a continued series; so that while the individuals in the series perish, the succession is eternal.

The first supposition is too extravagant, we should think, to have any advocates. Indeed, as it relates to the bodies of animals and vegetables, we have a certain demonstration, that their organization has a beginning. 

1. Eternity of the universe. 

And if everything was from eternity, everything would be immutable and imperishable; but we see every kind of organized bodies tending quickly to destruction. Our souls also had a beginning, for their gradual increase and development is a matter of daily observation. We have no remembrance of an eternal existence, nor any consciousness of independence, which must be an attendant of an eternal being. We are conscious that we cannot cease to be, nor control our own destiny. Nothing is more certain in the mind of all thinking men, than that we who now live are creatures of yesterday. But it is unnecessary to refute an error which perhaps no one is so unreasonable as to hold.

2. The hypothethesis of evolution.

Let us then consider that atheistical, or rather pantheistical scheme, which attributes all the appearances of design in the world to the world itself; that is, to certain causes existing in the world which produce beings of various species, not by creation out of nothing, which they hold to be impossible, but by an evolution or development of principles contained in the world itself. According to this theory the world is God, and all things are parts of this one being.

Denies a personal God.

This theory would avoid the name of Atheism, which has ever been odious; but it retains the virus of the poison of Atheism under another name. It admits a cause, or rather multitude of causes, capable of producing these marks of design; but denies that this cause, considered as one or many, is a person.


The question necessary to be determined is, what is necessary to constitute a person? Here we have intelligence in the cause, in the highest conceivable degree. But the structure of the body of man is not mere intelligence; there is an adaptation of means to an end. This supposes the exercise of choice or selection, which is obviously an exercise of will. Every instance of contrivance therefore evinces the exercise of an intellect and will; and that being in which these two properties are found, we are accustomed to denominate a person.

A single cause demanded.

It would be difficult to find a better definition of a person. But we need not dispute about the name; when there is manifest evidence of wise contrivance in the effect, there must be an intelligent cause to produce such an effect. Where, we ask, is that cause? Is it in the individual which exhibits these signs of design? That would be to make the same thing cause and effect. Is there then for each individual in which wise contrivance appears a particular cause; or is nature or the world to be considered one general cause, operating in a multitude of ways? To suppose a particular cause for every one of these effects, would be to multiply deities beyond the wildest mythology of the heathen; for these causes being intelligent beings, possessing a wisdom beyond our conception, each is properly considered a separate deity. But even this supposition comes utterly short of furnishing a satisfactory account of the phenomena of the universe; for the admirable contrivances in the natural world consist very often in the adaptation of things which are entirely distinct, to each other, as of the light to the eye, the air to the ear and to the lungs, the food to the stomachs of the various species of animals, & c. The same adaptation is equally obvious in the vegetable world. That cause, therefore, which produced the eye must have produced the light; and the cause of the curiously-contrived apparatus of hearing must have formed the air; and the author of the stomach must have adapted it to various kinds of food, &c. The hypothesis of an infinite number of separate, intelligent causes, will not be maintained. All these effects must be attributed to one cause, and that cause must be infinitely wise and powerful, to give existence to so many wonderful works.

Attributes required in this sole Cause.

If, then, there is one cause of all these different species of beings, which could not exist without wise contrivance, that cause must be powerful, intelligent and benevolent; but power, wisdom, and intelligence can exist only in some being, and that being which possesses them must be a person. The Pantheist will allege that these attributes belong to the universe itself, and therefore there is no need to suppose any being to exist separate from, and independent of the world. All these phenomena arising, are only the developments of this one substance, in which the attributes before mentioned have their seat.

The Pantheistic reply examined.

Before we receive such an opinion, let us inquire what constitutes the universe, as far as our knowledge can extend. We become acquainted with the world without us by our senses. Trusting to the information of these inlets of knowledge, we find that the universe consists, as far as known to the senses, of peculiar objects, combined together in various ways. These material things, though subject to peculiar laws, appear entirely destitute of intelligence. In this, all men agree. The light, the air, the water, the rocks, the earth, the metals, &c., are not capable of thought. Indeed, every material thing with which we are acquainted consists of an infinite number of parts, even when of the same kind, and no otherwise related to each other than that they are situated near to each other; whether they are at all in contact, we do not know. If thought belonged to matter, each of these infinitesimal particles of matter would be a conscious being, and his consciousness be independent of every other particle. By what medium of communication could these particles of matter agree on forming an organized body? But the Pantheist does not believe that matter is endued with thought. His theory is, that in the world there exists not only external substance, but thought or intelligence in the same substance. But as this intelligence must have a subject in which it resides, and of which it is a quality, and as it cannot be an attribute of brute matter, there must exist a substance distinct from matter, of which it is a property. Matter being divisible, inert, and extended, cannot have intelligence as an attribute, which is active, indivisible, and unextended. Extension, and thought, therefore, cannot be properties of the same substance. If then the cause of the phenomena of nature which indicate design is in the world itself, the world must, besides the gross matter which we see and feel, be possessed of a soul, or spiritual substance, in which this intelligence resides. This would bring us to the old Pagan theory of the Soul of the World. Under the material part, but under this only, there is a spiritual substance, a soul; just as in a man, we can see and feel the body, but we know that within this case, there exists a spiritual substance or soul. This theory, then, admits the existence of a great spirit, possessing the attributes necessary to account for all the appearances of wisdom ill the world. It differs from the common theistical doctrine only in this, that it would confine this being to the world; but for this, there could be assigned no valid reason. A being-possessing such power over matter as to mould it into every organized form found in animals, vegetables, and minerals, must have a complete control over matter, and be perfectly acquainted with all its most hidden properties and capabilities, and must be independent of matter, and must exist everywhere, to carry on the processes of nature. And as we do not know the extent of the material universe, we can set no limits to the presence of this spiritual, intelligent and omnipotent being. The object of Pantheism is to get clear of the idea of a personal God, who gives laws to creatures, and superintends and governs them according to their natures. But the hypothesis, if it could be established, does not answer the purpose for which it was devised. Still, even according to the hypothesis, we must have a personal God, who knows all things and rules over all.

3. Eternal succession.

The only other atheistical method of accounting for the phenomena of the world, as indicating the most consummate wisdom, as well as the most omnipotent power, is the hypothesis, that the universe in its present form has existed from eternity, and that all the various species of animals and vegetables now observed have always existed, and have communicated existence to one another in an endless series. And as an eternal series has no beginning, it can have no cause. There is therefore no need of supposing any first cause, from whom everything has proceeded. As we must suppose some being to exist from eternity, we may as well suppose that the world which we see is that eternal being.

Fortress of Atheism.

This has always been the stronghold of atheism, and therefore deserves a more special attention. The only reason, however, which gives an advantage to this theory is, that it carries us back into the unfathomable depths of eternity, where our minds are confounded by the incomprehensibility of the subject. It is also to be regretted that some truly great men, in attempting to refute this theory, have adopted a mode of reasoning which is not satisfactory. This, we think, is true with respect to Bentley, who possessed a gigantic intellect; and, as might have been expected, many are his followers. Dr.; Samuel Clarke has also pursued a course in his reasoning on this point, which, to say the least, is not entirely free from objection. The same may be said of many others, and especially of some who have attempted a mathematical demonstration of the falsehood of an infinite series of living organized beings, including the celebrated Stapfer.

Argument against eternal series.

It will be an object, therefore, to free the subject as much as possible from intricacy and obscurity, and to present arguments which shall be level to any common capacity accustomed to attend to a train of reasoning. We may certainly assume it as an admitted principle, that every effect must have not only a cause, but an adequate cause. If wise contrivance and evident adaptation of means to an end be found in the effect, to ascribe it to an unintelligent cause, is as unsatisfactory as to assign no cause.

An adequate cause still indispensable.

This then being assumed, we would take this position as incontrovertible, that if design manifest in one effect requires an intelligent cause, the same necessity requires the same kind of a cause for any number of similar effects; and the conclusion must be the same, whether the number is finite or infinite. This evident truth has been often and happily illustrated, by supposing a chain suspended before our eyes, but reaching beyond the sphere of our vision. The lowest link requires a support, and so does the second, and there is no less need of support for every successive link as you ascend the chain; and if you suppose as many links beyond your sight, as there are atoms in the universe, still the same necessity of a support is presumed to we immediately begin to experience some confusion of ideas. We attempt to grasp infinity, and finding ourselves baffled in the attempt, we are apt to lose sight of the proper logical conclusion in this case. The necessity of a supporting power has no dependence on the number to be sustained. If one, if one hundred, if one thousand require support, so does any number of links. The conclusion is not in the smallest degree affected by the number, except that the more links, the stronger must be the supporting power; but this has nothing to do with our present argument. The conclusion will be of the same kind, and will as necessarily follow, in the case of effects which have in them the marks of design. The number cannot affect the conclusion. If one such effect cannot exist without an intelligent contriver, an infinite number of great effects cannot. If multiplying one cipher, or zero, by any number in arithmetic, produces nothing, and the same is the result of multiplying a thousand ciphers, the conclusion is inevitable, that an infinite number of ciphers multiplied by any number cannot result in any positive quantity. Indeed, if all the individuals in the supposed infinite series are of the same kind, all are effects, and it is absurd to conceive of an effect without a cause.

Cause and effect are correlative and imply each other; and if an effect cannot exist without a cause, much less can an infinite number of effects exist without an adequate cause.

Cause must be existing and operative.

My next argument will leave out of view altogether the idea of infinity, which is so apt to confound the mind. It is this. Every effect must not only have a cause, but that cause must be in existence and operation; for it would be absurd to think of a cause operating, when it no longer had an active existence. Let us then take that individual of a series of organized beings which came last into existence. Let it be an animal—a dog or horse. This individual we know came recently into being; when produced there must have been an adequate cause in existence and in operation. What was that cause? The hypothesis confines us to the preceding series of animals of the same species, supposed to have come down in uninterrupted succession from eternity. But whether the series be long or short, finite or infinite, is of no consequence as it relates to our present argument. What we are inquiring after is a cause in existence at the time this curiously organized and animated being came into existence. Now at that time, the individuals of the series had all ceased to exist, except the immediate progenitors. Whatever cause existed, cannot therefore be looked for in them; and if the effect is such as manifestly to be beyond any power and skill which they possessed, the contriving and efficient cause cannot be found in the series. There must be a higher cause.

The whole power of the cause must be carried through the series. But lest some persons should have a vague notion that some hidden power might be communicated through the series, although not found in the progenitors of the animal under consideration, I will lay down a principle which is admitted in mechanical powers, and is equally applicable to all causes. It is this. In all cases where any power is communicated through a series of individuals, the whole power necessary to produce the effect, must not only be communicated to the first, but to every single thing in the series, until it reach the last, which is intended to be affected by the original power. Thus, suppose it to be required to communicate motion to a ball in a plane, by sending an impulse through a hundred balls, the principle known to all mechanicians is, that the force necessary to give the desired motion must be communicated to the first, and from the first to the second, and so on, until it reaches the ball intended to be moved. And this principle is equally applicable to all causes which operate through a succession of particulars. If at the commencement of a series, an intelligent cause operated, and then ceased, or stopped short of the last effect, no sign of intelligence could exist in this, which brings us back to the same obvious principle with which we commenced, viz., that when any effect is produced, an adequate cause must exist, and be in operation at the time of its production. The simple inquiry then, is, had the progenitors of this dog, or horse, when the animal came into existence and became animated, the skill necessary to continue the animal frame, with all its curiously contrived parts, and power and skill to give to this individual that constitution of instincts, appetites, and passions suited to its condition in the world, which it possesses. I leave the atheist to answer this question? The same course of reasoning will be equally forcible as applied to fruits and vegetables. Every one of these organized beings furnishes an irrefragable argument for the being of a God; for in any one of these is evidence of the existence of a wisdom and power which certainly do not exist in the several particulars of which the series consists.

The Atheistic objection of Hume.

The only modern attempt to invalidate the argument for the being of God founded on the appearance of design in the universe, is that of Mr. Hume, which is substantially this, that this argument supposes that we have seen similar works performed, from which, by analogy, we conclude that an intelligent cause is necessary to account for them; as if we find a watch we believe it to have been made by an artist, because we have before observed such works made by skilful men; but in relation to the world, it is a singular work, entirely unique. We have never seen any world produced, and, therefore, the reasoning which would hold in regard to the conclusion that the watch was made by an artist does not apply.


More importance has been given to this objection, especially by Dr. Chalmers, than it deserves. The objection of Hume is a mere sophism, and can unsettle no mind which understands the nature of the argument in question. According to Mr. Hume’s argument we could not infer from any work of art that it had an intelligent author, unless we had seen a work of the very same kind by an artist. Suppose a boy who has never been away from his father’s farm, where he has seen nothing superior to ploughs, carts, and harrows, to be conducted to a seaport, and to see a steam-frigate. As he has never seen on the farm anything formed like this, according to Mr. Hume, he could not infer that this stupendous work was produced by an intelligent cause. To the boy it would be a singular effect, the like of which he had never witnessed, and, therefore, he could infer nothing respecting it. Now every child knows better than this. Any boy of common sense will conclude in a moment that this steam engine must have been the work of a skilful artificer.

The world not a singular effect.

In order to apply the argument from design, it is not at all necessary that we should have seen an artist engaged in producing its like. All that is necessary is, that there should immediately appear an adaptation of means to produce a certain end; and it matters not as to the argument whether we ever conceived of a similar work, or knew anything of the artist, the certain appearance of design, or a skilful adaptation of means to an end is always sufficient to produce the certain conclusion that there has been a designing cause at work. The works of nature are not a singular effect, as far as the argument a posteriori is concerned. The adaptation of means to an end in these is similar to the works of design among men. The difference between a telescope and the eye of an animal is not so great as between a plough and a steam engine. If there was any difference between the inference from seeing a steam-frigate or a complicated spinning engine, which have never been seen before, and another plough or cart, it would be in favour of the contrivance not before witnessed. The argument seems to be a fortiori in this case. And as the whole argument in regard to the works of man is founded simply on observing an adaptation of means to accomplish an end, and not the adaptation to produce some particular end which we had before seen effected by similar means; and as the adaptation of means to an end is as evident in the works of nature as in the works of man, the argument is as conclusive in one case as in the other.

Chap. 29. The Phenomena of the Universe.

posted 5 Apr 2014, 03:51 by Stephen Chaffer   [ updated 5 Apr 2014, 03:54 ]

Chapter 29.

The Phenomena of the Universe.

Accords with phenomena.

LET us now suppose that a Great Intelligent First Cause exists, and has existed from eternity; are not all the appearances of the universe correspondent with the existence of such a being?

Unreasonable to ask more evidence.

Again we may demand of an Atheist what other evidences of the existence of God he would require. Let him suggest something, which, in the form of evidence, would be more satisfactory to him, and he will not find it easy to fix on any evidence which is stronger or more suitable than what we already possess.

Atheist challenged to propose any stronger.

It may appear strange to some that we challenge the Atheist to demand any clearer or stronger evidence of the existence of a Supreme Being than that which is already before us. But let the attempt be made to conceive of some evidence of this truth which would be more satisfactory, and better adapted to be a standing proof to all nations, and we have mistaken the matter, if the result will not be that the existing evidence is as good as any which they could ask. It will be worthwhile to spend a little time in considering this point, for if we cannot satisfy the Atheist of the truth of our position, the discussion may be satisfactory to others who have not been accustomed to view the subject in this light.

Visibility of God not requisite.

It is true we do not see God, and the reason is, he is a spirit; and a spirit, from the very nature of the case, is invisible. We cannot see the souls of our nearest friends; we know that they exist, not by any direct perception of the intelligent substance, but by the actions which they perform through the instrumentality of the body. If God were not a spirit he could not be an active, intelligent, powerful, and perfect being; but being a spirit he must be invisible. Nothing is visible but material substances, and these only by means of light reflected from them to the eye.

Invisible existences are believed in. It is not forgotten that most Atheists, being materialists, deny that there is any such substance as spirit; but they do not and cannot deny that there is something within us which thinks and feels and wills, and has power to originate bodily motion. Call the substance, of which thought is a property, by what name you please, still it is an invisible substance. Who can pretend to see a thought or a volition? or who would say that he can see the mind, and describe its shape and give its magnitude and dimensions? Let it be supposed then that the cause of all intelligence has a nature resembling this intelligent nature of which we are every moment conscious, but far more excellent, as it must be supposed that every excellence exists in a higher degree in the cause than in the effect.

In no way could a spiritual Being be better revealed. Now supposing such an intelligent being to exist, call him spiritual or material, only let him be a being of thought, will, and passion; and that he is necessarily from his nature invisible to eyes of flesh; the question is, how could such a being make himself known to rational minds such as ours. As we cannot by any direct perception look into the mind of another, and as such a being cannot make himself visible without assuming a gross body, we can conceive of no way by which he can make himself known but by performing some act, or exhibiting to us some work which shall contain the impress of his character. For if he should assume a bodily shape, and thus make himself visible, it would not be the intelligent substance which we perceived, but a body, which was no part of his essence. If an intelligent creature could be so situated in the universe as to have no opportunity of contemplating any work of God, such a creature could never arrive at the knowledge of his existence. But the supposition is impossible; for an intelligent creature could not exist without the consciousness of its own thoughts; and in the mind itself, even if it were cut off from all perception of material things, there is sufficient proof of an efficient, intelligent cause. The impress of the divine attributes is as clearly printed on the soul as on any of the works of God to which man has access.

The First Cause known by his works.

As the First Cause, if there is one, must be from his nature invisible, the only way by which he can be conceived to make known his existence, is by setting before us some work, in which his wisdom, power, and goodness may be manifested; and by the contemplation of which a rational mind may infer, that a being does exist, to whom these properties belong. If then in the various objects in the world, there is as much evidence of these attributes as we can conceive, and in fact far exceeding our most enlarged conceptions, we have the best proof of the existence of a Great First Cause, which we could have. The simple question then is, could there be exhibited stronger evidences of wisdom than we have in the structure of the body of man, and in the constitution of his mind? Could the various species of animals in the earth, air, and sea, be formed with more consummate wisdom than they are, in relation to the climate in which they live, and the provision made internally and externally for their subsistence, and the propagation of their kind. Examine also the vegetable world. Call in the aid of glasses to inspect the concealed structure of the vessels; contemplate the leaf, the flower, and the mature fruit, and say whether you can conceive of contrivances more exquisite. If any man thinks that animal and vegetable bodies could have been constructed with more wisdom, let him point out in what respects these works of nature are deficient in wisdom But even if it were possible to conceive of more perfect works, this could not in the least invalidate the argument from them, for the existence of an intelligent cause. If the question were of the degree of perfection in the wisdom exhibited, then the skill manifested in each work would be a proper subject for consideration. An imperfect time-piece proves the existence of an artist as fully as one that is perfect.

This manifestation needs no amendment. But there is here no need of this remark, for the Atheist may be defied to conceive of any improvement in any of the works of God, in regard to the adaptation of the means used to the end to be accomplished; and these evidences of the wisdom of God are scattered profusely over the whole universe. We cannot turn our eyes to the heaven or the earth, to objects of great magnitude, or so small that they can be seen only by the microscope, but the same admirable perfection of contrivance is manifest in them all. The internal structure of the gnat is as wonderful as that of the elephant; and: in the manifestation of wisdom in the creation there is a wonderful variety. No two species are exactly alike; and the difference is exactly such as it should be to accomplish the special end in view. The more intricate our examination of the contrivance and evident design in the organization of animal and vegetable bodies, the stronger will be our conviction, and the greater our admiration.

God is clearly manifested.

The only question then is, could the evidences of intelligence in the cause, if thus innumerable, be exhibited in a clearer and stronger light than they are; if not, then God could not make known his existence as an intelligent being more clearly than he has done.

The number of instances in which design appears, is far greater than can be examined, and the degree of wisdom in the various contrivances in organized bodies, transcends our conception how, therefore, could we have by new works, greater evidence of an intelligent cause, than we already possess?

The evidence need not be as great as possible.

But there seems in most minds a lurking suspicion, that the existing evidence is not as convincing as it might have been. Even if this were so, we have no right to complain, when it cannot be denied that we have very strong evidence. God is not obliged to give to his creatures the strongest possible evidence of his own existence. He may choose to leave scope for human industry, and also make the reception of the truth a part of our moral probation; and the pleasure of discovering truth after laborious research, a part of the reward of virtue. No doubt this is the fact in regard to some truths of no small importance. The honest inquirer discovers them, while the proud and prejudiced mind, though more acute, misses them, and embraces in their stead dangerous error. In maintaining, therefore, that the evidence for the being of God is as convincing as it could be to an impartial, rational mind, it is not because such clearness is considered essential; but simply because the fact appears to be as stated.

Can stronger proof be proposed?

But since many may still suppose that they can imagine much stronger proof than any which exists, let us consider what can be alleged in favour of this opinion.

Supposition of address to the ear.

Could not God speak to us in a voice of thunder, and thus make himself known? Undoubtedly he could; and such a voice would doubtless greatly terrify us; but would it be a stronger proof of his wisdom and power than the works of nature which we behold? If this tremendous sound were heard very often, it would at length become familiar, and would cease to produce the same impression as at first. If heard but seldom, it would leave a suspicion that it might have been no more than a disordered imagination. But how could we be sure that the voice proceeded from a being who would not deceive? The mere hearing the noise could give us no certain evidence of the character and veracity of the speaker?

A visible glory not convincing.

But perhaps it may be thought that a glorious visible appearance would place the matter beyond all possibility of doubt. The majestic appearance of a divine person, would, it may be alleged, satisfy everyone. The same objections may be made to this species Of evidence, as to the former; how could we know that this visible appearance was that of the Great First Cause? Unnatural appearances prove nothing respecting the character of the person who assumes them; if such apparitions were only occasionally exhibited, we should be prone to doubt of their reality; and if frequent, we should become too much accustomed to them to receive any impression. But whatever impression such appearances might make, considered as evidence of an all-perfect Deity, they would not be comparable to that which we have in the works of nature.


But if the Supreme Being exists, why could he not make himself known by working stupendous miracles? Of course, if miracles might be demanded by one, all have the same need; and the same claims and miracles would become so common, that it would be difficult to distinguish them from natural events. And again, miracles require no more power to produce them than is required to produce common events. In many cases they would require no more than a cessation of the power by which natural events are produced. The standing still of the sun, or the stopping of the rotation of the earth, would be nothing else than removing the impulse by which they were originally put in motion.

Are effects of power. In a miracle, we only see the effect of divine power. We may infer from this, that there is a Being who can change the laws of nature; and a miracle taken by itself can prove nothing more. But in the works of nature, we have innumerable proofs of the wisdom and beneficence of the Author of the Universe. And the number, variety, and wisdom of these works are evident to every person of common sense. The proofs of a great intelligent cause are spread out, over the heavens and the earth, the sea, and the air. We are little affected by these objects, because they have ever been before our eyes since our earliest infancy. But as evidences of a Divine existence their force is not diminished by the uniformity of the laws of nature, by which they are continually produced, but greatly increased. The different species of animals and vegetables have successively been reproduced, according to laws that never vary; and this shows that the plan of the Almighty is perfect, and that He can accomplish all his pleasure, and has given uniform laws to every kind of being which his wisdom and power have produced.

But add nothing to proof of power.

It is not denied that miraculous displays are a decisive proof of a Great First Cause, who is possessed of omnipotence; but what we maintain is, that the evidence of omnipotence is not greater than in the natural effects which are constantly produced before our eyes. And as to the character and attributes of God, they are far more clearly exhibited in the various productions of nature, than they would be by a miraculous interposition. If another sun were placed in the heavens, which is as great a miracle as we can imagine, it would be a proof of mighty power, but not a stronger proof than the existence of the natural sun; and as to the wisdom and goodness of the Deity, there would be no comparison, for in the former case, nothing but the existence of Omnipotence could be inferred from the miracle, for there would be no appearance of wisdom in such a miracle. But in the existence of the natural sun, which gives light, heat, motion, and life to all earthly living things, the wisdom and goodness of the Creator are most illustriously displayed. Who can enumerate the benefits which are derived from the influence of the sun? and the same sun, which communicates so many blessings to our world, dispenses blessings in the same way to other planets.

Result of the argument.

If we saw the dead raised in a thousand instances, it would be a decisive evidence of the existence of a Being of almighty power; but the evidence is fully as strong from the formation and vivification of innumerable animal bodies of many species. And no miracle can be conceived, which would furnish stronger evidence of the Divine existence, than the works of creation which are ever before our eyes and our minds. I think, after what has been said, that we cannot wish for more convincing evidence of the existence of a Supreme Being, than we already possess in the works of nature spread out before us; and even if we were shut up in a dark dungeon, we have this convincing evidence in our own persons, in the constitution of both our souls and bodies.

The demand of self-evidence.

The only thing which can be alleged further is, that this might have been made a self-evident truth as much as our own existence, or the existence of the world without us; and many formerly entertained that opinion that the idea of God is innate, and that a speculative Atheist is a thing impossible. Some very learned and respectable philosophers and theologians have expressly inculcated this opinion in their writings. Now, although we do not believe there are any innate ideas, and although the existence of God can scarcely be said to be self-evident, yet in the proof of it, there is but a single step of reasoning. It is a self-evident truth that every effect must have an adequate cause; and when there is evident design in the effect, the cause must be intelligent. The conclusion is so easily drawn from an intuitive truth, that it is not wonderful that it should be classed among self-evident truths. We can scarcely conceive of the state of that mind which after seriously contemplating the wonderful evidences of design in the human frame, can doubt the existence of an intelligent First Cause, and an intelligent cause producing effects by a wise adaptation of means to a definite end, and the harmonious operation of thousands of parts in the vital functions must, according to every proper definition of the term, be a person.

Attributes of God.

All the arguments by which the being of God is proved, involve the proof of some of his attributes. If the marks of design in creatures prove the existence of a Creator, it is by showing that he must be possessed of wisdom to cause so many wonderful contrivances as we behold in the world. As the operation of any cause is the exertion of power, so the creation of the world is the action of omnipotence. A greater power than that which brings something out of nothing cannot be conceived: this indeed we cannot comprehend, and, therefore, some who admit that the world is the work of God, as far as relates to the organization and moulding of matter, yet cannot be persuaded that omnipotence itself can give existence where there was none before. But if God did not create the matter that is in the world, whence came it? There are but two suppositions; one is, that matter existed from eternity, and is, therefore, self-existent and independent; the other, that it is an emanation of the divine essence. The first is inadmissible; it supposes two eternal beings independent of each other, and the latter leads to pantheism, or that all things are a part of God; as whatever emanates from him must be a part of his essence, for this is immutably the same. Though wisdom and power are the attributes which are first observed, they are not the only attributes of which we may learn something by studying the works of nature. For when we attentively consider the nature of the end, to accomplish which the innumerable contrivances are adapted, we cannot but observe that this end is beneficent. All the parts of animals are connected with the vitality, enjoyment, and preservation, of the animal or species. The goodness of God is therefore as manifest in the creation, as his wisdom. There is not a part in any animal body which can be shown to be without its use. Every species is fitted by the bodily structure, and by the instincts and passions with which it is endued, to enjoy in the most perfect degree that kind of life to which it is destined. Even the minutest animalculæ have bodies organized with as exquisite skill as those of the larger species. No living creature exists for which food is not provided, suited to the appetite and nourishment of the species, and which it has the means of procuring. So every species is endowed with the instinctive ability to provide for itself and its progeny suitable places of residence; and there are insects which, though they undergo a remarkable metamorphosis and change of appetites, are still able by their instinct to find the nourishment which is agreeable and necessary. And what is still more wonderful and indicative of far-seeing wisdom in the Creator is the fact, that these insects which were once in the chrysalis state, and afterwards assume the form and instincts of butterflies, are led by an invariable propensity to deposit their eggs on plants necessary for the young grubs, but on which they themselves never feed. Were it not for this wise provision for the young, they would all perish. Between the animal and vegetable world there is a beautiful harmony; the latter to a large extent supplies food for the former. It may be thought that the constitution of things by which one animal preys upon another, is an argument against the goodness of God; but these animals are only intended for a transitory existence, and as they all must die, and are tormented with no apprehensions in regard to the future, and the pain indeed is momentary, if they enjoy much more pleasure than pain during their existence, there seems to be no solid objection against this law of nature.

Objections from existence of pain.

It has often been alleged as an atheistical objection against the goodness, and by consequence, against the existence of God, that pain or misery has a place among his works. This perhaps is the most plausible of all objections which infidels have ever produced; and yet it has no certain principles on which to rest. With a system such as the present, where there is a gradation of sensitive beings, it is impossible for us to conceive how all pain could be excluded. As far as we can see, the susceptibility of pleasure carries with it a liableness to some degree of pain. What if the pain which animals endure arise out of the principle of self-preservation, and from the appetites, in the gratification of which consists their enjoyment? Without desire and appetite there could be no animal enjoyment, and when the safety of the animal requires it, it is wisely ordered that by uneasiness or pain it should be stimulated to seek its necessary food, or flee from danger.

Miseries of the human race.

And as to man, while in the present world we cannot conceive how he could have any enjoyment, unless he was also subject to such feelings of uneasiness human race. as rendered him capable of relishing his enjoyments. This remark relates to pains which cannot be avoided, such as the pain of hunger and thirst, and the pain arising from contact with some injurious body. The surface of man’s body is the chief seat of pain, because danger commonly approaches him from without. It does not appear, therefore, possible that such a system of creatures as exist in the world could be constituted so as to be exempt from all un easy feelings. To make creatures whose constitution would exempt them from all liableness to pain, would, as far as we can see, exempt them from all susceptibility to pleasure. And as to those evils which men bring upon themselves by imprudence, intemperance, injustice, or by disobeying the voice of conscience within them, they must be attributed to themselves and not to the constitution of the world. And as God is not obliged to make every creature as great and as happy as it could be made, it may seem to exhibit his wisdom and power to produce beings in whose existence there is a mixture of natural good and evil.

Moral perfections of the First Cause.

It appears clear, then, that the Author of this universe is powerful, wise, and beneficent; but how does it appear that he is possessed of a moral character? that he loves moral excellence, and disapproves of moral evil? This appears evidently from the moral constitution of man. The law interwoven in his constitution proves that his Maker approves of moral excellence. Again, it would be absurd to suppose that the creature could possess an excellence, and one superior to all natural endowments, of which there was no prototype in the Great First Cause. We may lay it down as a maxim, that whatever perfection we can conceive of must exist in the most perfect degree in the Creator, for all our ideas of perfection are derived from the contemplation of creation; and whatever excellence there is in the creation must exist in the Creator.

Divine approbation of virtue.

Besides, by the laws of nature, virtuous conduct is generally productive of pleasure and peace of mind; and immoral conduct is generally a source of misery. These laws of nature are the laws of God, and manifest his approbation of virtue and disapprobation of vice.

Chap. 30. Duties of Man to the Creator as thus Manifested.

posted 5 Apr 2014, 03:36 by Stephen Chaffer   [ updated 5 Apr 2014, 03:41 ]

Chapter 30.

Duties of Man to the Creator as thus Manifested.

Foundation of law.

HAVING given, in a summary, the proofs of the existence and character of God, so far as reason can guide us in the inquiry, we are now prepared to consider the relation in which man stands to God, and the obligations which arise out of this relation. As man himself, in the wise and wonderful constitution of his mind and body, has been supplied with the most striking and convincing evidences of a powerful, wise, and beneficent Author of the universe; we are led at once to see, that God, as being the Creator of man, and the Giver of all his remarkable endowments, has a perfect right to claim his obedience, to the utmost extent of his powers. And on taking an impartial survey of the origin of his being, of the goodness of the Creator in his various beneficent endowments, and of his continual dependence, not only for the continuance of his being, faculties, and susceptibilities, but also for all those gifts of divine Providence necessary to his health and comfort, man cannot but feel that he is under the strongest moral obligation to obey, honour, and glorify his Maker, with his best affections and most strenuous exertions. This is the foundation of what is called the law; that moral law which is, as it were, written on the heart of every man; for what man is there, who has come to the exercise of reason, who does not perceive a clear distinction between right and wrong? And where can be found a human being, who, upon having his relation to God as his Creator set before him, does not feel in his conscience, that he is under a moral obligation to be subservient to his will?

General obligation.

The general obligation on all moral agents, to serve their Creator, is evident enough. It will require some time, and careful consideration of this relation in which man stands to his Maker, to ascertain the particular duties which are obligatory on all men.

Here it may be proper to remark, that the essence of all obedience is internal;

Obedience internal. 

that is, consists in the dispositions, affections, and purposes of the heart. Outward actions partake of a moral nature, only so far as they proceed from these internal affections. Human laws must be satisfied with external obedience, because human lawgivers cannot search the heart, nor scrutinize the motives of those who owe obedience. But even earthly judges, in administering justice, endeavour as far as human judgment can go, to discover from what internal motives any action under examination was performed; and their decision of acquittal or condemnation is grounded on the opinion which they form of the intention and motives of the person under arraignment. Much more then does the moral Governor of the World require of his creatures the obedience of the heart; for he possesses a perfect knowledge of what is in the heart of every one; and a most perfect estimate of the nature of moral good and evil as those qualities exist in the human heart. It seems evident, therefore, that the laws of nature demand the highest degree of excellence of which the mind of man is capable. And as God possesses every moral attribute in the highest perfection, it is reasonable to infer, that man, as he came from the hands of his Creator, was endued with the seeds and principles of every moral virtue. And if the nature of man is not now found adorned with these moral excellencies, he must in the exercise of his free will have departed from his primeval state. Our present inquiry, however, is not whether man has fallen from his original integrity, but what are the duties arising out of man’s relation to God as his Creator, Benefactor, and Preserver.

Infinite excellency.

Although the obligation to obedience arises primarily from the relations just mentioned, yet it is necessary to take into view the supreme excellence and majesty of the character of God; for if pious and devout sentiments towards God be required, it is because there is in the character of God as exhibited in his works, something to call forth such affections, from rational and rightly disposed minds. If God were not supremely excellent, it would not be reasonable to demand supreme love from his creatures, and so of other things. But as we know that God is possessed of every excellence in an infinite degree, there exists an object for every affection and sentiment toward him, of which the human mind is capable. From what has been said it is evident, that in order to perform any other duties to the Creator, some knowledge of his true character is requisite. Without knowledge the rational mind cannot exercise right affections.


Supposing then a rational mind, such as it is reasonable to think man possessed, when he proceeded from the hands of his Maker, and possessing that knowledge of his attributes which may be learned from his works, what would be the first thoughts and feelings of the newly created soul? In our judgment, the first feeling would be an emotion of profound veneration, or perhaps the word adoration would more strongly indicate the state of the mind, absorbed in the contemplation of a Being so august, so powerful, and so immense. This feeling, then, is one which ought to exist in every rational mind toward the Almighty. This is the true foundation of divine worship. It is the deep and solemn emotion which is the essence of the worship, which holy beings in all worlds offer unto God.


And this feeling would lead to a reverence of everything which has any relation to God. His very name would be sacred. We have read of men of great eminence who never mentioned that name without a solemn pause, or some external token of reverence.


The duty which most naturally arises from the relation which man sustains to God, as his Creator, Benefactor, and Redeemer, is that of gratitude. This is when strong a very lively and impulsive feeling. It draws men along as taken captive; and yet the constraint is not painful, but pleasing. Under the influence of gratitude, men will engage in the most odious duties, and will voluntarily make the most self-denying sacrifices. Under the influence of this affection men have been willing to lay down their lives. Gratitude is then an important principle of man’s obedience. It is true, some have attempted to degrade this principle as one which scarcely can be said to partake of the nature of virtue, because it has respect to self, and to our own interest. But though gratitude originates in the sense of benefits received by ourselves, it deserves not to be classed with mere selfish affections. Its object is to make a return to a benefactor for favour received. It is, therefore, an elevated species of justice; for when a suitable and adequate return can be made for favours received, gratitude will not be satisfied until this is done. And in regard to the benefits received from our Creator, as an adequate compensation is utterly beyond our power, gratitude manifests itself in acknowledgment of obligation in thanksgiving and in unceasing praises. There is, however, no necessity to argue this matter; the appeal may safely be made to the feelings of every rightly constituted mind. All men who acknowledge the existence and Providence of God, feel that a debt of gratitude is due to their great Benefactor.


As the mind, when uncorrupted, is so constituted as to love and esteem whatever is excel lent, and as moral excellence is superior to all other amiable objects; and as God possesses this excellence in an infinite degree, it is reasonable that he should be esteemed above every other object. Finite minds, it is true, can never exercise love proportionate to the excellence of this Glorious Being; but as far as they possess the capacity of apprehending it, and the susceptibility of affection, they are under moral obligation to love God with all their powers. And this cannot be considered as demanding too much of the rational creature, for no other measure of affection can be fixed without supposing a wrong estimate of the object, or a defect of right feeling; for what is more reasonable than to proportion the intensity of our affection to the excellence of the object? But in this also, the excellency of the object infinitely surpasses our capacity of love, so that if the mind should be enlarged a thousand-fold, so as to possess a thousand times as great a power of love and esteem as at present, the obligation to love God with this increasing capacity would be complete; and any less degree of esteem and care would be casting dishonour on God. And again, this obligation would exist, even if it were painful to come up in our affections to this high demand; but this is so far from being the fact, that man’s happiness is perfect in the same proportion as his obedience is perfect. From every consideration, therefore, it is evident that man is bound by the law of his nature, and the relation which he sustains to God, to love him with his whole soul.


As the will of God is always guided by wisdom and goodness, whenever and however this will is manifested, it should be implicitly and cheerfully submitted to, even though contrary to our wishes, and even what seems best to our reason; which is submission to the Providence of God.


Another duty clearly incumbent on the rational creature of God, is trust or confidence. As man is dependent, and as the supply of his necessities can be derived from no other source than from God, it is evidently his duty to place his confidence in God for everything, believing in his goodness, faithfulness and power.


This trust in God, however, involves the duty of prayer. It is as natural and reasonable for a dependent creature to apply to its Creator for what it needs, as for a child thus to solicit the aid of a parent who is believed to have the disposition and ability to bestow what it needs. Plausible objections have been raised against the duty of prayer, derived from the omniscience of God, and from his immutable purposes. But these objections possess no real validity. For although God knows perfectly beforehand what his creatures need, yet the acknowledgment of their dependence is manifestly proper, and the offering of petitions for such things as they need, has a tendency to keep up a proper sense of dependence. And as God deals with his creatures according to the nature which he has given them, it is proper that he should require of them such dispositions and acts as are becoming independent creatures. This, too, is in accordance with the conduct of men on whom others are dependent. The object of prayer, including praise, is to preserve in the mind a right state of feeling towards a Being to whom it owes everything, and from whom alone blessings can be expected. The highest privilege of the most exalted creature is to enjoy communion and intercourse with the Infinite Source of all good. Prayer is the only means which man enjoys of holding immediate intercourse with his Maker. And this privilege is the highest honour which he can enjoy in the present state. So also, it is a means of the most sublime happiness. By this exercise he draws near to God, and when such approaches are made sincerely and affectionately on his part, it cannot be doubted that Divine communications will be vouchsafed, and the light of the Divine favour be lifted upon him, and the answer to his prayers be granted by the dispensations of divine Providence toward him.

Not inconsistent with Divine plan.

As to the objection derived from the immutability of the Divine purposes, it arises from a narrow view of this subject, which leaves out an import ant part of the Divine plan. The purposes of God, though immutable, are not inconsistent with the freedom of the creatures, nor with the use and efficacy of appropriate means. The truth is, all these acts and means are included in the Divine plan. If God has decreed that a certain field shall produce a plentiful crop; he has also decreed that all the influences of sun, rain, and the necessary labour shall take place. And if he has purposed to bestow certain favours on his rational creatures, he may in the same manner purpose that these benefits shall be given in answer to prayer; so that prayer may be considered as the means by which these blessings are obtained as truly as a plentiful crop is the effect of a skilful and laborious tillage of the ground. 

Outward acts of religion.

As to external acts of devotion, reason and nature teach that humility and reverence in our words, attitudes, and gestures are highly proper when we address our praises unto God. When we are filled with devotional feelings, nature prompts to give utterance to our emotions; and the use of appropriate sounds and gestures seems also to keep up and increase the feelings of the mind. These outward expressions, however, are not essential to acceptable prayer. The silent breathings of desire are known to God, and will be acceptable to him. It is reasonable to believe that God never takes more complacency in his creatures, than when they come before him in the humble, reverential posture of adoration, prayer, and praise.

Reference to the glory of God.

Nothing can be more evident, than that the creature should exercise benevolence or good will towards the Author of his being. Not that we can desire Him to be more excellent, more wise, more powerful, or more independent than he is; but we may rejoice in all his attributes and glory in his greatness, and be delighted with the idea of his unbounded and uninterrupted happiness; and in these elevated emotions of joy, and acts of glorying and glorifying God, it is believed that the purest, sublimest, and most constant happiness of all holy beings consists. Nothing is more evident to impartial reason, than that the glory of God should be the supreme object of the rational creature’s pursuit. It is, in fact, the noblest object which can be considered. We are unable to imagine any thing more glorious for God himself to seek, than his own glory. Certainly, then, it is the highest end at which any creature can aim; and it is a sentiment entirely accordant with reason, that all the creation was produced for the purpose of exhibiting the glory of God. And man was endowed with a capacity of knowing and loving God, for the very purpose of glorifying his Maker. Not that any addition can be made to the essential perfection and felicity of the Eternal One; but the manifestation of these perfections is what is properly called the glory of God.


All the duties which have been specified, commend themselves, as obligatory on the rational creature, to every impartial mind; all that seems further necessary is to give a brief summary of what has been said on this subject.

All included in love.

The order in which these devotional exercises are set down is not very important; for though there is an order of precedence and sequence in all our mental exercises, yet while it is unnecessary to speak of these affections which have God for their object, seriatim, they are commonly combined and mingled in the conscious experience of the mind; so that in the same moment various acts and exercises appear to be simultaneous. They may, however, be all comprehended under the single term, Love, if we give a genuine meaning to that term.

The summation which seems as proper as any other which occurs, is the following:

Duties to God. 

1. Adoration, having for its object the greatness, majesty, holiness, and incomprehensibility of God.

2. Admiration, or holy wonder of the wisdom of God in the multiplied contrivances and organizations in the created universe.

3. Esteem for and complacency in God’s moral excellence.

4. Desire of Union and Communion with God, and of conformity to his character.

5. Gratitude for his goodness manifested in all creation; but particularly to man, in the constitution of his soul and body, and in the provision made by the providence of God for the subsistence and comfort of the human family, and of all living creatures.

6. Trust, or Confidence in God, as a benignant and kind Father and Protector, who will not abandon the work of his own hands, nor be wanting in contributing to their happiness in future, as long as they are obedient to his will.

7. Acquiescence in the will of God, and submission to those dispensations which even cross the natural feelings, is an evident moral duty. Indeed, the surrender of soul and body to God, to be used and disposed of by him for his own glory, is the state of mind of which the moral faculty approves.

8. Prayer to God for such things as we need, is a duty dictated by the law of nature, including suitable expressions of our devotional feelings in words and gestures. But no creature has a right to institute or adopt any ceremonies of worship which God has not appointed.

9. Making the glory of God the supreme end of all his actions, the object of his constant and untiring pursuit; and rejoicing and triumphing in the infinite glory, independence, immutability, and blessedness of God.

What reason affirms of man’s fall en state.

The above enumeration, it is believed, comprehends the  internal acts and exercises in which the duty of man to God consists, which duties plainly arise out of the attributes of God and man’s relation to him, as his Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor. And if man had never failed in the performance of these duties—if he had continued to exercise those affections which spontaneously spring up in his soul, when he came from the hands of his Creator, this world, instead of being a land of misery, would now have been a blooming paradise of joy.

And we may be sure that a good God who loves all his creatures according to their actions, would never have permitted the natural evils which now oppress the human soul, to have entered into the world. Sickness, famine, and death in its thousand different forms, would have been unknown.


It is evident from the slightest view of the character of man in all ages and countries that he has lost his primeval integrity, that the whole race have by some means fallen into the dark gulf of sin and misery. This, reason teaches; but how to escape from this wretched condition, she teaches not.


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