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It is assumed in this Sermon, that the tendency of atheism is towards practical wickedness. With regard to atheism in its common form actually, the truth of the assumption is self-evident; for the object of vulgar atheists is simply to take off a restraint upon the indulgence of our passions; and that the release from this restraint would involve a very great demoralization, is too plain to require proof. But, taking any purer or conceivable form of atheism, and admitting that its advocates mean by virtue and vice what we commonly mean by these terms, and that they have no intention or wish to discourage virtue and favour vice, yet, still I think it may be shown that their system has this tendency, and that, compared with Christianity as a moral engine, it is so greatly inferior, as to make its propagation, in the face of Christianity already existing, an act positively immoral.

The proof of this position appears to me to lie in this fact, that no conceivable sanction to be discovered, on a system of proper atheism, is reconcilable with some of the principal ideas expressed by the word "virtue:" in other words, that on a system of proper atheism, we cannot attach their usual meaning to the terms "obligation" and "duty;" and being thus obliged to divest the notion of virtue of its__most_characteristic elements, we make it synonymous with good taste or

with expediency, and substitute in the place of the perfect notion, another notion, imperfect and of a far lower kind, inasmuch as it retains only some of the less valuable elements of the entire compound.

A system of atheism may be said to offer three sanctions of moral conduct; viz. 1st, The law of nature, or the fitness of things; 2d, The law of our own consciences speaking within us; and 3d, The law of other men's judgments, whether written or unwritten. It does not matter for the present, whether we suppose virtue to consist in the love of abstract goodness and excellence (Aristotle's To nazòv), or in the practice of what is most expedient for the welfare of mankind. Whether it be the one or the other, the question is, why, under a system of atheism, are we bound to seek after it? and the law which binds us to do so, must be either the law of nature, or of our conscience, or of other men's judg


I use these terms as I find them, and as they are often used. But, I think, that on a system of atheism, the law of nature and the law of conscience are expressions which involve a fallacy: the first, because nature, setting aside God, contains nothing capable of binding morally; the second, because it is an abuse of language to talk of a man's being bound to himself.

I. " Nature, setting aside God, contains nothing capable of binding morally." It is possible that "the law of nature" may be so interpreted as to become merely another name for God. A constitution of things favouring virtue and discouraging vice, and requiring men, as parts of the great whole, to act in conformity with it, and to support its tendencies, is little more

than the strong recoil of anthropomorphisma. Men feeling the grossness of anthropomorphic notions of the Divine Being, and following up rigorously the notion of God's omnipresence, have thus run into a denial of his personality, or pantheism. And though pantheistic doctrines have an injurious moral tendency, inasmuch as by removing all the analogies which might help us to conceive of our relations to God, they cannot but destroy religious affections: yet still they are but an awkward and obscure expression of the truth, and by no means a denial of it. They make the course of things to be a matter of order, not of accident; and by fur

a Traces of this feeling are to be found in a most excellent work, written by a most sincere Christian; I mean, "The Corner Stone," by Mr. Abbott, of New England. The writer is so anxious to repel the anthropomorphic notion of “a monarch on a throne of marble and gold, with crown and sceptre, and sitting in a fancied region which we call heaven," that he ventures to describe God as "the all-pervading Power, which lives and acts throughout the whole universe. He is not a separate existence, having a special habitation in a part of it." He is the "invisible and universal Power pervading all space and existing in all time." Now these descriptions, however true in themselves, are yet likely, I think, to produce an untrue impression, by dwelling so much upon the difference between God's personality and ours, and by so representing him as immaterial, that the language makes him appear, at the same time, almost impersonal. What Mr. Abbott denies, he denies truly; but when not content with negative truth concerning God as he is in himself, we wish to arrive at something positive; then the imperfections of our conceptions and of our language lead us immediately into error. And this is the explanation of most of the erroneous opinions which have been entertained concerning the Divine nature. The Sabellian was right in denying Tritheism; and the Arian was right in protesting against the confusion of the notion of the Son of God with that of the Father; but both fell themselves into error when they attempted to substitute positive notions of their own in the room of the opposite notions which they condemned. And I cannot but think that the positive notions of the Unitarians as to the unity and personality of God, as if his nature, in these respects, was perfectly comprehensible, have been one main cause of their rejecting the scriptural revelation of the divinity of Christ.

nishing a superhuman archetype of virtue in the tendencies of nature, they seem in theory, whatever may have been the case in practice, to provide a sanction for man's actions existing out of himself, and to offer him a standard to which he is morally bound to conform his being. But, on a strict system of atheism, there is no constitution of things, and the universe is not a whole, but a multitude. All actual results are accidents, arising from the mutual action of an infinity of individual tendencies, which, sometimes aiding, and sometimes neutralizing or qualifying one another, produce that infinite variety of powers and effects which we witness. It is vain to seek for a moral sanction under such a state of things as this. Every individual being is a law to itself, or rather acts from its own distinct impulses or appetites, without reference to any other being. And whether we suppose that in man's case these appetites are irresistible, so that he is a necessary agent, or that he has a will, and is free to comply with them or no; yet even his will can find no authority out of itself to which it is responsible, and therefore the law of nature, on an atheistic system, can only mean the tendency of each individual's nature, or, in other words, that each man is his own law.

2. The first supposed sanction of atheism resolves itself, therefore, into the second; the law of our own consciences speaking within us. Now, in examining this second sanction, we find a difficulty, both in our common language, and in the actual phenomena of the case themselves. For there is no doubt that the term "conscience," does imply a really binding sanction; and it is equally certain that we feel within us the obligation to obey it. But then this very fact is an evi

dence that God is; for on this supposition the feeling may be justified, and is highly reasonable, but on the supposition of atheism it is an anomaly. For it is manifest that the same being cannot at once bind and be bound if the conscience and the will be alike original in man's nature, and derive nothing from without, the decision of the one must needs be in harmony with the choice of the other. For the man being thus his own law, the will is the sole standard to which the conscience can refer; so that what the will resolves, the conscience cannot but approve. That the fact is otherwise, and that the conscience can, and often does, condemn the choice of the will, is a proof that man is not his own law, and that conscience speaks another language than his own. Conscience, in truth, is God's ambassador, sent to reside in the human heart, and speaks the language, not of the nature in which she is dwelling for the time, but of that Divine nature from which she derives her being and her authority.

3. The remaining conceivable sanction, under a system of atheism, is to be found in the judgments of other men. But here again this very system makes it difficult to arrive at such a sanction. For if the universe be but a multitude of individuals, each obeying, whether necessarily or from choice, the instincts of his own nature, what moral right can any of these have over each other? The language of barbarian independence would then cease to be blamable, and a man might say that he was born for himself, and was bound to obey no laws but those of his own making. Or supposing that nature, too strong for the false doctrines that would pervert it, compelled us to feel our obligations to the civil society

a See Warburton's Divine Legation, Book I. sect. 4.

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