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sexes; in the other it is with the relations between man and man.
Yet God did not prohibit polygamy and divorce among the ancient Hebrews, but enacted laws to regulate them. These practices were nevertheless clearly wrong, and Christ condemned and forbade them. I thence infer that an act may be wrong, a violation of the relations which God has established, and yet, at a particular time, he may not prohibit it, and may even enact laws concern. ing it. You say Christ forbade these wrongs, but did not forbid slavery. Very true. But this, I think, does not affect the general fact above stated; nay, it rather confirms it. Christ's condemnation of these institutions clearly shows them to have been wrong, and wrong from the beginning; but this only demonstrates the truth, that it is not in. consistent with the dealings of God with men, to give precepts regulating a practice in itself wrong, but concerning which he has not seen fit, at pres. ent, explicitly to reveal his will.
It would be improper in this closing letter to examine at length your argument from the New Testament. I could not do so without introducing new matter into the discussion. I am as confident as I usually am in any of the conclusions of my understanding, that I have interpreted the teachings of our Saviour and his apostles correctly. I must content myself with referring you in general to what I have already stated. I shall here very briefly allude to the different principles on which our argument rests.
Your argument, I think, intends to establish the following points :
1. God could not consistently with his attributes, in making a revelation, be silent as to any course of action and also give precepts concerning it, and yet inculcate principles in the same revelation, in. tended to subvert and abolish it.
2. God has been thus silent and has thus given precepts respecting the institution of slavery, and
3. Therefore, God has inculcated no such principles. Hence, you consider that by the apostolic directions on this subject the character of God is committed to the innocence of this institution; and to suppose it wrong is to suppose him to deny himself. This argument you have enforced with great copiousness of learning, and with all the advantages of an eloquence which I admire, but which I have no power to imitate. It moves me strongly every time I read it, but I must say it does not convince me. Suffer me briefly to hint at the rea.
dissent. 1. I do not believe that we are competent thus to decide upon the manner in which God can or may teach us. I am confident, first of all, that God is consistent with himself, and that the Bible is his own revelation, and that therefore I can best justify his ways by receiving in humility all that he has there made known to me. You
well ask, “ When the Scriptures have been received as a revelation, and the inquiry is about their meaning, how does it sound to affirm authoritatively as to what they ought to teach ;" and I may add, to affirm authoritatively in what manner they shall teach it? The adoption of this principle has always led to error. Reasoning thus, you know that Luther is said to have rejected the
Epistle of James from the canon, because he supposed that the views of faith taught by this aposile, could not have been dictated by the same spirit which indited the Epistle to the Galatians.
I take a different view of this subject. I suppose the Most High to deal with us, as with beings endowed with an intelligent and moral nature; and, therefore, that he frequently makes known to us his will by teaching us the relations in which we stand, and the obligations thence resulting, without specifying to us the particular acts which he intends thereby to forbid. Whatever our reason clearly perceives to be contradictory to a re lation which he has established, is thus forbidden. In this manner
God to have made known his will concerning slavery. Again, on the other hand, I find in the Bible the precepts concerning masters and slaves which we have both quoted. I receive both of these as a revelation from God; and I hence conclude that it is consistent with the attributes of God to teach us in this manner.
I ask myself, did he ever before teach in this manner? I find that he frequently did so under the old dispensation. I ask again, is it in analogy with his teaching in the New Testament that he should teach rather by principle than by precept? I find upon inquiry that this is there his ordinary mode of teaching. I ask again, is there any special reason why this mode of teaching should be adopted in this particular case ? I find that this mode is specially adapted to the removal of a social evil, and that no other could, on the principles of human nature, be reasonably employed. Hence, I conclude that slavery is by the word of God for
bidden, but that the word of God intends to remove it, not by immediate proclamation, as must be the case if it were treated preceptively, but by applying the principles of the gospel to the consciences of men, and thus, by changing the senti. ments of the society, gradually and kindly work its entire extermination.
In the use which you have made of the saying of Lord Eldon, I think you have not taken notice of the point which I intended to illustrate. The question is not whether, if Lord Eldon had violated plainly a plain law, he would have been punished. This would have depended on the firmness of the judge, and the honesty of the jury. The question is, whether, the law being as it is, he could not have taught another man how to violate the whole intention of the law, and yet escape conviction, and thus make it necessary that the law should be amended. Nor is this really the question at issue. It is, in fact, this. Suppose a law forbidding forgery had been made by a Roman emperor in the time of Christ, and the law, from the constitution of things, could neither be altered nor amended ; would Lord Eldon, or any other man, find the slightest difficulty in doing with impunity the very acts which the law intended to forbid ? You think that my views of interpretation lead to laxity of morals. To me, their tendency seems exactly the
In my view, a principle is like the flaming sword, which, turning every way, guards on every side the tree of life; while a precept, made only
: for one age, and looking only in one direction, leaves the approach in every other direction unguarded and defenceless.
While, however, there seems to be this wide theoretical difference between us, I again perceive that, practically, we very nearly agree. While you hold that slavery is permitted, nay, sanctioned by God; and that, hence, to have taught any thing at variance with this permission would have been to deny himself; you still express your views of this institution in such language as the following: “If you had asserted the great danger of confiding such irresponsible power in the hands of any man, I should at once have assented. There is quite enough abuse of this authority to make me regret its general existence.” Again, "you must already have perceived that, speaking abstractly of slavery, I do not consider its perpetuation proper, even if it were possible. Nor let any one ask, why not perpetuate it if it be not a sin? The Bible informs us what man is, and among such beings, irresponsible power is a trust too easily and too frequently abused. It may not be proper for me to ask how these asser. tions are to be reconciled with the views to which I have above referred. I cannot, however, but observe, that you regret the general existence of an institution, of which the general existence is, as you affirm, both sanctioned and permitted by God himself; and you declare that its perpetuation would be both impossible and improper. These opinions you must have derived, certainly, from principles, for there is, as we both grant, no direct prohibition on the subject. Nay more, you inform us that these principles are derived from the Bible, and that they result from what the Bible teaches us of the character of man. Now this looks to me marvellously like controlling a permission by a principle.