Page images
PDF
EPUB

itself; because, if a morally evil cause be not a moral evil, the effect being such, would not be like its cause, according to the common acceptation of the phrase. Any evil which is not moral, cannot, according to the argument we oppose, produce moral evil.

Another view of the subject will serve to its illustration. Moral evil cannot precede moral actions ; for, if one sin could be committed, independent of moral action or agency, then all sins might; so that a being who never acted might be as sinful as though he had done ever so much ; and in proving that men are sinners, we should not prove that they are moral agents, or capable of moral action; which is palpably absurd.

Should we admit that the first moral action was evil, it would no more prove the point assumed, than it would that the first moral action was the effect of an anterior moral action; which is a solecism. So when we acknowledge there was a first sin, we yield the point, as none could precede it.

This argument maintains, that moral agents, exercising faculties as such, form a moral character, sinful or virtuous; and that previous to action, those faculties constitute no moral character at all. Hence if the first moral action be sinful, it forms a sinful character or that of a sinner.

Whether we should be able to produce an example, to prove that an effect is in some instances apparently dissimilar to its cause or not, the above reasoning ought to stand, till fairly refuted. But suppose we select the following : the union and co-operation of matter and spirit, or body and mind. There is such an association of action or reception, that when we place our eyes on a new object, we have a new thought or idea, which is an effect dependent on a cause. Now I ask-Was the first idea produced by a preceding one ? and if not, does it not go to establish this theory? Is not the reasoning the same, to contend that the first thought must have been produced by one anterior to it, as that the first moral evil or sin,was the effect of a foregoing sin ? Neither of which is possible ! Surely, the first thought forms a new character, viz. a thinking being : and if he could be such without thoughts, he might be active without action, a living soul without life, and natural, destitute of any nature.

one.

[ocr errors]

Observe : a being may be capaple of thinking, that is, be constituted with all the faculties capable of having thoughts, before they are exercised. But he can no more be sinful without sin, than knowing without knowledge; so that when he commits a sin, it proves he is a sinner, not that he was

The first sin a being commits, no more evinces that he was previously sinful, than the first noise an infant makes, shows him to have previously been, a noisy infant.

Suppose we look for the analogy between cause and effect.

Say, the first object producing an idea, is a dove. Now, is there a greater likeness between the cause which produced the first idea, and the effect, than between our uncharacterised faculties, and the character we form by them ? Nor does it any more follow that a man is naturally a sinner, because his faculties are liable to be abused, than it does that he is naturally a saint, because moral powers may be devoted to holy purposes. And as certainly as the first of man's learning makes him a learner, his first hearing, a hearer, and his first speaking, a speaker, so certain it is, that the first sin constitutes a sinner ; that is, something which he was not, before the act took place. And who is able to show why the first act of learning, constituting a learner, may not as fairly be considered the effect of previous learning, as the first sin or moral evil, be called the effect of a preceding evil cause ?

To evade this, we may be told that the sinfulness of actions, consists in the intention which dictated them; and we reply, That is the point to which our attention is directed. Any thing which is not sin is out of the question. Suppose the first moral action was an evil intention ; it would be the first moral evil. Then the question reverts back with much light. Was the being a sinner previous to that intention ? or was that first intention the effect of a preceding one ? If that were the first sin, its cause could not be sinful, or a sinful thing has no sin and is sinless; which is a paradox.

Should it now be contended that we form no new character by the exercise of our faculties; but, simply exhibit proof of the character already existing : the objection is more plausible than convincing. If we call moral depravati

an evil, the question is, was the first moral depravity the effect of pre-existing depravity? If not, may we not as well suppose it was produced by sinless faculties, as by any other sinless cause? Aud certainly, no sinfulness could precede all sin. It may easily be shown that all characters which are formed by voluntary action, (even in the lowest degree) are in a measure illustrative of this subject; because, if one, we may presume all come under the same rules. We say of a man, he is a conquerer : but was he such before he conquered ? His bravery and good conduct in the field of battle, did not necessarily constitute him such; because the bravest and best of generals are sometimes defeated. The conduct of the hero in gaining the victory formed the character, conquerer! Now is it not as fair to infer, that he was a conquerer before he succeeded in battle, as that he was a sinner previous to the commission of a crime? Besides, if he were such without gaining a victory, he might have remained so, though always defeated. Suppose then that the first sin was murder, or an intention to kill

. Was the mau a murderer before he had the intention? If so, he might have remained a murderer, though he vever had such intention ; which is equal to saying, he was a murderer without sin ! But when we lay aside preconceived opinions and seek for truth, most of those difficulties disappear. Though the cause which produces sin, be sinless, it is not virtuous; for virtue is a trait of moral character. All which is sinless is not consequently virtuous: there is a medium between them.

Admit that man is born into the world innocent, or destitute of any more moral character than any other animal; capable of seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, smelling ; he relishes delicious food, is pleased with sweet sounds, admires beautiful objects, and learns the features of his friends. As his intellects expand and he improves in knowledge, he prefers his acquaintance, dreads the approach of strangers, smiles when pleased, and screams when afflicted with pain; receives, with expressions of joy, the toy which is agreeable, and thrusts from him, with resentment, the object which he hates. Do any or all of these natural, infantile actions, evince any moral character, properly so called? If they ovince either virtue or vice, must we not allow more grades of moral existence than we now do? Do not other animals, at three or sir months old, exhibit as much moral principle, as a child of the same age? Do they not manifest pleasure and displeasure, attachment or anger, much in the same manner? Do you say, the child is proud of praise and exhibits shame when reproved? And do not many other animals exbibit the same, to an equal degree? The actions which belong to early life ; and most of all others, are not, in our opinion, properly descriptive of moral character. Our love of life, the preference of happiness to misery, inclination for society, partiality to parents and relatives, the opinion we form of objects presented, and a thousand nameable things, in which, a considerable part of our lives appear, are not, necessarily, either virtuous or vicious. On the other hand, our distaste for certain objects, dread of solitude, disgust at insults, antipathy to certain animals, hatred of offensive behavior, and many other things, are equally undescriptive of noral character. Other creatures have, in their degree, similar feelings, pleasures, antipathies, affections and tempers, and are not morally accountable. Moral faculties must be in exercise to constitute, even in the lowest degree, moral character. Consciousness, or the theory of right and wrong, must precede accountability. It is the main-spring of moral nature, and according to its perfection and strength will be the virtuousness or vicious ness of our actions. It matters not whether it is innate, or produced by the discipline of the mind. This consciousness or knowledge of what is required, and what forbidden ; or what is virtuous and what is vicious, is the criterion of accountability; and the first act we perform in violation of such conviction, constitutes a sinful character, though perhaps in the lowest degree. Now the first such act or sin, could not be the effect of a preceding moral evil, in us.

But should it be asked, whether we should violate such conviction unless disposed ; and is not that disposition a sin ? We answer : if by disposition, he meant an evil intention, a moral action, we allow it is sinful; but then we must recollect that the first such intention, could have no precedent. But if by disposition be meant, a law of our nature, or an unavoidable passion which the Author of our being has made indispensable to rational existence, we con

non of

ceive it would not, necessarily, be sinful. It would no more be a moral evil, than the strength of a murderer's arm, or the fingers on the hand of a thief. That such a disposition is not necessarily sinful is evident, from the consideration, that sin is a moral action ; and, therefore, no sin can precede the first such act ; and nothing is sinful, without sin. A passion or disposition may exist, and, through a concatenation of circumstances, become the cause of wickedness, and yet not be sinful in its original and detached character. Thus, a man may be in want of money, and have a disposition to obtain it, and it is no sin; though in the end, it may be the cause of a sin's being committed. If it be argued, it is sinful, because, had it not existed, a sin would not have been perpetrated; it may be replied, with equal propriety, that every thing else is sinful, which, not existing; sin would not take place. Hence the law would be sinful; for where there is no law, there is no transgression. Reason or common sense would be criminal, for it is the sine

qua our accountability. A want of this world's good and a disposition to obtain it, may both exist, and no sin be committed. Suppose a man thus situated, knows it is right to deal justly, and wrong to defraud, nevertheless, flattering himself that the more speedy and certain accomplishment of his object, by circumvention, will, on the whole, be preferable, he violates the law, designating right and wrong, and commits a crime. Now the original disposition to accumulate property, was sinless ; but the choice of a means to obtain it, was sinful : it was disobedience to a requisition, known to be morally right. Actions are not morally right and wrong because man knows they are so; but he knows it, because they are such. All our knowledge is predicated on pre-existing realities. So far from preferring the real difference of moral actions, at least, so far as respects ourselves, we should doubtless have preferred to have them all right. No man would have known sin, if a law, or the law had not said, “ thou shalt,” or “ thou shalt not.” Where no law is, there is no sin. Our knowledge of moral good and evil, whether imperfect, or perfect, is not the law to which we are amenable ; but our accountability is proportionate to our knowledge of a pre-existing law, which fixes the discriminating line, between virtue and vice. Man's

« PreviousContinue »