Page images
PDF
EPUB

from the conviction that the moral law of human life has its source in the very same power which called the whole economy of the world into existence, and which is conducting it to its goal. If, then, the moral law be necessarily derived from a personal Being, even from Him who created and governs the universe, then is the source of the moral law none other than the living, the personal God.”

Again, religion may be admitted not to be the foundation of morality and yet maintained to be a sanction of morality, which supplies to it motive and inspiration. In this respect its moral value may be immense. What do all men stand so much in need of as motive power to love and do what is right ? Our moral theories may be unexceptionable, while our moral practices are inexcusable. We may have a clear and accurate apprehension of the whole moral code and yet not the heart or will to execute aright a single precept of it. To know the moral law is not enough; to do it—in all its length and breadth—with the whole heart, strength, and might, is what is required. Whence are we to get power to do it apart from religion? The best men the world has seen have confessed in all ages that they could not find this power in themselves, and were even certain that it was not in themselves. The more I interrogate consciousness and history the more

convinced I become that they were not deluded, and that if we feel differently it is not because we are better or know better than they, but because we are worse and know ourselves worse. It , is only through a power above nature that nature can be raised above itself, and that morality can be “lighted up with the emotion and inspiration needful for carrying the sage along the narrow way perfectly, for carrying the ordinary man along it at all.” And how can a man fail to draw strength from faith in God ? How can he believe in a God of perfect justice without being encouraged and strengthened to do justice? or in a God of love without having a powerful inducement to love all the creatures of God, and to perform works of love? Is there no power to arrest and restrain from evil and ruin, in the dread of the Divine displeasure against sin? Can a desire to do wrong even exist along with a vivid realisation of His presence in any heart? The saintly Leighton spoke from experience, and so as to give expression to the experience of thousands of the most excellent of the earth when he said : “ One glance of God, a touch of His love, will free and enlarge the heart, so that it can deny all, and part with all, and make an entire renouncing of all, to follow Him.” Now, if I am to defer to experience, to facts, to induction, I cannot disregard this experience, especially as it is

just what reason would lead me to expect. The secularist may tell me that he has no such experience. Of course he has not; he could not be a secularist if he had. But that one man lacks is no evidence that another man does not possess; the absence of experience is not counter-experience. I may even be free to think that secularist worth at its best—and I have no wish to disparage itfalls greatly short of saintly excellence, and that the want of the experience mentioned is precisely what explains why it does.

Atheism–secularism-shuts out, then, some of the most impressive motives to virtuous conduct by relieving men from a sense of responsibility to a Supreme Being, and excluding from view His universal presence and infinite perfection; whereas religion leaves all secular motives to morality intact, while it adds to them spiritual motives of vast efficacy and of the most elevating and purifying character.

The alliance of secularism with utilitarianism. has not, I think, strengthened the former in any way, but merely narrowed it. Utilitarianism is one of several doubtful and disputed theories in the philosophy of ethics which can only be independently and intelligently estimated by specially disciplined students. Ordinary men, secularists included, must leave theories as to the foundation of morality to philosophers, or take them on trust

from philosophers. The mass of secularists can be utilitarians merely by electing on very insufficient grounds to be led by Mr J. S. Mill and Professor Bain beyond their depth. They would be wiser to keep on the bank, or at least to keep in shallow water.

Neither the theist nor the Christian is called upon to refute utilitarianism, because neither theism nor Christianity commits its adherents to any theory as to the foundation of rectitude. Utilitarianism in itself is neither atheistical nor unchristian. It is clear that if there be a God and a future life, utilitarianism cannot afford to omit them from its calculations. If there be a God, utility must be the indication of His will, and it must be useful to attend to His will. If there be a future life, it must be a very absurd kind of utilitarianism which, while resting all morality on pleasure and pain, yet overlooks in its reckonings those pleasures and pains which are far the greatest of all. At the same time, utilitarianism is, I hold, a speculation which no person has yet proved, which has only been supported by reasonings in which causes and consequences have been strangely confounded, which proceeds from narrow and erroneous conceptions as to the constitution of human nature, and which presents no adequate barrier to the most unworthy views of morality. It starts from the supposition that pleasure is the sole end of life, the one thing desirable, yet if such were the case, the selfish system, not utilitarianism, would be the correct system of ethics, and there would be no real morality at all. If pleasure be the one thing a man naturally desires, that pleasure must be his own, and he can only seek the pleasure of others so far as that may be conducive to his own and for the sake of his own,-he can never do good to others for their sake and have as much regard to the pleasures of others as his own. Of course, utilitarianism, notwithstanding this, inculcates disinterestedness, bids us sacrifice our individual interest to the general interest. But in the name of what does it bid us do so? Is it in the name merely of interest ? If interest as such is the chief end of man, why should I sacrifice my own to that of others? If the supreme good of life is happiness, why am I not to conclude that the supreme good of my life is my happiness ? Utilitarianism has no satisfactory answer to these questions. Mr Mill, on whom chiefly secularists rely with unreasoned confidence, did not even venture to attempt to answer them, but contented himself with merely telling us, what nobody denied, that utilitarianism inculcates disinterestedness. I must not embark, however, on the mare magnum of utilitarianism.

Enough has now been said, perhaps, to show that secularism has nothing true to offer to any

« PreviousContinue »