« ПредишнаНапред »
[Entered according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1834, by J. & J. Harper, in the Office of the Clerk of the Southern District of New-York.)
In looking at the system of Christianity as exhibited in the pages of the New Testament, we see not only a grand and gracious scheme, the fruit of the benignant counsels of its Author, for the recovery of a fallen race, but a body also of moral precepts most wisely adapted to mould the character and to regulate the entire conduct of mankind. Yet the fact is indubitable, that for reasons which it would be more easy to specify than to obviate, there has hitherto existed a strong propensity in the Christian world to contemplate the religion of the gospel under the exclusive aspect of its remedial features, as a relief for the guilty, and as connecting itself mainly with the interests of another life. Its ethical has been lost sight of in its doctrinal character; and in the various developments of its genius and tendencies which have been given to the world, a work adequately displaying its true nature as a system of moral instruction, adapting itself to the various departments of responsible human action, must yet, we fear, be. pronounced a desideratum.
The volume now presented to the public with a view to supply, in some measure, this deficiency, is the production of a Mr. DYMOND, an English gentleman, and a member of the Society of Friends, a portion of the religious community who, whatever may be thought of their doctrinal and speculative views of Christianity, have certainly aimed at such a practical exhibition of its spirit and precepts as to exempt them very much from the application of the remarks made above upon the too partial display of its character in other quarters. The work, though hitherto but little known in this country, has passed through two editions in England since the death of its lamented author, in the spring of 1828. But even in that country, though reviewed and commended in the London Quarterly,* it would seem, from the rarity of the allusions made to it in the current writings of the day, to have attracted comparatively little notice, and to have been by no means appreciated according to its intrinsic worth. But with books, as with
“The present work is one which the Society (the Friends) may well consider it an honour to have produced,
it is indeed a book of such ability, and so excellently intended, as well as well executed, that even those who differ most widely, as we must do, from some of its conclusions, must regard the writer with the greatest respect, and look upon his death as a public loss."-QUAR. Rev., Jan., 1831.
men, the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. Were it so, a different award, we are persuaded, would have fallen to the lot of the “ Essays on Morality." Whether the failure of the work hitherto to command a degree of notoriety at all proportioned to its merits be owing to the fact that many of its leading positions on the great questions of Moral and Political Rectitude are too far in advance of the state of public opinion in that country, or to a presumption somewhat akin to that which once prompted the incredulity of an Israelite in reference to the coming forth of any good from Nazareth, a presumption that no work of distinguished ability on such a subject was to be expected from the source in which this originated, or to other causes of which we are not competent to form a judgment, we are unable to say ; yet it is not among the least pleasing of the anticipations connected with its present appearance from an American press, that a just though tardy tribute of honour and applause shall redound to a name at once so little covetous and so highly deserving of a grateful distinction.
The general object and plan of the work are so fully explained by the author in his “ Introductory Notices,” that it will be unnecessary to recapitulate or enlarge upon them here. His aim appears to have been to establish, by a train of valid argumentation, the system of moral and political duties upon what he considered to be its only true and legitimate basis, the expressed will of God. This is, in fact, but a peculiar mode of converting the dubious system of moral philosophy into a definite code of Christian ethics a task for which the author, by the original structure of his mind and his prevailing habits of reflection, seems to have been eminently fitted. His success has accordingly been decided and signal. Whether we regard the soundness and lucidness of his reasonings, the temper, candour, and wisdom of his conclusions, the elegance of his style, the felicity of his illustrations, or the singularly excellent spirit which pervades the whole, the Essays of Dymond are entitled to rank high in the highest class of ethical productions.
We learn from the author that his undertaking sprang from a belief (in which he probably is not alone), that the existing treatises did not exhibit the principles nor enforce the obligations of morality in all their perfection and purity, and from the desire to supply the apprehended deficiency, by presenting a true and authoritative standard of rectitude, one by an appeal to which the moral character of human actions might be rightly estimated. Such an object, it is obvious, could not be attained without bringing the writer into direct collision with the most prominent of the extant theories of moral obligation, particularly that of Paley and his disciples. It will accordingly be found that he intrepidly enters the lists with the great apostle and champion of expediency, and with the weapons of an uncompromising logic battles the fallacies of that specious but dangerous doctrine through every stage of his investigations. How complete and triumphant is his refutation, and upon what a far more stable foundation he builds his own, or rather Heaven's, beautiful system of obligations, duties, and rights, we will not forestall the reader by stating. Suffice it to say, that he has erected his edifice on the solid basis of inspired truth ; and that in the choice of his materials he has excluded the wood, hay, and stubble of vain hypotheses, and admitted no ornaments but such as are
fitted to grace the temple of God. It will be seen, moreover, if we mistake not, that in the treatment of the various topics which come under review, he evinces not only an intimate acquaintance with the genius of the Christian religion, and a deep insight into the true principles of morals, but an extensive observation of human life in those spheres of action which are seldom apt to attract the notice of the meditative philosopher. Indeed it is the strong vein of practical good sense running through the volume which constitutes a leading feature of its excellence.
But upon what achievement of human skill, talent, or wisdom can be bestowed the meed of unqualified applause? It is not the prerogative of mortality to stamp perfection upon its works,--and in heaven only, the region of moral purity, will man be wholly exempt from the inroads of intellectual error.
Even of this excellent work we are compelled to predicate the usual attributes of infirmity, which leave their traces upon every emanation of the mind of man. We cannot regard with equal approbation every portion of the ensuing “ Essays”: yet it is seldom indeed that we find a sentiment advanced, but we feel that it propounds matter worthy of serious consideration ; and even where we hesitate to assent to his conclusions, we perceive at the same time so much evidence of profound deference to the Will of God, and that even the very faults which we may have detected have arsen solely from an occasional undue pressing of some of its intimations, that the spirit of censure is softened, and while our assent is withheld from the reasonings, our respect for the reasoner remains undiminished.
We cannot but be aware that exceptions will probably be taken by many persons to the author's views contained in the chapters on Religious Obligations, particularly in what he says of Sabbatic Institutions, Oaths, Intellectual Education, Capital Punishments, and the Rights of Self-defence : others, again, finding his sentiments on these points to be but an echo to their own, will fix upon other parts of the system as more liable to objection.
To the author's views on these subjects, we can only bespeak from the reader that candid and charitable allowance on the score of denominational bias which the conditions of our common humanity require. Who will refuse to grant to a brother a boon which that brother feels himself bound continually to accord to him? The points to which we allude are not of prime or vital moment to the interests of Christianity; and though we may feel unable to subscribe, in every particular, to the sentiments advanced by the author, yet shall we suffer a slight admixture of error to neutralize so large an amount of sound Christian philosophy as the reader will find imbodied in the compass of these pages ? Certain we are, that if all that is true, all that is valuable, all that is unexceptionable in the ensuing " Essays” be fully received, digested, and assimilated with the materiel of our own reflections, the inconsiderable infusion of error, if error there be, will be rendered all but absolutely harmless.
Did our ideas of justice to an author's work and to his memory permit, we should perhaps have been induced, in the present reprint, to cancel a few of the pages to which certain classes of readers will be likely to object; but besides that the stern spirit of moral rectitude which breathes through the volume would seem to frown upon the proceeding, and reprove
us for a breach of that very integrity of which it treats, and which it goes to inculcate, we are fully of the opinion that truth never suffers by discussion. “ Although,” says the able author of the · Essays on the Formation and Publication of Opinions,' “we have no absolute test of truth, yet we have faculties to discern it, and it is only by the unrestrained exercise of those faculties that we can hope to attain correct opinions. to attain this result is to permit all to be said on a subject that can be said. All error is the consequence of narrow and partial views, and can be removed only by having a question presented in all its possible bearings, or, in other words, by unlimited discussion. Where there is a perfect freedom of examination, there is the greatest probability which it is possible to have that the truth will be ultimately attained. To impose the least restraint is to diminish this probability : it is to declare that we will not take into consideration all the possible arguments which can be presented, but that we will form our opinions on partial views. It is therefore to increase the probability of error. Nor need we, under the utmost freedom of discussion, be in any fear of an inundation of crude and preposterous speculations. All such will meet with a proper and effectual check in the neglect or ridicule of the public: none will have much influence but those which possess the plausibility bestowed by a considerable admixture of truth, and which it is of importance should appear, that amid the contention of controversy, what is true may be separated from what is false.”
On the principle, then, that the truth ever stands the fairest chance to make good its triumphs when the antagonist error is permitted to array itself in open field against it, and under the full conviction that the true, the certain, and the solid of the present work immeasurably overbalances the doubtful and the feeble, we have determined to set forth the speculations of the author precisely in the form in which they came from his own pen. An occasional note, designated by the letter B, has been appended at the foot of the page to some of the paragraphs which seemed to admit or require a slight qualification or expansion of their leading positions.-On one point, however, we take the present opportunity of speaking somewhat more at length.
The portion of the ensuing Essays which we are disposed to regard as more peculiarly obnoxious to exception is that in which he treats of the fundamental ground of moral obligation. While we are glad to see him array himself against the pernicious theory of Paley, that " it is the utility of any action alone which constitutes the obligation of it,” we find it difficult to accord with our author in regarding the simple expression of the Divine will as the ultimate standard of right and wrong.
• If we examine,” says he, “ those sacred volumes in which the written expression of the Divine will is contained, we find that they habitually proceed upon the supposition that the will of God, being expressed, is for that reason our final law. They do not set about formal proofs that we ought to sacrifice inferior rules to it, but conclude, as of course, that if the will of God is made known, human duty is ascertained. In short, the whole system of moral legislation, as it is exhibited in Scripture, is a system founded upon authority. The propriety, the utility of the requisitions are not made of importance. That which is made of importance is the authority of the Being who legislates. Thus saith the Lord,' is regarded as constituting