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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 arisen 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. The way 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 ulility 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
a sufficient and a final law. So also it is with the moral instructions of Christ. He put the truth of what he taught upon authority.'* In the Sermon on the Mount, I say unto you, is proposed as the sole, and sufficient, and ultimate ground of obligation. He does not say, My precepts will promote human happiness, therefore you are bound to obey them: but he says, They are my precepts, therefore you are to obey them. So habitually is this principle borne in mind, if we may so speak, by those who were commissioned to communicate the Divine will, that the reason of a precept is not often assigned. The assumption evidently was, that the Divine will was all that it was necessary for us to know.”+
We have no doubt that in laying down this as the foundation of his system, the object of the author was, as far as might be, to simplify the subject, to disencumber it of all abstruse and metaphysical appendages, and to exhibit a standard of morals that should be plain, perspicuous, practical, and by levelling itself to the capacities of all men, secure to itself the exercise of the widest possible influence. And thus far we highly applaud his motives; for it is certain that the great mass of mankind are little likely to be practically governed by a system of ethics beset by scholastic subtleties and intangible distinctions. We admit, moreover, that so far as any other authority comes in competition with the will of God. as a rule of duty, we are not to hesitate a moment in preferring the claims of the latter ; but a rule of duty is not the same with the ultimate ground of duty: yet the author seems occasionally to have confounded them. The grand question is, Does the expressed will of God make the distinction between right and wrong in regard to moral conduct, or does it simply declare it? Here, we are of opinion, Mr. Dymond has failed to exhibit his usual degree of clearness and acumen, and in his laudable zeal to establish the paramount authority of the will of God as the grand directory of human conduct, has overlooked the force of certain considerations which might have been brought to corroborate, instead of weaken, his main positions. For while we agree with him that the communicated will of God is the grand expositor of human duty, it surely does not detract from its supremacy in this respect to say, that this will is not in itself the constituting cause of moral good and evil. If right and wrong are terms denoting what actions are in themselves, then whatever they are they are such, not by will, or decree, or power, but by nature and necessity. In the demonstrative sciences, whatever a triangle or a circle is, that it is unchangeably and eternally: it depends upon no will or power, whether the three angles of a triangle shall be equal to two right angles, or whether the diameter and the circumference of a circle shall be incommensurable.
So of mora. good and evil. We see not how the will of any being can render any thing morally good and obligatory which was not so antecedently and from eternity, or any action morally right which is not so absolutely in itself.. If this be so, if the qualities of actions as good and evil, right and wrong, be immutable and eternal, then obligation to action and rectitude of action are obviously coincident and identical; so that we cannot form an idea of the one without including that of the other. of this any one may be satisfied who shall attempt to point out the difference between what is
* Paley, Evid. of Christ. d. 2, c. 2.
† P. 31, 32.
right, meet, or fit to be done, and what ought to be done. As easily may we conceive of figure without extension, or of motion without a change of place, as that it can be right for us to do an action, and yet that it may not be what we should do, what it is our duty to do, or what we are under an obligation to do. It follows, then, that that which is morally good has a real obligatory power antecedently to all positive laws, and independently of all will, since obligation is involved in its very nature; and those who maintain that all obligation is to be deduced from positive laws, or from the Divine will, do in effect assert that the words right and good stand for no real and distinctive characters of actions, but signify merely what is willed and commanded.
Those who place the ground of moral obligation in the simple will of God usually maintain that the obligatory power of this will depends upon the rewards and punishments annexed. to obedience or disobedience. This seems to come little short of subverting entirely the independent nature of moral good and evil; for if the doctrine be true, it follows that vice is properly nothing more than imprudence, and that nothing is right or wrong, just or unjust, any further than it affects our self-interest. But let it be asked, Would a person who believes there is no God, or if there be one, that he concerns not himself in human affairs, be for that reason exempt from the feeling of moral obligation, and therefore not be accountable ? Would his unbelief release him from any bond of duty and morality ? Yet these consequences must follow if obligation depends wholly on the knowledge of the will of a superior. The truth is, rewards and punishments suppose, in the very idea of them, moral obligation, and are founded upon it. They enforce it, but do not make it. They are the sanctions of virtue, not its efficients. A reward supposes something done to deserve it, or a conformity to obligation previously subsisting; and punishment is inflicted on account of some breach of obligation. Were we under no obligations antecedently to the proposal of rewards and punishments, it would be a contradiction to suppose us capable of them.
We could have wished, therefore, that the excellent author of these Essays had laid the corner-stone of his theory somewhat deeper, and assumed that the precepts of Revelation are obligatory, not merely because they have emanated from the highest authority in the universe, but because they command that which is in its own intrinsic nature eternally and immutably binding. It is surely important to establish as far as possible the identity of the dictates and promptings of our own rational nature with those of the revealed will of our Maker, and thus to invigorate the force of law by the verdict of the internal convictions of our own breasts.
But after every abatement on this or any other score, there remains so large and solid a residuum of excellence in the speculations of Mr. Dymond, that his work may be confidently left to its own intrinsic merits, as a sure passport to public favour. It can scarcely fail to find a response in every heart rightly affected to the highest interests of our race : and to those who have concerned themselves in its republication it cannot but be matter of complacent reflection, that they have been in any way instrumental in putting their fellow-men in possession of a work so well calculated to raise the general tone of morality, to give distinctness to their perceptions of rectitude, and to add strength to their resolutions to virtue.
Since the foregoing Preface was put to press, we have received, through the kindness of a friend, whose high estimate of Dymond's works had prompted him to write to an eminent individual in England, with a view to obtain some particulars of his life and character, the following brief but interesting Memoir of the author of the “ Essays.” This imperfect sketch, while it will do something towards gratifying that curiosity which a perusal of the volume cannot fail to excite, will go still farther in raising the reader's admiration of the intellect and the heart which, under such adverse circumstances, could rear so noble a monument of their power and piety.
Liverpool, 26th of 9th month, 1933. RESPECTED FRIEND : * * * * * * * I was indeed greatly concerned to hear that had been arrested by illness in the career of his benevolence. There is no reasoning upon these dispensations of Providence according to our short-sighted notions of public usefulness. None can work but as the Lord gives them ability in the great work of universal peace and righteousness; and as He knows best when each has done the portion of work allotted to him, so he can release the instrument, and raise up others to do himself honour and to take away all glorying from the sons of men.
The very early removal of Jonathan Dymond from this scene of trial, was a striking instance of the principle alluded to; for, with talents rarely bestowed, and exalted piety capable of extensive usefulness, he was called away from an amiable wife and infant family, as it were in the morning of his days. I am sorry that I am not able to give thee many particulars relative to this extraordinary young man, who has left behind him a work, viz. his “ Essays on Morality, &c.," that is built on too firm a foundation to be soon forgotten : for it is built on Christianity itself. He kept a shop as a linen-draper in some part of the S.W. of England; I believe in Exeter. His first literary effort was the “ Inquiry into the Accordancy of War with the Principles of Christianity,"* in which he completely succeeded in overthrowing the delusive and pernicious doctrines of Paley, with regard to “expediency' as a rule of conduct either for states or individuals. This work has had a very powerful effect in deciding some close reasoners to adopt the principles of peace ; for the author shows himself to be well skilled in using the weapons of the logician, and he brings his arguments to bear on questions of pure morality and religion with extraordinary force and ability. I have understood that he wrote a great part of the work on peace, as well of his posthumous essays, in a little room adjoining his shop, subject to frequent interruptions from customers in the midst of his most profound and interesting speculations.
I enjoyed but a short and melancholy portion of his society and ac quaintance, for it was under peculiar and trying circumstances that I last saw him ; but an impression has been left upon my mind that care never, I think, be removed. He came to London for professional advice, if I remember right, about the latter end of the year 1827, or the beginning of 1828. His complaint was seated chiefly in the throat, and the irritation was such that talking, even to a friend, for a few minutes, brought or * The substance of this inquiry is included in the present work.--Ed.