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To men who had scarcely an idea of existence after death, whose notions of futurity were the fables of Charon's boat, the Styx, and Tartarusfables which were already held up as objects of inextinguishable laughter—the gospel revealed the doctrine of man's immortality ; it taught that every human being was a never-dying soul; that the world to come was a state either of endless and inconceivable happiness or of wo; that for this infinitely important state, the present brief existence was the probation and the only probation that . God had allotted to us; and that, during this probation, every one of our race must by his own. moral character determine his destiny for himself.
To men who had scarcely formed an idea of their moral relations, the gospel revealed the fact that our race were universally sinners, and were, without exception, under the condemnation of that law which denounces eternal death as the desert of every transgression; that God placed such an estimate upon a human soul, nay, that he so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life ; and that, in consequence
of this atonement, eternal salvation is freely offered to every human being, who, repenting of his rebellion, will return to the love and service of God.
To men steeped in the most debasing and universal sensuality, whose motto was,
" Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die," the gospel revealed the truth, that while this salvation was thus freely offered to all, every
individual of our race was placed on earth to work out his salvation with fear and trembling; that he was
still, in the strictest possible sense, in a state of probation; and that in a world lying in wickedness, surrounded by every temptation to sin, exposed to all the allurements of vice, and assailed by all the arts of the adversary of souls, he must come off conqueror over every moral enemy, or else he will after all perish under a most aggravated condemnation.
And lastly, to men who esteemed the people of another nation as by nature foes whom they had a right to subdue, murder, or enslave, whenever and in what manner soever they were able, the gospel revealed the fact that all men are, by the act of their creation, brethren ; that all are equally be. loved by the same Father of all; that Christ died equally for all; that all are equally exposed to the same perdition ; that to all is equally offered a mansion in the same Father's house, and that the title to that inheritance, the same to all, can be secured in no other way, than by obedience to the universal law of love, a law enforced by the sol. emn sanction, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not unto me."
Such, then, were some of the effulgent truths which the gospel poured upon the moral darkness of the heathen world. Such was the entire revolution (the word, you perceive, is feebleness itself when applied to such a case) which the gospel effected in all the notions which were then enter. tained respecting the character, the destiny, the responsibilities, and the inestimable value of a man. We feel at once that the highest seraph around the throne would not dare to violate the meanest right of the meanest creature who stood in such a relation to God; infinitely less would he dare, for the sake of his own temporary convenience, to in. terfere with any of the means to which such a creature was entitled, for ascertaining and doing the will of God, and thus escaping eternal death, and laying hold on everlasting life. “ Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to those that are heirs of salvation ?” What shall we say then, if a creature of yesterday, himself subject to the same law, exposed to the same condemnation, and going to the same judgment-seat, abolishes, at his own pleasure, and on the author. ity of physical force, the social, intellectual, and moral rights of his brother; and for the sake of pecuniary gain interferes with the most solemn relations which can exist between the God and Father of us all, and his child here on earth-a child redeemed with the precious blood of his only. begotten Son.
It is obvious that such principles as these, instilled into the public mind, must of necessity abolish slavery, and every other form of wrong. Just in so far as slavery is, either in its principles or its practice, at variance with these elementary truths of revealed religion, it is forbidden. Whether it be thus at variance, let
every man judge. Suppose, then, that slavery were permitted in the New Testament, and that, at the same time, these truths at variance with it were inculcated, it would be evident that the permission must yield
to the principle. Divorce was permitted, but the Hebrews were censured for availing themselves of the permission. You may give your child, if he were approaching to years of discretion, permission to do an act, while you inculcate upon him principles which forbid it, for the sake of teaching him to be governed by principles rather than by any direct enactment. In such a case you would expect him to obey the principle, and not avail himself of the permission. So in the present instance, were the permission proved, we, as moral creatures of God, would be bound by the principles which controlled it.
But if no such permission was ever given, if, on the question of right, the New Testament has never uttered an approving syllable, then we are left entirely to the direction of the principle; and what this principle is I have endeavored to show.
But why was this mode of teaching adopted ? This question must be reserved for the next letter.
I am, my dear brother, yours with every senti. ment of affection,
THE AUTHOR OF THE MORAL SCIENCE.
TO THE REV. RICHARD FULLER, D. D.
MY DEAR BROTHER
In my last letter I endeavored to illustrate the manner in which I suppose the New Testament to have prohibited the existence of domestic slavery. It is not by any precept forbidding it, but by the inculcation of such truths respecting the character, the value, and the responsibility of man, and his relation to his fellow-man and to his Maker, as are utterly inconsistent with the institution. The next question which naturally occurs is this, why was this mode of expressing the divine will adopted ? This inquiry I propose to consider in the present letter. I fear that this correspondence is becoming wearisome by its length, and shall, there. fore, in the remarks that follow, study the utmost brevity.
You will perceive at once, that I am by no means obliged to reply to this inquiry. If such is proved to have been the method chosen by Om. niscient Wisdom, we all concede that it must have been chosen for the best possible reason. The fact is all that we need be anxious to discover. Nevertheless, if we are able to show probable reasons for the course adopted by inspiration, it may anticipate various objections that might other. wise suggest themselves.
I remark then in the first place; this mode of teaching is, in all respects, conformable to that uni. versally adopted by the Saviour and his apostles. In the words of Archbishop Whately,* “ It was no part of the scheme of the gospel revelation to lay down any thing approaching to a complete system of moral precepts—to enumerate every thing that is enjoined or forbidden by our religion, nor again to give a detailed general description of Christian duty—or to delineate, after the manner of sys
* Whately's Essays, vol. 2, p. 263: London, 1833. See this whole subject treated in a masterly manner in the essay on “the mode of conveying moral precepts in the New Testament.” Like every thing else from the pen of this great and good man, this essay is full of the “ seeds of things."