On God Revealed As Righteousness
( Originally Published 1907 )
LET US count up our gains and see what we now possess. We have appealed to the necessary laws of our own thought, that natural thinking constitution of ours from which we cannot escape ; and we have found that it compels us to believe that ` every event, occurrence, or happening has a cause.' But we found also that the very meaning of the word ` cause ' in our minds is a ` living energy akin to our own wills ' ; and we further recognized that the whole history of the universe is the history of an innumerable chain of events, occurrences, or happenings. So that there is no rest, no pause, no stopping-place for our minds short of believing in a living Energy akin to our wills moving through the universe everywhere. Moreover, the movement has been along certain lines and up on to higher and higher planes, from the evenly diffused fluid world-stuff up to the myriads of spherical worlds, up again to organized life-stuff, from that to consciousness, and from that to human beings with their ever expanding mental and moral powers ; so that it is borne in upon us quite irresistibly that in the immense evolution under the stress of the living Energy there has been guiding purpose from first to last. And we are landed, under the impulse of the simplest reflections, at the conception of a Living Energy akin to our wills moving through the universe everywhere and moving along certain lines revealing Purpose. We may call this Living Energy `God'; and this is the idea of God which is yielded by those laws of our minds to which we have already referred, in view of the great and wonderful universe in which we find ourselves dwelling.
But sublime as this idea of God is, it impresses the intellect rather than the conscience or the heart. It is tremendous, but it is not lovable. Still holding our clue, the laws of our own conscious nature, can we go further and find anything revealed to us of God of the kind which prophets and preachers have most delighted to proclaim ? Is there any-thing to obey ? Is there anything to love ?
We all of us possess—however we come by it—a certain sense of quite a different kind from any which I have touched on in the earlier chapters. We have noted the physical senses, sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. We have noted the remarkable faculty of memory. We have noted our sense of causality. All these—though the trustworthiness of not one single one of them can be proved—we trust and believe and cannot help trusting and believing ; and they lie at the root of vast measures of our knowledge of the world in which we live.
But here is another sense which we all possess, however we come by it. I mean the moral sense. It opens out quite a new book of our nature. Men often try to get rid of it ; and they can weaken and dilute it. But I doubt if any man ever yet has killed it. When it seems most dead, suddenly it will flash out in some moment of crisis with awful power. What is this moral sense ? And what does it declare ?
The senses of sight and touch declare that there is a world outside of us ; and we cannot but believe them. The sense or faculty of memory declares that at this present there is a consciousness in me corresponding point by point with certain happenings in the past ; and I can no other than believe it. The sense of cause declares that each event occur-ring has had behind it some propelling energy akin to that one energy I know immediately and call my will ; and I can find no way out of believing it. In like manner—though in quite a new field—the moral sense declares that certain kinds of conduct are more worthy or more unworthy than others, discerns and proclaims a distinction of transcendent importance between them, which distinction is marked by the words ` right ' and ` wrong.' I am only as yet saying that we have a sense of difference between right and wrong. I have not said what we mean by it or how we get it.
But these are questions which we must ask and answer ; and on the answer hang issues of unspeakable interest and moment.
What do we mean by right and wrong ? I see Edwin Long's picture of the maiden of Ephesus, called on to offer incense on Diana's altar. Her lover, with burning eyes, urges compliance. Judge and executioners look sternly on. But the delicate white hand is withheld. Loyalty to Christ and Truth prevails. And we know that to-morrow the damsel will be thrust on to the arena where the panther or the tiger will lap her blood. What is this emotion which stirs me ? Not only appreciation of the artist's art or even of the lovely light in the maiden's face ; but, above and beyond all that, a bounding sense of nobility, of worth, of worthiness, in that fair Christian's loyalty. I am carried out of myself with a sense that here is something which I must honour—which I do honour and cannot but honour, even though it would be hard to show that, apart from the intrinsic nobility of her protest, anyone would have been one penny the worse for her dropping a pinch of the fragrant incense on the shrine.
But now again I am passing down a London slum. I hear a bitter cry. And, turning my head, I see a huge brute with giant strength thrashing a woman or a little child, his unrestrained passion at every blow endangering life. What is this emotion which surges up ? Not only pity for the victim ; not only an impulse to intervene ; but, above and beyond these, a sense that here is something that is unutterably base. I am carried out of myself with a sense that this is something which I must execrate—which I do execrate and cannot but execrate while any power of feeling is in my heart.
` Nobility' and ` baseness' : these are qualities which I quite instinctively recognize. ` Honour' and ` execration ' : these are feelings which are spontaneously generated in my heart.
That is about as far as we can get in analysing what our moral sense impresses on us with regard to the conduct of other people. If we wish to have a yet clearer insight into the pronouncements of our moral sense, we must note what emotions it wakens in us concerning the conduct not of others, but of ourselves.
Suppose that I have received great kindness from a friend. He took me to his house when I was homeless, advised with me, sympathized with me, helped me when I was desolate, started me in life, and ever since with brotherly interest has watched over my career. In the confidence of our friendship he tells me a secret of his circumstances, not in itself in any way dishonourable, but such that his prosperity depends on the confidence being sacredly kept. But I know that his rival and competitor will give me fifty pounds for the secret, and I forthwith go and sell it to him and receive the cash. A year afterwards my friend dies, a ruined and broken-hearted man through my betrayal. I meanwhile have greatly prospered. My fifty pounds has become five thousand pounds. But the night after hearing of his death I lie sleepless on my bed, and my conduct all rises up before me vivid in every detail. And the moment that is so, an intense self-abhorrence, an almost unbearable shame seizes on me. I judge myself with a poignancy and an unsparing justice more acute than I have ever applied to others. I try to frame excuses to myself. But they wither and shrivel before I can shape them in thought. I know, without any reasoning whatsoever, that I have been a sneak and a traitor. I do not argue with myself. I cannot. The knowledge overwhelms me. Shame and confusion of face are mine. And it is vain for me to attempt to console myself with the thought that no eye sees me ; and that the only man who knew of my treachery is dead. I execrated the conduct of that other man who beat his child. But I felt no shame.
This shame, this remorse, this agony of conscience is a feeling wholly different from abhorrence of another man's wickedness ; it is a personal anguish of overwhelming sense of unworthiness, of having rebelled, of having broken an obligation, of having risen in insurrection against an authority.
Such is the terrific and most peculiar force of the moral sense when we have done evil. But suppose that, instead of that, I have done well. In great temptation, and to the loss, not only of wealth, but of dear friends and of that repute among men which seems the very jewel of life, I have done the difficult, painful right. What is my emotion then ? Great sorrow at my grievous losses ; perhaps even some passing wave of bitterness at the injustice of men ; but, deeper down than that, a wonderful satisfaction and peace, a sense of harmony with what is highest and best and most enduring and most inwrought into the eternal framework of things. The suffering and sorrow are great. But I would not undo my conduct if I could. I am so far satisfied with myself. Mr. Lecky laughs at those who speak of this self-satisfaction and compares them to Little Jack Homer, who said, ` What a good boy am I ! ' But the kind of satisfaction I am speaking of has been felt, sometimes at any rate, by every one who is trying to lead a good life, and is absolutely consistent with the truest modesty and the deepest humility.
Now if I describe green grass or blue sky all day long, I do not succeed in explaining what green and blue are any more clearly than you understood them to begin with. The sense of greenness and the sense of blueness in objects are absolutely simple ; and what is absolutely simple can never be explained. If you are acquainted with blueness and greenness, you will understand me at once. And if you are not, I might be as great an orator as Demosthenes and as great a philosopher as Plato, but I could not give you an inkling of what I mean. And in like manner with the terms ` right ' and ` wrong,' ` morally good ' and ` morally evil,' a ` good conscience ' and a ` bad conscience.' If you have the moral sense, you know what I mean before I begin to explain ; but if you had it not, no explanation in the world could ever give you the smallest inkling of what it means. I have given examples of the action of the moral sense, not by way of explaining it at all, but by way of leading you to realize that you possess it, and to feel how absolutely different its declarations are from the declarations of any other faculty whatever in the whole repertory of your nature.
I hold that the moral sense deals with a peculiar province of its own which can never be translated into any other province, any more than sight can ever be translated into terms of hearing, or smell into terms of touch. If a man had no ears, you could never give him a glimmering of the meaning of the word ` shrill ' by painting pictures for him. If a man had no nostrils, you could never give him a glimmering of the meaning of the word ` fragrance' by making him feel the soft petals of the rose. And if a man had no moral sense, I hold that, in like manner, you could never give him a glimmering of the meaning of the words ` right ' and ` wrong," noble ' and ` base,' by any talk addressed to his reason or his taste or any other of the faculties which he might possess.
But in this I am stating to you a view which is vehemently opposed and contradicted by the most popular philosophers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries ; and we must glance at their efforts to dissolve the moral sense into some other faculty and moral truth into some other kind of truth.
The chief opponents of the view which I have laid down are the utilitarians, that is the philosophers who teach that the moral quality of conduct depends on its usefulness and that the moral sense simply declares that one sort of conduct is more useful than another sort. But the utilitarians are divided among themselves (for I venture to use the term, as it may, I think, legitimately be used, to include both those whom Mr. Henry Sidgwick calls Egoistic Hedonists or pleasure-seekers, and those whom he calls Universalistic Hedonists), the more old-fashioned of them measuring the usefulness which in their view makes a line of conduct moral, by its service to the person whose conduct is in question ; the more modern, on the other hand, measuring that usefulness by its service to society at large. The former class of philosophers teach that moral conduct is simply conduct based on ` an en-lightened self-interest,' and that wrongdoing is no more than doing that which in the long run will tell against your interest. The latter class, on the other hand, teach that moral conduct is conduct that makes for ` the greatest happiness of the greatest number,' or that is ` conducive to general enjoyment.' The latter view is as much nobler than the former as unselfishness is nobler than selfishness. But I believe that the simplest investigation of the facts of our own nature shows that both are alike untrue.
Do we mean, when we say that John's conduct is praiseworthy, that it is for his own truest interest ? I have no doubt that praiseworthy or moral conduct is for a man's true interest, because I believe that God has constructed the world on a moral basis. But when I say first : ` John has acted for his own true interest,' and next, ` John has acted rightly,' do I mean the same thing ?
Do these two expressions stand for one idea or for two ideas ? When the question is put so, it seems impossible to doubt the answer. These are two ideas as truly as ` brown ' and ` square ' are two ideas, when we say, ` the box is brown and square.' No doubt, the brown box may be square, and the square box brown. It may all be one and the same box. But the two adjectives do not stand for one and the same idea. And so John's act may be for his own best interest and also right. Prudence and morality may coincide. But they are not the same thing. Sometimes a man's interest seems, at any rate, all to pull one way, his duty the other. Perhaps, indeed, they may not really. But we think that they do. And just because John's conduct seems to go right in the teeth of his interest, we are enthusiastic about his nobility. Whereas if self-interest were the measure of morality, we ought to be enthusiastic about his conduct just in proportion as self-interest guides him.
But Archdeacon Paley reminds us that self-interest must be measured by an eternal, not a temporary measure. There are heaven and hell to look to, says he ; and the only sanction of our moral sense is that heaven and hell lie behind it. But, says Dr. Martineau, let Paley visit the Cornish miners and pit his teaching against Wesley's. Which touches the quick of the moral nature ? Paley preaches : ` Be sober, honest, and chaste, or you will go to hell.' How many hearts will he touch ? how many consciences quicken ? But Wesley preaches : ` Be sober, honest, chaste, because it is a shame to be other-wise, because you are laid under a great obligation, because you are called by a divine authority, because it makes all the difference in your intrinsic worth '—and the rude Cornishmen feel the breath of a new spirit, their moral man is regenerated as by a magician's touch. So that regard for even the most tremendous and enduring interests of self is not identical with morality and righteousness.
But much more alluring is the doctrine that morality, goodness, righteousness, is that conduct which makes for the greatest happiness of the greatest number, conduces to the general enjoy-ment ; and that moral approval is a sense that the person approved has so acted as to make for this.
Yet even here a simple inquiry, what is the conduct which we praise, admire, revere, what the conduct which we blame, loathe, despise, shows that there is something else in goodness than this ministration to enjoyment, and something else in approbation than recognition that conduct makes for enjoyment. No doubt, good conduct generally promotes happiness and bad conduct generally promotes pain. I believe for my own part that, if we could trace their workings far enough, we should find that on the large field, and in the long run, it always is so. But I am quite sure that that is not the whole of what I mean when I say that this conduct is noble and that that conduct is base. I have told you that the conduct of that maiden at Ephesus comes home to me as surpassingly noble. Yet it certainly made against the happiness of her lover, and I am sure you will not say that its nobility arose from the cruel pleasure it would give the populace in their brutal holiday ; and if you insist that the girl believed that she would be snatched up to eternal bliss the moment the wild beast's fang should pierce her heart, then we all feel that that rather detracts from than adds to the moral splendour of her faithfulness. So that it is absolutely clear that the high morality of her loyalty did not consist in making for the enjoyment or happiness of any persons whatsoever.
But there is one extraordinarily striking in-stance in literature of the impossibility of holding steadily and consistently by this doctrine that morality lies in conduciveness to happiness. The great apostle of that doctrine in our time has been John Stuart Mill. He has advanced it with a persistency, an ingeniousness, and a strength of conviction which no other writer has surpassed. And yet the first moment he gives himself a free rein and forgets his theory in the fervour of his own moral feeling, he runs clean away from it.
Mr. Mill for the moment has forgotten his theories and his whole soul is aflame with abhorrence of the doctrine preached by some—and, as he thought, by Mansel, the famous Bampton Lecturer—that God governs on principles which the highest human morality would not sanction. ` Convince me of it,' he says, ` and I will bear my fate as I may. But when I am told that I must believe this and at the same time call this being by the names which express and affirm the highest human morality, I say in plain terms that I will not. Whatever power such a being may have over me, there is one thing which he shall not do ; he shall not compel me to worship him. I will call no being good, who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow-creatures ; and if such a being can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go.'
` To hell I will go ' : that means, I will incur all possible pain and woe. It is obvious that Mill is here laying down a principle which he would have all men accept. Rather than that men should worship an immoral God, he would have them one and all accept misery and torment for ever. Our hearts and consciences respond to the nobility of the sentiment. Unquestionably Mill felt that he was uttering himself in the spirit of the highest and purest morality. Yet what a demolition of the whole of his philosophy of morals ! The most moral conduct, he teaches, is always that which conduces most to the general enjoyment. That is what we mean by morality—so he argues with all his astonishing dialectical keenness. But when it comes to the test, in the name of morality itself he protests that under certain conditions all men ought to sacrifice everlasting joy and embrace everlasting pain. And we know that his theory is wrong and his sentiment right. ` When a crucial case really comes before him,' says Dr. Ward, ` his better nature compels him to decide sternly, peremptorily, effusively, indignantly, against his own doctrine.'
But if the idea ` right cannot be identified with the idea ` making for happiness,' and the idea ` wrong ' cannot be identified with the idea making against happiness,' neither can these moral conceptions be translated into terms of any other of our faculties. The more perseveringly we try to identify the qualities in conduct which the moral sense perceives with qualities perceived by some other sense, the more shall we be forced to the conclusion that in reality the moral idea is an absolutely unique idea, incapable of translation into any other. ` Right ' and ` wrong ' are simple, unanalysable conceptions, given to each of us as part of the natural furniture of our minds, not derived from any reasonings, but appealing to a special faculty or sense within us. If you had no conception of right and wrong, I could never give it you ; though if you have it faintly, I may nurse it into clearness ; just as if you had no eyes, I could never give you vision, though if your eyes were very short-sighted, I might doctor them into clear, strong seeing.
All our simple perceptions—all those perceptions of ours, that is, which cannot be analysed, taken to pieces, explained into something else—are given to us directly as part of the endowment of human nature. They are not and cannot be derived from some other perceptions of ours, for if they were, they would not be simple, but could be taken to pieces and analysed into their elements. But this moral sense, this perception that there is a morally right and a morally wrong, that the one is noble, the other base, that the one is to be approved and praised in others, the other to be disapproved and blamed in others, this sense of peace in ourselves at the one and of shame in ourselves at the other ;—this moral sense which we all have, but cannot explain, is simple ; therefore it is given to us in our nature, not derived from any other sense or senses. It is part of the original make of human nature, like the sense of causality, or memory ; and though we can never prove it, we cannot help believing it.
But when I say ` given,' the question starts up, ` given ? given by whom ? ' And of this element in us, as of our bodies and our senses and our mental constitution generally, we can only say ` given by the action of that Living Energy akin to our will which we have found moving through and controlling all the universe.' We can believe no other than that our moral nature is given us of God.
I am not conscious that in saying this I am saying anything contrary to the great doctrine of Evolution rightly understood. An endowment may be given, yet given gradually only. No one supposes that it is any objection to the doctrine that a man's physical strength is given him by God that it has slowly grown from very small beginnings in the feeble body of a baby. Nor is it any the less open to us to suppose a mental or moral endowment of our race to be given us by God because it has been developed in us from primordial beginnings through the slow processes of a countless succession of generations.
But if given us of God, its tenor cannot but be consonant with the divine thought. It is inconceivable that God should weave into a man's soul a moral sense which does not answer to his own nature. If God has made me feel by an inward sense that avarice or meanness is base and to be condemned, while generosity is noble and to be approved, it is impossible but to suppose that God himself—however vast the difference between his consciousness and mine—in some kind of manner also views avarice or meanness as base and views generosity as worthy. If God has quickened in the human mind an instinctive moral sense with power to inspire men to the loftiest heroism for the sake of right or to plunge them in maddening remorse on account of wrong, then it seems quite impossible to think that God himself is passive and indifferent to right and wrong and has in his own divine nature nothing corresponding to our moral judgments and the emotions which beat with such vivid light about those judgments.
And so by this long, slow path which through this chapter we have been pursuing, a path thorny, stony, difficult, on which I have painfully felt myself but an indifferent guide, we have, if you have followed me, suddenly arrived at a great and splendid truth which was worth a long climb to reach. The great and splendid truth is this : `Whatever be the mode of God's own life and consciousness, whatever the inscrutable mysteries of his nature and being, he is a moral God.' This does not mean that he, like us, has a battle to fight against temptation, and moral victories to win ; but it means that to him as to us moral good and moral evil stand dissevered ; that to him as to us they are good and are evil ; and that good and evil mean to him that same simple, unanalysable, but clear, solemn, and momentous thing which they mean to us. And from this it follows that he is himself a God of righteousness ; that whatever there may be in the universe to puzzle, to bewilder, sometimes to confound us, that purpose which threads together the ages, cannot but be a righteous purpose—that, as Matthew Arnold puts it, ` this Power not ourselves,' which we call God, ` makes for righteousness.'
The moral sense, then, conducts us to the recognition of God as God of Righteousness. But it does so also by a shorter and quicker path than that which we have just been traversing.
Our moral sense is a sense of obligation. Do what we will, we cannot empty our moral perception of this strange and unique characteristic, that it is always the perception that there is a bond binding us to, an authoritative power calling us to, a certain sort of conduct. Tens of thousands of young men have tried to break up this sense of an authority, a bond. They have said : ` It will give me more pleasure on the whole to lead a gay life for a year or two, than to plod on in the dull routine. I will do as I please. Why not ? ' And they have done as they pleased. But the balance of pleasure which their calculations promised them has been broken and marred by this unescapable sense of a bond, an obligation, an authority. Their revels have been haunted by the sense of a debt unpaid. Their intervals of inaction have been darkened by a sense of shame, as before one who has an inalienable right to look in upon the soul and chasten it. But every phase of this feeling, the sense of bond, obligation, debt, the sense of shame, the sense of shrinking as before a gaze of fire, implies that there is another Being than the man himself towards whom these relations are sustained. If I owe, I owe some one. If I am bound, I am bound to some one. If I am ashamed, I am ashamed before some one. And any faithful reading of the emotions of a stricken conscience spells in them the name of God ; the Living Energy who has made me what I am, and himself has wrought into my spirit that moral sense which he calls on me to make my guide through life.
This is the cardinal point of Dr. Martineau's ethical philosophy. But no one has put it with more beautiful and striking force than Cardinal Newman. ` If,' says he, on doing wrong we feel the same fearful, broken-hearted sorrow which overwhelms us on hurting a mother ; if, on doing right, we enjoy the same sunny serenity of mind, the same soothing, satisfactory delight which follows on our receiving praise from a father, we certainly have within us the image of some person, to whom our love and veneration look, in whose smile we find our happiness, for whom we yearn, towards whom we direct our pleadings, in whose anger we are troubled and waste away.'
The moral sense or conscience, as we may now term it, teaches us then that a divine Being calls on us to do the right, to shun the wrong. It teaches, too, that that inward voice which speaks to us has intrinsic right everywhere and always to the obedience of every creature. We can imagine no created being, capable of receiving it, with a right to put aside and ignore its behest. We recognize it then as the voice of that Spirit which governs always, everywhere—the Supreme and Everlasting God.
Now though I believe that the reasoning in this chapter is philosophically sound, yet I can well imagine that I have failed to carry with me some of my readers. The premises seem slight to sustain so tremendous a conclusion. And you may well ask me to put my belief in a God who concerns himself with righteousness, and that in the case of each individual man, woman, and child, calling on the individual by an inward voice, which is his own, day by day and minute by minute to do right and shun wrong—you may well ask me to put this amazing and stupendous belief to the test I myself have suggested : ` Does it work ? '
` Does it work '—this belief that God is in each man's breast urging on to good or calling back from evil, approving or disapproving, wakening the delight of peace with himself or the shame of broken obligations ? Does it make efficient men and women, strong, brave, true ? The question only needs to be put to find its answer. Almost all that is great and noble in human life, that marks mankind off from the lower orders of creation, that beats down the coarse, the selfish, and the brutal in us and nourishes the pure, the spiritual, the godlike, is the direct working of this belief that we are under the call of God, that he speaks in the voice of conscience, that there are bonds binding us with unique authority to do his will and obey his law. Cut this thought right out of the human heart, and who will dare to say how terrible will be the fall of man and the breaking up of the bonds of human society ? The moment a man feels that God is there, his conduct takes the highest line. It is the one lever beyond all others to lift mankind to pure, effective, and noble manhood.
It may indeed be contended that there are many men in our day who have given up all belief in the Living God, and yet are living noble and strenuous lives. It is true and we may even add that there is something peculiarly grand in the manner in which a Clifford or a Huxley continued to live for the noblest ends and to hold his manhood on the highest levels of character, when the old helps to goodness had passed from him altogether. But Miss Cobbe has well pointed out that, whatever the personal opinions of such men may be, they have been born into an atmosphere of belief in God and the solemn religious sanctions of morality. They enjoy the heredity of a moral character formed under the influences of Christian faith. And, however lofty the ethical standing of a few picked individuals who have ceased to feel God round them, that can give us no security for the like ethical elevation in a generation trained in an atmosphere of atheism and born into no Christian heredity. Nor have we to look far abroad to see how many lose moral grip and swerve below the high level of a noble life when faith in God grows weak. Nor again, I think, can any of us doubt that we ourselves have been most nearly what we would wish to be at those times when Faith in the Heavenly Father has shone brightest and clearest in our hearts.
But at this point it will be well to notice one seemingly formidable argument which has driven hundreds of intelligent persons to doubt whether the voice of conscience can indeed be the voice of God. ` Look,' they say, ` at the different ideas of right and wrong in different ages, different countries, and even among the same people at the same time. Are not half the disputes that keep the world astir disputes as to what is right ? How then can you pretend that God gives a sovereign verdict in each man's breast ? '
And indeed the objection seems staggering. The Greeks thought it a duty to expose to death every weakling child. We condemn the neglect of children as a hideous crime. Nay, forty years ago devout and excellent ministers of religion were found to defend negro slavery. And to-day some of the best of men are found to defend the practice of vivisection, while to others among us the practice seems no better than consummate devilry.
To take the last first. The explanation is very simple. No thinker has ever said that God usurps the individual's judgment about particular acts. It is at most contended that he intimates that certain kinds of conduct are good and certain other kinds are evil. Now vivisection is regarded by some as highly benevolent, because it is supposed to lead to the mitigation of human suffering, while the awful animal suffering which it inflicts is quite unrealized. It is held by others to be unspeakably cruel, because it puts dumb creatures to excruciating pain. Now what God's voice in conscience does is to extol benevolence and to condemn cruelty. It is obvious then that according to whether an individual happens to concentrate his thought on the alleged benevolence or the actual cruelty in vivisection, conscience will be enlisted on the one side or the other. And which way a man's thought fixes itself is a question not decided by conscience, but by accidents of educacation, association, tradition, and circumstance, by actual acquaintance with the facts, or by too easy a reliance on the pleadings of professional apologists. So again in so complex an institution as American slavery, two men might equally love justice and hate injustice, and yet the one had been so saturated with the point of view of the better class of planters, and the other saw so clearly by the light of the abolitionists, that they would diametrically differ on the right or wrong of the institution in dispute.
But when we take that other example—the exposure of children among the Greeks—we touch on other facts of vast importance. Conscience is the gift of God, but like every other gift of God in our nature it has been, as I have hinted, gradually developed. It began, in some very dim, dull way, in those days when, as Fiske tells us, man was less different from the ape than from Plato or from Paul ; and age after age, under the stress of life, like the reason itself, the moral sense cleared and strengthened and was illumined. There is in the human breast a great range of springs of action, from the lowest animal passions to the loftiest promptings of religion. But man began with the lower ones only ; and in the evolution of society and of mind and thought and feeling, the higher ones one after another stole on to the arena of the soul and entered into competition for the guidance of the man's conduct and the rule of his heart. And what conscience, that present speech of God, has always done is this : it has declared with ringing clearness as each higher spring of action for the first time took its place, its superior worth and holiness to its less lofty predecessors. The education of the race is always going on, and even in our own time, for example, desire for the good of the world at large is only slowly forcing itself into action and making itself felt as higher than desire for the interest of our own country. Many folk still deem world-philanthropy or pure humanity a fanatic's dream beside patriotism ; but a hundred years hence it will be a moral axiom that the race comes before the nation.
So those old Greeks had arrived at patriotism as a spring of action, and that was the highest that they knew. And if the puny, puling child seemed likely to incommode rather than help the State, the highest duty seemed to demand its slaughter. But then came the Man of Nazareth and opened out a higher spring of action still—reverence for the individual soul as the temple of God. And that spring once quickened in the heart, the thing which had seemed a virtue slid into the place of a vice in men's conception. The infallible voice of God, when once this new motive had been quickened, pronounced that to be the higher and declared that therein lay the right of guidance and control.
And so from age to age new fields of character have been opened up and received their consecration from conscience. Purity, humility, truthfulness, spiritual reverence—each of these has had its epoch in which it has first shown its face and pleaded with men to love and serve it. And over each as it has taken up its place that voice of God which we call Conscience—the moral sense—has pronounced its benediction : ` This is my beloved Son ; hear him ! '