« PreviousContinue »
but in the pleasure or pain, which it actually produc
But we all intuitively know, that there is no more virtue in happiness than in misery; and no more criminality in misery than in happiness. So that if virtue and vice do not consist in the intention of the agent, they cannot be found in human actions, But the doctrine that virtue consists in utility, excludes it entirely from the intention of the agent, which does in reality exclude it from the universe. And thus this doctrine terminates in the greatest of all moral absurdities. But yet,
III. Men are greatly exposed to embrace it. This the apostle plainly intimates, by exhorting Timothy to withdraw himself from those, who "supposed that gain is godliness.” If that young minister was exposed to imbibe the absurd sentiment, that virtue consists in utility, we may naturally conclude that there is still danger of men's falling into this great delusion. Their danger arises from various causes.
1. From the resemblance which this error bears to the truth, though it be diametrically opposite to it. Those who maintain that virtue consists in utility, represe:t it under the alluring name of universal philanthropy, which is an imposing appellation. They pretend that happiness is the supreme good, and virtue solely consists in promoting it to the highest degree. They insinuate that this philanthropy directly tends to diffuse universal happiness, and to raise human nature to a state of perfection in this life. resentation is extremely agreeable to mankind, who are ardently seeking after temporal felicity, and directly calculated to draw them into the belief, that virtue consists in utility, which looks like the doctrine that Paul taught in opposition to the heretics mentioned in the text. “They supposed that gain is godlincss;” but
Such a rep
he contradicted them by immediately asserting, “that godliness with contentment, is great gain.” To say, that gain is godliness,” is to say that utility is virtue; but to say that “godliness is gain,” is to say that virtue produces utility. There is an essential difference between these two doctrines. The one supposes that gain is the supreme good, but the other supposes that godliness is the supreme good. The one supposes there is an intrinsic excellence in gain only; but the other supposes there is an intrinsic and supreme excellence in godliness. The one supposes it is our duty to seek happiness supremely; but the other supposes it is cur duty to make godliness the supreme object of pursuit But since gain is more agreeable to the human heart than godliness, there is great danger that men will embrace the erroneous sentiment, that virtue consists in utility, and duty consists in seeking happiness, rather than holiness.
2. The danger will appear greater, if we consider by whom this pleasing and plausible error is disseminated. It is taught by grave divines, in their moral and religious treatises and public discourses. Law and Paley have been mentioned, as placing the whole of virtue in utility. Dr. Brown, in his remarks upon the Earl of Shaftsbury's Characteristics, maintains, that virtue consists in its tendency to promote individual happiness. And there are many in this country among the clergy, who believe and teach the same sentiment. These divines, however, do not mean to carry the doctrine, that virtue consists in utility, so far as they might carry it, or so far as it is actually carried by modern infidels. But when they have once advanced the principle, their readers and hearers may, if they please, draw the natural inferences from it, and carry it into all its destructive consequences. Occa.
Many who call themselves moral philosophers, though really skepties, are warmly engaged in spreading this first principle of infidelity. Hume led the way, and has been followed by many English, French and German philosophers. The main object of these licentious writers is, to establish the point, that gain is godliness, that utility is virtue, that whatever ultimately promotes happiness is right, or to use their own favorite expression,“that the end sanctifies the means." Their acute and sophistical reasoning is directly calculated to bewilder and corrupt the minds of those minute philosophers, who wish to go out of the common road of thinking, and free themselves from all religious and moral obligation.
There is another set of men, who do more by their tongues, than divines and moralists can do by their pens, to corrupt the sentiments of the populace. These are Seducers, who employ all their eloquence in displaying the utility of virtue, and the happy effects of universal philanthrophy. They endeavor to make every one believe, that virtue solely consists in utility, that it is his duty to do all in his power, to revolutionize the world, to promote the perfectibility of men, and to bring on a state of perfect liberty and equality, as fast as possible. Such seducers are travelling all over the world, and are often to be found in this country, using all their art and subtilty to deceive and beguile the unwary and unguarded.
While so many men of different characters, professions, and designs, unite their influence to spread the same plausible and palatable sentiment, there is certainly great danger, that multitudes will, either designedly or undesignedly, renounce the pure opinions in
• See Robinson's Proofs of a Conspiracy, and Barruel's History of Jacobinism, through the whole.
which they have been educated, and embrace the first principle of infidelity. For,
3. There is a strong propensity in human nature to believe any other scheme of moral and religious sentiments, than that which is according to godliness. Men naturally love happiness, and as naturally hate holiness. If it be plausibly and confidently asserted, that gain is godliness, or utility virtue, according to the fashionable system of morality, those who are Jovers of pleasure more than lovers of God will greedily imbibe the sentiment. This is more agreeable to the natural heart, than any other doctrine that can be inculcated. And when it comes recommended by divines, by politicians, and by professed moral philosophers, as well as by more artful seducers, who is not exposed to fall into the agreeable delusion? Error al. ways finds a friend in a corrupt heart, and men are more apt to believe according to the feelings of the heart, than according to the dictates of the understanding. On this account, they are continually exposed to reject the truth, and embrace an error, which strikes at the foundation of all moral, religious, and political obligation.
1. If the people in this country are exposed to embrace the absurd notion, that virtue consists in utility, then there is great danger of their renouncing all religion, and becoming avowed infidels. Those who believe that “gain is godliness," or that virtue consists in utility, can easily and fairly reason themselves into the grossest infidelity. Upon this principle, there can be no necessity, nor even propriety, of any revelation from Heaven. This Godwin means to make appear through his whole treatise on political justice. And his
reasoning, in some places, is not only plausible, but just and conclusive. He argues thus: If virtue consists in utility, then every man ought to judge for himself, what action or course of conduct will promote the greatest good, without being laid under any human or divine restraint. Hence he sets aside what be calls a popular principle. “A comprehensive maxim which has been laid down upon the subject of duty is, that we should love our neighbor as ourselves.' But this maxim, though possessing considerable merit as a popular principle, is not modelled with the strictness of philosophical accuracy."* That is, the second great commandment in the divine law is not consistent with a higher and better principle, that virtue consists in utility. He goes on afterwards to deny the propriety of men's being subjected to any rule of duty besides their own sense of rectitude. He says, “To a rational being there can be but one rule of conduct, justice, and one mode of ascertaining that rule, the exercise of his understanding.”+ This is a full denial of all revelation; and those who once believe the doctrine, that virtue consists in utility, will naturally draw the same conclusion from it. It is an infidel sentiment, and directly leads to infidelity. It lately spread through a large nation, where it turned them into infidels, and subverted all their religious orders and institutions. If it should prevail in this country, it will undoubtedly produce the same deplorable effects here, that it did in France, and deprive the nation in general of that glorious gospel, which they have so long enjoyed. The present prospect is alarming. Various causes are concurring to spread this first principle of infidelity among us. It is inculcated in the most sophistical and pleasang manner in books of divinity, of morality, of histoVol. i, page 113
7 Vol.i, page 143.