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Hildreth's Theory of Morals

Brownson's Quarterly Review, July, 1844

ART. III. — Theory of Morals: An Inquiry concerning the Law of Moral Distinctions, and the Variations and Contradictions of Ethical Codes. By RICHARD HILDRETH. Boston: Little & Brown. 1844. 12mo. pp. 272.

WHEN an author tells us, in his preface, that his work is written in strict accordance with the inductive method of investigation, we are sure, if his work concerns religion or morals, that he is either about to disgust us with his nonsense, or to shock us with his blasphemy. Mr. Hildreth, in this brief treatise on Morals, succeeds in doing both. Only the rank infidelity of his doctrine, and his blasphemous sneers at the existence of God, in every sense in which his existence is distinguishable from that of Nature, and at all who believe in God and rely on his providence and grace, give it sufficient character to render one pardonable for even taking the trouble to condemn it. It is an exaggeration, in morals, of what Mr. Parker's " Discourse on Matters pertaining to Religion" is in theology ; and, without the grace to confess it, is as absurd as Bentham's Utility, as skeptical as Hume, and as positively atheistic as D' Holbach.

Mr. Hildreth begins his work by condemning all those moralists who believe in the eternal distinction between good and evil; and by assuming that all our knowledge is confined to a knowledge of our own constitution ; that we do not, and cannot, know things in themselves, but merely what they appear to us ; that is to say, we can know only our own subjective modes and affections. And after having assumed this, he has the consummate impudence to talk of morals, of moral distinctions, of justice and injustice, of virtue and vice ! " The constitution of our own nature," he tells us, " not the absolute constitution of things, is the proper object of human research ; and only in the constitution of man can we find, if we find at all, the origin of human opinions and actions. " So all in the life of man originates in man, and we need not to look beyond man himself, for the
explanation of his history. Man, then, must be sufficient for himself; then, so far as concerns himself, in the place of God ! With all this for his point of departure, it is easy to foresee, our author must ultimately arrive — NOWHERE.

Let the matter be understood. Mr. Hildreth promises us a Theory of MOKALS. Morals must have some foundation ; but he assigns them no foundation, or, at most, only such foundation as they may have in the constitution of man himself. The morals, then, of which he can, at best, give us a theory, whether true or false, are not morals in the proper sense of the term, but only what man, as he now is, holds to be morals. That is, he gives us not a theory of morals, but a theory of men's NOTIONS of morals. But as we can know nothing beyond ourselves, the truth or falsity of these notions, objectively considered, we can never know ; therefore we can never know whether what we call moral really be moral or the reverse.

This is to begin a theory of morals by denying the possibility of any science of morals. All morality ne-scesarily presupposes an objective law, —a law out of man, above man, and to which man is accountable ; which he is under obligation to obey; obedience to which constitutes his virtue, and the rectitude of his act, and disobedience to which constitutes his vice, and the injustice of his act. The conception of this law, to which we are accountable, is essential to the very idea of morality. Without conceiving of this law, no moral character, or moral distinction, is in the remotest degree conceivable. Is there such a law ? Is it known or know-able ? What does it enjoin ? If there be no such law, or if no such law is or can be known by us, then man is not a moral being, and it is sheer nonsense to talk of a theory of morals.
Mr. Hildreth nowhere recognizes a Moral Law, nor even a Moral Lawgiver. Duty is a word not needed in his vocabulary; accountability is a conception he does not appear even to have entertained. He has studied Benthamism till his head is more confused, if possible, than was ever Bentham's own head, and till even his heart appears to have lost all its native appreciation of right and wrong. There evidently can be no morality without a moral law ; no moral law without a moral lawgiver, nor without a moral lawgiver who has the sovereign right to impose the law,— that is, to command; whose word is a command, whose will is law. All morality, then, has necessarily its foundation in theology; and no man who denies the existence of God can recognize, consistently, any moral obligation whatever. The attempt to separate between religion and morals, and to obtain a solid foundation, independent of religious faith, for our moral superstructure, has always proved, and must always prove, no less disastrous to morals than to religion. Atheism, or even Pantheism, is incompatible with the recognition of moral distinctions. The foundation of all moral conception is the conception of God, and of God as Sovereign Lawgiver.

Now, Mr. Hildreth sneers, from the beginning of his book to the end, at those who, as he expresses it, believe " in a personal God. " We are aware that we have had some few transcendental philosophers, if philosophers they are, who have really fancied, that, in denying the personality of God, they were not making a profession of Atheism ; but because these men and women, or rather, boys and girls, have dreamed silly dreams, and talked nonsense while seriously believing themselves to be speaking as oracles of wisdom, we know not that we should be debarred from calling men and notions by their right names. Doctrines pass current among us, are even entertained by many of whom we should have a right to expect better things, which, if not disguised by a peculiar terminology, which, if called right out, in good, plain English, by their proper names, would be regarded with all but universal horror, and recoiled from as from the Evil One himself. The transcendental dishonesty of dressing out infidel notions in the language of piety and faith, imported from Germany and propagated among us by the Dial-istic philosophers and poets, or rather philosopherlings and poetasters, has caused infinite confusion in the minds of good, plain, honest people, and cannot be condemned in terms too pointed or too severe. We call the man who denies the personality of God an Atheist, and we can rank him nowhere but with " the fool " of the Psalmist, who says " there is no God "; only he is rather an exaggeration of the Psalmist's fool, for he not only says there is no God, but has also the folly to try to persuade himself and others, that in denying God he does not deny him.

Mr.   Hildreth assumes everywhere throughout his book, that to believe in a personal God — that is, in a God at all, a God who is, and knows that he is, and who doeth according to his will in the armies above and among the inhabitants of this lower world, and whose providence extends to all events, from the rearing of the infant colony, the overwhelming of the empire, to the consoling of the humble and contrite heart, and the falling of the feeble sparrow — is the very height of absurdity, worthy only of a sneer, too egregious a folly to be seriously refuted.   
And yet, Mr. Hildreth has been brought up in a professedly Christian community, received an education from professedly Christian parents, at a professedly Christian university, and we should not be surprised, if he should even fancy himself a Christian, and take the charge of Atheism, which we bring against his doctrine, as a foul misrepresentation !    But will he tell us what he means by an s'wpersonal God ?    In what sense can his impersonal God be distinguished from Nature?   And has he the effrontery to maintain, in open day, that a doctrine which identifies God and Nature is compatible with a belief in God at all ?    In this case, the radical conception of God as creator is rejected, and replaced, at best, only by the natura naturans of Spinoza, which no possible ingenuity can  make  the equivalent of God creating.     Spinoza admits but one only substance with its infinite modes; and according to him, what we call the universe, and which is resolvable into thought and extension, is nothing but these two modes of the infinite Substance, which, according to him, it matters not whether called God or Nature.

Here you have merely substance and mode, where you should have cause and effect, creator and creation. The difference between the two is immense. The mode is a mere distinction in the substance itself, not a somewhat to be distinguished from the substance. Consequently, it is identically the substance itself, under a special aspect. Hence, God and the universe, conceived as substance and mode, are conceived to be identical ; and therefore we may say, indifferently, the universe is God, or God is the universe. But the distinction of cause and effect, of creator and creation, is of an altogether different nature ; it is a distinction, not in God, but between God and his creation, whereby the one is distinguished from the other, as a man's thought is distinguished from himself, or he himself from his volition. If we deny this distinction, if we deny that God exists independently of his works, that he works freely, sovereignly, from will, purpose, intention, design, we deny the fundamental conception of God, and are virtually Atheists. Now, in denying the personality of God, and identifying God and Nature, we do deny all this.

This established, we find our author talking of Morals, and undertaking to give us a Theory of Morals, after having denied the Lawgiver. God denied, where is the sovereign whose word is a command, whose will is law ? You cannot have a law, unless you have a lawgiver. Well, where is your lawgiver ? Nature ? Do you know what you mean ? What is Nature, but your own constitution ? What are its laws, but your own natural tendencies, instincts, appetites, propensities, passions ? What is it, then, to say that Nature imposes the law, but to say that man is bound to act out himself, follow his own inclinations, and live as he listeth ; that is, but to say, that man is without law, is under no law, and may revel in the wildest license to which his nature prompts ? Is this your theory of morals ? But even waiving this, we demand what right Nature has to impose the law, and whence the ground of my right or of my duty to obey Nature ? What we demand, as the foundation of morals, is not only a lawgiver, but a lawgiver who has the right to impose the law. Even admiting Nature could impose a law, whence would that which Nature imposes derive its strictly legal character ? A man who knows so much as our author, who puts on such lofty airs, and with a mere puff demolishes all the great moralists, from Moses and Plato down to the author of " Archy Moore," ought not to have left so important a question unnoticed.

Mr. Hildreth is, substantially, a Benthamite, —for his slight modification of Benthamism amounts, practically, to nothing at all; and Jeremy Bentham was, as one of Dickens's characters says of another, "a humbug." There is no use in trying to smooth the matter over, or to invent fine phrases to cover up the intolerable stupidity, ignorance, and dogmatism of that prince of Utilitarians, — a man innocent of all philosophical conceptions and of all philosophical tendency, wise in his own estimation only, because obstinately ignorant of the wisdom of others,—an exaggeration of the very worst features of John Bull, crying out against cant and humbug, and all the time the very prince of canters and humbnggers, and the most egregious dupe of them both. We deny not that Jeremy Bentham may have had some good intentions. We deny not that the man even had a. heart, —for we are assured that he once actually loved, and continued to love to the day of his death, — but all in his mind was a confused jumble, and he never succeeded in getting even one tolerably clear notion of the science of morals, either in its principle or in its details. The author of " Archy Moore, " in the work before us, succeeds no better. He does not appear to want ability ; he even gives evidence of having been originally endowed with talents of a very high order; and his capacity as a writer, when he chances to blunder on the right side, is more than respectable. But he has never clearly and distinctly grasped the real problems of the science he professes to treat; he has read some, thought some, but has never cleared up his thoughts, and determined their exact import and value.

After rejecting what he calls the Platonic theory of morals, the Selfish, the Stoic, and the Epicurean systerns, our author proceeds to set forth his own, which is, That such actions as produce, or are supposed to produce, or tend to produce, immediately or ultimately, pleasure to sensitive beings other than the actor, are right actions ; and that such as produce, are supposed to produce, or tend to produce, pain to sensitive beings other than the actor, are wrong actions. " The word good is employed, " he says, " to describe any thing that gives us pleasure j the words bad and evil, any thing that gives us pain, whether a moral pleasure or a moral pain, or a pain or a pleasure of any other kind. " So, then, when I perform an action which tends to the pleasure of others, I do good, and perform a right action ; and, if I do it with the design or intention of giving pleasure, I am virtuous. On the other hand, when I perform an action which tends to give pain to others, I do evil, perform a wrong action, and I, if I have done it designedly, am vicious.

But will Mr. Hildreth inform us, whence he derives his proofs that good and evil are resolvable into simple pleasure and pain? If I ask him, What is good? He answers, Pleasure. Moral pleasure? Yes, or any other hind of pleasure. If I ask, What is evil ? He answers, Pain. Moral pain ? Yes, or any other kind of pain. Pleasure and pain are the exact synonymes of good and evil, — with the single exception, that the pleasure be that of some being other than the actor, and also the pain. But whence this exception ? If pleasure is good, why is not my pleasure as much a good as the pleasure of any other being ? And what reason can be assigned why it is less right for me to promote my own pleasure than it is to promote the pleasure of others ? If pain is evil, I would like to why my pain is less an evil than another man's pain ? And why it is not as wrong for me to pain myself as to pain another ? Whence, then, we ask again, the ground of this exception ? We do not deny, that an action, to be a right action, must possess the quality of contributing to the good of some other being or beings than the actor; but we say, if pleasure is good, no reason can be assigned why the pleasure of the actor should be excluded. Then, again, if all pain caused to others is evil and the causing of it wrong,- then the pain I cause my child when I correct it, my friend when 1 admonish him of his faults, or that which the surgeon causes in amputating a gangrenous limb, is evil, and the act of causing it wrong, and, therefore, an act that should not have been done. If pleasure is good, and the causing of it, in all cases, right, when it does not chance to be the pleasure of the actor, —then the pleasure I should give the thief by enabling him to steal, or the felon, by enabling him to escape the fangs of justice, or the pleasure I should give by enabling men to gratify their depraved appetites and passions, would be good, and the promoting of it right, and I virtuous in promoting it! Is our moralist prepared to stand by all this ? If not, he would do well to ask leave to amend his definition. Pleasure is not the exact synonyme of good. There are guilty pleasures, and many there are " who take pleasure in unrighteousness. » Is it less wrong for me to aid others to the pleasures of unrighteousness, than it is to indulge them myself? Pain is not always an evil, but is sometimes especially the pain of remorse, and pain imposed by the minister of God by way of penance, often the means even of a great and permanent good. Pleasure is not good, unless it possess some quality beside that of being pleasure ; and pain must possess some quality beside that of being pain, in order to be evil. Only lawful pleasures are good, and only unlawful pains are evil
Here comes up, again, the question of the Law and therefore of the Lawgiver.   What pleasures are lawful f What pains are unlawful?    Will Mr. Hildreth answer Such pleasures are lawful as tend to the good   advan' tage, or utility of beings other than the one who causes them ? And unlawful pains such as tend to the evil disadvantage, or harm of beings other than the one who causes them ?   Then his doctrine, if he resolve good in to utility, will be Utilitarianism, and differ from  Benthamism only in excluding the actor himself from the number whose advantage is to be sought, and from the number whose harm is not to be sought. Suppose we resolve pleasure into good, and good itself into utility, will Mr. Hildreth tell us what is his criterion by which he determines what is or is not for the greatest advantage of others ? What is the test of utility ? How do you determine whether this particular act, before which I am deliberating, is or is not useful ? But utility itself is not ultimate. For a thing is useful only as it contributes to some end, and harmful only as it prevents or hinders the realization of some end. Nor is this all. That is not harmful that prevents the realization of a bad end; nor that useful which facilitates the realization of an end not good. Hence, before we can define what is useful or harmful, we must define what are good and bad ends ; which can be done only by determining what is absolutely good and what is absolutely evil. So the adoption of the utilitarian rule relieves no difficulty. Before I can know what is useful to others, I must know what is the end they ought to seek ; and before I can know that, I must know what is the end of creation itself; that is, the end for which God made and sustains the universe,—a knowledge which Mr. Hildreth represents as wholly out of the question.

Nor would this be all. I should be obliged not only to know the end of creation, and the end of the particular beings in question, but also the precise bearing of the act I propose to perform on that end, whether to hinder or to facilitate it. Do we know this of any action we are called upon to perform ? Who seeth the end ? Who can tell what are to be the effects of his act ? Who knows but that which he soweth in joy and hope may spring up in sorrow and anguish ? Have not our best intentions for others often proved mischievous ? How often is it that philanthropy, pure and ardent, in the pursuit of a special object, tramples on more rights than it secures, and causes greater evil by the way than it realizes in the end ? The whole history of our race is full of examples of this sort, and our own country, and our own section of it, affords, at this moment, its full share of these examples.    How, then, are we to determine what is a useful or a harmful act ?   What is, we ask again, the test of utility?

But even this does not exhaust the difficulties of the subject. Morality implies, always, obligation. Suppose I know what is for the good, the advantage, or even the pleasure of others, whence follows it that I am bound to labor for it ? What is the ground of my obligation to do good to others, to promote their advantage, or their pleasure ? Here our author is singularly deficient. Here is his definition of duty, which, so far as our reading extends, he may claim as peculiarly his own. "Duties, or obligatory actions, " are "actions the performance of which is expected from all men." Expected by whom ? And on what ground ? Why, poor man, in thy infidel darkness, thou hast lost even the ordinary sense of words. Duty is that which a man is bound to perform. It necessarily implies, independent of man, a law that binds, and a sovereign lawgiver that imposes the law. This is what all the world understands by duty. Are there duties in this sense ? Answer, yes, or no. If not, then say so, reject the term, and not in a cowardly manner seek to escape, by using the word duty divested of its ordinary meaning, the odium which every man justly incurs, who denies all moral obligation.

Our author contends for benevolence, disinterestedness, that we should labor to promote others' happiness without any regard to our own. This would seem to be somewhat, nay, to be much, and will impose upon many, and make them believe him the advocate of pure and lofty moral principle. But we have no right to seek even the happiness of others but by lawful means, that is to say, by right means. Because my motive is good, because I am conscious that I am disinterested, that I am ready to lay down my life for others, it does not follow that my conduct is right, and that I am wholly guiltless in Avhat I do. God is, say Mr. Hildreth what he will ; and God is the Moral Governor of the universe, and has prescribed to us the path in which we are to walk. He has fitted means to ends, and it is only when we adopt the means he has appointed, and seek to do good in the way he has ordained, that we can be justified in laboring for the good of others.    Right ends can be rightfully sought only by right means.   The sentiment of benevolence, then, must operate lawfully, in an orderly manner, in obedience to the law of God, or it is no more to be indulged than selfishness.    Here is a principle which reformers, radicals, come-outers, dis-organizers, would do well to bear in mind, for it is a principle they are exceedingly prone to neglect.    It is little credit to a man that he has a zeal for the good of others, if it be not a zeal according to knowledge. Here is wherefore so many, who would do good, who band together for noble ends, and labor with all zeal and diligence, do yet prove the greatest plagues and tormentors of their kind.    Ten chances to one, a man with the crotchet of philanthropy in his head, proves to be possessed by the devil in the guise of an angel of light. Let men be careful, how, Uzza-like, they reach forth the hand to steady the ark of God.

But this is not all. Wherefore am I bound to be benevolent ? Why are acts of disinterestedness and sacrifice excellent and praiseworthy ? We, of course, with the limitations suggested, do not question the fact; but in a theory of morals the ground of all this should be shown. Does Mr. Hildreth show this ? Not at all. He nowhere shows me how I am to know what is a right action, for he nowhere shows me how I am to know what will be useful to others ; and, more than all this, he fails utterly to show me why I am under obligation to seek it, even in case I should ascertain it. What, then, is the value of what he has done ? What light does he throw on any ethical problem, or any question of casuistry ? None at all. Yet he talks as a man who has mastered his subject, and as one who has the right to speak ex cathedra. The arrogance of his tone is only equalled by his insensibility to all religious truth. His work seems to have been written for the express purpose of furnishing a moral code to transcendentalists and come-outers.

But we have not yet done with Mr. Hildreth.    The most important bearing of his definition remains to be considered. He defines a wrong action to be an action which causes or tends to cause pain to others ; a right action, one which causes or tends to cause pleasure to others. But these others must be sensitive beings. This definition is expressly designed to exclude religion from the domain of morality. Moral actions are, usually, he tells us, divided into three classes: 1. Duties to ourselves; 2. Duties toothers; 3. Duties to God. The definition excludes the first class ; for nothing we can do to ourselves, or indulge in, is wrong, save so far as it causes pain to others, or diminishes our disposition or ability to please them. The third class are also excluded ; because God, being impersonal, a mere unconscious force, is incapable of being pleased or displeased, of approving or disapproving. Consequently, to do, or to forbear doing, this or that, because it is pleasing or displeasing to God, is a great absurdity. Morality knows no God, knows no divine command, must have reference to no divine pleasure or displeasure. Consequently, they are altogether in the wrong who represent the love and worship of God as moral duties, or who deny that the atheist is, or can be, a moral man. God, according to our author, is a mere creature of the human imagination, a mere human personification of the forces of Nature, and, of course, can have no influence over a true sage !

Mr. Hildreth proceeds to divide all moralists into two classes, — the Forensic moralists and the Mystics. Forensic systems of morals are those in which the other beings, whose pleasure we are to seek, " are men, or occasionally animals "; " the mystical systems of morals are those in which it is the pain or pleasure of the Deity, by which the moral character of actions is to be tested. Such an act is praiseworthy, because it pleases God ; in other words, because it gives God pleasure ; such an act is wrong, because it is displeasing to God; in other words, because it gives God pain; such an act is indif-erent, because it does not affect God in any way."

We see that he means here, by the mystical systems, those which have a religious foundation, and which make the will of God the rule of moral action; but does he state the case fairly ? Who ever dreamed of giving God pleasure or pain, in the sense Mr. Hildreth implies ? Does Mr. Hildreth hold it a moral action to tell the truth ? To the religious moralist, God is the Good, and nothing is good that is not godlike. God is the standard. But God is a living being, an infinite personality, that is to say, an infinite will, and therefore is he rightly said to approve what conforms, and to disapprove what does not conform, to him. In seeking the pleasure of God, we are simply seeking to obey his law, that is, to do that which he approves, that is, to do that which conforms to his will, that is to say, again, that which conforms to himself. Nobody supposes, that, when we refuse to conform to his will, he suffers pain; or that, when we conform, he experiences what we term the emotion of pleasure. To please God is simply to conform to his will; to displease him is simply to disobey him.

" The mystical theory, however, when it is made the foundation of practical morals, is usually amalgamated with the selfish theory ; that is, with the theory, that virtue consists in securing our own greatest happiness. This amalgamation easily takes place ; for since, according to the mystics, every thing depends on the volition of God ; and as God is supposed to act, at least to a certain extent, as men act, to be influenced by feelings of gratitude; hence, those who please God will certainly be rewarded by him in the end, and those who displease him will be punished. But as this present life does by no means exhibit any such rewards and punishments, mysticism has been led to adopt the hypothesis of a future retribution ; a doctrine which the semi-Stoics and the semi-Epicureans have also found themselves obliged to adopt, as the only means of giving any plausibility to their idea of the coincidence of virtue and happiness." — Ch. I., §§ 38, 39.

Mr. Hildreth nowhere accepts what he calls the mystical theory ; he means to sneer at it, and to hold it up to our abhorrence. He therefore intends to scout the doctrine of future rewards and punishments, and to discard every system of morals that depends at all on a future state of existence. We have evidently gone far in our downward progress.    It is hardly to be presumed, that our community, designedly, with full consciousness of what it is doing, would reject Christianity; and yet it calls in question every article of the Christian's faith, and, what is remarkable, it does it in the name of Christ. The great labor, for some time, has been to prove that Jesus was no Christian, and that, in point of fact, he was, if not an infidel, very much like a modern come-outer.    Men amongst us — and to our shame be it said, we Avere once, in more respects than one, of their number— there are, who really believe they are honoring Christ as the Teacher of Truth, while they are denying every doctrine he taught, and while, in the poverty of their religious creed, they fall below the most stupid of heathen nations !    Nay, we find them parading this poverty, making their boast of what should be their shame.    If the great body of Christian believers, from the time of Christ down, have mistaken his doctrines, and given us something entirely different from the Gospel, then one should regard   the Saviour as having been wanting in the essential qualities of a teacher, that of making himself intelligible ; or else he provided with miserable skill and judgment for the preservation of the right understanding of his doctrine.    In either case, we declare him unworthy of our confidence, and, as honest and brave men, we should reject him altogether.    It is painful to one who has awaked from the sleep into which he had been drugged by the spirit of his age and country, to see how men, even in the name of Christ, have pared down the Gospel till nothing of it is left. We are, many of us, boasting of our success in this work, and swearing, in the very teeth of gainsayers, that we are true Christians, first-rate Christians, the only genuine Christians, while denying every distinctive doctrine and precept of the Gospel.    With what ineffable disdain do we treat the simple follower of Jesus, who is content to believe with the Apostles, the Fathers, and the Church Universal!   Why, we have grown infinitely too wise to fall into the absurdity of believing there was wisdom in the world before we were born.    Nobody ever knew any thing of the true meaning of the Gospel, till we were born ! We, for the first time, have seized its true significance, and, after all, it is no such mighty affair. It is all perfectly simple, and means merely, that, if one is good and does good, — then one is good and does good.*(footnote: * See Parker's Discourse, passim. The statement in the text contains the whole sum and substance of the Christian Revelation, according to this erudite, eloquent, and philosophic divine.) We have rejected from the Gospel all that was foreign to it, all that ignorance, superstition, false learning, false philosophy, and priestcraft have added to it; we have demolished hell; scouted the devil ; laughed at the fall; reduced the Son of God, first, to a promising Hebrew youth, who was a successful Mesmeriser, and, finally, to a mythic personage, created by the creeds and fancies of men ; we have, moreover, successively disrobed God himself of his justice, his truth, his sovereignty, his paternity, his providence, at last of his personality, and resolved him into a blind force, or a mere fate or irresistible necessity. And in all this we have been guilty of no heresy, of no error in doctrine, — have been, in fact, good, true, faithful, enlightened, liberal Christians, the reformers of the Church, and the restorers of primitive Christianity! Surely, this is a wonderful age, and we are marvellous people.

If there is any one doctrine dear to a Christian heart, it is the doctrine of future retribution, the only doctrine capable of clearing up the confusion and apparent anomalies of this life, and of giving us, at all times, in the darkest moments, a ground for unwavering confidence in God. The man, who denies a future state of rewards and punishments for deeds done in this life, denies, in the plainest and fullest manner possible, Christianity itself, and saps the foundation of all morals, both theoretical and practical. The great evil we have now to contend with is this wide-spread doubt in respect to a future state of retribution. Men have ceased, to an alarming extent, to believe in future rewards and punishments, and we lose our hold on their consciences.  There is a wide-spread feeling, that what people have heretofore feared is all a fable, and men have seriously published books to prove that there is no punishment for the wicked after death, because, forsooth, certain Greek and Hebrew words, translated hell in the English version of the Bible, did not, in their primitive use, designate a place of punishment.    As well  say that there is no such place as London, because the word London, in its primitive sense, does not mean a great city.    Men everywhere around us say to themselves, " Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we die, and there is an end of us "; or else they say, " Go to, who 's afraid ?    God is good ; our conduct cannot affect him ; he is compassionate and kind, and is not willing that any should perish; and so he will not damn us; but as soon as we die, he will take us right into heaven, to enjoy inconceivable bliss, for ever and ever."    So, through  faith  in  universal   annihilation,   or faith  in universal salvation, there is no longer any chance of touching a man's conscience, and arresting him in his wickedness.    The law has no terrors for the wicked, and love can operate only on the redeemed.    Hence the deplorable state of our morals, the terrible moral corruption spreading over Christendom.    And now, here is a man who judges himself wise enough to instruct his countrymen, coming out with a work on morals, in which he makes it a reproach for moralists to rest any portion of their systems on considerations drawn from a future life !

We should like to have Mr. Hildreth show us how he would enforce the disinterested morality he contends for, by considerations drawn only from this life. He requires me to sacrifice myself for the good of others. Very well. I do not complain of him for this ; but through what motive am I to do it ? I do not ask him to assure me of a personal reward which I am myself to receive, but I do want him to show me that this good of others, which I am to promote, is worth sacrificing myself for. If you tell me the evil men suffer is only for this short life, to be succeeded, whether I make an effort to remove it or not, by an eternity of bliss, I am very sure that I shall put myself to no great inconvenience to make them happy here; for their present sufferings will only enhance the relish of their future joys. If, again, you tell me that there is no hereafter, that this life is man's whole life, and that it is only for men's good, while on this side the grave, that I can labor, you make them such miserable abortions, and the greatest amount of good that can be procured for them so contemptibly little, that I cannot disturb myself on their account. " Poor devils," I must say, " ye are born in the morning, to be cut down at noon, and wither away in the evening ; at best, mere insects, born to flutter an hour in the sun; — flutter on, and flutter as ye will; it's enough for me to take care of my own wings." A cold and heartless selfishness would possess me, and I should be utterly incapable of a benevolent emotion, or a disinterested act. If I am to act for others' happiness, you must show me that it is worth acting for; that it may be hazarded ; that my acts are needed to secure it; and that it may continue for ever. In seeking to save others from misery, if I am to seek with much earnestness, I must feel that they are exposed to an infinite loss, that it is not from the petty ills of this short life merely, but from the pains and woes of eternity, I must save them. Hence, we regard the moralist, who sneers at a state of future rewards and punishments, as guilty of the grossest wrong. He is undermining the very foundation of morals, depriving morals of all sanction, and virtually letting men loose in the wildest license. We have no charity for such a man, — no excuse. No community can tolerate him, without the greatest conceivable danger to its institutions, to its peace, to its moral and religious life.

But we have no disposition to pursue Mr. Hildreth further. His system professedly belongs to the class of moral systems, usually denominated the sentimental. He makes all moral distinctions originate in the sentiment of benevolence, and makes the moral character of the act depend entirely on its producing pleasure or pain to beings other than the actor. This would seem to place virtue in disinterestedness, and to demand perpetual self-sacrifice. But Mr. Hildreth, after all, is none of your self-sacrificing moralists. He thinks it as great an absurdity for one to sacrifice himself for the love of man, as for the love of God ; but how he really saves himself from inconsistency in this, it is not, at first sight, very easy to perceive, yet, if we comprehend him, we shall be able to clear him from contradiction. We must understand, in the first place, that Mr. Hildreth recognizes no right and wrong, independent of man himself. The notion, that there is, independent of man, a good which he is under obligation to seek, which lie does not make, but which he perceives, by means of his natural power, or by means of supernatural instruction, he regards as false and puerile. This is what he condemns, as the Platonic theory. Let it be understood, then, the right is not something we are bound to do, but simply an affection of our nature, which we have agreed to call right. Now, considering our actions in relation to their motive, or subjective principle, they are divisible into five classes : 1. Meritorious actions ; 2. Duties, or obligatory actions ; 3. Indifferent actions ; 4. Permissible actions; and 5. Vicious, criminal, or wicked actions.
Duties, or obligatory actions, are those actions beneficial to others, which are performed by the greater number of any given society. Meritorious actions are those which are performed by only a few in a given society, and which argue in those who perform them more than an ordinary force of the sentiments which operate beneficially to others. Permissible actions, though injurious to others, are such as the majority do not judge it necessary to refrain from doing ! Vicious, criminal, or wicked actions are those which are performed by but few, and are more injurious to others than is the ordinary conduct of the majority. Indifferent actions arc actions with a double result, being injurious to some, and beneficial to others ; if we fix our attention on the injury they do, we shall class them as wrong ; if on the "good, as right. One would suppose, therefore, that these actions could hardly be called indifferent. But that is Mr. Hildreth's affair, not ours.
Well, now, a man that does his duty, is he not a moral man ?    Duty is a beneficial action, to perform which is to practise as well as the majority.    If, then, I conduct as well as the majority, I do my duty.    I do, then, all that can be demanded of me.    But it is very certain that the majority practise very little of this self-denial, contended  for by  the disinterested moralists; therefore it is not a man's duty to sacrifice himself for others.    But, to attain to the highest excellence of character, must he not ?    We, assuredly, shall not disagree with Mr. Hildreth, in regard to a distinction between duties and meritorious actions; but we suppose he will concede to us, that it is man's duty to do right.    Now, if lie places the right in acting in obedience to the sentiment of benevolence, we see not how he can make the distinction he contends for.    The right being exclusively in   the   sentiment  of benevolence,  it  must needs demand the exclusive exercise of that sentiment ; and that sentiment, become exclusive, is the self-denial which Mr. Hildreth contends duty does not demand. If there be any thing certain in Mr. Hildreth's theory, it is, that a man is moral only in the exercise of benevolence.    If it is man's duty to exercise benevolence at all, then how will he prove that a man can be meritorious in the exercise of benevolence ?    For, we suppose, no man will contend, that one is meritorious, unless he does more than his duty.   The distinction between meritorious acts and duties, with all deference to Mr. Hildreth, we think, is pointed out with more clearness and justice in the New Testament.    There came one to Jesus, and said, " Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life ? "   Jesus answered, by pointing him to the demands of the moral law, specifying its several precepts.    " All these." answered the young man, " have I kept from my youth up; what lack I yet ?"  " If thou wouldst be perfect, go, sell what thou hast, give it to the poor, and come and follow me."    The young man, in complying with
the law, did his duty, was jnst, and could inherit eternal life ; but, in doing this, he was only just; he had not attained to the highest degrees of excellence. To become perfect, it was necessary that he should do more than the law demanded, that he should rise from justice to love. If I am rich, it is not my duty to give what I possess to the poor. The law does not demand this, but Christian love does, and it is my privilege to do so, and will be set down to my merit, not in discharge of my debt.

But Jesus did not measure a man's duty by the conduct of the majority. Here, again, is a serious defect in Mr. Hildreth's system, and shows that he carries his demagoguism into morals as well as into politics. The standard, with him, is the conduct of the majority. Duty is that which is done by the majority of a given community, that which makes a man as virtuous as the majority ; meritorious actions are those which the majority agree to applaud, and criminal actions are those which the majority condemn, as sinking below the practice of the majority. A fine doctrine, this ! and a man holding a respectable rank in the community where he lives has the effrontery to avow such a demoralizing doctrine, —a doctrine which ought to be condemned, in the severest terms, by every one who has the least sense of what is due to himself, or to his fellow-men. The law to which a man must conform, in order to discharge his duty, is not the practice of the majority, nor the opinion of the majority, which is always better than the practice, — but the law of God, and which demands precisely the same things in all ages and countries, and of every individual with the ordinary faculties of a human being.

The general state of mind, in which Mr. Hildreth writes, may be seen in this statement: " To believe a man against our own senses and reason is a high compliment. Hence the merit ascribed by theologians to implicit faith." Now, if Mr. Hildreth knows any thing at all of what theologians call implicit faith, or rather, faith in God, he knows this statement is not true. They have never yet supposed a man could, in any respect, pay our Heavenly Father a compliment. Theologians are not such consummate simpletons as all that comes to. I demand implicit faith in me on the part of my child, because there are a great many things which he must do or avoid doing, the reason of which he cannot comprehend. This notion, which has latterly prevailed, that you must appeal to a child's reason, and show him the reason of whatever you demand, is of a piece with all the rest of our modern inventions. The first lesson to be taught a child is obedience, — ay, blind obedience, if you will,— for, till after years of training, your child will be utterly unable to comprehend the reasonableness of your command. Your command, your wish, must be your child's reason. To give him, till considerably advanced, any other reason, is to destroy the foundation of that respect, that reverence, for one's elders and superiors, of which we as a people have so little, and without which there is, and can be, no solid worth of character. Now, this same trust, which I demand of my child in me, God demands of us all in him. We can know what he commands; but the reason of the command, or wherefore he commands what he does, we cannot always know, and are, for the most part, incapable of comprehending. It should, therefore, be enough for us, that he commands. His command should always be a sufficient reason for obeying. The mind, that would seek to go behind the command for its reason, is essentially impious and atheistic. Just as if, in the nature of things, a more conclusive reason were possible, for doing a thing, than that God wills it! The will of God is, not theologically only, but philosophically, the ultimate reason itself; and when you have got to the ultimate, why seek to go beyond?

So, again, with regard to matters of belief. Show me that God has said it, and you show me that it is true; for it is impossible for God to lie. His word is truth, and the highest possible evidence of truth. This is the view theologians talce of what so scandalizes our author.   What is sneered at, as implicit faith, is the most reasonable thing imaginable. Is it unreasonable to believe a proposition on sufficient evidence ? Does such belief derogate from the rights and dignity of the mind ? Of course not. Then what do I surrender, when I believe my Heavenly Father on his word ? Nay, suppose, as I firmly believe, the Church to be the divinely commissioned interpreter of God's word, what do I surrender in submitting to the decision of the Church, that I do not equally surrender when I believe any proposition on adequate evidence ? If I believe at all, it is always on authority; and what higher authority can I have in any case than the authority of God, or of the Church authorized by him to speak in his name ? We do not believe God's word, because by so doing we compliment the Almighty, but because, as reasonable, nay, as rational beings, we can do no less. But enough ; we have already spent more time on Mr Hildreth than his book deserves.