Billeder på siden

For, every

to confer upon them those benefits which he has a discretionary right to bestow or withhold, he is accountable for that refusal to his God. opportunity of doing good to one of his fellow-creatures without being obliged to omit some other duty of equal or superior importance, is an opportunity afforded him of serving his Maker, and thus promoting his own final happiness; and he is bound never to neglect that primary end of his being *.'




The rights of men are derived from the will of God; and their nature and number are pointed out by those relations which exist between man and God, between man and his fellow-creatures, and between man and that moral happiness and eternity for which he is designed. It is God who has constituted him what he is, a being endowed with reason and conscience, capable of being instrumental in his own happiness or misery, of being the object of moral approbation or disapprobation, and of knowing, loving, and serving God. By him is he placed in his present circumstances, in the bosom of the family of mankind, the greater part of which he has never seen, with a great part of which he has only a casual connexion, and with some members of which he has that union and

* Gisborne's Principles of Mor. Phil. p. 106.


intercourse which involves the most important obligations.

What are the original rights of mankind, and how are they to be ascertained ? The knowledge of these is necessary to furnish a rule by which men are to regulate their conduct in regard to others, and to direct themselves in the use and disposal of that which is their own.

That every man has originally a right, by the will of God, to life-to freedom from personal injury and restraint--to as much of the unappropriated productions of the earth as are necessary to his subsistence-to accept from others such rights as they are authorized to transfer to him,-is a position so clear as to require neither proof nor illustration in its support. Nor can it reasonably be doubted, that every man is authorized to defend his own rights, and the rights of those who are under his protection, by the use of requisite force against an aggressor--to obtain restitution or indemnification in the case of an injury sustained, --and to waive, abridge, or alienate any of his alienable rights at his discretion. I have said alienable rights, because it is clear that there are certain rights which are unalienable. Thus, a man may give away his property, , but he cannot part with his right over his own know. ledge, thoughts, and responsibility: he cannot give up his right to judge for himself in matters of conscience, nor divest himself of his accountableness as a moral agent. He is, of course, accountable in proportion to his talents and opportunities; but from the constitution of his nature, he is in every situation accountable.

Are there any cases in which man is authorized to

deprive another of the gifts which God has given to him, or to restrain him in the enjoyment of them? According to Mr. Gisborne, and in his opinion I entirely concur, he is authorized to do so, when he proceeds in such deprivation and restraint so far, and so far only, as is necessary for the defence of the gifts of God to himself, or in defence of the gifts of God to those whom he is bound by natural ties to protect, or those by whom his aid is solicited, against attacks unauthorized by God: or, when he proceeds to such deprivation or restraint in consequence of the consent of the individual suffering it.

“ He may conclude, that for important purposes he is invested with a right to employ the powers of which he is possessed in defending himself against every kind of injury; whether it be likely to arise from famine or from nakedness, from the violence of a savage animal, or from the unwarranted attacks of a savage of his own species. And since he can in no case defend the divine gifts committed to his charge, without depriving the aggressor of some of his natural powers, or restraining him in the use of them; the arguments which justify him in defending himself against an unauthorized attack, evidently justify such deprivation or restraint, as far as may be necessary for his defence. He, therefore, who by invading the rights of another, has met with resistance, and has thereby lost any of the gifts conferred upon him, his property, his health, his limbs, or his life, must impute the loss wholly to himself. He runs upon a weapon pointed against him by the hand of God.”

* Gisborne's Principles of Mor. Phil. p. 83.

[ocr errors]

The end for which men are invested with rights is, that they may be enabled to fulfil the design of their being, by promoting their own happiness in conformity to the will of God. This end, therefore, ought to be the great object of their pursuits, to which every habit and employment should be made subservient. By neglecting this, though they should abstain from infringing on the rights of others, they are chargeable with sinning against God. Every man sins against God,” to use the words of the author already quoted, “ who does not act in such a manner with respect to the use, defence, and disposal of his rights, as he is of opinion will, on the whole, fulfil most effectually the purposes of his being.”

It is scarcely necessary to remark, that these principles are sanctioned by Scripture, which teaches us that in God we live, and move, and have our being, that from the Father of lights cometh down every good and perfect gift,--that we are bound to use his gifts for the purposes for which they are given, namely, the advancement of our own final welfare, and that of others, -and that every man must render an account of the talents with which he is intrusted at the tribunal of God.




As love is the source and the animating principle of the duties which we owe to God, so is it the source and the animating principle of the duties which we owe to our fellow-creatures. “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Owe no man any thing but to love one another : for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour : therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."

By “thy neighbour” we are to understand every intelligent creature who is capable of being happy, or of receiving benefit from us. The term, of course, includes all mankind, enemies as well as friends; as is shewn by our Lord in the parable of the good Sa. maritan. To the question, Who is my neighbour ? our Lord replied in a way to make the feelings of the inquirer give a decision opposed to his prejudices. The parable employed for this purpose is peculiarly VOL. II.


« ForrigeFortsæt »