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EPISTLE OF ST. JOHN.
I HAVE given some lessons on Ethics, or Morals, to a class
will wish to ask one or two questions. I have spoken of Morals, or Ethics. First, what do I mean by the word Morals ? It is a word derived from the Latin ; it signifies Manners. I understand by it the manners and habits which belong to us as human beings. That is the sense I have always given it in my lectures. Do I intend something different by Ethics ? No; I intend the same thing. It is a word derived from the Greek. It expresses, I think, a little more delicately and accurately than the other word, that the manners are not outside manners, not mere deportment. It answers more nearly
to what we call character. I have, therefore, adopted both expressions; but either will serve our purpose.
If this be the case, then you may ask me, in the second place, why in the programme I have prefixed the adjective Christian to Ethics ? Did I not propose to speak of the habits or character of a man? Do I mean that a Christian is to be something different from a man? Do I think that he can be anything better than a man? Or do I suppose there is one kind of morals for week-days and another for Sundays, and that the last is to be got from the Bible, the first somewhere else?
You cannot be more anxious to ask these last questions than I am to answer them. I have little hope that we can understand one another till I have quite cleared my meaning about them. And I feel very confident that I shall be able to make you, the members of this College, understand me even if I fail to make other people understand me. I think so because I believe you come to study morals, and every other subject, for the sake of work, for the sake of life. I think so further, because I know that my colleagues, and that all who come by accident to lecture among you, cultivate that disposition in you and try to show you that books only exist to make us acquainted with facts and with laws which God has established for us and for the world. Some of you may have listened to a beautiful lecture, which was so kindly given here last night, upon Natural History, by Mr. Huxley. You will have observed how he proceeded. You will remember that he did not give us a system out of a book; that he did not entertain us with an eloquent panegyric on his study. He took a lobster ; he explained to us the different parts of its
frame, the uses to which each part was applied, the type upon which the whole was constructed. So he led us by degrees to perceive what the objects of Natural History are, how it interprets one and another portion of the Universe to us, how it may cultivate our own minds. I cannot follow an eminent and accomplished man of science, but I should like at least to catch something of his spirit, above all of his modesty. And I should like you to try me by the same kind of test, severe as it is. If I cannot help you better to understand the facts and laws which most concern yourselves, my words ought to go for nothing.
Perhaps I shall be able to explain the plan which I have endeavoured and am endeavouring to pursue in this College of Working Men, if I tell you a little of my own experience when I was a student in a much older and more august society. From what you have heard of the University of Oxford, and of its being confined till very lately to members of the Church of England, you will perhaps fancy that the book on Ethics, or Morals, which is used there, is a book written by some eminent divine. By no means. It is a book written by an old Pagan philosopher. Out of that I learnt lessons on this great subject. What other books I read there on Ethics, were chiefly for the purpose of illustrating the Ethics of Aristotle. How did this answer? I cannot venture to speak for others; but I will for myself. I owe quite unspeakable gratitude to the University of Oxford, for having put this book into my hands and induced me to read it and think of it. I doubt if I could have received a greater service from any University or any teacher. For I will tell you what this book did for me. First, it assured me that
the principles of Morals cannot belong to one time or another, that they must belong to all times. Here was an old Heathen Greek making me aware of things that were passing in me, detecting my laziness and my insincerity, showing how little I was doing the things which I professed to do, forcing me to confess that, with all the advantages which I had, he was better than I was. That was one great thing. Whatever takes down a young man's conceit must be profitable to him. This book might have done it much more effectually in my case than it did ; that was my fault, not the writer's. Next, I could not but learn from him, for he took immense pains to tell me so, that it is not by reading a book, or learning a set of maxims by heart, one gets to know anything of morality; that it belongs to life, and must be learnt in the daily practice of life. I repeat it, he tells us this very often. English and Christian writers might have told it me also. But I am not sure that their words would have gone as much home to me as Aristotle's did. I might have thought that it was their business, part of their profession, to utter that maxim; and also, there would have been so much in these books which I did not find in Aristotle, that I might have trusted them more, and not have thought that I wanted some inward experience to expound them. For this is the third good that I got from the old Greek; he did not satisfy me. He told me a number of things which I believed then, and believe now, to be of continual use. He made me see the worth of habits, the worth of acts, the worth of moral purposes. But when I asked him what was to be the standard of my habits and acts and moral purposes, he did not give me
THEY POINT TO A LIFE.
any distinct answer. And the more I questioned him, the less could I extract from him what I wanted. He had made me know that it was not a mere book standard I needed, that all the theories and all the laws in the world would not give it me. For that I was infinitely obliged to him. But I positively wanted to learn where it was, since without it I felt I could not practise the things he wished me to practise, I could not be the worthy man he was trying to make me. Nay, I should have been a very unworthy man; for I had reason to think there was such a standard, and I felt strange twinges for having departed from it, which twinges he could not explain to me.
Of course many people would have said to me at once, If you want this standard you must turn to the Bible.' The common religious opinion of my country said so; the University in which I had been studying this Heathen book said so. But I found a difficulty in practically attending to the recommendation. I had got the conviction thoroughly worked into me, that this standard could not be contained in any letters, though they were the most wonderful letters ever written in the world. It did not signify how good they were, how much authority they had. Aristotle's was an imperfect treatise, a treatise containing plenty of errors. But if there were a perfect treatise, one in which were no errors at all, it would not be the standard that I wanted; still less would it enable me to follow a standard. The standard must be a LIFE. It must be set forth in a living Person. If it is to do me any good, his life must in some way act upon my life. Aristotle had been, as I said, a blessing to me for making me understand that this was so ; he had failed from being unable to show