Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

A COURSE OF ETHICS.

11

of what you all knew. When any of us is born into this world, he is surrounded by objects which he is by degrees to get acquainted with through his senses. But he has also human relations—a mother at all events, a father ; perhaps brothers and sisters. He sees their faces, he hears their voices, as he sees the curtains of the bed and hears the noise in the streets. But his relation to them must be something different from this. We all are sure that it is. All the seeing and hearing in the world do not fulfil that relation. We speak of affections. Evidently a man's relation to his fellow-men fails utterly, is not fulfilled, unless he has these affections. They are as necessary to it as seeing and hearing are to his intercourse with any thing that is not human. To these relationships and to these affections, then, we addressed ourselves first of all. The consideration of them gave rise to a number of observations and a number of questions. If we merely confined ourselves to the life of a child, we were met with a variety of serious inquiries as to how its affections were to be directed, as to the distortions to which they were liable, as to the influence of the senses upon them, and their influence upon the senses. We seemed to learn a good deal by examining the words which we use to describe these facts, as well as by comparing our experiences of the facts themselves. What the members of my class said to me, and the difficulties which they raised, were very useful to me and helped me to see many things more clearly. If I did not remove their difficulties, I hope I may have shown some of them a way of removing them for themselves, by doing the duty which they are called to do.

Duty? What did that mean? That word introduced

us to another series of questions which belonged to the second division of these lessons. At some time there arises in the mind of each of us the sense that he is an individual person, not merely related to certain other people. I pointed out this feeling to you as especially characteristic of a boy, as being indicated by certain exhibitions of self-will and independence, and determination to put forth power, such as we had only seen the germs of in the child. I tried to show you that if these feelings are left to themselves, he becomes a savage; but that this is not the state that is intended for any one of us. I urged that all the efforts of schoolmasters, where they had been wise, had tended to awaken a sense of responsibility, to make the boy feel that he is subject to laws which must be executed in punishments if they are not obeyed. This dread of punishment may deter from crimes; but it can never lead any one to do a single right action. Till we understand that there is something due from us, till the sense of duty is awakened, we have no freedom, we are not even in the way to become men. To understand what this sense of duty is, I was driven to speak to you of that mysterious Conscience, which all men in some sort confess, which those who deny it in their theories bear witness of in their acts and in their habitual language. Some of you will remember what pains have been devoted to this inquiry during the last term, and how we were driven at last by facts, and in defiance of the speculations of eminent men, men worthy of all reverence, to think that the conscience is not a power of its own, but is a witness to us of some One speaking to us, commanding us, judging us.

HOW THESE COURSES ARE CONNECTED,

13

Very deep questions indeed started up unawares while we were engaged with this topic, and suggested the third division of our subject, which concerns especially the fullgrown man after he is loosed from the direct restraints of parents or teachers, questions concerning our Will and our Reason: how the one is only free when it is delivered from self-will; how the other is only in its proper state when it is seeking for truth and does not think that it can make truth; how both together are the very signs of what man is as distinguished from the animals; how both together are proofs that we are members of a race and family, and not a mere collection of individuals; how both together demand a perfect Will and a perfect Reason, that they may not miss the object and fail to fulfil the work for which they exist.

I do not go over this ground which some of us have travelled before, from a notion that no one will profit by these Sunday morning Lectures who has not attended my former courses.

I refer to it that both the old and new students may see for what purpose I do use, and for what purpose I do not use the Holy Scriptures. I use them because I think they will show us what is the ground of those affections, of that conscience, of that reason and will, which we have to do with because we are human beings, and which we must have to do with supposing there were no Scriptures at all. I do not use them because I look upon them as substitutes for these affections, or conscience, or reason, or will. I use them because I look

upon

them as God's revelation to us of ourselves, who are made in His image, and of Himself, who has made us in His image. I do not use them as if they would mean anything to us, or be of any worth to us, supposing we were not made in

His image, supposing it were not possible for us to be acquainted with Him. I use them because I conceive they set forth Christ as the Son of God and the Lord of every man. I do not use them because I think they set forth some standard which is good for a set of men called Christians, who are different from other men, and who have not the same God with other men. I use the Scriptures to show us what I believe is the law and the life for all of us, that law and life of which men in the old world had only a partial glimpse. I should not use them if I thought them less universal and more partial than the books of heathens or of later moralists.

Now, then, I have answered the questions with which I began. I am most anxious that you should not thiỉnk of Christian Ethics, that is to say, of the Christian character, as different from human Ethics, that is to say, from the proper human character. I am anxious that you should not think of Sunday Ethics as different from week-day Ethics. But I am also anxious that you should think of the Ethics which are set forth to us in the Christian Scriptures as being the Ethics for men, of our Sunday lessons as interpreting the experience of the week. That is my reason for wishing to meet you here on these mornings. We form a Working Men's College ; that is to say, a college of men not distinguished from other men by any advantages; who want only to be men and to do the work of men. Sunday, the day of rest, is, I believe, given us especially for this end. Work has its ground in rest and its termination in rest. Man is made to work and to rest. In his hours of rest he is preparing for work; in his hours of work he is preparing for rest. One great preparation is to learn what

FIRST WORDS OF THE EPISTLE.

15

the blessing of rest is, in whom he may rest, that we may learn also what the blessing of work is, and under whose guidance he may work. If the Sunday gives us that wisdom, I believe it does more for us than if it gives us merely animal rest; though I am far from undervaluing that either. At any rate, it is my business to do what I can that those who desire it may obtain the former gift. It is my duty to consider how I may help them most to attain it. And after much consideration, I can find no way in which I can aid them better than by trying to work out with them the meaning of this Epistle of St. John.

As I have told you, generally, why I think the Bible may be our best teacher in Ethics, I will tell you now why I select this book of the Bible as serving that purpose more perfectly than any other. I have been endeavouring, as I said just now, in my evening Lectures, to show you in what sense I regard the Scriptures as a history. I should not give them that name if I did not discover in them a gradual unveiling of the divine purpose and divine life to man, a gradual education of men to understand, through their own wants, and weaknesses, and sins, what this purpose and this life is, and how they may be the better for it. Through all the patriarchal period of the Jewish history, through all the legal, through all the prophetical, I trace, and I wish you to trace, this revelation and this education. But if the revelation and the education are good for anything, they must be leading to some result.

I find this result expressed in these words :— That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life (for the life was

« AnteriorContinuar »