« ZurückWeiter »
others; when we sit mute, and refuse to vindicate his character when it is unjustly aspersed; when we endeavour to aggravate the circumstances which may have accompanied any criminal action; when we make no allowances for the force of temptation, and the peculiar circumstances in which the criminal may have been placed; when we fix upon an insulated act of vice or folly, and apply it to our neighbour as a general character; when we rake up, with a malevolent design, an action which he has long since reprobated and repented of; when his character is made the subject of jest or merriment, and when, by smiles, and noddings, and gestures, we insinuate any thing injurious to his reputation. It is violated in promises—when we promise, either what we have no intention of performing, or what we had no right to promise, or what is out of our power to perform, or what would be unlawful for us to execute. It is violated in threatenings, when we neglect to put them in execution, or we threaten to inflict what would be either cruel or unjust. It is violated in history, when the principal facts are blended with doubtful or fictitious circumstances: when the conduct of liars and intriguers, of public robbers and murderers, is varnished over with the false glare of heroism and of glory; and when the actions of upright men are, without sufficient evidence, attributed to knavery, or to the influence of fanaticism; when the writer construes actions and events, and attributes to the actors motives and designs, in accordance with his own prejudices and passions, and interweaves his opinions and deductions, as if they were a portion of the authenticated records of historical fact. —It is violated in the invention of fictitious narratives, and in the relation of marvellous stories, when the system of nature is distorted, historical facts caricatured, misrepresented, and blended with the vagaries of a romantic imagination; when scenes, events, and circumstances, “which never did nor can take place,” are presented to the view, merely to convey a transient gratification to trifling and indolent minds. It is violated by men of science when they give an inaccurate statement of the results of their observations and experiments; when, either through carelessness or design, they give an unfair representation of the facts and principles in nature, in order to support a favourite system or hypothesis; and when they studiously keep out of view the various circumstances in which every fact should be contemplated.—It is violated in the literary world, when the editor of a magazine or a review writes an article, and addresses it to himself, as if it came from the pen of another; when, for the sake of “filthy lucre,” or to gratify a friend, he bestows encomiums on a work which is unworthy of the attention of the public; or when, to gratify a mean, or revengesul passion, he misrepresents or abuses the literary productions of his
opponents; or when an author writes a leview of his own work, and imposes it on the pub'ic, as if it were the decision of an impartial critic. —It is violated by controversialists, when they bring forward arguments in support of any postion which they are conscious are either weak of unsound; when they appear more anxious to display their skill and dexterity, and to obtain a victory over their adversaries, than to vindicate the cause of truth; when sneers, and sarcasms, and personal reproaches, are substituted in the room of substantial arguments; when they misrepresent the sentiments of their opponents, by stating them in terms which materially alter their meaning; and when they palm upon them the doctrines and opinions which they entirely disawow. It is violated in commercial transactions, when deteriorated goods are varnished over with a fair outside, and puffed off as if they were saleable and sound; when a merchant asks more than he is willing to take for any commodity; when he depreciates the commodities of his neighbour; when he undervalues whatever he is purchasing, and makes an overcharge for the articles of which he is disposing: when he denies the goods he has in his possession, when there is the prospect of an advancing price,—and in a thousand other ways, best known to the nefarious trader.—It is violated by persons in every department of life, not only when they utter what they know to be false, but when they profess to declare the whole truth, and keep back part of it with an intention to deceive ; when they make use of a propositicn that is literally true, in order to convey a falsehood;* when they flatter the vanity of weak minds; when they ascribe to their friends or to others good qualities which do not belong to them, or refuse to acknowledge those accomplishments of which they are possessed; when they endeavour to cajole children into obedience, by promising what they never intend to perform, and threatening what they never intend to inflict; and when they indulge in a habit of exaggeration, in the account they give of their adventures, and of the things which they have seen or heard. Truth is violated by signs, as well as by words, —as, when we point with our finger in a wrong direction, when a traveller is inquiring about the road he should take; when a British ship hoists *
• The following fact will illustrate this and simi. - sehood:—A person, when selling a ed by the purchaser if it kept time correctly 2 He was told by the owner, that neither the hour nor the minute hand had required to be alterei for more than a twelve-month. This was literally true; but the watch, was nevertheless, a very bad, regulator of time. When hung in a perpendicular position, it went too slow, and, when laid in a horizontal position, it went too fast: but by alternately shift: ing these positions, and thus molifying the rates of motion, the hands did not require to be altered. Soich assertions, however, are to be considered as direct lies, when they are intended to convey a false or erroneous conception, as in the instance now stated.
Spanish colours; when flags of truce are violated; when spies insinuate themselves into society as upright men, for the purpose of entrapping the unwary; when salse intelligence is communicated to an enemy; when fires are lighted, or put out, in order to deceive mariners at sea; and when signals of distress are counterfeited by ships sea, for the purpose of decoying into their power the ships of an enemy. Truth is violated in relation to God, when we conceal from those whom we are bound to instruct, the grandeur and immensity of his works, and the displays of divine intelligence and skill which are exhibited in his visible operations; when we exhibit a diminutive view of the extent and glory of his kingdom; when we give an inaccurate and distorted representation of the laws of nature, and of the order and the economy of the universe; when we misrepresent the facts which exist in the system of nature, and which occur in the truth of providence ; when we call in question the history of that revelation which he has confirmed by signs and miracles, and by the accomplishment of numerous predictions; when we misrepresent its facts, its doctrines, and its moral requisitions; when we transform its historical narrations into a series of parables and allegories; when we distort its literal meaning by vague and injudicious spiritualizing comments; when we fix our attention solely on its doctrines, and neglect to investigate its moral precepts; and when we confine our views to a few points in the system of revelation, and neglect to contemplate its whole range, in all its aspects and bearings. In the above, and in ten thousand other modes, is the law of truth violated by the degenerate inhabitants of our world. The mischiefs and the miseries which have followed its violation, in reference to the affairs of nations, to the private interests of societies, families, and individuals, and to the everlasting concerns of mankind, are incalculable, and dreadful beyond description. It is one of the principal sources from which have sprung the numerous abominations and cruelties connected with the system of Pagan idolatry, the delusions and the persecuting spirit of the votaries of Mahomet, and the pretended miracles, and “the lying wonders,” of that church which is denominated “the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.” It has been chiefly owing to the violation of this law, that the thrones of tyrants have been supported, that liberty has been destroyed, that public safety and happiness have been endangered, that empires have been overturned, that nations have been dashed one against another. and that war has produced among the human race somany overwhelming desolations. By the pernicious influence of falsehood, the peace uf families has been invaded, their comforts blasted, their good name dishonoured, their wealth destroyed, their hopes disappointed, and their
bright prospects of happiness involved in a cloud of darkness and despair. By the sophistry of unprincipled men, literature and science have been perverted, and the avenues to substantial knowledge rendered difficult and dangerous; litigations have been multiplied without number; human beings have been agitated, perplexed, and bewildered; and the widow and the fatherless oppressed and robbed of their dearest enjoyments. Could we search the private records of ancient kings, princes, and legislators, and trace the deceitful plans which have been laid in palaces and cabinets—or could we, at this moment, penetrate into all the intrigues, deceptions, treacheries, plots, and machinations, which are going forward in the cabinets of despots, the mansions of princes, and the courts of law, throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia; such a host of falsehoods and “lying abominations,” like an army of spectres from the insernal regions, would stare us in the face, as would make us shrink back with horror and amazement, and fill us with astonishment that the patience of the God of heaven has been so long exercised towards the inhabitants of such a depraved and polluted world. Let us now consider, for a little, some of the effects which would inevitably follow were the law of truth universally violated. In this case a scene of horror and confusion would ensue, of which it is difficult for the mind to form any distinct conception. It is obvious, in the first place, that rational beings could never improve in knowledge, beyond the range of the sensitive objects that happened to be placed within the sphere of their personal observation. For, by sar the greater part of our knowledge is derived from the communications of others, and from the stimulus to intellectual exertion which such communications produce—Let us suppose a human being trained up, from infancy, in a wilderness, by a bear or a wolf, as history records to have been the case of several individuals in the forests of France, Germany, and Lithuania, what knowledge could such a being acquire beyond that of a brute? He might distinguish a horse from a cow, and a man from a dog, and know that such objects as trees, shrubs, grass, flowers, and water, existed around him ; but knowledge, strictly so called, and the proper exercise of his rational faculties, he could not acquire, so long as he remained detached from other rational beings. Such would be our situation, were falsehood universal among men. We could acquire a knowledge of nothing but what was obvious to our senses in the objects with which we were surrounded. We could not know whether the earth were twenty miles, or twenty thousand miles in extent, and whether oceans, seas, rivers, and ranges of mountains, existed on its surface, unless we had made the tour of it in person, and, with our own eyes, surveyed the various objects it contains. Of course, we should remain in ab
roote ignorance of the existence and the attributes of God, of the moral relations of intelligent beings to their Creator, and to one another, and of the realities of a suture state. For it is only, or chiefly, through the medium of testimony, combined with the evidence of our senses, that we acquire a knowledge of such truths and objects. In the next place, all confidence among intelligent beings, would be completely destroyed. Disappointinent would invariably attend every purpose and resolution, and every scheme we wished to execute, if it depended in the least degree upon the direction or assistance of others. We durst not taste an article of food which we received from another, lest it should contain poison ; nor could we ever construct a house to shelter us from the storm, unless our own physical powers were adequate to the work. Were we living in Edinburgh, we could never go to Musselburgh or Dalkeith, if we were previously ignorant of the situation of these places; or were we residing in London, it would be impossible for us ever to find our way to Hommerton or Hampstead, unless, after a thousand attempts, chance should happen to direct us; and when we arrived at either of these villages, we should still be in as much uncertainty as ever whether it was the place to which we intended to direct our steps. Confidence being destroyed, there could be no friendship, no union of hearts, no affectionate intercourse, no social converse, no consolation or comfort in the hour of distress, no hopes of deliverance in the midst of danger, and no prospect of the least enjoyment from any being around us. In such a case, the mind would feel itself as in a wilderness, even when surrounded by fellow intelligences, and wherever it roamed over the vast expanse of nature, or among the mass of living beings around it, it would meet with no affectionate interchange of feelings and sentiments, and no object on which it could rest for solace and enjoyment. Every one would feel as if he were placed in the midst of an infinite void, and as if he were the only being residing in the universe. In such a case we would flee from the society of men as we would do from a lion or a tiger when rushing on his prey; and hide ourselves in dens, and forests, and caverns of the earth, till death should put a period to a cheerless and miserable existence. All social intercourses and relations would cease —samilies could not possibly exist; nor any affectionate intercourse between the sexes: for truth, and the confidence which is founded upon it, are implied in all the intercourses of husbands and wives, of brothers and sisters, and of parents and children;–and consequently, the human race, dropping into the grave, one after another, like the leaves of autumn, without any successors, would, in a short time, be extirpated from the earth. In such a state, kindness aud affection would never be exercised; trade
and commerce, buying and selling,sociatcompacts and agreements would be annihilated; science, literature, and the arts, could not exist ; and consequently, universities, colleges, churches, academies, schools, and every othe seminary of instruction would be unknown. No villages, towns, nor cities would be built; no fields cultivated; no orchards, vineyards, nor gardens planted ; no intercourse would exist between different regions of the globe; and nothing but one dreary barren waste would be presented to the eye, throughout the whole expanse of nature. So that were truth completely banished from the earth, it would present a picture of that dark and dismal region where “all liars have their portion " where all are deceivers and deceived, and where the hopeless mind roams amidst innumerable false intelligences, sor one ray of comfort, or one confidential spirit in which it may confide, but roams in vain. In short, were truth banished not only from this world, but from the universe at large, creation would be transformed into a chaos; the bond which now connects angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, in one harmonious union, would be forever dissolved; the inhabitants of all worlds would be thrown into a state of universal anarchy; they would shun each other's society, and remain as so many cheerless and insulated wretches, amidst the gloom and desolations of universal nature; all improvements in knowledge, and all progressive advances towards moral perfection, would be forever interrupted ; and happiness would be banished from the whole intelligent system. Every mind would become the seat of terror and suspense, and would be haunted with frightful spectres and dreadful expectations. The government of the Eternal woula be subverted, the moral order of the intelligent system overturned ; all subordination would cease, and misery would reign uncontrolled throughout every region of intellectual existence. For truth is implied in the principle of love; it is essential to its existence; so that the one cannot operate except on the basis of the other: and we have already shown, that the destruction of love would be the destruction of all order, and ot all happiness among intelligent beings. Such are some of the dread sul effects which would inevitably follow, were the law under consideration reversed or universally violated. In our world this law has, hitherto, been only partially violated ; yet what dreadful mischiefs, beyond calculation, and even beyond conception, has its frequent violation created . Ever since that moment when “the father of lies” deceived the first human pair, how many thousands of millions of liars have trodden in his footsteps: and what a host of falsehoods has sollowed in their train, which have destroyed the harmony of the moral system, and robbed the werld of happiness and repose! Yet how little are we affect.
ed by the frequent violations of this law 7 and how seldom do we reflect, that every falsehood we unadvisedly utter, is an infringement of that law on which rest the throne of the Almighty and the eternal appiness of the universe ? For if one lie may be palliated or vindicated, on the same principle we might vindicate a thousand, and a million, and millions of millions, till falsehood became universal among all ranks of beings and till the moral order of the intelligent creation was completely subverted. Of how much importance is it then, that an inviolable attachment to truth, in its minutest ramifications, be early impressed upon the minds of the young, by persuasion, by precept, by example, by reasoning, and by a vivid representation of its importance, and of its inestimable benefits 7 and how careful should we be to preserve them from all incentives to the practice of lying, and especially from the company of those “whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood.” Were falsehood universally detested, and the love of truth universally cherished; were a single lie never more to be uttered by any inhabitant of this globe, what a mighty change would be ef. fected in the condition of mankind, and what a giorious radiance would be diffused over all the movements of the intelligent system 7 The whole host of liars, perjurers, sharpers, seducers, slanderers, tale-bearers, quacks, thieves, swindiers, harpies, fraudulent dealers, false friends, flatterers, corrupt judges, despots, sophists, hypocrites, and religious impostors, with the countless multitude of frauds, treacheries, impositions, falsehoods, and distresses which have followed in their train, would instantly disappear from among men. The beams of truth, penetrating through the mists of ignorance, error, and perplexity, produced by sophists, sceptics, and deceivers, which have so long enveloped the human mind, would diffuse a lustre and a cheerfulness on the face of the moral world, like the mild radiance
of the morning after a dark and tempestuous.
night. Confidence would be restored throughout every department of social life; jealousy, suspicion, and distrust would no longer rankle in the human breast; and unseigned affection, fidelity, and friendship, would unite the whole brotherhood of mankind. With what a beautiful simplicity, and with what smoothness and harmony would the world of trade move onward in all its transactions ! How many cares and anxieties would vanish! how many perplexities would cease! and how many ruinous litigations would be prevented 7 For the violation of truth may be considered as the chief cause of all those disputes respecting property, which have plunged so many families into suspense an wretchedness. The tribunals of justice would be purified froid every species of sophistry and deceit ; and the promises of kings, and the leagues of nations,
would be held sacred and inviolate. Science would rapidly advance towards perfect on ; for, as all its principles and doctrines are sounded upon facts, when truth is universally held inviolable, the facts on which it is built will always be fairly represented. Every fact asserted by voyagers and travellers, in relation to the physical or the moral world, and every detail of experiments made by the chemist and the philosopher, would form a sure ground-work for the development of truth, and the detection of error; without the least suspicion arising in the mind respecting the veracity of the persons on whose testimony we rely. For want of this confidence the mind has been perplexed and distracted by the jarring statements of travellers, naturalists, and historians; false theories have been framed; systems have been reared on the baseless sabric of a vision ; the foundations of science have been shaken ; its utility called in question, and its most sublime discoveries overlooked and disregarded.
In fine, the clouds which now obscure many of the sublime objects of religion, and the realities of a future world, would be dispelled, were falsehood unknown, and truth beheld in its native light; and religion, purified from every mixture of error and delusion, would appear arrayed in its own heavenly radiance, and attract the love and the admiration of men. When exhibited in its native grandeur and simplicity, all doubts respecting its divine origin would soon evanish from the mind—the beauty and sublimity of its doctrines would be recognised as worthy of its Author; and all its moral requisitions would be perceived to be “holy, just, and good,” and calculated to promote the order, and the ever lasting happiness of the intelligent universe. Divine truth irradiating every mind, and accompanied with the emanations of heavenly love, would dispel the gloom which now hangs over many sincere and pious minds ; would unita man to man, and man to God ; and the inhabitants of this world, freed from every doubt, error, and perplexity, would move forward in harmony and peace, to join “the innumerable company of angels, and the general assembly of the spirits of just men made perfect, whose names are written in heaven.”
THE TENTH comm ANDMENT.
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thv neighbour's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.”
Every precept of the law to which I have hitherto adverted, has a reference not only to the external conduct of moral agents, but also to the internal motives or principles from which that conduct proceeds. This is evident from the considerations already stated, and from the whole tenor of Divine Revelation —and it is in unison with reason, and with the common sense of mankind, that the merit or demerit of any action is to be estinated, according to the intention of the actor, and the disposition from which it slows. That no doubt may remain on this point, the Supreme Legislator closes the decalogue with a command, which has a reference solely to the desires and dispositions of the mind: “Thou shalt not covet” Covetousness consists in an inordinate desire of earthly objects and enjoyments. This desire, when uniformly indulged, leads to a breach of almost every other precept of the Divine law ; and is the source of more than one half of all the evils which afflict the human race. It leads to a breach of the eighth command, by exciting either to fraudulent dealings, or to direct acts of thest and robbery.—It leads to a breach of the ninth command, by cherishing the principle of falsehood which is implied in every fraudulent transaction.—It leads to a violation of the sixth command, by engendering a spirit of revenge against those who stand in the way of its gratification; and by exciting the covetous man to the conmission of murder, in order to accornplish his avaricious desires.—It also leads to a violation of the seventh command; for, when one “covets his neighbour's wife,” the next step is to endeavour to withdraw her affection from her husband, and to plunge a family into misery and distress.-It also leads to a violation of the fifth precept of the law, not only as it steels the heart against those kindly filial affections which children ought to exercise towards their parents, but as it excites them to withhold from their parents, when in old age and distress, those external comforts which are requisite to their happiness, and which it is the duty of affectionate children to provide. And, when covetousness has thus led to the breach of every other precept of the second table of the law, it follows, that all the precepts of the first table are also virtually violated. For all the commandments of the first table are briefly summed up in this comprehensive precept, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart:” but it is obviously impossible, may, it would be a contradiction in terms, to suppose, that supreme love to the Creator can reside in the same breast in which an inordinate desire of worldly enjoyments reigns uncontrolled, and in which love to man has no existence. So that covetousness may be considered as the great barrier which separates between man and his Maker, and also as the polluted fountain from whence flow all the Inoral abominations and the miseries of mankind.
The more obvious and direct manifestation of this principle is generally distinguished by the name of Avarice, cran inordinate desire of riches. And what a countless host of evils has flowed Grom this unhallowed passion, both in relation to individuals, to families, to nations, and to the
world at large! In relation to the avaricious man himself, could we trace ali the eager desires, anxieties, perplexities, and cares, which harass his soul; the fraudulent schemes he is obliged to contrive, in order to accomplish his object; the miserable shifts to which he is reduced, in order to keep up the appearance of common honesty; the mass of contradictions, and the medley of falsehoods, to which he is always obliged to have recourse; he numerous disappointments to which his eager pursuit of wealth continually exposes him, and by which his soul is pierced as with so many daggers—we should behold a wretched being, the prey of restless and contending passions, with a mind full of falsehoods, deceitful schemes, and grovelling affections, like a cagefull of every unclean and hateful bird, a mind incapable of any rational enjoyment in this life, and entirely incapacitated for relishing the nobler enjoyments of the life to come. Such a man is not only miserable himself, but becomes a moral nuisance to the neighbourhood around him; stinting his own family of its necessary comforts; oppressing the widow and the satherless; grasping with insatiable fangs every house, tenement, and patch of land within his reach; hurrying poor unfortunate debtors to jail; setting adrift the poor and needy from their long-accustomed dwellings; and presenting to the young and thoughtless a picture, which is too frequently copied, of an immortal mind immersed in the mire of the most degrading passions, and worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. In relation to large communities and nations, this grovelling passion has produced, on an extensive scale, the most mischievous and destructive effects. It has plundered palaces, churches, seats of learning, and repositories of art; it has polluted the courts of judicature, and the tribunals of Justice; it has corrupted magistrates, judges, and legislators; and has transformed many even of the ministers of religion, into courtly sycophants, and hunters after places and pensions. It has ground whole nations to poverty, under the load of taxation; it has levelled spacious cities with the dust; turned fruitful fields into a wilderness; spread misery over whole empiros; drenched the earth with human gore; and waded through fields of blood in order to satiate its ungovernable desires. What has led to most of the wars which have desolated the earth, in every age, but the insatiable cravings of this restless and grovelling passion? It was the cursed love of gold that excited the Spaniards to ravage the territories of Mexico and Peru, to violate every principle of justice and humanity, to massacre, and to perpetrate the most horrid cruelties on their unoffending inhabitants. It is the same principle, blended with the lust of power, which still actuates the infatuated rulers of that unhappy nation, in their vain attempts to overthrow the