Imágenes de páginas

I have endeavoured to prove, by undeniable facts, what this doctrine and these teachers have already done. Mr Combe speaks of what Phrenology is to do, and I shall be happy to see it realized. In the mean time, I beg to remind him that hitherto Phrenology has done nothing; and to recommend to his notice the maxim, 66 Let not him who buckleth on his armour boast as he who putteth it off.”



I. General view of the subject.

The notion of a Natural Law discoverable by man's reason, sufficient for the regulation of all his actions, is as old as the first speculation on the subject of the human faculties. The philosophers of ancient Greece endeavoured to discover this law, by following which man might attain the greatest possible happiness, or what they termed the supreme good. But though many of their speculations directed to this end were plausible and ingenious, and though they formed the loftiest ideas of human virtue, and pretended, by means of it, to be able to attain a happiness equal to that of the gods, they utterly failed in their attempts to form a scheme of practical morality, calculated to effect any improvement on the generality of mankind.

Similar views have been entertained in modern times by various writers. In France, during the latter part of the last century, they became favourite doctrines with a

set of philosophers, whose main object appeared to be, to undermine the influence, and supersede the authority of revelation. These philosophers revived the old speculations on the subject of a natural law, which they maintained to be “universal, invariable, demonstrable, reasonable, just, pacific, and of itself sufficient." They held, that by means of this law, man would be able, by his own unassisted means, to attain the highest perfection of his nature; and that, if it was only generally understood and obeyed, society would be a scene of unalloyed happiness, and that vice and misery would for ever disappear from the world.

It is obvious that these doctrines were maintained by the writers alluded to, not so much for their own sake, as for the sake of certain consequences which were supposed to follow from them. The great object was to get rid of revelation, and of the law which it proclaims under the highest sanctions, –a law too pure, searching, and uncompromising, to prove agreeable to the wayward and capricious desires of man's sinful nature. They assumed, that if a law were discoverable by reason, sufficient for the attainment of perfect virtue and perfect happiness, and accompanied by motives sufficiently strong to ensure its being universally obeyed, there could be no necessity for a law being proclaimed by a revelation from Heaven. And as the Creator does nothing in vain, and could not be supposed to have promulgated a law without necessity, it followed that there could be no such thing as a divine revelation, and that every thing pretending to be such must be founded on irti posture.

It also occurred, that if the laws by which this world is governed are such, that perfect justice is done in every case, and that perfect happiness is attainable by obedience to them in the present life, no reason could be assigned

for the existence of a future life for amending what may be amiss in the present.

Accordingly, the French philosophers who maintained the doctrine of a natural law, uniformly and consistently rejected all belief in revelation and a future state. These views are fully and elaborately set forth in a work supposed to have been written by Diderot, under the assumed name of Mirabaud, entitled, “ The System of Nature, or the Laws of the Moral and Physical World,” and are more concisely stated by M. Volney, author of the “ Ruins of Empires,” in a sequel to that performance, which he first named the “ Catechism of a French Citizen," and which was afterwards published in English under the title of " The Law of Nature.”

We are warned by high authority to beware of false teachers, of whom it is emphatically said, “ By their fruits ye shall know them;" and if in the present instance we apply this sure and infallible test, we can be at no loss to form a correct judgment. These works, which may be called the Confession of Faith, and Shorter Catechism of Infidelity, and others inculcating similar principles, with which France was inundated at the period referred to, were but too successful in poisoning the national mind, and preparing the way for that total dissolution of moral and religious principle which took place in that country at the time of the Revolution, and for the exhibition, unparalleled in the history of the world, of the supreme council of a great nation proclaiming, by a solemn decree, that “ there is no God," and that “ death is an eternal sleep.”

Mr Combe states, that his notions on the subject of the natural laws were derived from a MS. work of Doctor Spurzheim's, with the perusal of which he was honoured in 1824, and which was afterwards published

under the title of " A Sketch of the Natural Laws of Man.” I have no doubt this was the case, but there can be as little doubt that Doctor Spurzheim derived his notions from Volney, and the other French writers before alluded to. Doctor Spurzheim's work, like that of Volney, is in the form of a catechism ; the general train of thought in both is the same, and in many cases the doctrines stated are identical. There is, however, this difference, that Doctor Spurzheim, while he maintains the same opinions as Volney with regard to a natural law, does not draw the same conclusions against the truth of revelation. In regard to this, his mind appears to have been in a kind of neutral state. He does not expressly admit the Christian revelation to be true, but he refers to its moral precepts “ as surpassing all other systems of revealed religion, and as standing the scrutiny of reason."* He seems to consider that the natural laws discoverable by reason, and the precepts of pure Christianity, are in harmony one with another; but it is evidently the tendency of his mind to place more reliance on the former than on the latter, though he seems to entertain the idea that both must concur, in order to produce “ that general religious reformation, whose necessity for the well being of man is so evident.”

Such is the general scope of Doctor Spurzheim’s work; and although, in adopting the doctrine of the French writers with regard to the natural laws, he does, in fact, admit that which forms the foundation of all their infidel reasonings, I have no doubt that he was sincere in believing that he had kept clear of objectionable matter, and that no one, whether Christian or not, could find fault with his mode of treating the subject. It must be quite obvious, however, that if the reasoning of the French writers were correct, and if the consequences

* Page 196.

which they deduce follow legitimately from their premises, it can make no difference that these consequences are not formally stated in so many words, and that if we admit the premises, we cannot consistently reject the conclusion.

The general views maintained by Mr Combe on this subject, are as follows:-First, That all substances and beings have received a definite natural constitution; secondly, That every mode of action which is said to take place according to a natural law, is inherent in the constitution of the substance or being; and thirdly, That the mode of action described is universal and invariable wherever and whenever the substances or beings are found in the same condition.”

He then goes on to say, that intelligent beings are capable of observing nature, and of modifying their actions.. By means of their faculties, the laws impressed by the Creator on physical substances become known to them; and when perceived, constitute laws to them by which to regulate their conduct. For example, it is a physical law, that boiling water destroys the muscular and nervous systems of man. This is the result purely of the constitution of the body, and of the relation between it and heat; and man cannot alter or suspend the law. But whenever the relation, and the consequences of disregarding it, are perceived, the mind is prompted to avoid infringement, in order to avoid the torture attached by the Creator to the decomposition of the human body

by heat.

Mr Combe then goes on to state more in detail, the nature of those different laws which it is the duty of man to discover and obey. These, as far as they are yet known, he divides into three great classes, namely, lst, the physical laws, embracing all the phenomena of mere matter; 2d, the organic laws, comprehending the

« AnteriorContinuar »