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to all, who act in the same manner, and from the same motive ; that is, you must allow every man to kill any one he meets, whom he thinks noxious or useless; which, in the event, would be to commit every man’s life and safety to the fpleen, fury, and fanaticism of his neighboura disposition of affairs which would soon fill the world with misery and confusion ; and ere long put an end to human society, if not to the human species.
The necessity of general rules in human governments is apparent : but whether the same necessity subsist in the divine economy, in that distribution of rewards and punishments, to which a moralist looks forward, may be doubted.
I answer, that general rules are necessary to every moral government; and by moral government I mean any dispensation, whose object is to influence the conduct of reasonable creatures.
For if, of two actions perfectly similar, one be punished, and the other be rewarded or forgiven, which is the consequence of rejecting general rules, the subjects of fuch a dispensation would no longer know, either what to expect or how to act. Rewards and punishments would ceafe to be such-would become accidents. Like the stroke of a thunderbolt, or the discovery of
a mine, like a blank or a benefit ticket in a lot tery, they would occasion pain or pleasure when they happened ; but following in no known order, from any particular course of action, they could have no previous influence or effect upon the conduct.
An attention to general rules, therefore, is included in the very idea of reward and punishment. Consequently whatever reason there is to expect future reward and punishment at the hand of God, there is the fame reason to believe, that he will proceed in the distribution of it by general rules.
Before we prosecute the consideration of general consequences any farther, it may be proper to anticipate a reflection, which will be apt enough to suggest itself in the progress of our argument.
As the general consequence of an action, upon which so much of the guilt of a bad action depends, consists in the example; it should seem, that, if the action be done with perfect secrecy, so as to furnish no bad example, that part of the guilt drops off. In the case of suicide, for inItance, if a man can so manage matters, as to
take take away his own life, without being known or suspected to have done so, he is not chargeable with any mischief from the example; nor does his punishment seem necessary, in order to save the authority of any general rule.
In the first place, those who reason in this manner do not observe, that they are setting up a general rule, of all others the least to be endured; namely, that secrecy, whenever secrecy is practicable, will justify any action.
Were such a rule admitted, for instance, in the cafe above produced, is there not reason to fear that people would be disappearing perpetually?
In the next place, I would wish them to be well satisfied about the points proposed in the following queries :
1. Whether the scriptures do not teach us to expect that, at the general judgment of the world, the most secret actions will be brought to light* ?
2. For what purpose can this be, but to make them the objects of reward and punishment ?
3. Whether, being so brought to light, they will not fall under the operation of those equal
* « In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men " by Jesus Christ.” Rom. xi. 16%" Judge nothing before “ the time until the Lord come, who will bring to light the “ hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the coun« cils of the heart.” 1 Cor. iv. 5.
and impartial rules, by which God will deal with his creatures ?
They will then become examples, whatever they be now; and require the same treatment from the judge and governor of the moral world, as if they had been detected from the first.
CH A P. VIII.
THE CONSIDERATION OF GENERAL CONSE
THE general consequence of any action
1 may be estimated, by asking what would be the consequence, if the same sort of actions were generally permitted. But suppose they were, and a thousand such actions perpetrated under this permission; is it just to charge a single action with the collected guilt and mischief of the whole thousand ? I answer, that the reason for prohibiting and punishing an action (and this reason may be called the guilt of the action, if you please) will always be in proportion to the whole mischief that would arise
from the general impunity and toleration of actions of the same fort.
“ Whatever is expedient is right.” But then it must be expedient upon the whole, at the long run, in all its effects collateral and remote, as well as in those which are immediate and direct; as it is obvious, that, in computing confequences, it makes no difference in what way or at what distance they ensue.
To impress this doctrine upon the minds of young readers, and to teach them to extend their views beyond the immediate mischief of a crime, I shall here fubjoin a string of instances, in which the particular consequence is comparatively insignificant ; and where the malignity of the crime, and the severity with which human laws pursue it, is alınost entirely founded upon the general consequence.
The particular consequence of coining is, the loss of a guinea, or of half a guinea, to the perfon who receives the counterfeit money; the general consequence (by which I mean the confequence that would ensue, if the same practice were generally permitted) is, to abolish the use of money.
The particular consequence of forgery is, a damage of twenty or thirty pounds to the man