Lecky On Morals -- By: J. R. Herrick

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 029:114 (Apr 1872)
Article: Lecky On Morals
Author: J. R. Herrick


Lecky On Morals1

Rev. Dr. J. R. Herrick

Inseparable from each other as are morality and religion, the true principles of ethics, appreciated and embraced, are a great help to practical religion, while in many ways they modify or help to form our theological opinions. On the other hand, false or inadequate conceptions of morals, such, for example, as do not carry us beyond the ethics of interest, would lead us to treat religion and Christianity as means of human enjoyment, instead of subjecting man through religion and Christianity to the service of his Maker; and would satisfy us with a theology that makes the good of the individual or the created universe its highest thought and ultimate end! For instance, how different, how much more healthful, the influence of Cud worth’s “Immutable Morality,” which, instead of adapting the law of right to the sinful weakness and inclinations of man, vigorously refutes the popular notion of a conventional standard of right and wrong, and makes moral principles as changeless as the throne of God, and alike binding upon all, compared with Paley’s system, grounded in happiness and drawing its sanction from personal interest. The former tended to purify the moral atmosphere

by raising men’s minds from themselves to God and immutable truth; while the latter has actually exerted a very powerful and pernicious influence in fostering the spirit of utilitarianism through all the relations of life. In fact, whatever view of morals we hold, this must needs have a wide application and influence.

But in our day, as might be anticipated from the bold claim of naturalism and positivism that they contain the whole of truth, we have morals and Christianity treated as natural agents among many others in the development of mankind. It follows as a legitimate consequence of rejecting the supernatural, that men must be confined wholly to the sphere of nature, and that whatever comes under the name of morality will perforce conform to laws by which nature works. A very plausible method for this is, first to assume Christianity to be an agent for promoting public morals, and then to look at the external features of moral development.

Whether or not this was Lecky’s conscious design we need not here affirm. But in his History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne he treats mainly of the moral condition of the Roman empire before and after it became nominally Christian, and with the intent, apparently, of showing thus the influence of Christianity as an agency, bad or good or mixed, in civilization. The design of the writer, which is not so clearly enounced as to pr...

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