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• I. The argument from the virtues of the heathen world, in proof of a Law of nature, written in the hearts of men, will seem strange to some, who may object,
That, if the appeal be to action, it may with greater reason be inferred, there was not any such Law; since the crimes and vices of the heathen world, as terribly set forth by St. Paul himself in the preceding chapter, were far more notorious, than its Virtues. So that if there be
force in St. Paul's appeal to the virtuous lives of some heathen, as evincing a Law, written in their hearts, because their practice was governed by it; the like appeal to the vicious lives of many more heathen, should seem with still more force to prove the non-existence of such Law, in as much as it did not govern their practice.” But the answer is obvious. For a Law may be in part, or even totally, violated by persons under a full conviction of its existence and obligation : whereas it is hard to imagine, that any number of men, of different times, in distant places, and under different circumstances of age, temper, and education, should exhibit in their lives the same tenour of action, without the guidance of some fixed and common Rule.
This then being observed, let us turn our eyes upon the heathen world; on that part,
more especially, which is best known to us from the authentic monuments of Greek and Roman story. For bad as that world was, it can ot be denied to have furnished many instances of extraordinary virtue. We find there justice, temperance, fortitude, and all those virtues, which their own Moralists called Offices, and which the sacred page has dignified with the name of Graces, exhibited in their fairest forms, and emulating, as it were, even Christian perfectiono
But it will be said of both these people, what was long since objected by one of them to the other, that their actions were not so illustrious, as is pretended ; that we take the accounts of them from their own interested relaters, to whose vanity or genius we are rather to impute the fine portraits, they have given us, of pagan virtue, than to real fact and the undisguised truth of things P.
Be this allowed. Still there will be ground enough to enforce the Apostle's conclusion. For whence, if not from the source to which he points, could be derived those numerous corresponding instances, though of faint, unfinished Virtue? how, but by nature, did the heathen, in any degree, the things of the Law? and whence, the traces of that conduct in the pagan world, which the Law itself prescribed as virtuous ?
Nat. Deor. l. ii. c. 66.
Or, were the evidence from facts ever so suspicious, whence those admired portraits and pictures themselves? or, by what accountable means has it come to pass, that their historians and panegyrists have been able to feign so successfully? In truth, had the pagan world afforded no one instance of a virtuous people, I had almost said, no one instance of a virtuous character, yet would the projected form of such a people, by one hand y, and the delineation of such a character, by another", have been a certain evidence of some Rule of life and manners, written in the heart, if not transcribed into practice; influencing the judgement to approve, if not the will to obey it. But this consideration, perhaps, comes more naturally under the second head of the Apostle's reasoning, which
II. From the force of conscience in the heathen world.
9 Plato's Republic. + Xenophon’s Inst. of Cyrus.
To perceive the force of this argument, it must be remembered, That, by conscience, is only meant a man's judgement concerning the quality of his own actions ; which judgement, however come at, whether by use, or institution, by reason, or instinct, equally supposes some Law, or Rule of conduct, by which the nature of each action is tried, and by which its worth is estimated. Now it is of no moment in the present case, from which soever of these sources that judgement is immediately drawn, since it cannot but be, that some fixed principle, common to human nature, and of equal extent with it, must have originally given birth to such judgement. For if use, or institution, be considered as the probable source of it, the question will recur, whence that Use, or what the original of that Institution ? A question, which cannot be resolved, unless we conceive some natural law, as working at the root, and branching out, as it were, into Use, or Institution.
Nor is it sufficient to say, That the manners of different people are, and have been, widely different ; and thut conscience, or self-judgement, according as different notions or practices prevail, condemns, or approres the very same action. Without doubt, it does; but the consequence is not, as some sceptical writers have imagined, that there is no common principle of nature, distinguishing between right and wrong, or that moral action is of absolute indifference; but that men are, and have been, careless and corrupt ; that they have either not used the light of nature, or have some way abused it. For it holds of Sentiment, as of Action, that, though the agreement of numbers in all times and places be a good argument for the existence of some common rule of right, as effecting such agreement (because otherwise no tolerable account can be given of it); yet the disagreement even of greater numbers is no proof against the existence of such Rule, as we can, without that supposition, give a satisfactory account of that disagreement. I call it a satisfactory account ; for it comes from St. Paul himself, who has taken care to obviate this plausible objection. If it be said then, That the Heathen approved bad, and condemned good actions, we own they sometimes did, but answer with the Apostle, That, in such cases, they became vain in their imaginations, and that their foolish heart was darkened ; that, as they did not search to retain God in their knowledge, did not exert their faculties to acquire or preserve a right sense of God's nature and will, he gave them