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multitudes now peopling the land, the waters, and the air, might be seen
radiating from a common centre in lines of various divergency, and,
however remote their existing relations, might group themselves as one
family. The speculative critic must here grant without stint all that
the scheme of development can ask; and he must leave it to the
naturalist and physiologist to break up the picture into sections, if
they must. But then, _Why_ must he grant it? Because here, having
crossed the margin of animal life, we have, in its germ of feeling and
idea, not merely a persistent, but a self-promoting force, able to turn
to account whatever is below it; the mental power, even in its
rudiments, dominating the vital, and constraining it to weave a finer
organism; and, for that end, to amend its application of the chemical
forces, and make them better economize their command of mechanical
force. Observe, however, that, if here we meet with a truly fruitful
agency, capable of accomplishing difficult feats of new combination and
delicate equilibrium, we meet with it _here first_; and the moment we
fall back from the line of sentient life, and quit the scene of this
eager, aggressive, and competing power, we part company with all
principle of progress; and consequently lose the tendency to that
increasing complexity of structure and subtlety of combination which
distinguish the organic from the inorganic compounds. Below the level of
life, there is no room for the operation of "natural selection." Its
place is there occupied by another principle, for which no such wonders
of constructive adaptation can be claimed; - I mean, the dynamic rule of
_Action on the line of least resistance_, - a rule, the working of which
is quite in the opposite direction. For evidently it goes against the
establishment of unstable conditions of equilibrium, and must therefore
be the enemy rather than the patron of the complex ingredients, the
precarious tissues, and the multiplied relations, of sentient bodies;
and on its own theatre must prevent the permanent formation of any but
the simpler unions among the material elements. Accordingly, all the
great enduring masses that form and fill the architecture of inorganic
nature, - its limestone and clay, its oxides and salts, its water and
air, - are compounds, or a mixture, of few and direct constituents. And
the moment that life retreats and surrenders the organism it has built
and held, the same antagonist principle enters on possession, and sets
to work to destroy the intricate structure of "proximate principles"
with their "compound radicals." With life and mind therefore there
begins, whether by modified affinities or by removal of waste, a
_tension_ against these lower powers, carrying the being up to a greater
or less height upon the wing; but with life it ends, leaving him then to
the perpetual gravitation that completes the loftiest flight upon the
ground. Within the limits of her Physics and Chemistry alone, Nature
discloses no principle of progression, but only provisions for
periodicity; and out of this realm, without further resources, she could
never rise.

The downward tendency which sets in with any relaxation of the
differentiating forces of life is evinced, not only in the extreme case
of dissolution in death, but in the well-known relapse of organs which
have been artificially developed into exceptional perfection back into
their earlier state, when relieved of the strain and left to themselves.
Under the tension of a directing mental interest, whether supplied by
the animal's own instincts or by the controlling care of man, the
organism yields itself to be moulded into more special and highly
finished forms; and a series of ascending variations withdraws the
nature from its original or first-known type. But wherever we can lift
the tension off, the too skilful balance proves unstable, and the law of
reversion reinstates the simpler conditions. Only on the higher levels
of life do we find a self-working principle of progression: and, till we
reach them, development wants its dynamics; and, though there may be
evolution, it cannot be self-evolution.

These considerations appear to me to break the back of this formidable
argument in the middle; and to show the impossibility of dispensing with
the presence of Mind in any scene of ascending being, where the little
is becoming great, and the dead alive, and the shapeless beautiful, and
the sentient moral, and the moral spiritual. Is it not in truth a
strange choice, to set up "_Evolution_," of all things, as the negation
of _Purpose_ pre-disposing what is to come? For what does the word mean,
and whence is it borrowed? It means, to unfold from within; and it is
taken from the history of the seed or embryo of living natures. And what
is the seed but a casket of pre-arranged futurities, with its whole
contents _prospective_, settled to be what they are by reference to ends
still in the distance. If a grain of wheat be folded in a mummy-cloth
and put into a catacomb, its germ for growing and its albumen for
feeding sleep side by side, and never find each other out. But no sooner
does it drop, thousands of years after, on the warm and moistened field,
than their mutual play begins, and the plumule rises and lives upon its
store till it is able to win its own maintenance from the ground. Not
only are its two parts therefore relative to each other, but both are
relative to conditions lying in another department of the world, - the
clouds, the atmosphere, the soil; in the absence of which they remain
barren and functionless: - and _this_, from a Cause that has no sense of
relation! The human ear, moulded in the silent matrix of nature, is
formed with a nerve susceptible to one influence alone, and that an
absent one, the undulations of a medium into which it is not yet born;
and, in anticipation of the whole musical scale with all its harmonies,
furnishes itself with a microscopic grand-piano of three thousand
stretched strings, each ready to respond to a different and definite
number of aerial vibrations: - and _this_, from a Cause that never meant
to bring together the inner organ and the outer medium, now hidden from
each other! The eye, shaped in the dark, selects an exclusive
sensibility to movements propagated from distant skies; and so weaves
its tissues, and disposes its contents, and hangs its curtains, and
adjusts its range of motion, as to meet every exigency of refraction and
dispersion of the untried light, and be ready to paint in its interior
the whole perspective of the undreamed world without: - and _this_, from
a Cause incapable of having an end in view! Surely, nothing can be
evolved that is not first involved; and if there be any thing which not
only carries a definite future in it, but has the whole _rationale_ of
its present constitution grounded in that future, it is the embryo,
whence, by a strange humor, this denial of final causes has chosen to
borrow its name. Not more certainly is the statue that has yet to be,
already potentially contained in the pre-conception and sketches of the
artist, than the stately tree of the next century in the beech-mast that
drops upon the ground; or the whole class of Birds, if you give them a
common descent, in the eggs to which you choose to go back as first; or
the entire system of nature in any germinal cell or other prolific
_minimum_ whence you suppose its organism to have been brought out.
Evolution and Prospection are inseparable conceptions. Go back as you
will, and try to propel the movement from behind instead of drawing it
from before, development in a definite direction towards the realization
of a dominant scheme of ascending relations is the sway of an overruling
end. To take away the ideal basis of nature, yet construe it by the
analogy of organic growth, will be for ever felt as a contradiction. It
is to put out the eyes of the Past, in order to show us with what secure
precision, amid distracting paths, and over chasms bridged by a hair, it
selects its way into the Future.

If the Divine Idea will not retire at the bidding of our speculative
science, but retains its place, it is natural to ask, what is its
relation to the series of so-called Forces in the world? But the
question is too large and deep to be answered here. Let it suffice to
say, that there need not be any _overruling_ of these forces by the will
of God, so that the supernatural should disturb the natural; or any
_supplementing_ of them, so that He should fill up their deficiencies.
Rather is His Thought related to them as, in Man, the mental force is
related to all below it; turning them all to account for ideal ends, and
sustaining the higher equilibrium which else would lapse into lower
forms. More truly, yet equivalently, might we say, these supposed
forces, which are only our intellectual interpretation of classes of
perceived phenomena, are but varieties of His Will, the rules and
methods of His determinate and legislated agency, in which, to keep
faith with the universe of beings, He abnegates all change; but beyond
which, in His transcendent relations with dependent and responsible
minds, He has left a glorious margin for the free spiritual life, open
to the sacredness of Personal Communion, and the hope of growing





My subject is the mutual relations of Ethics and Theology.

Ethics is the science of the Right; and we would first inquire whether
this science is a mere department of theology, or whether it has its own
independent existence, sphere, and office. Our opening question then is:
What is the ground of right? Why are certain acts right, and certain
other acts wrong? Are these characteristics incidental, arbitrary,
created by circumstances; variable with time or place, or the
intelligence of the agent; contingent on legislation, human or Divine?
Or are they intrinsic, essential, independent of command, even of the
Divine command?

We can best answer this question by considering what is implied in
existence. Existence implies properties, and properties are fitnesses.
Every object, by virtue of its existence, has its place, purpose, uses,
relations. At every moment, each specific object is either in or out of
its place, fulfilling or not fulfilling its purpose, subservient to or
alienated from its uses, in accordance or out of harmony with its
relations, and therefore in a state of fitness or of unfitness as
regards other objects. Every object is at every moment under the control
of the intelligent will either of the Supreme Being or of some finite
being, and is by that will maintained either in or out of its place,
purpose, uses, and relations, and thus in a state of fitness or
unfitness as regards other objects. Every intelligent being, by virtue
of his existence, bears certain definite relations to outward objects,
his fellow-beings, and his Creator. At every moment each intelligent
being is either faithful or unfaithful to these relations, and thus in a
state of fitness or unfitness as regards outward objects and other
beings. Thus fitness or unfitness may be predicated at every moment of
every object in existence, of the volitions by which each object is
controlled, and of every intelligent being with regard to his voluntary
position in the universe. Fitness and unfitness are the ultimate ideas
that underlie the terms _right_ and _wrong_. These last are metaphorical
terms: right, _rectus_, straight, upright, according to rule, and
therefore _fit_; wrong, _wrung_, distorted, twisted out of place,
abnormal, and therefore _unfit_. We are so constituted that we cannot
help regarding fitness with esteem and complacency; unfitness, with
disesteem and disapproval, even though we ourselves create it or
impersonate it.

Fitness is the law by which alone we have the knowledge of sin, by which
alone we justify or condemn ourselves. Duty has fitness for its only aim
and end. To whatever object comes under our control its fit place or use
is due; and our perception of that _due_ constitutes our _duty_, and
awakens in us a sense of obligation. To ourselves and to other beings
and objects, our fidelity to our relations has in it an intrinsic
fitness; that fitness is their and our due; and the perception of that
_due_ constitutes our _duty_, and awakens in us a sense of obligation.

Conscience is the faculty by which we perceive fitness or unfitness. Its
functions are not cognitive, but judicial. Its decisions are based upon
our knowledge, real or imagined, from whatever source derived. It judges
according to such law and evidence as it has; and its verdict is always,
relatively, a genuine _verdict_ (_verum dictum_), though potentially
false and wrong by defect of our knowledge, - even as in a court of law
an infallibly wise and incorruptibly just judge may pronounce an utterly
erroneous and unjust decision, if he have before him a false statement
of facts, or if the law which he is compelled to administer be
unrighteous. What we call the education of conscience is merely the
accumulation and verification of the materials on which conscience is to
act; in fine, the discovery of fitnesses.

Permit me to illustrate the function of conscience by reference to a
question now mooted in our community, - the question as to the moral
fitness of the temperate use of fermented liquors. Among the aborigines
of Congo and Dahomey, there being no settled industry, no mental
activity, and no hygienic knowledge as to either body or mind, it seems
fitting, and therefore right, to swallow all the strong drink that they
can lay their hands upon; for it is fitted to produce immediate animal
enjoyment, - the only good of which they have cognizance. Among civilized
men, on the contrary, intoxication is universally known to be opposed to
the fitnesses of body and mind, an abuse of alcoholic liquors, and an
abuse of the drinker's own personality; and it is therefore condemned by
all consciences, by none more heartily than by those of its victims.
But there still remains open the question as to the moderate use of
fermented liquors; and this is not, as it is commonly called, a question
of conscience, but a mere question of fact, - of fitness or unfitness.
Says one party, "Alcohol, in every form, and in the least quantity, is a
virulent poison, and therefore unfit for body and mind." Says the other
party, "Wine, moderately used, is healthful, salutary, restorative, and
therefore fitted to body and mind." Change the opinion of the latter
party, their consciences would at once take the other side; and, if they
retained in precept and practice their present position, they would
retain it self-condemned. Change the opinion of the former party, their
consciences would assume the ground which they now assail. Demonstrate
to the whole community - which physiology may one day do - the precise
truth in this matter, there would remain no differences of conscientious
judgment, whatever difference of practice might still continue.

From what has been said, it is necessarily inferred that right and wrong
are not contingent on the knowledge of the moral agent. Unfitness,
misuse, abuse, is none the less wrong because the result of ignorance.
If the result of inevitable ignorance, it does not indeed imply an
unfitness or derangement of the agent's own moral powers. Yet it is none
the less out of harmony with the fitness of things. It deprives an
object of its due use. It perverts to pernicious results what is
salutary in its purpose. It lessens for the agent his aggregate of good
and of happiness, and increases for him his aggregate of evil and of
misery. In this sense - far more significant than that of arbitrary
infliction - the maxim of jurisprudence, _Ignorantia legis neminem
excusat_ ("Ignorance of the law excuses no one"), is a fundamental
principle of human nature.

* * * * *

We are now prepared to consider the relation of moral distinctions to
theology. In the first place, if the ground which I have maintained be
tenable, ethical science rests on a basis of its own, wholly independent
of theology. Right and wrong, as moral distinctions, in no wise depend
on the Divine will and law; nay, not even on the Divine existence. The
atheist cannot escape or disown them. They are inseparable from
existence. For whatever exists, no matter how it came into being, must
needs have its due place, affinities, adaptations, uses; and an
intelligent dweller among the things that are cannot but know something
of their fitnesses and harmonies, and, so far as he acts upon them,
cannot but feel the obligation to recognize their fitnesses, and thus to
create or restore their harmonies. Even to the atheist, vice is a
violation of fitnesses which he knows or may know. It is opposed to his
conscientious judgment. He has with regard to it an inevitable sense of
wrong. I can therefore conceive of an atheist's being - though I should
have little hope that he would be - a rigidly virtuous man, and that on

But while atheism does not obliterate moral distinctions, or cancel
moral obligation, these distinctions are a refutation of atheism; and
from the very fitness of things, which we have seen to be the ground of
right, we draw demonstrative evidence of the being, unity, and moral
perfectness of the Creator: so that the fundamental truths of theology
rest on the same basis with the fundamental principles of ethics. Let me
ask you to pursue this argument with me.

Every object, as I have said, must, by virtue of its existence, have its
fit place and use; but, in a world that was the dice-work of chance,
there would be myriads of probabilities to one against any specific
object's attaining to its fit place and use. This must be the work of
will alone. If chance can create, it cannot combine, co-ordinate,
organize. If it can throw letters on the ground by the handful, it
cannot arrange them into the Iliad or the Paradise Lost. If it can stain
the sky or the earth with gorgeous tints, it cannot group them into a
Madonna or a landscape. Its universe would be peopled by straylings,
full of disjointed halves of pairs, - of objects thrown together in such
chaotic heaps that seldom could any one object find its counterpart or
subserve its end.

The opposite is the case in the actual world. The first discoveries
which the first human being made were of the fitnesses of the objects
around him to himself and to one another. With every added year his
microcosm enlarged, so that, before he left the world, he had within his
cognizance a range of fitnesses and uses sufficient to guide his own
activity, and to enable him to predict its results, together with
numerous other results not contingent on his own agency. Beyond this
microcosm, indeed, lay a vast universe impenetrable to his search, in
which he could trace no relations, no filaments of order; in which all
seemed to him a medley of chaotic confusion, mutually intruding systems,
clashing and jarring forces. On this realm of the unknown man has ever
since been making perpetual aggressions; and every step of his progress
has been the discovery of fitnesses, relations, reciprocal uses, among
the most remote, diverse, and at first sight mutually hostile objects,
classes, and systems. Natural history, physics, and chemistry, are the
science of mutual fitnesses and uses among terrestrial objects.
Astronomy is the science of harmonies among all the worlds, - of
fitnesses in their relations and courses to the condition of things in
our own planet, approximately to other bodies in the solar system, and,
by ascertained analogies, to those distant orbs of which we know only
that they stand and move ever in their order. Geology is the science of
mutual fitnesses in former epochs and conditions of our own planet, and
of prospective fitnesses in them to the needs and uses of the present
epoch; so that by harmonies which run through unnumbered æons we are the
heirs, and sustain our industries by the usufruct, of the ages, the
great moments of whose history we are just beginning to read.
Mathematical science reveals geometrical and numerical fitnesses,
proportions, and harmonies, which are traced alike in the courses of the
stars and in the collocation of the foliage on the tree, and which
promise one day to give us the equation of the curve of the sea-shell,
of the contour of the geranium-leaf, of the crest of the wave. There is
still around us the realm of the unknown; yet not only are daily
aggressions made upon it, but science has advanced so far as to render
it certain that there is no department or object in the universe, which
is not comprehended in this system of mutual fitnesses, harmonies, and

Now consider the relation of organized being to this system. What is an
organ? It is the capacity of perceiving, choosing, and utilizing a
fitness. The rootlets of the tree by the river-side perceive the
adjacent water, elongate themselves toward it, in a drought make
convulsive and successful efforts to reach it; while the corolla of the
heliotrope perceives the calorific rays, and turns toward their source
in the heavens. The organs of the plant select from the elements around
it such substances as are fitted to feed its growth, and appropriate
them to its use, even though they be found in infinitesimal
proportions, in masses of alien substance. In all this there is a
semi-self-consciousness, corresponding, not indeed to the action of
mind, but to that of the spontaneous life-processes in intelligent

The animal carries us a step higher. His instincts are an unerring
knowledge of fitnesses and uses within his sphere. He seeks what is
fitted, shuns what is unfitted to his sustenance and growth, is never
deceived when left to his own sagacity, and fails only when brought into
anomalous relations with the superior knowledge of man. He lives, merely
because he is conscious of the fitnesses of nature, and yields up his
life to a stronger beast, in accordance with those same
fitnesses - beneficent still - by which all realms of nature are kept
fully stocked, yet never overstocked, with healthy and rejoicing life.

The fitness which thus pervades and unifies the entire creation, man as
an animal perceives, as a living soul recognizes and comprehends; and to
his consciousness it is an imperative law, obeyed always with
self-approval, disobeyed only with self-condemnation. Of disobedience he
alone is capable, yet he but partially. In order to live, he must obey
in the vast majority of instances; still more must he obey, if he would
have society, physical comfort, transient enjoyment of however low a
type; and the most depraved wretch that walks the earth purchases his
continued being by a thousand acts of unintended yet inevitable
obedience to one of voluntary guilt. Man's law - the law which, in
violating or scorning it, he cannot ignore or evade - is the very same
fitness which runs through all inorganic nature, and which the
semi-conscious tree, shrub, or flower, the imperfectly self-conscious
bird, fish, or beast uniformly obeys.

Now can chance have evolved this universal fitness, and the souls that
own their allegiance to it? Is it not the clear self-revelation of a
God, one, all-wise, omnipotent? Has it any other possible solution?
Bears it not, in inscriptions that girdle the universe in letters of
light, the declarations of the Hebrew seer, "In the beginning God
created the heavens and the earth," and "The Lord our God is one Lord"?
I am not disposed to cavil at the argument from design in the structure
and adaptations of any one organized being; but immeasurably more cogent
is this argument from a consenting universe, in which filaments of
fitness, relation, and use cross and recross one another from bound to
bound, from sun to star, from star to earth, from the greatest to the
least, from the order of the heavens to the zoöphyte and the microscopic
animalcule. In the human conscience I recognize at once the revelation
and the perpetual witness of this all-pervading adaptation, this
universal harmony. Conscience is the God within, not in figure, but in
fact. It is the mode in which He who is enshrined in all being, who
lives in all life, takes up his abode, holds his perpetual court, erects
his eternal judgment-seat, within the human soul.

We pass to the consideration of the moral attributes of the Creator. I
have spoken of moral distinctions as logically separable from and
independent of the Divine nature. From this position alone can we
establish the holiness, justice, and mercy of the Divine Being. In

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