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William Grisenthwaite on Nature and Morality

A Refutation of Every Argument Brought Against the Truth of Christianity, and Revealed Religion, by Thomas Paine, in the First Part of His Work, Called "The Age of Reason." (G.B. Whittaker: 1825), pp. 10-11.

I too, believe the equality of man, considered as a moral agent, for "God is no respecter of persons;" so that Mr. Paine’s Deism and my Christianity, here teach the same doctrine. But where are to be found Mr. Paine’s authorities for "doing justice?" What page of nature is inscribed with this precept? It is, to our eyes, rather contra-indicated than enforced by nature. The instinct of nature makes one animal prey upon another; and, surely, this is not an exemplification of Mr. Paine’s doing justice! The hawk will destroy the lark, and the lark will destroy the worm. Is this a lesson for man to learn, and practice in social life? Nor is this example solitary, nor contrary to the general designs of nature, as is manifest from the various provisions she has made to facilitate the capture and destruction of weaker animals by the stronger; from the spider that preys upon a fly, to the lion that feasts upon an ox. Nor do we learn to respect property more than person from the instincts of nature. Every animal plunders the stores of others when opportunity offers; evincing in no single instance a regard of justice. And what would it avail, if we were to behold the strictest justice every where observed by instinctive natures? What would make that duty obligatory upon man?

It would still need a declaratory sanction to give it the efficacy of law and a penalty must be annexed to its transgression or its promulgation would be in vain. If Mr. Paine, quitting the volume of nature, from which he pretends to have transcribed his belief, and his morality, rests his mind on the deductions of reason and the suggestions of experience why then indeed his "justice" is not a religious duty, as he calls it, but a civil duty. The man who does unto others as he would that others should do unto him, because it is the command of God, does a religious duty; and such a duty as may, I think, be called "doing justice;" but he who does so from a consideration that the compact of society cannot be preserved without it, does it from an obligation he owes to others, and to himself; and it is then wholly a civil duty.

All these objections exist against the remaining items of Mr Paine’s belief. "Loving mercy" is no more to be found in the walks of nature, than "doing justice;" nor "making our fellow-creatures happy" than either of them. It would be needless to add examples of these daily attested truths.

If Mr. Paine meant, that the ordinances of nature are so regulated by the hand of the Almighty, as to display his mercy, &c. to us, and that, therefore, we should exercise it to one another, how would he have reconciled with this notion, the apparently unmerciful earthquake which destroys indiscriminate thousands at a stroke? The plague which scatters death amidst populous cities, and cuts asunder the ties of friendship and of blood? Or the hurricane which lays prostrate the labour of man and buries him under its ruins? Thus then we perceive that neither from the instinct of animals nor the phenomena of nature can the Deist educe one moral law that is capable by reason of being carried up to the will and authority of God. At best he has to judge between two opposing precedents proceeding from the same authority, and, is therefore, in no better condition, than if he had been without both. It is by the light of Revelation alone that man discovers the obligation which binds him to the performance of his moral and religious duties. Reason may declare their expedience, but Revelation only, can make them a law of God