May 21, 1891
WE have received from a friend in Illinois, a series of questions called out seemingly by our discussion of Mr. Bierbower’s book on “Ethics for Society and Schools,” with the request that the questions be answered in THE SENTINEL for the benefit of the writer and others. We willingly comply:—
Question 1.—Tell us, please, is true morality based on the ten commandments? And if so on what was it based prior to the delivery of the law on Sinai?
Answer.— True morality is based on the ten commandments. Yet more properly speaking the ten commandments are the expression of the supreme moral rule. They are the summary of morality itself, because they are the expression of the will of God. For says Romans 2:18, thou “knowest his will being instructed out of the law;” and the law there referred to, as the context plainly shows, is the law which teaches that men should not steal, nor commit adultery, nor idolatry. Men delight to do the will of God only when his law is written in their hearts. Psalm 40:8. These texts, with many others which might be cited, show plainly that the law of God, the ten commandments, is the expression of the will of God in respect to character, and God’s will is supreme morality, because it is the expression of the will of him who is supremely moral.
True morality was based upon the ten commandments before the delivery of the law on Sinai as well as afterward, because the ten commandments existed before Sinai as really as afterward. Abraham knew the will of God, and kept the commandments. Genesis 26:5. Sin is the transgression of the law of God, and by the law also is the knowledge of sin. 1 John 3:4., Romans 3:20. Sin is not imputed where there is no law, for where no law is, there is no transgression. Romans 5:13 and. 4:15. The law of God, therefore, was known to man before he sinned, and his sin was the transgression of that law.
“All unrighteousness is sin” (1 John 5:17), and as sin is the transgression of the law of God, it follows that that law is the expression of the righteousness of God, that is, it is the expression of the supreme idea of right. Accordingly, it is written, “My tongue shall speak of thy words for all thy commandments are righteousness.” Psalm 119:172. And “hearken unto me ye that know righteousness; the people in whose heart is my law.” Isaiah 51:7. Therefore, as the law of God, the ten commandments, is the expression of the will of God, in respect to character, and is the expression of the supreme idea of right doing, it stands demonstrated that the ten commandments are the basis and the expression of all true morality or ethics.
The delivery of the law at Sinai, therefore, was not by any means the beginning of the existence of that law. It was there given upon the tables of stone to perform its part in the work of the gospel which was shadowed forth in the sanctuary and its services. For the tables of stone were placed in the Ark of the Covenant beneath the mercy seat in the most holy place; into which the high priest, as the representative of Christ in his priesthood, went alone once a year in the great day of atonement to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. Thus “the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound;  that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life “by Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The law of God, the ten commandments, existed before Sinai as really as afterward, for it is a truth well and eloquently expressed by Gibbon: “The God pf nature, has written his existence in all his works and his law in the heart of man.”—Decline and Fall, chap. 50, 14..
Question 2.—If the principles of the moral law are implanted by the Creator in every person’s heart, does it not follow then that every person has morality within himself?
Answer.—It does not follow, because all have sinned, transgressed the law, and come short of the glory of God. Morality does not consist in a knowledge of the law of God, but in the doing of it. He has written his law in the heart of man, but by transgression man has made himself unrighteous. God has planted in the heart of man a knowledge of morality, a knowledge of right, but by transgression man has made himself immoral, and by that also has obscured the knowledge of morality which was at the first planted there, and which would have ever remained had man remained moral.
More than this, by his transgression, by his immorality, man has robbed himself of the power to do fully according to the measure of right which even yet he knows. Every man on earth knows this is so, therefore we say again as we “said in our notice of Mr. Bierbower’s book that it is not enough for men in this world to know what is right to do, but they must have the power to do the right which they know. This power comes alone by faith in Jesus Christ for the Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.
This whole matter is clearly expressed in Romans 3:19-26. “What things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified [accounted moral] in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin [immorality]. But now the righteousness [the morality] of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness [the morality] of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe; for there is no difference: for all have sinned, [have become immoral] and come short of the glory of God; being justified [accounted moral] freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness [his morality] for the remission of sins [immorality] that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: [his morality] that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Therefore we have always said and always do say, that outside of a genuine abiding faith in Jesus Christ, there is no genuine morality, in this world.
Question 3.—Did Demosthenes, Aristotle, Socrates, and many other Greek philosophers teach morality? And if not did they teach immorality?
Answer.—They taught what they called morality, but they taught and practiced what was really immorality. Solon and Zeno both practiced what was really immorality. The Greek worship of Venus like that of its Babylonian and Roman counterpart was but open prostitution. The celebration of the mysteries, which was the supreme rite of Greek worship, was but the practice of things unfit to be named, and of which the Scripture has well spoken that “it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” Plato taught both the expediency and the lawfulness of exposing children to die in particular cases, and Aristotle counselled abortion. Both at Sparta and at Athens the exposure to die, or even the killing of infants, who were weak and imperfect in form, was practiced. Customary swearing was commended by the example of Socrates and Plato. Aristippus maintained that it is lawful for a wise man to steal, to commit adultery, and sacrilege when opportunity offered. Menander taught that a lie is better than a hurtful truth. Plato taught that “he may lie, who knows how to do it in a suitable time.” And Socrates practiced such lewdness as is not fit to be named.
So far indeed were the Greek philosophers from teaching morality that they both taught and practiced what would not be allowed in the category of common civility in our day. In short, if the Greek philosophers could be set down in the United States to-day and should attempt to practice here what they both taught and practiced in Greece, and counted it morality too, the whole gang of them would be in the penitentiary inside of a week, and that would be the place for them too. Because American civilization, to say nothing at all of morality, would not countenance it for a day.
Question 4 and 6 we omit as they are covered by
Question 5.—If the teaching of what is called morality is destructive to both the public schools and the State, and should therefore be entirely excluded from the teachers’ curriculum, is not the right to teach his pupils to be kind, truthful, honest, industrious, pure, etc., by precept and example, taken from every teacher in our public schools?
Answer.— Not by any means. On the contrary the way is opened for every teacher to do these very things in the way in which only it is proper to teach them, and according to the design of the public school. The public school is designed to accomplish two principal things in the youth of the country.
First, to give them such an education as shall fit them, as citizens or members of the body politic, to take care of themselves. It therefore teaches them to read and write and apply the principles of arithmetic.
Second, to be good citizens. It should therefore teach the principles of citizenship. And this is but to say that they should be taught the principles of the government of which they are to be citizens. What then are the principles or elements of citizenship? Religion certainly is not one of them. The supreme law of the land declares that “the Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” If religion be an element of, citizenship, it is but a logical step to a religious test as a qualification for office. But again, the supreme law declares that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this Government.” If religion be an element of citizenship, it is only a logical and proper step that the Government should define and regulate it. But still the supreme law declares, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Therefore as religion is not in any sense a requisite to citizenship, it can have no place in a course of instruction which is designed to teach the principles and elements of citizenship. And as morality is inseparable from religion, it falls in the same category.
Yet more than this, ethics is the science of right and wrong, but the State does not, and can not, know any such thing as moral right or wrong, but only civil rights and wrongs. When a man steals, the State does not punish him because he sinned, but because he disregarded and invaded the rights of his fellow citizen, and did him a civil wrong. Now as the Government of the United States, and as also that of the several States, is founded upon the rights of men, there is an ample field open before all the teachers in the public schools for the teaching of all that pertains to good citizenship under this Government without entering the field of ethics as such, nor touching the question of religion or morality.
The Declaration of Independence, the charter of American institutions and the foundation of the United States Government, plainly declares that “all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Here is the basis of what bight to be the teaching in all State schools, and the basis is broad enough for everything that is either necessary or proper to be taught in the public schools. It is the inalienable right of every individual in the Government to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Let all the public school teachers teach to the youth of this Nation,  and diligently inculcate upon their minds, respect for the rights of every other person.
This the perfect principle of civil government, and if every person in the United States would recognize this principle and practice accordingly, this would be a perfect civil Government. The recognition of this principle and the intelligent understanding of it, ought to be made; not only the public school instruction upon citizenship, but the qualification for citizenship in the naturalization of all who make application for admission. When a person acts in anything, in such a way as to interfere with the free exercise, by any other person, of his right to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness, then he denies the principle upon which the Government itself rests, and thereby undermines his own civil safety and in effect forfeits his right to it. Because, as rights are equal, what one has the right to do, another has an equal right to do. If one claims the right to act in such a way as to interfere with the free exercise of another’s right to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness, then all have an equal right to do the same thing, and if all should do that, then all government would be gone and only anarchy reign. Therefore, as the Government is established to secure the equal inalienable rights of men no one can invade the rights of another, to any degree, without at once striking at the foundation of the Government itself.
Let these principles be taught to the youth of the country, in the public schools, and there will be much more success in the effort to secure good citizens, than there is in the plans and the teaching now employed. As it is now, these principles are neglected if not ignored, and by an attempt to inculcate what is called morals, neither morality nor good citizenship is, secured. As we have shown in the discussion of Mr. Bierbower’s book, which we have since learned is used in the Chicago public schools, such teaching can never secure good citizenship. The basis of it all is selfishness only, and as we showed at the time is essentially pagan. But this is not the only instance. The same system of ethics is inculcated in other schools of the country. In the city of Greenville, Michigan, the youth are taught, just as Bierbower’s book teaches, that whatever they think to be right that is right, and that when the Hindoo mother throws her child into the river Ganges, she does right. (This case was actually used in illustration in a class in that school.) Such teaching as that is open heathenism, and the more of it that is believed by men, the worse they will be.
Again, how can good citizenship be inculcated better, or in any other way in fact, than by teaching the principles of the government to which the citizen belongs? This is plain enough in itself. Therefore, as the principles of the United States Government are the best on earth, the faithful teaching of these principles will secure the best citizenship. Let the principles of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution of the United States be taught, in the public schools, and let questions and principles of morality and religion be considered and taught in and by the family and the Church.
Question 7.—When the teacher punishes a pupil for fighting, lying, swearing, or stealing, does he not employ the most emphatic method of teaching morality?
Answer.—Indeed he does not. Morality never can be secured by punishment. The Lord himself can not make men moral by punishment. To bring men to morality by punishment, is the Augustinian, the inquisitorial, the papal, the purgatorial theory. Augustine’s doctrine is that often it is necessary to punish men until they reach the highest stage of religious development. That is the theory and the doctrine of the Inquisition. Therefore it was always from love of men’s souls and to save their souls that the Inquisition tormented men’s bodies. And as a good many people died in this world before the Inquisition could get hold of them, it was necessary to find a place, and invent a scheme of punishment after they were dead, so that they might reach this highest standard of religious development; in other words that they might attain to morality, and so purgatory, with its remedies for immorality, was established, and is still run as one of the institutions of papal morality. If men could have been made moral by punishment then Christ need never have died.
Our querist is probably correct in his idea that this is the most “emphatic” method of teaching morality, but it is certainly not the most efficient method. Nor is it in fact any method at all properly speaking. No, as we have before shown, men have lost morality by the transgression of the law of God, and there is no power in them to attain to it. Consequently, the only power by which they can attain to it, is the power of God which is manifested to men in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Morality is the gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and the writing of the law of God anew upon the heart by the Spirit of God which is received by faith Christ, the shedding abroad of the love of God in the heart by the Holy Ghost, is the only effectual means of bringing men to morality, and the only proper method of teaching morality. Punishment is the penalty inflicted in vindication of the majesty of violated law, but punishment neither changes the disposition, nor bestows, power. The love of God does both.
Even if it should be admitted, however, that punishment is an element of moral instruction and a means of inculcating morality, it would still remain a fact that the exercise of it is not the prerogative of man. That would pertain to God alone as being the only one who is capable of truly knowing the measure of moral guilt and. the proportion of punishment. Man’s assumption of authority to punish for morality, established the Inquisition, and that is the logic of every such claim wherever made.
Question 8.—Does not the teacher of necessity teach morality when he gives instruction from our text books on physiology, and hygiene, which includes the dire effect of alcohol on the human system, the necessity of cleanliness; bad effects of tight lacing, etc.?
Answer.— He does not. A man may study physiology and hygiene all his school days; he may never touch a drop of alcohol; he may bathe three times a day and put on clean clothes each time “he may never wear a corset; he may do all these things and yet be far from be a moral man. In fact, so far as men are concerned, tight lacing we apprehend is not a very important element in the immorality which attaches to them. Nor is it essential that women shall practice tight lacing in order to be immoral. It is true that if a person has the root and the elements of morality in him, the instruction referred to may be helpful in cultivating it; but if he has it not in him thee—none of these things nor all of them together, can give it to him, and a teacher is not teaching morality when he gives instruction on these points.
Question 9.—Does not the teacher of necessity teach morality when he teaches the principles of justice as connected with the republican form of Government which is framed on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States?
Answer.—He does not. He teaches only civility. Because the principle of justice connected with any government on earth is only such as is comprehended by men; and is therefore only human. And this principle, as connected with the form of government which is framed on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, the teaching of the principle, and the practice of the principle never can get beyond the of civility. It is the principle of justice comprehended by God which is alone divine and which is up to the standard of morality. God’s justice is in itself morality; but civil government, which rests upon the natural basis which is conducted only on man’s comprehension of the principle of justice, can never get beyond the civil. Therefore civil government is all any earthly government ever can be, sold it should not attempt to be anything else. For in attempting to be more, it always, becomes less.
We know that in many instances men use the term morality when they mean just what we mean by the term civility. When such is the meaning in their use of the term, we agree with all that they say about it; but we never can consent to call it morality. Morality is infinitely a deeper  and a broader term than is the term civility. The field of morality is much wider and in fact is essentially distinct from that of civility. Therefore, we always insist upon the distinction which there is between ahem, and which should always be made and recognized between them.
We know that the term morality has become, to a considerable extent, established in usage in a sense in which it means neither morality nor civility, but a sort of sentimental theoretical something that each theorist may have framed for himself, meaning much more than civility and infinitely less than morality. But such usage is wrong. It comes down to our time from the time when the Papacy was supreme and when accordingly there was utter confusion of all things pertaining to the Church and to the State, of the civil and the religious; when in short everything was held to be moral, according to the papal idea of morality. And everybody who has looked into the history of those times, knows full well that under the papal dominion and in the papal system there never was any such thing as either morality or civility.
Moral government is God’s government. Morality is the realm of God. He is the Author and the conservator of it. Civil government is ordained of God, and its purpose is civil only. For these reasons we constantly insist upon a clear distinction in the terms morality and civility, and in so doing we occupy Protestant ground. The great confession made at Augsburg in 1530 declared as follows:—
The civil administration is occupied about other matters, than is the gospel. The magistracy does not defend the souls, but the bodies, and bodily things, against manifest injuries; and coerces men by the sword and corporal punishments, that it may uphold civil justice and peace, wherefore the ecclesiastical and the civil power are not to be confounded…. In this way ours distinguish between the duties of each power, one from the other, and admonish all men to honor both powers, and to acknowledge both to be the gifts and blessings of God.
This is Protestant truth. It is Christian truth. It is God’s truth. And as we are Protestants and Christians and worshipers of the Most High God, we insist forever upon a distinction between the religious and the secular, the moral and the civil; rendering to Cesar the things which are Cesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.
A. T. J.