Billeder på siden

things. Each one certainly owes something to his fellows, but the question of difficulty is, "What and How Much ?" Does the maxim of the common law apply here also ? Are we here so to use our own as not to injure another? Upon its face again this seems a just and not difficult limitation, but what does it involve? Is it a practical and practicable test? May the business man, in these days of intense competition, when each man seems compelled to strain every effort to succeed, apply to himself the rule that he is to use his talents, his opportunities, his superior energy, his powers of organization and control, in such a way that he will not injure another? May he not legitimately say that this rule is well enough in the moral field, but that it will not do as a rule of business? May he not say that the greater part of the profit which he is striving so hard to acquire must be made at the expense of some one else, that competition is so bitter as not to leave enough for all, and that each man must look out for himself, leaving every other man to do likewise?

May not the lawyer, intent upon the winning of causes, say that for him, too, the rule is too severe for practicable application;—that it is his duty to his client, as well as to himself, to do everything that can legally be done to advance his client's interest, leaving the opposing counsel to do the same for his client, and the judge to see that, between the efforts of both, in some way justice shall be evolved, and that if it is not, it is simply the fault of the system which like all things human must sometimes miscarry? If you say to him that it is his duty to his fellow man to see that by his talent, his energy, his technical astuteness, he does not further the cause of injustice, may he not properly say to you that with that he has nothing whatever to do,-that his domain is practical and

not abstract justice,—that law is one thing and morals another? If you say to the strong man, whose appetites and passions are completely under his control, that he should not indulge in even the moderate enjoyment of his tastes or appetites in certain directions, because his brother man, who is not so strong as he, in attempting to follow his example, will be unable to restrain himself, and will bring disgrace and ruin upon himself and family;-if you say this, may he not properly reply, What is that to me? Am I to deny myself that which gives me pleasure and does me no harm simply because that weak fool cannot restrain himself? May he not legitimately ask of you, Am I my brother's keeper?

If you say to the woman absorbed in fashionable pursuits, that she ought not to so fully indulge her love for pleasure and display, lest she tempt some other woman, by her example, to foolish, wasteful, or, perchance, wicked practices, in her attempts to follow it-may she not also say, Am I my sister's keeper? Am I to restrain that love of pleasure and that delight in the beautiful which were given me by the Creator, and in which I find so much happiness, simply because some other woman, for whom these things were not intended, may permit herself to go astray?

If you say even to the thinker:-"However strong may be your reasoning faculties, however confident you may be of the absolute truth of your own conclusions, there are subjects upon which you would do well not to be too positive in your assertions or too loud or public in your attacks;-there are beliefs which others hold dear that you may properly let alone;―lest you deceive some weaker brother by leading him to abandon ancient faiths only to find that he has not the strength to climb to your vaunted heights;-if you say this to

him, may he not appropriately reply to you that the truth is never to be concealed, and that it is better for his brother to perish in his unbelief than to continue longer in those ancient errors? And in any event, may he not say like the others, Am I my brother's keeper?

If you say to any person, in any situation, that in the matter of his choice of an occupation, his habits, his recreations and the general conduct of his life, he owes duties above and beyond his purely legal obligations, to see that in none of these concerns shall he so use his own powers and liberties as to do injury to others, may he not also say that these are matters of purely personal interest as to which he owes duties to no one but himself?

And how are these questions to be answered? Am I, in any sense, to be made subject to such voluntary restrictions? May I not legimately and properly use my powers, my liberty, in any direction which promises to afford me the greatest success and happiness, without considering whether my brother does or does not mistake my example to his own hurt? Is it not enough for me that my motives meet with my own approval, and that what I do results in no harm to me, and that I leave to my brother the same privileges and responsibilities? "Am I my brother's keeper?"

This is an old question. It is as old as the race. Cain asked it, and in all ages since, men, sometimes Cains, and sometimes saints, have continued to ask it. It has been often asked as it then was, as an escape from personal responsibility for an acknowledged wrong, and it has often been asked, as I would have us ask it to-day, by men conscious of no wrong, but desiring simply to discover the full measure of their responsibility to their fellows. It has received various answers; the

Cains have always answered it in the negative; the earnest, conscientious men have always answered it in the affirmative, and so it must be always answered. If there be a fatherhood of God, and a brotherhood of man, then each man is to some extent his brother's keeper. "We that are strong, said St. Paul in his epistle to the Romans, "ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves." "Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification." But more to the point, still, is this other rule of his, which may serve as an answer to many of our inquiries: "It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything, whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.”

We may then, I think, conclude that our old legal,maxim may have an application in this field. We are here so to use our own as not to injure another.

But is this a full statement of the obligation? This is but a negative statement. Is there not an affirmative one? I do not like these negative limitations. They savor of restraints externally applied, while limitations on the moral actions ought to come only from within. Moral rules, too, ought to be positive. They ought to be equivalent to a command. Instead of saying, Thou shalt not, there should be an ever present voice, too loud and too authorative to be ignored or disobeyed, saying to us continually, Thou shalt. The old Hebrew commandments were negative: Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not covet; thou shalt not bear false witness, and the like; but when the great Lawgiver came, he wiped away all these prohibitions, excellent as they were, and in their place He put that one great affirmative rule, which includes these all and more: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another.'

[ocr errors]

In the presence of such a rule, how shallow seem the maxims of the law! Into what half truths, and partial statements, do they shrink! A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another. Not that we simply refrain from unnecessary injury; not that we so use our own as merely not to injure another; not that we render unto every one his legal due. We are to do more, there is to be something spontaneous, full and generous. It is not to be limited by any rules, but is to be the voluntary outpouring of the heart overflowing with good will and love for others.

How much this rule of love involves may well be recalled to our minds in those familiar words of St. Paul as given in the new version: "Love suffereth long, and is kind: love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself; is not puffed up, doth not behave unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil; rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth.”

Our human rules of conduct never raise us to this plane. We are neither long suffering nor kind, we envy others, we vaunt our own performances, we are puffed up with our own conceits, we behave unseemly, we constantly seek our own, we are easily provoked, we take account of evil; we bear little, we believe little, we endure little. Love never fails, but our human rules and standards fail constantly. Love anticipates the demand for justice; under our human rules justice has to be enforced. With all of our great and constantly growing mass of laws; with all of our complicated and expensive system of machinery; with all of our great army of lawyers and judges, the most that we can accomplish is confessedly a tardy, partial and expensive kind of human justice.

« ForrigeFortsæt »