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No literature is richer in native productions in the field of Ethics than the English. It probably presents more original, representative systems of moral philosophy than any other. This at least would seem to be the verdict of a distinguished French philosopher, and French philosophers are not often afflicted with “anglomania” in any amiable sense. In the nineteenth Lecture of his Introduction to Ethics, Jouffroy pays this high tribute to his neighbors across the channel: “How has it happened, you may ask, that all these moral systems, which we have been considering, were of English origin? The explanation of the fact is this very simple one, that moral philosophy, properly so called, has been infinitely more cultivated in England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries than in any other part of Europe. In France, for example, the Cartesian era produced only one eminent moralist, Malebranche; and Malebranche belonged neither to the class of selfish philosophers, nor to that of the sentimental philosophers. Cartesianism was followed in France, in the middle of the eighteenth century, by a new philosophy, but this was the system of materialism viin metaphysics and of selfishness in morals; and called to choose between Helvetius and Hobbes, I could not but prefer Hobbes. Much the same might be said of the philosophy of Germany, which has always been more metaphysical than moral, and has never exhibited any forms of the selfish or instinctive systems, which have obtained such a European celebrity as those of Hobbes, of Smith, and of Hume.” That this fertility of Anglo-Saxon mind in the department of ethical speculation was not limited to the centuries named, is clear from the bulk of our more recent ethical literature. Its full stream has never subsided, and is to-day pouring on past Bain and Barratt, in England, past Hickok and Hopkins in America.

But while this department of our literature is almost immeasurable, and certainly invaluable, it is sadly deficient in works written from a distinctively Christian stand-point. One large portion of our treatises are purely philosophical. Another, perhaps still larger, wretchedly confuse and mix up the ethics of philosophy with the ethics of revelation. Scarce one author has attempted to present in an independent scientific form the whole ethical system of Christianity. It is much as if we had innumerable treatises on what is called natural theology, but as yet not one on the doctrines of the Christian Revelation. Didactic theologians have occasionally included in their Bodies of Divinity a brief account of the “Morals of viiChristianity,” but thus far no one has yet done for Christian Ethics in our literature, what Danaeus and Calixtus did for it in the Reformed and Lutheran Churches of continental Europe. The Science of Christian Ethics is with us almost unknown. Too many of our least suspected manuals, written by honored and able evangelical divines, presuppose and continually imply a Socinian anthropology, and a worse than Romish soteriology.11Twenty years ago, when a mere college lad, the present writer addressed a letter to Dr. Wayland, respectfully and earnestly inquiring in what way certain statements in his “Moral Science” could be harmonized with evangelical views of human depravity. His answer was a curiosity. I would give not a little to be able to present it here.

Whatever may be the true explanation of this grave deficiency, it certainly is not due to an oversight of the essential difference between philosophical and Christian Ethics. Not a few of our evangelical writers have pointed out the incompleteness and comparatively imperfect basis of the former; but, with the exception of Wardlaw, scarce one has done any thing to supplant or to supplement it. John Foster, in the Fourth of his “Essays,” has some excellent thoughts on the impossibility of ignoring such revealed facts as Human Depravity, Redemption, the Mission of the Spirit, Immortality, and Future Judgment, in any comprehensive and thorough presentation of the system of Human Duty. Richard Watson enumerates five grave mischiefs, which result viiifrom the attempt “to teach morals independently of Christianity.” The writer of the essay on the Science of Christian Ethics in the work, “Science and the Gospel,” (London, 1870,) a writer who acknowledges his great obligation to the lucid and admirable Wuttke,” calling him “one of the most deservedly distinguished ethicists of modern times,” “a Christian ethicist of superlative merit,” expresses this sentiment: “The propriety of discussing moral questions apart from their natural and immediate implication with Christian Truth, admits of the gravest doubts.” Wardlaw goes even. further and asserts that, “The science of morals has no province at all independently of theology, and it cannot be philosophically discussed except upon theological principles.” Watson’s final definition of the relation of the two systems or methods is less extreme than this, and accords very nearly with that given by Wuttke in section fourth of his Introduction.22See “Institutes,” Vol. II, bottom of p. 474.

But whatever may be thought of philosophical ethics, or of the exact relation of the two branches to each other, no believer in Christian Revelation can for a moment call in question the legitimacy of specifically Christian Ethics. No Christian believer can possibly speak his whole mind respecting man, the ethical subject, or God, the author of our ethical relations, or our destiny, the result of our ethical action, without stating or implying all the fundamental doctrines ixof Christianity. Indeed, no man can elaborate any ethical system of any considerable completeness without definite and most important theological implications. As a matter of fact, most of our accepted text-books are thoroughly Deistic. They give us not the Morals of Christianity, or of Judaism, or of heathenism, but simply the ethical system of Lord Herbert, or Theodore Parker. We are glad to possess them, glad to see just what ethical consequence Deism carries with it; nevertheless we must repudiate their claims to an exclusive occupancy of the field, and especially their claims to represent the ethics of Revelation. Their use in Christian schools is at least of very doubtful expediency. Let every theological system, even those of the heathen, develop its supplementary ethical system, only let it not attempt to palm off its own ethical implication for those of wholly different systems.

The value of any elaborate system of ethics is largely in proportion to its fidelity to the theological views and principles of its author. If we study an atheistic system, we desire to ascertain precisely what the logical results of atheism are in the field of morals. This is the only special benefit we can hope to gain from the study. So a modern Jewish, Mohammedan, or ethnic system is valuable in proportion as it gives us the true ethical results of the particular religion from which it springs. Thorough ethical treatises are, therefore, to be welcomed from whatever xtheological stand-point they may be written. If thorough, they will serve the cause of truth. In the way of reductio ad absurdum they will often evince the untenableness of the theological principles upon which they rest. So far as they spring from correct theological conceptions, they will mutually complement and confirm each other.

The same thing may be said of systems of Christian ethics written from different confessional stand-points. Their value, too, is usually in proportion to their logical consistency. One of their most important uses is to throw light upon the necessary ethical consequences of their respective types of doctrine. In this respect the most strictly confessional are the most useful. In the interest of universal Christian theology, therefore, we greatly desiderate a thorough and active confessional cultivation of this field. The more clearly and constantly conscious of his distinctive doctrinal stand-point, the better service the author will render. Nothing is gained, much lost, by mixing up essentially Romish and essentially Protestant definitions. In like manner Augustinian ethics are as eternally distinct from Pelagian as are the theological systems so named. If Methodist theology be true, no consistent Calvinist can ever write a system of ethics acceptable to a Methodist, and vice versa. Romanism, Calvinism, Lutheranism and Methodism as much need distinctive treatises upon ethics as upon Christian doctrine. Each has xithe same right to the one as to the other. Nor will they thus aggravate and prolong the dissensions and divisions of the universal Church; they will rather accelerate the coining of the day when each great branch of Christendom will have matured its distinctive thought and perfected its distinctive life, preparatory to a higher and grander synthesis. Even before that day comes, each type of ethical inculcation will have its essential and characteristic excellences, and so effectively supplement all other types.

Especially welcome to the English reader must be a thorough scientific presentation of Christian ethics from the Lutheran stand-point. Hitherto none has been accessible. The whole theological literature of Lutheranism in the English language is deplorably meager. Considering the historic interest and present relations of this great Church of the Reformation, the deficiency is almost inexplicable. In this country the actual numerical proportions of the communion, its rapid growth from immigration, the close affinities of its best theology and best life with the dominant theology and life of the country, conspire to render its teachings and spirit a study of great interest to every intelligent American believer. Nor can the unedifying controversies and schisms which have hitherto so excessively characterized the body, or even the high-churchly self-complacency of such representatives as the author of “The Conservative Reformation and xiiits Theology.” effectually prevent the Christians of neighboring folds from cherishing a growing interest in their ecclesiastical life, and in that of their confessional and ethnological kindred in the Fatherland.

An English translation of Wuttke’s great work on “Christian Ethics” ought, therefore, to be warmly welcomed on many accounts. First, for all the excellent reasons suggested by Dr. Riehm, at the close of his special preface to Volume I of this translation.

Second, because as a work on Christian Ethics it will contribute to the supply of what is perhaps the gravest and most unaccountable lack in the whole range of English theological literature.

Third, because it will have a tendency to stimulate American and English moralists to a cultivation of their science from evangelical, and possibly from strictly confessional, stand-points.

Fourth, because by means of it the English student will now, for the first time, have an opportunity to see in full scientific form the ethical implications and inculcations of modern evangelical Lutheranism.

For all these reasons, it affords the writer unfeigned pleasure to bid the new-clad work God-speed, and to commend it to the faithful study of all lovers of Christian truth and holiness.

Wm. F. Warren.

Boston University, School of Theology, October, 1872.

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