- from "Toleration" by John Bigelow
CHAPTER III - Part 3
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On the contrary, it is of the first importance to recognize as inexorable laws of
First, that every man's standard of right and wrong is as liable to differ from every other man's, as his age, education, temperament, health, and environment have differed.
Every man's God is his highest ideal. When we pray that His name be hallowed, by "name" we understand and have in our minds a Being endowed with such attributes as our highest ideal of existence can invest Him with. But as no two men's ideals are the same, so no two men have ever worshipped precisely the same God. It is equally true that no one person worships the same God for any consider. able time. His God necessarily changes with his ideals, and his ideals change the more or less as he strives to apprehend the attributes of God, which can neither be counted nor measured. Of course there must be a corresponding diversity in men's notions of right and wrong.
When at Lystra, Paul the Apostle caused one who had been a cripple from his mother's womb to leap up and walk, the multitude who witnessed it exclaimed: "The gods are come down to us, in the likeness of men;" and they called Barnabas, Jupiter, and Paul, Mercury, because he was the chief speaker, and the priest of Jupiter prepared oxen and garlands to offer sacrifices unto them (Acts xiv. 9).
Second, the essential moral quality of every act of our lives must depend upon the motives or intention which inspired it. So far as that motive is in accord with the supreme and universal law to which I have referred, it deserves to be called a good act so far as its author was concerned. In so far as it was in conflict with this law, it would deserve to be called a bad act so far as its author is concerned, quite irrespective of the physical or phenomenal results of the act itself. The Christ is ever saying to all of us as he said to the Centurion, "Go thy way; as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee."
Swedenborg professes to have found confirmation of this view of moral responsibility in the spiritual world. He says:
"There are two things which make the life of man, will and understanding, and all things which are done by man are done by his will and by his understanding. Without these agents man would not have any action or speech other than a machine. Thence it 'is manifest that man is such a man as his will and understanding; and also that the action of man in itself is such as is the affection of his will that produces it . . . . Wherefore many men may speak and act alike, and yet they act and speak differently, one from a perverse will and thought, and the other from an upright will and thought. . . . In the spiritual world I have met with many who in the natural world have lived like others, by clothing themselves splendidly, feasting sumptuously, trading with borrowed money as others, seeing stage-plays, joking upon amatory matters as if from lust, besides other like things, and yet the angels charged these things upon some as evils of sin, and to some they did not impute them as evils; and the latter they declared innocent, but the former guilty. To the question why they did so when they had done things alike, the angels replied that they contemplate all from the purpose, intention or end, and distinguish according to them. Those, therefore, whom the end excuses or condemns, they excuse or condemn." (Conjugial Love, n. 527)
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