The Unfailing Moral Standard

- from "Toleration" by John Bigelow

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As the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, so the recognition of the distinction between real and apparent, between primary and secondary motives, lies at the foundation of Ethical Science. When Judas kissed Jesus in the Garden, his apparent motive was to testify or be deemed to testify affection for his Master. The less apparent motive was to betray Jesus to those who sought His life. A motive still less obvious and to which the others were doubtless all subordinate was to earn the stipulated reward of his infidelity. But the real or final motive of the act which will perpetuate his name as long, at least, as that of any of the disciples of Jesus lay, no doubt, far behind his thirst for money and could only be discerned by Supreme Intelligence. All we are certain of is that his treachery must have had its origin in a good or a bad motive; must have been inspired by a righteous or a wicked intent, for one or the other of these motives is the soul which inhabits every act and thought of our lives.

In the eyes of some, St. Peter's Church at Rome represents the taste and skill of its architects; these and nothing more. In a higher sense, it represents the devotion, self-denial and piety of some, the vanity and ambition of others. The money, genius and labor employed in its construction may have been contributed by one class for the love of God, by another through fear of ecclesiastical censure, and by yet another to increase the commercial value of adjacent property or to gratify municipal pride; and by some from yet meaner motives. The final motive, as referred to in these pages, is the essential motive, force or impulse, and always involves an election, consciously or unconsciously, to do what shall seem according to our standards at the time right or wrong.

Every act of our lives is a link in a chain of motives having one end in the spiritual, which is the real world, and the other in the natural or apparent world, upon which, as on a ladder, angels good or bad are ever ascending and descending. "When the second causes which are next unto the senses," says Lord Bacon, "do offer themselves to the mind of man, if it stay and dwell there, it may induce some oblivion of the highest cause, but when a man passeth on farther and seeth the dependence of causes on the ends of Providence; then according to the allegory of the poets he will easily believe that the highest link of nature's chain must needs be tied to the foot of Jupiter's chair."

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