And a moral action, further, must have no motive of self-interest behind it. This is not saying that many interested actions are not natural, proper, and necessary, as the world now is, but only that they do not rise to the dignity of moral actions. How instantly does an action drop to a lower plane in our estimation when we discover that some self-regarding motive lies behind it! Suppose a man is honest, and refrains from imposing on the ignorant who come into his shop, simply because he knows that he will thereby build up a reputation for honesty and increase his chances of business success, do we do more than commend his sagacity; do we think of him as rising into the atmosphere of virtue ? Suppose a son devotes himself to his parents, not in the spirit of filial duty, but with the thought that some advantage will come sometime to him from doing so,that he will perhaps be assisted in business, or be generously remembered in his parents' will: do not such thoughts in connection with those to whom, if to any one in this wide world, we should be unselfishly attached, seem a kind of profanation, and recall Shakspeare's words, " Love is not love, When it is mingled with respects that stand Aloof from the entire point".
Suppose a man becomes a soldier, not out of unselfish attachment to a cause, but for hire, is not our estimate of him all changed ? Who that has seen the magnificent creation of Thorwaldsen, the lion carved in the solid rock at Lucerne, in commemoration of the Swiss Guard that fell defending the Tuileries in 1792, but is pained when the thought comes over him that these men after all had sold themselves for gold, and in aid of a cause against which every instinct and tradition of liberty in Switzerland would seem to have protested ? Suppose a man marries, I will not say for so vulgar a motive as money, but only because he is tired and wants a home, and the rest and comfort of it, what is he but a selfish creature after all, and without any part in that experience in which a man, if ever, is taken out of himself, and learns, if never before, the disinterestedness which is the soul of morality ?
A moral act is one in which we rise superior to personal considerations ; there dare not be "mingled with it respects that stand aloof from the entire point." Morality does not descend to the low plane on which we ordinarily live, and seek to influence us by showing that we should be better off by adhering to it, but takes for granted that we have a higher nature, and appeals to us on the higher, the highest, ground. In the old Antislavery times, calculating prudent men used to seek to persuade the slaveholders that it would be cheaper to pay wages than to own slaves; that their property would be safer ; that even those indispensable luxuries ice-cream and vanilla would cost less if the negroes were placed on a fair footing; and that the picturesque house-servants, with their heavy Ethiopian manners, their silent obedience, their hue of bronze and turbaned heads, would find it to their interest to remain on the masters' estates even if they were freed. I know not which to wonder at most, that such foolish appeals should be made with the slightest hope that they would be heeded, or on the other hand that the citadel and seat of the evil were not attacked, and it boldly said, not that the slaveholders were not as far-sighted and business-like as they might be, but that they were committing a wrong. There are some matters, where it seems not only unmoral, but almost immoral to appeal to any but the highest motives. There are some things sacred in this world. We are told that Jesus made a scourge of small cords and drove the money-changers out of the Temple, saying, "Make not my father's house a house of merchandise !" I have almost a similar indignation when I hear the cause of human rights, the cause of charity, treated from any other than the highest stand-point. These subjects ought to lift us immediately to their level. I heard a man not long ago advocate more systematic and effective charity, because, forsooth, if we thus took care of the poor we should have less need to fear the spread of socialism. It was not man then man in want, man in sore distress that we were to consider, but this, that our property become secure against the attacks of socialism ! Fie on it, making merchandise thus of charity! But he who urges the cause of humanity on any other grounds than the highest, respects not the humanity of those who are in need, nor the humanity in us, and treats us as if we had no higher nature, and could not transcend these considerations about the security and safety of our property.
" Unless above himself he can Erect himself, how poor a thing is man! "
Yes, man can rise above himself; and in this higher life, animated by more than personal affections and aspirations, is his home. There he first knows himself; it is, as it were, his native element, as the stainless azure is that of the king of birds.
Nor for considerations of comfort and personal happiness in another world does man need to be concerned. I hear it said that we must believe in a future world, whether there is one or not, to preserve us in paths of virtue here. I reject the imputation on human nature. The fault with many churches is, not that they are too religious, but that they are not religious enough ; that they do not recognize the divine element in man, that they do not appeal to it nor pay it reverence. What were the gain, moreover, if men were made " moral " under the influence of the hopes and fears of another world ? They would be no better; whatever outward requirements of morality they might be led to comply with they would not be really moral, the first step toward which is only gained by a renunciation of fears and hopes of any kind, and yielding without questioning or concern to the voice of duty: they would still be their old selfish selves, and immortality in their case would be only a prolongation of such a type of existence. What claims could such people have to such a destiny, what good could be served, what higher purpose of the universe worked out, by granting them a new lease of life ? How pitiable is the view of a great Christian authority, Paley, that prudence and duty differ only in that in the one case we consider what we shall gain or lose in the present world, and in the other, also what we shall gain or lose in the world to come! How fittingly does he in proposing such a view omit all moral declamation, as he calls it, about the dignity and capacity of our nature, the superiority of the soul to the body, of the rational to the animal part of our constitution,1 since in truth according to him and the style of many Christian preachers there is no dignity or divine capacity in our nature, and no difference between the animal and the man, save that man has a spy-glass, and the animal only his eyes to see what is for his selfish interests. In how striking a contrast is the strain of another Christian, Saint Francis Xavier, who passionately exclaims,