Uprightness the only Path to Safety

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The Principles of Nature.



Delivered in the Unitarian Church, Southington, Ct., January 7, 1849,

BY J. K. INGALLS, Pastor.

[By request published in the Univercoelum.]

"He that walketh uprightly walketh surely."

Proverbs x. 9.

There are certain great laws or first principles which pervade universal Nature, and act with exceptionless uniformity. To these all worlds and beings are subject. The minutest particle of dust and the loftiest intelligence exist and act in conformity to their sway. The law of gravitation, if that be the proper term to signify the mutual attraction of all things, pervades the lowest and the highest orders of creation. The stone, removed from its resting place on the brink of the precipice, will assuredly tumble to the depths below. The tree, or fruit, or even animal is subject to the same law. Nor is this law varied for man, the lord of creation. Let him rashly tread the giddy hight, and lose the power of self-balance, and he too, as well as all other material objects, will be hurled headlong down the steep declivity. To accommodate none does Nature suspend her laws, or ever excuse an actual violation.

Nor do these laws govern Man's physical nature alone. There is a unity in all, which secures a perfect system of correspondence that is discovered running through all the works of the divine Creator; so that similar principles, or the same in a higher form, may be traced in his social, moral, and intellectual being. It is for this reason that the most sublime truths in ethics may be illustrated and enforced by the most simple figures drawn from known operations in external Nature. It is indeed presumptive proof, at least, in favor of any hypothesis, if we can find a strict analogy for its support, under any one of the established laws. The whole method of figure and parable, which the received scriptures abound, is based on such correspondence.

In giving moral precepts, "the wise man" has drawn here a figure, forcible as it is simple, because appropriate to the subject of instruction. It conies under the law of gravitation. It is he who walks uprightly that walks safely. This is the posture in which he is least liable to lose self command, and in which he may exercise the powers of his frame to the best advantage. The application is readily seen. True to nature must be our moral walk, if we would securely tread the rugged pathway Of human life. Indeed, this seems so plain, and the figure so pertinent, that the mere rehearsal should constitute a sufficient discourse, It would be so, would we rationally follow out and apply the truths involved; but it is so convenient and fashionable withal to have another do our thinking, that as great necessity exists for prolixity as though the subject was of the most complicated description.

What astonishment should we feel to observe a man passing in the streets, who seeks out props from among all objects, not for the purpose of keeping his position upright, but to enable him to walk in an inclined one! It is no compliment to our judgment that we do not experience a like astonishment in view of the inconsistencies, both in theory and practice, of the popular systems of religion in respect to morals. For they seem to have been organized for the especial purpose of enabling men to set at nought all the laws of their nature, and yet escape the consequences. The object appears to be to devise a patent method, by which the favored mortal may walk, setting all laws of gravitation ;it defiance, and be saved from falling prostrate to the earth; and through which he may evade, not obey, those regulations of the infinite Ruler, on which depends not only his happiness, but his earthly existence. A case is fresh in my memory of an individual who was in the constant habit of purchasing magnesia to obviate the effect of his favorite food; yet discovered the greatest contempt for the poor Catholic who thought to buy indulgence of his priest. To my mind, however, one was just as gross in his conception of the relation of things as the other.

The man who uses the staff, not for the purpose of walking erect, but to aid him in keeping a horizontal position; the man who prepares medicine, and employs a physician, to enable him to violate the laws of his organization with impunity; he who fees a lawyer to devise how he may outrage the regulations of society and escape the penalties; and he, who is superstitious enough to pay his priest to save him from the consequences of heaven's violated moral requirements,—should be regarded as occupying corresponding planes of thought and action. The person who seeks aid from the staff, may find it in a certain sense; but not in respect to security and ease in the real action of walking. He who seeks relief from the nostrums and impositions of the healing art, may be relieved of his money, and, perhaps, from momentary pain; but his health will not be improved, or his constitution amended ; and the effects of his intemperance, though checked or delayed for a moment, by such methods, will be as certain and as fearful. He who looks to the adept in the law-art for aid, may escape the penalties of man-made law; but he can not escape the consequences which in Nature follow the violation of the social principle. And the less guilty sinner, who pays his priest for pardoning his real or imaginary defections, may still his conscience by his course—may relieve his superstitious fear; but he can not evade the righteous retribution of heaven; the degradation of his moral nature, and all its susceptibilities of enjoyment, and capabilities of use, will as surely follow, as that a column will fall to the earth when it has lost its perpendicular.

It certainly seems as if the conceptions of men inverted the order of Nature, and every where arrayed man against his own health and happiness. No question is asked, how we may "walk uprightly;" but how we may outrage the fundamental principles of right, and be secure. The physician is not consulted to know how disease may be prevented, but how we may be safe in the violation and disregard of every law of health, and relieved from the pains Nature inflicts to restore a healthy action. He teaches not man how to live so as to be in harmony with Nature, but prescribes specifics to lull pain and palliate the consequences of her violated laws. The Law Professor is consulted not to inform us how to give obedience to social law, and "live in peace with all men," bat how we may be saved from the consequences of a violation. He instructs not men in the principles of eternal reciprocal justice, but lives by his ingenuity to wrest judgment from its legitimate course. The Preacher is not an instructor of the people in principles of right, their guide in the pathway of truth and holiness; but a trafficker in the souls of men, a scape-goat, who promises to bear, not the sins, but their consequences. The unsuspecting Catholic who pays his mite to his priest that the God of heaven may not visit upon him the fruit of his doings, and the victim of excitement, who kneels obedient to the nod of the more fashionable revivalist, expecting to escape from the just judgments of the divine government, are acting from equally erroneous and destructive views. The result in each case is the same, however the form may vary. I look upon this whole system of religion, as entirely opposed to the doctrines of natural and revealed morality, calculated to set at nought all moral principle, and to destroy all moral distinctions. For the surety is not promised to those who walk uprightly, nor the danger incurred by those who proceed heedlessly, as every one must see; but in obtaining or failing to obtain a subterfuge to prevent falling when every law of uprightness has been wantonly trespassed.

If the effects of sin can be obliterated by penance or confession, then it would be as safe to proceed unmindful of all principle, the safety depending less on the observance of law than of specified extraneous forms. How heedless are men of the dictates of reason! Unpracticed in tracing the relation of cause and effect, they do not discover the inseparable connection which naturally exists between all actions and their consequences. Hence they seek to change effects, without any effort to produce a change in the sphere of causes.

Any attempt to investigate the origin of such erroneous conceptions may be deemed unimportant; but to eradicate any evil, it is necessary to discover the fountain whence it proceeds, and address ourselves to the exhibition of the connection between evil and the cause, which only needs changing. From man's cupidity and misinformed selfishness has arisen this misapprehension. He is not satisfied in receiving his just deserts. The powers of invention being active, he strives to find some short-hand method of security. Uprightness will give safety at any time; he would discover some patent system, so as to enjoy it without being at any trouble to comply with the common requisitions upon which, alone, it depends. And inflated with the idea that he has found it, ho goes on reckless of his course, only anxious to submit to the most approved formula. In this regard, however, there is an infinite variety, so that each one may suit his taste. And so each has his favorite scheme. The individual who distends his stomach almost to bursting, has his pill-box or panacea. He who violates civil regulations, fees a lawyer, while the superstitiously inclined purchase pardon of their priest; although in Protestant lands, we take the indulgence and hope for the pardon, without the expense or humiliation of confession. From selfishness and ignorance combined, proceed these wrong modes of action and reflection; a selfishness which would monopolize every advantage, an ignorance which sees not the prime relation between cause and effect.

True safety only consists with right action. This must be as true and reliable as the immutable laws of Nature. Whatever may be our speculations in respect to present or future condition, we must admit these fundamental propositions, or abandon all claim to moral science. If our present state is one of discipline for a higher sphere, whither we shall carry the treasures of a moral and spiritual nature realized here; and if there is an economy in Nature which makes even suffering subservient to the advancement of the individual and the race, there can be no evading the penalty of violated law, and no security against physical, social and moral ills, except by substituting a more harmonious action.

It is sometimes objected to the idea of universal progression, that it represents all alike safe, in obedience or disobedience to the divine laws. But this objection can only justly lie against the blank idea of an arbitrary salvation, which severs all relation between the present and the future, and suspends, at death, all connection between cause and effect. Progression is not inconsistent with the just punishment of transgression, and can promise no escape in time or eternity from the necessary consequence of evil-doing. The parental government involves the idea of advancement and disciplinary justice, which will keep the members in subjection, although every advance step may be connected with certain deviations. But will the prodigal son hence say, that inasmuch as he shall certainly return in humiliation and sorrow, that he is therefore safe in his wanderings, and that he will brave famine and all the terrible sufferings attendant on his devious way! And impressed with the principles I have endeavored to portray, will it be said by the suffering earth-wanderer, that since pain and sorrow have been instituted to correct his errors, and reform his habits, that hence he will taste of every bitter cup which transgression can mix, or reckless negligence and thoughtless indulgence force him to quaff? To my mind no religious conception awakens such powerful motives for the exercise of a proper caution, or so clearly teaches the danger of inharmonious conditions; in this respect it accords with the immutable laws of Nature, and the express declarations of accredited revelation.

But suppose the popular idea correct, that judgment is put off to the future; still, these first principles of justice being established, that judgment can give no security to the advocates of one or another creed. He alone will be safe who walks uprightly. So let us believe what we may, with regard to the time and place of the retribution of heaven, this fundamental particular must not be overlooked. We can not therefore regard ourselves safe in adopting all the creeds in Christendom, or in conforming to all the requisitions of the high priest of ceremonies, unless we keep our erect and straight-forward course in life, discharge with faithfulness the duties of our stations, and walk uprightly before God and man.

There is more sound philosophy, more consistent theology contained in our text, than may be found in all the religious creeds which have distracted the world. They have been instituted in ignorance^ and are based on principles of ill-disguised selfishness; hence have all a scape-goat by which they intend to make up for a lack of adherence to principle, and deficiency in moral conduct. It should be remembered, that whatever our ideas may be in matters of theory and speculation, there can be no departure from the laws of Nature without concomitant suffering ; that cause and effect are as certainly connected in morals as in physics, and that no invention can materially aid us in remedying the effects while the causes are unremoved.

The man who does a wrong action outrages a law of the Universe and of his own being, and though he may evade the penalties of human enactments, find momentary relief from pain, or still his darkened conscience, yet the legitimate effects of his sin will follow, in a manner and degree exactly proportioned to the extent of the violation. But how often do we see these plain principles left entirely out of the question, while every effort appears directed to the removal of effects! Had man walked uprightly there had been no broken bones to cure. Had he lived in accordance with the first principles of his nature, there had been no broken constitutions to prop up. Had he acted ever from dictates of truth and justice, there had been no place for the imposition of priests with their sale of indulgences, and absolution for sins that are past Oh, blind infatuation, that has arrayed man against his own peace! When will he learn to do right and practice virtue as the only path of safety, When will society learn that equal and reciprocal justice to all her members can alone secure general prosperity and social harmony? When will mortals learn, what has been so long inscribed in the volume they profess to reverence, and from eternity in the very constitution of all things, that al1 wisdom's ways are pleasantness, and all her paths are peace?

Let those who would be safe, deal justly. Let those who are fearful in spirit, practice goodness. Let those who are hopeful know that this way alone is secure. "God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." "He that soweth the wind shall reap the whirlwind;" his labor shall be repaid with increase.

Pursuing the even tenor of our way, confident of safety while we act in accordance with the known laws of God, may we have practical demonstration of the assurance, that "Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart."

  • Joshua King Ingalls, “Uprightness the Only Path to Safety,” Univercoelum and Spiritual Philosopher 3, no. 13 (February 24, 1849): 193-195.