Andrew Fuller Fridays: Fuller on the State as a Standard of Morality

“To furnish a standard of morality, some of our adversaries have had recourse to the laws of the state; avowing them to be the rule or measure of virtue. Mr. Hobbes maintained that the civil law was the sole foundation of right and wrong, and that religion had no obligation but as enjoined by the magistrate. And Lord Bolingbroke often writes in a strain nearly similar, disowning any other sanction or penalty by which obedience to the law of nature is enforced than those which are provided by the laws of the land. But this rule is defective, absurd, contradictory, and subversive of all true morality. First, It is grossly defective. This is justly represented by a prophet of their own. “It is a narrow notion of innocence,” says Seneca, “to measure a man’s goodness only by the law. Of how much larger extent is the rule of duty, or of good offices, than that of legal right! How many things are there which piety, humanity, liberality, justice, and fidelity require, which yet are not within the compass of the public statutes!” Secondly, It is absurd; for if the public statutes be the only standard of right and wrong, legislators in framing them could be under no law; nor is it possible that in any instance they should have enacted injustice. Thirdly, it is contradictory. Human laws, we all know, require different and opposite things in different nations, and in the same nation at different times. If this principle be right, it is right for deists to be persecuted for their opinions at one period, and to persecute others for theirs at another. Finally, It is subversive of all true morality. “The civil laws,” as Dr. Leland has observed, “take no cognizance of secret crimes, and provide no punishment for internal bad dispositions or corrupt affections. A man may be safely as wicked as he pleases on this principle, provided he can manage so as to escape punishment from the laws of his country, which very bad men, and those that are guilty of great vices, easily may, and frequently do evade.

Rousseau has recourse to feelings as his standard. “I have only to consult myself,” he says, “concerning what I ought to do. All that I feel to be right is right. Whatever I feel to be wrong is wrong. All the morality of our actions lies in the judgment we ourselves form of them.” By this rule his conduct through life appears to have been directed; a rule which, if universally regarded, would deluge the world with every species of iniquity.”


Excerpt From “The Gospel Its Own Witness”, 1799

Fuller, Andrew,  The Works of Andrew Fuller. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2007.

By |August 5th, 2016|Categories: Andrew Fuller Friday, Blog|

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