“No man walks through life without a rule of some kind, by which his conduct is directed, and his inclinations restrained. They who fear not God are influenced by a regard to the opinions of men. To avoid the censure and gain the applause of the public, is the summit of their ambition.
Public opinion has an influence, not only on the conduct of individuals in a community, but on the formation of its laws. Legislators will not only conform their systems to what the humours of the people will bear, but will themselves incline to omit those virtues which are most ungrateful, and to spare those vices which are most agreeable.
Nor is this all: so great is the influence of public opinion, that it will direct the conduct of a community against its own laws. There are obsolete statutes, as we all know, the breach of which cannot be punished: and even statutes which are not obsolete, where they operate against this principle, have but little effect; witness the connivance at the atrocious practice of duelling [sic].
Now if public opinion be so potent a principle, whatever has a prevailing influence in forming it must give a decided tone to what are considered as the morals of a nation. I say to what are considered as the morals of a nation; for, strictly speaking, so much of the love of God and man as prevails in a nation, so much morality is there in it, and no more. But as we can judge of love only by its expressions, we call those actions moral, though it is possible their morality may only be counterfeit, by which the love of God and man is ordinarily expressed. If we perform from some other motive those actions which are the ordinary expression of love, our good deeds are thereby rendered evil in the sight of Him who views things as they are: nevertheless, what we do may be equally beneficial to society as though we acted from the purest motive. In this indirect way Christianity has operated more than any thing that has been called by the name of religion, or by any other name, towards meliorating the state of mankind.”
Excerpt From “The Gospel Its Own Witness”, 1799
Fuller, Andrew, The Works of Andrew Fuller. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2007.