It is probable that there is no one direction in which conscientious persons suffer so much doubt and perplexity as on the right apportionment of time and property. Clear views of duty on this subject can be gained only by reference to certain facts and principles of mind in connection with certain facts revealed by Jesus Christ.
It is a fact that whenever men notice any method which will best secure any end aimed at, they call it right. And so the word right, as men ordinarily use the term, signifies the method or rule for securing an end designed.
It is also a fact that all rational minds are so made as intuitively to feel or perceive that the end for which all things are made is, not to produce enjoyment or happiness of any sort or degree, but to produce the best good for all concerned both as to quality and amount.
In proof of this, we find that when any plan or action is proposed, and it is shown that on one alternative the best good of both the individual and society is secured, all rational minds decide that it is wise and right, and that the opposite alternative is foolish and wrong. There are endless diversities of opinion as to what is for the best good of individuals and society; but all agree that whatever is for the best good of all concerned is right. We therefore assume that it is an intuitive principle or belief in all rational minds, that happiness-malting on the best and largest scale is the end or purpose for which all things are made.
We also find ourselves placed in a system of physical, intellectual, and social laws, by obedience to which happiness is gained, and that by disobedience to them happiness is destroyed. At the same time, the controlling principle of every mind is to gain happiness and escape pain or loss of happiness. This being so, we may assume that to gain the end 'for which we are made, or, in other words, to act right, we must obey these laws.
Again, we find every rational mind so made that it may be controlled by some leading desire of ruling purpose to which all other desires and purposes are subordinate, and that it is the nature of this ruling purpose which constitutes moral character. By moral character is meant that which results from our own choice instead of that which consists in qualities and propensities created by God. This ruling purpose that controls the mind sometimes, by a figure of speech is called the heart, which literally is the organ that controls the body.
Again, we find that in all ages and nations there are some men whose ruling purpose and chief desire is to do right, and that these persons are called the righteous or the virtuous men.
Again, we find that all decisions as to what is best and right are regulated by the dangers involved. If one course, with equal advantages, is free from danger, and the opposite involves danger, all men decide the former to be the right one. Thus, all questions of duty as to any course of action are regulated by the dangers which threaten ourselves or society. As an illustration of this fact, when the life of our nation was imperiled, privations, risks, and even death, were sometimes a duty, when in times of peace and prosperity such sacrifices would not be right but highly sinful.
The general principle thus illustrated is, that the standard of right and wrong in all practical affairs is regulated by the amount of danger to be met in alternate courses, one of which must be chosen. And thus it appears that every question of rectitude and duty is modified by circumstances; so that what would be a sin in one case would be a solemn duty in another.
Again, we find that the character of a righteous man is dependent on experience and instruction. For a child is born in utter ignorance of God's laws, and of his obligation to obey them; and it is only by the slow and gradual process of experience and training that he gains this knowledge. Still more is he dependent on educators for motives to excite to obedience, Tlhe great want of humanity is right instruction as to the laws by which the best good of all is secured, and powerful motives to induce obedience to these laws.
We are now prepared to notice the connection of these principles and facts with the facts revealed by Jesus Christ. The great and central fact thus made known is, that this life is only the beginning of an eternal existence, involving liability to dreadful dangers after death, and that, in estimating what is right and wise in character and conduct, we are to take into account these dangers, as regulating all questions of duty to ourselves and to our fellow-men. Of the nature of these dangers, we are informed that those who become righteous in this life will secure perpetuity of that character, and thus perfect and endless happiness; but that some will so fail that they never will attain this character, either in this life or the life to come, and so will forever reap the consequences of perpetuate and voluntary selfishness and sin. Still more momentous is the fact, that the number who are to be saved depends upon the self-denying labors of Christ's followers, and that so dreadful are the hazards of the life to come, that all consideration of earthly enjoyment should be made subordinate to the great end of escape for ourselves and for our fellow-men, whom we are to love and care for as we do for ourselves.
These facts and principles enable us clearly to comprehend the great law of rectitude and happiness given by God through Moses, and then more clearly explained and illustrated by Jesus Christ. All men are conscious of that instinctive love which we share in common with the brutes. This consists in pleasurable emotions in view of certain persons or things which afford us pleasure, attended by a desire to please those who cause such enjoyment to ourselves, or to those we love. Thus the mother, whether human or brute, feels instinctive love to her offspring; and thus all men feel this instinctive love to those who confer pleasure on themselves.