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That there is a God, is the first principle of religion. Men can have no sense of accountability for their actions, unless they believe in the existence of a Supreme Being. Such a belief has been nearly universal among mankind, in all ages of the world. Pagans, indeed, have had 'lords many, and gods many:' but whilst they have generally embraced polytheism, they have as generally acknowledged the existence of One God of superior ability and character, as the Prince and Governor of the rest.
Bat general as has been the belief of a Supreme Being; the opinions entertained of his moral character, have been various, contradictory and absurd. Whilst philosophers formed some just conceptions of the natural attributes of God, they imagined his moral character to be like their own, and with all their boasted wisdom, 'knew not the moral perfections of that Being, whom they ignorantly worshipped.' But it is of little consequence to believe that there is a God, without any just views of his character; for nothing can be more obvious, than that false conceptions of the great Object of fear and worship, must lead to false religion, and that true religion can result from nothing but a knowledge of the true character of the One only living and true God.
It is but a little that such narrow capacities as ours, can comprebend of the infinite and incomprehensible Jehovah : but, without some just ideas of his perfections and will, it is impossible to possess any true religion, either in principle or practice. Before God can be worshipped, he must be known. This knowledge, so essential to religion, we never could have acquired, if our Creator had not made us in his own image. If there had been no resemblance between our finite minds, and the One Infinite mind; we never could have formed the least idea of the perfections of God. But, being made in the image of our Maker; we may justly reason from what we perceive in ourselves, to what exists in God. The highest idea which we can form of the natural attributes of the Supreme Being, such as his knowledge, presence, power, &c. is, that they are like those natural powers and faculties of our own minds, divested of all imperfection, and tinlimited in their exercise. And the highest idea, which we can form of the Moral Perfections of the Supreme Being, such as his Goodness, Truth, Justice, Mercy, &c. is, that they are all compre. hended in the same kind of love, which we are qualified and bound to exercise, and in which all human holiness consists. And this is precisely the idea which the apostle conveys of the Moral Perfections of God, in our text : "God is love." He has reference to the Moral Perfections of God only; for to those only can love belong, and not to his Natural Attributes : and his peculiar mode of expression implies, that all the moral perfections of God, his whole moral character, is comprehended in love: God is love. The Doctrine obviously contained in the text, is this: True love comprehends all the moral perfections of God. In the illustration of this doctrine, it will be proper, first, to describe true love; and then, to show how such love comprehends all the Moral Perfections of God. I am,
1. To describe true love.
Love, in general, belongs neither to the understanding, nor to the natural affections, but to the heart or will only. The object of love is the good, the interest and happiness, of the being loved. There are two, and but two kinds of love, known, or conceivable ; the one has for its ultimate and chief object, the greatest good of the universe of beings; the other has, for its ultimate and chief object, the greatest good of the individual who exercises it; the one is called disinterested love, the other self-love, or selfishness. It is impossible to conceive of an exercise of love, which is neither disinterested, nor selfish, which has neither private good, nor public good for its ultimate and chief object.
Now, that true love is disinterested and not selfish, is both the dictate of consciences, and the declaration of sacred scripture.
1. It is the dictate of conscience, that true love is disinterested. The conscience of every man disapproves of all those exercises of love, which terminate upon self-interest, as their ultimate and “supreme object. The conscience of every man condemns him for entirely neglecting and overlooking the good of others, and confining his good will and benevolence exclusively to himself. The conscience of every man teaches him, that he ought to set as high a value upon the interest of another, as upon his own, when it is worth as much; and a higher value, when it is worth more. No man's conscience approves of his exercises of love, except when he thinks them to be of in disinterested, or truly benevolent nature. No man expects that othcr3 will approve of his exercises of love and good will, unless he can convince them, that they are ultimately directed to a higher object, than his own private, personal interest. And hence arise the endeavors of mankind, to make others believe that their views and designs are directed to the public good. In passing judgment upon the as
tions of others, men always approve or condemn them, according as they appear to proceed from selfish or disinterested motives. When any writer or speaker undertakes to draw a virtuous and amiable character, he always makes it a disinterested one : so universally does the moral sense of mankind teach them, that true love is disinterested.
2. The same is the representation of sacred scripture. The Divine Law, which requires true love and that only, requires impartial, disinterested love. For one to love God with all his heart, and his neighbor as himself, is to be disinterested. The apostle Paul condemns that love which has private interest exclusively for its object, and which prompts men to seek their own things only; and in describing charity, or true love, says, "She seeketh not her own." He uniformly represents true love, as leading men to value and seek to promote the good of others—to treat them with justice, kindness, compassion and liberality—to do good and communicate to all men. In drawing the character of good men, the sacred writers uniformly represent them as habitually humane, generous, public-spirited, or in other words, disinterested. Thus they delineate the character of Moses, of David, of Daniel, of Paul, and above all, of the man Christ Jesus, who went about doing good, as a perfect model of pure benevolence. It may be added, that the inspired writers expressly speak of the love of God, as being of a disinterested nature. The Psalmist says, “The Lord is good unto all, and his tender mercies are over all his works.” Our Saviour spake of God, as kind to the evil and unthankful, as well as to the good and grateful; and his beloved disciple writes : “In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only begotton Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but tha, he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. We love him because he first loved us.”
Such evidence there is, that true love is the same as disinterested benevolence, which extends to all beings capable of happiness, which is complacency towards all holy beings, which prefer a greater good to a less, and a less evil to a greater, without partiality, and which has for its ultimate and chief object, to which it is willing to sacrifice every other, the greatest possible sum of good in the universe. Thus disinterested, impartial, and universal, without intermission, and without limitation, is the love of God. I am,
II. To show the love of God comprehends all his moral perfections. "God is love."
The moral perfections of God, are distinguished from his natural attributes, as the exercises of the hearts or wills of men, are distinguished from the faculties and operations of their understandings or
intellects. The moral perfections of God, are the affections of his heart and the volitions of his will towards himself and the creatures which he has made. Here, then, it may be observed,
1. That holy, disinterested love fills the heart of God, and leaves no room for any other moral exercise. As God requires his rational creatures to exercise disinterested love, with all the heart and soul and mind and strength ; so he loves the universe, including himself and his creatures, with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, He exercises trục love to the universe, at all times, to the extent of his natural capacity. His heart is always full of holy, disinterested benevolence. So that if we could conceive of any moral perfections in God, distinct from true love, there would bę po room for them in his heart. But,
2. We cannot conceive of any moral perfections in God, distinct from disinterested love. All the moral perfections of God, are branch
and modifications of true love, or universal benevolence. All the affections, exercises of the heart of God, are disinterested. They are all branches and modifications of the same pure, simple, disinterested love to himself and his creatures. There is no need of suppos. ing any other exercise in his heart, if we could, to account for all his conduct towards the universe of being. As true love, in men, is "the fulfilling of the law ;' so true love in God, disposes him to do as it is fit and right and proper for him to do, in all cases, towards all beings.His moral perfections are called by different names, as wisdom, goodness, faithfulness, justice, mercy, &c, not because they are of different natures; but because they are the same pure benevolence, exercised towards different objects, under different circumstances, and produce different effects, This leads me to ada,
3. That if we examine the moral perfections of God, separately, we shall find them to be all branches or modifications of the same disinterested love, exercised on various occasions, towards various objects. What is his wisdom, so far as it is a moral perfection, but his disposition to adopt the best means to obtain the best ends, i. e. his own glory, and the greatest good of the universe ? And is not this an exercise of disinterested benevolence. His goodness is a disposition to do good, to the highest possible degree. “Thou art good,” says the psalmist, “and doest good," The faithfulness of God is a disposition to consult the best interests of himself, and his moral kingdom. His justice is his disposition to punish the guilty according to their deserts, for the honor of his own character, the support of his law and government, and the best interest of intelligent beings. His mercy is a disposition to pardon the guilty and receive them to favor, so far as consistent with the glory of his name, and the welfare of his kingdom. And thus it may be made to appear, that all the Divine, moral perfections, by whatever various names they may be called, which compose the infinitely amiable and glorious character of the Supreme Being, are but so many branches and exercises of the same impartial, universal and disinterested benevolence, which he requires in his law, and in which all moral beauty, excellency and glory essentially consit. God is love. Pure, impartial, universal love to himself and all his creatures whom he has made capable of holiness and happiness, fills his heart, actuates his will, and prompts him in all the measures of his righteous government, and all the dispensations of his holy providence.
[TO BE CONCLUDED.]
FOR THE HOPKINSIAN MAGAZINE.
ON THE NECESSITY AND UTILITY OF EXERCISING COM
MON SENSE. Mankind all sprang from a common origin, and possess a common nature. Every rational creature is capaple of exercising common sense, which is essentially alike in all men; and were it not for the depravity of the heart, would lead to unity of faith. However differently persons may reason; their intuitive knowledge is always essentially alike. Hence the inspired writers assume many self-evident truths, as the foundation of every divine precept and prohibition. Divine revelation was not addressed to “the horse and the mule who are without understanding," but to men ; who were made rational and moral agents. Adam intuitively knew that he was able and bound to obey all the holy and just commands of his Creator ; and it is in view of the same fact respecting his posterity that God appeals to men: "Judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard." Hear now, O house of Israel, is not my way equal, are not your ways unequal ? Why even of yourselves, judge ye not what is right." And since the Author of the scriptures assumes the existence and reality of many self-evident, obvious truths, and in view of them appeals to men respecting the propriety and justice of his own precepts and prohibitions ; it is certainly the part of true wisdom, modesty, and piety, for us also to adopt and adhere to them.
“Common sense,” says a late writer,“is not that sense which mankind commonly exercise ; but that sense which they all possess, and would always exercise, were it not for the depravity of their hearts." It is that sense of truth, propriety and right, which is common to mas as a rational and moral being. Every rational person sees intuitively, that some things are right and others wrong; that some things are wise and others foolish ; that some things are proper under particular circumstances, and others improper ; that some things are true and others false ; and that some things are expedient, and others inexpedient. And those persons who see with quickness and accuracy those things that are good or bad, wise or foolish, proper or improper, expedient or inexpedient, true or false, may be said to have a good degree of common sense. In a word, common sense respects those truths which it is very difficult for mankind to avoid seeing and knowing; and whether it is wholly intuitive, or partly demonstrative, it prevents the imagination and reasoning powers of intellectual beings from running lawless and wild, and binds all persons to the same sentiments, and to a wise and useful course of conduct. But the nature of common sense will more easily be apprehended by contemplating some of the principal truths which are the result of its dictates.