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the amount of all that which he chooses them to be, must be supposed to accord in some good measure with the excellence and dignity of his own nature. If therefore in a book professing to be a revelation from him, we should find the contrary character, viz. one which was chiefly useless, and destitute of dignity and worth, demanded as the sum of human duty, this fact would greatly weaken, nay it would wholly destroy, its pretentions to be a revelation from God. But, if the character required in such a book should be wholly pure, noble, and excellent; should this book be at the same time the only one which either disclosed or required such a character, and should every thing contained in it perfectly accord with the requisition, strong presumption would be furnished in this manner, that it was indeed a revelation from God. Such is the character required in the Scriptures.
3. How desirable is that change of heart to which this disposition in man owes its existence.
Who, with calm and just consideration of this subject, would not rejoice to be delivered from a narrow-minded, partial, bigoted, envious, proud, avaricious, malignant temper; and to become the subject of a benevolent, sincere, disinterested, pious, and expansive disposition, inclined to all good, and effectually prepared to love and promote, as well as to enjoy, it? a disposition, the same with that of the 'general assembly of the first born;' the same with that of angels; the same with that of Christ; the same with that of God? All real and enduring good commences within the soul. This disposition is itself that commencement, the beginning of all noble pursuits and dignified enjoyments, the means of ensuring peace and joy within and without, of securing the love of all virtuous and excellent beings, and of gaining the favour and complacency of God. It fits us to live eternally, eternally to do good to our fellow creatures, to improve and benefit ourselves, and to glorify our Maker and Redeemer for ever. Eternal life, beauty, and happiness, in itself, it is the source of all other happiness, and peculiarly of the happiness and glory of heaven.
4. How manifest is the wisdom of God in effectuating and requiring this excellent disposition.
Benevolence is to the intelligent universe what attraction
is to the material one; the power which holds the parts together, and unites them in one immense and incomprehensible system. In accomplishing this end, it first forms them of such a character as renders them capable of this union; a spirit expansive, harmonious, discerning the universal good, and delighting in it with complacency supreme and eternal. Each member of this great kingdom it attaches to each, and all to God. Each it prepares to understand and to love his own place, allotments, and enjoyments, and to be equally satisfied with the stations and circumstances of others. These universally he knows are determined by wisdom which cannot err, and by benevolence which cannot injure, in such a manner as most perfectly to accomplish the supreme good of each and of all. This good he prefers to every other, in this he unceasingly rejoices, to the accomplishment of this he consecrates all his powers. Whatever coincides with it he approves, whatever voluntarily promotes it he loves. To every such being he is bound by this great bond of perfection,' perfectly binding together all perfect beings.
God, at the head of this amazing kingdom, he sees labouring with infinite power and goodness to accomplish this mighty purpose, and rejoices that these perfections ensure its certain accomplishment. His virtuous creatures also he beholds honourably and delightfully employed as voluntary agents and instruments in the same exalted designs. To love and do this is equally his glory, and their excellence and beauty. To both therefore he is inseparably and eternally united with an attachment which nothing can sunder, nothing weaken; by bands which improve and strengthen for ever.
This divine union includes alike every member of the great system of virtue. In Jehovah, it unites him with infinite attachment to his children. In them, it unites all as one vast family to him, with an attachment occupying all the faculties of the soul. He is the sun; they the worlds and systems, which with perfect harmony move around him, attracting and being attracted, enlightened and reflecting light, enjoying and being enjoyed. With a perpetual emanation, his glory informs, pervades, and animates the whole; while the respective stars, differing indeed from each other, are yet all really glorious, and shine with immortal beauty, and lustre.
This system of good selfishness aims and attempts to destroy.
The atoms which when joined together formed worlds and systems of usefulness and beauty, it finally separates by annihilating the attracting influence which held them together. No longer drawn to their great centre, no longer united to each other, they recede continually from God, and light, and good, and from all future connection with the intelligent universe. The soul ceases from its union to its Maker, and becomes a stranger to its fellow-creatures. Deserting voluntarily all social beings, and by all deserted, it is henceforth alone, separated, and solitary in the universe; a wanderer beyond the limits of the virtuous creation, moves only to disorder, and operates only to mischief; a dishonour henceforth to its Creator, and a nuisance to his intelligent kingdom.
How infinitely important is it then that this glorious principle of love should exist; that it should be effectuated by God; and that it should be required by the solemn authority, the supreme sanctions of that law, by which throughout immensity and eternity he governs the universe of virtuous beings!
CONSISTENCY OF BENEVOLENCE WITH PROVIDING PECULIARLY FOR OUR OWN.
BUT IF ANY PROVIDE NOT FOR HIS OWN, ESPECIALLY FOR THOSE OF HIS OWN HOUSE; HE HATH DENIED THE FAITH, AND IS WORSE THAN AN INFIDEL.
1 TIMOTHY V. 8.
IN the last Discourse I attempted to explain the nature, and to prove the existence of disinterested love. To this doctrine there have been many objections, as there have also been to every other peculiar doctrine of the Scriptures. It is now my design to consider some of the principal.
None of these objections is more frequently made, or made with stronger appearances of confidence, than the following: "That, if we are required to love others as ourselves, we are, of course, required also to do as much for them as for ourselves; to make the same provision for their wants, and to take the same effectual care of their concerns. "The Scriptures," say the objectors, "inform us, that love, existing merely in word and in tongue,' is not the love which they require, nor at all the object of their approbation; that, as it is productive of no real good to others, it is clearly of no value. The love which they require is that which exists in deed and
in truth;' which, being the source of solid good, is necessarily the object of rational esteem. If, then, we are required to love, we are of course required to perform the actions which flow from love, and which prove its reality and sincerity. If therefore we are required to love in any given degree, we are required also to perform the actions which flow from it in that degree. If we are to love others as ourselves, we are bound to do for them the same things which we are bound to do for ourselves."
I can easily suppose this objection to be made with soberness and conviction. The reasoning by which it is supported has a fair appearance, and cannot be denied to be specious. It deserves therefore a sober consideration, and a rational answer. Such an answer I will endeavour to give; and will attempt to show, that the conclusion drawn from this reasoning by the objector is disproved by the very principles on which it is founded; by the very nature of disinterested love, when considered in connection with the circumstances of the present world. To this end, I observe,
I. That whenever the conduct proposed is physically impossible, it cannot be our duty.
This assertion will be denied by no man. It can no more be denied that it excludes from our active beneficence a very great proportion of the human race; viz. all or almost all those who are remote from us, and a very great proportion of those who are near to us. From doing good to the former we are prevented by distance of place. From doing good to very many of the latter we are equally prevented by their multitude; the number being so great that we cannot benefit all, unless we give up the duty of being really useful to any.
It ought however to be here remarked, that all men can exercise a benevolent spirit towards all men, and can supplicate blessings for all in their prayers. It is also to be observed, that some persons can extend their acts of kindness very far, to distant nations and to distant ages; particularly those who are eminently qualified to instruct and inform mankind by their writings; and those who regulate the affairs of nations, and thus seriously affect the state of the world. I need not say how few of the human race are included in both these classes.