« AnteriorContinuar »
any argument that the most universal benevolence reigns not above.
We ought to be of a benevolent disposition towards all our fellow-creatures, and to desire the happiness of every individual of them, as far as is for the bestas far as is consistent with the greatest general good. How far that is, we are not competent judges: but we may well leave it to him who alone is able to govern the universe; with implicit confidence that he will order it in infinite wisdom, righteousness and benevolence. But,
(4.) It is of the last importance to observe, that the Supreme Being ought not to be excluded from our hearts, as an improper object of any benevolent regard.
Some have thought it absurd, and quite irreverent, to talk of loving the Most High, with this kind of love. Their reason is, because he is so infinitely above us, and above a possibility of being benefited by us. God is, in the highest possible degree, happy and glorious. There is nothing which the most benevolent mind could wish, in respect to Him, but what he already possesses, and will infallibly for ever possess, in that perfection to which nothing can be added.
But I do not see why this should be thought to render it impossible, or improper, for such poor creatures as we are, to be at all kindly affectioned towards the Deity. To rejoice with them that rejoice, is as real an expression of benevolence, as it is to weep with them that weep: we may feel friendly to those above us, as well as to those upon a level with us, or in an inferior condition; and to such as are independent of us, as well as to them who need our kind offices. Christ says, "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you." In the latter of those two great commandments of love, on which hang all the law and the prophets, benevolence to our neigh
bor is undoubtedly intended: and to say that nothing of this kind of love to the Lord our God, is meant in the former of them, appears arbitrary and unreasonable. To say that God is loved by good men only with complacency, and not at all with good will, is contrary to plain scripture. Abraham was called the friend of God: and Moses was friendly to him; as is evident from the anxious concern he discovered for the honor of his great name. And so was David, one would think, from his repeated ardent aspiration, "Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!" and from his calling upon the whole creation, animate and inanimate, to conspire in advancing the divine praise.
All ultimate regard to the glory of God-all sincere concern for the promotion of his cause and kingdom-all grief on account of the offences committed against him, and all godly sorrow for our own sins, are proper exercises of a benevolent disposition towards the Deity and in these exercises all vital piety most essentially consists.
Though a man cannot be profitable to God, as he that is wise may be profitable to himself: though our goodness extendeth not to Him, in the way of confering favors, as it may to our indigent fellowcreatures; yet we may extend our friendly affections to him, in the ways of rejoicing that he is over all, blessed for ever more, and of being concerned and engaged for the advancement of his declarative glory. And we shall do so, if we have any goodness-any true benevolence-any real religion. It is surely unreasonable to suppose, that the charity so highly spoken of in scripture, as the greatest of the christian graces the bond of perfectness-the end of the commandment, should be limited to creatures, and have no respect to the great and glorious Creator. More especially since it is to be observed,
2. That true benevolence is impartial. Whenever this principle is in the heart, it will be exercised, not only towards all proper objects; but towards them respectively in some suitable proportion: that is, according to their several characters, capacities, and importance; as far as these are known to us. It is no instance of partiality to regard the life of a man, more than that of a beast; because it is really an object of much greater consequence. Nor, for the same reason, to be more concerned to have the life of an eminently great and useful man preserved, than the life of one very wicked, or very insignificant; who is likely to do much mischief, or little good. In like manner, it is not partiality, but rather what is essential to the impartiality of true . benevolence, to regard God, and his glory, more than all the interests of any man, or even of the whole created universe. The reputation of a worthy man, every one will allow, ought to be more highly valued than the life of an inferior animal: but the meanest animal-the least insect-the most despicable reptile, bears a greater proportion to the importance of man; than the most valuable man, or than the highest angel, or than the whole creation, does to God. Compared with him, "the nations are as a drop of a bucket, or the small dust of the balance they are accounted less than nothing." Accordingly, supreme love to God, is every where in scripture, made the grand characteristic of a good
That the charity of the Bible is impartial, as now explained, appears from our Saviour's summary of the law and the prophets. To love my neighbor as myself, supposing an equality between us, is to be quite impartial and to love God with all our heart and soul, mind and strength, is to come as nearly up to what is due to a being infinitely great and good, as our limited and weak capacities will permit.
I may observe further, that it belongs to the impartiality of true benevolence, to regard the several interests of the same person, or being, in some proportion to their comparative weight or worth. It values, is tender of, and endeavors to preserve and promote, the outward estate, the reputation, the liberties and lives, the good of the bodies and souls of men, proportionably to the apprehended importance of these their respective interests. But,
3. I must not omit to observe, that disinterestedness, is another essential property of true benevolence.
It is written, " Israel is an empty vine, he bring. eth forth fruit unto himself." It is written, "Charity seeketh not her own." It is written, "In the last days perilous times shall come; for men shall be lovers of their own selves."
Selfishness is so universally condemned, and so much is said in the scriptures against self-seeking, that one would think no labored proof were necessary to convince any man who believes the Bible, or any man of common sense, whether he believes the Bible or not, that self-love cannot be the primary source of all true virtue and religion. Yet, however strange, so it is, many great philosophers, and some learned divines, have been professedly of opinion that the best actions of good men, and their most virtuous affections proceed from a mere regard to themselves, as their first principle and last end. They think that a well regulated self-love, will influence a man to whatsoever things are honest, just, amiable, or of good report though a misguided self-love, often leads men into the reverse of all these. That as, whenever we transgress the rule of right, it is from a wrong idea of our own interest; so, whenever we conform to that rule, it is only with a view to our own interest, rightly understood. Accordingly they
suppose, as one of their poets hath said, "Self-love, and social, are the same."
And several systems of divinity, widely different in other respects, agree in this, that all religion, at bottom, is nothing but self-love. They go upon the supposition that sinners are converted, either by a mere conviction that it is necessary for their personal safety and happiness to fear God and keep his commandments; or by a persuasion that Christ died for them, whence religious affections are excited from a principle of natural gratitude: and that the converted love God, only because they believe he loves them, and designs their salvation.
Now, it is granted, that to live soberly, righteously, and religiously, is both for the temporal and eternal interest of every man. It is granted that men may be influenced to the external duties of morality and religion, by a mere regard to their own safety and happiness. It is also granted that a sort of social, and of religious affections, may arise altogether from an apprehension of the friendship of men, or of the kindness and love of God. It is granted, moreover, that ingratitude is an evidence of extreme depravity: that we are under greater obligation to love a kind friend, than an unmerciful enemy; and that good men love God with more fervency of affection, because he hears their supplications and loads them daily with his benefits; and because he hath given his dear Son to redeem their souls from destruction.
But, notwithstanding all these things are true, it doth not thence follow, nor can it be admitted, that those actions or affections which proceed wholly from self-love, in any of these ways, are at all of the nature of real religion, or of true social virtue.
For scripture proof of the contrary, in addition to the passages refered to already, two or three texts may be sufficient. The first I shall adduce is in the book of Job; see chap. i. 8—12 verse.