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REGENERATION.-ITS ATTENDANTS.-CONSISTENCY OF BENEVO
LENCE WITH SEEKING SALVATION,
Roxass ii. 6, 7.-Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them,
who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory, and honour, and immorlality, eternal life.
IN the last discourse, I considered one favourite objection against the doctrine of disinterested Love: viz. If we are required to love others as ourselves, we ought to do as much for them as for ourselves : particularly, we ought to make the same provision for them, and their families, which we are bound to make for ourselves, and out families.
This objection, I endeavoured to show, is so far from being grounded in truth, or from being a general consequence from the doctrine of disinterested Love, that, as the world is constituted, Love dictates the contrary conduct. Disinterested love prompts those, who possess it, to produce the greatest mass of happiness in their power. But the scheme proposed, instead of producing more happiness, would destroy that, which now exists, and subvert whatever is desirable in the present state of things.
In this discourse, I propose to consider another plausible objection against this doctrine, viz. that we are commanded to seek eter. nal life, as the proper reward of our faith and obedience; and that this reward is promised to those, who believe and obey, by God himself. This command, and this promise, it is alleged, being given by God himself, cannot be denied to be right. That we ought, therefore, to seek for everlasting life, must of course be admitted. But this, it is asserted, is aiming at a reward; is a conduct, springing from selflove; and is not disinterested. It follows then, say the objectors, either that disinterested love is not required in the Scriptures; or that the requisitions of the Scriptures are inconsistent with each other. This objection, it will be observed, lies in the conclusion only. The premises are just and true. If the conclusion follows, I will give up the doctrine.
Lord Shaftsbury formerly advanced with great labour and parade, a similar doctrine ; but for a very different purpose. He maintained, that disinterestedness is virtue, and the only virtue. At the same time, he denied, that it could consist with any hope of reward, or any fear of punishment. These, he declared, made virtue mercenary, mean, and selfish. True virtue, according to his scheme, consists wholly in doing good for the sake of that goods
for the pleasure, found in the good done, considered by itself, and wholly unconnected with any consequences; without any regard to advantages, arising from it, or to disadvantages, springing from the contrary conduct.
This celebrated writer, it is true, teaches, elsewhere, the opposite doctrine; and asserts, that all the obligation to be virtuous arises from its advantages, and from the disadvantages, attendant upon vice; and that such advantages are a great security, and support, to virtue. These, and other things, of the like nature, he de. clares with no less confidence, than the former opinions. It would be easy, therefore, to refute him by his own declarations. But this, though it might answer the purposes of mere controversy, would not satisfy a Christian audience. Were infidels required to be
a consistent with themselves, they never would appear in the field of debate.
The conclusion, which Lord Shaftsbury drew from his principles, was, that the Scriptures, so far as they have influence, annihilate, by their threatenings and promises, all virtue. Hence he inferred, and, as it would seem, in his own view irresistibly, that the Scriptures cannot be the word of God. Both these views of this interesting subject are, I apprehend, radically erroneous, and founded in false and imperfect conceptions of disinterested love.
In the text it is declared, that to those, who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory, honour, and immortality, God will render, as a reward, eternal life. To seek for glory, honour, and immortality, therefore, is in a high degree pleasing to God; and must, of course, be truly and eminently, virtuous conduct. If this conduct consists with disinterestedness, and arises from it; it must be acknowledged on the one hand, that disinterestedness is not impeached by the objection, already recited; and on the other, that the Scriptures, while they require, and encourage, us to seek eternal life, do not render virtue mercenary; nor destroy, nor in any degree lessen, either virtue itself, or the obligations to virtue.
Before I enter upon the direct proof of this doctrine, it ought to be remarked, that the scheme of Lord Shaftsbury confutes itself. His favourite doctrine is, that virtue consists wholly in doing good for its own sake, without any regard to any advantage, which may follow from it; or to any disadvantage, which may arise from a contrary conduct: such regard being, in his view, a destruction of virtue. Now let me ask, What is the difference between doing good, for the sake of the pleasure attending it, and doing good for the sake of the pleasure following it? According to Lord Shaftsbury, virtue consists in doing good, for the sake of the pleasure, which it furnishes. Suppose, then, the virtuous action to be done now, and the pleasure, furnished by it, to be enjoyed an hour hence, or tomorrow. Would it be, in any sense, more mercenary to do the action, for the sake of enjoying this pleasure an hour hence; or tomorrow; supposing the pleasure to be the same; than for
the sake of enjoying it at the time, when the action is done? The pleasure, according to the supposition, is the same in kind and de. gree. Can it, then, be any more or less virtuous, to be thus influenced by a pleasure, which will exist an hour hence, or to-morrow, than by the same pleasure, existing at the present moment?
The truth, in this case, undoubtedly is, that it is neither more nor less virtuous, to be influenced in the same manner and degree, by the same kind and degree of pleasure, found in the same ob ject, whether the pleasure is to be experienced at one time, or at another. The nature of the pleasure, which is enjoyed, and the nature of the object, whence it is derived, render the action, in which that pleasure is sought, either virtuous, or not virtuous. If we take pleasure in happiness wherever it is enjoyed, and in promoting it wherever this is in our power; if, at the same time, this pleasure is proportioned to the happiness onjoyed, or promoted ; we are, of course, the subjects of virtue; and that, just so far, as the pleasure is experienced. The time, at which it is experienced, is, here, evidently of no consequence; and cannot, even remotely, affect the subject. If, then, it is mercenary, mean, and selfish, to be influenced by this pleasure, expected at a future time; it is equally selfish, mean, and mercenary, to be influenced by the same pleasure, expected at the time when the action is performed.
That the pursuit of eternal life is wholly consistent with the nature of disinterested love, I shall now attempt to show by the following considerations.
1st. Our happiness is a desirable object; and deserves to be sought in a certain degree.
Our happiness is, in this respect, exactly of the same nature with that of others; is as truly desirable, and as really deserves to be promoted, as that of any created beings whatever. In whatever degree it exists, it ought to be delighted in: in whatever degree it is capable of it ought to be desired. As the fact, that it is our happine it no more valuable than that of others; so, plainly, it
der it at all less valuable. It claims, therefore, to be ou
in the same grounds, as any other happiness of the same value. As it is entrusted to our own peculiar care; it demands more from us, as that of others does from them. For ourselves we can do more than we can for others; and this of course is our duty.
2dly. Neither our present nor future happiness is necessarily ina consistent with that of others.
All the good, which God has made it lawful for us to enjoy in this world, is consistent with the good of others. Whenever it is promoted, therefore, there is a direct increase of the general happiness. To produce this effect is the great duty, and dictate, of benevolence; and must of course be right.
Our eternal good cannot fail to be consistent with the good of the universe. God has no pleasure in the death of the sinner; bar Vol. II.
would rather, that he would repent and live. Accordingly he hath commanded all men every where to repent. What he has thus commanded, cannot but be right in itself. Accordingly he hath directed, that our prayers and supplications should be made for all men.
What the Scriptures thus teach, Reason wholly approves. We are all made capable of happiness. This capacity was not given in vain ; but was intended to be supplied. Every man, who thinks soberly at all, feels, and acknowledges, accordingly, that he is bound to promote, as much as in him lies, the happiness of every other man, both present and future: and no man would fail to be self-condemned, if he were to indulge a wish, or even a willingness, that any one of his fellow-creatures should be miserable hereafter. Nay, indifference to this subject would not fail of being followed by severe reproaches of conscience. But what it is the duty of all men thus to wish, and to seek; what no man can oppose, or regard with indifference, without guilt; it is peculiarly his duty to wish, and seek for himself; both because the accomplishment of this work is committed to him by his Maker, and because this work can be done by him more effectually, than by
3dly. We are commanded to love our neighbour as ourselves that is, generally, and indefinitely, as well as ourselves; and of course are at least equally required to love ourselves as we love our neighbour.
The rectitude of this law cannot be questioned even by Lord Shaftsbury; nor can he, or any other man, deny, that it exhibits to us disinterested love in the fairest form, and the strongest manner. But, as has been already shown, we are bound by the dictates both of reason and revelation to seek the future and eternal good of our neighbour; to desire it, and to promote it, as far as is in our power. By this very command, then; the law, originally enjoining benevolence as the great duty of intelligent beings; á law, to which Reason unconditionally subscribes; we are absolutely obliged to seek our own eternal life.
4thly. Our eternal life is in itself an immense good.
The endless happiness of a rational being is of more value, than can be conceived by any finite mind. Within a moderate period,
a it will amount to more, than all the happiness, which in this world has been enjoyed, or will ever be enjoyed, here, by all its inhabitants. Whatever is endless admits of no definite comparison with that vhich is not. But the happiness of a future state is not endless merely ; it is also endlessly increasing; and will soon rise in degree, as well as duration, above the highest human comprehension. Such, of course, is the addition, made to the common good of the universe, whenever the eternal life of an individual is secured. To neglect the pursuit of such happiness, as this, is madness : to oppose it is malignity, which no words can describe.
5thly. Eternal happiness consists in eternal disinterestedness, and its consequences.
The happiness of heaven arises from the disinterested love of God, communicated in various blessings to his children; in their disinterested communications of good to each other; and in the enjoyment, derived by their minds from the exercises of virtue. It is acknowledged, on all hands, that it is desirable to live virtuously here. All the reasons, which operate in this case, render it at least equally desirable to live virtuously hereafter, throughout any, and every, period of duration, in which such a life may be enjoyed. It is by all men acknowledged, that it is useful to do good here, and at the present time. He, who makes this acknowledgment, cannot without gross self-contradiction deny, that it is equally useful to do good, wherever it may be done, and at every future period. If, then, it is proper; if it is virtuous; to desire, and to seek, to live a virtuous life, or to do good, in the present world; it is equally virtuous, and equally proper, to desire, and seek, to do the same things in a future state of being. All the labours, then, by which we may possess ourselves of such a life in the present world, must, with equal propriety, be directed to the attainment of such a life in the world to come.
But it is not only desirable and proper, that we should do this in the present world; it is a plain, high, and indispensable duty; and in a sense, the sum of all our duty; so far as this world is concerned. It cannot but be perceived, that it is, in the same sense, the sum of all our duty, with respect to the future world.
This, however, is far from being the amount of the whole truth concerning this subject. As much as eternity exceeds time; as much as perfect virtue excels the present frail character of good men, here; as much as endless virtue, as much as endlessly increasing virtue, outruns in its importance the transient virtue of this momentary life; so much more is it our duty to seek the good of a future life, than that of the present. Indeed, man lives here, only to become prepared to live hereafter. Our whole duty, therefore, ought, during the present life, to be performed with a supreme reference to that which is to come.
Thus the pursuit of eternal good is so far from being opposed to disinterestedness, from being mercenary, mean, and selfish; so far from destroying the nature of virtue, or lessening its obligations; that it is its genuine dictate; its spontaneous tendency; its most
; exalted aim. No virtuous mind, if properly informed, can fail of pursuing this object; and no object, which respects ultimately the present world, can call forth virtuous exercises of so elevated and excellent a nature.
6thly. By our eternal life the happiness of all virtuous beings is greatly increased.
There is joy in heaven, saith our Saviour, oder one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, who need no