Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

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

man.

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 pro. portion 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 bringeth forth fruit unto himself." It is written, "Charity seeketh not her own." It is written, 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 com. mandments; 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. "The

Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the Lord and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is greatly increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power."

We here find, not only that the malicious and subtile accuser, takes it for granted on all hands, that a mere mercenary religion was really no religion at all; but we see the Most High himself, implicitly concedes, in the plainest manner, that if what Satan had insinuated were true, Job's character as an upright man, must be given up. For in answering this allegation of the adversary, the matter of fact only is disputed, and permission is given to put that matter to the severest trial.

The next passage which I shall mention, in proof that disinterestedness is essential to true benevolence, is one that respects the love of our fellowmen; and is Matt. v. 43-47, where our Saviour says, "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy: But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so ?"

Is it not asserted, or most manifestly implied, in these words of our great Teacher, that our love of others, if it at all resembles the divine benevolence, or is any evidence of our being born of God, must be disinterested? or must not be of that kind which is excited merely by the goodness of others to us?

I will add, in direct scripture proof of this point, only the second great commandment; "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." This, in the lowest construction, must mean, that we are required to love others with the same sincerity, or to bear them the same kind of good will, that we do ourselves. Now, no man loves himself for the sake of his neighbor. only the command must therefore be understood as enjoining, that we love our neighbor, not merely for our own sake.

And as it is an evident doctrine of scripture, so it is a plain dictate of reason and common sense, that there is nothing of virtue in the love we bear to a fellow-creature, or of piety in our love of God, unless it be disinterested. No one feels obliged to another for a kindness done him, when he is well satisfied it was not out of any real good will to him, but merely from some selfish motive. And when we read in history, of actions apparently the most generous, they instantly lose all their glory, if it be discovered that the agent's own interest or honor, was his only inducement. The case is the same respecting the pharisaical devotee, or the vain-glorious martyr. Self-seeking, when it is seen, whatever may be the means, is not the thing for which a man is admired by his neighbor.

Indeed, to suppose self the primary principle, and only ultimate end, of the virtuous and good, is obviously to confound all real distinction between the best and the worst of characters. All men, and undoubtedly devils also, have self-love enough; and are capable of all those actions and affections which have this only, for their basis. If, therefore, this

« VorigeDoorgaan »