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happiness. This is what I intend by the Utility of Virtue; and that, in which, as it appears to my own view, all its excellence is found. Sin is naturally, and necessarily, the parent of misery; since it arms every individual against the interest of every other. Were sin in its own proper tendency to produce, invariably, the same good, which it is the tendency of virtue to produce; were it the means, invariably, of the same glory to God, and of the same enjoyment to the Universe; no reason is apparent to me, why it would not become excellent, commendable, and rewardable, in the same manner, as Virtue now is. Were Virtue regularly to effectuate the same dishonour to God, and the same misery to Intelligent Creatures, now effectuated by sin; I see no reason, why we should not attribute to it all the odiousness, blameworthiness, and desert of punishment, which we now attribute to Sin. All this is, I confess, impossible; and is rendered so by the nature of these things. Still the supposition may be allowably made for the purposes of discussion. The great objection to this doctrine arises from a misapprehension of the subject. It is this: that if Virtue is founded in Utility, then Utility becomes the Measure of virtue, and, of course, the Rule of all our moral conduct. This is the error of Godwin; and, in an indefinite degree, of Paley, and several other writers. Were we omniscient, and able to discern the true nature of all the effects of our conduct; this consequence must undoubtedly be admitted. To the eye of God it is the real rule. It will not, I trust, be denied, that he has chosen, and required, that to be done by his Intelligent creatures, which is most useful; or, in other words, most productive of good to the universe, and of glory to himself; rather than that which is less so. But, to us, Utility, as judged of by ourselves, cannot be a proper rule of moral conduct. The real usefulness of our conduct, or its usefulness upon the whole, lies in the nature of all its effects, considered as one aggregate. But nothing is more evident, than that few, very few indeed, of these, can ever be known to us by our own foresight. If the information, given us by the Scriptures concerning this subject, were to be lost; we should be surprised to see how small was the number of cases, in which this knowledge was attainable, even in a moderate degree; and how much uncertainty attended even these. As, therefore, we are unable to discern with truth, or probability, the real usefulness of our conduct; it is impossible, that our moral actions should be safely guided by this rule. The Bible is, with the plainest evidence, the only safe rule, by which moral ..". can, in this world, direct their conduct. The precepts of this Sacred Volume were all formed by Him, who alone sees the end from the beginning, and who alone, therefore, understands the real nature of all moral actions. No other being is able to determine how far any action is, upon the whole, useful, or noxious : or to make Utility the measure of Virtue. As well might a man determine, that a path, whose direction he can discern only for a furlong, will conduct him in a straight course to a city, distant from him a thousand miles, as to determine, that an action, whose immediate tendency he perceives to be useful, will therefore be useful, through a thousand years, or even through ten. How much less able must he be to perceive what will be its real tendency in the remote ages of endless duration. It is impossible therefore, that utility, as decided by our judgment, should become the rule of moral action.
It has also been objected to this doctrine, that if Virtue is founded in Utility, every thing, which is useful, must so far be virtuous. This objection it is hardly necessary to answer. Voluntary usefulness is the only virtue. A smatterer in moral philosophy knows, that understanding and will, are necessary to the existence of virtue. He who informs us, that, if virtue is founded in utility, animals, vegetables, and minerals, the sun, and the moon, and the stars, must be virtuous, so far as they are useful, is either disposed to trifle with mankind for his amusement, or supposes them to be triflers.
1st. From these observations we learn, in an interesting manner, the desirableness of virtue. The whole tendency of virtue is to promote happiness; and this is its only ultimate tendency. It prefers, of course, the greater happiness to the less, and the greatest, always, to that which can exist in a subordinate degree. It diffuses happiness every where, and to every being capable of receiving it, so far as this diffusion is in its power. In this respect it knows no distinction of family, country, or world; and operates to the benefit of those, who are near, more than to that of those, who are distant, only because its operations will be more effectual, and because, when all pursue this course, the greatest good will be done to all. Its efficacy also is complete. The object at which it aims, it can accomplish. It can contrive, it can direct, it can effectuate. To do good is its happiness, as well as its tendency. It will, therefore, never be inattentive, never discouraged, never disposed to relax its efforts. Thus it is a perennial spring, whose waters never fail; a spring, at which thousands and millions may slake their thirst for enjoy. ment, and of which the streams are always pure, healthful, and refreshing. 2dly. We learn from the same observations the odious nature of Sin. Sin, or Selfishness, aiming supremely at the private, separate good of an individual, and subordinating to it the good of all others, confines its efforts, of course, to the narrow sphere of one's self. All the individuals also, in whom this spirit prevails, have, each, a personal good, to which each subordinates every other ood. There are, therefore, as many separate interests in a colson of selfish beings, as there are individuals; and to each of these interests the individual, whose it is, intends to make those of all others subservient. Of consequence, these interests cannot fail to clash; and the individuals to oppose, and contend with, each other. Hence an unceasing course of hatred, wrath, revenge, and violence, must prevail among beings of this character; of private quarrels, and public wars. All, who oppose this darling interest, are regarded by the individual as his enemies: and thus all naturally become the enemies of all. Where this disposition is in a great measure unrestrained, it makes an individual a tyrant, and a society, a collection of banditti. Where it is wholly unrestrained, it converts Intelligent beings into fiends, and their habitation into hell. The ruling principle, here, is to gain good from others, and not to communicate it to them. This darling spirit, so cherished by mankind, so active in the present world, so indulged, flattered, and boasted of, by those who possess it, is, instead of being wise and profitable, plainly foolish, shameful, ruinous, and deserving of the most intense reprobation. Notwitstanding all the restraints, laid upon it by the good providence of God; notwithstanding the shortness of life, which prevents us from forming o plans, making great acquisitions to ourselves, and producing great mischiefs to others; notwithstanding the weakness, frailty, and fear, which continually attend us ; notwitstanding the efficacy of natural affection, the power of conscience and j influence of Religion on the affairs of mankind; it makes the present world an uncomfortable and melancholy residence; and creates three fourths of the misery, suffered by the race of Adam. All these evils exist, because men are disinclined to do good, or to be voluntarily useful. Were they only disposed to promote each other's happiness, or, in other words, to o useful to each other; the world would become a pleasant and desirable habitation. The calamities, immediately brought upon us by Providence, would be found to be few ; those, induced by men upon themselves and each other, would vanish; and in their place beneficence would spread its innumerable blessings. 3dly. These observations strongly exhibit to us the miserable state of the world of Perdition. In this melancholy region no good is done, nor intended to be done. No good is therefore enjoyed. Still, the mind retains its original activity; and is wise soon to do evil, although it has neither knowledge, nor inclination, to do good. Here, all the passions of a selfish spirit are let loose; and riot, and reign, and rayage. Here, therefore, all are enemies. Here, the wretched individual, surveying the vast regions around him, and casting his eyes forward into the immeasurable progress of eternity, sees himself absolutely alone in the midst of millions, in solitude complete and Wol. III. 21
endless. Here, voluntary usefulness is for ever unknown, and unheard of; while selfishness in all its dreadful forms assumes an undisputed, an unresisted, dominion, a terrible despotism; and fills the world around her with rage and wretchedness, with terror and doubt, with desolation and despair.
4thly. How delightful a view do these observations give of Heaven!
Heaven is the world of voluntary usefulness. The only disposition of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect, is to do good; their only employment, to produce happiness. In this employment all the energy of sanctified and perfect minds is exerted without weariness, ...; without end. How vast, then, how incomprehensible, how endlessly increasing, must be the mass of happiness, brought by their ...? efforts into being! How ample a provision must it be for all the continually expanding wishes, the continually enlarging capacities, of its glorious jo How wonderfully, also, must the sum of enjoyment be enhanced to each, when we remember, that he will experience the same delight in the good . by others, as in that which is immediately his own! Who would not labour to gain an entrance into such a world as this? Who would not bend all his efforts, exhaust all his powers, encounter any earthly suffering, and resolutely overcome every earthly obstacle, to acquire that divine and delightful character of voluntary usefulness, which makes heaven such a world; which makes it the place of God’s peculiar presence, the means of his highest glory, and the mansion of everlasting life, peace, and joy, to his children 7
THE LAW OF GOD.—THE DECALOGUE.—THE FIRST COMMANDMENT.
Exodus xx.3—Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.
IN the series of discourses, which I have lately delivered concerning the two great commands of the Moral Law, it has, if I mistake not, been sufficiently shown, that the disposition, required by the Creator of his Intelligent creatures in this law, is Disinterested Love, or the Spirit of doing good. The tendency of this disosition is always to do what is right. It will not, however, folow, that the mind, in which it exists, will be able always to discern the course of conduct, which it ought, upon the whole, to pursue. The disposition may, with absolute correctness, dictate what is absolutely proper to be done in a case, already before the view of the mind; and yet the mind be wholly ignorant, whether that case, or the conduct in question, is such, as would, upon the whole, be best for it to pursue; or whether superior wisdom would not be able to devise for it other, and much more desirable, courses of action. A child may be perfectly holy; and yet possess too little understanding to know in what way he may best act; in what way he may most promote the glory of God, the good of his fellow-creatures, or the good of himself. His disposition may prompt to that, which is exactly right, in all the colo, which is within the reach of his understanding. Yet, if he had more comprehensive views, he #" discern far more desirable modes of action, in which he might be much more useful, than in any which he is at present able to devise. He may be able to apply the two fo. commands of the Moral Law, which have been so extensivey considered, with exacto to all such cases, as are actually within his view ; and yet be utterly unable to devise for himself those kinds of conduct, in which his obedience to these commands might be most profitably employed. What is true of a child, is true, in different degrees, of all Intelligent creatures. God only, as was shown in a i. discourse, is able to discern, and to prescribe, the conduct, which, upon the whole, it is proper for such creatures to pursue. He sees from the beginning to the end; and perfectly understands the nature, and the consequences, of all Intelligent action. This knowledge, which he alone possesses, and which is indispensable to this purpose, enables him to accomplish it in a manner absolutely perfect.