« AnteriorContinuar »
quired to love them, in the same way in which God loves his enemies. A conscientious man will feel oppressed by the difficulty of such a precept, is be try to put it into obedience, by loving those who have of fended, with the same feeling of complacency with which he loves those who have befriended him. But the truth is, that the love of moral esteem often enters, as a principal ingredient, into the love of complacency; and we are not required, by our imitation of the Godhead, to entertain any such affection for the depraved and the worthless. It is enough, that we cherish towards them in our hearts the love of kindness; and this will be felt a far more practicable achievement, than to force up the love of complacency into a bosom, revolted by the aspect of treachery, or dishonesty, or unprincipled selfishness. There is no possible motive to excite the latter affection. There may be a thousand to excite the former: and we have only to look to the unhappy man in all his prospects, and in all his relations; we have only to pity his delusions, and to view him as the hapless victim of a sad and ruinous infatuation; we have only to carry our eye onwards to the agonies of that death, which will shortly lay hold of him, and to compute the horrors of that eternity, which, if not recovered from the error of his way, he is about to enter; we have only, in a word, to put forth an exercise of faith in certain near and impending realities, the evidence of which is altogether resistless, in order to summon up such motives, and such considerations, as may cause the compassion of our nature to predominate over the resentment of our nature: and as will assure to a believer the victory over such urgencies of his constitution as, to the unrenewed heart, are utterly unconquerable. But to resume our argument, let it be observed that the kindness of God is one of the loveliest, and most estimable of the attributes which belong to him. It is a bright feature in that assemblage of excellencies, which enter into the character of the Godhead; and, as such, independently altogether of this kindness being exercised upon me, I should offer to it the homage of my moral approbation. But, should I be the special and the signalized object of his kindness, there is another sentiment towards God, beside the love of moral esteem, that ought to be formed within me by that circumstance, and which, in the business of reasoning, should be kept apart from it. There is the love of gratitude. These often go together, and may be felt simultaneously, towards the one being we are employed in contemplating. But they are just as distinct, each from the other, as is the love of moral esteem from the love of kindness. We trust that we have already convinced you, that God feels towards us, his inferiors, the love
of kindness, when he cannot, from the nature of the object, feel for us the slightest degree of the love of moral esteem. in the same manner may we feel, we are not saying towards God, but towards an earthly benefactor, the love of gratitude, when, from the nature of the object we are employed in contemplating, there is much to impair within us the love of moral esteem, or to extinguish it altogether. Is it not most natural to say of the man, who has been perSonally benevolent to mysels, and who has, at the same time, disgraced himself, by his vices, that, bad as he is, he has been at all times remarkably kind to me, and felt many a movement of friendship towards my person, and done many a deed of important service to my family, and that I, at least, owe him a gratitude for all this, that I, at least, should be longer than others, of dismissing from my bosom the last remainder of cordiality towards him, that if, infamy
and poverty have followed, in the career of
his wickedness, and he have become an outcast from the attentions of other men, it is not for me to spurn him instantly from my door, or, in the face of my particular recollections, to look umpitying and unmoved, at the wretchedness into which he has fallen. It is the more necessary, to distinguish the love of gratitude from the love of moral esteem, that each of these affections may be excited simultaneously within me,by one act or by one exhibition of himself, on the part of the Deity. Let me be made to understand, that God has passed by Iny transgression, and generously admitted me into the privileges and the rewards of obedience,—I see in this a tenderness, and a mercy, and a love, for his creatures, which, if blended at the same time with all that is high and honourable in the more august attributes of his nature, have the effect of presenting him to my mind, and of drawing out my heart in moral regard to him, as a most amiable and estimable object of contemplation. But besides this, there is a peculiar love of gratitude, excited by the consideration that I am the object of this benignity, that I am one of the creatures to whom he has directed this peculiar regard, that he has singled out me, and con: ceived a gracious purpose towards me, and in the execution of this purpose is lavishing upon my person, the blessings of a father's care, and a father's tenderness. Both the love of moral esteem, and the love of gratitude, may thus be in contemporaneous operation within me; and it will be seen to accomplish a practical, as well as a meta: physical purpose, to keep the one apart from the other, in the view of the mind, when love towards God is the topic of speculation which engages it. But, farther, let it be understood, that the
love of gratitude differs from the love of moral esteem, not merely in the cause which immediately originates it, but also in the object, in which it finds its rest and its gratification. It is the kindness of another being to myself, which originates within me the 'ove of gratitude towards him; and it is the view of what is morally estimable in this being, that originates within me all the love of moral esteem, that I entertain for him. There is a real distinction of cause between these two affections, and there is also between them a real distinction of object. The love of moral esteem finds its complacent gratification, in the act of dwelling contemplatively on that Being, by whom it is excited; just as a tasteful enthusiast inhales delight from the act of gazing on the charms of some external scenery. The pleasure he receives, emanates directly upon his mind, from the forms of beauty and of loveliness, which are around him. And if, instead of a taste for the beauties of nature, there exists within him, a taste for the beauties of holiness, then will he love the Being, who presents to the eye of his contemplation the fullest assemblage of them, and his taste will find its complacent gratification in dwelling upon him, whether as an object of thought, or as an object of perception. “One thing have I desired,” says the Psalmist, “that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” Now, the love of gratitude is distinct from this in its object. It is excited by the love of kindness; and the feeling which is thus excited, is just a feeling of kindness back again. It is kindness begetting kindness. The language of this affection is, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits " He has done what is pleasing and gratifying to me. What shall I do to please, and to gratify him 2 The love of gratitude seeks for answers to this question, and finds its delight in acting upon them, and whether the answer be, this is the will of God, even your sanctification,--or, with the sacrifices of liberality God is well pleased,—or, obedience to parents is well pleasing in his sight, these all point out so many lines of conduct, to which the impulse of the love of gratitude would carry us, and attest this to be the love of God, that ye keep his commandments. And, indeed, when the same Being combines, in his own person, that which ought to excite the love of moral esteem, with that which ought to excite the love of gratitude,-the two ingredients, enter with a mingled but harmonious concurrence, into the exercise of one compound affection. It is true, that the more appropriate offering of the former is the offering of praise, Just as when one looks to the beauties of nature, he breaks out into a rapturous ac
knowledgment of them; and so it may be, when one looks to the venerable, and the lovely in the character of God. The more appropriate offering of the latter, is the offering of thanksgiving, or of such services as are fitted to please, and to gratify a benefactor. But still it may be observed, how each of these simple affections tends to express itself, by the very act which more characteristically marks the workings of the other; or, how the more appropriate offering of the first of them, may be prompted under the impulse, and movement of the second of them, and conversely. For, if I love God because of his perfections, what principle can more powerfully or more directly lead to the imitation of them 2– which is the very service that he requires, and the very o that he is most pleased with. And, if I love God because of his goodness to me, what is more fitted to prompt my every exertion, in the way of spreading the honours of his character and of his name among my fellows, and, for this purpose, to magnify in their hearing the glories and the attributes of his nature ? It is thus that the voice of praiso and the voice of gratitude may enter into one song of adoration; and that whilst the Psalmist, at one time, gives thanks to God at the remembrance of his holiness, he, at another, pours forth praise at the remembrance of his mercies. To have the love of gratitude towards God, it is essential that we know and believe his love of kindness towards us. To have the love of moral esteem towards him, it is essential that the loveliness of his character be in the eye of the mind: or, in other words, that the mind keep itself in stead and believing contemplation of the excellencies which belong to him. The view that we have of God, is just as much in the order of precedency to the affection that we entertain for him, as any two successive steps can be, in any of the processes of our mental constitution. To obtain the introduction of love into the heart, there must, as a preparatory circumstance, be the introduction of knowledge into the understanding; or, as we can never be said to know what we do not believe–ere we have love, we must have faith; and, accordingly, in the passage from which our text is extracted, do we perceive the one pointed to, as the instrument for the production of the other. “Keep yourselves in the love of God, building yourselves up on your most holy faith.” And here, it ought to be remarked, that a man may experience a mental process, and yet have no taste or no understanding for the explanation of it. The simple truths of the Gospel, may enter with acceptance into the mind of a peasant, and there work all the proper influences on his heart and eha: racter, which the Bible ascribes to them: and yet he may be utterly incapable of tracing that series of inward movements, by which he is carried onward from a belief in the truth, to all those moral and affectionate regards, which mark a genuine disciple of the truth. He may be the actual subject of these movements, though altogether unable to sollow or to analyze them. This is not peculiar to the judgments or the feelings of Christianity. In the matters of ordinary life, a man may judge sagaciously, and feel correctly while ardently;-and experience, in right and natural order, the play of his various faculties, without having it at all in his power, either to frame or to follow a true
theory of his faculties. It is well, that the simple preaching of the Gospel has its right practical operation on men, who make no attempt whatever, to comprehend the metaphysics of the operation. But, if ever metaphysics be employed to darken the freeness of the Gospel offer, or to dethrone faith from the supremacy which belongs to it, or to forbid the approaches of those whom God has not forbidden; then must it be met upon its own ground, and the real character of our beneficent religion be asserted, amid the attempts of those who have in any way obscured or injured it by their illustrations.
Gratitude, not a sordid Affection.
“We love him, because he first loved us.”—1 John iv. 19.
SoME theologians have exacted from an inquirer, at the very outset of his conversion, that he should carry in his heart what they call the disinterested love of God. They have set him on the most painful efforts to acquire this affection,--and that too, before he was in circumstances in which it was at all possible to entertain it. They have led him to view with suspicion the love of gratitude, as having in it a taint of selfishness. They are for having him to love God, and that on the single ground that he is lovely, without any reference to his own comfort, or even to his own safety. Strange demand which they make on a sentient being, that even amidst the fears and the images of destruction, he should find room in his heart for the love of complacency! and equally strange demand to make on a sinful being, that ere he admit such a sense of reconciliation into his bosom, as will instantly call forth a grateful regard to him who has conferred it, he must view God with a disinterested affection; that from the deep and helpless abyss of his depravity, he must find, unaided, his ascending way to the purest and the sublimest emotion of moral nature; that ere he is delivered from fear he must love, even though it be said of love, that it casteth out fear; and that ere he is placed on the vantage ground of the peace of the Gospel, he must realize on his character, one of the most exalted of its perfections. * The effect of all this on many an anxious Seekeraster rest, has been most discouraging. With the stigma that has been affixed to the love of gratitude, they have been positively apprehensive of the inroads of this affection, and have studiously averted the eye of
their contemplation from the objects which are fitted to inspire it. In other words, they have hesitated to entertain the sree of. fers of salvation, and misinterpreted all the tokens of an embassy, which has proclaimed peace on earth and good will to men. They think that all which they can possibly gather, in the way of affection, from such a contemplation, is the love of gratitude; and that gratitude is selfishness; and that selfishness is not a gracious affection; and that ere they be surely and soundly converted, the love they bear to God must be of a totally disinterested character; and thus through another medium than that of a free and gratuitous dispensation of kindness, do they strive, by a misunderstood . gospel, or without the gospel altogether, to reach a peace and a preparation which we fear, in their way of it, is to sinners utterly unattainable. In the progress of this discourse let us endeavour, in the first place, to rescue the love of gratitude from the imputations which have been preferred against it, and secondly, to assign to the love of kindness manifested to the world in the gospel, and to the faith by which that love is made to arise in the heart, the place and the preeminence which belong to them. I. The proper object of the love of gratitude, is the being who has exercised towards me the love of kindness; and this is more correct than to say, that the proper object of this affection is the being who has conferred benefits upon me. I can conceive another to load me with benefactions, and at the same time, to evince that kindness towards me was not the principle which impelled him. It may be done reluctantly
at the bidding of another, or it may be done to serve some interested purpose, or it may be done to parade his generosity before the eye of the public. If it be not done from a real principle of kindness to myself, I may take his gifts, and I may find enjoyment in the use of them; but I feel no gratitude towards the dispenser of them. Unless I see his kindness in them, I will not be grateful. It is true, that, in point of fact, gratitude often springs from the rendering of a benefit; but, lest we should confound things which are different, let it be well observed, that this is only when the benefit serves as the indication of a kind purpose, or of a kind affection, on the part of him who hath granted it. And this may be proved, not merely by showing, that there may be no gratitude where there is a benefit, but also by showing, that there may be gratitude where there is no material benefit whatever. Just let the naked principle of kindmess discover itself, and though it have neither the power, nor the opportunity of coming forth with the dispensation of any service, it is striking to observe, how, upon the bare existence of this affection being known, it is met by a grateful feeling, on the part of him to whom it is directed; and what mighty augmentations may be given in this way, to the stock of enjoyment, and that, by the mere reciprocation of kindness begetting kindness. For, to send the expression of this kindness into another's bosom, it is not always necessary to do it on the vehicle of positive donation. It may be conveyed by a look of benevolence; and thus it is, that by the mere feeling of cordiality, a tide of happiness may be made to circulate throughout all the individuals of an assembled company. Or it may be done by a very slight and passing attention, and thus it is, that the cheap services of courteousness, may spread such a charm over the sace of a neighbourhood. Or it may be done by the very poorest member of human society; and thus it is, that the ready and sincere homage of attachment from such a man may beam a truer felicity upon me, an call forth a livelier gratitude to him who has conferred it, than some splendid act of patronage on the part of a superior. Or it may be done by a Christian visiter in some ofthehumblestofour city lanes, who,without one penny to bestow on the children of want, may spread among them the simple conViction of her good will, and call down upon her person the voice of thankfulness and of blessing from all their habitations. And thus it is, that by good will creating good will, a pure and gladdening influence will at length go abroad over the face of our World, and mankind will be made to know the might and the mystery of that tie which * to bind them together into one family, and they will rejoice * the power of that
secret charm which so heightens and so multiplies the pleasure of all the members of it; and, when transported from earth to heaven, they will still feel, that while it is to the benefits which God hath conferred that they owe the possession and all the privileges of existence; it is to a sense of the love which prompted these benefits, that they will owe the ecstatic charm of their immortality. It is the beaming kindness of God upon them, that will put their souls into the liveliest transports of gratitude and joy; and it is the reciprocation of this kindness on the part of those, who, while they have fellowship with the Father, and with the son, have kilow. ship also with one another, that will cause the joy of heaven to be full. The distinction which we are now adverting to, is something more, than a mere shadowy refinement of speculation. It ma be realized on the most trodden and ordinary path of human experience, and is, in fact, one of the most familiar exhibitions of genuine and unsophisticated nature in those ranks of society where refinement is unknown. Let one man go over any given district of the city fully fraught with the materiel of benevolence; let him be the agent of some munificent subscription, and with nothing in his heart but just such affections, and such jealousies, and such thoughtful anxieties, about a right and equitable division, as belong to the general spirit of his office; let him leave some substantial deposit with each of the families; and then compute, if he can, the quantity of gratitude which he carries away with him. It were a most unkind reflection on the lower orders, and not more unkind than untrue, to deny that there will be the mingling of some gratitude, along with the clamour, and the envy, and the discontent, which are ever sure to follow in the train of such a ministration. It is not to discredit the poor, that we introduce our present observation; but to bring out, if possible, into broad and luminous exhibition, one of the finest sensibilities which adorns them. It is to let you know the high cast of character of which they are capable; and how the glow of pleasure which arises in their bosoms, when the eye of simple affection beams upon their persons, or upon their habitations, may not have one single taint of sordidness to debase it. And to prove this, just let another man go over the same district, and in the train of the former visitation; conceive him unbacked by any public institution, to have nothing in his hand that might not be absorbed by the needs of a single family, but that, utterly destitute as he is of the materiel, he has a heart charged and overflowing with the whole morale of benevolence. Just let him go forth among the people, without one other recommendation than an honest and undissembled good will to them; and let this good will manifest its existence, in any one of the thousand ways, by which it may he authenticated; and whether it be by the cordiality of his manners, or by his sympathy with their griefs, or by the nameless attentions and offices of civility, or by the higher aim of that kindness which points to the welfare of their immortality, and evinces its reality by its ready and unwearied services among the young, or the sick, or the dying; just let them be satisfied of the one fact, that he is their friend, and that all their joys and all their sorrows are his own; he may be struggling with hardships and necessities as the poorest of them all; but poor as they are, they know what is in his heart, and well do they know how to value it; and from the voice of welcome, which meets him in the very humblest of their tenements; and from the smile of that heartfelt enjoyment, which his presence is ever sure to awaken, and from the influence of graciousness which he carries along with him into every house, and by which he lights up an honest emotion of thankfulness in the bosom of every family, may we gather the existence of a power, which worth alone, and without the accompaniment of wealth, can bestow; a power to sweeten and subdue, and tranquillize, which no money can purchase, which no patronage can create. It will be readily acknowledged by all, that the most precious object in the management of a town, is to establish the reign of happiness and contentment among those who live in it. And it is interesting to mark the operations of those, who, without adverting to the principle that I now insist upon, think that all is to be achieved by the beggarly elements which enter into the arithmetic of ordinary business; who rear their goodly scheme upon the basis of sums and computations; and think that by an overwhelming discharge of the materiel of benevolence, they will reach an accomplishment which the morale of benevolence alone is equal to. We are sure that it is not to mortify our men of grave, and official, and calculating experience, that we tell them, how, with all their strength, and all their sagacity, they have only given their money for that which is not meat, and their labour for that which satisfieth not. It is to illustrate a principle of our common nature, so obvious, that to be recognized, it needs only to be spoken of. And it were well, if in so doing their thoughts could be led to the instrumentality of this principle, as the only way, in which they can redeem the failures of their by-gone experience; if they could be convinced, that the agents of a zealous and affectionate Christianity can alone do what all the influence of municipal weight and municipal wisdom cannot do; if they could be taught what the ministrations are, by which a pure and a respond
ing gratitude, may be made to circulate throughout all our dwelling-places; if, in a word, while they profess to serve the poor, they could be led to respect the poor, to do homage to that fineness of moral temperament which belongs to them, and which hitherto seems to have escaped, altogether, the eye of civil or political superintendence; and they may rest assured, that let them give as much in the shape of munificence as they will, if they add not the love to the liberality of the Gospel, they will never soften one feature of unkindness, or chase away one exasperated feeling, from the hearts of a neglected population. But, beside the degree of purity in which this principle may exist among the most destitute of our species, it is also of importance to mark the degree of strength, in which it actually exists among the most depraved of our species. And, on this subject, do we think that the venerable How ARD has bequeathed to us a most striking and valuable observation. You know the his– tory of this man’s enterprises; how his doings, and his observations, were among the veriest outcasts of humanity,+how he descended into prison houses, and there made himself familiar with all that could most revolt or terrify, in the exhibition of our fallen nature; how, for this purpose, he made the tour of Europe; but instead of walking in the footsteps of other travellers, he toiled his painful and persevering way through these receptacles of worthlessness; —and, sound experimentalist as he was, did he treasure up the phenomena of our nature, throughout all the stages of misfortune, or depravity. We may well conceive the scenes of moral desolation that would often meet his eye; and that, as he looked to the hard, and dauntless, and defying aspect of criminality before him, he would sicken in despair of ever finding one remnant of a purer and better principle, by which he might lay hold of these unhappy men, and convert them into the willing and the consenting agents of their own amelioration. And yet such a principle he found, and found it, as he tells us, after years of intercourse, as the fruit of his greater experience, and his longer observation; and gives, as the result of it, that convicts, and that among the most desperate of them all, are not ungovernable, and that there is a way of managing even them, and that the way is, without relaxing, in one iota, from the steadiness of a calm and resolute discipline, to treat them with tenderness, and to show them that you have humanity; and thus a principle, of itself so beautiful, that to expatiate upon it, gives in the eyes of some, an air of fantastic declamation to our argument, is actually deponed to, by an aged and most sagacious observer. It is the very principle of our text; and it would appear