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harm as a motive to the social virtues. When, therefore, self-government, which is our first step towards happiness, is established, we ought to endeavour to excite men to action by higher and nobler motives; for, with regard to all those virtues, the ultimate object of which is not private happiness, an attention to self-interest is of manifest prejudice to us, and this through the whole course of our lives, imperfect as we are, and as much occasion as we have for every effectual motive to virtue.
We are now come, in the last place, to see what considerations, drawn from the Holy Scriptures, will farther confirm and illustrate this maxim of human conduct, which was first suggested by them.
That the Scriptures join the voice of all nature around us, informing man that he is not made for himself; that they inculcate the same lesson which we learn both from a view of the external circumstances of mankind, and also from a nearer inspection of the principles of human nature; will be evident, whether we consider the object of the religion they exhibit, (that is, the temper to which we are intended to be formed by it,) or the motives by which it is enforced and recommended to us in them.
That the end and design of our holy religion, Christians, was to form us to the most disinterested benevolence, cannot be doubted by any person who consults the Holy Scriptures, and especially the books of the New Testament.
There we plainly see the principle of benevolence represented, when it is in its due strength and degree, as equal in point of intenseness to that of self-love. "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." The plain consequence of this is, that if all our brethren of mankind with whom we are connected, have an equal claim upon us, (since our connexions are daily growing more extensive, and we ourselves are, consequently, growing daily of less relative importance in our own eyes,) the principle of benevolence must, in the end, absolutely swallow up that of self-love.
The most exalted devotion, as even superior both to selflove and benevolence, is always every where recommended to us: and the sentiments of devotion have been shown greatly to aid, and, in fact, to be the same with those of benevolence; and they must be so, unless it can be shown that we have some senses, powers, or faculties, which respect the Deity only.
In order to determine men to engage in a course of disinterested and generous actions, every motive which is calculated to work upon human nature is employed. And as mankind in general are deeply immersed in vice and folly, their hopes, but more especially their fears, are acted upon in the strongest manner by the prospect of rewards and punishments. Even temporal rewards and punishments were proposed to mankind in the earlier and ruder ages of the world. But as our notions of happiness grow more enlarged, infinitely greater, but indefinite objects of hope and fear are set before us. Something unknown, but something unspeakably dreadful in a future world is perpetually held up to us, as a guard against the allurements to vice and excess which the world abounds with; and still farther to counteract their baleful influences, the heavenly world (the habitation of good men after death) is represented to us as a place in which we shall be completely happy, enjoying something which is described as more than eye hath seen, ear heard, or than the heart of man can conceive.
These motives are certainly addressed to the principle of self-interest, urging us out of a regard to ourselves and our general happiness, "to cease to do evil, and learn to do well." And, indeed, no motives of a more generous nature, and drawn from more distant considerations, can be supposed sufficient to influence the bulk of mankind, and " bring them from the power of sin and Satan unto God."
But when, by the influence of these motives, it may be supposed that mankind are in some measure recovered from the grosser pollutions of the world, and the principle of selfinterest has been played, as it were, against itself, and been a means of engaging us in a course and habit of actions which are necessarily connected with, and productive of, more generous and noble principles, then these nobler principles are those which the sacred writers chiefly inculcate.
Nothing is more frequent with the sacred writers than to exhort men to the practice of their duty as the command of God, from a principle of love to God, of love to Christ, and of love to mankind, more especially of our fellow-Christians, and from a regard to the interest of our holy religion: motives which do not at all turn the attention of our minds upon themselves. This is not borrowing the aid of self-love to strengthen the principles of benevolence and piety, but it is properly deriving additional strength to these noble dispositions, as it were, from within themselves, independent of foreign considerations.
We may safely say, that no degree or kind of self-love is made use of in the Scriptures but what is necessary to raise us above that principle. And some of the more refined kinds of self-love, how familiar soever they may be in some systems of morals, never come in sight there. We are never exhorted in the Scriptures to do benevolent actions for the sake of the reflex pleasures of benevolence, or pious actions with a view to the pleasures of devotion. This refined kind of self-love is nowhere to be found in the Scriptures.
Even the pleasures of a good conscience, — though they be of a more general nature, and there be less refinement in them than in some other pleasures which are connected with the idea of self, and though they be represented in the Scriptures as the consequence of good actions, and a source of joy, as a testimony of a person's being in the favor of God, and in the way to happiness, — are perhaps never directly proposed to us as the reward of virtue. This motive to virtue makes a greater figure in the system of the later Stoics (those heathen philosophers who, in consequence of entertaining the most extravagant idea of their own merit, really idolized their own natures to a degree absolutely
blasphemous) than in the Scriptures. And if we consider the nature of this principle, we shall soon be sensible that if it be inculcated as a motive to virtue, and particularly the virtues of a sublimer kind, it should be with great caution, and in such a manner as shall have the least tendency to encourage self-applause; for does not self-applause border very nearly upon pride and self-conceit, and that species of it which is called spiritual pride, and which is certainly a most malignant disposition?
If this same principle have power to excite such ridiculous vanity, intolerable arrogance, inveterate rancour, and supercilious contempt of others, when it has nothing but the trifling advantage of skill in criticism, a talent for poetry, a taste for belles lettres, or some other of the minuter parts of science to avail itself of; what have we not to dread from it, when it can boast of what is universally acknowledged to be a far superior kind of excellence 1
To guard against this dangerous rock, so fatal to every genuine principle of virtue, the utmost humility, self-diffidence, and trust in God, are ever recommended to us in the Holy Scriptures. Good men are taught to regard him as the giver of every good and every perfect gift. They are represented as disclaiming all the merit of their own good works, and expecting all favor and happiness, private or public, from the free goodness and undeserved mercy of God. When we have done all that is commanded us, we must say we are unprofitable servants; we have done only that which it was our duty to do.
In the representation which our Saviour has given us of the proceedings of the last great day of judgment, it is in this respect that the temper of the righteous is contrasted with that of the wicked; though that was not the principal design of the representation. The righteous seem surprised at the favorable opinion which their Judge expresses of them, and absolutely disclaim all the good works which he ascribes to them. "When saw we thee," say they, "an hungered,
and fed thee; or thirsty, and gave thee drink; when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in, or naked, and clothed thee; or when saw we thee sick and in prison, and came unto thee?" Whereas the wicked are represented as equally surprised at the censure our Lord passes upon them, and insist upon their innocence, saying, "When saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee 1"
This, too, is the excellent moral conveyed to us in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, and the import of one of the blessings which our Lord pronounced in a solemn manner at the beginning of his ministry on earth, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven ;" and also the spirit of many of our Lord's invectives against the pride and hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees.
No other vice seems capable of disturbing the equal and generous temper of our Lord. Other vices rather excite his compassion; but pride, together with its usual attendant, hypocrisy, never fails to rouse his most vehement indignation: insomuch, that before we attend to the heinous nature and dreadful consequences of those vices, we are apt rather to blame our Lord for intemperate wrath upon these occasions, and to wonder why a person, who otherwise appears to be so meek, should, in this case only, be so highly provoked.
How severely doth he check the least tendency towards pride and ambition in his own disciples, whenever he discovers in any of them a disposition to aspire to distinction and superiority; closing his admonition, on one remarkable occasion, with these words, which are characteristic of the temper of his religion: "He that is greatest among you shall be your servant. Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased, and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted."
What temper can be supposed more proper to qualify us for joining the glorious assembly of the spirits of just men made perfect, and perhaps innumerable orders of beings far superior to us, both in understanding and goodness, when