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THE LAW OF GOD.—THE SECOND GREAT COMMANDMENT.--THE Erre CTS OF BENEVOLENCE ON PERSONAL HAPPINESS.
Acts xx. 35.-I have shewed you all things, how that, so labouring, ye ought to support the weak ; and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said; It is more blessed to give than to receive.
IN the preceding discourse, I considered, at some length, that Love to our Neighbour, which is required in the Second Command of the moral law. I shall now attempt to show, that this disposition is more productive of happiness, than any other.
The speech of St. Paul, recorded in this chapter, I have long considered as the most perfect example of pathetic eloquence, ever uttered by man. The occasion, the theme, the sentiments, the doctrines, the style, are all of the most exquisite kind, wholly suited to each other, and calculated to make the deepest impression on those who heard him. The elders of the Church of Ephesus, to whom it was addressed, were ministers of the Gospel; converts to Christianity made by himself; his own spiritual children, who owed to him, under God, their deliverance from endless sin and misery, and their attainment of endless holiness and happiness. They were endeared to him, as he was to them, by the tenderest of all possible ties; presiding over a Church, formed in the capital of one of the principal countries in the world; at a period when heresy, contention, and dissoluteness, were prophetically seen by him to be advancing with hasty strides, to ruin Christianity in that region. This address was, therefore, delivered at a time when all that was dear to him, or them, was placed in the most imminent hazard of speedy destruction. They were the persons, from whom almost j". exertions were to be expected which might avert this immense evil, and secure the contrary inestimable good; the Shepherds, in whose warm affection, care, and faithfulness, lay the whole future safety of the flock. He was the Apostle, by whom the flock had been gathered into the fold of Christ, and by whom the shepherds were formed, qualified, and appointed. #. had now come, for the great purpose of admonishing them of their own duty, and of the danger of the flock, committed to their charge. He met them with the tenderness of a parent, visiting his children after a long absence. . He met them for the last time. He assembled them to hear his last farewell on this side the To enforce their duty in the strongest manner, he begins his address with reminding them of his manner of life, his piety, faithfulness, zeal, tenderness for them, disinterestedness of conduct, fortitude under the severest sufferings, diligence in preaching the Gospel, steady dependence on God, and entire devotion to the great business of the salvation of men. To them, as eye witnesses, he appeals for the truth of his declarations. Them he charges solemnly, before God, to follow his example: warning them of approaching and accumulating evil; and commending them to the protection, and grace, and truth, of God, for their present safety, and future reward. With this extensive, most solemn, and most impressive preparation, he closes his discourse, in a word, with the great truth which he wished to enforce, and the great duty which he wished to enjoin, as the sum, and substance, of all his instructions, precepts, and examle; exhorting them to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, which said, It is more blessed to give, than to receive. In no remains of Demosthenes, or Cicero, can be found the same simplicity, address, solemnity, tenderness, and sublimity, united. Paul was a man immensely superior to either of these celebrated Orators in excellence of character; and with the aid of Christianity to influence, and Inspiration to direct, rose to a height, and enlarged his views to an extent, of which no other man was ever capable. His eloquence, like the poetry of Isaiah, rises beyond every parallel ; and the excellence of his disposition, seconded in a glorious manner the greatness of his views, the tenderness of his sentiments, and the sublimity of his conceptions. He speaks as if he indeed possessed the tongue of Angels; and the things which he utters are such, as Aj. without superior aid, would never have been able to conceive. The Words, which he declares to have been spoken by the Saviour, are no where recorded in the Gospels, as having been uttered in the manner here specified. They were, however, unquestionably the words of Christ; and not improbably addressed to Paul himself. Be this as it may, they are words of the highest possible import; and may be justly considered as the language of all our Saviour's preaching, and of all his conduct. The Spirit by which he was governed, they perfectly describe; the actions which he performed, and the sufferings which he underwent, they perfectly explain. Of all his precepts they are a complete summary; and of his whole character, as a no being, they are a succinct, but full and glorious exhibition. The import of them cannot be easily mistaken, unless from choice. To give, is an universal description of communicating good; to receive, an equally extended description of gaining it from others. The former of these two kinds of conduct is pronounced here to be happier or more blessed than the latter. To be h'essed, is to receive happiness from God, from our fellow-creatures, or from ourselves; and denotes, therefore, all the good, which we do now, or shall hereafter, enjoy. The doctrine of the text is, therefore, that, It is more desirable to communicate happiness, than to receive it from others. I am aware that the selfishness, which dwells in every human mind, and clouds every human intellect, as well as biasses every human decision concerning moral subjects, revolts at this doctrine. To admit it, is a plain condemnation of our ruling character, and a judicial sentence of reprobation on all our conduct. In a world of selfish beings, where one universal disposition reigns, and ravages; it cannot but be expected by a man, even moderately versed in human nature, that the general suffrage will be given, in favour of the general character. Every man knows, that his own cause is in question; and that his vote is an acquittal, or condemnation of himself. From this interested tribunal an impartial issue cannot be hoped. . In a virtuous world, instead of that proverbial, and disgraceful aphorism, that, where you find a man’s interest, you find the man, the nobler and more vindicable sentiment, that, we should find the man, where we find his duty, would unquestionably prevail. If the united voice of our race, therefore, should decide against this great evangelical doctrine, the innumerable company of Angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect, may be easily expected to give their unqualified decision in its favour. In their happy residence, a selfish being would be a prodigy, as well as a monster. Even in our own world, we may, however, lay hold on facts, which fully evince the doctrine to be possible. Parents are often found preferring the happiness of their children to their own personal and private good, and enjoying more satisfaction in communicating good to them, than in gaining it from the hands of others. Friends have frequently found their chief happiness in promoting the well-being of the objects of their friendship. Patriots have, sometimes ...i. cheerfully forgotten all private concerns, and neglected the whole business of gaining personal gratification, for the sake of rendering important services to their beloved country. The Apostles also, with a spirit eminently disinterested and heavenly, cheerfully sacrificed every private consideration for the divine purpose of accomplishing the salvation of their fellow-men. Nothing of this nature moved them; neither counted they their lives dear unto themselves; so that they might finish their course with joy, and the ministry which they had received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God. Now, what forbids; what I mean, in the nature of things; that, with an affection as tender and vigorous, as parents feel for their children, and friends for their friends; which patriots have at times felt for their country, and which the Apostles of Christ felt for the souls of their fellow-men; we should, in a nobler state of exist
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ence, escape from the bonds of selfishness, and send forth our good-will to every intelligent being whom we know, in such a manner, as to take delight in the happiness of all around us, and to experience our first enjoyment in communicating good, wherever we could find a recipient. That such a disposition would be a desirable one, will not be disputed. Why may it isot exist? What is there, which will, of necessity, forbid such enlargement, excellency, and dignity, of moral character' . Why may not a world be filled with Intelligent beings, devoted to this great and Godlike end, and gloriously exhibiting the image and beauty of their Creator? The only answer to these questions, which an opponent can bring, is, that in this guilty, wretched world, the contrary spirit universally prevails. On the same ground, the tenants of a gaol may rationally determine, that the mass of fraud, theft, rape, and murder, for which they are consigned to chains and gibbets, is the true and only character, which exists in the palace of sovereignty, the hall of legislation, the household of piety, and the Church of God. Admitting, then, that such a disposition is possible; admitting, that it has, at least in superior worlds, a real existence; admitting, still farther, as all who really believe the dictates of the Gospel must admit, that it exists in every sincere Christian, even in this world: I proceed to establish the doctrine by observing, I. That all the happiness, which is enjoyed in the Universe, flows originally from the voluntary activity of Intelligent beings. All happiness is contrived; and is brought into existence by carrying that contrivance into execution. Intelligent beings alone can contrive, or execute. From them, from their voluntary agency, therefore, all happiness springs. God, the GREAT INPelligent, began this wonderful and immense work. Intelligent creatures, ...i. with the faculties necessary for this purpose, coincide with him, as instruments, in carrying on the vast design. On the part of Him, or them, or both, it is the result of design. If happiness, then, is to exist at all, it must flow from disposition; and plainl from a disposition to do good ; this, and a disposition to do evil, being the only active and productive principles in the whole nature of things. A disposition to gain happiness from others, could plainly produce nothing; and were there no other, the universe would be a blank, a desert, in which enjoyment could never be found. The capacity for it would indeed exist; but the means of filling it would be wanting. The channels would open, and wind; but the living fountain, with which they were to be supplied, would be dry. The soil would be formed; and the seeds might be sown; but the life-giving influence of the rain and the sunshine would be withholden. Of course, no verdure, flowers, nor fruits, would spring up, to adorn, and enrich, the immense and desolate surface. As great, therefore, as the difference is between the boundless good which exists, and for ever will exist, in the great kingdom of Jehovah, and an absolute barrenness and dearth throughout this incomprehensible field; so great is the difference between these two dispositions. II. Virtue, the supreme excellence and glory of Intelligent beings, is merely the love of doing good. No attribute of a rational nature is, probably, so much commended, even in this sinful world, as Virtue; yet the commendations, given of it, are, in many instances at least, unmeaning and confused; as if those who extol it had no definite ideas of its nature, and knew not in what its real value consists. All the worth of Virtue, in my own view, lies in this ; that it is the original, or voluntary, and universal, source of happiness; partly, as its affections are happy in themselves, and partly, as they are the sources of all other happiness. There is, originally, nothing valuable, but happiness. The value of Virtue, consists only in its efficacy to produce happiness. This is its value in the Creator : this is its value in its creatures. Hence, and hence only, is Virtue the ornament, the excellency, and the loveliness, of Intelligent beings. Virtue, as exercised towards the Creator is, as was shown in a former discourse, summed up IN LovE, to HIM ; in Benevolence, Complacency, and Gratitude : good-will to his supreme blessedness, and to the accomplishment of his glorious designs; a delight ... in his perfect character, which forms, and accomplishes, the boundless good of his Creation; and a thankful reception and acknowledgment, of the effects of his goodness, communicated either to ourselves, or to others. All these are affections in the highest degree active; and prompt us to study what we shall render to the Lord for his benefits, and to co-operate with all our powers in the promotion of the designs which he has made known to us. All the good, indeed, which we can do to him, if it may be called by this name, is no other than to please him; by exhibiting always a disposition like his own. With this disposition he is ever delighted; and he has been pleased to inform us, that in his sight it is of great price. Virtue, as exercised towards our fellow-creatures, is the same love directed to them, and perfectly active in promoting their well-being. In all the forms of justice, faithfulness, truth, kindness, compassion, charity, and forgiveness, in every act of self-denial and selfgovernment, this is still the soul and substance. But Virtue is a character, beyond comprehension superior to any other, and in a literal sense infinitely more desirable. It is the only worth, the only excellence, the only beauty, of the mind; the only dignity; the only glory. To #. spirit, which is occupied in gaining good from others, or which aims at enjoyment merely, it is transcendently superior, in numerous particulars It is the source of all internal, moral good.