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THE LAw of God.—the SEcoRD GREAT comm ANDMENT.--THE EFFECTS OF BENEVOLENCE ON PUBLIC HAPPINESS.
Acts xx. 35.—1 hare 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 a preceding discourse, I considered, at length, the Influence of a disposition to do good on the personal happiness of him, in whom it exists; and attempted to show, that this disposition is more productive, than any other, of such happiness. It is now my design to prove, that it possesses a no less superior officacy in producing Public happiness; or the happiness of Society in all its various forms.
Of this disposition, commonly styled disinterested Benevolence, and denoted in the New Testament by the word, Ayarn, render. cd in our translation Love, and Charity, we have an extensive, most accurate, and most beautiful, description in the 13th chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians. In this chapter, it is exhibited to be superior to every natural and supernatural endowment, and to every acquisition made by man. It is proved to be the source of all good, natural and moral; or rather the source of all natural, and the substance of all moral, good. It is shown to be the only real excellence of intelligent creatures; the means of their existence, and their continuance, in the kingdom, of God; and the only cause of his complacency in their character. Finally, it is declared, that this disposition shall endure until all other i. which are admired and esteemed by men, shall be forgotten ; and, when they shall have ceased, together with their use and importance, shall brighten and flourish for ever.
Generally, it is declared, if I mistake not, in this chapter, that Love, in its various modifications and exercises, is the amount of all those, which are commonly called the graces of the Christian spirit; or, as they are often styled, the Christian virtues. Particularly, it is exhibited to us as long-suffering, contentment, modesty, humility, decency, disinterestedness, meekness, charitableness, hatred of iniquity, love to truth, patience, faith, hope, and fortitude. With this, the most extended and the most detailed, account of the subject, furnished by the Scriptures, all the other exhibitions, contained in the sacred volume, perfectly agree. In them all, when connected together by the mind, as may without difficulty be perceived, this great truth is abundantly shown: viz.
that the Love of the Gospel, or the spirit of doing good, is the source of all happiness, public and private; and is productive, intentionally, of no unnecessary evil. This truth is o but forcibly, taught in the text, with regard to society, as well as with regard to individuals. If we remember, that all societies are composed of individuals; we cannot hesitate to admit, that whatever renders them happy, must in exactly the same manner, and degree, be the source of public happiness. If it is more blessed to give, than to receive, if it is more blessed to cherish a spirit of doing good to others, than a disposition to gain it from them, in individual instances; the community, in which this disposition universally reigned, could not fail to enjoy this superior happiness in its fullest extent. Equally manifest is it, that the same disposition could not be productive of evil. Love, saith St. Paul, worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore Love is the fulfilling of the Law. In other words, this great and glorious characteristic of love, that it is productive of no ill, rendered it an object of such excellence to the view of God, that he framed his law in such a manner, as to require nothing of his intelligent creatures, beside this attribute and its proper exercises. We are not indeed to suppose this the only reason, why the divine law was framed in this manner. The good, of which this disposition is the parent, was, as we are abundantly taught in the Scriptures, a commanding reason also, why it was required by the law of God. To secure this good, and prevent in this manner the existence of the evil, which would necessarily result from any other disposition, was, at the same time, supremely glorious to the Infinite Lawgiver. It cannot fail of being an interesting employment to a Christian assembly to contemplate the operations of this spirit upon human society. In the progress of such contemplation, so many blessings will rise up to our view; and will be so easily seen to flow necessarily from this disposition; that we cannot fail to feel deeply the degraded, mischievous, miserable nature of that selfishness, which is so directly contrasted to it, and which so generally controls the affections and conduct of man. With scarcely less strength shall we realize, also, the excellence and amiableness of that spirit, from which good so extensively flows; which makes heaven the residence of supreme enjoyment; and which might make even this melancholy world no unworthy resemblance of heaven. On a theme, so extensive as this, and comprehending such a vast multitude of particulars, it would be easy to make many important observations. Those which fall within the compass of my o must, however, be all included within the limits of a single discourse. They will, therefore, be few, and of necessity general. Wor... III. 18
I. Evangelical Love, or the Spirit of communicating happiness, will, of course, induce us to be contented with our own Providential allotments. Love, saith St. Paul, envieth not. Love seeketh not her own. It is easily demonstrated by Reason, as well as abundantly declared in the Scriptures, that the infinitely wise and benevolent God orders all things aright. Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches : But let him that glorieth glory in this ; that he understandeth and knoweth me ; that I am the Lord which erercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth : for in these things I delight, saith the Lord. With such a government as this, it is evident, all persons ought to be satisfied: for all persons clearly ought to wish, that that which is righteous, wise, and benevolent, should be invariably done. He who is dissatisfied, therefore, cannot, without voluntary blindness, fail to discern, that in this temper he is guilty of sin. At the same time, the good man is taught, and will from interest and duty, alike, remember, that all things work together for good to them that love God; and therefore, for good to him, as being one of this happy number. Such a man, with this conviction, must be contented of course. His understanding, prepared alway to admit the dictates of truth, and his heart, always ready to o them, demand, and generate, a contented spirit. In such a man discontentment with his own situation, and envy on account of the superior enjoyments of others, can find no place, unless when the law in the members, warring against the law of the mind, brings him into captivity. Were his love, therefore, perfect; his contentment would be also perfect. The importance of this disposition to the happiness of man, may be advantageously illustrated by calling up to our view the immense evils, which spring from discontentment. How vast is their number; how terrible their nature | What hatred does it generate towards our fellow-creatures; what wrath; what contention; what revenge! How many slanders does it produce ; how many frauds ! What a multitude of perjuries, litigations, murders, and wars! What a mass of guilt does it create! What an accumulation of misery ! Were the great men of this world, alone, to be satisfied with the wealth, splendour, and power, allotted to them; were they to thirst no more for the enjoyments, bestowed on their rivals; the whole face of this earthly system would in a great measure be changed. Oppression would break his iron rod; and war would cease to ravage the habitations of men. In producing these evils, it is impossible for a mind, governed o the spirit of doing good, to take any share. Such a mind must of necessity rejoice in the righteous and benevolent dispensations of God. All these it would regard, as springing from his perfect character, and as accomplishing his perfect designs. Its own al
lotments, therefore, it would consider as the best possible, upon the whole, for the time, and the circumstances; because they were determined by this wisdom and goodness. . If a man, possessed of such a mind, were afflicted; he would not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when he was rebuked of him ; but he would remember, that whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth; and that he scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. In this character of a son, with filial affection, and reverence, to the Father of his spirit, while thus employed in the eminently parental office of chastening him for his good, he would sustain his afflictions with patience, fortitude, and submission; would endeavour to derive, and would certainly derive, from them, the peaceable fruits of righteousness. His mind would become more and more serene, patient, and enduring; more sensible of his dependence on God; more resigned to his disposal; and more intimately possessed of fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. Every day, and by means of every affliction, he would become more weaned from the world, more spiritually-minded, less dependent for his happiness on outward objects, and more effectually sustained by the peace and joy of the Gospel. In such a mind, passion would daily lose its inordinate and mischievous dominion; and reason, conscience, and piety, daily increase theirs. The views, and feelings, which assimilate him to an animal, would gradually lessen; and those, which constitute him a rational being, continually increase. The distinction in the scale of moral existence, for which he was originally formed, he would gradually acquire; and in the end would find himself an inhabitant of }. fitted by a wholesome disciline for an immediate participation of its pure and unfading enJoyments. In prosperity, the same man would acknowledge God as the giver of all his blessings. The enjoyments allotted to him, he would regard not as acquired from his Maker by bargain and sale, o by works which himself had wrought, and earned by is own industry and ingenuity; but as gifts, descending from the Author of all good, as sovereign and merciful communications from the eternal Benefactor. To this Benefactor all his affections, prayers, and praises, would ascend: and the character, which this glorious Being would sustain in the view of such a mind, would be the proper and transcendent character of Jehovah. It is the lot of all men to be more, or less, injured by their fellow-men. In the sufferance of these injuries, most men become impatient, angry, and revengeful; and usually look no farther, while smarting under the infliction, than to the hand, from which it is immediately derived. But such a mind will remember, that the injuries, done by men, are also Providential chastisements from God, directed by the highest wisdom, and accomplishing the most desirable purposes. However untoward, therefore, however painful, his sufferings may seem for a season; he will consider them,
chiefly, as necessary parts of a perfect Providence, and as real, though mysterious means, of accomplishing perfect good. In this view, they will appear comparatively light; and will be sustained with equanimity, and even with comfort. The promises of the Gospel, ever present, and ever fresh, will steadily furnish additional and abundant consolation. In these, he will find his own good secured beyond defeat; and will both hope, and quietly wait for, the salvation of God. Fashioned, and tempered, in this manner, into submission, patience, and meekness, the work af righteousness will, in such a mind, be peace; and the effects of righteousness, quielness, and assurance for ever. In this vast particular, therefore, extending to so many objects, spreading its influence over all the days and hours of life, man would gain, beyond measure, by assuming this divine disposition. The spirit of doing good would i. in his bosom, a well of water, flowing out unto everlasting life. The o nature of benevolent affections, the animating enjoyment inherent in beneficence, would gild with sunshine the gloom of affliction, and add new beauty and splendour to seasons of prosperity. Towards God it would be exercised in the whole course of diversified obedience; particularly in complacency and gratitude, reverence and resignation; the proper . of a good mind to render to him according to his 6enefits. Towards man, it would operate in the production of happiness, and the relief of distress; the employment of God hol, and peculiarly the source of his own infinite happiness. Thus would it unceasingly do good, and gain good; and, while he, who was the subject fit, diffused enjoyment through his own bosom, he would extend it also to all around him. It has doubtless been observed, that I have illustrated this sub.ject, hitherto, by applying it to the circumstances of an individual. It is hardly necessary to remark, that what is thus true of one man must be equally true of all others, who are governed by the same spirit. This contentment, therefore, this serenity, this exquisite enjoyment, would, if such a disposition universally prevailed, be felt i. a whole community, and diffused over the world. Every man would thus act; thus gain; thus o: What a mass of hapiness would in this manner be accumulated; and how would the ão. of this melancholy world be changed into a glorious resemblance of everlasting day! II. The same spirit would do Justice to all men. Love rejoiceth not in iniquity. Justice is either Commutative, or Distributive. Commutative justice is rendering an equivalent for what we receive, whether of property, or kind offices. Distributive justice is the rendering of such rewards, as are due to those who obey law, and government, and of such punishments, as are due to those who disobey and rebel. In both senses, Justice is the mere measure of benevolence. What a change would be wrought in this world by an exact fulfilment of