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MEN HAVE NO RIGHT TO MISTAKE THE NATURE
OF THEIR MORAL EXERCISES.
LUKE ix, 55, But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know
not what manner of spirit ye are of. ALL men are naturally disposed to think, that their hearts are better than they are, and to mistake the nature of their moral exercises. To rectify this dangerous error, our Saviour took a great deal of pains, in his preaching and private discourses. In his sermon on the mount, he exposed the self-deception of the Scribes and Pharisees, who mistook their selfish feelings for true benevolence. Nor was he less plain and pointed upon this subject, in his more private discourses with his disciples. Whenever he perceived them to be blind to their own hearts and unacquainted with the real motives of their own conduct, he never failed to reprove them for their criminal ignorance. Many instances of this kind might be mentioned, but that to which our text refers is the most remarkable. “It came to pass when the time was come that Jesus should be received
he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem; and sent messengers before his face: and they went and entered into a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know
not what manner of spirit ye are of.” Though the disciples sometimes loved Christ with a pure, disinterested affection, yet they sometimes exercised a false and selfish affection towards him. In this case, it was their false love, which kindled into vengeance, and they resented the conduct of the Samaritans, because they thought it cast contempt upon them as well as upon their divine Master. They mistook, however, their love to themselves, for their love to their Redeemer, and really thought they felt and expressed a zeal for his honour, while they really felt and expressed a spirit of revenge for personal abuse. Notwithstanding they had been so long and intimately acquainted with Christ, yet they still entertained some wrong apprehensions of his true design in coming into the world. They flattered themselves, that he would restore the kingdom to Israel, and make them and their nation his peculiar favourites. They supposed what the Samaritans supposed, that he was partial to the Jews, and therefore they loved him for the same reason, for which the Samaritans hated him. Yet they were so unacquainted with their own hearts, that they mistook their selfish love for holy love to Christ, and their selfish hatred of the Samaritans, for holy hatred of sin. But Christ knew what was in their hearts better than they did themselves, and kindly reproved them for their criminal ignorance and self-deception, Hence we may justly conclude, that Christ meant to teach us this important truth,
That men have no right, in any case, to mistake their selfish feelings for benevolent affections. I shall,
1. Show that men are apt to do this in some cases; And,
II. Show that they have no right to do it, in any
1. I am to show, that men are apt, in some cases, to mistake their selfish feelings for benevolent affections.
Notwithstanding their strong propensity to mistake the nature of their moral exercises, they are often placed under such circumstances, and have such lively exercises of mind, that they cannot help knowing what manner of spirit they are of. Sinners sometimes have such clear views of divine objects and such sensible opposition towards them, that they know their hearts are not right with God. And sometimes saints have such lively exercises of grace, that they can clearly and certainly distinguish them from all selfish and sinful affections. But yet there are many cases, in which both saints and sinners are extremely apt to deceive themselves in respect to the nature of their moral exercises. And the question now before us is, when they do really mistake sin for holiness, and selfishness for true benevolence. And here it is plain,
1. That they often make this mistake, when their selfishness leads them to do the same things, which benevolence would lead them to do. Selfishness in a sinner will often make him act just like a saint; and selfishness in a saint will often make him act just as he would do under the influence of
benevolence, There is no external action which can proceed from a good heart, but what may proceed from a heart totally destitute of goodness. Will benevolence lead men to observe the Sabbath, to read the Bible, to call upon God, to relieve the distressed, to speak the truth, and to pay an external obedience to the divine will? Selfishness, under certain circumstances, will lead men to do all these things, and to appear possessed of true benevolence. The Pharisees, who acted entirely from mercenary motives, performed the same external acts
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their actions, by their motives, they judge of the nas ture of their motives by their actions, which is a very false and dangerous mode of judging. This seems to have been the error of Jehu, while warmly engaged in destroying idolatry, and promoting the purity of divine worship. He undoubtedly thought he was pursuing a benevolent design from benevolent motives, for he invited Jehonadab to come with him, and to see his zeal for the Lord. But there is great reason to fear, that he knew not what manner of spirit he was of, and mistook a zeal for his own glory, for a zeal of the glory of God. There are innumerable cau ses, in which selfishness will thus unite with benevolence; and in all such cases, men are extremely apt to mistake the motives of their conduct, and ascribe that to benevolence, which flows from selfishness.
3. When the same species of affections flow from selfishness, which would flow from benevolence, then there is room for men to mistake the nature of their moral exercises. It was for making such a mistake, that the disciples were reproved in the text. They had a selfish zeal for the honour of Christ, and a selfish indignation against those, who refused to give him a cordial reception. In such a case, they ought to have had zeal and indignation, and had they thus possessed true benevolence, it would have kindled into a holy zeal and indignation. When Christ saw the temple of God abused and profaned, he expressed a zeal for the honour of his Father, and an indignation against those, who made his house a den of thieves. His zeal and indignation flowed from pure benevolence; but the zeal and indignation of his disciples flowed from a selfish heart. Their selfishness led them to exercise the same species of affections, which they would and ought to have exercised, had they been truly beneve.