Page images
PDF
EPUB

left to itself, to its own inherent tendencies, would produce nothing but happiness, would, as taught by this infidel philosopher, destroy all the good of man. The benevolence of the Scriptures would make heaven; that of Godwin would produce a hell. Such are the effects of human philosophy when, resisting the ordinance of God, and forgetting that the foolishness of God is wiser than men,' she boldly interferes with the system of his truth and providence. The scene before her is as the garden of Eden,' filled with life, beauty, and happiness; brilliant and glorious as is the heaven-devised landscape, and fraught as Paradise with every thing good for food,' or 'pleasant to the eye.' She is still unsatisfied with her allotted condition, and with the scheme of her destined enjoyment. Not desirous of becoming, but conscious of having already become, as gods, knowing good and evil,' she puts forth her presumptuous hand, and, resolved to add to her stock of blessings such as she knows to be prohibited, seizes in an evil hour the forbidden good. How wonderful, how distressing the change! In a moment the fascinating scene has vanished; and Paradise, with all its beauty, happiness, and splendour, has fled for ever. Where bloomed the tree of life, and flowed the waters of immortality, nothing remains but a world of thorns and briars,' an immeasurable waste of sorrow and death.

·

·

[ocr errors]

SERMON LXXX.

REGENERATIO N.

ITS ATTENDANTS.

OF BENEVOLENCE WITH SEEKING SALVATION.

CONSISTENCY

WHO WILL RENDER TO EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: ΤΟ THEM, WHO BY PATIENT CONTINUANCE IN WELL-DOING SEEK FOR GLORY, AND HONOUR, AND IMMORTALITY, ETERNAL LIFE.

ROMANS 11. 6, 7.

IN the last Discourse I considered one favourite objection against the doctrine of disinterested love: viz." If we are required to love others as ourselves, we ought to do as much for them as for ourselves: particularly, we ought to make the same provision for them and their families, which we are bound to make for ourselves and our families."

This objection, I endeavoured to show, is so far from being grounded in truth, or from being a general consequence from the doctrine of disinterested love, that, as the world is constituted, love dictates the contrary conduct. Disinterested love prompts those who possess it to produce the greatest mass of happiness in their power. But the scheme proposed, instead of producing more happiness, would destroy that which now exists, and subvert whatever is desirable in the present state of things.

In this Discourse I propose to consider another plausible

objection against this doctrine, viz. that "we are commanded to seek eternal life, as the proper reward of our faith and obedience; and that this reward is promised to those who believe and obey, by God himself. This command, and this promise, (it is alleged) being given by God himself, cannot be denied to be right. That we ought, therefore, to seek for everlasting life, must of course be admitted. But this, (it is asserted) is aiming at a reward; is a conduct, springing from self-love; and is not disinterested. It follows then," say the objectors," either that disinterested love is not required in the Scriptures; or that the requisitions of the Scriptures are inconsistent with each other." This objection, it will be observed, lies in the conclusion only. The premises are just and true. If the conclusion follows, I will give up the doctrine.

Lord Shaftesbury formerly advanced, with great labour and parade, a similar doctrine, but for a very different purpose. He maintained that disinterestedness is virtue, and the only virtue. At the same time he denied that it could consist with any hope of reward, or any fear of punishment. These, he declared, made virtue mercenary, mean, and selfish. True virtue, according to his scheme, consists wholly in doing good for the sake of that good; for the pleasure found in the good done, considered by itself, and wholly unconnected with any consequences; without any regard to advantages arising from it, or to disadvantages springing from the contrary conduct.

This celebrated writer, it is true, teaches elsewhere the opposite doctrine; and asserts, that "all the obligation to be virtuous arises from its advantages, and from the disadvantages attendant upon vice; and that such advantages are a great security and support to virtue." These, and other things of the like nature, he declares with no less confidence than the former opinions. It would be easy therefore to refute him by his own declarations. But this, though it might answer the purposes of mere controversy, would not satisfy a Christian audience. Were infidels required to be consistent with themselves, they never would appear in the field of debate.

The conclusion which Lord Shaftesbury drew from his principle was, that " the Scriptures, so far as they have influence, annibilate, by threatenings and promises, all virtue."

Hence he inferred, and, as it would seem, in his own view irresistibly, that "the Scriptures cannot be the word of God." Both these views of this interesting subject are, I apprehend, radically erroneous, and founded in false and imperfect conceptions of disinterested love.

1

·

In the text it is declared that to those who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory, honour, and immortality, God will render,' as a reward, eternal life. To seek for glory, honour, and immortality, therefore, is in a high degree pleasing to God; and must of course be truly and eminently virtuous conduct. If this conduct consists with disinterestedness, and arises from it, it must be acknowledged, on the one hand, that disinterestedness is not impeached by the objection already recited; and, on the other, that the Scriptures, while they require and encourage us to seek eternal life, do not render virtue mercenary, nor destroy, nor in any degree lessen, either virtue itself, or the obligations to virtue.

Before I enter upon the direct proof of this doctrine, it ought to be remarked that the scheme of Lord Shaftesbury confutes itself. His favourite doctrine is, that virtue consists wholly in doing good for its own sake, without any regard to any advantage which may follow from it, or to any disadvantage which may arise from a contrary conduct; such regard being in his view a destruction of virtue. Now let me ask, What is the difference between doing good for the sake of the pleasure attending it, and doing good for the sake of the pleasure following it? According to Lord Shaftesbury, virtue consists in doing good for the sake of the pleasure which it furnishes. Suppose then the virtuous action to be done now, and the pleasure furnished by it to be enjoyed an hour hence, or to-morrow. Would it be in any sense more mercenary to do the action for the sake of enjoying this pleasure an hour hence, or to-morrow, supposing the pleasure to be the same, than for the sake of enjoying it at the time when the action is done? The pleasure, according to the supposition, is the same in kind and degree. Can it then be any more or less virtuous to be thus influenced by a pleasure which will exist an hour hence, or to-morrow, than by the same pleasure existing at the present moment?

The truth in this case undoubtedly is, that it is neither

more nor less virtuous to be influenced in the same manner and degree, by the same kind and degree of pleasure, found in the same object, whether the pleasure is to be experienced at one time, or at another. The nature of the pleasure which is enjoyed, and the nature of the object whence it is derived, render the action in which that pleasure is sought either virtuous or not virtuous. If we take pleasure in happiness wherever it is enjoyed, and in promoting it wherever this is in our power, if, at the same time, this pleasure is proportioned to the happiness enjoyed or promoted, we are of course the subjects of virtue; and that just so far as the pleasure is experienced. The time at which it is experienced is here evidently of no consequence, and cannot even remotely affect the subject. If then it is mercenary, mean, and selfish to be influenced by this pleasure expected at a future time, it is equally selfish, mean, and mercenary to be influenced by the same pleasure expected at the time when the action is performed.

That the pursuit of eternal life is wholly consistent with the nature of disinterested love, I shall now attempt to show by the following considerations:

1. Our happiness is a desirable object, and deserves to be sought in a certain degree.

Our happiness is in this respect exactly of the same nature with that of others; is as truly desirable, and as really deserves to be promoted, as that of any created beings whatever. In whatever degree it exists, it ought to be delighted in; in whatever degree it is capable of existing, it ought to be desired. As the fact, that it is our happiness, renders it no more valuable than that of others; so plainly it does not render it at all less valuable. It claims therefore to be promoted on the same grounds as any other happiness of the same value. As it is entrusted to our own peculiar care, it demands more from us, as that of others does from them. For ourselves we can do more than we can for others, and this of course is our duty.

2. Neither our present nor future happiness is necessarily inconsistent with that of others.

All the good which God has made it lawful for us to enjoy

« PreviousContinue »