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THE LAW OF GOD.
THE SECOND GREAT COMMANDMENT.
THE EFFECTS OF BENEVOLENCĘ ON PUBLIC HAPPINESS.
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
MORE BLESSED TO Give, THAN TO Receive.
ACTS XX. 35.
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 efficacy 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, Ayunin, rendered in our translation love, and charity, we have an extensive, most accurate, and most beautiful description in the thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. In this chapter it is exhibited to be superior to every natural and super natural endowment, and to every acquisition made by
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 things 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 generally, 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 design must, however, be all included within the limits of a single Discourse. They will therefore be few, and of necessity general.
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 exercise 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 under standing, prepared alway to admit the dictates of truth, and his heart, always ready to welcome 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 by 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 allotments 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 heaven, fitted by a wholesome discipline 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 enjoyinents allotted to him, he would regard, not as acquired from his Maker by bargain and sale, purchased by works which himself had wrought, and earned by his 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 uscend; and the character, which this glorious Being would