Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

get something by it in the end, do we think him at all entitled to our esteem or gratitude ? When we are well satisfied that the noisy patriot, is only seeking popularity and promotion, and cares nothing for his country, do we ever admire him as a virtuous character? When it is well known that the man who prays aloud in the corners of the streets, who fasts often with a sad countenance, or who offers himself to die as a martyr, does all to be seen of men, is he ever thought truly religious ? “ For men to search their own glory,” says Solomon, “is not glory.” And every one feels, that mere self-seeking, is not virtue.

2. There is such a thing as selfishness, which the word of God condemns, and which all mankind condemn, as a vice. The apostle evidently speaks in a way of censure or crimination, when he says, “ All seek their own things :” and when he foretels that men shall be lovers of their own selves, as the cause of evil times, and of all manner of abominable works. And who is there that does not consider a selfish, contracted disposition, as mean, odious, and detesta. ble ? On this particular there is no need of enlarging. Yet,

3. I do not think that the sin of selfishness consists in the natural principle of self-love. I do not think it is either a dictate of common sense, or a doctrine of scripture, that it is wrong for a man to regard his own interest. If this were a thing in itself wrong, it would be so in every degree, and in all

It would be wrong to have the least desire of our own happiness, in itself considered; or to be influenced at all by the hope of enjoying good, or by the fear of suffering c:il. " But this, certainly, is not agreeable to common sense. No one supposes that it is criminal to labor in an honest calling, to procure the necessaries and comforts of life; or that all work

R

cases.

ing for wages is a sin. It is never thought that taking prudent care for the preservation of one's health, or good name, or outward estate, is unlawful, or unbecoming a christian. We may use unlawful means, for preserving and furthering any of our valuable interests; but to value them, or to endeavor to secure and advance them, without transgressing any of the rules of righteousness, is what no man's conscience condemns.

Nor is it less evident that God does not condemn, all regard to our own happiness, as a moral evil. He requires that we should love our neighbor as ourselves; but no where does he forbid us to love our. selves, as well as our neighbors. In the scriptures both of the Old and New Testament, we are urged to duty by considerations adapted to operate upon the principle of self-love. Threatenings and promises, of a personal nature, relating both to the life that now is, and that which is to come, are abundantly made use of to dissuade men from the ways of sin, and to induce them to the practice of righteousness : whence it evidently appears, that being influenced to the externals of religion and virtue, by a view to our own interest and safety, is not in itself sinful.

But if the sin of selfishness doth not consist in self-love, in what does it consist ?

I answer, in not loving God and our neighbor : in not being benevolent. The difference between a truly benevolent man, and one totally selfish, I conceive, is simply this : the former is kindly affectioned towards all the latter cares for none but himself. I know of no reason we have to think, that the most selfish man has a stronger principle of self-preservation, or a greater concern for his own happiness, than a good man has. All the radical fault in the first, I apprehend, is, he has nothing of that love which is the fulfilling of the law-he is destitute of that charity which is the end of the commandment. Men may think more highly of themselves than they

ought to think—they may have the self-love of esteem or complacency in an inordinate degree : but the self-love of benevolence, or the desire of one's own happiness, absolutely considered, is probably never to excess. Comparatively, it may indeed be excessive ; and always is, in the unrighteous, or the imperfectly righteous. But then what renders it so, may be only the want, or deficiency, of disinterested benevolence. Being disposed to wish well to others, doth not, that I know of, at all lessen good will to one's self: it only regulates its operations. It restrains us from pleasing ourselves, and from promoting our own interest, in ways displeasing and injurious to others : and it excites to selfdenial, and giving up one's own good, when the greater good of one's neighbor, or of the public, so requires.

Perhaps the most disinterested beings in the universe, have as tender a concern for their own preservation, and enjoyment of good, as the most selfish. But thus much is certain, I conceive, and hath now been sufficiently evinced, that self-love, considered simply as the desire of one's own safety and happiness, is not sinful.

4. There is such a thing as acting from respect to the recompence of the reward, or from the hope of inheriting the promises, which is virtuous and commendable. There is a kind of happiness, the desire of which implies holiness.

When our Saviour exhorted his hearers to labor for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, undoubtedly he set before them a motive by which they would have done well to have been influenced. When he said, Mary hath chosen the good part which shall not be taken from her,” he evidently commended her choice. When he directed his disciples to give their alms in secret, telling them they should be rewarded openly ; when he said, “ Love

your enemies, and do good and lend, hoping for nothing again, and your reward shall be great ;” and to a particular person at another time, “ When thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind; and thou shalt be blessed: for they cannot recompense thee; for thou shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the just ;" he plainly considered having respect to this recompence, as truly wise and praiseworthy. To the like purpose

I
may

take notice of the words of the apostle, Rom. ii. 6, 7, where, speaking of the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God, he says, “Who will render to every man according to his deeds. To them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honor, and immortality, eternal life.” The Bible is full of passages in which this motive to duty is proposed; and in which, being influenced by it, is represented as laudable.

The truth of the matter respecting self-love, ap. pears to be this : The general desire of happiness is common to all ; however perfectly holy, or however totally depraved. In this, therefore, there is nothing of moral excellency, or of moral evil. It is found, indeed, in all sensitive nature ; in beasts and insects, as well as in our own species. In rational creatures it will lead to virtue or vice, to holiness or sin, according to their moral taste or disposition. Wicked men, through their depravity of nature, consisting in the want of a benevolent temper, place their happiness in the gratification of selfish appetites and passions only " the lust of the flesh, the last of the eyes, and the pride of life.” They mind earthly things—the pleasures, honors, and riches of this world, as their chief good. And in the pursuit of these, not regarding the glory of God or the good of their neighbor, they are led, unless restrained by scifish prudence, to intemperance and lewdness, to frauds and oppressions, to envy and revenge, to wars and fightings. Those, on the contrary, who have

been renewed in the spirit of their mind, by having had a principle of universal benevolence created in them, place their happiness in the advancement of the greatest universal good. They love God supremely; and to glorify him, is their chief. end. They love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity; and therefore to be with him where he is, that they may behold his glory, is their ultimate hope : to believe in him, while now they see him not, fills them with unspeakable joy. They love their neighbor as themselves ; and hence they consider the interest of others as their own, and take delight in doing good to all, as they have opportunity;

The reason why seeking the joys above is virtuous, whereas setting our affections on things on the earth is vicious, is not merely because the former are greater, or more durable, but because they are of a different nature. The pleasures of the spiritually minded in the life which now is, are an object of praiseworthy pursuit. The delight of the carnally minded are despicable and base, though supposed to be in the life to come. There is nothing better, in being influenced to painful labors and self-denials, by an expectation of the Pagan Elysian fields, or of a Mahometan paradise, than by the hope of similar indulgences and gratifications here on the earth. The eternal recompence of reward, to which good men, like Moses, have respect, is a heaven of holiness. It consists in seeing God's glory, and the good of the universe, most highly advanced, and in joining to advance them. Hence, being influenced to well-doing and patient suffering by this hope, is not only innocent ; it is virtuous; it is noble ; it is divine. Such was the hope, and the joy, set before Jesus himself, the author and finisher of our faith ; for which he endured the cross, despising the shame.

By way of inference and application,

1. It may be seen from what has been said, That representing godliness and righteousness, as the

« ForrigeFortsæt »