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What, it may now be asked, is the distinctive nature of that love, that benevolent affection, which is the substance of the experimental part of the Christian religion? A question more important than this can hardly be proposed. And although an answer to it was in a measure anticipated under the first division of the work, still, as it is naturally brought up again in this place, and as it is to the highest degree consequential, I feel myself bound to give a definite answer to the question.
Benevolence, according to the definition which has already been given, wishes well to the object of its regard; it wishes well, in distinction either from malice or indifference. The all-sufficient Being, who is from eternity, was always disinterested in the love he exer. cised toward himself; but his benevolence did not suffer him to rest without diffusing good abroad. This led him to originate beings sus. ceptible of happiness. His benevolence was as really manifested in giving them their existence and capacities, as in promoting their happiness after their existence had taken place. For the object of our benevolent regard, we find a universe already in existence. That part of it which is devoid of sensation, and of course incapable of enjoymeot, makes no claim to our benevolence; but every sentient being is a suitable object for its exercise. Even irrational creatures, that have the corporeal senses, are susceptible of animal enjoyments, which Constitute them, in a low degree, objects of good will. When it is said, “ A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast,” it must imply that he regards it in a benevolent manner; for even an unrighteous man regards the life of his beast when considered as an article of property. Those things which are destitute of sensation, can be valued only for their use to such beings as have it: but all those which are sus. ceptible of happiness are, in themselves considered, proper objects of benevolent regard. It is the nature of benevolence, to desire for the object of its regard the greatest degree of good of which it is susceptible. And since the existence of the brutal race does not extend be. yond the present life, nor their enjoyments rise above animal gratifi. cations, our kindest feelings towards them must be regulated by their limited susceptibilities.
That which forms the principal object of benevolent regard, is the system of intelligent beings. In this system, we and our fellow men are comprehended. They who possess good will to men, will desire their bodily health and their enjoyment of earthly comforts ; but much more, that they may participate in those superior enjoyments, which are peculiar to intellectual beings. Since a holy character constitutes the moral beauty of such beings, and prepares them both for doing and receiving good, a benevolent regard to them will above all things desire that they may become holy, if they are not so already; or, if this be their present character, that it may be continued forever. God is the great pattern of benevolence; and his love to our fallen world was eminently a love to our souls. He saw that sin had rendered us odious, noxious, and wretched. His love was gloriously displayed in providing means for an entire transformation of our vitiated character. Christ, in giving himself to redeem us from all iniquity, manifested the highest possible regard to our well being. Our iniquities had separated between
us and our God; and unless we could be redeemed from them, the sep. aration must remain forever. To accomplish this infinitely desirable deliverance, the Redeemer undertook his work, and died for our re. demption. The concern which the apostles manifested for their fellow men, resembled that of their divine Master. It had reference more especially to their immortal interests, their salvation from sin and the wrath to come. To obtain this great and desirable object, they prayed, they preached, they suffered ; not counting their lives dear unto them. selves.
This benevolent concern for souls, which actuated the Savior in all he did and suffered, and which shone conspicuously in his apostles, exists in some degree in all those who have passed from death unto life. Every man who is himself converted, desires the conversion and salva. tion of the whole race, including foes as well as friends. Paul said to Agrippa,“ I would to God that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were not only almost, but altogether such as I am, except these bonds." Had the whole world been his audience, he would not have ex. cepted a single hearer ; his good wishes would have embraced them all. The benevolent mind, while it desires the conversion and eternal blessed. ness of every man as a good in itself, is nevertheless reconciled to the will of God in appointing it to be otherwise; for it rests satisfied that even this appointment is the effect of benevolence, and that it will eventuate in more good than would have resulted from a different arrangement. But it takes no delight in the misery itself, even when it is endured by an enemy. Happiness, in distinction from misery, is uniformly the object that is sought by beings of a benevolent character. As the sur. geon never gives pain to the patient, only for the sake of preserving his life or promoting his health ; so it is with the efforts of benevolence; no pain is given except with an ultimate view to the promotion of happiness, either of the sufferers themselves, or the moral system at large.
There are two, and only two classes of moral agents, the holy and unholy; those who are benevolent and those who are not. Both classes, however, agree in exercising love, and in seeking happiness; yea, they agree in seeking it as the ultimate end of all their actions. That which makes the essential difference of character in these two classes of agents, is this; the one seeks a general, and the other a private happi.
Benevolent beings seek the former, but such as are devoid of benevolence, the latter. It is the nature of that holy love, which we term benevolence, to wish well to the whole intelligent system. No limits can be set to the object of its good wishes. It embraces the whole universe. The child, who may not know that there are a million of beings in existence, if possessed of a benevolent heart, is prepared to love all that exist, let them be ever so many; and to desire that the greatest possible sum of felicity may be enjoyed. But the adult, who knows there is an innumerable multitude of beings in the universe, if he be destitute of benevolence, loves himself supremely, and seeks no higher object than the promotion of his own individual happiness. In this consists the difference between the ultimate ends which are sought by holy and unholy beings: the one class seek a general, and the other a private good; the one are disinterested and the other selfish.
Before I proceed to the proof of this point, that disinterested and selfish love constitute the difference between holy and unholy beings, I shall spend a few moments in defining these terins. Some have con. founded the word disinterested with uninterested, and so have made it signify the same as apathy. Others have supposed that it implies the annihilation of one's own interest, rather than the reduction of it to its comparative place in the system. Let it be remembered that the word interested has two distinct significations. We
say a man is interested, when he is governed by a selfish motive. We also say a man is in. terested when he does not view the thing in question with indifference, but is much affected with it; and this we say, without intending to determine the nature of his affections, whether selfish or benevolent. Now it is evident, that the word interested takes two different com. pounds, which mark the opposition to both its significations. That which serves as a contrast to the first signification, is disinterested ; which is the reverse of selfish. The word used as a contrast to the other signification, is uninterested; which is the same as apathetic, and implies the absence of feeling and concern about the matter. Be. nevolence is far from being uninterested in the object of its supreme regard; but at the same time it is disinterested in seeking this object, because the value it places upon it is disconnected from every selfish consideration. Disinterested benevolence, however, does not suppose any real indifference to our own interest and well being; but it does suppose the existence of a superior regard to that general interest which is more important. When the word disinterested is rightly un. derstood, it as proper to apply it to that love which holy beings exer. cise towards themselves, as to that which they exercise towards others. They are impartial, as far as they are holy, in the love they exercise towards themselves, not thinking of themselves more highly than they ought to think.
The word selfishness hardly needs any explanation. When we see any one making every thing bend to suit his own interest, without regard. ing the good of others, we pronounce him a selfish man. At the same time we all know that the law of God allows, and even requires, a man to love himself as well as to love his neighbor. And certainly that love which God requires a man to exercise towards himself, ought not to be denominated selfish. As a man's own family is placed more immediately under his care than the family of his neighbor, so is his own soul more than the soul of any other individual. In discharging the duties arising from these betrustments, he is required to provide very specially for his own household, and to take heed to himself, look. ing diligently lest he should fail of the grace of God. But if any being below the Great Supreme make himself the chief end of his actions, this is selfishness. In this case he values his own happiness infinitely above its comparative worth. He prefers it above the inte. rests of the whole universe, merely because it is his own.
I shall now adduce proof to establish the point, That benevolence and selfishness form the precise difference between holy and unholy beings. Though our Article relates only to benevolence, yet, as this can be bet. ter understood by contrasting it with selfishness, its moral opposite, it will be my object to show that this is that distinction between charac. ters, which is sanctioned both by reason and revelation.
1. It is sanctioned by reason. It being conceded, that a real fun. damental difference exists between holy and unholy beings, we are greatly concerned to know in what this difference consists. That the iwo characters are made by their different objects of regard, and that these objects must be as dissimilar as public and private good, is a conclusion to which reason would conduct us by such arguments as these :
1. It is reasonable to believe this to be the difference between holy and unholy characters, because the difference is not only real, but as great as possible. No two things can be wider apart than disinterested benevolence and selfishness. The object regarded by the one, is the universe-God and his intelligent creation; while the object regarded by the other is one's own self. One of these objects is the greatest it could be, and the other the least. Benevolence desires, that God may have all possible glory, and his creation as much holiness and blessed. ness as he can communicate. But it is the nature of self-love to be re. gardless of the glory of God and the perfection of the moral system; and to be wholly absorbed in its own little concerns. No creature can be influenced by a less motive than that which governs a selfish mind. I presume none will object to this distinction between holy and sinful beings, by saying it is merely circumstantial. The difference is per. fect, it can not be more so.
2. It is reasonable to be believe this to be the true distinction be. tween holy and unholy beings, because it can not be real, and yet be less. He that is not disinterested in his love is interested. He that is not benevolent is selfish. He who has not a heart to love a universe of beings, has a heart to love none but himself. It is not rash judging to say, the man whose heart does not incline him to the exercise of universal good will, does not regard, for its own sake, the happiness of any besides himself. Certain it is, that every man loves his own happiness, however foolish may be the methods he takes for its promotion. He may have a regard to others on account of a connection of interests, formed by some particular relation wherein they stand to him, by means of consanguinity, intermarriages, secular business, local situation, and other similar circumstances; and yet this be nothing different from an ultimate regard to his own honor, interest, and happiness. If we have a regard to the welfare of any of our fellow beings, which is not ori. ginated by self-love, what should prevent us from exercising universal good will? And if we fall short of good will to the universe, where can we be expected to stop, short of confining our regard to ourselves? I am convinced that a mere rational view of this subject will lead to the adoption of this sentiment ; That there is no medium between a universal good will, and complete selfishness; that he who does not make a common interest with God and his friends, must be guilty of living only to himself.
3. We have reason to conclude that this forms the distinction of character between holy and unholy beings, because we can have no conception of its being a real difference, and yet consisting in anything else. It is evident, no essential difference can exist between such as have one ultimate end, and are influenced by the same class of motives. For example, there can be no fundamental difference between those
who agree in being entirely governed by motives that are selfish, If one man gives his earnings to the poor, while another hoards them; if one man prays, while another restrains prayer; and repents, while the other is committing flagrant crimes, there is no fundamental difference of character, in case selfish motives lie at the bottom of all these dif. ferent actions. Unless the better conduct proceed from better motives, even motives which are not selfish, there is no such difference as to render it proper to denominate the one holy, and the other sinful.
4. Another reason we have for believing, that benevolence and sel. fishness form the proper distinction between beings that are holy and sinful, is this; that all conceivable traits of holy and sinful character can be accounted for by the existence of these two principles alone. There is no holy affection or action, to which disinterested benevolence will not give birth. Nor is there any affection or conduct so vile, but that a selfish spirit is bad enough to generate it. Nor is it possible to con. ceive of a single sin, which can not be traced up to the selfish princi. ple as its source. The love of money is said to be the root of all evil, because it is the root of very much evil; but surely covetousness does not prompt men to such sins as drunkenness and impurity. Pride also is the root of very much evil; but the sins just named, together with others which might be named, are not produced by pride ; and yet are manifestly the fruit of selfishness. Such a thing as unselfish sin is irrational, it has no place in the moral system. Sin can not be com. mitted without motives; and it is certain it can not proceed from those of a benevolent character; for reason, as well as scripture, declares, that love worketh no ill to his neighbor. If then we can not be stimulated by a benevolent motive to injure another, it will follow, unless we can do it in the absence of all motives, that such as are of a selfish char. acter are the only ones by which we can possibly be governed. Who. ever will think intensely on this subject must, I am persuaded, become convinced that there is nothing wrong, either in the heart or life, which requires any other cause for its production than selfishness.
5. It is reasonable to believe that universal good will and selfishness form the true distinction between good and bad characters, because such good will is an affection which harmonizes with the moral system, while sel. fish affection is entirely unharmonious and discordant. Universal good will is an affection which sweetly accords with the fact, that we have a Creator and a multitude of fellow creatures, who, together with our. selves, constitute one grand moral system. And surely no affection can be approved, which does not tend to unite us to the system of which we make a part.
Now since it is the tendency of disinterested love, in its various modifications, to produce this union, must not such love be the very essence of a holy character? And since it is the tendency of selfishness, to sunder this union, and throw the moral system into a state of contention and war, must not such an affection be in the fullest sense the root of all evil ?
6. To sustain the distinction we have made between the holy and sinful character, reason furnishes us with an argument of some weight, derived from the analogy existing between the different works of God. There is undoubtedly a harmony between the natural and moral worlds,