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In the same manner, every person, under a sentence of reprobation, is released from his obligation to love God; and persons of both these characters are thenceforth entirely innocent and unblameable. According to this doctrine also, sinners can, and do, continually lessen their obligation to love God, in proportion as they make him more and more angry with them day by day. By advancing, therefore, in a course of opposition and disobedience to God, they advance nearer and nearer to an unblameable life and character.
3dly. According to this doctrine, good men are not bound, in ordinary cases, to love sinners.
That sinners are, ordinarily, enemies to good men, will not be questioned: that they, often, are very bitter enemies, cannot be denied. If, then, this doctrine be true; good men are, plainly, not bound to love them, nor, of course, to befriend them; to relieve their distresses; to promote their happiness; nor to seek their salvation.
4thly. According to this doctrine, sinners are not, ordinarily, bound to love each other.
Sinners are not only enemies to good men, but to each other. In every such case, they are relieved from all obligations to love each other ; and so long as they continue to be enemies, are justified not only in the sight of man, but in the sight of God also, in withholding their love, and the expression of it, from each other.
Let us now, for a moment, attend to the necessary, and practical, consequences of this doctrine. A moral being, whose moral conduct is such, as to justify us in withholding our love from him, cannot be regarded with indifference; but must of course be hated; and, so far as I can see, may justifiably be hated, because his character is really hateful. But if it be right to hate our enemies, it is undoubtedly right to exhibit our hatred of them in its proper expressions ; such as censure, punishment, and hostilities. On this principle, mankind would contend with each other, in their public and private controversies, on the ground, that it was right; because it was dictated by conscience, and not merely by passion. He, who beheld an enemy, would be justified in hating him ; and he, who was thus nated, would, on the same ground, be justified in reciprocating the hatred. To express this justifiable hatred in quarrels would be equally accordant with rectitude ; and men would fight each other, on a new basis of principle. Revenge would be accounted doing God service. The persecutor, burning with rage against the miserable victims of his cruelty, exulting in his successful ravages of human happiness, and smiling over the tortures of the rack, and the agonies of the flame, would with new confidence say, “Let the Lord be glorified.” War, instead of being the conflict of pride, avarice, ambition, and wrath, would be changed into an universal crusade of piety: and new Mohammeds would stalk through the world, to execute righteousness by
butchery, and plant truth with the sword. Every national contest would become a war of extermination. Every land would be changed, by a professed spirit of righteousness, into a mere field of slaughter; and every age, by the mere dictates of conscience, converted into a period of unmingled and immeasurable wo.
The contrary principle, in good men, wherever they are found, is an extensive source of the peace and comfort, actually enjoyed in this unhappy world : and its influence on the consciences even of wicked men is such, as to effectuate no small quiet and comfort for themselves and others; and to prevent much of the evil, naturally flowing from this pernicious doctrine.
But the one half of the story is not yet told. Had God adopted this doctrine as the rule of his own conduct, what would, long since, have become of mankind ? Sinners never love God; but always hate him; and of consequence rebel against his government, violate his law, and oppose his designs. In other words, they are uniformly, and unceasingly, his enemies. Had God, then, been governed by this principle ; had he hated his enemies; nay, had he exercised no love, tenderness, or compassion, for them; he must immediately have exerted his infinite power, to render them only, and eternally, miserable. In this case, no
, scheme of Redemption would ever have been formed for our miserable race by the Infinite Mind. The compassionate and glorious Redeemer, instead of becoming incarnate, instead of living and dying for sinners, would have clad himself only with vengeance as a cloak; and arrayed himself with anger
as a robe and a diadem. Instead of ascending the cross, and entering the tomb, he would merely have trodden the wine-press alone, and trampled the people in his füry. Their blood would have been sprinkled on his garments, and stained all his raiment. The day of vengeance, only, would have been in his heart ; and the year of his redeemed would have
No sun would now rise upon the unjust : no rain descend upon the evil and unthankful. The Word of life would never have been revealed to mankind. The Sabbath, with its serene, peaceful, and cheering beams, would never have dawned upon this melancholy world; nor the Sanctuary unfolded its doors, that sinners might enter in, and be saved. The voice of Mercy would never have been heard within its hallowed walls. God would never, with infinite tenderness, have called rebels and apostates to faith, repentance, and holiness, in the Lord Jesus Christ; nor proffered pardon, and peace, to the returning penitent.
Heaven would never have opened the gates of life and glory to this ruined world. The general assembly of the first-born would never have been gathered; nor would that divine kingdom, which shall for ever increase in its peace and prosperity, its virtue and glory, ever have begun.
The fairest attribute, the peculiar excellence, of the Godhead, the divine Mercy, would neither have been unfolded, nor existed. Angels would never have sung, Glory to God in the highest; peace on earth; and good-will towards men. On the contrary, sin without bounds, and misery without end, would have reigned with an uninterrupted and eternal dominion over all the millions of the race of Adam.
From these considerations it is unanswerably evident, that all Mankind are included under the word neighbour.
3dly. This term, of course, extends to all other Intelligent beings, so far as they are capable of being objects of love ; or, in other words, so far as they are capable of being happy.
To desire the happiness of beings who cannot be happy, is to exercise our affections in vain. To desire the happiness of those, whom God has doomed for their sins to everlasting suffering, is to oppose his known, declared will. But even in these extreme cases, it is, I apprehend, our duty to feel a general spirit of benevolence towards the miserable sufferers. God has informed us, that he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. It is undoubtedly right, and proper, for us to experience the same disposition.
This doctrine may be illustrated in the following manner. Were we to receive tidings from God, that these unhappy beings would, at some future period, be restored to holiness and happiness; every being, under the influence of this love, would rejoice with inexpressible joy; and would find, that, instead of indulging enmity towards them, he had ever been ready to exercise a benevolent concern for their welfare.
That virtuous beings, throughout the universe, are proper objects of this love, will hardly be disputed. Of these beings, angels only are known to us; and their character, as unfolded in the Scriptures, is a complete proof of this position. To mankind they are related, merely, as intelligent creatures of the same God. Yet they cheerfully become ministering spirits for the benefit of men ; inhabitants of a distant world; of the humblest intelligent character; enemies to their Creator; and enemies to themselves. Such an example decides this point without a comment.
4thly. The Love, required in this precept, extends, in its Operations, to all the good offices, which we are capable of rendering to others.
The benevolence, enjoined by God, is, as was formerly obseryed, an active principle, prompting those, whom it controls, to exert themselves in all the modes of beneficence which are in their power, and are required by the circunstances of their fellow-men. Infinitely different from the cold philanthropy of modern philosophers, which spends itself in thoughts and words, in sighs and tears, its whole tendency is to employ itself in the solid and useful acts of kindness, by which the real good of others is efficaciously promoted. This philanthropy overlooks the objects which are around it,
and within its reach; and exhausts itself in pitying sufferers in foreign lands, and distant ages: sufferers, so distant, as to be incapable of receiving relief from any supposable beneficence, which it might exercise. These are, indeed, most convenient objects of such a philanthropy. For, as it is impossible to do them good by any acts of kindness, which are in our power, we naturally feel ourselves released from the obligation to attempt any such acts; and thus enjoy, with no small self-complacency, the satisfaction of believing, that, although we do no good, we are still very benevolent; and are contented with thinking over the good, which we would do, were the objects of our benevolent wishes within our reach. It is remarkable, that all kindness of this nature is ardent and vivid upon paper, and flourishes thriftly in conversation; but, whenever it is summoned to action by the sight of those, whom it ought to befriend, it languishes, sickens, and dies. Its seat is only in the imagination; and unfortunately it has no connexion either with the purse, the hand, or the heart. In the same manner, professed hospitality is often struck dumb by the arrival of a guest; and boasted patriotism, at the appearance of a proposed subscription for some beneficial public purpose.
Such is not the love of the Gospel. The happiness of others is its original, commanding object; and the promotion of that happiness its employment, and delight. The objects for whom, and the manner in which, it is to be employed, are felt to be of no consequence, if good can really be done. The kind of good is also a matter of indifference; provided it be real, and as extensive, as the nature of the case will admit.
It will be useful to illustrate this subject in a number of particulars, sufficient to exhibit its tendency and extent, in the variety of its operations.
First. The Love, required in this precept, will prevent us from voluntarily injuring others.
Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. The stress, here laid upon this characteristic of love, is remarkable. For St. Paul declares, that for this reason it is the fulfilling of the Law. We are not, indeed, to understand, that this is the only reason ; but that it is one very important reason. At the same time we are to remember, that voluntary beings who do no ill, always, and of course, do good.
From this characteristic of Evangelical love we learn, that those who are controlled by it, cannot be the authors of falsehood, fraud, slander, sophistry, seduction, pollution, quarrels, oppression, plunder, or war. All these, in whatever degree they exist, are real, and usually are great injuries to others. These, therefore, are in no sense fruits of love. They may, and do indeed, exist in greater or less degrees, in the minds, and lives, of those, who are the subjects of it; but it is because their love is partial and imperfect. Were this spirit to become the universal, and the only, character
of mankind; what a mighty mass of human calamities would vanish from the world!
Secondly. Among the positive acts of beneficence, dictated by the love of the Gospel, the contribution of our property forms an interesting part. To feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to perform other acts, generally of the same nature, have by mankind at large been esteemed such eminent and important specimens of this spirit
, as to have appropriated to themselves the very name of Charity; that is, of Love; to the exclusion of other efforts, not less truly benevolent. They are, at the same time, accompanied, more obviously than most other communications of beneficence, by the appearance of self-denial, and of doing good without reference to a reward.
But although acts of this kind are peculiarly amiable, and peculiarly respected, they are, still, no more really dictated by Evangelical love, than the contribution of our property to the purposes of hospitality, to the support of schools and colleges, the erection of churches, the maintenance of ministers, and the support of government. All these are important means of human happiness ; and he, who does not cheerfully contribute to them, is either ignorant of their nature, and his own duty, or is destitute of Evangelical benevolence.
Thirdly. Love to our neighbour dictates, also, every other office of kindness which may promote his present welfare.
Under this extensive head are comprehended our Instruction of others; our Advice; our Countenance; our reproof; our Sympathy with them in their joys and sorrows; those which are called our Civilities; our obligingness of deportment; our Defence of their good name; our Professional assistance; our peculiar efforts for their relief and comfort, on occasions which peculiarly demand them; and, especially, those kind offices, which are always needed by the sick and the afflicted. The tendency of love, like that of the needle to the pole, is steadily directed to the promotion of happiness, and of course to the relief of distress. The cases in which this object can be obtained, and the modes in which it can be accomplished, are of no consequence in the eye of Love. It only asks the questions, how, when, and where good can be done? When these are satisfactorily answered, it is ever ready to act with vigour and efficacy, to the production of any good ; except that it is regularly disposed to devote its labours, especially, to that which is especially necessary. As its sole tendency is to promote happiness; it is evident, that it cannot but be ready to act for this end, in whatever manner may be in its power. He, therefore, who is willing to do good in some cases, and not in others, will find little reason to believe, that he possesses the benevolence of the Gospel.
Fourthly. Love to our neighbour is especially directed to the good of his soul.