« FöregåendeFortsätt »
the Psalmist in these few words : Thou art good, and dost good, and thy tender mercies are over all thy works. The same character was anciently proclaimed by himself to Moses, on Mount Sinai, in that sublime and affecting annunciation : the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, slow to anger, and abundant in goodness and truth. St. John has, in a still more comprehensive manner declared his character in a single word : God is Love. This peculiarly divine and glorious character was still more illustriously manifested by the Son of God, in the wonderful work of Redemption. Infinitely rich in all good himself, for our sakes he became poor, that we through him might become rich; rich in holiness; rich in the happiness which it produces. We were fallen, condemned, and ruined; were poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked, and in want of all things. To do good to us, to redeem us from sin, and to rescue us from misery, he came to this world; and while he lived, went about doing good unto all men as he had opportunity, and ended his life on the cross, that we might live for ever.
On the third day he arose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. At the right hand of God the Father, while he sits on the throne of the Universe, he makes perpetual intercession for the sinful, backsliding creatures, whom he left behind; and with infinite benignity carries on the amazing work of redeeming love, in the world of glory. In that world it is his employment, and delight, to feed all his followers, and lead them to fountains of living waters; to enlighten them with wisdom, to improve them in Virtue, to adorn them with strength and beauty, and to dignify them with immortal glory
All these things have flowed, and will for ever flow, from his own love of doing good. Of them, he could not possibly stand in need. Of the stones of the street, he could raise up
children and followers, beyond measure better, wiser, and nobler, than they are, and in numbers incomprehensible. For him they can do nothing; for them he does all things.
But God is infinitely blessed. This superior and unchangeable happiness of Jehovah springs entirely from this glorious disposition. As he can receive nothing, his happiness must lie wholly in the conscious enjoyment of his own excellence, which is formed of this disposition, and in the communication of good to his creatures.
If we would be happy like Him, we must be disposed like him; must experience, and exercise, the same love of doing good; and must find our own supreme enjoyment in this exalted communica. tion. Happiness grows out of the temper of the mind which enjoys. Its native soil is benevolence. When this is the temperature of the soul, it springs up spontaneously, and flourishes, and blossoms, and bears, with a rich and endless luxuriance, and with beauty supreme and transcendent: but when selfishness predominates, Vol. III.
like an exotic in a sterile ground, and a wintry climate, it withers, fades, and dies.
In the mean time, God loves, and blesses, those, whose disposition and conduct resemble his own. In giving this character to his children, he gives them the first of all blessings; the source of peace, dignity, and enjoyment, within, and the means of relishing every pleasure from without. Thus, in the possession of this character, they have, in the scriptural language; and therefore, to them, in other respects, shall be largely given. Their internal excellence and enjoyment shall be perpetually improved, and their external happiness, in the like manner, extended. As the mind becomes more beneficent, more pure, more active in doing good; all the sources of its felicity will multiply around it; its consciousness of being like its Father and Redeemer will expand and refine ; virtuous beings will more clearly see, approve, and love, its beauty and worth ; and the smiles of infinite complacency will beam upon its character and conduct with inexpressible and transporting glory.
Having thus, as I flatter myself, shown in a clear light the truth of the Doctrine, contained in the text; I shall now close the discourse with two
REMARKS. 1st. This doctrine places in the strongest point of view the Superiority of the Gospel to every other system of morals.
There are two classes of men, both very numerous, who have employed themselves in forming moral systems for mankind : viz. the ancient Heathen Philosophers, and modern Infidels. It is hardly necessary to observe, that in all moral systems the Supreme Good, or highest interest of Man, and, by consequence, the Nature of Virtue, and the Nature and Means of Happiness, become, of course, prime objects of inquiry. Nothing can more effectually teach us the insufficiency of the human mind to determine the nature of the Supreme Good than the declaration of Varro that the heathen Philosophers had embraced, within his knowledge, two hundred and eighty-eight different opinions concerning this important subject. Nor were their sentiments concerning the nature of Virtue and the nature and means of Happiness, as will be easily supposed, at all more harmonious. Some of them taught that sensual pleasure is the chief good of man; that it consists in freedom from trouble and pain; and that business and cares do not consist with happiness; and therefore, that a man ought not to marry, because a family will give him trouble ; nor engage in public business ; nor meddle with the concerns of the public. They also taught, that nothing, which is in itself pleasurable, is an evil; and that when it is evil, it is so, only because it brings more trouble with it than pleasure; that, therefore, injustice is not an evil in itself, but is evil merely on account of the trouble which it occasions to its author. Some of them placed their supreme happiness in pride, and per
sonal independence of both gods and men. Apathy, or an absolute want of feeling with respect to our own troubles, and those of our fellow-men, was regarded as being essential to this independence. Some of them placed happiness in abstraction from the world; in study; in contemplation; in quietude of mind; in indolence of body; in seclusion from human society; in wealth, power, fame, superiority of talents, and military glory. Of Virtut they appear to have formed no distinct, or definite, conceptions. In some instances, they spoke of it with propriety and truth; but, in others, with such confusion, as to prove, that they were without any correct and satisfactory apprehensions concerning its nature: the several things which they taught, being utterly inconsistent with each other. Different Philosophers placed Virtue in the love, and pursuit, of most of the things, mentioned above, and made it consist with injustice; impurity; impiety ; fraud; falsehood ; the desertion of parents in their old age; unkindness to children; insensibility to the distresses of our fellow-creatures; and generally with a dereliction of almost every thing, which the Scriptures have declared to be virtuous.
These observations are sufficient to show how infinitely remote these philosophers were from just conceptions concerning this inestimable subject.
Infidels have left this important concern of man, substantially as they found it. I cannot, at the present time, attempt to repeat their various doctrines. It will be sufficient to observe, at the present time, that Mr. Hume, one of the last and ablest of them, has taught us in form, that Modesty, Humility, Repentance of sin, and the forgiveness of injuries, are vices; and that pride, therefore, impudence, resentment, revenge, and obstinacy in sin, are by necessary consequence, virtues. This scheme needs no comment. Virtue, such as this, would lay the world waste, and render him who possessed it a fiend. From what a glorious height do the Scriptures look down on this
а grovelling, deformed, self-contradictory chaos of opinions! How sublime is the scheme which they exhibit concerning this amazing subject! Virtue, they inform us, is the love of doing good: an active principle; the real and whole Energy of an Intelligent mind, exerted for the exalted purpose of producing happiness. In the exertions of this principle, in the enjoyment which attends it, and in the happiness which it creates, the Scriptures place the supreme good of man, and of every other Intelligent being. Here, and here only, is it placed with true wisdom, and immoveable certainty. The mind in this manner is happy, within, by its self-approbation ; and, without, by being in the highest degree useful to others, and by receiving from the hand of others all the good, which the same Usefulness in them can return to itself. Here all the provision, which is either possible, or desirable, is made for enjoyment unmingled and complete. The character, the personal character, , becomes glorious; the affections delightful; the conduct divine. In a community, governed by this principle, every individual, however great, or however small, is honourable and lovely, both in his own sight, and that of others : every one is useful, also : every one is happy.
2dly. The great practical inference from this doctrine is, that doing good is the only proper Employment of man.
You, my Friends and Brethren, were created for this great purpose; not to gain reputation, learning, wealth, knowledge, power, honour, or pleasure; but to do good, not to gain even heaven itself, or immortal life ; but to ascend to heaven, and to acquire immortal life, that in that happy world you may employ the immense of duration in an endless diffusion of beneficence, and an endless exercise of piety and praise. Make, then, the end for which God designed your existence, and your faculties, the voluntary and proper end of all your wishes, designs, and labours.
With sober and affecting meditation set it before yourselves in form, and system, as the purpose for which you were made, endowed, preserved, and blessed hitherto; as the purpose, which is prescribed by the will of God; and as the purpose, to which you are, therefore, voluntarily, and supremely, to devote yourselves. Let each of you say to himself, “ I was formed for the great and glorious purpose of doing good. This was the will of my Maker; it is my own supreme interest; it is the supreme interest of my fellow-creatures in me. Be this, then, the ultimate end of all my thoughts, wishes, and labours; and let nothing hinder me from pursuing it always. While I lawfully seek for reputation, properiy, learning, eloquence, power, or any other earthly good, I am resolved to seek them, only in subordination to this great purpose ; as means, merely, to this end. To form, and to execute, this resolution, give me grace, wisdom, and strength, O thou Father of all mercies that I may perform thy holy will, and in some measure resemble thy perfect and glorious character, through Jesus Christ. Amen."
This solemn proposition of the subject to yourselves would, almost of course, give it a distinction and importance in your view, which would induce you to keep it supremely, and habitually, in sight, and render it a standard, to which all your conduct would be referred for approbation or rejection; a moral scale, by which you would measure every thought, and pursuit ; a touchstone by which you would distinguish every species of alloy from the most fine gold. It would, also, direct your aims to a higher mark; and give your efforts a nobler character. Men usually, even good men,
, rather compound in their affections with conscience, and the Scriptures, for a mixture of worldliness and virtue, than insist on obsery
a ing nothing, but the dictates of virtue. They aim at being virtuous; and not at being only, and eminently, virtuous. One reason for this is, they take it for granted, that they shall never cease to sin, in
the present world, and, therefore, never mistrust either how practicable, or how important it is, that they should vigorously determine to avoid all sin, and practice nothing but virtue. Their designs are divided between their worldly business and Religion. These they consider as two separate, and in a degree incoherent, objects; both necessary, but still clashing; when they ought to consider their worldly business merely as one great dictate, and duty, of Religion ; one great branch of the virtue, which they are to exhibit, and of the good, which they are to do. Worldly business is to be done; but it is to be done only as a part of our religion and duty. Even our amusements are always to be regarded in this manner; and are useful, and lawful, only as parts of our duty, and as means of enabling us better to perform other duties, of higher import
From exact obedience to the great rule, Whether ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God, there is no exemption.
Were the solemn proposition which I have urged, to be formed, and habitually kept in sight; the character of man would soon be, not sinless indeed, but incomparably more holy, blameless, and undefiled, than we now usually find it. Human Virtue would be less clouded; would assume a brighter and more celestial aspect; and would be gilded with a clearer and more genial sunshine.
In whatever sphere of life you are placed, employ all your pow. ers, and all your means of doing good, as diligently and vigorously as you can. Direct your efforts to the well-being of those who are within your reach, and not to the inhabitants of a distant age, or country; of a future generation, or of China or Peru. Neglect not a humble kind office within your power, for a vast and sublime one, which you cannot accomplish. The Scriptures require you to feed the hungry, and to clothe the naked; to instruct the ignorant, and reclaim the vicious. Philosophical philanthropy calls to
. the commiseration of nations, the overthrow of governments, the improvement of the vast society of Man, and the exaltation of this wretched world to freedom, science, and happiness. The only objection to your labouring in this magnificent field seems to be, that your labours will be to no purpose. On the Scriptural plan, you will at least do something; and your two mites will not be forgotten. Extend your efforts, however, as far as you can extend them, to any effect; to as many, and as great objects, as Providence places within your reach; and as many ways as you shall find in your power. Promote, as much as possible, relief, comfort, health, knowledge, virtue, and happiness, both as private and public objects. Promote them by your talents, your property, your influence, your labours, and your example. Let every day, when passing in review before the scrutinizing eye of conscience, present a regular series of beneficence, which will soften the bed of your repose, and rise as a sweet memorial before God.