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I. First, then, there is a negative kind of benevolence, which it is most certainly in every man's power to exercise if he pleases, and that is, ABSTINENCE FROM MISCHIEF. As the first step towards wisdom is to avoid error, and towards happiness to feel no pain, so the first advance towards benevolence is to do no harm. It may seem, perhaps, a great impropriety of expression to dignify this with the name of benevolence. But if benevolence consists, as it certainly does, in contributing to the comfort and happiness of our fellow-creatures, there is not any one act of humanity, that will operate so effectually and extensively to this end, as refraining from every thing that can offend, distress, or injure othet. By far the greatest part of the misery we see in the world, arises not so much from omitting acts of kindness, as from committing acts of unkindness and cruelty; and were all these to cease at once, the effect on the general happiness of mankind would be somewhat similar to that inexpressible comfort we experience in ourselves on the removal of some violent pain. Think only what infinite mischief arises from peevishness, ill-nature, and pride ; from detraction, falsehood, deceit, and treachery; from fraud and oppression; from envy, hatred, anger, lust, ambition, revenge, and the whole infernal family of malevolent passions. Annihilate all the evils that arise from these sources, and this world would be a paradise. Every other kind of charity would be almost unnecessary. For it is the chief business of human compassion, to heal those wounds which human malignity is constantly inflicting. How much, then, is it to be lamented, that this most important branch of charity is not more attended to, than it seems to be! There is no one character in the world, which men are incopperal so ambitious of having ascribed to them, as that of goodnature and benevolence. With some (especially those that reject Christianity, but profess themselves friends to virtue) this is deemed not merely the first of human duties, but the only one worth their notice; the one thing needful, the sum and substance of all morality and religion. One should naturally suppose, therefore, that this virtue at least, this favourite and fashionable virtue, would be perfectly well understood and practised, and every the minutest branch of it most assiduously cultivated and improved. But how far this is from being the case, is but too apparent. The common pretence to it is seldom any thing more than a little constitutional eașiness of temper, a sociability of disposition, and a thoughtless, indiscriminate, perhaps even pernicious liberality. On these grounds do great numbers fancy themselves the kindest, the gentlest, the most benevolent of human beings. And yet, at the same time, these men of benevolence will not scruple, perhaps, where their own interest is concerned, to oppress and harass their inferiors without the least feelings of compassion or remorse, to invade their dearest rights, disregard their most equitable claims, distress them with expensive and tedious litigations, and crush them with the weight of their wealth and power. If envy or ambition, if prejudice or party, if spleen or resentment, inflame their minds, they will say sometimes the bitterest and the cruellest things of those whom they happen to dislike, will caluminate the fairest and most unblemished characters, will misrepresent the best intentioned actions and designs, and give way to such a vehemence of temper and conduct as is utterly inconsistent with all true benevolence. If softer passions take possession of them, these they will often indulge to the very utmost, let what will be the consequence, let who will be the sufferer. The dignity of virtuous innocence, the peace and comfort of families, the ties of friendship, the laws of hospitality, the sanctity of plighted vows, the happiness of those whom they are bound by the most solemn engagements to cherish and to protect; all these, and a thousand other no less sacred obligations, are trifles to them, are brushed away like the morning dew, when they stand in the way of their desires; and multitudes must be made wretched for ever, that they may be triumphant for one moment. And yet if the slightest injury or insult be offered to themselves, they take fire in an instant; they pursue the offender with inextinguishable fury and rancour, and, whilst they are vio
lating every hour the maxims of true honour, will sacrifice to notions of false honour the life of the dearest friend they have in the world. Let not these, let not any such as these, ever pretend to talk of humanity or benevolence. They are ignorant of its first principles, and have the very rudiments of true Christian charity yet to learn. Though to some persons, and on some occasions, they may perhaps be generous and kind; yet if they are dissolute, oppressive, implacable, vindictive, the misery they occasion by these vices will infinitely outweigh all the good they do in other instances, and justly denominate them hard-hearted and inhuman.
II. The very first duty, then, of the benevolent man, is to do harm to no one. Then let him go on to do good to as many as he can. And he may do good to more persons, and in more cases, than he is perhaps aware of. What numberless opportunities, for instance, are there of making others happy in the daily commerce of life (especially in its nearest and tenderest connexions) by an easy, affable, condescending,