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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, plunJer, 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 van. ish 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
h 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.
As the soul is of more worth than the body; as the interests of eternity are more important than those of time; so the immortal concerns of man demand, proportionally, the good-will
, and the kind offices, of his fellow-men. In discharging the duties, created by this great object of benevolence, we are required to instruct, counsel, reprove, rebuke, restrain, encourage, comfort, support, and invigorate them, so far as it shall be in our power. We are also bound to forgive cheerfully their unkindness to us; to bear with their frowardness ; to endure patiently their slowness of apprehension, or reformation; and to repeat our efforts for their good; as we have opportunity, unto the end. For this purpose we are bound to hope concerning them, so long as hope can be exercised; that neither we, nor they, may be discouraged; and to pray for them without ceasing. All these offices of kindness are the immediate dictates of Evangelical Love. He, therefore, who does not perform them in some good measure at least, can lay no claim to the benevolence of the Gospel.
REMARKS. 1st. From these observations it is evident, that the Second great Command of the Moral Law is, as it is expressed in the text, like the First.
It is not only prescribed by the same authority, and possessed of the same obligation, unalterable and eternal ; but it enjoins exactly the exercise of the same disposition. The Love, required
, in this command, is exactly the same which is required in the first : a single character, operating now towards God, and now towards our fellow-creatures. Equally does it resemble the first in its importance. That regulates all our conduct towards God; this towards other Intelligent beings. Each is of infinite importance; each is absolutely indispensable. If either did not exist, or were not obeyed; a total and dreadful chasm would be found in the virtue and happiness of the universe. United, they perfectly provide for both. The duty, prescribed in the first, is undoubt. edly first in order: but that, prescribed by the last, is no less indispensable to the glory of God, and the good of the Intelligent creation.
2dly. Piety and Morality are here shown to be inseparable. It has, I trust
, been satisfactorily evinced, that the love, required in the divine law, is a single disposition; indivisible in its nature ; diversified, and distinguishable, only as exercised toward different objects. When exercised towards God, it is called Piety; when exercised towards mankind, it is customarily styled Morality. Wherever both objects are known, both are loved of course by every one, in whom this disposition exists. He, therefore, who loves not God, loves not man; and he who does not love man, does not love God.
3dly. We here see, that the Religion of the Scriptures is the true, and only, source of all the duties of life.
On the obedience of the first and great commandment is found. ed the obedience of the second : and on these two hung all the Law and the Prophets : the precepts of Christ, and the instructions of the Apostles. Religion commences with Love to God; and terminates in love to man. Thus begun, and thus ended, it involves every duty; and produces every action, which is rewardable, praiseworthy, or useful. There is nothing, which ought to be done, which it does not effectuate : there is nothing which ought not to be done, which it does not prevent. It makes Intelligent creatures virtuous and excellent. It makes mankind good parents and children, good husbands and wives, good brothers and sisters, good neighbours and friends, good rulers and subjects; and renders families, neighbourhoods, and States, orderly, peaceful, harmonious, and happy. As it produces the punctual
formance of all the duties, so it effectually secures all the rights, of mankind. For rights, in us, are nothing, but just claims to the performance of duties by others. Thus the Religion of the Scriptures is the true and only source of safety, peace, and prosperity, to the world.
THE LAW OF GOD.-THE SECOND GREAT COMMANDMENT.-THE
EFFECTS OF BENEVOLENCE ON PERSONAL HAPPINESS.
Acts xx. 35.—
I have shewed you all things, how that, so labouring, ye ought to support the weak; and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said ; It is more blessed to give than to receive.
In the preceding discourse, I considered, at some length, that Love to our Neighbour, which is required in the Second Command of the moral law. I shall now attempt to show, that this disposition is more productive of happiness, than any other.
The speech of St. Paul, recorded in this chapter, I have long considered as the most perfect example of pathetic eloquence, ever uttered by man. The occasion, the theme, the sentiments, the doctrines, the style, are all of the most exquisite kind, wholly suited to each other, and calculated to make the deepest impression on those who heard him. The elders of the Church of Ephesus, to whom it was addressed, were ministers of the Gospel; converts to Christianity made by himself; his own spiritual children, who owed to him, under God, their deliverance from endless sin and misery, and their attainment of endless holiness and happiness. They were endeared to him, as he was to them, by the tenderest of all possible ties; presiding over a Church, formed in the capital of one of the principal countries in the world; at a period when heresy, contention, and dissoluteness, were prophetically seen by him to be advancing, with hasty strides, to ruin Christianity in that region. This address was, therefore, delivered at a time when all that was dear to him, or them, was placed in the most imminent hazard of speedy destruction. They were the persons, from whom almost all the exertions were to be expected which might avert this immense evil, and secure the contrary inestimable good; the Shepherds, in whose warm affection, care, and faithfulness, lay the whole future safety of the flock. He was the Apostle, by whom the flock had been gathered into the fold of Christ, and by whom the shepherds were formed, qualified, and appointed. He had now come, for the great purpose of admonishing them of their own duty, and of the danger of the flock, committed to their charge. He met them with the tenderness of a parent, visiting his children after a long absence. He met them for the last time. He assembled them to hear his last farewell on this side the grave. VOL. JU.