Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

To enforce their duty in the strongest manner, he begins his address with reminding them of his manner of life, his piety, faithfulness, zeal, tenderness for them, disinterestedness of conduct, fortitude under the severest sufferings, diligence in preaching the Gospel, steady dependence on God, and entire devotion to the great business of the salvation of men. To them, as eye witnesses, he appeals for the truth of his declarations. Them he charges solemnly, before God, to follow his example: warning them of approaching and accumulating evil; and commending them to the protection, and grace, and truth, of God, for their present safety, and future reward.

With this extensive, most solemn, and most impressive preparation, he closes his discourse, in a word, with the great truth which he wished to enforce, and the great duty which he wished to enjoin, as the sum, and substance, of all his instructions, precepts, and example; exhorting them to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, which he said, It is more blessed to give, than to receive.

In no remains of Demosthenes, or Cicero, can be found the same simplicity, address, solemnity, tenderness, and sublimity, united. Paul was a man immensely superior to either of these celebrated Orators in excellence of character; and with the aid of Christianity to influence, and Inspiration to direct, rose to a height, and enlarged his views to an extent, of which no other man was ever capable. His eloquence, like the poetry of Isaiah, rises beyond every parallel ; and the excellence of his disposition, seconded in a glorious manner the greatness of his views, the tenderness of his sentiments, and the sublimity of his conceptions. He speaks as if he indeed possessed the tongue of Angels; and the things which he utters are such, as Angels, without superior aid, would never have been able to conceive.

The Words, which he declares to have been spoken by the Satiour, are no where recorded in the Gospels, as having been uttered in the manner here specified. They were, however, unquestiona. bly the words of Christ; and not improbably addressed to Paul bimself. Be this as it may, they are words of the highest possible import ; and may be justly considered as the language of all our Saviour's preaching, and of all his conduct. The Spirit by which he was governed, they perfectly describe ; the actions which he performed, and the sufferings which he underwent, they perfectly explain. Of all his precepts they are a complete summary; and of his whole character, as a moral being, they are a succinct, but full and glorious exhibition.

The import of them cannot be easily mistaken, unless from choice. To give, is an universal description of communicating good ; to receive, an equally extended description of gaining it from others. The former of these two kinds of conduct is pronounced here to be happier or more blessed than the latter. To be hlessed, is to receive happiness from God, from our fellow-crea

a

tures, or from ourselves; and denotes, therefore, all the good, which we do now, or shall hereafter, enjoy. The doctrine of the text is, therefore, that,

It is more desirable to communicate happiness, than to receive it from others.

I am aware that the selfishness, which dwells in every human mind, and clouds every human intellect, as well as biasses every human decision concerning moral subjects, revolts at this doctrine. To admit it, is a plain condemnation of our ruling character, and a judicial sentence of reprobation on all our conduct. In a world of selfish beings, where one universal disposition reigns, and ravages; it cannot but be expected by a man, even moderately versed in human nature, that the general suffrage will be given, in favour of the general character. Every man knows, that his own cause is in question; and that his vote is an acquittal, or condemnation of himself. From this interested tribunal an impartial issue cannot be hoped. In a virtuous world, instead of that proverbial, and disgraceful aphorism, that, where you find a man's interest, you find the man, the nobler and more vindicable sentiment, that, we should find the man, where we find his duty, would unquestionably prevail. If the united voice of our race, therefore, should decide against this great evangelical doctrine, the innumerable company of Angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect, may be easily expected to give their unqualified decision in its favour. In their happy residence, a selfish being would be a prodigy, as well as a monster.

Even in our own world, we may, however, lay hold on facts, which fully evince the doctrine to be possible. Parents are often found preferring the happiness of their children to their own personal and private good, and enjoying more satisfaction in communicating good to them, than in gaining it from the hands of others. Friends have frequently found their chief happiness in promoting the well-being of the objects of their friendship. Patriots have, sometimes at least

, cheerfully forgotten all private concerns, and neglected the whole business of gaining personal gratification, for the sake of rendering important services to their beloved country. The Apostles also, with a spirit eminently disinterested and heavenly, cheerfully sacrificed every private consideration for the divine purpose of accomplishing the salvation of their fellow-men. Nothing of this nature moved them ; neither counted they their lives dear unto themselves; so that they might finish their course with joy, and the ministry which they had received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God.

Now, what forbids; what I mean, in the nature of things; that, with an affection as tender and vigorous, as parents feel for their children, and friends for their friends; which patriots have at times felt for their country, and which the Apostles of Christ felt for the souls of their fellow-men; we should, in a nobler state of exist

ence, escape from the bonds of selfishness, and send forth our good-will to every intelligent being whom we know, in such a manner, as to take delight in the happiness of all around us, and 10 experience our first enjoyment in communicating good, wherever we could find a recipient. That such a disposition would be a desirable one, will not be disputed. Why may it not exist ? What is there, which will, of necessity, forbid such enlargement, excellency, and dignity, of moral character? Why may not a world be filled with Intelligent beings, devoted to this great and Godlike end, and gloriously exhibiting the image and beauty of their Creator? The only answer to these questions, which an opponent can bring, is, that in this guilty, wretched world, the contrary spirit universally prevails. On the same ground, the tenants of a gaol may rationally determine, that the mass of fraud, theft, rape, and murder, for which they are consigned to chains and gibbets, is the true and only character, which exists in the palace of sovereignty, the hall of legislation, the household of piety, and the Church of God.

Admitting, then, that such a disposition is possible ; admitting, that it has, at least in superior worlds, a real existence; admitting, still farther, as all who really believe the dictates of the Gospel must admit, that it exists in every sincere Christian, even in this world: I proceed to establish the doctrine by observing,

1. That all the happiness, which is enjoyed in the Universe, flows originally from the voluntary activity of Intelligent beings.

All happiness is contrived ; and is brought into existence by carrying that contrivance into execution. Intelligent beings alone can contrive, or execute. From them, from their voluntary agency, therefore, all happiness springs. God, the GREAT INTELLIGENT, began this wonderful and immense work. Intelligent creatures, endued with the faculties necessary for this purpose, coincide with him, as instruments, in carrying on the vast design. On the part of Him, or them, or both, it is the result of design. If happiness, then, is to exist at all, it must flow from disposition ; and plainly from a disposition to do good : this, and a disposition to do evil, being the only active and productive principles in the whole nature of things. À disposition to gain happiness from others, could plainly produce nothing; and were there no other, the universe would be a blank, a desert, in which enjoyment could never be found. The capacity for it would indeed exist; but the means of filling it would be wanting. The channels would open, and wind; but the living fountain, with which they were to be supplied, would be dry. The soil would be formed; and the seeds might be sown; but the life-giving influence of the rain and the sunshine would be withholden. Of course, no verdure, flowers, nor fruits, would spring up, to adorn, and enrich, the immense and desolate surface.

As great, therefore, as the difference is between the boundless good which exists, and for ever will exist, in the great kingdom of

[ocr errors]

Jehovah, and an absolute barrenness and dearth throughout this incomprehensible field; so great is the difference between these two dispositions.

II. Virtue, the supreme excellence and glory of Intelligent beings, is merely the love of doing good.

No attribute of a rational nature is, probably, so much commended, even in this sinful world, as Virtue; yet the commendations, given of it, are, in many instances at least, unmeaning and confused; as if those who extol it had no definite ideas of its nature, and knew not in what its real value consists.

All the worth of Virtue, in my own view, lies in this ; that it is the original, or voluntary, and universal, source of happiness; partly, as its affections are happy in themselves, and partly, as they are the sources of all other happiness. There is, originally, nothing valuable, but happiness. The value of Virtue consists only in its efficacy to produce happiness. This is its value in the Creator : this is its value in its creatures. Hence, and hence only, is Virtue the ornament, the excellency, and the loveliness, of Intelligent beings.

Virtue, as exercised towards the Creator is, as was shown in a former discourse, summed up IN LOVE TO HIM; in Benevolence, Complacency, and Gratitude : good will to his supreme blessedness, and to the accomplishment of his glorious designs; a delight in his perfect character, which forms, and accomplishes, the boundless good of his Creation; and a thankful reception and acknowledgment, of the effects of his goodness, communicated either to ourselves, or to others. All these are affections in the highest degree active; and prompt us to study what we shall render to the Lord for his benefits, and to co-operate with all our powers in the promotion of the designs which he has made known to us. All the good, indeed, which we can do to him, if it may be called by this name, is no other than to please him; by exhibiting always a disposition like his own. With this disposition he is ever delighted; and he has been pleased to inform us, that in his sight it is of great price.

Virtue, as exercised towards our fellow-creatures, is the same love directed to them, and perfectly active in promoting their well-being.

In all the forms of justice, faithfulness, truth, kindness, compassion, charity, and forgiveness, in every act of self-denial and selfgovernment, this is still the soul and substance. But Virtue is a character, beyond comprehension superior to any other, and in a literal sense infinitely more desirable. It is the only worth, the only excellence, the only beauty, of the mind; the only dignity; the only glory.

To the spirit, which is occupied in gaining good from others, or which aims at enjoyment merely, it is transcendently superior, in numerous particulars

It is the source of all internal, moral good.

The mind is a world of itself; in which happiness, of a high and refined kind, can exist: a happiness, without which external good can be but of little value. In the great business of forming happiness, its first concern is with itself. If disorder, tumult, and tempest, reign within: order, peace, and serenity, from without, will find no admission. The first step towards real good is selfapprobation. So long as the mind is necessitated to see itself deformed, odious, and contemptible; so long as the conscience reproaches and stings ; so long as the affections are inordinate, base, insincere, rebellious, impious, selfish, and guilty ; so long as fraud is cherished, truth rejected, sin loved, and duty opposed; it is impossible, that quiet consolation, or hope, should find a residence there. Self-condemned, self-abhorred, self-despised, it must fly of design, from all conversation with itself; and find its poor and transient pleasure in the forgetfulness of what it is, and in the hurry and bustle of external employments and companions. From the sweet and peaceful fireside of harmonious and happy affections and purposes ; from the household serenity of a satisfied conscience, and of a blameless life, it is forced abroad, to seek, without success, to slake its thirst for happiness in streets and taverns, in routs and riots. Sickly, pained, and languishing, it looks for health and ease, in medicines which cannot reach the disease, and turns in vain for relief to sports and sounds, for which it has neither eye, nor ear.

But when the love of doing good has once gained dominion over the man, he is become reconciled to his Creator, and to all his commands. This ruling disposition, wholly excellent and lovely in itself, is of course seen to be lovely and excellent. The Conscience smiles with approbation on all the dictates of the heart. The mind becomes at once assured of its own amiableness and worth ; and, surveying the landscape within, beholds it formed of scenes exquisitely beautiful and desirable. The soul, barren and desolate before, is clothed, by the influence of the Moral Sun, and the rain of heaven, with living verdure, and with blossoms and fruits of righteousness. All is pleasant; all is lovely to

No tumult ruffles, no storm agitates. Peace sooths and hushes every disordered affection, and banishes every uneasy purpose; and serenity, like the summer evening, spreads a soft and mild lustre over the cheerful region. Possessed of new and real dignity, and assuming the character of a rational being, the man for the first time enjoys himself; and finds this enjoyment not only new, but noble and expansive ; and, while it furnishes perpetually varied and exquisite good, it sweetens and enhances, all other good. From his happiness within, the transition to that which he finds without, is easy and instinctive. Of one part of this, himself is the immediate parent. When he surveys the objects, to whom he has communicated happiness by relieving their distresses, or originating their enjoyments; the first thing, which

the eye.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »