Page images
PDF
EPUB

moting the welfare of others, than the selfish man does, in seeking to advance his private interests; yet the latter may derive some enjoyment from the active engagement of his faculties, in carrying into execution his plans of ambition or avarice.

Again, benevolence and selfishness may both find satisfaction in obtaining the objects of their pursuit. Though disappointment is, sooner or later, the certain result of the aims and labors of the selfish man, yet he may experience a momentary pleasure, from the accomplishment of his designs.

Still farther, the benevolent and the selfish man agree in making some provision for their own welfare. The best of men are not divested of all regard for their own individual interests. In common with others, they take measures to preserve their lives, to avoid disgrace and suffering, to procure for themselves the means of a comfortable subsistence. Their own immortal interests are, at least, as dear to them, as endless happiness is to the sinner. Seeking the good of others does not eradicate all desire to benefit ourselves.

Once more, the most benevolent man, even in his most benevolent actions, may have respect to a reward, distinct from the object of his benevolence ; distinct from the gratification which he finds, or expects to find, in loving, pursuing, and attaining that object. The compassionate physician, who has a much higher regard for the lives and health of his patients, than for his own fees, may yet have some respect, in his practice, to the pecuniary compensation by which he and his family are to be supported. The true patriot, who makes great sacrifices for the good of his country, may look for some reward of his labors, in the gratitude and affectionate remembrance of those to whose interests he is devoted. The martyr, who yields up his life for the defence of the truth, may hope to hear, from his Saviour and final Judge, the approving sentence, “ Well done, good and faithful servant. '

Notwithstanding these several points of agreement between benevolence and selfishness, there is still a wide and radical difference between them.

In the first place, the happiness of others is the immediate object of benevolent affection. Their welfare is loved for its own sake, and not merely because it is subservient to the private interest of the individual who exercises this affection. He not only rejoices with those who rejoice ; but their joy is

the object which excites his joy. He not only weeps with those who weep, but it is the view of their suffering which, in itself considered, gives him pain. The man who is wholly selfish rejoices in the welfare of others only so far as it may be the means of promoting his own private interest. The merchant who is greedy of gain may contemplate with satisfaction the luxuriant fields and abundant harvests of the farmers in his vicinity, as promising to himself a ready and profitable market; while he envies the success of those who are competitors with him, in his own line of business. A prince may rejoice in the prosperity of his subjects, as constituting the glory and strength of his realm; while he repines at the welfare of neighboring and rival kingdoms. He may hate his enemies as cordially as he loves his friends.

According to some writers, benevolence consists in seeking our own happiness, by promoting the welfare of others. It is true, that the benevolent man takes pleasure in advancing the interests of others; for his benevolence essentially consists in his being pleased with the happiness of others. This his pleasure is what immediately prompts him to efforts for promoting their welfare. But it does not follow, that he seeks their good merely as a means of increasing his own enjoyment; that their happiness is not an ultimate object of his pursuit; a good which he endeavors to secure for its own sake, as we!l as for the gratification which he expects to experience, in accomplishing bis purpose.

A man who is wholly selfish may do good to those who, in return, will do good to him. He may aim to purchase the favor of others, by services which he renders to them. He imparts to others, expecting to receive, in some way, an equivalent in exchange. But his kind offices are not extended to those from whom he has no hope of remuneration. The prospect of a reward may be a motive, even to a benevolent

But it is not the only object of his pursuit. Again, to the truly benevolent man, there is a higher object of affection and pursuit, than his own private interest. The good of his country, of the world, of the universe, he loves more than himself. The welfare of the divine kingdom is with him, not only an ultimate end, but his chief end. If he loves happiness for its own sake, wherever it may be found, he will prefer a greater good to a less, the welfare of thousands to his own personal gratification. When he apprehends

man.

a competition between the two, he will not sacrifice the interest of multitudes, for the benefit of himself alone. Though he does not love his neighbor, his equal, better tban himself, yet he regards the happiness of a nation as of more value, than the gratification of himself, a single individual.

Once more, the benevolent man's love is impartial. He does not prefer his own interest to an equal interest of his neighbor, provided the one is as distinctly in his view as the other. He

He may do more for his own welfare, than for that of a stranger; not because it is his own, but because he has a more particular knowledge of his private interests, and also because the charge of providing for them is specially committed to him by his Maker.

Reality of Impartial Benevolence.

The preceding observations have been made, not for the purpose of proving the reality of such benevolence as has now been described; but to explain the meaning of the expressions love of happiness, self-love, selfishness, disinterested benevolence, ultimate end, &c. Let us now inquire, whether the benevolence here spoken of is any where to be found among men; a benevolence which is not uninterested, but disinterested; which is not without enjoyment in its exercise, while it has for its object the enjoyment of others; which may aim at future gratification, in performing acts of beneficence, but which also seeks the welfare of others, as the direct object of these acts; which does good, not merely for the sake of a reward, but from the love of doing good; which makes the interests of the divine kingdom not only an ultimate end, but the chief end of its pursuits.

1. In the first place, if a man has no regard for the welfare of others, for its own sake, he cannot seek it on account of the happiness which he himself is to derive from its attainment. For, by the supposition, it is an object from which he can expect no gratification. If he takes no pleasure in the prospect of securing it hereafter, he will find none in actually attaining it, unless there should be a change in his disposition. Benevolence exercised from self-love only is a manifest absurdity. If an object is not loved for itself, it cannot be loved for the mere pleasure of loving it. When any thing is primarily sought for its own excellence,

it
may

also be

[ocr errors]

sought for the sake of the gratification which it affords us. But this secondary motive can have no place, in reference to an object which is perfectly indifferent. The expectation of enjoyment, from the exercise of particular affections, presupposes objects adapted to the gratification of these affections. The pleasure resulting from the satisfaction of particular desires implies, that these desires were previously directed to some object different from the pleasure itself. This pleasure, which is the effect of the gratified desires, is not the cause of these desires ; is not the object which excites them. If in the nature of a thing, there is nothing adapted to excite a particular affection in the mind, the mind has no power to call forth from itself this affection towards that thing. Loving an object is taking pleasure in the object ; and not merely taking pleasure in the pleasure. If we could excite in ourselves, at will, pleasing emotions towards any object whatever, nothing would be of easier attainment than perfect happiness. All that would be requisite for this purpose, would be to resolve to be pleased with everything which could possibly be brought before our minds. We might be as happy in the prospect of poverty and disgrace, as with the expectation of affluence and renown.

It may be said, that we can desire nothing but that which is the means of good to ourselves; present good, in the exercise of pleasing emotions ; future good, in the gratification to be found in obtaining the object desired. But does this imply, that our own enjoyment is the only thing which we ever desire ; that there is nothing else in the universe which we seek on its own account? Because we are gratified with the attainment of the objects of our desire, does it follow that these objects are in themselves not desired ? Does our taking pleasure in witnessing the happiness of others imply, that our own pleasure is the only ihing in which we take pleasure? When a pious mother's heart is filled with rapture, at the conversion of a beloved child, has she no desire for the everlasting salvation of the child, on its own account? Does the fact that she finds or expects a high gratification, in believing that one so dear to her has obtained a title to heavenly glory, imply that this self-gratification is all which she desired in seeking the momentous change? Is it not cvident, on the contrary, that if the holiness and happiness of the child were not, in the first place, sought for their own sake, they

could not be sought, for the sake of the gratification to be expected from their attainment? It is one thing to assert that those objects only are desired by us which may,

in some way or other, be the means of enjoyment to ourselves; and a very different thing to hold, that they are desired for the sake of this enjoyment only ;—for the sake of the happiness of desiring them. The latter proposition does not follow as a logical consequence from the other.

Is happiness the ultimate end of all voluntary action? If an ultimate end is that which is sought for its own sake, and if we ever seek the good of others for its own sake, then our own happiness is not the only ultimate end of our actions. The welfare of others may be to us both an ultimate and a subordinate end; ultimate, as being a good in itself; subordinate, as contributing to our own gratification. Our own future happiness may be both an ultimate and a subordinale end. We

may

seek the salvation of our souls, as a good in itself, and also as a means of bringing glory and joy to the Saviour. Our own benefit may be an ultimate end, while it is not the ultimate end, that is, the only ultimate end of all our actions. To the truly pious man, the glory of God and his kingdom is not only an ultimate end, but his principal ultimate end. He places a higher value upon it, than upon his own personal gratification.

But is not our own pleasure our ultimate motive to benevolent action ; that which immediately prompts us to act? If by action be here meant imperative acts of the will, put forth to obtain the objects of our desire, these acts are undoubtedly prompted by our present pleasure, in hope of obtaining what we desire. This is the internal, or subjective motive to voluntary action. But this present pleasure is not the future good which is the ultimate end of our action. The hope which a thirsty man has of soon drinking freely from the flowing fountain, is not the pleasure which he will find in the draught itself.

If by benevolent action be meant benevolent affection, pleasing emotion exercised in the prospect of good to others; ihis present pleasure is not the motive to itself. A man is not pleased, merely because he is pleased. If he lakes pleasure in any object, the pleasure itself is not the object which he seeks. Future pleasure, or the continuance of present pleasure, may indeed be an object of pursuit. But

« PreviousContinue »