Page images
[ocr errors]

the act of loving is distinct from the object of love. It is also distinct from the motive by which it is excited.

What then is the motive, the external, or objective motive ofbenevolent affection ; the cause or reason why it is exercised ? It is the good which is the object of this affection ; primarily the happiness of others, secondarily the gratification which we expect to find, in securing this object. It is the same as the ultimate end of beneficent action. From the fact, that our present pleasure is that which prompts us to imperative acts of the will, we are not warranted to draw the conclusion, that our personal future gratification is exclusively the motive which excites our emotions and desires. If every thing which we love gives us pleasure, it does not fol. low that that pleasure, or the continuance of it, is the only ultimate object of our love. Because we cannot see without eyes, we do not infer, that we see nothing but our own eyes.

It is sometimes said, that although the selfish and the benevolent man agree in making their own happiness the ultimate end of all their actions ; yet that the difference between them consists in the particular kind of happiness which they seek ; that the latter finds his chief enjoyment in glorifying God, and doing good to others. But this implies, that the glory of God, and the good of others are sought on their own account. If they are not, no gratification will be found in advancing them. If the apostate spirits in the prison of darkness were admitted to heaven, with their present disposition, they would derive no pleasure from witnessing the transports of holy joy and praise around them.

2. The voice of conscience decides, that we are bound to seek the welfare of others for its own sake.

Their happiness is as really a good in itself as ours is. It is as worthy to be sought for its own sake. We all desire that others should take an interest in our welfare. We are in distress, if we entertain a suspicion, that no one has any sincere regard for us. When we claim, that we are entitled to the benevolent affection of others, this is an acknowledgment that we are bound to reciprocate the disinterested good will which we ask from them.

That this is our duty, is evident also from the consideration, that nothing short of this will secure the harmony and highest happiness of a community of rational beings. A mere profession of benevolent regard, without the reality, will not

answer the purpose. Nor will the end be attained by an exchange of good offices, performed merely with a view of receiving an equivalent in relurn. There must be, on the part of each member of the society, as sincere a desire for the prosperity of others, in itself considered, as for his own personal welfare. This alone will prevent these conflicting interests and pursuits which, if not prevented, would fill the community with discord, and violence, and wretchedness.

3. The common voice and language of mankind make a marked distinction between benevolence and selfishness. All profess to have a sincere regard for the good of others. All agree in condemning selfishness, and approving benevolence. Even those speculating philosophers whose theories are inconsistent with a clear distinction between the iwo, would deem it an insult to be charged with being altogether selfish. The men who are the most exclusively devoted to their own private interests, endeavor to assume, as far as practicable, an appearance of regard for the public good ; well knowing that illis is the only way in which they can escape the cenisure of their fellow inen. It is true that in our fallen world, the appearance and profession of benevolence are too often false and hollow. But where there are so many counterfeits there inust be something to be counterfeited ; some real excellence, which it is the aim of the disseinbler to imitate. Who thinks of counterfeiting that which is commonly believed 10 have no existence ?

4. The sacred scriptures maintain the distinction which has been made between benevolence and sellishness. An impartial regard for the good of others is required in the divine law. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves, with the same sincere desire for his welfare, which we have for ourown. As our own happiness is the ultimate object of our love for ourselves; so his happiness should be the ultimate object of our love for our neighbor. As we do not love ourselves merely for the sake of the pleasure found in the exercise of this love, so, if we are truly benevolent, we do not love our neighbor solely for the sake of the pleasure of loving him. His happiness may be as truly an object of desire to ns, ag

If we seek our individual welfare for its own sake, we are bound to seek his wellare for its own sike.

At the head of one of the darkest catalogues of vices, specified in the New Testament, we find this description : "Men


olir own.

shall be lovers of their own selves."* How can this be a distinguishing trait of a particular class of persons, if all men make their own happiness the only ultimate object of their affections and pursuits ? “Charity," says the Apostle, seeketh not her own.”+ How can ihis be true, if she seeketh, as an ultimate end, nothing else? If, as the same Apostle says, “None of us," that is, no Christian," liveth to himself,”I how can it be true, that every Christian makes himself-his own personal interest, the only ultimate end for which he lives?

The disinterested benevolence of Jesus Christ is exhibited in the scriptures, for the imitation of his followers. “We then, that are strong, ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbor, for his good, to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself."$" Though He was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.”I “ Look not every man on his own things, but also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." When we were yet enemies, Christ died for us.

His sufferings and death, for the salvation of a revolted and perishing world, are the most exalted exercise of self-denying benevolence which has ever been brought to our knowledge.

It is claimed, however, that like Moses, “ He had respect to the recompense of the reward:” that“ for the joy that was set before him, He endured the cross ;" that because “ He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, God hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name;" that He hath “set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power and might, and dominion."**

It is true, that Christ is spoken of, in the scriptures, as having respect to a reward for his unparalleled benevolence. But are we justified in drawing the conclusion, that the reward set before him was the only motive of his actions ; the only ultimate end which He was endeavoring to obtain ?

* 2. Tim. iii. 2. f 1. Cor. xiii. 5. I Rom. xiv. 7. s Rom. xv. 1, 2, 3. || 2. Cor. viii. 9. I Philip ii. 4,5.

** Philip ii. 8, 9; Ephes, i. 20, 21,

When it is said, that “ for our sake He became poor," does this mean, that it was for His own sake only that He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death? Did He not seek the everlasting salvation of multitudes which no man can number, as a good in itself considered, as well as in reference to the reward which He was to receive? Let us look at the nature of this reward. What is "the joy set before Him?" Was it not, parıly at least, the joy of seeing the heavenly world filled with innumerable hosis redeemed from perdition, and made perfect in holiness and happiness forever ? But how could this be a source of joy to Hin, if He had no regard to their everlasting welfare for iis own sake ?

It may be farther said, that even in the performance of the most viriuous acis, we are encouraged to look for a reward. “By patient continuance in well-doing, we are lo scek for glory and honor, and immortality, and eternal life.” “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and thy father who seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” “When thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind, and thou shalt be blessed, for they cannot recompense thee ; for Thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just." But do these and similar passages imply that the good man has no other ultimale end in view, ihan a reward to himself ; that there is nothing else which he seeks for its own sake; that when he invites the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, 10 his house, he has no regard for their welfare, in itself considered; that a future benefit to himself is all which induces him to relieve them ; that the promotion of his own glory is his only motive to patient continuance in well-do

ing ?

5. We may appeal to the consciousness of the pious and benevolent, to decide whether their own individual interest is the only ultimate end of all their actions. Have they no regard for the happiness of others, for the glory of God, and the welfare of His kingdom, in themselves considered? The inquiry is not whether they have any ultimate respect to their own happiness; but whether this is all which they are seeking to obtain for its own sake. Ask the Christian who devotes his time, his talents, his atlainments, and his possessions to the service of God, whether he is conscious of having no other final object of pursuit, than his own happiness, in ihe present or in the future life. Ask the sincere patriot,

who sacrifices his private interests to the good of his country, if he is seeking their prosperity merely as a means of increasing his own happiness. Has he no regard for the welfare of his fellow citizens, for its own sake? Ask the com. passionate visitor of the destitute, the sick and the afflicted, whether his own gratification is the only end at which he is aiming, in his efforts to relieve them. He doubtless anticipates enjoyment, in witnessing their deliverance from suffering. But is his own enjoyment all the ultimate good to which his benevolent labors are directed ? Has he no regard for the relief of the distressed as a good in itself considered ? If he rejoices in their joy, then it is, on its own account, an object of his pursuit.

Ask the Christian missionary, who breaks away from the strong ties of family endearments and early associations, to toil and die in distant lands, whether the principal object of his pursuit is the salvation of the heathen, or the pleasure which he himself will find in witnessing their deliverance their joy in being saved, or his own joy in seeing them saved. When a zealous and faithful minister, in a time of deep religious interest among the people of his charge, exhausis his mental and physical strength, in labors for the conversion of those who are yet in their sins, is it chiefly for their good, or his own, that he instructs, and warns, and fervenily prays ? When he arrives at the heavenly world, and from time to time finds one and another of his former hearers following him to the abodes of endless felicity, what is it that swells most the tide of his joy, the fact that so many are saved, or the consideration that he was made an instrument of their repentance and salvation ?

Benevolence is liable to be confounded with Selfishness.

Notwithstanding the essential difference between benevolence and selfishness, yet they are, on many accounts, liable to be confounded. One reason why many deny the existence of any benevolent affection which does not spring from self-love, probably is, that not being conscious of any such affection in their own breasis, they are slow to believe that it is exercised by others. All appearances of disinterested ben, volence in their fellow inen, they think may

be accounted for, in the same way in which they know from experi

« PreviousContinue »