Page images

ence, that the same appearances in their own case may be explained. This impression is confirmed by the fact, that there are so many pretensions to purely benevolent action, where there is manifestly none in reality; that those who are the most exclusively and notoriously selfish, are frequently the loudest in their professions of disinterested motives ; that those who have the public good forever on their tongues, are only aimning to make it subservient to their own private interesis ; and that the most ardent patriots are often the most pertinacious in their demands of emolument and office. The hypocrisy which is known to belong to so many is, without consideration, applied to all.

Another reason which may lead some to doubt whether there is any radical difference between benevolence and selfishness is, that many of those who are truly benevolent are so defective in their exercise of this virtuous affection. Their disinterested feelings are mingled with so much that is of an opposite character, that it may be doubtful, even in their own minds, whether all their aims are not selfish ; whether all their actions may not be accounted for, from selflove alone.

Again, our interest and our duty, in the final result, commonly coincide. He who is the most faithful in the discharge of his duty, provides the most effectually for his own welfare in the end. Such are the appointments of infinite wisdom and goodness, that he who has the most benevolent regard for the interests of others, may expect from his Maker the highest rewards for himself. Who among glorified sainis will wear a brighter crown, than he whose love of doing good prompts him to the most self-denying sacrifices for the salvation of his fellow men ? “They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars forever."

The misapprehensions which are so often entertained respecting the nature of disinterested affection, may prevent many from having correct views of the distinction between benevolence and selfishness. By a misapplication of the term self-love, our present pleasure, which prompis us to imperative acts of will, is confounded with the future good which is the object of our pursuit ; and as the former is always an affection of our own minds, the inference seems to be drawn, that the latter must be so also. A similar conclusion is obtained, by confining the phrase "love of happiness"

to our own individual happiness. Because a man, in all his actions, is influenced by a regard to future good, it is taken for granted, that it misi be his own enjoyment, and not the happiness of others, that is the final object of his pursuit.

The term disinterested is frequently understood as if it were synonymous with uninterested; implying that we lake no interest in the objects of our benevolent regard ; or, on the other hand, that any respect to our own personal interest, is inconsistent with true benevolence; that all love of ourselves is extinguished by genuine love to others ; that we take no pleasure either in the exercise of virtuous affection, or in atlaining the end which it seeks.

No misapprehension on this subject has, perhaps, occasioned more perplexity, than the confounding of the ultimate object of our pursuit, with that state of mind which immediately precedes imperative volition; and to which also the termn ultimate is, by some writers, applied. The latter is invariably our own pleasure or uneasiness, while the former may be the welfare of others. The one is a present feeling, in the prospect of good to be obtained, or of evil to be avoided. The other is this future good or evil itself. The difficulty of forming a correct opinion in the case may be increased, by the frequent use of the expression, the ultimate end of voluntary agency; producing the impression that an agent can have but one ultimate end of any of his pursuits.

Our liability to confound benevolence with selfishness, and to fail of keeping in our view the radical distinction between them, renders great caution necessary in the use of the ambiguous phraseology so commonly applied to this subject. The confusion of terms is such, that some writers who differ only in their modes of expression, are reputed to hold opposite views on the nature of benevolence; while the apparent agreement of others is nothing more than the use of the same language to express widely different opinions. There is reason to believe, that groundless jealousies and alienation of feeling are frequently to be found among Christian brethren, whose doctrinal belief is substantially the same, though expressed by different phraseology. It is highly important that measures should be taken to remove the occasion of those injurious apprehensions. On the one hand, the advocates of impartial benevolence ought so to guard their use of technical

phrases, as not to make the impression that indifference is an essential element in their definition of virtuous affection; or that they agree with Shaftsbury in affirming, that all self-love, all regard to our own interest, all hope of reward, is inconsistent with true benevolence. On the other hand, if any maintain that self-love is the only immediate incitement to voluntary action, it is incumbent upon them to give such full and distinct explanations, as will leave no ground for the suspicion, that they consider the agent's personal benefit as the only ultimate object of his affection and pursuit; the only good which appears to him valuable in itself; the only end which he chooses for its own sake.

Desirable as it is, that mutual alienation among Christian brethren should be avoided, it is still more important, that men who are altogether selfish should not be able to quiet their consciences by the unguarded language of the truly benevolent; that they should not be furnished with the plea, that they are no more selfish than all other men, as they are taught that self-love is the moving principle of action in all. The radical difference between benevolence and selfishness, should be kept so clearly and steadily in view, that it cannot fail to be seen, even by those who would gladly escape from the reproach and condemnation which it brings upon themselves. They will give a welcome reception to phraseology which serves to conceal the essential distinction between virtue and vice.

Benevolence of the Creator.

There is some reason to believe, that erroneous views of the ultimate end of right moral agency may have been more or less favored, by the language which has been used respecting ihe ultimate design of the Supreme Being, in His works of creation and providence. From the doctrine, that He makes himself alone His last end, in forming and governing the world, some may draw the conclusion, that by those whom He has made in his own likeness, their own future good must be the only object of final pursuit. It may, therefore, be proper, in this place, briefly to inquire how far the opinions which have been entertained on this subject, and the language in which they have been expressed, are correct.

The question is not, whether God, in all His works, does

as He pleases; whether it is His own present pleasure that prompis Him 10 acts of benevolence. On this point, it is presumed, there can be no difference of opinion among those who understand the nature of intelligent and voluntary agency. It is His “ own good pleasure," and not the pleasure of some other being, that immediately moves Him to will and to act. In this sense, “He hath done whatsoever hath pleased Him." But the real question under discussion is, What is the future good, the prospect of which excites this present pleasure ? What is the objective motive on which this subjective motive depends? What is the ultimate end, to which the aims of the Creator are directed ? It is soinething to be attained, promoted, or secured, by the measures which are adopted for this purpose. If there is a reference to any thing which is now in possession, the object to be gained must be a continuance of the present good.

It becomes us to approach, with great caution and reverence, a subject relating to the purposes of that infinite Being • whose “judgments are unsearchable, and His ways past finding out. With respect to His ultimate end or ends, in creating, preserving, and governing the world, there may be made three suppositions, at least; that the final results at which He is aiming, in all His works, will belong either to Himself alone, or to the created universe alone, or to both together. Is it His own advantage, or the good of His intelligent and holy kingdom, or both united, io which all the measures of His boundless wisdom and benevolence are directed ?

President Edwards, in his elaborate dissertation on " The End for which God created the World," seems to incline to the first supposition; though some of his observations appear to be inconsistent with this view of the subject. Several of his arguments go to prove, that God makes Himself one ultimale end of all His works. This is the purport of the numerous passages of scripture which are adduced to “show that God's glory is an ultimate end of the creation;" that He made the world “ for His great name's sake, and for His praise.”—Sections iii. and iv. Other arguments are brought to prove, that God makes Himself, His glory, and His praise, the chief end of His works. “If God Himself," he observes, “be in any respect properly capable of being His own end, in the creation of the world, then it is reasonable

to suppose, that He had respect to Himself, as His last and highest end in this work; because He is worthy in Himself to be so, being infinitely the greatest and the best of beings."

But the fact that He makes Himself an ultimate end of His operations, and even the highest end, does not prove that He does this, to the exclusion of all other ultimate ends. President Edwards, in the introduction of the work just referred to, distinctly states, that “two different ends may be both ultimate ends, and yet not be chief ends. They may be both valued for their own sake, and both sought in the same work or acts, and yet one be valued more highly, and sought more than another." “Though the chief end be always an ultimate end, yet every ultimate end is not always a chief end.” “A chief end is opposite to an inferior end. An ultimate end is opposite to a subordinate end.”

There is one argument, however, sometimes applied to this subject, which, if it were valid, would go to show, that in the work of creation, God could have in view no other ultimate end but Himself. It is said, that before God began to create, there was nothing else in existence; and therefore, nothing else which could be made an end in creating. President Edwards observes, that “merely in this disposition to diffuse Himself, or to cause an emanation of His glory and fulness, which is prior to the existence of any other being, God cannot so properly be said to make a creature His end, as Himself.” "This disposition or desire in God, must be prior to the existence of the creature, even in intention and foresight.” Very true; the disposition or desire, the subjective motive to create, must be prior to the existence of the creature. But how does it follow from this, that the ultimate end to be obtained must be in the Creator alone ? What absurdity is there in supposing, that a God of overflowing and boundless benevolence should purpose to give existence to intelligent beings, for the sake of the happiness which they would enjoy, if created and rendered obedient to His laws? If the good which is aimed at, as the final result of a course of measures, be future ; why may not the existence of the beings who are to possess this good, be future also ? The objective motion to action is always future. It is some good to be obtained by acting, or the continuance of some good already in possession.

There is another argument of Edwards, which seems

« PreviousContinue »