Page images

vation, out of pure love and good will to mankind. The endeavor to set home this example upon our minds, is a very proper employment of this season, which is bringing on the festival of his birth; which, as it may teach us many excellent lessons of humility, resignation, and obedience to the will of God; so there is none it recommends with greater authority, force, and advantage, than this of love and charity; since it was "for us men, and for our salvation, that he came down from heaven, and was incarnate, and was made man ;" that he might teach us our duty, and more especially that he might enforce the practice of it, reform mankind, and finally bring us to that "eternal salvation, of which he is the Author to all those that obey him.”



ROMANS xiii. 9.

And if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

HAVING already removed the prejudices against public spirit, or the love of our neighbor, on the side of private interest and self-love; I proceed to the particular explanation of the precept before us, by showing, "who is our neighbor: In what sense we are required to love him as ourselves: The influence such love would have upon our behaviour in life:" And, lastly, "How this commandment comprehends in it all others."

I. The objects and due extent of this affection will be understood by attending to the nature of it, and to the nature and circumstances of mankind in this world. The love of our neighbor is the same with charity, benevolence, or good will. It is an affection to the good and happiness of our fellow creatures. This implies in it a disposition to produce happiness: and this is the simple notion of goodness, which appears so amiable wherever we meet with it. From hence it is easy to see, that the perfection of goodness consists in love to the whole universe. This is the perfection of Almighty God.

But as man is so much limited in his capacity, as so small a part of the creation comes under his notice and influence, and as we are not used to consider things in so general a way; it is not to be thought of, that the universe should be the object of benevolence to such creatures as we are. Thus, in that precept of our Saviour, "Be ye perfect, even as your Father, which is in heaven, is perfect," the perfection of the divine goodness is proposed to our imitation, as it is promiscuous, and extends to the evil as well as the good; not as it is absolutely universal, imitation of it in this respect being plainly beyond us. The object is too vast. For this reason moral writers also have substituted a less general object for our benevolence, mankind. But this likewise is an object too general, and very much out of our view. Therefore, persons more practical have, instead of mankind, put our country; and made the principle of virtue, of human virtue, to consist in the entire uniform love of our country. And this is what we call a public spirit; which in men of public stations is the character of a patriot. But this is speaking to the upper part of the world. Kingdoms and governments are large; and the sphere of action of far the greatest part of mankind is much narrower than the government they live under: or, however, common men do not consider their actions as affecting the whole community of which they are members. There plainly is wanting a less general and nearer object of benevolence for the bulk of men than that of their country. Therefore the Scripture, not being a book of theory and speculation, but a plain rule of life for mankind, has with the utmost possible propriety put the principle of virtue upon the love of our neighbor; which is that part of the universe, that part of mankind, that part of our country, which comes under our immediate notice, acquaintance, and influence, and with which we have to do.

[merged small][ocr errors]

This is plainly the true account, or reason, why our Saviour places the principle of virtue in the love of our neighbor: and the account itself shows who are comprehended under that relation.

II. Let us now consider in what sense we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourself.

This precept, in its first delivery by our Saviour, is thus introduced: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength; and thy neighbor as thyself." These very different manners of expression do not lead our thoughts to the same measure or degree of love, common to both objects; but to one, peculiar to each. Supposing, then, which is to be supposed, a distinct meaning and propriety in the words, "as thyself;" the precept we are considering will admit of any of these senses: That we bear the same kind of affection to our neighbor, as we do to ourselves: or, that the love we bear to our neighbor should have some certain proportion or other to self-love: or, lastly, that it should bear the particular proportion of equality, that it be in the same degree.

First, the precept may be understood as requiring only, that we have the same kind of affection to our fellow creatures, as to ourselves. That, as every man has the principle of self-love, which disposes him to avoid misery, and consult his own happiness; so we should cultivate the affection of good will to our neighbor, and that it should influence us to have the same kind of regard to him. This, at least, must be commanded and this will not only prevent our being injurious to him, but will also put us upon promoting his good. There are blessings in life, which we share in common with others; peace, plenty, freedom, healthful seasons. But real benevolence to our fellow creatures would give us the notion of a common interest in a stricter sense for in the degree we love another, his interest, his joys and sorrows, are our own. It is from self-love that we form the notion of private good, and consider it as our own. Love of our neighbor

[ocr errors]

would teach us thus to appropriate to ourselves his good and welfare; to consider ourselves as having a real share in his happiness. Thus the principle of benevolence would be an advocate within our own breasts, to take care of the interests of our fellow creatures in all the interfering and competitions which cannot but be, from the imperfection of our nature, and the state we are in. It would likewise, in some measure, lessen that interfering; and hinder men from forming so strong a notion of private good, exclusive of the good of others, as we commonly do. Thus, as the private affection makes us in a peculiar manner sensible of humanity, justice, or injustice, when exercised towards ourselves; love of our neighbor would give us the same kind of sensibility in his behalf. This would be the greatest security of our uniform obedience to that most equitable rule: "Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them."

All this is indeed no more than that we should have a real love to our neighbor: but then, which is to be observed, the words, as thyself, express this in the most distinct manner, and determine the precept to relate to the affection itself. The advantage which this principle of benevolence has over other remote considerations is, that it is itself the temper of virtue; and likewise, that it is the chief, nay, the only effectual security of our performing the several offices of kindness we owe to our fellow creatures. When, from distant considerations, men resolve upon any thing to which they have no liking, or, perhaps, an averseness, they are perpetually finding out evasions and excuses; which need never be wanting, if people look for them: and they equivocate with themselves in the plainest cases in the world. This may be in respect to single determinate acts of virtue: but it comes in much more, where the obligation is to a general course of behaviour; and most of all, if it be such as cannot be reduced to fixed determinate rules. This observation may account for the diversity of the expres

« PreviousContinue »