« PreviousContinue »
tify their vicious appetites; and for spiritual gifts, as Simon Magus, only because they love to have the pre-eminence. He would give money to be endued with a power by which he might get money, and acquire honour into the bargain. Ye ask, says the apostle, and receive not; because ye usk amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. James iv. 3.
And is not this sometimes the case with God's own people? They may seek gifts, nay graces too, not that they may honour God, but that men may honour them; as fuel to their pride, and not as a spur to duty. They may seek divine visits, not that they may return, but boast of them; and the witnessings of the Spirit, to slacken their diligence, instead of increasing it. Does not envy at the superior attainments, and more acceptable services of others, sometimes not only influence a minister's endeavours, but put importunity into his prayers? Whence would James and John have called for fire from heaven to fall upon the Samaritans? It is true, that there was an appearance of great and strong faith, zeal for God, and love to their divine Master; but Christ knew that self lay at the bottom. There might be something of these, but there was too much of a contrary principle; the breathings of revenge, and a desire to aggrandize themselves, by being thought like Elijah, the peculiar favourites of heaven. Hence they met with that severe rebuke: Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. Thus many, like Job and Jonah, desire to die, not that they may cease to sin, but cease to suffer; rather because they are tired of the cross, than because they want to possess the crown. Oh, did we but see how much self-adulation, and self-exaltation mingles itself with our most fervent addresses to God; how little we aim at his glory, and how much at our own, we should no longer trust in, but be ashamed of them; and instead of wondering that they are se
seldom answered, we should be astonished that they are answered at all.
4. Self-love insinuates itself into the severer acts of mortification; nay, it often runs through and corrupts the whole course of religious duties. It is like the dead fly, which taints the whole box of precious ointment. From this principle, some neglect duties as burdensome and oppressive, and only seek privileges; a reward without labours, victory without fighting. They wish for heaven, but will not strive for it; would be with God in the other world, but do not like to have much to do with him, or for him, in this! As a merciful God, they seem to love him; but as a just and holy God, they hate him; making their own lusts, passions, interests, and appetites their sole end, and supreme happiness. Who is the Lord, says Pharaoh, that I should obey him! But Israel would have none of me: that is, they neither desire conformity to, nor communion with him. There was not only an indifference, but an enmity.
But the persons of whom I am now speaking, from the same principle of self-love, perform a multitude of religious duties; they pray, read, hear, meditate, set themselves hard tasks, impose heavy burdens, retire into a wilderness, shut themselves up in a cloister, bear reproach, suffer persecution; and yet all this may be seeking their own things, and not the things of Jesus Christ. Their work is not a delight, but a drudgery. Like Saul, they put a force upon themselves; and like Doeg, they are detained before the Lord. If there were no heaven, there would be no service performed by them; for it is not the service itself, however delightful to others, that actuates them, but the hope of reward. If there were no hell, no sin would be avoided by them; for they hate not the fact, but dread the punishment. When they fast, it is as God tells the jews, for themselves, and not for him. When they howl upon their beds,
through anguish and distress of soul, it is not for the evils they have done, but the torments they fear. They know not in any instance how to give up their honour and interest, those idols of a carnal heart; but in every thing of a religious nature in which they engage, seek either to avoid misery in another world, or to build up their credit and reputation in this. Thus the Shechemites were willing to be circumcised, but they were allured by the consequences. (Gen. Xxxiv. 23.) Shall not their cattle, and their substance, and every beast of theirs be ours? Thus the pharisees prayed, and gave alms, that they might be seen of men. And though the young Ruler, when he came to Christ, seemed to have something greater and nobler in his view, yet self was the prevailing principle; for he enquired what he should do, not to serve his generation and glorify God, but to inherit eternal life? To conclude: Not holiness to the Lord, but SELF, SELF, in large characters is inscribed upon the hearts and lives, pursuits and employments of all carnal men. For God they do nothing; for themselves they do all. Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself. Hos. x. 1.
5. Self-love runs through all their affections, exertions and actions, with respect to their fellow-creatures. If they rejoice at others prosperity, it is because they themselves may be benefited by it. If, on the other hand, they grieve at their calamities, it is because they are likely to be sharers in them, or some way or other injured by them. If they mourn the death of a pious person, it is for their own loss, as being their friend, protector, and benefactor, and not the loss sustained by the church or neighbourhood. This self-love Christ implicitly charges his disciples with: If ye loved me, ye would rejoice because I said, I go unto the Father. If they take a complacency in persons of a truly religious character, it is either on account of the sweetness of their disposition, or be
cause they harmonise with them in sentiment in some particulars; or for their resemblance to themselves, and not to Christ. Hence while they express a great deal of affection to some, they are full of bitterness against others, whose moral character is unimpeached, and whose outward deportment is amiable.-Sometimes they pretend compassion to the souls of men, but afford no relief to their bodies. Why? Because good words cost them nothing, but good deeds may be expensive.
Let me conclude this head with a solemn appeal to the consciences of my hearers. Is not our anger often directed by self-love; so that we more resent the injury done to us, than the offence committed against God? This seems to have been the case with David, when he went forth with a full purpose to destroy Nabal and all his house. It was not so with Moses, who so highly resented the idolatry of Israel, as being a sin against God; while he patiently bore the murmuring of Aaron and Miriam, as being a private injury. (Exod. xxxii. and Num. xii.) Have we not also sometimes discovered a flaming zeal against sin, while it has either been directed against the person, not the action, or against sin in others, not in ourselves; or against those sins to which we are no way inclined, and by which we are likely to be no sufferers, and not against sin in general. It was a proof of the Psalmist's integrity, that he hated every false way; so that he no more countenanced little sins than great ones, sin in himself than others' sin, in the dearest friend, than in the most implacable enemy.
From what has been said, you see that self-love is an insinuating principle, appearing in various forms, even in the religious world, and under many artful disguises, hard to be discerned, but harder still to be guarded against. What need have we then to watch and pray, and strive against this evil, earnestly imploring assistance from above; knowing that without
it, the most prudent advertency and manly exertions will be ineffectual. To stir you up to this, let me set before you some of the evils resulting from this easily-besetting, and alas, too universally prevailing sin.
1. It is the root of hypocrisy. So far as self-love and self-seeking influence, we are void of sincerity and integrity. Woe to you hypocrites, says Christ to the scribes and pharisees, who sought honour from man, not from God. Though we may multiply duties as the sand upon the sea shore; nay, though we may give our bodies to be burned, and all our goods to feed the poor, the one the greatest act of piety towards God, the other of charity towards men; yet if self, base, sordid self lie at the bottom, our religion is but a pretence, our hope a delusion, and our eonfidence an ill-grounded presumption.
2. It promotes pride, envy, strife, uncharitableness, and an evil temper and conduct towards all with whom we are conversant. A man who loves himself too well, will never love his God or his neighbour as he ought. He will injure others in their estate, to encrease his own property; and in their good name, to raise his own reputation. Self-love made Ahab covet Naboth's vineyard, and Haman to seek the destruction of the jews. Whence come private quarrels, expensive law-suits, unmercifulness to the poor, falsehood, injustice, oppression, persecution; but from this cursed principle of self-love? How courteous and compassionate, how meek in receiving injuries, and patient under affliction; how far should we be from rejoicing at the calamities, or repining at the more prosperous circumstances of others, if it were not for that inordinate and extravagant affection we have to ourselves, and regard to our own interests!
3. All evil may, perhaps, be reduced to this one point: All our desires, passions, projects, and endeavours, centre in self. This was the first sin: Ye shall be as gods; and it has continued the master- sin ever