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ROMANS xiv. 7.
None of us liveth to himself.
A STRANGE opinion has sometimes been entertained, that the Christian Religion is at variance with the temporal interests of mankind. It has been supposed to inculcate principles of an unsocial tendency; principles, inconsistent with those ties by which mankind are bound to each other in the relationships of civil and domestic life, and tending to habits of inactivity or selfishness destructive of that spirit of enterprise on which the political and moral improvement of large communities essentially depends. Hence it has been represented as discouraging both patriotism and friendship; as requiring a renunciation of personal attachments, and prohibiting that regard for our national honour and prosperity, without which it is hardly to be conceived that individuals will be induced to labour for the public good. Thus it has been made to assume an aspect the most repulsive to all who are not willing to divest themselves of some of the strongest and best feelings of our nature.
a Preached before The Corporation of Trinity House, in the Church of St. Nicholas, Deptford, June 10, 1816.
That such representations should be made by those who are professedly hostile to Revealed Religion, is no more than might be expected. But it may justly excite astonishment, that they should have been countenanced by those who would be thought most zealous in promoting its true interests, and most desirous to exalt its character to the highest pitch. Yet such has been the treatment that Christianity has experienced, both from friends and foes. It has been reviled and ridiculed, on the one hand, for its supposed moroseness and misanthropy: it has been extolled, on the other hand, for its power of abstracting the mind from all earthly concerns, and fixing it exclusively on spiritual objects: while by others, again, apparently not actuated either by any enmity to its design, or by any enthusiastic fondness for visionary schemes of life, this imaginary peculiarity in its character has been urged as a grave and weighty argument of its Divine original.
It may be difficult to determine which of these different speculatists would, if their opinions were to become general, do the greatest disservice to Revealed Religion. It is not difficult, however, to shew that neither of them are warranted, in their respective opinions, by the system itself which they thus misrepresent or misconceive. Were we called upon to defend Christianity against some of the most formidable assaults of Infidelity, or to combat the errors of some of its most injudicious professors, we could hardly make our stand upon firmer ground, than upon the full and substantial evidence that may be produced of its beneficial influence upon the social as well as personal interests of mankind. We might safely challenge for Christianity the strictest scrutiny into all its precepts concerning the relative duties between man and man, and the severest comparison of it, in this respect, with any system of philosophical morality. Nay, were we required to frame a code of maxims, the most perfectly adapted to every existing, or every possible, combination of human circumstances, the Christian scheme would supply us with the only sure basis on which it should be raised. Nor need we seek further for a foundation-stone of the whole edifice, than the aphorism in the text, “ None of us liveth to 66 himself.”
Whether this maxim be interpreted with reference to the duty we owe to God, or that which we owe to man, it is equally incontrovertible. St. Paul, indeed, applies it, first, and more expressly, to the former ; intimating, that no man hath a right to live according to his own will and inclination, but must submit to regulate his conduct by the will of God.
But he shews also its application to the latter, by the use he subsequently makes of it in exhorting Christians to “ follow after “ the things which make for peace, and things “ wherewith one may edify another“.” And these interpretations are in perfect unison. For, as our duty to God is our paramount obligation as reasonable beings, so is it the foundation of our relative duties to one another: and both coincide in this as their first principle, that “none of us liveth to himself.”
This, then, may be considered as the central point of all the social virtues. From this they diverge in every direction, extending from nearer to more remote connections, and knowing no boundary within the sphere of human exertion. The principle is first developed in the exercise of filial piety. It thence proceeds, through the several gradations of kindred and friendly intercourse, to wider relations of society ; from personal to local interests, and to those which are common to us as fellow-citizens and subjects of the State. Nor does it terminate here; but goes on, as means and opportunities are afforded, to the most enlarged philanthropy and zeal for the general good of mankind.
a Ver. 19.
Correspondent with these different spheres of action, the Great Author of our nature hath implanted within us affections and interests, which prompt us in each of them to promote the good of others as well as of ourselves. Sympathies of conjugal, parental, and filial tenderness, of friendship, of patriotism, and of universal benevolence, serve as perpetual incitements to discharge the respective duties connected with them. Nor do these, when properly defined and regulated, interfere with each other's operations; but rather lend a mutual aid. Pursuing the order of nature and the simplest suggestions of reason, the practice of those duties which spring from the nearest relationships of life, will strengthen, not diminish, the disposition to a more extended benevolence. These closer and more intimate connections afford opportunity for the constant exercise of the finer feelings of our nature, and the daily reciprocation of good offices, by which many asperities of the temper are gradually worn down, and a habit