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The end for which men are invested with rights is, that they may be enabled to fulfil the design of their being, by promoting their own happiness in conformity to the will of God. This end, therefore, ought to be the great object of their pursuits, to which every habit and employment should be made subservient. By neglecting this, though they should abstain from infringing on the rights of others, they are chargeable with sinning against God. Every man sins against God,” to use the words of the author already quoted, “ who does not act in such a manner with respect to the use, defence, and disposal of his rights, as he is of opinion will, on the whole, fulfil most effectually the purposes of his being.”
It is scarcely necessary to remark, that these principles are sanctioned by Scripture, which teaches us that in God we live, and move, and have our being, that from the Father of lights cometh down every good and perfect gift,--that we are bound to use his gifts for the purposes for which they are given, namely, the advancement of our own final welfare, and that of others,—and that every man must render an account of the talents with which he is intrusted at the tribunal of God.
ON THE LOVE OF OUR NEIGHBOUR.
As love is the source and the animating principle of the duties which we owe to God, so is it the source and the animating principle of the duties which we owe to our fellow-creatures. “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Owe no man any thing but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
By “thy neighbour” we are to understand every intelligent creature who is capable of being happy, or of receiving benefit from us. The term, of course, includes all mankind, enemies as well as friends; as is shewn by our Lord in the parable of the good Samaritan. To the question, Who is my neighbour? our Lord replied in a way to make the feelings of the inquirer give a decision opposed to his prejudices. The parable employed for this purpose is peculiarly
instructive and beautiful; and is so obvious in its meaning, and so forcible in its conclusion, as to render all comment superfluous. The story has all the minuteness, all the local allusion, of a narration founded on facts.
In the parable, a certain man, who was a Jew, is represented as travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho, and falling into the hands of robbers, who, after stripping and wounding him, left him half dead. While in this helpless condition, there passed by him one who could have no prejudices against him on account of his country, and whose priestly office should have led him to have compassion on the distressed, and to relieve them. But when he saw him he passed by on the other side. There next followed a Levite, a man of professed sanctity, and who ought to have had pity on a fellow-creature; but he, though he came and looked on him, passed by on the other side. Both were the ministers of religion, who were under obligation, from their office, to perform works of charity and mercy, and who could not palliate their inhumanity by alleging that the sufferer was a Samaritan or a Heathen.
At length a Samaritan came that way, between whom and the Jews there existed an hereditary hostility, but who, when he saw him, had compassion on him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. Here was the exercise of the love which is the fulfilling of the law. In place of calculating on the hinderance, the trouble, the expense, which would be occasioned by waiting to help this fellow-creature in distress, the Samaritan was moved with compassion, and acted agreeably to its dictates.
The parable is so framed as to produce the conviction intended, and to force the inquirer to acknowledge, contrary to his prevailing prejudices, that all his fellow-creatures were his neighbours. This neigh, bourhood is founded on the common relation which subsists between all mankind as branches of one stock, as partakers of the same nature, as having the same capacity for immortal happiness, and as being mutually dependent on each other.
Thus, it appears, that all mankind are our neighbours, and that we are bound, to the extent of our power and opportunity, to do good unto all men. Intelligent beings, of whatever nature, who are capable of happiness, are the objects of our benevolent wishes, and did our efforts reach them, of whatever exertions we could make in advancing their welfare.
That we are bound to extend our benevolence and forgiveness to our enemies, is not less clear, as the duty is expressly enjoined by our Lord and his Apostles. “ Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, (that is, according to the sense in which the Pharisees understood this term, our friends,) and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you,
Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you; and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you: that
ye may be the children of your Father, who is in hea. ven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil, and on the good; and sendeth rain on the just and on the
unjust*. For if ye love them that love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them. But I say unto you, love ye your enemies ; and do good, and lend; hoping for nothing again ; and your reward shall be great; and ye shall be called the children of the Highest t. If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good I.
These, and other similar passages of Scripture, are decisive as to the duty of extending our benevolence and forgiveness to our enemies. If any one scriptural attestation to the importance of this duty could be supposed stronger than another, I would allude to the petition in that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples: “ Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
ON THE EXTENT TO WHICH WE ARE REQUIRED TO LOVE
The rule which is to regulate the nature and extent of our benevolence, is contained in these words : “ Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
The meaning of this language is, that our love to others is to be the same in kind, and similar in degree with that which we bear to ourselves.
* Matt. v. 43, &c.
of Luke vi. 32.
Rom. xii. 20, 21.