Page images
PDF
EPUB

We

It is to be the same in kind: not the same in nature as that inordinate, selfish, and sinful affection, with which mankind so generally regard themselves and their interests; but the same as that with which they ought to love themselves. In this way, by appealing to our own hearts, we can ascertain the nature of the feelings which we should indulge to others, and the light in which we should view their happiness. Our feelings and conduct towards them are to be regulated by the great law of love.

“ Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them, for this is the law and the prophets *."

very sincerely desire our own well-being, and feel, often inordinately, anxious for our own health, credit, safety, and success. We are affected with sorrow at our losses and disappointments, and rejoice when we are prosperous. We should bear a like affection to our neighbours, who are capable of the same enjoyment with ourselves, who occupy, as partakers of the same nature, the same rank in the scale of being, and who are the children of the same good and almighty Parent.

Loving our neighbour as ourselves also implies, that we are to love him generally to the same extent or degree. I say generally, that we are to love him to the same extent or degree ; for, by the constitution of our nature, which is to us the expression of the will of God, we are led to regard the duty as peculiar, of paying regard to ourselves, and to those who are ours. Besides, we certainly owe very different degrees of affection to our fellow-creatures, according to their re

* Matt. vii, 12,

spective worth, and usefulness, and the relation, near or remote, in which they stand to us. We are to do good unto all men, as we have opportunity, but especially, that is, particularly, to those who are of the household of faith.

I would therefore understand the word As, in the commandment, as denoting similitude, rather than perfect equality. We are to love all with a benevolent affection, the same in kind with that which we bear to ourselves; and in general and in indefinite language, the same in degree. We may, with considerable accuracy, define the extent to which we are bound to love our neighbour. We should be as desirous of benefiting, and as unwilling to injure, any human being, as we are sincerely solicitous to do good to ourselves, and wishful to escape evil: we should be as ready to love what is truly lovely, to commend what is commendable, to compassionate, to excuse, and to preserve, in their character, interests, and connexions, every fellow-creature, as we are to exercise, and to do these things in regard to ourselves,

This is what the divine law demands, and what in reason and equity is due. We are the same with other human beings, in their capacity of enjoyment, in their relation to God, in their power of being instrumental in their own and in others' happiness, in their destination to eternity, and in all that is truly stable and substantial. We differ from them only in things that are fleeting and circumstantial ; things in which the same individual, at different periods of his life, may differ from himself, without any diminution of affection for himself and for his interests. Is not

.

our love, therefore, as much due to our neighbour as it is to ourselves, however much his external circunstances may be different from ours ! In the judg: ment of an impartial spectator, he may appear, in regard to all that is imperishable in man, the endowments of virtue and knowledge, not less entitled to love than we. If our love to ourselves is just and equitable only as it is proportioned to our worth, on what ground can we withhold it from others who are possessed of an equal, if not of a superior degree of excellency?

Laying aside every claim to regard on the ground of moral worth, we are bound to entertain and to shew kindness and good-will to all human beings, to take pleasure in their happiness, just as we do in our own, and to do all in our power to promote it. We must be sensible that thus much is due to them as fellow-creatures, since we should expect, however wretched might be our condition, this degree of benevolence from others.

CHAPTER V.

ON THE NATURE AND PROPERTIES OF THE LOVE WE OWE

OUR NEIGHBOUR,

The love which is due from us to God comprehends, as has been shewn, delight or complacency in God, good-will towards him, and gratitude for his mercies, Wherever a fellow-creature is possessed of virtue,

and is, at the same time, our benefactor, our love to him, in order to come up to the requirement of the law, must be that of complacency and gratitude, as well as of benevolence. These feelings are closely allied to each other.

I. The love which we owe to our fellow-creatures is pre-eminently characterized by delight in their happiness. Its essence is a benevolent, heartfelt desire to promote their real welfare. The mind in which it dwells glows with good-will to the whole creation; and in regard to all mankind, sincerely wishes that their health, virtue, quiet, and prosperity, may be increased, and continued.

Love will lead us to extend kindness and forgiveness to our enemies; compassion to those who are even void of all moral excellency; and to do good to every creature to the extent of our power of benefiting them. Its object is happiness, happiness suited to the nature and faculties of sentient and intelligent beings; and, therefore, it must necessarily desire the weal of every human creature, as well as use suitable means for securing and promoting it.

II. Love to our neighbour implies that we duly value those who are included under this term. “He that is void of wisdom," saith the wise man, “despiseth his neighbour*.” The folly of this conduct consists in treating that as despicable which is not really so; and which, however faulty, is, by the divine law, the object of our good-will and compassion. Are not all mankind alike, not only the creatures of God, but formed in his image? Are they not all endued

* Prov. ii. 12.

[ocr errors]

with an immortal spirit, and physically capable of everlasting happiness ? Are they not all the objects of His care and bounty, whose tender mercies are over all his works? Why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgmentseat of Christ t."

If we value man according to what he is, even though fallen, and to what he is capable of becoming ; —and still more, if we value him in any proportionable measure to the love which God has shewn him, we shall never think that any fellow-creature is too low, or too guilty, to be the object of our benevolence. We shall honour that nature of which we ourselves are partakers, by feeling and acting aright as to its happiness, by relieving its distresses, and adorning it with virtue, if it be in our power to do so.

III. Love to our fellow-creatures implies suitable activity in promoting their happiness. It will lead us to shew it, not by words only, but by actions. It will pervade and regulate the whole conduct, and operate as a constant and powerful principle of beneficence. It will produce in our character a resemblance to Him who went about doing good; and to our Father in heaven, whose overflowing goodness maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

This is a characteristic of love known and felt by all. This affection directly seeks the happiness of its object; and prompts, of course, to the use of those means by which this may be secured. It is on this ground we may affirm that its possessor will inva

* Rom. xiv. 10.

« PreviousContinue »