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THIS is spoken concerning the "last days," which are also called "perilous times;" not only stigmatized with the most infamous and atrocious crimes, but marked out by a variety of sufferings. "Men shall be lovers of themselves." Perhaps you will say, have they not always been so? Is it not commendable; nay, in some sense necessary that they should be so? Certainly if this self-love be properly directed, and carefully bounded; for no man, says the apostle, ever yet hated his own flesh, but loveth and cherisheth it. Ephes. v. 29.
"Whate'er the Almighty's subsequent command,
Self-love is connected with, and animates in a secondary degree, the whole of religion; so that if suitably conducted, the more ardently a man loves himself, the more zealous and indefatigable will he be in the service of God; nay, self-denial, self-loathing, self-diffidence, and an absolute renunciation of self in many instances, are the genuine fruits of a proper self-love. There is a difference between unli
mited self-love, and that which is under proper regulations. God's glory and our happiness are so strictly united, that we cannot seek the one while we are totally indifferent about the other; so that we may, and ought to love ourselves in conjunction with God; but not as many do, separate from him; much less in opposition to him, his amiable perfections, unalterable purposes, and righteous commands.
Now, it is not this laudable, but a criminal selflove that is here spoken of; which appears in selfconfidence, self-gratification, self-exaltation, and the like, when men are continually thinking and talking of themselves, meditating upon their own excellencies, and like that pharisee, (Luke xviii. 11.) magnifying their own performances, when their deep-laid schemes, strenuous endeavours, and vigorous exertions all centre in self. From this principle of selflove, they covet riches, accumulate honours, court their superiors, trample upon their inferiors; and any thing that stirs up their particular humour, as in the case of Haman, stirs up the fiercest resentment.
I shall now endeavour to trace out more particularly, the workings of this cursed, this noxious principle, as it respects matters of religion; for it is said of these lovers of themselves, that "they have the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”
1. Self-love may carry men out in desires after Christ. Thus, (Mark i. 37.) All men seek for thee. Some, no doubt, from a praise-worthy principle, seeing their need of such an Instructor and Saviour. Others only that they might have their bodily diseases healed, and wants supplied. John vi. 26. Verily, verily,I say unto you; ye seek me not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. It was self-love in both; but a commendable principle in the one, a base and ignoble one in the other. Thus many would partake of Christ's
benefits, who reject his government; receive glory from him, but give no glory to him; be saved by him from that wrath which they fear, but not from those sins which they love; justified by his righteousness, but not conformed to his image. Hence, under convictions of sin, and terrifying apprehensions of the divine displeasure, their desires are vehement and strong. Oh, none but Christ, say they; a thousand thousand worlds for Christ! But when once they entertain a hope of interest, and consequently of safety, those desires grow faint and languid: their end is answered, if they have as much of Christ as they wish for. If they can but go to heaven when they die, they care not how little they have of it before; and are unconcerned about the dominion of sin, if they can but obtain the pardon of it: so that their seeking and striving are now over. Whereas spiritual desires are increased by enjoyment: David never more longed for the water of life, than when he had been agreeably and abundantly refreshed by it. Psal. xlii. 2.
2. Self-love may be the sole foundation of men's love to, and delight in God. And indeed, it is so with all bypocrites and formalists in religion. There is certainly such a thing as love to God: I will love thee, oh Lord, my strength, says the Psalmist. Thou knowest all things, says Peter; thou knowest that I love thee. It is equally certain that all men do not love God: I know you, says Christ to the carnal jews, that ye have not the love of God in you. To which I may add, that many profess to love God whose hearts are estranged from him. They love in word and in tongue, but not in deed and in truth. True love to God implies in it the profoundest veneration, highest esteem, and most perfect complacency, arising from spiritual views of his transcendant excellency and glory; so that there must be a previous and experimental acquaintance with him. Many mistake a conviction of mind, that God is to be loved, for a mo
tion of the heart towards him; and because they see it to be fit and reasonable that he should be regarded by them, they imagine that he is so. But the highest regard that a natural man can have to the divine Being, if traced back to its origin, or followed to its various actings, will be found to be self-love. Such love him because he fulfils their desires, gratifies their wishes, or distinguishes them from their neighbours by the bounties of his providence: or they presume upon the safety of their state, because he has pardoned their sins, eased conscience of its burden, and given them, as they suppose, the assurance and earnest of eternal happiness. Thus they love him for his benefits, but not for himself; for what he does, not for what he is. This is nothing but self-interest, and consequently self-love. If he should say, Come ye blessed, their love, such as it is, would continue, and be commensurate with their happiness. But if, with a menacing look he say, as certainly he will, if they live and die in their present state, Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting burnings, prepared for the devil and his angels, their seeming love will be turned into the most implacable hatred, and they will curse him to his face!
It is true that real saints love God for his innumerable benefits; for what they enjoy, and what they expect; for the good they have in hand, and the still greater good they have in hope: but though this may nourish and encrease their love, yet it is not the original spring from which it proceeds. It may throw some weight into the scale, add some fuel to the fire; but the grand source of their love is the moral beauty, personal excellence, and infinite greatness and glory of its object. Whom, says the psalmist, have I in heaven but thee; and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of thee!-Thou art more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey. God's love to his people is disinterested: theirs to him is in a measure
so, and this distinguishes the love of the real christian from that of the hypocrite. The stream can rise no higher than the fountain; and where a man is entirely under the influence of selfish principles, absorded as it were in self, his love to God can be no other than self-love. The same may be said of his delight in him: he is well-pleased with God, because he thinks God is well-pleased with him; like the children of Israel, who when he turned the sea into a wall, and the rock into water, sang his praises, but soon forgot his wonderful works. On the other hand, when the spouse in the Canticles makes her boast of Christ, it is not of what he is to her, but of what he is in himself. (Cant. v. 10-16.) The amiable nature of God is the supreme, and his own interest in him the subordinate ground, or occasion of the christian's joy. He first rejoices in him as a Being of matchless excellency, and then as his portion and exceeding great reward; whereas the hypocrite's joy arises primarily and immediately from himself; his pleasing frames, religious duties, and delightful prospects, and but mediately and remotely from God. Hence it is, that such may cry," Hosanna" one day, and "Crucify" the next. 3. Self-love may be the principle that first excites, and then puts fervour and ardency into our prayers. How coldly do some put up those requests, Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come; but are much more earnest when they come to those petitions in which their present comfort and future happiness are so much interested: Forgive us our trespasses, and give us our daily bread. Let me die the death of the righteous, says Balaam; and self-love will extort the same request from any man; for it is no more than the devil's prayer to Christ, that he would not command him to go into the deep. It also proceeds from the same principle; a desire of ease, and dread of torment. Time would fail me, were I to attempt to shew how men may ask for temporal blessings to gra