« PreviousContinue »
upon their passions. Any person who should undertake this work, he allows, would be a bad citizen; yet he might, for aught he knows, be a good reasoner.* Shaftesbury employs all his wit and satire in endeavouring to raise a laugh at the very idea, representing the heathen world as very happy till Christianity arose and teazed them about an hereafter. "A new sort of policy," he says, "which extends itself to another world, and considers the future lives and happiness of man rather than the present, has made us leap beyond the bounds of natural humanity, and out of at supernatural charity has taught us the way of plaguing one another most devoutly."†
Lord Shaftesbury's wit may very well be passed by, as being what it is in connexion with the foregoing quotations, it suffices to show us what efficacy the doctrines of a future life, as held by Deists, may be expected to possess. But this writer is not contented with raillery: he must also attempt to reason against the doctrine; contending that it has a pernicious influence on the morals of men; that it is a mercenary principle, and opposed to the disinterested love of virtue, for its own sake. "The principle of self-love," he observes, "which is naturally so prevailing in us, is improved and made stronger by the exercise of the passions on a subject of more extended interest: and there may be reason to apprehend that a temper of this kind will extend itself through all the parts of life. And this has a tendency to create a stricter attention to self-good and private interest, and must insensibly diminish the affection towards public good, or the interest of society, and introduce a certain narrowness of spirit, which is observable in the devout persons and zealots of almost every religious persuasion."+
This objection, the reader will recollect, is in direct contradiction to the principles of Bolingbroke, and, it may be added, of Volney, and other deistical writers, who maintain self-love to be the origin of virtuous affection. Some Christian writers, in an
Philosophical Essays, p. 231.
+ Characteristics, Vol. I. p. 18.
Characteristics, Vol. II. p. 58.
swering it, have given up the doctrine of disinterested love, allowing that all religious affection is to be traced to the love which we bear to ourselves, as its first principle. To me, this appears no other than betraying the truth, and ranking Christianity with every species of apostacy and false religion which have at any time prevailed in the world. A clear idea of the nature of self-love, if I mistake not, will enable us to determine this question; and to answer the deistical objection without rendering Christianity a mercenary system.
Every man may be considered either singly, or connectedly; either as a being by himself, or as a link in a certain chain of beings. Under one or other of these views every man considers himself, while pursuing his own interest. If the former, this is to make himself the ultimate end of his actions, and to love all other beings, created or uncreated, only as they subserve his interest or his pleasure this is private self-love: this is mean and mercenary, and what we commonly understand by the term selfishness. But if the latter, there is nothing mean or selfish in it. He who seeks his own well-being in connexion with the general good, seeks it as he ought to do. No man is required directly to oppose his own welfare, though, in some instances, he may be required to sacrifice it for the general good. Neither is it necessary that he should be indifferent towards it. Reason, as well as scripture, requires us to love ourselves as we love our neighbour. To this may be added, every man is not only a link in the chain of intelligent beings, and so deserving of some regard from himself, as well as from others, but every man's person, family, and connexions, and still more the concerns of his soul, are, as it were, his own vineyard, over the interests of which it is his peculiar province to exercise a watchful care. Only let the care of himself and his immediate connexions be in subserviency to the general good, and there is nothing mercenary in it.
I need not multiply arguments to prove that the doctrine of rewards does not necessarily tend to encourage a mercenary spirit, or that it is consistent with the disinterested love of virtue. Lord Shaftesbury himself has acknowledged this: "If by the hope of reward," he says, "be understood the love and desire of vir
tuous enjoyment, or of the very practice or exercise of virtue in another life, the expectation or hope of this kind is so far from being derogatory to virtue, that it is an evidence of our loving it the more sincerly, and for its own sake."* This single concession contains an answer to all which his lordship has advanced on the subject for the rewards promised in the gospel are all exactly of the description which he mentions. It is true, they are often represented under the images of earthly things; but this does not prove that, in themselves they are not pure and spiritual. That there is nothing in them adapted to gratify a mercenary spirit, the following observations will render plain to the meanest capacity.
First: The nature of heavenly enjoyments is such as to admit of no monopoly, and consequently to leave no room for the exercise of private self-love. Like the beams of the sun, they are equally adapted to give joy to a world as to an individual: nay, so far is an increase in the number of the participants from diminishing the quantum of happiness possessed by each individual, that it has a tendency to increase it. The interest of one is the interest of all; and the interest of all extends to every one.
Secondly: The sum of heavenly enjoyments consists in a holy likeness to God, and in the eternal enjoyment of his favour. But holy likeness to God is the same thing as "the very practice or exercise of virtue," the hope of which, Lord Shaftesbury acknowledges, "is so far from being derogatory to it, that it is an evidence of our loving it the more sincerely, and for its own sake." And as to the enjoyment of the divine favour, a proper pursuit of this object, instead of being at variance with disinterested affection, clearly implies it; for no man can truly desire the favour of God as his chief good, without a proportionate esteem of his character, and that for its own excellency. It is impossible that the favour of any being whose character we disapprove should be sought as our chief good, in preference to every other object in the universe. But a cordial approbation of the divine character is the same thing as a disinterested affection to virtue.
*Characteristics, Vol. I. pp. 65, 66.
+ 1 John iii. 2. Rev. xxi. 3, 4.
Thirdly The only method by which the rewards of the gospel are attainable, faith in Christ, secures the exercise of disinterested and enlarged virtue. No man has any warrant, from the scriptures, to expect an interest in the promises of the gospel, unless he cordially acquiesce in his mediation. But to acquiesce in this is to acquiesce in the holy government of God, which it was designed to glorify; to feel and acknowledge that we deserved to have been made sacrifices to divine displeasure; to forego all claim or hope of mercy from every selfish consideration; and to be willing to receive forgiveness as an act of mere grace, and along with the chief of sinners. In fine, to acquiesce in this is to be of one heart with the Saviour of sinners, which, our adversaries themselves being judges, is the same thing as to be filled with devotedness to God and benevolence to men; and this, if any thing deserves that name, is true, disinterested, and enlarged virtue.
It is very possible, that the objections which are made by this writer, as well as by Mr. Paine and others, against the doctrine of rewards, as being servile and mercenary, may, after all, in reality be against their counterpart. It does not appear to be "the hope of happiness beyond this life" that excites their disgust, though the nature of the Christian's happiness might be disagreeable to them; but the fear of being "called to account for the manner in which they have lived in this world." This it is which even the daring author of The Age of Reason cannot endure to consider as a certainty, as the thought of it would render him " the slave of terror.' Yet, as though he would not have it thought that the dread of futurity rendered him affraid of believing it, he alleges another reason: "our belief, on this principle," he says, "would have no merit, and our best actions no virtue."* being virtuous, it is necessary, it seems, that we be under no law In order then to our actions but that of our own inclination; and this will be loving virtue for its own sake. This is at once shaking off the divine authority; which if it could be accomplished, might be very agreeable to some men; and if with this they could get fairly rid of a judg
* Age of Reason, Part II. pp. 100, 101.
ment to come, it might be still more agreeable; but alas, if they should be mistaken!
It is a fact, that the passions of hope and fear are planted in our nature by Him who made us; and it may be presumed they are not planted there in vain. The proper exercise of the former has, I conceive, been proved to be consistent with the purest and most disinterested love; and the same thing is proveable of the latter. The hope and fear against which these writers declaim are those of a slave; and where love is absent, these, it is granted, are the only effects which the doctrine of rewards and punishments will produce. But even here they have their use. Terror is the grand principle by which vicious minds are kept in awe. Without this their licentiousness would be intolerable to society. It is not, however, for the mere purpose of restraint that threatenings are exhibited, but to express the displeasure of God against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men, and his resolution to punish them. Some are hereby taught the evil of their ways to a good purpose, and all are fairly warned, and their perseverance in sin is rendered inexcusable.
Before our adversaries object to this, they should show the impropriety of human laws being accompanied with penalties. Let them furnish us with a system of government in which men may be guilty of crimes without fear of being called to account for them; and in which those who are enemies to virtue are to be governed by merely the love of it. If it be improper to threaten sinners, it is improper to punish them; and if it be improper to punish them, it is improper for moral government to be exercised. But if it be thus in the government of God, there is no good reason to be given why it should not be the same in human governments; that is, there is no good reason why servants, unless they choose to do otherwise, should not disobey their masters, children their parents, and private individuals in a state be continually rising up to destroy all just authority.
The above may suffice to ascertain the weight of Lord Shaftesbury's objections to the doctrine of rewards; and now I shall take the liberty to retort the charge, and attempt to prove that the VOL. III.