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As the soul is of more worth than the body; as the interests of eternity are more important than those of time; so the immortal concerns of man demand, proportionally, the good-will
, and the kind offices, of his fellow-men. In discharging the duties, created by this great object of benevolence, we are required to instruct, counsel, reprove, rebuke, restrain, encourage, comfort, support, and invigorate them, so far as it shall be in our power. We are also bound to forgive cheerfully their unkindness to us ; to bear with their frowardness; to endure patiently their slowness of apprehension, or reformation; and to repeat our efforts for their good; as we have opportunity, unto the end. For this purpose we are bound to hope concerning them, so long as hope can be exercised; that neither we, nor they, may be discouraged; and to pray for them without ceasing. All these offices of kindness are the immediate dictates of Evangelical Love. He, therefore, who does not perform them in some good measure at least, can lay no claim to the benevolence of the Gospel.
REMARKS. 1st. From these observations it is evident, that the Second great Command of the Moral Law is, as it is expressed in the text, like the First.
It is not only prescribed by the same authority, and possessed of the same obligation, unalterable and eternal ; but it enjoins exactly the exercise of the same disposition. The Love, required in this command, is exactly the same which is required in the first : a single character, operating now towards God, and now towards our fellow-creatures. Equally does it resemble the first in its importance. That regulates all our conduct towards God; this towards other Intelligent beings. Each is of infinite importance; each is absolutely indispensable. If either did not exist, or were not obeyed; a total and dreadful chasm would be found in the virtue and happiness of the universe. United, they perfectly provide for both. The duty, prescribed in the first, is undoubtedly first in order : but that, prescribed by the last, is no less indispensable to the glory of God, and the good of the Intelligent creation.
2dly. Piety and Morality are here shown to be inseparable.
It has, I trust, been satisfactorily evinced, that the love, required in the divine law, is a single disposition; indivisible in its nature ; diversified, and distinguishable, only as exercised toward different objects. When exercised towards God, it is called Piety; when exercised towards mankind, it is customarily styled Morality. Wherever both objects are known, both are loved of course by every one, in whom this disposition exists. He, therefore, who loves not God, loves not man; and he who does not love man,
does not love God.
3dly. We here see, that the Religion of the Scriptures is the true, and only, source of all the duties of life.
On the obedience of the first and great commandment is founded the obedience of the second : and on these two hang all the Law and the Prophets : the precepts of Christ, and the instructions of the Apostles. Religion commences with Love to God; and terminates in love to man. Thus begun, and thus ended, it involves every duty; and produces every action, which is rewardable, praiseworthy, or useful. There is nothing, which ought to be done, which it does not effectuate : there is nothing which ought not to be done, which it does not prevent. It makes Intelligent creatures virtuous and excellent. It makes mankind good parents and children, good husbands and wives, good brothers and sisters, good neighbours and friends, good rulers and subjects; and renders families, neighbourhoods, and States, orderly, peaceful, harmonious, and happy. As it produces the punctual performance of all the duties, so it effectually secures all the rights, of mankind. For rights, in us, are nothing, but just claims to the performance of duties by others. Thus the Religion of the Scriptures is the true and only source of safety, peace, and prosperity, to the world.
THE LAW OF GOD. THE SECOND GREAT COMMANDMENT -THE
EFFECTS OF BENEVOLENCE ON PERSONAL HAPPINESS.
Acts xx. 35.
I have shewed you all things, how that, so labouring, ye ought to support the weak; and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said ; It is more blessed to give than to receive.
In the preceding discourse, I considered, at some length, that Love to our Neighbour, which is required in the Second Command of the moral law. I shall now attempt to show, that this disposition is more productive of happiness, than any other.
The speech of St. Paul, recorded in this chapter, I have long considered as the most perfect example of pathetic eloquence, ever uttered by man. The occasion, the theme, the sentiments, the doctrines, the style, are all of the most exquisite kind, wholly suited to each other, and calculated to make the deepest impression on those who heard him. The elders of the Church of Ephesus, to whom it was addressed, were ministers of the Gospel; converts to Christianity made by himself; his own spiritual children, who owed to him, under God, their deliverance from endless sin and misery, and their attainment of endless holiness and happiness. They were endeared to him, as he was to them, by the tenderest of all possible ties; presiding over a Church, formed in the capital of one of the principal countries in the world; at a period when heresy, contention, and dissoluteness, were prophetically seen hy him to be advancing with hasty strides, to ruin Christianity in that region. This address was, therefore, delivered at a time when all that was dear to him, or them, was placed in the most imminent hazard of speedy destruction. They were the persons, from whom almost all the exertions were to be expected which might avert this immense evil, and secure the contrary inestimable good; the Shepherds, in whose warm affection, care, and faithfulness, lay the whole future safety of the flock. He was the Apostle, by whom the flock had been gathered into the fold of Christ, and by whom the shepherds were formed, qualified, and appointed. He had now come, for the great purpose of admonishing them of their own duty, and of the danger of the flock, committed to their charge. He met them with the tenderness of a parent, visiting his children after a long absence. He met them for the last time. He assembled them to hear his last farewell on this side the grave. Vol. III.
To enforce their duty in the strongest manner, he begins his address with reminding them of his manner of life, his piety, faithfulness, zeal, tenderness for them, disinterestedness of conduct, fortitude under the severest sufferings, diligence in preaching the Gospel, steady dependence on God, and entire devotion to the great business of the salvation of men. To them, as eye witnesses, he appeals for the truth of his declarations. Them he charges solemnly, before God, to follow his example: warning them of approaching and accumulating evil; and commending them to the protection, and grace, and truth, of God, for their present safety, and future reward.
With this extensive, most solemn, and most impressive preparation, he closes his discourse, in a word, with the great truth which he wished to enforce, and the great duty which he wished to enjoin, as the sum, and substance, of all his instructions, precepts, and example; exhorting them to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, which he said, It is more blessed to give, than to receive.
In no remains of Demosthenes, or Cicero, can be found the same simplicity, address, solemnity, tenderness, and sublimity, united. Paul was a man immensely superior to either of these celebrated Orators in excellence of character; and with the aid of Christianity to influence, and Inspiration to direct, rose to a height, and enlarged his views to an extent, of which no other man was ever capable. His eloquence, like the poetry of Isaiah, rises beyond every parallel ; and the excellence of his disposition, seconded in a glorious manner the greatness of his views, the tenderness of his sentiments, and the sublimity of his conceptions. He speaks as if he indeed possessed the tongue of Angels; and the things which he utters are such, as Angels, without superior aid, would never have been able to conceive.
The Words, which he declares to have been spoken by the Sadiour, are no where recorded in the Gospels, as having been uttered in the manner here specified. They were, however, unquestionably the words of Christ; and not improbably addressed to Paul himself. Be this as it may, they are words of the highest possible
be justly considered as the language of all our Saviour's preaching, and of all his conduct. The Spirit by which he was governed, they perfectly describe ; the actions which he performed, and the sufferings which he underwent, they perfectly explain. Of all his precepts they are a complete summary; and of his whole character, as a moral being, they are a succinct, but full and glorious exhibition.
The import of them cannot be easily mistaken, unless from choice. To give, is an universal description of communicating good; to receive, an equally extended description of gaining it from others. The former of these two kinds of conduct is pronounced here to be happier or more blessed than the latter. To be blessed, is to receive happiness from God, from our fellow-crea
tures, or from ourselves; and denotes, therefore, all the good, which we do now, or shall hereafter, enjoy. The doctrine of the text is, therefore, that,
It is more desirable to communicate happiness, than to receive it from others.
I am aware that the selfishness, which dwells in every human mind, and clouds every human intellect, as well as biasses every human decision concerning moral subjects, revolts at this doctrine.
To admit it, is a plain condemnation of our ruling character, and a judicial sentence of reprobation on all our conduct. In a world of selfish beings, where one universal disposition reigns, and ravages; it cannot but be expected by a man, even moderately versed in human nature, that the general suffrage will be given, in favour of the general character. Every man knows, that his own cause is in question ; and that his vote is an acquittal, or condemnation of himself. From this interested tribunal an impartial issue cannot be hoped. In a virtuous world, instead of that proverbial, and disgraceful aphorism, that, where you find a man's interest, you find the man, the nobler and more vindicable sentiment, that, we should find the man, where we find his duty, would unquestionably prevail. If the united voice of our race, therefore, should decide against this great evangelical doctrine, the innumerable company of Angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect, may be easily expected to give their unqualified decision in its favour. In their happy residence, a selfish being would be a prodigy, as well as a monster.
Even in our own world, we may, however, lay hold on facts, which fully evince the doctrine to be possible. Parents are often found preferring the happiness of their children to their own personal and private good, and enjoying more satisfaction in communicating good to them, than in gaining it from the hands of others. Friends have frequently found their chief happiness in promoting the well-being of the objects of their friendship. Patriots have, sometimes at least, cheerfully forgotten all private concerns, and neglected the whole business of gaining personal gratification, for the sake of rendering important services to their beloved country. The Apostles also, with a spirit eminently disinterested and heavenly, cheerfully sacrificed every private consideration for the divine purpose of accomplishing the salvation of their fellow-men. Nothing of this nature moved them ; neither counted they their lives. dear unto themselves; so that they might finish their course with joy, and the ministry which they had received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God.
Now, what forbids ; what I mean, in the nature of things; that, with an affection as tender and vigorous, as parents feel for their children, and friends for their friends; which patriots have at times felt for their country, and which the Apostles of Christ felt for the souls of their fellow-men; we should, in a nobler state of exist