« PreviousContinue »
inclination. They abjure the principle at first sight, as equally opposed to the dictates of Scripture, and to the more amiable tendencies of the heart. Nevertheless, it would be possible to prove, if there were not a pre-determination against conviction, that the instinct of self-sacrifice, like all other instincts, even those that belong exclusively to the more noble natures, must be kept under the strict control of principle, or it will interfere with the higher claims of duty, and most frequently defeat its own object.
I shall attempt to make my meaning plainer by two or three illustrations. I shall suppose the case of attendance on an invalid; a near and dear relative. is an instinctive wish, as well as a positive duty, to secure the sufferer every comfort and every solace within reach. Personal attendance, constant and affectionate, is, of course, included; but if the instinct of the heart is followed by making that per
sonal attendance perpetual, if sleep and exercise are neglected (quite as much for self-gratification as for that of the invalid, who probably often requests the contrary), bodily health will probably fail, and entire helplessness ensue. Or if there should be so much danger in the illness as, by its excitement, to sustain bodily strength until the danger is over, the object of the affectionate instinct will be afterwards equally defeated. The re-action of such excitement, combined with the protracted fatigue of unnecessary night watchings, and exclusion from fresh air, will incapacitate for that cheerful companionship to the convalescent to which no hired attendance can be adequate, however well it might have answered for the invalid. The hours and days of protracted physical and mental weakness during recovery are, after all, far more trying than any of the sufferings of illness itself. Happy is it for the invalid if the far-sighted love of
self-denying friends has given strength for the highest species of self-denial, and preserved strength of mind and body unimpaired and in full vigour for the exercise of the patience, the watchful consideration, the placid cheerfulness so invaluable during the trying hours of convalescence.
Now take another case, and suppose that the generous instincts of the heart prompt to a sacrifice of money, instead of time or health. The gratification of fulfilling the anxious wish of a friend, of procuring for him a much desired object, may be far more than repaid by the sacrifice of your own desires, even of your own convenience. But might not a prudent consideration of that convenience have been better in the end for the person whose gratification, you think unselfishly, has been your chief object? The exercise of strict prudence instead of generosity, might have left you in a position to help your friends afterwards far more effec
tually; perhaps in a case of real need, instead of one that only involved the gratification of taste or feeling. I must repeat my former assertion (strongly recommending you to test its truth by illustrations from your own experience), that the most noble and generous instincts of nature require, in a fallen world, to be kept under the strict, habitual control of principle.
This long introduction was necessary for the right understanding of the present subject, in the view in which it is to be placed before you as a test for self-examination. Conviction of sin, at least the intellectual conviction, is the less easily evaded in proportion as the boundary line is strictly defined between right and wrong. There is an opposite error almost equally dangerous with that of "saying peace, peace, where there is no peace.' Insensibility to sin is by no means more * Jeremiah, vi. 14.
probably cherished than by an uncertainty respecting the morality of thoughts and actions; and I have observed few more certain causes of self-delusion, as to the sin of selfishness, than a confused apprehension of its real nature.
Having attempted to remove this difficulty, let us now proceed to try how the discipline of this day may serve to reveal to you whether you are yourself guilty of selfishness-not of self-love, which is a duty, but of selfishness, which is a degrading error.
The true test of this will be the pain you feel when you see the happiness, the comfort, or the mere temporary gratification of others carefully considered and provided for, while your own is overlooked and neglected-perhaps even sacrificed to promote the other. I can understand that if the sacrifice had been your own act, it would in many cases have given you pleasure instead of pain; but