Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

the sake of enjoying it at the time, when the action is done? The pleasure, according to the supposition, is the same in kind and degree. Can it, then, be any more or less virtuous, to be thus influ enced by a pleasure, which will exist an hour hence, or to-morrow, than by the same pleasure, existing at the present moment?

The truth, in this case, undoubtedly is, that it is neither more nor less virtuous, to be influenced in the same manner and degree, by the same kind and degree of pleasure, found in the same ob ject, whether the pleasure is to be experienced at one time, or at another. The nature of the pleasure, which is enjoyed, and the nature of the object, whence it is derived, render the action, in which that pleasure is sought, either virtuous, or not virtuous. If we take pleasure in happiness wherever it is enjoyed, and in promoting it wherever this is in our power; if, at the same time, this pleasure is proportioned to the happiness onjoyed, or promoted; we are, of course, the subjects of virtue; and that, just so far, as the pleasure is experienced. The time, at which it is experienced, is, here, evidently of no consequence; and cannot, even remotely, affect the subject. If, then, it is mercenary, mean, and selfish, to be influenced by this pleasure, expected at a future time; it is equally selfish, mean, and mercenary, to be influenced by the same pleasure, expected at the time when the action is performed.

That the pursuit of eternal life is wholly consistent with the nature of disinterested love, I shall now attempt to show by the following considerations.

1st. Our happiness is a desirable object; and deserves to be sought in a certain degree.

Our happiness is, in this respect, exactly of the same nature with that of others; is as truly desirable, and as really deserves to be promoted, as that of any created beings whatever. In whatever degree it exists, it ought to be delighted in: in whatever degree it is capable of existing, it ought to be desired. As the fact, that it is our happiness, renders it no more valuable than that of others; so, plainly, it does not render it at all less valuable. It claims, therefore, to be promoted on the same grounds, as any other happiness of the same value. As it is entrusted to our own peculiar care; it demands more from us, as that of others does from them. For ourselves we can do more than we can for oth ers; and this of course is our duty.

2dly. Neither our present nor future happiness is necessarily in consistent with that of others.

All the good, which God has made it lawful for us to enjoy in this world, is consistent with the good of others. Whenever it is promoted, therefore, there is a direct increase of the general hap piness. To produce this effect is the great duty, and dictate, of benevolence; and must of course be right.

Our eternal good cannot fail to be consistent with the good of the universe. God has no pleasure in the death of the sinner; but

VOL. II.

62

would rather, that he would repent and live. commanded all men every where to repent. commanded, cannot but be right in itself. directed, that our prayers and supplications all men.

other

Accordingly he hath What he has thus Accordingly he hath should be made for

What the Scriptures thus teach, Reason wholly approves. We are all made capable of happiness. This capacity was not given in vain; but was intended to be supplied. Every man, who thinks soberly at all, feels, and acknowledges, accordingly, that he is bound to promote, as much as in him lies, the happiness of every both man, and future and no man would fail to be present self-condemned, if he were to indulge a wish, or even a willingness, that any one of his fellow-creatures should be miserable hereafter. Nay, indifference to this subject would not fail of being followed by severe reproaches of conscience. But what it is the duty of all men thus to wish, and to seek; what no man can oppose, or regard with indifference, without guilt; it is peculiarly his duty to wish, and seek for himself; both because the accomplishment of this work is committed to him by his Maker, and because this work can be done by him more effectually, than by any other.

3dly. We are commanded to love our neighbour as ourselves; that is, generally, and indefinitely, as well as ourselves; and of course are at least equally required to love ourselves as we love our neighbour.

The rectitude of this law cannot be questioned even by Lord Shaftsbury; nor can he, or any other man, deny, that it exhibits to us disinterested love in the fairest form, and the strongest manner. But, as has been already shown, we are bound by the dictates both of reason and revelation to seek the future and eternal good of our neighbour; to desire it, and to promote it, as far as is in our power. By this very command, then; the law, originally enjoining benevolence as the great duty of intelligent beings; a law, to which Reason unconditionally subscribes; we are absolutely obliged to seek our own eternal life.

4thly. Our eternal life is in itself an immense good.

The endless happiness of a rational being is of more value, than can be conceived by any finite mind. Within a moderate period, it will amount to more, than all the happiness, which in this world has been enjoyed, or will ever be enjoyed, here, by all its inhabitants. Whatever is endless admits of no definite comparison with that which is not. But the happiness of a future state is not endless merely; it is also endlessly increasing; and will soon rise in "degree, as well as duration, above the highest human comprehension. Such, of course, is the addition, made to the common good of the universe, whenever the eternal life of an individual is secured. To neglect the pursuit of such happiness, as this, is madness: to oppose it is malignity, which no words can describe.

5thly. Eternal happiness consists in eternal disinterestedness, and its consequences.

The happiness of heaven arises from the disinterested love of God, communicated in various blessings to his children; in their disinterested communications of good to each other; and in the enjoyment, derived by their minds from the exercises of virtue. It is acknowledged, on all hands, that it is desirable to live virtuously here. All the reasons, which operate in this case, render it at least equally desirable to live virtuously hereafter, throughout any, and every, period of duration, in which such a life may be enjoyed. It is by all men acknowledged, that it is useful to do good here, and at the present time. He, who makes this acknowledgment, cannot without gross self-contradiction deny, that it is equally useful to do good, wherever it may be done, and at every future period. If, then, it is proper; if it is virtuous; to desire, and to seek, to live a virtuous life, or to do good, in the present world; it is equally virtuous, and equally proper, to desire, and seek, to do the same things in a future state of being. All the labours, then, by which we may possess ourselves of such a life in the present world, must, with equal propriety, be directed to the attainment of such a life in the world to come.

But it is not only desirable and proper, that we should do this in the present world; it is a plain, high, and indispensable duty; and in a sense, the sum of all our duty; so far as this world is concerned. It cannot but be perceived, that it is, in the same sense, the sum of all our duty, with respect to the future world.

This, however, is far from being the amount of the whole truth concerning this subject. As much as eternity exceeds time; as much as perfect virtue excels the present frail character of good men, here; as much as endless virtue, as much as endlessly increasing virtue, outruns in its importance the transient virtue of this momentary life; so much more is it our duty to seek the good of a future life, than that of the present. Indeed, man lives here, only to become prepared to live hereafter. Our whole duty, therefore, ought, during the present life, to be performed with a supreme reference to that which is to come.

Thus the pursuit of eternal good is so far from being opposed to disinterestedness, from being mercenary, mean, and selfish; so far from destroying the nature of virtue, or lessening its obligations; that it is its genuine dictate; its spontaneous tendency; its most exalted aim. No virtuous mind, if properly informed, can fail of pursuing this object; and no object, which respects ultimately the present world, can call forth virtuous exercises of so elevated and excellent a nature.

6thly. By our eternal life the happiness of all virtuous beings is greatly increased.

There is joy in heaven, saith our Saviour, over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, who need no

repentance. Whatever else may be the meaning of Christ in this passage, it is unquestionable, that the inhabitants of heaven experience a real joy in the repentance of a sinner. Reason, as well as Revelation, clearly teaches us, that virtuous beings cannot fail to find enjoyment in this subject, because Repentance is an exercise of virtue, and the means of securing happiness. In the future virtue, and future happiness, of such a sinner, the same beings will, at all times, find similar enjoyment; increasing continually in degree, as these objects of it increase. As these will, at the commencement of a future existence, be perfect; and will rise higher, and higher, in the same perfection for ever; so it is plain, the enjoyment, found in them, will increase throughout every succeeding period. Thus every inhabitant of this world, who secures his own eternal life, becomes an everlasting, and perpetually increasing, benefit to the virtuous universe; a blessing, which no words can describe, and whose value no numbers can reckon. Can it be necessary to ask, whether it is virtuous to aim at this character ? 7thly. God is glorified, whenever we seek, and obtain, eternal life.

When Christ was born, a multitude of the heavenly host sung, Glory to God in the highest, because there was peace on earth, and good-will towards men. But if none of the human race should experience this good-will; that is, if none of them should obtain eternal life; the glory, otherwise springing from this source, would be prevented. To this glory of God every person, then, who secures eternal life, contributes, by accomplishing, in one instance, that, out of which the glory arises. The glory of God, in this case, is a whole, made up of the individual instances, in which he is glorified. If therefore, no individual sought his salvation, none would obtain it; and, if none obtained it, the work would not be done; and the glory of God, in this important particular, would not be accomplished. How important it is, may, in some measure, be discerned from these facts that God sent his own Son, to die, that we might live; and his Spirit, to renew us, that we might become heirs of life.

:

Thus have I endeavoured to show, that the pursuit of eternal life is so far from being opposed to the nature of disinterested Love, that it is one of its primary dictates; a conduct, invariably springing from its influence; and that the Scriptures, instead of lessening, or destroying, virtue, by requiring this conduct of us, have increased the obligations to it, and directed it to its proper end.

Those, who make the objections, contended against in this discourse, have in my view, always failed of distinguishing between disinterestedness and uninterestedness. The distinction between them is, however, perfectly clear, and incalculably important. To be disinterested is to be without a selfish interest in any given thing or things; to be uninterested is to have no interest in them at all. A disinterested man may take the deepest interest in any subject; and,

the deeper the interest, the more disinterested he may be. The uninterested man can have no interest in that subject, either selfish, or benevolent. To be absolutely disinterested is to be absolutely free from selfishness. To be absolutely uninterested is to be absolutely without any interest, or concern, in any thing. A perfectly disinterested man would experience a supreme delight in the perfect happiness of the universe. A perfectly uninterested man, if we can suppose such an one to exist, would feel no concern in any happiness whatever. The reason, why these terms have been supposed to denote the same thing, may have been, that the word INTERESTED is frequently opposed to each of them. This word originally denotes the concern, which we feel in any thing; but has long been figuratively, and very commonly, used to denote a selfish concern; probably, because the interest, which the human heart feels in most things, is so generally a selfish interest.

It is not my design to contend, that there is not a real and great pleasure, found in the exercises of virtue; nor that the virtuous man does not always experience this pleasure in such exercises; and that, in exact proportion to his virtue; nor that this is not a proper motive to engage him to these exercises.

The true nature of virtue is well described in this definition: the love of doing good; or the love of promoting happiness. In all the good, therefore, which is done by ourselves, or others, and, of course, in all that is enjoyed by ourselves or others, whenever it is not inconsistent with some greater good, virtue delights of course. In its own proper nature, it aims at such good; and for such it labours, whoever is to be the recipient. Its true excellence lies in this: that it is the voluntary, and only source of happiness in the universe. In aiming at our own happiness there is no necessary selfishness. Selfishness consists in a preference of ourselves to others, and to all others; to the universe, and to God. This is sin; and all that in the Scriptures is meant by sin. In every individual sin, this will invariably be found to be the essential and guilty character. Thus sensuality is the desire of selfgratification, at the expense of any, and all, other happiness. Thus ambition is the desire of aggrandizing, and avarice the desire of enriching, ourselves, in preference to the interests of all others. From this spirit arises all our opposition to God, and all our injustice to his creatures. He, who has seriously and entirely preferred God to himself, or the good of the universe to his own private, separate good, has, in the complete sense, become vir

tuous.

God wills our happiness. It is therefore right, it is virtuous, in us to seek, and promote it, both here and hereafter. In this conduct there is no selfishness. We do, indeed, commonly pursue it, in preference to that of all others. Such a pursuit of it is sinful; and the spirit, with which we pursue it, is, by turns, every sinful passion and appetite, and the source of every evil purpose and effort,

« ПредишнаНапред »