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ness to me, because he took a real pleasure and satisfaction in preserving my life, and consequently was as selfish as the priest and Levite? And must it not be absurd in us to call the love of the Samaritan selfish and mean, which our Saviour pronounced benevolent, disinterested, and virtuous ? is now prepared to show,
II. That all real saints are possessed of such disinterested love as has been explained.
If we search the scriptures we shall find, that disinterested affection is universally represented as essential to the character of real saints.
In the first place, we find a variety of precepts which enjoin upon
all men the exercise of disinterested love. The second great commandment is, “ Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." That is, thou shall place thy happiness in thy neighbor's happiness, and desire and promote it, as thy own; which is really disinterested benevolence, and diametrically opposite to selfishness. Christ required his disciples to love their enemies, and to do good to them that hated and injured them; which was requiring them to be disinterested in their feelings and conduct. The apostle enjoins it upon Christians, to “look not every man on his own things, but every man, also, on the things of others ;'—" in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than themselves;" and to “rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” Obedience to these commands is essential to the character of real saints, and so far as they obey them, they are really disinterested. On the other hand, selfishness is represented as a reproach to Christians, and a characteristic of sinners. Paul speaking of preachers says, “All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's." Again he says, “In the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves." God by the mouth of Zechariah demands of the sinners in Zion, " When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even these seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me? And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves ?" Christ upbraided those who followed him for the loaves; and condemned the Pharisees for making long prayers, for the purpose of devouring widows' houses. He spake the parable of the prosperous farmer, who laid up goods for many years, with a design to illustrate the sin and folly of all selfish designs and pursuits. For he subjoins, “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God." If selfishness be inconsistent with the Christian character, then disinterested love must be essential to it.
Christ, in all his public and private discourses, made disin. terested benevolence a necessary qualification for all his disciples. It was his common saying, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and fol
. low me." When a certain man seemed desirous to follow him, he reminded him, that he could not become his disciple, without self-denial, or pure, disinterested love. “ The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” When the rich young man wished to know upon what terms he could become his disciple, he expressly told him, he must sell all that he had, and give to the poor, and come and follow him. And he required all his followers to love him more than father or mother, son or daughter, houses or lands, or even their own lives; which was precisely the same, as requiring them to exercise that disinterested and supreme love to him, which is diametrically opposite to selfishness.
It is essential to the character of Christians, that they possess the same love, which Christ possessed and manifested in all he did and suffered here on earth. The apostle declares, “ If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his." And he exhorts Christians, “Let the same mind be in you
that was also in Christ Jesus." Was not the love of Christ disin. terested love? He says he sought not his own glory, but the glory of him who sent him. His whole life was one continued scene of self-denial. The glory of God and the good of men was the governing motive of all his conduct. He put it beyond doubt, that he placed his happiness in the good of the universe, not in his own private felicity. All his real friends, therefore, are of the same character, and possess the same spirit of pure, disinterested benevolence.
, It is to be lamented indeed, that such a spirit has been very rare since the first apostasy; but if we may give credit to the Bible, we shall find many signal instances of it recorded by the pen of inspiration. The first instance I shall mention is Abraham. God required him to sacrifice his only beloved son Isaac, with his own hand. What could have been more trying to every natural, or selfish feeling of Abraham's heart? But instead of remonstrating, murmuring, or repining, he promptly and cheerfully obeys the will of his Maker. Was not this loving God more than his son, or himself, and exercising pure, holy, supreme, disinterested love. Moses is another instance of a disinterested servant of God. He forsook the wealth and
honors of Egypt; and suffered affliction with the people of God, for the sake of promoting their happiness, and his glory, in their salvation. Yea, he proposed to be blotted out of the book of life, rather than have the Church of God destroyed. David was a man after God's own heart, and possessed the spirit of his heavenly Father. He loved Saul his mortal enemy, and spared his life, when he had it in his power to take it away in a lawful manner. At another time he entreated God to slay him, rather than spread death and destruction among his
people. Though Satan accused Job of being selfish ; yet God demonstrated to him and to the world, that he possessed pure, disinterested love. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, exposed their bodies to the fiery furnace, and Daniel risked his life in the den of lions, to promote the honor of God and the interests of his kingdom, in the land of idols and idolaters. Paul told the Corinthians, “I seek not yours, but you.” And he sol. emnly declared, “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my
heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” The time would fail me to mention the long catalogue of worthies in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, and in the history of the martyrs, who took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, and sacrificed their lives in the cause of Christ. But it appears from the instances which have been mentioned, that some good men in all ages have given us as clear and incontestable evidence of their having had disinterested love, as their lives and deaths could exhibit.
Thus it appears from the whole current of scripture, that the love which characterizes all good men, is, strictly speaking, disinterested : and this representation, we may now observe, is agreeable to the dictates of reason, and the moral sense of all mankind. The question concerning the nature of true virtue, or moral goodness, has been agitated for more than two thousand years, by some of the most learned and ingenious men in the world. The heathen moralists were divided in their opinions respecting the nature of true virtue, or moral goodness; some maintaining that it is disinterested, and others placing it in mere natural, selfish affections. But Cicero, who was thoroughly acquainted with all the mythology of the heathen world from the earliest antiquity, maintained, that true virtue is disinterested, and wrote a large treatise upon the subject. With him the best moral philosophers of his day agreed. The question, however, has been ever since, and is still, agitated
among all denominations of Christians, whether virtue, or true holiness, be disinterested or not; though few divines have plainly asserted that there is any moral goodness or virtue in selfishness. It is the practical opinion of all men, whether learned or unlearned, that true virtue consists in disinterested love; and none ever deny it, only in their disputes upon some favorite sentiment. It is demonstrable by reason, that virtue is disinterested. For if virtue be not disinterested, it is impossible to see and point out any distinction between virtue and vice. If all men are selfish, and selfishness is virtue; then those who are the most selfish, are the most virtuous. But who ever believed this to be true? Who ever believed that there is no distinction between virtue and vice ? All nations have words to distinguish virtue from vice, right from wrong, moral good from moral evil. All nations approve and reward some actions, and disapprove and punish others. But this would be absurd, if all men act from precisely the same supreme motive,—their own personal, private good. On this supposition, no man could
. be blamed for loving himself more than God, more than his neighbor, more than his nation, and more than the whole universe; nor for sacrificing the glory of God, and the good of the universe, to promote his own separate, private interest. Indeed, there would be no foundation for blaming or praising any man, for
any of his actions; because there could be no such thing as right or wrong, virtue or vice, in the universe. But who does not blame himself and others for selfishness? Who does not blame a man for offering or accepting a bribe? Who does not blame a ruler for injustice, oppression, and tyranny ? Who does not blame a subject for rebelling against a good administration of government, and trampling upon the wise and just laws of his country?
of his country? Who does not blame men for deception, perjury, and murder? But all these actions flow from selfishness, and cannot be criminal, if selfishness be not criminal, and essentially different from disinterested benevolence. But, perhaps, some may ask, whether selfishness, under certain limitations and restraints, may not be right, and truly virtuous ? I answer, that no limitations or restraints can alter the nature of selfishness, which is diametrically opposite to disinterested benevolence, which is right and virtuous in the nature of things. It is true, that selfishness may be so limited or restrained by human or divine laws, that it cannot produce the ill effects which it naturally tends to produce. But restraining its tendency cannot alter its criminal nature. Hence the apostle Paul said, “ I had not known sin, but by the law : for I had not known last, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.”
Covetousness is selfishness, and selfishness in the least degree is sinful, whether it lie in the heart, or be acted out. That which is right in the nature of things, is always right, under all supposable circumstances; and that which is wrong in the nature of things, is always wrong, under all supposable circumstances; and no human, no divine laws can alter the nature of selfishness, nor of benevolence. So that there is no essential difference between limited and unlimited selfishness. If, therefore, there be any essential difference between virtue and vice; or if there be any such thing as either virtue or vice, virtue must consist in disinterested benevolence, and vice in selfishness. The most ingenious writers in favor of selfishness have never been able to do any more than to make it appear, under some circumstances, like benevolence, and, under that appearance, like virtue. But after all, they could never make it appear that benevolence is wrong. This, however, must be true, if selfishness be right. Why then have not the advocates for selfishness ever attempted to prove that benevolence is wrong? This would be to their purpose, and put the question concerning the nature of virtue to perpetual rest. In a word, if there be any one moral and theological truth, which can be completely established by arguments drawn from scripture, reason, and common sense, it is this : that virtue consists in disinterested benevolence, and is essential to the character of every good man in the world.
1. If true love to God be disinterested, then the least degree of true love is supreme.
Christians cannot love God for what he is in himself, or on account of his own moral and supreme excellence, without loving him supremely; that is, more than they love themselves, or any other, or all other creatures. This our Saviour always insisted upon in his preaching. He required his disciples to love him more than their friends, and more than life, and all the blessings of life. He required the rich young man to love him more than all his wealth. He required Peter to love him above every other object, in order to prove his sincere affection to him. “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?" and he repeated the question again and again. This emphatically implied, that if Peter did not love him supremely, he did not love him at all. A man cannot love the glory of God and the good of the universe, according to the excellence and importance of these objects,