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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."* In order then to our actions being virtuous, it is necessary, it seems, that we be under no law 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 bis 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.
epithets“ narrow and selfish,” which he applies to the Christian system, properly belong to his own.
In his Inquiry concerning Virtue, contained in the second volume of his Characteristics, though he allows it to consist in our being proportionably affected towards the whole system to which we bear a relation ; (p. 17.) and that this world may be only a part of a more extended system; (p. 20.) yet he studiously leaves out God as the head of it. Among all the relations which he enumerates, there is no mention of that between the creature and the Creator. His enlarged and disinterested scheme of morality is at last nothing more than for a creature to regard those “ of its own kind, or species:" Not only is all gentleness, kindness, and compassion to inferior creatures left out, but the love of God is not in it. On the contrary, it is the professed object of his Inquiry, to prove that virtue, goodness, or moral excellence, may exist without religion, and even “ in an Atheist.” (p. 6.) In short, it is manifest that it is the love of God, and not self-love, to which his love of virtue, for its own sake, stands opposed. That for which he pleads is the impious spirit of a child, who disregarding his father's favour, pays no attention to his commands, as his commands; but complies with them only on account of their approving themselves to his own mind. But this is no other than self-will, which instead of being opposed to self love, is one of its genuine exercises.
“Our holy religion,” says this sneering writer, takes but little notice of the most heroic virtues, such as zeal for the public, and our country."* That Christianity takes but little notice of what is commonly called patriotism, is admitted ; and if Lord Shaftesbury had been free from that narrowness of mind” which it is his intention here to censure ; yea, if he had only kept to his own definition of virtue—" a regard to those of our own kind, or species,” he would have taken as little. By the public good, he evidently means no more than the temporal prosperity of a particular country; which is to be sought at the expense of all other countries with whom it happens, justly or unjustly, to be at variance Christianity, we acknowledge, knows nothing of this spirit. It is superior to it. It is not natural for a Christian to enter into the antipathies, or embroil himself in the contentions of a nation, however he may be occasionally drawn into them. His soul is much more in its element when breathing after the present and future happiness of a world. In undertakings, both public and private, which tend to alleviate the miseries, and enlarge the comforts of human life, Christians have ever been foremost : and when they have conceived themselves lawfully called even into the field of battle, they have not been wanting in valour. But the heroism to which they principally aspire is of another kind : it is that of subduing their own spirit, doing good against evil, seeking the present and eternal well-being of those who hate them, and laying down their lives if required, for the name of the Lord Jesus.
* Characteristics, Vol. I. pp. 98, 99.
Such is the “narrow spirit” of Christians ; and such have been their “selfish pursuits.” But these are things which do not emblazon their names in the account of unbelievers. The murderers of mankind will be applauded before them. But they have enough: their blood is precious in the sight of the Lord, and their names are enbalmed in the memory of the upright.