Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

tended scene of usefulness is a mere appendage to the other. Were there no families, there would be no country: were there no little spheres of beneficence; there would be no great one: and were good will not exercised first towards those who are near; it would never be extended to those who are distant. The kindness, learned by the fireside, and practised towards the domestic circle, is easily spread by him who is invested with sufficient talents, through a country, or extended over a world.

2dly. These observations clearly show the folly of Godwin's system of human perfectibility.

This wretched apostle of Atheism, with a weakness exceeded only by his audacity, has undertaken, in form, to show himself wiser than his Maker. For this purpose, he has boldly declared marriage to be an unjust monopoly; and the institution of families to be the means of preventing the happiness and perfection of man. Of this perfection a promiscuous concubinage, and a community of labours, and of property, are, in his opinion, essential constituents. Nor has the whole concurring experience of mankind, invariably opposed to his doctrines, been sufficient to awaken him from his dreaming speculations to sober thought, and the exercise of common sense. This system, if it may be called such ; this crude gathering together of ideas into a mob; he professedly founds on the doctrine of disinterested good-will: and these he professes to be the genuine consequences of this glorious principle. Were they indeed its consequences, every good man would be struck with amazement and horror: for they would undoubtedly annihilate all the comfort, peace, and hopes, of mankind. That Benevolence, which is the only virtue, would prove the most fruitful and efficacious cause of absolute destruction to all human good : and its glorious character, instead of being the voluntary cause of happiness, would be exchanged for that, of being only, and fatally, the voluntary cause of misery.

Who, for example, would labour; if he were uncertain, that he should enjoy the fruit of his efforts: much more, if he were assured, that he should not enjoy it? What multitudes now refuse to labour, when completely secure of all its products? Were this stimulus to industry taken away, the exertions of man would terminate in a moment; and the world would become the seat of universal inexertion and idleness. The food, clothes, and other comforts, now brought into existence by the toil of man, are barely sufficient to supply his immediate wants. All the food, annually produced, is annually consumed. Multitudes are scantily supplied: while always some, and in particular seasons great numbers, even in industrious and fruitful countries, perish with hunger. Suppose balf the labour, by which food is furnished, were to cease. What would be the consequence? The answer cannot be mistaken. Multitudes must immediately die; and still greater multitudes perish by gradual suffering, and lingering want. The young, particularly, the infirm, the feebler sex, together with all those, unaccustomed to labour at all, or unacquainted with that kind of labour, by which food is produced, must, where they did not subsist by plundering others, become, speedily, victims to famine. Within the period of a single generation, the present population of the globe would be reduced to that of an American wilderness. China, India, and Europe, would be emptied at once. The arts of life, the knowledge, the order, the safety, the refinement, the humanity, the morals, and the religion, of civilized society would vanish; and hunting, and scouting, and pawawing, be substituted in their stead. The regions, which are now beautified with verdant fields, and enriched with luxuriant harvests; whose hills and plains are adorned with cheerful villages and splendid cities; in which thousands of churches invite mankind to the worship of God; and ten thousands of schools allure their children to knowledge and improvement; would become a vast Patagonian desert, gloomily set with here and there a solitary weekwam; wandered over, at times, by the prowling foot of a sav. age; and, when undisturbed by the warwhoop, the shrieks of terror, or the groans of suffering, hushed into the universal sleep of silence and death. That such would be the fact is certain, because, where property has for a length of time continued unsafe, it has all regularly existed.

One half of the story, however dismal the recital may seem, has not yet been told. The very savages have families; and provide for them with no little care. We must sink below the Patagonian, who performs this duty, to find either the character, or the circumstances, of those, who do not.

The savages,

in many instances at least, are chaste; in all, are the subjects of natural affection: and feel strong attachments to their friends, and their nation. These means of comfort, these last hopes of virtue, the philosopher, whom I have mentioned, proposes to destroy. In their stead he leaves nothing, but the fierce and brutal passions of men, sanctioned by the voice of philosophy, and legalized by the decrees of legislation. These passions and appetites, wholly unrestrained, because thus legalized and sanctioned, would originate, direct, and control, all the future conduct of men. What these passions would dictate we know, from what they have always dictated. What they would accomplish we know, from what, when let loose, they have here. tofore accomplished. If any man is at a loss on this subject, he may find a faint image of what he seeks in a den of thieves, or a horde of banditti. To complete the picture, let him cast his eye onward to a lair of wild beasts, and a sty of swine. With all these objects in view, he would find a faint image of the degraded, ferocious, guilty, suffering, state of this miserable world, accomplished by these Godwinian means of perfection. Virtue itself, therefore, according to the scheme of this writer, would become the cause of exterminating all virtue from the breast of man; as well as of rooting all enjoyment out of the present world.

3dly. We have, here, a specimen of the success, with which human philosophy directs the moral concerns of mankind.

The Scriptures have required us to love our neighbour as ourselves ; and have directed the application of this principle in such a manner, as to give it its utmost efficacy, and to produce, by means of it, the greatest mass of human good. “God,” says Dryden,“ never made his work, for man to mend.” A philosopher, laying hold on this principle, and understanding it only in the gross, has undertaken to direct its application anew; and in a manner better suited to his own feelings. The consequence, as we have seen, is, the gold is changed into dross in a moment; the food into poison. That, which, as the Scriptures taught and directed it; nay, that, which, left to itself, to its own inherent tendencies, would produce nothing but happiness ; would, as taught by this infidel philosopher, destroy all the good of man. The benevolence of the Scriptures would make heaven: that of Godwin would produce a hell. Such are the effects of human philosophy, when, resisting the ordinance of God, and forgetting, that the foolishness of God is wiser than men, she boldly interferes with the system of his truth and providence. The scene before her is as the garden of Eden; filled with life, beauty, and happiness; brilliant and glorious as is the heaven-devised landscape; and fraught, as Paradise, with every thing good for food, or pleasant to the eye. She is still unsatisfied with her allotted condition, and with the scheme of her destined enjoy. ment. Not desirous of becoming, but conscious of having already become, as gods, knowing good and evil, she puts forth her presumptuous hand; and, resolved to add to her stock of blessings such, as she knows to be prohibited, seizes in an evil hour the forbidden good. How wonderful, how distressing the change! In a moment the fascinating scene has vanished; and paradise, with all its beauty, happiness, and splendour, has fled for ever. Where bloomed the tree of life, and flowed the waters of immortality, nothing remains, but a world of thorns and briars, an immeasurable waste of sorrow and death.

SERMON LXXX.

REGENERATION.-ITS ATTENDANTS.-CONSISTENCY OP BENEVO

LENCE WITH SEEKING SALVATION.

Romans Ö. 6, 7.-Who will render to every man according to his deeds : To them,

who by palient continuance in well-doing seek for glory, and honour, and immor tality, eternal life.

In the last discourse, I considered one favourite objection against the doctrine of disinterested Love: viz. If we are required to love others as ourselves, we ought to do as much for them as for ourselves : particularly, we ought to make the same provision for them, and their families, which we are bound to make for ourselves, and our families.

This objection, I endeavoured to show, is so far from being grounded in truth, or from being a general consequence from the doctrine of disinterested Love, that, as the world is constituted, Love dictates the contrary conduct. Disinterested love prompts those, who possess it, to produce the greatest mass of happiness in their power. But the scheme proposed, instead of producing more happiness, would destroy that, which now exists, and subvert whatever is desirable in the present state of things.

In this discourse, I propose to consider another plausible objection against this doctrine, viz. that we are commanded to seek eternal life, as the proper reward of our faith and obedience; and that this reward is promised to those, who believe and obey, by God himself. This command, and this promise, it is alleged, being given by God himself, cannot be denied to be right. That we ought, therefore, to seek for everlasting life, must of course be admitted. But this, it is asserted, is aiming at a reward ; is a conduct, springing from selflode; and is not disinterested. It follows then, say the objectors, either that disinterested love is not required in the Scriptures; or that the requisitions of the Scriptures are inconsistent with each other. This objection, it will be observed, lies in the conclusion only. The premises are just and true. If the conclusion follows, I will give up the doctrine.

Lord Shaftsbury formerly advanced with great labour and parade, a similar doctrine ; but for a very different purpose.

He maintained, that disinterestedness is virtue, and the only virtue. At the same time, he denied, that it could consist with any hope of reward, or any fear of punishment. These, he declared, made virtue mercenary, mean, and selfish. True virtue, according to his scheme, consists wholly in doing good for the sake of that good :

for the pleasure, found in the good done, considered by itself, and wholly unconnected with any consequences; without any regard to advantages, arising from it, or to disadvantages, springing from the contrary conduct.

This celebrated writer, it is true, teaches, elsewhere, the opposite doctrine; and asserts, that all the obligation to be virtuous arises from its advantages, and from the disadvantages, attendant upon rice; and that such advantages are a great security, and sup. port, to virtue. These, and other things, of the like nature, he declares with no less confidence, than the former opinions. It would be easy, therefore, to refute him by his own declarations. But this, though it might answer the purposes of mere controversy, would not satisfy a Christian audience. Were infidels required to be consistent with themselves, they never would appear in the field of debate.

The conclusion, which Lord Shaftsbury drew from his principles, was, that the Scriptures, so far as they have influence, annihilate, by their threatenings and promises, all virtue. Hence he inferred, and, as it would seem, in his own view irresistibly, that the Scriptures cannot be the word of God. Both these views of this interesting subject are, I apprehend, radically erroneous, and founded in false and imperfect conceptions of disinterested love.

In the text it is declared, that to those, who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory, honour, and immortality, God will render, as a reward, eternal life. To seek for glory, honour, and immortality, therefore, is in a high degree pleasing to God; and must, of course, be truly and eminently, virtuous conduct. If this conduct consists with disinterestedness, and arises from it; it must be acknowledged on the one hand, that disinterestedness is not impeached by the objection, already recited; and on the other, that the Scriptures, while they require, and encourage, us to seek eternal life, do not render virtue mercenary; nor destroy, nor in any degree lessen, either virtue itself, or the obligations to virtue.

Before I enter upon the direct proof of this doctrine, it ought to be remarked, that the scheme of Lord Shaftsbury confutes itself. His favourite doctrine is, that virtue consists wholly in doing good for its own sake, without any regard to any advantage, which may follow from it; or to any disadvantage, which may arise from a contrary conduct : such regard being, in his view, a destruction of virtue. Now let me ask, What is the difference between doing good, for the sake of the pleasure attending it, and doing good for the sake of the pleasure following it? According to Lord Shaftsbury, virtue consists in doing good, for the sake of the pleasure, which it furnishes. Suppose, then, the virtuous action to be done now, and the pleasure, furnished by it, to be enjoyed an hour hence, oro-morrow. Would it be, in any sense, more mercenary to do the action, for the sake of enjoying this pleasure an hour hence ; or to-morrow; supposing the pleasure to be the same; than for

« AnteriorContinuar »