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exercised a false and selfish affection towards him. In this case, it was their false love which kindled into vengeance; and they resented the conduct of the Samaritans, because they thought it cast contempt upon them, as well as upon their divine Master. They mistook, however, their love to themselves for love to their Redeemer, and really thought that they felt and expressed a zeal for his honor, while they really felt and expressed a spirit of revenge for personal abuse. Notwithstanding they had been so long and intimately acquainted with Christ, yet they still entertained some wrong apprehensions of his true design in coming into the world. They flattered themselves, that he would restore the kingdom to Israel, and make them and their nation his peculiar favorites. They supposed, as the Samaritans supposed, that he was partial to the Jews, and therefore they loved him, for the same reason for which the Samaritans hated him. Yet they were so unacquainted with their own hearts, that they mistook their selfish love, for holy love to Christ, and their selfish hatred of the Samaritans, for holy hatred of sin. But Christ knew what was in their hearts better than they did themselves, and kindly reproved them for their criminal ignorance and self deception. Hence we may justly conclude, that Christ meant to teach us this important truth,
That men have no right, in any case, to mistake their selfish feelings for benevolent affections. I shall,
I. Show that men are apt to do this in some cases; and,
I. I am to show that men are apt, in some cases, to mistake their selfish feelings for benevolent affections.
Notwithstanding their strong propensity to mistake the nature of their moral exercises, they are often placed under such circumstances, and have such lively exercises of mind, that they cannot help knowing what manner of spirit they are of. Sinners sometimes have such clear views of divine objects, and such sensible opposition towards them, that they know their hearts are not right with God. And sometimes saints have such lively exercises of grace, that they can clearly and certainly distinguish them from all selfish and sinful affections. But yet there are many cases in which both saints and sinners are extremely apt to deceive themselves in respect to the nature of their moral exercises. And the question now before us is, When do they really mistake sin for holiness, and selfishness for true benevolence ? And here it is plain,
1. That they often make this mistake, when their selfishness leads them to do the same things which benevolence would lead them to do. Selfishness in a sinner will often make him act just like a saint; and selfishness in a saint will often make him act just as he would do under the influence of pure benevolence. There is no external action which can proceed from a good heart, but what may proceed from a heart totally destitute of goodness. Will benevolence lead men to observe the Sabbath, to read the Bible, to call upon God, to relieve the distressed, to speak the truth, and to pay an external obedience to the divine will ? Selfishness, under certain circumstances, will lead men to do all these things, and to appear possessed of true benevolence. The Pharisees, who acted entirely from mercenary motives, performed the same external acts of morality and religion which they would have performed had they been possessed of true love to God. This propriety and beauty of their external conduct led them to imagine that they were really pious, and to mistake their selfish, for benevolent feelings. T'he young ruler, who came to Christ to know his duty, verily thought he had perfectly done it, because he had externally obeyed every divine command. Paul, while a Pharisee, formed the same false opinion of the nature of his moral exercises, and supposed he had lived a perfectly holy and blameless life, because he had done that from selfishness which he ought and would have done, if he had been truly benevolent. Whenever selfishness leads men to put on the appearance of benevolence, they are extremely apt to think they are governed by a right spirit, and have those affections which are required by the law of love.
2. Men may mistake their selfish feelings for true benevolence, when they lead them to promote benevolent designs. Real benevolence is an active principle, which prompts men to do all the good in their power; and when their power fails, it leads them to form benevolent designs to promote the temporal and spiritual benefit of mankind. But selfishness, under certain circumstances, will carry men a great way in forming benevolent designs, and in exerting themselves to promote the public good. We often see sinners unite with saints in promoting designs of great utility and importance, with apparently equal zeal and activity. And when selfishness operates in this manner, and leads men to promote the same useful and benevolent purposes which true benevolence would lead them to promote, they are very apt to form a good opinion of themselves, and to mistake their selfish for benevolent feelings. Instead of judging of the nature of their actions by their motives, they judge of the nature of their motives by their actions ; which is a very false and dangerous mode of judging. This seems to have been the error of Jehu, while warmly engaged in destroying idolatry and promoting the purity of divine worVOL. v.
ship. He undoubtedly thought he was pursuing a benevolent design from benevolent motives; for he invited Jehonadab to come with him, and see his zeal for the Lord. But there is great reason to fear that he knew not what manner of spirit he was of, and mistook a zeal for his own glory for a zeal for the glory of God. There are innumerable cases in which selfishiness will thus unite with benevolence; and in all such cases men are extremely apt to mistake the motives of their conduct, and to ascribe that to benevolence, which flows from selfishness.
3. When the same species of affections flow from selfishness which would flow from benevolence, then there is opportunity for men to mistake the nature of their moral exercises.
It was for making
such a mistake, that the disciples were reproved in the text. They had a selfish zeal for the honor of Christ, and a selfish indignation against those who refused to give him a cordial reception. In such a case, they ought to have had zeal and indignation; and had they thus possessed true benevolence, it would have kindled into a holy zeal and indignation. When Christ saw the Temple of God abused and profaned, he expressed a zeal for the honor of his father, and an indignation against those who made his house a den of thieves. His zeal and indignation flowed from pure benevolence; but the zeal and indignation of his disciples flowed from a selfish heart. Their selfishness led them to exercise the same species of affections, which they would and ought to have exercised, had they been truly benevolent; and because their affections were of the right species, they thought they were of the right nature. When selfishness runs in a religious channel, and produces religious affections of the same species with those which arise from a benevolent heart, they look so much like holiness, that men are extremely disposed to take them for real holiness, though they are in their nature diametrically opposed to it. There may be a selfish as well as a benevolent love; a selfish as well as a benevolent zeal; a selfish as well as a benevolent joy; and all these selfish affections bear such a near resemblance to the same species of benevolent feelings, that both good and bad men very frequently imagine that they are truly holy and virtuous exercises. There were multitudes, who followed Christ for the sake of the loaves or from selfish motives, that were full of love, and joy, and admiration, and ready on every occasion to cry, “Hosanna, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” But though these persons verily thought that their affections for Christ were sincere and benevolent, yet when they saw others despise and reject him, and found that he opposed and condemned all selfish persons and selfish conduct, their mercenary love and joy turned into enmity, and prompted them to cry, “ Crucify him, crucify him.” Selfishness very often produces the same species of religious affections, that benevolence produces; and when this is the case, 'men are prone to deceive themselves, and verily to believe that they are under the influence of the divine Spirit
, while they are actually indulging the most selfish feelings.
4. When selfish and holy affections follow each other in a thick succession, then men are apt to blend them together, and to view them all as of the same pure and benevolent nature. Thus, when good men rejoice in God, on account of some peculiar favors which he has bestowed upon them in particular, they at the same time, or as nearly at the same time as possible, rejoice in themselves; but yet they are ready to consider all their joyful and grateful affections as the fruit of true love to God. Their thoughts pass from God to themselves, and from themselves to God, in such a rapid succession, that they hardly perceive that their affections change their objects, and, of consequence, do really change their nature. This is a very common case. Good men rarely have holy affections, without having some sinful ones stealing in among them. In almost all their love to God and man, and in all their religious duties and devotions, their good affections are mixed with some selfish feelings, which, in that connection, appear to them as virtuous and pious. This seems to have been the case with the disciples, when Christ rebuked them for their self deception. Their love to him was mixed with their love to themselves, so that they knew not what manner of spirit they were of. Selfish affections may be so intimately connected with benevolent ones, that they cannot be distinguished without the most critical and impartial attention to the exercises and operations of the heart. And since all men are naturally disposed to view all their moral exercises in the most favorable light, they are very prone, in such cases as these, to put sin for holiness, and selfishness for true benevolence.
5. When holy and sinful affections are produced by the same means, men are apt to consider them all as of the same pure and benevolent nature. It seems to be a common opinion, that the effect must be of the same nature as the cause or means by which it is produced. Men are generally disposed to look upon
all their affections as good, which are excited by means that are good. When they are sensibly and seriously affected by reading the Bible, by religious conversation, by the preaching of the gospel, by the common influences of the Spirit, by public calamities, or by personal afflictions and bereavements, they are very ready to consider their love, joy, sorrow, hope, fear, submission, or ardent desires, as right affections, merely
because they arise from what are commonly called the means of grace, and are often productive of that effect. The Israelites at Mount Sinai were deeply affected by what they saw and heard on that solemn occasion, and hence they supposed that their religious awe, and fear, and reverence, were truly holy affections; and this emboldened them to promise, that all the Lord their God had said they would do, and be obedient; though they were really destitute of every holy exercise. Christ deeply impressed the minds of multitudes by his preaching and miracles, who mistook their selfish joy and admiration, excited by such means, for gracious affections. And men are no less disposed now, ihan they were in Christ's day, to believe that all their tender feelings, which are excited by solemn scenes, solemn objects, and solemn motives, are truly virtuous. They think, if they love, or fear, or submit, or rejoice, or hope, or resolve, while the means of grace are used with them, these exercises of the heart cannot be wrong, because they are produced by means which are good. And though Christ has told them that a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit, nor an evil heart bring forth gracious affections, yet they will believe that their selfish feelings, under religious means, are the essence of true religion. It is often said, and still oftener thought, that the preaching of the gospel, the providence of God, and the common influence of the Spirit, cannot be the means of producing selfish and sinful affections. It is true, indeed, such religious instruction and cultivation may produce gracious effects; but it is equally true, that they may produce the most selfish and criminal affections. Hence men have no just ground to conclude that their religious views and feelings are of the right kind, merely because they can tell what text, or what sermon, or what affliction, deeply impressed their minds, and turned their attention to God and divine objects. But there is reason to fear, that both saints and sinners do, in this and in many other cases, mistake their selfish feelings for benevolent affections.
And this leads me to show, II. That men have no right to make this mistake in any case whatsoever. For,
1. There is a wide and essential difference between holy and unholy affections. Darkness is not more opposite to light, nor cold to heat, than selfishness is to true benevolence. The nature of the one is to promote private, and the nature of the other is to promote public good. All selfish affections are interested, and terminate in the good of the person who feels them; but benevolent affections are disinterested, and seek a more noble and disinterested object. This contrariety between holy and unholy