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Preached at St. Sepulchre's, May 21, 1719, at the anniver
sary meeting of the children educated in the charity school.
II CORINTHIANS, CHAP. IX.-VERSE 12.
For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want
of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto! God.
To take in the full sense of the Apostle on this subject, the 14th verse ought to be read together with the text; and then the whole will run thus : • For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; and by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you.'
The occasion of these words was in short this: the Apostle had been making collections among the Christians of several countries for the relief of the poor distressed brethren in Judea ; and intending shortly to visit Corinth, he sends before him an exhortation to them to be in readiness to answer the hopes and expectations which themselves had raised in him, that he should ! receive a large supply at their hands. The chapter of the text is intirely spent in this argument; the Apostle introduces it with excusing his writing on this subject, since he knew how forward they were of their own accord, and how much their zeal had provoked and stirred up others to be liberal; but then from this very circumstance he justifies his application to them, and urges them in a very powerful manner to make good their fair promises, lest haply if they should after all be found unprepared
at his coming, both he and they should be ashamed in their • confident boasting.' I should not have taken notice of this argument made use of by the Apostle to stir up the Corinthians' charity, which is not indeed founded on the nature of the good work itself, or in the promises of the gospel, but for the sake of observing to you that it is not only lawful but laudable to make the natural passions and inclinations of men subservient to the cause of virtue and religion ; that it is no way unbecoming a preacher of the gospel to apply to that sense of shame, to that love of credit and good report, which God has implanted in men, to be perpetual incitements to actions virtuous and praiseworthy. These motives however must be kept in their
proper place; we may recommend, but they cannot make a duty; the ground of our obedience lies deeper. The honor of God, the good of our brethren, the care of our own happiness, are the springs from whence all duties flow; and though we may consider these as distinct heads, yet they always unite in one stream, and run together without division : for whilst we do good to others, we do honor to God, and take the best care of ourselves; and the honor we have for God will as naturally show forth itself in the love of the brotherhood, as it will certainly end in our own happiness.
From these principles the Apostle exhorts the Corinthians to set forward the charity proposed to them with a liberal hand, assuring them that it would be abundant to the honor and glory of God, through many thanksgivings; that it would supply the wants of the saints; and that it would return to them in blessings, through the prayers that would be offered to God in their behalf.
We must not imagine that these principles are peculiar to works of charity and beneficence, for they really extend to all parts of our duty : all religion is derived from them; and there is nothing we are bound to, but as it relates either to the honor of God, or the good of mankind, or our own welfare.
In treating therefore of this subject, I shall consider,
Secondly, how plainly and evidently they lead us to works of charity and mercy. Thirdly, I will show you how effectually they do conspire to
recommend to us that good work, for the promoting of which we are this day met together in the presence of God.
First then, let us consider how these principles influence religion in general.
Man is a religious creature in consequence of his being a rational one; our obligations to do right arise from the natural powers with which we are endowed, to distinguish between right and wrong; and when in any case in which we are concerned to act, our reason discovers to us what is right, it at the same time unavoidably fixes our duty and obligation.
It is but too plain that to know and feel the obligations we are under is one thing, and to comply with them in practice is another; all wilful sinners feel the obligations they are under to do right, and yet are carried by other inducements, which have greater force on their minds, to do wrong; and where men comply with their duty, it is not always, nay, it is perhaps but rarely, for the sake of that natural light of reason only, which creates the duty ; but for other reasons, which affect their own interest and convenience. And this shows the dif. ference between the principles, and the mere motives of religion.
A rational mind ought especially to be influenced by the power
reason; and if we could separate men from the corrupt passions and affections which hang about them, the same light of reason which shows them their duty would sufficiently move and influence their wills to obedience; in which case the principles and the motives of religion would be exactly the same; and the act of obedience would be sincere and pure, and of the same kind with the light of reason from which it flows. Such obedience as this is in the highest degree rational and religious; and though laws, both human and divine, are guarded with hopes and fears, yet the workings of such hopes and fears cannot add to the religion of such obedience; unless you suppose that there is more religion in being moved by our own passions, than in being conducted by the clear light of our reason and understanding.
When once a man has attained to the knowlege of God, and of the relation he bears to him, and feels the natural obligations from thence arising to love, honor, and obey his Maker ; though other considerations may come in with good effect to incline his will to his duty, yet no other considerations can add to his obligations, or make the duty of obedience more a duty, or more an act of true religion than it was before : for he who honors and obeys God, because he knows that God ought to be honored and obeyed by him, his creature and his servant, acts on as high and as true a principle of religion as a rational mind is capable of.
The second principle of duty, which is the love of our neighbor, may be considered in two views, either as it results from the common relation which all men bear to God, or from the relation which men bear to each other. In the first view, to love our neighbor is properly a religious act, and part of the duty we owe to God; and he knows but little of God and his attributes, who cannot from thence discern that to do good to our fellow-creatures is an acceptable part of obedience to him; that to vex, injure, and oppress them, is injurious to him, the common Father and Maker of all men.
But besides this, could we suppose men to forget God with out forgetting themselves, and losing the reason with which they are endowed; the very light of reason, assisted by the natural faculty of distinguishing what is right and wrong, would oblige men to use each other with justice and with tenderness : for reason itself is a law to a reasonable mind : and in the present case, you must either
that it would be altogether as reasonable an act in a man, who believes not in God, to murder an innocent child, as to nourish and support it; or you must allow that reason alone in this case makes a difference, and creates such an obligation as a reasonable mind must ever be sensible of, and inclined to follow. I would not call this religious obedience; but it is obedience to the law of our own minds : and could we be so stupid as to forget the hand which planted this law in our hearts, yet whilst the law itself lives in us; that is, as long as we continue to have reason and sense, so long shall we feel the obligations we are under in obedience to it; so long shall we be dissatisfied with ourselves for acting contrary to what we see, and know, and feel to be right and becoming.
But join these two considerations together, and you see into the very source of all the obligations a man can be under to do good to his fellow-creatures. We can consider men only as they stand related to us, or as they and we stand equally related to God, our common father; and under these views we may discover whatever we owe to man for his own sake, or for the sake of God who made him; and discern the whole compass of our duty with respect to the second great branch of it, · Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.'
Let us then proceed to the third thing, viz. the love of ourselves and our own happiness; and consider how far this will and ought to influence our religious obedience, It is very
evident from the common and universal sense of mankind, that the desires of life and happiness are impressions which come from the Author of nature; and consequently that to follow these impressions, and to act in pursuance of them, is according to nature, and agreeable to the will of God, the author of them. It is reasonable for a man to be concerned for his own happiness; and since the will of God can never contradict right reason, it is consonant to the divine will for men to act on this principle, the care of themselves and of their own welfare. This concern for our own happiness is a very strong principle of action in us, and when duly pursued, within its proper bounds, a very justifiable one; and though in strictness of speech it cannot be termed a principle of religion, because the reason of our own religious obedience is not to be resolved into self-love; yet, considering the strict union which God has made between our happiness and our duty, the concern for our own happiness, when duly regulated, will always be a powerful principle of action in matters of religion.
The natural care and concern therefore which all men hare for themselves and their own happiness, is the great source from which the motives of religion are deduced ; and the reason why this natural principle of action does often furnish very powerful motives to the cause of vice and irreligion, is no other than this; that men often, through the corruption of their affections, judge amiss of their happiness, and pursue those things as pleasant and profitable, which are really pernicious and destructive. In which case men are not to be blamed for pursuing their own happiness, but for the corruption of their hearts, which