Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

portant concerns of a worldly kind should yield to those of reKigion, when they come into competition with each other. The civil immunities of nations, societies, and families, are objects of great magnitude, but their moral and religious interests of much greater. And what farther entitles the latter to the precedence of the former is, the direct and mighty influence which virtue and piety unquestionably have upon men's temporal happiness. Here permit me to observe, that this reasoning stamps a dignity upon the character of those, however mean and contemptible their external appearance and circumstances may be, whom divine Providence hath raised up and sent to preach the gospel in the world. Again,

Thirdly, The nearer the relation the greater is the regard we owe to one another.

Charity, we usually say, begins at home. And it is a plain dictate of nature, that offices of benevolence should originate among our most intimate connections, and so proceed by gradual progression to those at the remotest distance from us. Men eminent for a disinterested and public spirit, have generally given distinguished proofs of a humane and friendly disposition. Nor is much to be expected from those, however warm their professions of zeal for the public good may be, who pay little or no attention to the important obligations of consanguinity, neighbourhood, and private friendship. These things premised, we go on to speak of the duties of benevolence under the following heads, namely, those we owe to mankind in general -our country-the church of Christ-and individuals.

1. There are duties we owe to men as men, and purely on the ground of their being of the same species with ourselves.

All our fellow-creatures, whatever may be their situations, characters, or circumstances, are entitled to our sympathy and benevolence. A good man will wish well to every one of his brethren of mankind, sincerely pray for their happiness, and heartily concur in measures for extending the blessings of civil and religious liberty far and wide. The attention he pays to his family, friends, and neighbourhood, will not exclude those from his regards who are beyond the circle wherein he moves. His predilection in favour of his native country will not excite animosity in his breast against the subjects of other states. Nor

will the just prejudices he has conceived against the ignorance, superstition, and bigotry of Pagans, Mahometans, and Papists, or against those who have injured him, obliterate the compassionate feelings of humanity towards them. Detesting those wretched maxims of policy and self-interest which tend to the dividing mankind, and alienating them from one another, he will consider himself obliged, upon the grand principle that God hath made men of one blood, and that his sun shines upon the evil and the good, to contribute what in him lies to the welfare of all. In short, as religion confirms and improves that universal philanthropy which nature teaches, so the Christian feels himself disposed not only to the duties of truth, sincerity, and justice, but to those of civility, sympathy, and love towards the whole race of mankind.

2. The duties we owe to our country come next to be enumerated.

These are of a more particular description than the former. They are the result of a regard due to others, not as men only, but as men inhabiting one country, cast into one civil society, and subsisting under one form of government. This regard or attachment is what we call patriotism, a kind of instinct implanted in our breasts for wise and noble purposes; and which, therefore, a good man will cherish and cultivate to the utmost of his power. And the duties of it are such as these: in general, the seeking the safety, honour, and prosperity of our country. The considering the enemies of it, whether foreign or domestic, as our enemies. The using our endeavours to detect every insidious, and to defeat every open attempt against it. The contending earnestly for its civil and religious rights and liberties. The paying all due allegiance, honour, and submission to its magistrates supreme and subordinate. The rendering tribute to whom tribute is due. The leading peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty. The endeavouring to promote harmony and good will, condescension and subordination among all orders of men. And, in a word, the exerting ourselves, as far as our abilities and stations will admit, to check the progress of vice and profaneness, and to promote virtue and religion. Which leads me,

3. To the duties we owe, as Christians, to the church of God.

Here our views are confined within a circle of a different description from the former. All good men, wherever situated and however distinguished from one another, compose one large family, society, or kingdom, of which God is the Father, and Christ is the Sovereign and King. And our duty, as belonging to this one catholic church or body, is, in general, to maintain steadily the grand principles on which it is united, to contend earnestly for its rights and privileges, to endeavour, by all possible means, to promote its prosperity and increase, and to cherish in our breasts a cordial and unreserved affection to every individual of which it is composed.

But as the various situations and circumstances of Christians, and their different modes of thinking respecting matters which do not affect the existence of the whole, make it necessary that they should be formed into distinct societies, so there are duties which the members of such societies owe to one another, And it is an important expression of a public spirit to pay a faithful attention to these duties, as hereby not only the particular interests of these separate societies are promoted, but the general welfare and glory of the whole. And here I might mention the various mutual offices required of ministers and their people towards each other, in regard of public worship, the celebration of divine ordinances, and the maintenance of good order, fellowship, and love. He is a man of a public catholic spirit, who in respect of these matters seeks not his own things but the things of Christ, and can say with the apostle, For me to live is Christ, it is my grand object to promote his kingdom and interest: who endeavours with all his might to preserve the Christian doctrine and institutions inviolable; and to that end often foregoes his own ease, emolument, and honour: and who, abhorring from his very heart a narrow, uncandid, bigotted spirit, feels a cordial affection for all other Christian societies, who hold Christ as the head, though they differ in many circumstantials of doctrine and duty; and most heartily concurs with them in every laudable scheme for the general good.

4. And lastly, the duties of benevolence are to be further considered in their reference to families and individuals.

And here I forbear to enumerate all the offices required of us towards each other, in the various characters of husbands and

wives, parents and children, brethren and sisters, masters and servants, buyers and sellers, relatives, friends, neighbours, and members of civil society. These offices are almost infinitely diversified, yet they are all the objects of his attention who looks not on his own things only, but also on the things of others.

!

A busy, officious temper ought, however, to be particularly guarded against. Far was it from the apostle's intention to give any countenance to so little, mean, and base a passion, as that of looking or prying into other people's affairs. A passion that has done infinite mischief in the world and in the church. He particularly inveighs against it in his epistles to the Thessalonians and to Timothy, where he describes persons of this character, as walking disorderly, working not at all, and being busy bodies a. And, as learning to be idle, wandering about from house to house, tatlers, and speaking things which they ought not b. A man of a public and benevolent spirit is infinitely superior to every thing of this sort. He meddles not with the concerns of others. Yet glad would he be to make every individual with whom he is connected happy, and sincerely does he lament it, that too often, through human frailty and criminal neglect, he fails in his duty.—This general view of the duties to which the apostle exhorts us in the text, and which are hereafter to be more particularly considered, shall at present suffice.Our obligations to the regular and cheerful discharge of the duties of a public spirit, remain now to be considered. But this will be the subject of our attention the next opportunity.

t

PART II.

WE have particularly considered the evil we are cautioned against in the text, namely, a private or selfish spirit-Look not every man on his own things. And, we have explained and illustrated the temper and conduct opposed to it, namely, a benevolent and public spirit-Let every man look also on the things of others. And we now proceed,

SECONDLY, To enquire into our obligations to the regular and cheerful discharge of the duties of Benevolence.

1. We will begin with the obligation which results from the relation we stand in to each other.

a 2 Thess. iii, 11.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

b. 1 Tim. v. 13.

There are relations subsisting among mankind, and these relations do of necessity beget reciprocal duties. As for instance, the moment I contemplate the relation between parents and their children, the obligation of the former to love the latter, and of the latter to reverence the former, forces itself upon my mind. There is no separating the ideas. And the same may be said of every other relation among reasonable beings. Let men be placed in what connection they may with each other, that connection will, it must, produce some consequent obligation. And that obligation, supposing the connection to subsist, is in the reason and nature of the thing immutable. All the movements of a watch are adapted to one great end, and it is by the regular operation of the several parts, which bear an immediate relation to each other, that that end is attained. So it is in the moral world. The various orders of rational beings that exist bear certain relations to each other, and were the several duties resulting from these relations rightly and uniformly discharged, the happiness of every individual would be secured, and so the general good of the whole, which is the grand ob ject, would be attained.

Now they who look on their own things, and not on the things of others, do violate the obligations which result from the relation they stand in to their fellow-creatures. And how very absurd and criminal is such a conduct! Will they deny that any relation subsists between them and mankind? No, it cannot be denied. Will they deny that these relations oblige them to certain duties? This would be to offer violence to common sense, and to tear the whole fabric of this moral system to pieces. Will they say, they are no further obliged to consult the interests of others than the doing it will tend in their apprehension to promote their own interests? If they may be allowed to say so, others may too; and then not only the welfare of the whole will be defeated, but of individuals, and in the long run of themselves likewise. On the contrary, it were easy to shew (and will be shewn afterwards) that by seeking the things of others we seek our own things; and that however in many instances our present worldly advantage may be affected by our attention to the general good, we shall yet be gainers upon the whole not to say how the common feelings of humanity, upon

« ZurückWeiter »