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HEAVEN'S CURE FOR THE PLAGUES OF SIN..
Romans xiii, 8.
Sin has made this a miserable world. It has bred a host of unhallowed passions, which perpetually operate to widen the wastes and aggravate the miseries of the curse. One who was a stranger to these passions, and should see how they operate, would wonder if men were happy in proportion as they rendered each other miserable !—if their only remaining joy consisted in laying waste the inheritance of their neighbours. Else why with so much industry and perseverance, do they endeavour to wrest from others their wealth, their good name, their influence, their quiet and their hope. And yet the inference drawn from all this would be incorrect. Men are not happy in rendering others less so. They may gratify malignant passions, but this gratification is not happiness; it but stimulates the plague that reigns in the bosom, and gives it an increased ability to destroy ; it but feeds the fever that rages afterward with the more violence, produces inward distress, and preys upon the soul with a more unsatiable and incontrollable severity. Follow home the man who has been out to injure his neighbour, who carries home with him a shilling that is not his own, or the consciousness that he has made
any inroads upon happiness or character, and as you live you find that man unhappy. He brings into his own family the passions that raged abroad, and the bed that should give him rest, is a bed of thorns. He has obeyed the dictates of his own evil heart, but he now must listen to the reproaches of a wounded conscience. He is constrained to know that he has done wrong; and is strongly apprehensive of a re-action that will render his own territory in its turn the seat of a similar warfare.
The text enjoins a temper and a conduct by which men might render each other happy, might convert this desert into the garden of God, and make our passage through it gay and cheerful. The apostle had treated of the honour, the affection, and the duty which men owe to their superiors, and proceeds in the text to lay down rules that apply generally to all men; rules which, if observed, would tend greatly to meliorate the condition of the apostacy. We are to pay every debt but love. This we are to feel that we are to be always paying, but must ever owe.
This is a debt that we are to be willing to owe to all men for ever. To this we are to be urged by the consideration that love is the fulfilling of the law; by which the apostle means, no doubt, the second table of the law. Hence he enumerates some particulars of that section of the decalogue: “Thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness; thou shalt not covet;" and, that no part might remain un. said, he adds, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” He then sums up the argument, “ Love worketh no ill to his neighbour, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.."
I shall endeavour to explain the nature of love, show how it will operate, and press the duty, but sball dwell particularly upon the last article.
I. I am to explain the nature of love. There are two kinds of affection that have this title. One is an approbation and affection for a character that pleases
the other is an ardent good-will toward beings capable of happiness. Both of these affections are exercises of the divine mind. God views all holy beings with approbation, and loves them in the first sense mentioned. Sinners he views with disapprobation, but still with compassion. Hence it is said that he is angry with the wicked every day; that is, he hates their character and conduct. And yet it is said that he “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, might have everlasting life.” One of these affections, that with which he views holy beings, is termed complacency; God is pleased with them. The other, that which he exercises toward wicked beings, who are capable of being happy, is termed benevolence; God wishes them happiness. And both of these affections are enjoined upon man. God and angels, and all holy beings, we are obligated to look upon with complacency, and towards all men we are bound to exercise good-will: this is the affection enjoined in the text. It is our duty to feel kindly towards all men, to wish them happy, and, as far as in our power, accomplish our wishes. It may be well to say, however, that there is one exception. There are beings whom God has condemned to everlasting unhappiness. In this case, we may not wish to reverse the appointment of God, and snatch from misery those whose release would be inconsistent with the general good. We may wish well to all
men, and still be willing to see the convict imprisoned and executed. This the good of the civil community demands, and this benevolence assents to, nay, even requires. He who would suffer the murderer or the
incendiary to go at large, would find it difficult to evince his benevolence. And God may be good to all, and his tender mercies over all his works, and still there may be some whom his benevolence may never render happy. There may go after the wretch whom the general good requires should suffer, a lingering look of compassion; there may follow him into his exile and his ruin the good-will that would have made him happy; but there may be felt towards other beings an affection so strong as to prevent it from being exercised.
This exception, then, plainly understood, benevolence, as enjoined in the text, is a high regard to the well-being of all creatures who are capable of being made happy. I was to inquire, in the
II. Place, How this affection will operate. Here the path for our thoughts is plain. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour. It will neither kill, nor steal, nor covet, nor defraud, nor witness falsely. It will lead to the discharge of every debt but one, and that one the debt of love; it will delight to owe and pay, and still owe for
Those whom we love we wish happy; and in proportion to the strength of that affection, will be the energy exerted to accomplish that object. If to be calm and content will render them happy, we shall be reluctant to ruffle their temper or move their envy. If to be rich, and respected, and wise, will make them happy, we shall wish their success in business, their increased respectability, and their advance in knowledge. If health, and ease, and long life, and domestic friendship, will add to their enjoyments, we shall wish them all these; and what we wish for them, we shall be willing, if in our power, to do for them. But if only the grace of God can make them blessed, it will be our strongest. wish, and our most ardent prayer, that God would sanctify them. Hence the reason why God's people expend the strongest efforts of their good will to their fellow-men in rendering them holy. Hence the warnings, the reproofs, the threatenings, the admonitions of God toward a world he loves; and hence something of the same in his people toward those for whom they feel the highest good-will. I am ready to concede that the benevolence I describe does not exist but in the heart that is holy ; and still it may be urged upon all men, as their duty, as that conduct, the want of which is their blot and their shame. What pleasure have we in contemplating the character of that man who does not wish the good of his fellow-men; but can see about him percipient beings like himself, whom he is willing should be less blessed than they might be? And yet, if we should judge from facts, we should be constrained to say that this character is common. He who would have what is not his due, what is it but a wish expressed, that his neighbour should be poorer than God has made him? He who would unnecessarily speak evil of his neighbour, does he not express a wish that his neighbour had a worse character than the providence of God has given him ? And he who would irritate and provoke another, what wish does he express but this, that his neighbour might be less happy? I proceed
III. To press the duty of benevolence. And here I would premise that the good-will which I urge is to be exercised toward friend and foe. The good which real benevolence wishes its object, is of the same value in the possession of one man as of another. Benevolence looks abroad to find happiness, and wherever it can be found rejoices in it; or it goes in search of misery, and