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A VINDICATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF DISINTERESTED LOVE OR BENEVOLENCE; BEING A REPLY TO OBJECTIONS MADE AGAINST THIS DOCTRINE BY MR. BANGS, IN HIS SIXTH LETTER.
IF the reader has become convinced, that the witness of the Spirit is to be looked for in the holy change, which takes place in the heart of the convert; he will naturally inquire, What is the nature of that change? what is there imparted which is new? To this inquiry we answer, The love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost, We also say, it is a love which may be known by this, that it is not selfish, but disinterested.
The first inference drawn from the seventh Sermon, in the volume which called forth Mr. B's animadversions, was this, That selfishness, and disinterested love, are the sources of all the sin, and of all the holiness in the universe. From the Letters before me, I find thất my antagonist denies the very existence of that principle, which in the sermon was considered as the source of all the holiness in the universe," Disinterested benevolence," says Mr. B. " is a phrase often used by Hopkinsian writers, and it sounds very pleasing to the ear, but is something to which man is a total stranger," p. 269. His principal objections against the doctrine
of disinterested love or benevolence, will now be noticed.
I. He objects, that it is inconsistent in the very nature of things, to be actuated by disinterested motives; since it supposes us to be interested, and disinterested at at the same time. "No man," says our author, 66 can be actuated by a principle that he does not possess.And to be disinterested, is to have no interest in our welfare. But to have no interest in a thing, is to be wholly indifferent about it, that is, to have no concern about it. And can a man act from a principle in which he takes no interest, concerning which he is entirely indifferent, and which he feels not to operate in his heart ?” p. 172. This objection is a mere play upon words. Our opponents must know, that we do not use the word disinterested, as being synonymous with indifferent.The word selfish is pretty generally understood to convey a bad idea, an idea of something criminal; and it is common to use the word interested, as conveying the same idea with selfish. Thus we say, a man is governed by interest; or he is actuated by interested motives, when we mean that he is selfish. Now it is convenient to have some word to express the opposite of a selfish temper, and as the word interested is used to imply the same thing as selfish, it was not at all unnatural, that the word disinterested should come into use, as expressing the opposite of selfishness. When it is used in opposition to selfishness, it is evident that it cannot mean the same as no interest, but rather as pointing out another sort of interest, totally different from the interest sought by a selfish being. When Moses would not accept the offer of being made into a great nation himself, in distinction from the twelve tribes; but preferred to have his name blotted froin God's book, rather than to see Israel destroyed, and their God dishonored, he seemed nobly to rise above selfish considerations. This we express by saying, that he manifested a disinterested spirit: but we would by no means be understood to say, that he felt indifferent about the glory of God, and the good of Israel, which was the interest or good, which he preferred to his own honor and prosperity. He did not feel uninterested in the glory of Jehovah, or in the good of his people. But
as this great interest drew his heart away from his selfish interest, or from that interest which a selfish heart would naturally prize, we describe this excellency by calling it disinterestedness.
It is said of Jesus Christ, that he pleased not himself ; therefore we say that he was not selfish, he was not governed by interested motives, but was disinterested in all which he did, and suffered ; and yet it is most manifest, that he took a most lively interest in that good which he sought, even the glory of God in the salvation of sinners. Of him it was written, "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up." Let our opponents then, once for all, understand, that by disinterested affection we do not mean apathy, or stoical indifference and stupidity: we do not mean the same as no affec tion; nor do we design to say, that the disinterested have any less interest in the object which they seek; than the selfish have in the object which they seek; but we mean to say; that the object itself is a different one, even so fundamentally different, that selfish creatures do not seek it at all; but are really opposed to it with all their heart.
II. It is objected, that the doctrine of a disinterested love, requires to annihilate ourself, or to hate ourself, whereas God has "commanded to love our neighbor only as we love ourselves ;" and "the apostle saith, For no man ever yet hated his own flesh." See p. 272. Let it be understood, that by disinterested love, we mean the moral opposite of selfishness. By selfishness is meant a supreme regard to one's self, not because this object is of such superlative worth in the intellectual system, but because it is self. In this sense self ought to be annihilated; that is, considered as the supreme good but such an annihilation of self, would imply nothing more than reducing one's self to his own proper place in the system.
If a single atom were to take state to itself, and fly from the surface of the earth high into the firmament of heaven, and claim to be the center of the material system, and require suns and planets to revolve around it, as the acknowledged center of attraction ;→ this would resemble a rational creature who makes him self his supreme object, and who wishes the Creator
and all his creatures, to make his good their center of attraction. But had this little atom no place in the material system? Certainly it had. Its proper place was that of an atom, and it behoved it to cleave to the surface of the earth, and in connexion with all its kindred atoms, to attract, and be attraeted; and statedly and orderly to revolve around the real center of the system. In like manner, every man has a place in the intellectual system. He is one among many millions in this world, and he has a right to count himself one. Therefore the command of the Creator enjoins, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. The Creator, by this command, did not surely intend to balance the interests of all the human race, by the interests of one man ;-he did not therefore mean to say, • Love thyself as much as all thy fellow men:' but, Love thyself as much as one of them, for one thou art; and, Love one of them as much as thyself, for one he is.' God is no respecter of persons; and the law which he has given us is the transcript of his own heart. The good of one man appears as valuable in his sight, as the good of another; that is, going on the ground of their possessing equal capacity for enjoyment; and the law of love which worketh no ill to its neighbor, requires that we should view things just as he does. And it is certain that nothing short of my loving my neighbor as myself, even so as to value his interest and happiness, as much as my own, will lay a foundation for a perfect oneness between me and my neighbor, so as effectually and forever to prevent all discord, hatred, and envy; and prepare me to rejoice in all his joy.
In this statement I go on the ground, that my neighbor has as great a place in the system of intelligent beings as myself. My happiness, it is true, is placed more under my immediate care, than my neighbor's: I can do things for the health and comfort of my own body, and of my own soul, which I cannot do for my neighbor. I can exercise repentance and faith, so as to become thereby interested in the great atonement; but I cannot do this for him. I am my own keeper, in such a sense as I am not his. But if I make the law of God my rule, I shall not pay this particular attention to
myself, because I place a higher value on my own nterest than on my neighbor's.
As it belonged to the little atom of which we just now spake, not only to cleave to the surface of the earth, but also, in connexion with its kindred atoms, to revolve around the sun, the center of the material system; so it becomes an individual man, not only to love his neighbor as himself, but to love the Lord his God with all his heart; which would be to revolve around the Sun of righteousness, the center of moral attraction. There is no doubt a harmony between the works of the Creator. One use of the material system, and of the laws which regulate it, is to illustrate the beauty and order, and point out the obligation of the moral system. Attraction to the world of matter, is the same as disinterested, or unselfish love, to the moral world.
From what has now been said, it will be seen, that disinterested love does not imply a hatred of ourselves, unless it be in a comparative sense, that is, the loving of ourselves less than some other object. In this comparative sense, we are most expressly commanded to hate ourselves. "If any man come to me," said our blessed Lord, "and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." Luke xiv. 26. We know that our Lord did not require malicious hatred to be exercised towards any one; but from the passage before us, it is certain, that he required us to love him supremely, so as to weigh down all the love which we have for our nearest and dearest relatives, and also for ourselves. But if we love Christ, only because we think he loves us; is not this, after all, loving ourselves more than Christ?
III. It is objected, that the scheme of disinterested and universal benevolence, proposes too great an object for a finite mind. “Who but the infinite God," says my antagonist, can have such a comprehensive view of all things as to know, in every case, what is best for the general and universal goud? Certainly no finite mind is adequate to take such a comprehensive survey of universal existence, as to know what line of conduct