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LOVE OF OUR NEIGHBOUR.
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
THERE are few who rise to that sublime height in virtue, which this text requires. He who has a grateful sense of God's goodness, and shows a sincere desire to please him, by imitating that goodness, has the love of God perfected in him. Our love of God is to be shewn by our loving our fellow men.-How is this love of man to be shewn? By actions. Your proof of loving your neighbour may be given every day, in your faithful performance of your various relative duties.-Are you a husband? love your wife as yourself, and continue through life the same manly tenderness, which in youth gained her affections.-Are you a wife? be gentle and condescending to your husband; and by mildness of manner and discretion of conduct, lighten his cares.-Are you parents? let your authority over your children settle down into influence; and regulate but not break their tempers.--Are you children? love, obey and honour your parents. Make their lives happy by your improvement, and their deaths peaceful by your virtue.--Are you brothers and sisters? live in mutual love.--Are you a master? exact no more than your servant's strength safely permits.-Are you a servant? be sober, diligent, economical and faithful.-Are you a ruler? be studious and just. Are you a citizen? be active and exemplary. Whatever your condition, you should be pious and holy; industrious and charitable, and this is the love of your neighbour.
As you profess yourselves the children of the God of love, you are bound to imitate his unlimited goodness; as you call yourselves the disciples of the benevolent Jesus, you are obliged to copy every part of his merciful example. When he was on earth, he constantly went about doing good. He not only took up young children in his arms and blessed them, but he healed the sick; he expelled from the mind the demons of doubt and despair; he bound up the broken hearted; he opened the prison doors to them who were in chains; he comforted all who mourned. As far as you can, you should go and do likewise. Wretched objects surround you on all sides; but it is in your power to lessen the evils which they endure. You have only piously and courageously to resolve, that you will forget yourselves; that you will not live for yourselves, but for others; that wherever the sound of distress strikes your ears, you will fly to its relief; and that you will not voluntarily add any thing to the mass of wo, which may load the earth. This as christians you ought to do; for the great object of the christian religion is to promote the love of God and the love of man. This, if we may credit St. Paul, will never fail. Prophecies will fail, tongues will cease, and knowledge will vanish away; but charity or love, will continue forever. Faith, it is true, abideth; and hope abideth; but love is the greatest of the three. For when misery sprang up out of the earth, the Father of the human race, who pitied his erring offspring, and graciously determined to restore them to happiness, sent from heaven these three angelic messengers-faith, hope and love. Faith sang the wonders of redemption; and resounded through the air, Glory to the Most High, for the Saviour is come; peace on earth; forgiveness to the penitent! Hope expanded wide the gates of immortality; and disclosed to the enraptured eye of man the regions of everlasting bliss. But love, the most potent of them all, seized his willing hand, and ascended with him, on rapid wings, to the throne of God.
CHRIST'S BENEVOLENCE INCONSISTENT WITH DECEPTION. 299
He that speaketh of himself, seeketh his own glory; but he that seeketh His glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.
JESUS Sought his Father's glory, and in its promotion found his own. This was truth, this was righteousness. Such a unity, such an idemy, with all that God is, and all that such a Being can or will design, excludes the possibility of deception.
There is, however, one view in which this impossibility appears in a striking manner, and on which no stress, I think, has been laid in proportion to its importance. The benevolence of Jesus, by the operation of which he pre-eminently sought and promoted the divine glory, admits of no dispute. Look into his doctrine, examine his life, all was benevolence, affection and sympathy. It is saying nothing to assert a conviction, that he could design to do no one an injury; his habitual and ever predominant principle could not risk it. Love to man, deriving new strength and zeal from the love of supreme goodness, was the spirit which inspired and guided his every desire, and impelled to his every action; and this is a truth, which no one who contemplates his religion, or reads his history, can doubt. Upon no other ground can we account for his great undertaking, the mode of its pursuit, or his perseverance in its accomplishment, through overwhelming sufferings, and to eventual death. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." This is the utmost proof of attachment. Our Saviour gave it; and all those were or would be accounted his friends, who did or would do whatsoever he commanded them. Now then, look at the state of things before, and when he entered upon his office. Dangerous indeed must it be for any one to oppose himself to the unrestricted feelings of Jews. Extreme must be the peril awaiting him who, appearing as the Messiah, should disappoint them. The path before him would be full, not of ordinary danger, but of extreme and inevitable evils. This Jesus knew; and this, in a certain degree, he experienced very soon after the commencement of his ministry. For though the people were for some time inclined to hope that he might prove to be the Messiah, the chief priests and rulers sent to apprehend him, and discovered a very early disposition to put him to death. In such circumstances, therefore, a man of common understanding, who had no divine commission, and who felt the attachment which all men feel to life and self-enjoyment, could never have thought of attempting to substitute a moral and spiritual in the room of a temporal and external kingdom; that to which the Jews would be most averse, for that which they most desired. But supposing an undaunted moralist to despise the terrours which lay before him; supposing, (if such a supposition be allowable) the zealous preacher of truth and virtue scrupled not to employ falsehood and unrighteousness in their service; yet a man of humanity could not have exposed to misery and destruction those who hazarded their all in the confidence of his integrity, and whose attachment and hopes were all built upon it. He would have shrunk with horrour from the thought of the evils in which his enterprise would involve the innocent and virtuous victims of his delusion. Justice and compassion would have loudly forbidden an attempt, to the success of which all human power would be opposed; which nothing less than the wisdom and power of God could prosper; and which involved consequences which no feeling mind could bear to contemplate.
Where envying and strife is, there is confusion, and every evil work.
ENVY sickens at the sight of others' enjoyment, and is easy only in their misery and defeat. It brings pain on all occasions where pleasure should be felt. It is perhaps the basest of the passions; because it has the worst passions in its train. Under every form, it repays with pain the breast that harbours it. It is so disagreeable in the mind, that envy and happiness are eternally incompatible. It is a deadly venom; and unlike other sins, it inflicts its penalty at the instant.
Envy is not to be confounded with a virtuous love of equity, or with innocent self-esteem, or with generous emulation. I may consistently strive to excel, the most wise and prosperous, if I cheerfully concede to them their superiority, and grieve not at their greater progress. I am to throw no obstacles in the way of him who is running the same race with me ; but am rather to aid him.
Envy is that impatience at others' success, which denies their right to it, and which wishes its destruction, and which furthermore appropriates such success to ourselves. The envious man is vain, misanthropic and selfish; and feeding his spleen on the sight of another's prosperity, he mourns when that other is successful, and rejoices when he weeps. Full of his own merits, he makes himself a central point, and would have all himself, achieve all, and enjoy all, hating those who would interfere with this his fancied claim.
To ascertain whether this sin is a part of your character is very important. Watch yourself, then, at those moments when others are extolled for the particular qualities in which you think you excel. If you are unable to join in the praise, or if you cast in your suspicions and limitations; if you feel sadness where others are elated, and wish you had not been present during the eulogy, then you are deficient in benevolence, generosity and christian temperyou are envious.-Again, do you consider yourself as injured in some sort, when others shew themselves to advantage; when they draw more attention and obtain more commendations, though in legitimate methods, than yourself? If so, your judgment is prejudiced, partial and unjust--you are envious.-Again, do you dislike to meet those in company, who surpass you in beauty and figure, in wit and brilliancy, in wealth and manners? Does their presence make you dull, morose, sullen, or discontented? Your temper has nothing of the humility or generosity, the contentment or peace of Jesus Christ's -you are envious. And do you make no scruple to traduce such persons as equal or surpass you, to impute bad motives to their most splendid actions, and to throw obstacles in their way? If this is your disposition, believe me, your heart is ulcerated with animosity; hatred has made a league with your soul-you are envious.
By all the arguments which happiness and religion offer, banish this poison which lurks in your bosom; burst from the dominion of this foolish sin, and live a christian, by loving your neighbour and rejoicing in his prosperity.
With generous pleasure let me view
FOLLY AND REMEDIES OF ENVY.
Envy is the rottenness of the bones.-We were foolish, disobedient, living in malice and envy.-Charity envieth not.
HAVING ascertained the nature and occasions of envy, it is necessary we should see its vileness, and guard against it in time.
I. Consider how little that, which most excites the envy of mankind, deserves their esteem or exertions. The chief object of envy is not superiour virtue; no, nor even the prerogatives of mind, genius, knowledge or prudence; but, mere externals; beauty, strength, riches, power, rank, dress, titles, &c. These are often obtained without our efforts, and are all transitory and unsatisfying. Are these enough to excite your envy and even to kindle your dislike of those, who are not really happier in their possession, than you might be without them? Take wisdom to your bosom and envy will leave it. Are not improved faculties, innocence, integrity, usefulness, piety and holiness of infinitely more value than all the splendour and glory of the world? These you can obtain and enjoy. Cease, then, to envy what is so frail and deceptive, but regard, above all, your eternal portion.
II. Consider from what sources of delight the envious man excludes himself, and to what torments he opens his heart. Contemplate on the one hand, the unenvying, benevolent friend of mankind. How quiet, contented and cheerful he lives among his prosperous brethren. All he sees he enjoys, and thus wisely multiplies his own satisfactions by the cordial interest he takes in theirs. When heaven blesses others, he heartily says Amen; and when his eye sees dignity, power, social joy and domestic love, it blesses the great Giver. These pure, never failing sources of delight, the envious man refuses to taste. To him they are so many sources of fretfulness and offence. Not content with what he has, he is always disturbed at what others enjoy! How does he thus embitter the whole course of his life! He is his own greatest enemy; an industrious self-tormentor, who turns every thing into poison to himself, and is annoyed and afflicted by whatever is excellent!
III. Envious man, you act against God, by your envy; you arraign his wise allotments. He determined each condition. Does it depend on any man where he shall be born, under what circumstances and connexions he shall live, or what shall be the issue of his undertakings? No-It is God who fixes the sphere of duty and crowns that duty with blessings. Can you, then, wish a brother less successful without charging infinite goodness with injustice? Could you arrange better than the Allwise? Blush at your foolish and forward judgment on the ordinations of the Most High; and doing faithfully your duty, let envy no longer criminally censure Heaven.
IV. Envy is opposed to the spirit of christianity, and renders a man unfit for the kingdom of heaven. Christianity is love-God is love-heaven is love-Christ's whole ministry was love. He enjoined love as a badge of discipleship. Love to man is the second great command. Envy is opposed to love; for where envy is, there is strife and every evil work. There are no mansions in heaven prepared for the envious. Oh! let us shudder then at the destructive effects of envy. Let us take to our souls, humility, trust in God, disinterestedness and good will, and the reward of these virtues shall be great in heaven.
If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!
By the faculty of reason, we discover, in the world about us, the plain and striking effects of transcendent power, wisdom, and goodness; and hence we justly infer the existence of a wise, powerful and benevolent cause. We find ourselves under the highest and most permanent obligations to that Being whom we have discovered in his works; and we would entertain the deepest sense of those obligations, and a disposition to the appropriate expressions of it. And again, a desire of happiness, an aversion to pain or loss, or an attachment to our general welfare, is universal and inevitable; and it strongly prompts to seek the favour of that Being, on whom our dependence is, and ever must be, absolute. Hence, then, we see that men are disposed, by the very constitution of their nature, and the situation in which every human being is placed, to own a Deity, to feel some sense of obligation to him, to desire his favourable regard, and to avoid his displeasure. But how is this to be accomplished? The answer to the question how it might be done in the best and most effectual manner, is easy enough. Had men, in the language of the scriptures, habitually walked with God; had they given themselves up to the influence of those appearances which suggest the idea of a Deity, and the nature of his attributes; and had they sacrificed every different propensity, to a desire of knowing the most important of truths, there would have been little danger of serious errour. The same principle which led to the first inquiry after God, would have led to the knowledge of him as he is, according to the reach of the human faculties, and have led also to the knowledge of that system of principle and conduct, which corresponds to his perfections; and superstition, if it could in any instance have existed, would have been allied to weakness, without being chargeable with guilt. In a word, the views of men must have been too clear and just to have admitted their worshipping an unknown God; and therefore could not have suffered from the consequences of an immoral superstition. But unhappily a sense of religion and religious obligation has been counteracted and perverted by the influence of those vices, into which mankind have, in different degrees, but universally, fallen. Hence, while they who have maintained or recovered a preponderent and habitual rectitude of heart, have been actuated by a sincere desire to know and obey the true God, others of inferiour character, character stained by different degrees of unsubdued guilt, have been under the bias of different degrees of immoral prejudice; many have even turned the light which was within them into darkness, and have been governed by the unresisted power of mental depravity. Of course, at different times, and under different circumstances, they who have been led to desire the favour of heaven by their fears of its vengeance, though deficient in, or destitute of, superiour motives, have sought to obtain it by substitutes for the only terms on which it ever was or can be enjoyed; convenient opinions have been adopted, instead of genuine truth; superstition has prevailed, and taken up forms and names, instead of moral and religious realities; till at length, the folly, the guilt and presumption of degenerate men created Gods many and Lords many, as foolish and as guilty as themselves.