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As objects of your kindness, always select the most deserving. The Scriptures have directed you to do good unto all men, and especially to those of the household of faith. To the soundness of this precept common sense bears, also, the fullest attestation. It was reserved for philosophy to discern, that the true and proper scenes of employing benevolence were the galley and the gaol; and that its chief aim should be not to make men good and virtu ous, but to prevent thieves, murderers, and traitors from coming to the dungeon or the gibbet, which they had merited. Let your favourite object be the honest, the industrious, the sober, the virtuous; and both feel, and relieve, their distresses. Refuse not others; but give to these an universal preference. When you relieve the sufferings of the vicious and infamous, close your beneficence with solemn reproof, and pungent counsel; and remember, you withdraw them from vice to virtue, you render them a kindness, infinitely greater, than if you elevate them to wealth and honour. In this way you will save a soul from death, and cover a multitude of sins.
With all your resolutions and efforts, you will need, every day, assistance from God. Every day, ask it in humble, fervent prayer. No real blessing ever descends to man, but as an answer to prayer. Particularly this rich and glorious blessing of a life patiently spent in well-doing, cannot be expected unless it be asked for. Three times a day retire with Daniel to your chambers. God will be there, and will grant you a glorious answer of peace.
To such a life can you want motives? Let me remind you, that it is, and, I flatter myself, it has been proved to be, not only the most honourable, but the only honourable, character; the character, which secures the secret approbation of those who do not assume it; and the open esteem, love, and praise, of those who do that it is the only character, which is truly and eminently happy; which possesses peace within, and enjoyment without; which is found in heaven, and constitutes the happiness of that exalted world that it is the character of Angels, of Christ, and of God; the beauty of the divine kingdom, the glory of Jehovah, and the source of all the good, which is enjoyed in Immensity and Eternity.
It is the only character, which will endure. The world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he who doeth the will of God abideth for ever. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, the wretched inventory of a selfish, worldly mind, find all their poor, though boasted, gratifications on this side of the grave. Their miserable possessors riot, and dig, and climb, during their passing day; and then vanish, and are seen no more: where will they next be found?
He, on the contrary, who by patient continuance in well-doing hath sought for glory, honour, and immortality, will lie down in the bed of peace, will fall asleep in the Lord Jesus, and awake
with new life, and glory, beyond the grave. In the great trial, he will be found, and pronounced, to have well done, and to have been a good and faithful servant of his divine Master; and will be directed to enter into the joy of his Lord.
In the great and final day, he will be acquitted, acknowledged, and glorified, before the assembled universe; because, when the least of Christ's brethren was an hungered, he gave him meat; when he was thirsty, he gave him drink; when he was a stranger, he took him in; when he was naked, he clothed him; when he was sick, and in prison, he ministered unto him. Of so high and valuable a nature will he find this beneficence, that it will be received, and rewarded, by Christ, as done to himself. To heaven he will be an acceptable inhabitant; and meet with an open and abundant entrance into that happy world. Glorified saints will there hail him as their brother: Angels will welcome him as their companion. There, also, will he find, that he has begun a career of excellence, which will never end. Endued, there, with stronger principles and nobler powers, in a happier field, with more desirable companions, and forming all his plans of beneficence for eternal duration, he will fill up the succession of ages with a glorious and immortal progress of doing good; and become daily a brighter, a more perfect, a more divine, ornament, and blessing, to the virtu ous universe.
And now, my friends and brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up in this evangelical character, and to give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified. Amen.
THE LAW OF GOD. THE SECOND GREAT COMMANDMENT. THE EFFECTS OF BENEVOLENCE ON PUBLIC HAPPINESS.
ACTS xx. 35.-1 have shewed you all things, how that so labouring, ye ought to support the weak; and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It ́is more blessed to give, than to receive.
IN a preceding discourse, I considered, at length, the Influence of a disposition to do good on the personal happiness of him, in whom it exists; and attempted to show, that this disposition is more productive, than any other, of such happiness. It is now my design to prove, that it possesses a no less superior efficacy in producing Public happiness; or the happiness of Society in all its various forms.
Of this disposition, commonly styled disinterested Benevolence, and denoted in the New Testament by the word, Ayan, rendered in our translation Love, d Charity, we have an extensive, most accurate, and most beautiful, description in the 13th chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians. In this chapter, it is exhibited to be superior to every natural and supernatural endowment, and to every acquisition made by man. It is proved to be the source of all good, natural and moral; or rather the source of all natural, and the substance of all moral, good. It is shown to be the only real excellence of intelligent creatures; the means of their existence, and their continuance, in the kingdom, of God; and the only cause of his complacency in their character. Finally, it is declared, that this disposition shall endure until all other things, which are admired and esteemed by men, shall be forgotten; and, when they shall have ceased, together with their use and importance, shall brighten and flourish for ever.
Generally, it is declared, if I mistake not, in this chapter, that Love, in its various modifications and exercises, is the amount of all those, which are commonly called the graces of the Christian. spirit; or, as they are often styled, the Christian virtues. Particularly, it is exhibited to us as long-suffering, contentment, modesty, humility, decency, disinterestedness, meekness, charitableness, hatred of iniquity, love to truth, patience, faith, hope, and fortitude. With this, the most extended and the most detailed, account of the subject, furnished by the Scriptures, all the other exhibitions, contained in the sacred volume, perfectly agree. In them all, when connected together by the mind, as may without difficulty be perceived, this great truth is abundantly shown: viz.
that the Love of the Gospel, or the spirit of doing good, is the source of all happiness, public and private; and is productive, intentionally, of no unnecessary evil.
This truth is generally, but forcibly, taught in the text, with regard to society, as well as with regard to individuals. If we remember, that all societies are composed of individuals; we cannot hesitate to admit, that whatever renders them happy, must in exactly the same manner, and degree, be the source of public happiness. If it is more blessed to give, than to receive, if it is more blessed to cherish a spirit of doing good to others, than a disposition to gain it from them, in individual instances; the community, in which this disposition universally reigned, could not fail to enjoy this superior happiness in its fullest extent.
Equally manifest is it, that the same disposition could not be productive of evil. Love, saith St. Paul, worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore Love is the fulfilling of the Law. In other words, this great and glorious characteristic of love, that it is productive of no ill, rendered it an object of such excellence to the view of God, that he framed his law in such a manner, as to require nothing of his intelligent creatures, beside this attribute and its proper exercises. We are not indeed to suppose this the only reason, why the divine law was framed in this manner. The good, of which this disposition is the parent, was, as we are abundantly taught in the Scriptures, a commanding reason also, why it was required by the law of God. To secure this good, and prevent in this manner the existence of the evil, which would necessarily result from any other disposition, was, at the same time, supremely glorious to the Infinite Lawgiver.
It cannot fail of being an interesting employment to a Christian assembly to contemplate the operations of this spirit upon human society. In the progress of such contemplation, so many blessings will rise up to our view; and will be so easily seen to flow necessarily from this disposition; that we cannot fail to feel deeply the degraded, mischievous, miserable nature of that selfishness, which is so directly contrasted to it, and which so generally controls the affections and conduct of man. With scarcely less strength shall we realize, also, the excellence and amiableness of that spirit, from which good so extensively flows; which makes heaven the residence of supreme enjoyment; and which might make even this melancholy world no unworthy resemblance of heaven.
On a theme, so extensive as this, and comprehending such a vast multitude of particulars, it would be easy to make many important observations. Those which fall within the compass of my design must, however, be all included within the limits of a single discourse. They will, therefore, be few, and of necessity general.
1. Evangelical Love, or the Spirit of communicating happiness, will, of course, induce us to be contented with our own Providential allotments.
Love, saith St. Paul, envieth not. Love seeketh not her own.
It is easily demonstrated by Reason, as well as abundantly declared in the Scriptures, that the infinitely wise and benevolent God orders all things aright. Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this; that he understandeth and knoweth me; that I am the LORD which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD. With such a government as this, it is evident, all persons ought to be satisfied: for all persons clearly ought to wish, that that which is righteous, wise, and benevolent, should be invariably done. He who is dissatisfied, therefore, cannot, without voluntary blindness, fail to discern, that in this temper he is guilty of sin. At the same time, the good man is taught, and will from interest and duty, alike, remember, that all things work together for good to them that love God; and therefore, for good to him, as being one of this happy number. Such a man, with this conviction, must be contented of course. His understanding, prepared alway to admit the dictates of truth, and his heart, always ready to welcome them, demand, and generate, a contented spirit. In such a man discontentment with his own situation, and envy on account of the superior enjoyments of others, can find no place, unless when the law in the members, warring against the law of the mind, brings him into captivity. Were his love, therefore, perfect; his contentment would be also perfect.
The importance of this disposition to the happiness of man, may be advantageously illustrated by calling up to our view the immense evils, which spring from discontentment. How vast is their number; how terrible their nature! What hatred does it generate towards our fellow-creatures; what wrath; what contention; what revenge! How many slanders does it produce; how many frauds! What a multitude of perjuries, litigations, murders, and wars! What a mass of guilt does it create! What an accumulation of misery! Were the great men of this world, alone, to be satisfied with the wealth, splendour, and power, allotted to them; were they to thirst no more for the enjoyments, bestowed on their rivals; the whole face of this earthly system would in a great measure be changed. Oppression would break his iron rod; and war would cease to ravage the habitations of men.
In producing these evils, it is impossible for a mind, governed by the spirit of doing good, to take any share. Such a mind must of necessity rejoice in the righteous and benevolent dispensations of God. All these it would regard, as springing from his perfect character, and as accomplishing his perfect designs. Its own al