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ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE.
15. Patience is another attribute of benevolence.
This term is frequently used to express a phenomenon of the sensibility. When thus used, it designates a calm and unruffled state of the sensibility or feelings, under circumstances that tend to excite anger or impatience of feeling. The calmness of the sensibility, or patience as a phenomenon of the sensibility, is purely an involuntary state of mind, and although it is a pleasing and amiable manifestation, yet it is not properly virtue. It may be, and often is, an effect of patience as a phenomenon of the will, and therefore an effect of virtue. But it is not itself virtue. This amiable temper may, and often does, proceed from constitutional temperament, and from circumstances and habits.
Patience as a virtue must be a voluntary state of mind. It must be an attribute of love or benevolence; for all virtue, as we have seen, and as the Bible teaches, is resolvable into love or benevolence. The Greek term, upomone, so often rendered patience in the New Testament, means perseverance under trials, continuance, bearing up under affliction, or privations, steadfastness of purpose in despite of obstacles. The word may be used in a good or in a bad sense. Thus a selfish man may patiently, that is perseveringly, pursue his end, and may bear up under much opposition to his course. This is patience as an attribute of selfishness, and patience in a bad sense of the term. Patience in the good sense, or in the sense in which I am considering it, is an attribute of benevolence. It is the quality of constancy, a fixedness, a bearing up under trials, afflictions, crosses, persecutions, or discouragements. This must be an attribute of benevolence. Whenever patience ceases, when it holds out no longer, when discouragement prevails, and the will relinquishes its end, benevolence ceases, as a matter of course.
Patience as a phenomenon of the will, tends to patience as a phenomenon of the sensibility. That is, the quality of fixedness and steadfastness in the intention naturally tends to keep down and allay impatience of temper. As, however, the states of the sensibility are not directly under the control of the will, there may be irritable or impatient feelings, when the heart remains steadfast. Facts or falsehoods may be suggested to the mind which may, in despite of the will, produce a ruffling of the sensibility, even when the heart remains patient. The only way in which a temptation, for it is only a temptation while the will abides firm to its purpose, I say the only way in which a temptation of this kind can be disposed of, is by diverting the attention from that 167view of the subject that creates the disturbance in the sensibility. I should have said before, that although the will controls the feelings by a law of necessity, yet, as it does not do so directly, but indirectly, it may, and does often happen, that feelings corresponding to the state of the will do not exist in the sensibility. Nay, for a time, a state of the sensibility may exist which is the opposite of the state of the will. From this source arise many, and indeed most, of our temptations. We could never be properly tried or tempted at all, if the feelings must always, by a law of necessity, correspond with the state of the will. Sin consists in willing to gratify our feelings or constitutional impulses, in opposition to the law of our reason. But if these desires and impulses could never exist in opposition to the law of the reason, and, consequently, in opposition to a present holy choice, then a holy being could not be tempted. He could have no motive or occasion to sin. If our mother Eve could have had no feelings of desire in opposition to the state of her will, she never could have desired the forbidden fruit, and of course would not have sinned. I wish now, to state distinctly what I should have said before, that the state or choice of the will does not necessarily so control the feelings, desires, or emotions, that these may never be strongly excited by Satan or by circumstances, in opposition to the will, and thus become powerful temptations to seek their gratification, instead of seeking the highest good of being. Feelings, the gratification of which would be opposed to every attribute of benevolence, may at times co-exist with benevolence, and be a temptation to selfishness; but opposing acts of will cannot co-exist with benevolence. All that can be truly said is, that as the will has an indirect control of the feelings, desires, appetites, passions, etc., it can suppress any class of feelings when they arise, by diverting the attention from their causes, or by taking into consideration such views and facts as will calm or change the state of the sensibility. Irritable feelings, or what is commonly called impatience, may be directly caused by ill health, irritable nerves, and by many things over which the will has no direct control. But this is not impatience in the sense of sin. If these feelings are not suffered to influence the will; if the will abides in patience; if such feelings are not cherished, and are not suffered to shake the integrity of the will; they are not sin. That is, the will does not consent to them, but the contrary. They are only temptations. If they are allowed to control the will, to break forth in words and actions, then there is sin; but the sin does not consist in the feelings, but in the consent of the will to gratify them. Thus, the apostle says, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” That is, if anger arise in the feelings and sensibility, do not sin by suffering it to control your will. Do not cherish the feeling, and let not the sun 168go down upon it. For this cherishing it is sin. When it is cherished, the will consents and broods over the cause of it; this is sin. But if it be not cherished, it is not sin.
That the outward actions will correspond with the states and actions of the will, provided no physical obstacle be opposed to them, is a universal truth. But that feelings and desires cannot exist contrary to the states or decisions of the will, is not true. If this were a universal truth, temptation, as I have said, could not exist. The outward actions will be as the will is, always; the feelings, generally. Feelings corresponding to the choice of the will, will be the rule, and opposing feelings the exception. But these exceptions may and do exist in perfectly holy beings. They existed in Eve before she consented to sin, and had she resisted them she had not sinned. They doubtless existed in Christ, or he could not have been tempted in all points like as we are. If there be no desires or impulses of the sensibility contrary to the state of the will, there is not properly any temptation. The desire or impulse must appear on the field of consciousness, before it is a motive to action, and of course before it is a temptation to self-indulgence. Just as certainly then as a holy being may be tempted, and not sin, just so certain it is that emotions of any kind, or of any strength, may exist in the sensibility without sin. If they are not indulged, if the will does not consent to them, and to their indulgence or gratification, the soul is not the less virtuous for their presence. Patience as a phenomenon of the will must strengthen and gird itself under such circumstances, so that patience of will may be, and if it exist at all, must be, in exact proportion to the impatience of the sensibility. The more impatience of sensibility there is, the more patience of will there must be, or virtue will cease altogether. So that it is not always true, that virtue is strongest when the sensibility is most calm, placid, and patient. When Christ passed through his greatest conflicts, his virtue as a man was undoubtedly most intense. When in his agony in the garden, so great was the anguish of his sensibility, that he sweat as it were great drops of blood. This, he says, was the hour of the prince of darkness. This was his great trial. But did he sin? No, indeed. But why? Was he calm and placid as a summer’s evening? As far from it as possible.
Patience, then, as an attribute of benevolence, consists, not in placid feeling, but in perseverance under trials and states of the sensibility that tend to selfishness. This is only benevolence viewed in a certain aspect. It is benevolence under circumstances of discouragement, of trial, or temptation. “This is the patience of the saints.”
Before dismissing the subject of patience as an emotion, I would observe that, the steadfastness of the heart tends so strongly to secure patience, that if an opposite state of the sensibility is more than of momentary 169duration, there is strong presumption that the heart is not steadfast in love. The first risings of it will produce an immediate effort to suppress it. If it continues, this is evidence that the attention is allowed to dwell upon the cause of it. This shows that the will is in some sense indulging it.
If it so far influences the will as to manifest itself in impatient words and actions, there must be a yielding of the will. Patience, as an attribute of benevolence, is overcome. If the sensibility were perfectly and directly under the control of the will, the least degree of impatience would imply sin. But as it is not directly, but indirectly under the control of the will, momentary impatience of feeling, when it does not at all influence the will, and when it is not at all indulged, is not sure evidence of a sinful state of the will. It should always be borne in mind, that neither patience nor impatience, in the form of mere feeling, existing for any length of time, and in any degree, is in itself either holy on the one hand, or sinful on the other. All that can be said of these states of the sensibility is, that they indicate, as a general thing, the attitude of the will. When the will is for a long time steadfast in its patience, the result is great equanimity of temper, and great patience of feeling. This comes to be a law of the sensibility, insomuch that very advanced saints may, and doubtless do, experience the most entire patience of feeling for many years together. This does not constitute their holiness, but is a sweet fruit of it. It is to be regarded rather in the light of a reward of holiness, than as holiness itself.
16. Another attribute of benevolence is Meekness.
Meekness, considered as a virtue, is a phenomenon of the will. This term also expresses a state of the sensibility. When used to designate a phenomenon of the sensibility, it is nearly synonymous with patience. It designates a sweet and forbearing temper under provocation. Meekness, a phenomenon of the will, and as an attribute of benevolence, is the opposite both of resistance to injury and retaliation. It is properly and strictly forbearance under injurious treatment. This certainly is an attribute of God, as our existence and our being out of hell plainly demonstrate. Christ said of himself that he was “meek and lowly in heart;” and this surely was no vain boast. How admirably, and how incessantly did this attribute of his love manifest itself! The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is a prophecy exhibiting this attribute in a most affecting light. Indeed, scarcely any feature of the character of God and of Christ is more strikingly exhibited than this. It must evidently be an attribute of benevolence. Benevolence is good-will to all beings. We are naturally forbearing toward those whose good we honestly and diligently seek. If our hearts are set upon doing them good, we shall naturally exercise great forbearance toward them. God has greatly commended 170his forbearance to us, in that, while we were yet his enemies, he forbore to punish us, and gave his Son to die for us. Forbearance is a sweet and amiable attribute. How affectingly it displayed itself in the hall of Pilate, and on the cross. “He is led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.”
This attribute has in this world abundant opportunity to develop and display itself in the saints. There are daily occasions for the exercise of this form of virtue. Indeed, all the attributes of benevolence are called into frequent exercise in this school of discipline. This is indeed a suitable world in which to train God’s children, to develop and strengthen every modification of holiness. This attribute must always appear where benevolence exists, and wherever there is an occasion for its exercise.
It is delightful to contemplate the perfection and glory of that love which constitutes obedience to the law of God. As occasions arise, we behold it developing one attribute after another, and there may be many of its attributes and modifications of which we have as yet no idea whatever. Circumstances will call them into exercise. It is probable, if not certain, that the attributes of benevolence were very imperfectly known in heaven previous to the existence of sin in the universe, and that but for sin many of these attributes would never have been manifested in exercise. But the existence of sin, great as the evil is, has afforded an opportunity for benevolence to manifest its beautiful phases, and to develop its sweet attributes in a most enchanting manner. Thus the divine economy of benevolence brings good out of so great an evil.
A hasty and unforbearing spirit is always demonstrative evidence of a want of benevolence, or of true religion. Meekness is, and must be, a peculiar characteristic of the saints in this world, where there is so much provocation. Christ frequently and strongly enforced the obligation to forbearance. “But I say unto you that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” How beautiful!
17. Humility is another modification or attribute of love.
This term seems often to be used to express a sense of unworthiness, of guilt, of ignorance, and of nothingness, to express a feeling of ill-desert. It seems to be used in common language to express sometimes a state of the intelligence, when it seems to indicate a clear perception of our guilt. When used to designate a state of the sensibility, it represents those feelings of shame and unworthiness, of ignorance, and of nothingness, of which those are most deeply conscious who have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, in respect to their true character.171
But as a phenomenon of the will, and as an attribute of love, it consists in a willingness to be known and appreciated according to our real character. Humility, as a phenomenon either of the sensibility or of the intelligence, may co-exist with great pride of heart. Pride is a disposition to exalt self, to get above others, to hide our defects, and to pass for more than we are. Deep conviction of sin, and deep feelings of shame, of ignorance, and of desert of hell, may co-exist with a great unwillingness to confess and be known just as we are, and to be appreciated just according to what our real character has been and is. There is no virtue in such humility. But humility, considered as a virtue, consists in the consent of the will to be known, to confess, and to take our proper place in the scale of being. It is that peculiarity of love that wills the good of being so disinterestedly, as to will to pass for no other than, we really are. This is an honest, a sweet, and amiable feature of love. It must, perhaps, be peculiar to those who have sinned. It is only love acting under or in a certain relation, or in reference to a peculiar set of circumstances. It would, under the same circumstances, develop and manifest itself in all truly benevolent minds. This attribute will render confession of sin to God and man natural, and even make it a luxury. It is easy to see that, but for this attribute, the saints could not be happy in heaven. God has promised to bring into judgment every work and every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. Now while pride exists, it would greatly pain the soul to have all the character known; so that, unless this attribute really belongs to the saints, they would be ashamed at the judgment, and filled with confusion even in heaven itself. But this sweet attribute will secure them against that shame and confusion of face that would otherwise render heaven itself a hell to them. They will be perfectly willing and happy to be known and estimated according to their characters. This attribute will secure in all the saints on earth that confession of faults one to another, which is so often enjoined in the Bible. By this it is not intended, that Christians always think it wise and necessary to make confession of all their secret sins to man. But it is intended, that they will confess to those whom they have injured, and to all to whom benevolence demands that they should confess. This attribute secures its possessor against spiritual pride, against ambition to get above others. It is a modest and unassuming state of mind.
18. Self-denial is another attribute of love.
If we love any being better than ourselves, we of course deny ourselves when our own interests come in competition with his. Love is good-will. If I will good to others more than to myself, it is absurd to say that I shall not deny myself when my own inclinations conflict with their good. Now the love required by the law of God, we have repeatedly seen to be 172good will, or willing the highest good of being for its own sake, or as an end. As the interests of self are not at all regarded because they belong to self, but only according to their relative value, it must be certain, that self-denial for the sake of promoting the higher interests of God and of the universe, is and must be a peculiarity or attribute of love.
But again: the very idea of disinterested benevolence, and there is no other true benevolence, implies the abandonment of the spirit of self-seeking, or of selfishness. It is impossible to become benevolent, without ceasing to be selfish. In other words, perfect self-denial is implied in beginning to be benevolent. Self-indulgence ceases where benevolence begins. This must be. Benevolence is the consecration of our powers to the highest good of being in general as an end. This is utterly inconsistent with consecration to self-interest or self-gratification. Selfishness makes good to self the end of every choice. Benevolence makes good to being in general the end of every choice. Benevolence, then, implies complete self-denial. That is, it implies that nothing is chosen merely because it belongs to self, but only because of its relative value, and in proportion to it.
I said there was no true benevolence, but disinterested benevolence; no true love, but disinterested love. There is such a thing as interested love or benevolence. That is, the good of others is willed, though not as an end, or for its intrinsic value to them, but as a means of our own happiness, or because of its relative value to us. Thus a man might will the good of his family, or of his neighborhood, or country, or of anybody, or anything that sustained such relations to self as to involve his own interests. When the ultimate reason of his willing good to others is, that his own may be promoted, this is selfishness. It is making good to self his end. This a sinner may do toward God, toward the church, and toward the interests of religion in general. This is what I call interested benevolence. It is willing good as an end only to self, and to all others only as a means of promoting our own good.
But again: when the will is governed by mere feeling in willing the good of others, this is only the spirit of self-indulgence, and is only interested benevolence. For example: the feeling of compassion is strongly excited by the presence of misery. The feeling is intense, and constitutes, like all the feelings, a strong impulse or motive to the will to consent to its gratification. For the time being, this impulse is stronger than the feeling of avarice, or any other feeling. I yield to it, and then give all the money I have to relieve the sufferer. I even take my clothes from my back, and give them to him. Now in this case, I am just as selfish as if I had sold my clothes to gratify my appetite for strong drink. The gratification of my feelings was my end. This is one of the most specious and most delusive forms of selfishness.173
Again: when one makes his own salvation the end of prayer, of almsgiving, and of all his religious duties, this is only selfishness and not true religion, however much he may abound in them. This is only interested benevolence, or benevolence to self.
Again: from the very nature of true benevolence, it is impossible that every interest should not be regarded according to its relative value. When another interest is seen by me to be more valuable in itself, or of more value to God and the universe than my own, and when I see that, by denying myself, I can promote it, it is certain, if I am benevolent, that I shall do it. I cannot fail to do it, without failing to be benevolent. Benevolence is an honest and disinterested consecration of the whole being to the highest good of God and of the universe. The benevolent man will, therefore, and must, honestly weigh each interest as it is perceived in the balance of his own best judgment, and will always give the preference to the higher interest, provided he believes, that he can by endeavor, and by self-denial, secure it.
That self-denial is an attribute of the divine love, is manifested most gloriously and affectingly in God’s gift of his Son to die for men. This attribute was also most conspicuously manifested by Christ, in denying himself, and taking up his cross, and suffering for his enemies. Observe, it was not for friends that Christ gave himself. It was not unfortunate nor innocent sufferers for whom God gave his Son, or for whom he gave himself. It was for enemies. It was not that he might make slaves of them that he gave his Son, nor from any selfish consideration whatever, but because he foresaw that, by making this sacrifice himself, he could secure to the universe a greater good than he should sacrifice. It was this attribute of benevolence that caused him to give his Son to suffer so much. It was disinterested benevolence alone that led him to deny himself, for the sake of a greater good to the universe. Now observe, this sacrifice would not have been made, unless it had been regarded by God as the less of two natural evils. That is, the sufferings of Christ, great and overwhelming as they were, were considered as an evil of less magnitude than the eternal sufferings of sinners. This induced him to make the sacrifice, although for his enemies. It mattered not whether for friends or for enemies, if so be he could, by making a less sacrifice, secure a greater good to them.
Let it be understood, that a self-indulgent spirit is never, and can never be, consistent with benevolence. No form of self-indulgence, properly so called, can exist where true benevolence exists. The fact is, self-denial must be, and universally is, wherever benevolence reigns. Christ has expressly made whole-hearted self-denial a condition of discipleship; which is the same thing as to affirm, that it is an essential attribute of holiness or love; that there cannot be the beginning of true virtue without it.174
Again: much that passes for self-denial is only a specious form of self-indulgence. The penances and self-mortifications, as they are falsely called, of the superstitious, what are they after all but a self-indulgent spirit? A popish priest abstains from marriage to obtain the honor, and emoluments, and the influence of the priestly office here, and eternal glory hereafter. A nun takes the veil and a monk immures himself in a monastery; a hermit forsakes human society, and shuts himself up in a cave; a devotee makes a pilgrimage to Mecca, and a martyr goes to the stake. Now if these things are done with an ultimate reference to their own glory and happiness, although apparently instances of great self-denial, yet they are, in fact, only a spirit of self-indulgence and self-seeking. They are only following the strongest desire of good to self.
There are many mistakes upon this subject. For example: it is common for persons to deny self in one form, for the sake of gratifying self in another form. In one man avarice is the ruling passion. He will labor hard, rise early, and sit up late, eat the bread of carefulness and deny himself even the necessaries of life, for the sake of accumulating wealth. Every one can see, that this is denying self in one form merely for the sake of gratifying self in another form. Yet this man will complain bitterly of the self-indulgent spirit manifested by others, their extravagance and want of piety. One man will deny all his bodily appetites and passions, for the sake of a reputation with men. This is also an instance of the same kind. Another will give the fruit of his body for the sin of his soul—will sacrifice everything else to obtain an eternal inheritance, and be just as selfish as the man who sacrifices to the things of time, his soul and all the riches of eternity.
But it should be remarked, that this attribute of benevolence does and must secure the subjugation of all the propensities. It must, either suddenly or gradually, so far subdue and quiet them, that their imperious clamor must cease. They will, as it were, be slain, either suddenly or gradually, so that the sensibility will become, in a great measure, dead to those objects that so often and so easily excited it. It is a law of the sensibility—of all the desires and passions, that their indulgence develops and strengthens them, and their denial suppresses them. Benevolence consists in a refusal to gratify the sensibility, and in obeying the reason. Therefore it must be true, that this denial of the propensities will greatly suppress them; while the indulgence of the intellect and of the conscience will greatly develop them. Thus selfishness tends to stultify, while benevolence tends greatly to strengthen the intellect.
19. Condescension is another attribute of love.
This attribute consists in a tendency to descend to the poor, the ignorant, or the vile, for the purpose of securing their good. It is a tendency to seek the good of those whom Providence has placed in any respect 175below us, by stooping, descending, coming down to them for this purpose. It is a peculiar form of self-denial. God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, manifest infinite condescension in efforts to secure the well-being of sinners, even the most vile and degraded. This attribute is called by Christ lowliness of heart. God is said to humble himself, that is, to condescend, when he beholds the things that are done in heaven. This is true, for every creature is, and must forever be, infinitely below Him in every respect. But how much greater must that condescension be, that comes down to earth, and even to the lowest and most degraded of earth’s inhabitants, for purposes of benevolence! This is a lovely modification of benevolence. It seems to be entirely above the gross conceptions of infidelity. Condescension seems to be regarded by most people, and especially by infidels, as rather a weakness than a virtue. Sceptics clothe their imaginary God with attributes in many respects the opposite of true virtue. They think it entirely beneath the dignity of God to come down even to notice, and much more to interfere with, the concerns of men. But hear the word of the Lord: “Thus saith the High and Lofty One, who inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place; with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” And again, “Thus saith the Lord, the heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool, where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath my hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord. But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word.” Thus the Bible represents God as clothed with condescension as with a cloak.
This is manifestly an attribute both of benevolence and of true greatness. The natural perfections of God appear all the more wonderful, when we consider, that he can and does know and contemplate and control, not only the highest, but the lowest of all his creatures; that he is just as able to attend to every want and every creature, as if this were the sole object of attention with him. So his moral attributes appear all the more lovely and engaging when we consider that his “tender mercies are over all his works,” “that not a sparrow falleth to the ground without him;” that he condescends to number the very hairs of the heads of his servants, and that not one of them can fall without him. When we consider that no creature is too low, too filthy, or too degraded for him to condescend to,—this places his character in a most ravishing light. Benevolence is good-will to all beings. Of course one of its characteristics must be condescension to those who are below us. This in God is manifestly infinite. He is infinitely above all creatures. For him to hold communion with them is infinite condescension.176
This is an attribute essentially belonging to benevolence or love in all benevolent beings. With the lowest of moral beings it may have no other development, than in its relations to sentient existences below the rank of moral agents, for the reason, that there are no moral agents below them to whom they can stoop. God’s condescension stoops to all ranks of sentient existences. This is also true with every benevolent mind, as to all inferiors. It seeks the good of being in general, and never thinks any being too low to have his interests attended to and cared for, according to their relative value. Benevolence cannot possibly retain its own essential nature, and yet be above any degree of condescension that can effect the greatest good. Benevolence does not, cannot know anything of that loftiness of spirit that considers it too degrading to stoop anywhere, or to any being whose interests need to be, and can be, promoted by such condescension. Benevolence has its end, and it cannot but seek this, and it does not, cannot think anything below it that is demanded to secure that end. O the shame, the infinite folly and madness of pride, and every form of selfishness! How infinitely unlike God it is! Christ could condescend to be born in a manger; to be brought up in humble life; to be poorer than the fox of the desert, or the fowls of heaven; to associate with fishermen; to mingle with and seek the good of all classes; to be despised in life, and die between two thieves on the cross. His benevolence “endured the cross and despised the shame.” He was “meek and lowly in heart.” The Lord of heaven and earth is as much more lowly in heart than any of his creatures, as he is above them in his infinity. He can stoop to anything but to commit sin. He can stoop infinitely low.
20. Stability is another attribute of benevolence. This love is not a mere feeling or emotion, that effervesces for a moment, and then cools down and disappears. But it is choice, not a mere volition which accomplishes its object, and then rests. It is the choice of an end, a supreme end. It is an intelligent choice—the most intelligent choice that can be made. It is considerate choice—none so much so; a deliberate choice, a reasonable choice, which will always commend itself to the highest perceptions and intuitions of the intellect. It is intelligent and impartial, and universal consecration to an end, above all others the most important and captivating in its influence. Now, stability must be a characteristic of such a choice as this. By stability, it is not intended that the choice may not be changed. Nor that it never is changed; but that when the attributes of the choice are considered, it appears as if stability, as opposed to instability, must be an attribute of this choice. It is a new birth, a new nature, a new creature, a new heart, a new life. These and such like are the representations of scripture. Are these representations of an evanescent state? The beginning of benevolence 177in the soul—this choice is represented as the death of sin, as a burial, a being planted, a crucifixion of the old man, and many such like things. Are these representations of what we so often see among professed Christians? Nay, verily. The nature of the change itself would seem to be a guarantee of its stability. We might reasonably suppose, that any other choice would be relinquished sooner than this; that any other state of mind would fail sooner than benevolence. It is vain to reply to this, that facts prove the contrary to be true. I answer what facts? Who can prove them to be facts? Shall we appeal to the apparent facts in the instability of many professors of religion; or shall we appeal to the very nature of the choice, and to the scriptures? To these doubtless. So far as philosophy can go, we might defy the world to produce an instance of choice which has so many chances for stability. The representations of scripture are such as I have mentioned above. What then shall we conclude of those effervescing professors of religion, who are soon hot and soon cold; whose religion is a spasm; “whose goodness is as the morning cloud and the early dew, which goeth away?” Why, we must conclude, that they never had the root of the matter in them. That they are not dead to sin and to the world, we see. That they are not new creatures, that they have not the spirit of Christ, that they do not keep his commandments, we see. What then shall we conclude, but this, that they are stony-ground hearers?
21. Holiness is another attribute of benevolence. This term is used in the Bible, as synonymous with moral purity. In a ceremonial sense it is applied to both persons and things; to make holy and to sanctify are the same thing. To sanctify and to consecrate, or set apart to a sacred use, are identical. Many things were, in this sense, sanctified, or made holy, under the Jewish economy. The term holiness may, in a general sense, be applied to anything whatever which is set apart to a sacred use. It may be applied to the whole being of a moral agent, who is set apart to the service of God.
As an attribute of benevolence, it denotes that quality which leads it to seek to promote the happiness of moral agents, by means of conformity to moral law.
As a moral attribute of God, it is that peculiarity of his benevolence which secures it against all efforts to obtain its end by other means than those that are morally and perfectly pure. His benevolence aims to secure the happiness of the universe of moral agents, by means of moral law and moral government, and of conformity to his own subjective idea of right. In other words, holiness in God is that quality of his love that secures its universal conformity, in all its efforts and manifestations, to the Divine idea of right, as it lies in eternal development in the Infinite Reason. This idea is moral law. It is sometimes used to express the 178moral quality, or character of his benevolence generally, or to express the moral character of the Godhead. It sometimes seems to designate an attribute, and sometimes a quality of his moral attributes. Holiness is, doubtless, a characteristic, or quality of each and all of his moral attributes. They will harmonize in this, that no one of them can consent to do otherwise than conform to the law of moral purity, as developed and revealed in the Divine Reason.
That holiness is an attribute of God is everywhere assumed, and frequently asserted in the Bible. If an attribute of God, it must be an attribute of love; for God is love. This attribute is celebrated in heaven as one of those aspects of the divine character that give ineffable delight. Isaiah saw the seraphim standing around the throne of Jehovah, and crying one to another, “Holy! holy! holy!” John also had a vision of the worship of heaven, and says “They rest not day nor night, saying, Holy! holy! holy! Lord God Almighty.” When Isaiah beheld the holiness of Jehovah, he cried out “Woe is me! I am undone. I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” God’s holiness is infinite, and it is no wonder that a perception of it should thus affect the prophet.
Finite holiness must forever feel itself awed in the presence of infinite holiness. Job says, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee: wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” There is no comparing finite with infinite. The time will never come when creatures can with open face contemplate the infinite holiness of Jehovah, without being like persons overcome with a harmony too intensely delightful to be calmly borne. Heaven seems not able to endure it without breaking forth into strains of inexpressible rapture.
The expressions of Isaiah and Job do not necessarily imply that at the time they were in a sinful state, but their expressions no doubt related to whatever of sin they had at any time been guilty of. In the light of Jehovah’s holiness they saw the comparative pollution of their character taken as a whole. This view will always, doubtless, much affect the saints. This must be; and yet in another sense they may be, and are, as holy, in their measure as he is. They may be as perfectly conformed to what light or truth they have, as he is. This is doubtless what Christ intended when he said, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” The meaning is, that they should live to the same end, and be as entirely consecrated to it as he is. This they must be, to be truly virtuous or holy in any degree. But when they are so, a full view of the holiness of God would confound and overwhelm them. If any one doubts this, he has not considered the matter in a proper light. He has not lifted up his thoughts, as he needs to do, to the contemplation 179of infinite holiness. No creature, however benevolent, can witness the divine benevolence without being overwhelmed with a clear vision of it. This is no doubt true of every attribute of the divine love. However perfect creature-virtue may be, it is finite, and, brought into the light of the attributes of infinite virtue, it will appear like the dimmest star in the presence of the sun, lost in the blaze of his glory. Let the most just man on earth or in heaven witness, and have a clear apprehension of, the infinite justice of Jehovah, and it would no doubt fill him with unutterable awe. So, could the most merciful saint on earth, or in heaven, have a clear perception of the divine mercy in its fulness, it would swallow up all thought and imagination, and, no doubt, overwhelm him. And so also of every attribute of God. Oh! when we speak of the attributes of Jehovah, we often do not know what we say. Should God unveil himself to us, our bodies would instantly perish. “No man,” says he, “can see my face and live.” When Moses prayed, “Show me thy glory,” God condescendingly hid him in the cleft of a rock, and covering him with his hand, he passed by, and let Moses see only his back parts, informing him that he could not behold his face, that is, his unveiled glories, and live.
Holiness, or moral harmony of character is, then, an essential attribute of disinterested love. It must be so from the laws of our being, and from the very nature of benevolence. In man it manifests itself in great purity of conversation and deportment, in a great loathing of all impurity of flesh and spirit. Let no man profess piety who has not this attribute developed. The love required by the law of God is pure love. It seeks to make its object happy only by making him holy. It manifests the greatest abhorrence of sin and all uncleanness. In creatures it pants, and doubtless ever will pant and struggle, toward infinite purity or holiness. It will never find a resting place in such a sense as to desire to ascend no higher. As it perceives more and more of the fulness and infinity of God’s holiness, it will no doubt pant and struggle to ascend the eternal heights where God sits in light too intense for the strongest vision of the highest cherub.
Holiness of heart or of will, produces a desire or feeling of purity in the sensibility. The feelings become exceedingly alive to the beauty of holiness and to the hatefulness and deformity of all spiritual, and even physical impurity. This is called the love of holiness. The sensibility becomes ravished with the great loveliness of holiness, and unutterably disgusted with the opposite. The least impurity of conversation or of action exceedingly shocks one who is holy. Impure thoughts, if suggested to the mind of a holy being, are instantly felt to be exceedingly offensive and painful. The soul heaves and struggles to cast them out as the most loathsome abominations.180
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