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On Disinterested Affection.
IT has been already shown that moral depravity, or sin, consists in self love; and that holiness consists in disinterested benevolence, which is, in the nature of it, and in all its exercises, wholly contrary and opposed to self love. [See Part I. Chap. VIII. page 277, &c. to which the reader is referred.] But as this is a subject so very important, and necessary to be well understood, in order properly to distinguish true religion, and real conversion, from that which is not so, but false religion, and mere delusion, it is thought proper to bring it again into view here, in order farther to explain and confirm this truth, which is overlooked by too many, and opposed by others.
Not a few have believed and asserted, that there is no such thing in nature as disinterested affections; and that 466all the actions of men flow from self love, as their foundation and source. Others allow that disinterested affection may take place in the human heart; but that it either springs from self love, and is grafted upon it; or so coincides with it, and regulates it, that both these sorts of affection, if they do really differ in their nature, are included in the exercises of true holiness; and that self love is the real foundation of all true religion.
These sentiments and pleas in favour of self love, it is believed, are owing, in many instances, to wrong or confused ideas, and not properly distinguishing between self love, and that which is of a different nature and kind.
First. Many do not appear to distinguish between self love, and a desire or love of happiness; or a capacity of pleasure and enjoyment, and of being pleased with and choosing one object, rather than another. These are quite distinct and different things: The latter is really nothing but a capacity or power of will and choice, for without this there could be no such thing as preferring one object to another, or exercise of choice. This therefore is essential to the existence of a moral agent, or to any act of will whatever, and is neither self love, nor disinterested affection, but necessary to both. Self love consists in a moral agent’s placing his happiness in what he views as his own private personal interest, and in nothing else, in distinction from the interest or happiness of any other being, and in contradiction to it. This only pleases him, for its own sake, and is the ultimated object of all his desires and exertions.
Disinterested benevolence is pleased with the public interest, the greatest good and happiness of the whole. This is the highest good to the benevolent person. In this he places his happiness, and not in the interest and happiness of any individual, or of himself, any farther than it is consistent with the greatest interest and happiness of the whole, and really included in it, and serves to promote it. in this state of the case, is it not easy to see the distinction between a capacity of pleasure and choice, or being pleased, and enjoying happiness; and placing our happiness in our own personal good and interest only; or in the public good for its own sake? 467And who docs not see the difference and opposition between the two latter?
Secondly. By many there is not a proper distinction made, and kept in view, between self-love, and that regard which the benevolent person must have for himself and his interest and happiness, which is necessarily included in disinterested affection. Disinterested, impartial benevolence, to being in general that is capable of good and happiness, regards and wishes well to every being and creature in the system, according to the degree of his existence, worth and capacity of happiness, so far as all this comes into the view of the benevolent person, and so far as the good and happiness of each is, or appears to be, consistent with the greatest good of the whole. And as he himself is one individual part of the whole, he must of necessity be the object of this disinterested, impartial benevolence, and his own interest and happiness must be regarded and desired, as much as that of his neighbour, or any individual of the whole society; not because it is himself, but because he is included in the whole, and his happiness is worth as much, and as desirable as that of his neighbour, other circumstances being equal. This is not self love; but the same universal, disinterested, impartial, public benevolence, which wishes well to being in general, and therefore to himself, because he has an existence, and is one among the rest, and equal to his neighbour. This is loving his neighbour as himself; not with the least degree of self love; but with the same disinterested, public affection, with which he loves being in general. The least spark of self love will interrupt this reasonable and beautiful moral order and harmony, and render him partial and interested in his affection, and so far detach him from the whole and make him set up a selfish, private interest of his own, in distinction from that of the rest, and in opposition to it.
By not making this distinction, and not attending to the nature of disinterested benevolence, as it regards the interest of the benevolent person himself; and therefore taking it for granted, that all the regard a person has for himself and desire of his own happiness is self love, in distinction from disinterested benevolence, they have 468concluded with great assurance, that self love is essential to man, and even his duty. But when the distinction is properly made, and the matter plainly stated, the mistake is discovered, and it appears that disinterested benevolence will take all proper and sufficient care of every individual in the system, and will desire and seek the best interest and happiness of all, and of the benevolent person himself, so far as is consistent with the greatest good of the whole: And that this is not self love, but the same disinterested, impartial benevolence, when it takes into view his own happiness, and values and seeks it as much as that of his neighbour. The self love which can be distinguished from this universal, disinterested benevolence, and is not of this kind, cannot be distinguished from selfishness; but is the very same affection, and is directly and wholly opposed to disinterested, holy love: And is, as has been observed, the root and essence of all sin.
To distinguish between self love and selfishness is to attempt to make a distinction where there is no difference; unless by self love be meant disinterested benevolence. Disinterested affection and self love are very distinct and opposite affections, and the latter, in every degree of it, cannot be distinguished from selfishness: For these are two words, for one and the same thing. Some would distinguish between inordinate and well regulated self love; and suppose the former is selfishness and sinful; but the latter innocent, and even good and virtuous. But unless by well regulated self love be meant disinterested affection, the distinction is groundless and vain. And to suppose a certain degree of self love, subordinated to a contrary affection, love to God, and to our neighbour, is virtuous, or even innocent; and that the same self love in a higher degree of it, and not subordinated by a different and contrary affection, is sinful, is very unreasonable and absurd, and a supposition which is utterly impossible. For if holiness and sin do not consist in the nature of moral affection and exercise, there can be no such thing as either sin or holiness. And to suppose these opposites to consist in the degree of the same affection exercised, and not in different kinds of affection, is really to make them not opposites, 469or not to differ in nature and kind; but to be one and the same thing, under different modifications. For the nature and kind of moral exercise and affection is not changed by their being more or less of it, or by being under restraints or not. If the lowest degree of such affection be innocent and good, the highest possible degree of it must be so much better, and have a proportionably greater degree of moral goodness. And if the highest possible degree of such affection be sinful and wrong, the least possible degree of the same kind of affection must in the nature of it be sinful, though less in degree. If ten or a hundred degrees of self love be enmity against God, and contrary to uprightness and disinterested benevolence to men, and a disposition of mind to injure them; then one degree of this same self love is enmity against God, and opposite to benevolence to men in its nature, and in proportion to the degree of it. And though it may be under restraints, and counteracted by opposite affection, it is yet of the same nature, and the same kind of affection, and as really opposes the general good, which disinterested benevolence seeks, as that same self love, when it is under no restraint, and reigns as the only moral affection of the heart.
Therefore in the scriptures we find no such distinction between self love and selfishness; or between well regulated self love, and that which is inordinate, or between a less and greater degree of this same affection, representing one as innocent and good, and the other sinful: But self love is condemned in every degree of it, in all its exercises and fruits. No worse character is given of men than this, that they are lovers of their own selves. And men are commanded not to seek their own wealth, and mind their own things, in distinction from those of others, and of Jesus Christ, and condemned for doing it. And that love, which seeketh not her own, is recommended as that only in which true religion or real holiness does consist: And surely there can be no self love in that love which seeketh not her own.
This leads to what is chiefly designed in this section, viz. to prove from scripture that disinterested affection, or benevolence to being in general, and all the affection 470which this implies, as it has been now explained, is that in which true religion, or the new creature does summarily consist.
1. It has been observed and shewn in the chapter to which reference is made in the beginning of this section, that this may be proved from what is said by the apostle John.509509 1 John iv. He says “God is love;” in which he evidently designs to comprehend his whole moral character. He mentions the highest exercise, and greatest manifestation of this love. This, he says, is in giving the Son of God to die for the redemption of sinners. This, all will grant, is, in the highest sense and degree, disinterested benevolence, as it is exercised towards those who are not only unworthy and ill deserving, but unreasonable and abusive enemies. This disinterested benevolence he urges christians to imitate; and represents it as that in which Christianity summarily consists; for he says, he that loveth is born of God, and this love being perfect, casteth out fear; and he who exercises this disinterested benevolence, (for he is speaking of no other love but this) he who dwelleth in this love, dwelleth in God, and God in him. That is, the moral image and character of God is formed in him, he partakes of the divine nature, and he is united to God, and God to him. This leads to observe, that as the new creature is a conformity to the moral character and image of God, by which Christ is said to dwell in believers; it must consist in disinterested benevolent affection; for in this only can christians be like God.
2. Jesus Christ is a remarkable and striking instance of disinterested benevolence, in which christians are to imitate him; and do so, as far as they are christians.
The love which he exercised, in taking man’s place, and dying for him, is in the highest sense disinterested, as he suffered this for men, when they were his enemies. “God commandeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” His love to the Father, and to sinners, expressed in what he did and suffered, is represented as wholly disinterested, to set forth the nature and excellency of it, and recommend it as a pattern to be followed by his disciples. “We then 471that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves: For even Christ pleased not himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of them that reproached thee, fell on me.”510510 Rom. xv. 1, 3. By his not pleasing himself, is meant his not seeking himself, or acting from self love: The same that is intended by his not seeking and doing his own will, but the will of his Father; and saying, “Not my will, but thine be done.”511511 John v. 30. vi. 38. That he did not please himself, but acted from a disinterested regard to the glory of God, is proved by the quotation the apostle here makes, “The reproaches of them that reproached thee, fell on me.” He had such a disinterested regard to the honour of God, that if he were reproached, It was the same to him, as if he himself were reproached. This St. Paul mentions as an example for christians, which they are to imitate by feeling for their brethren in all the unhappiness that attends them, so as to bear their infirmities and burdens.
Again, in order to excite the Corinthians to show the sincerity, or genuineness of their love to the saints, that is, their disinterested benevolence, he mentions to them the example of Christ, and his love. “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes, he became poor, that you, through his poverty, might be rich.”512512 2 Cor. viii. 8, 9. He recommends the example of Christ, in this same view of it, to the Philippians.513513 Phil. ii. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
There are indeed, but few, if any christians, who do not consider the Saviour as acting a most disinterested part, in doing and suffering what he did for the salvation of sinners, as he could not have undertaken, and gone through it, from any other principle but disinterested benevolence: And this is considered as the highest excellency and perfection of his love. If any of those admit at the same time, that the love of christians, in whom is the same spirit that was in Christ, is not disinterested, they must be very inconsistent with themselves, as well as with the scripture.
3. That disinterested affection is essential to a disciple of Christ appears from the words of our Saviour, 472recorded by Matthew.514514 Chap. v. 43, &c. He there tells his disciples, that loving their relations, and those who loved them, did not difference them from other men, even the worst of them; because self love would do this. That therefore they could not be the children of God, or have the least degree of likeness to his moral character, unless they had, and exercised that disinterested benevolence, which would extend to their enemies, even the worst of them, and whatever injuries they had done to them; which would wish them well, and pray for them, while they were doing them all the harm they could do. That by this alone, they would be like their Father in heaven; and by being perfect in this, they would be perfect, even as he is perfect. The love here recommended, as so essential to a christian, and by which alone he is distinguished from other men, is disinterested, universal benevolence, as opposed to self love; for no other affection is opposed to self love, or will love our enemies, with cordial friendly desires of their good and happiness, leading us to do them all the good we can.
4. Our Saviour has enjoined disinterested affection, as that by which alone, men can follow him, and be his disciples, in the following words, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”515515 Matt. xvi. 24. It will be difficult for any one to tell how a man can deny himself, in the exercise of self love; for this is in every degree of it self gratification. Therefore to deny ourselves, is to remove all self love, and to exercise that disinterested, universal love to being in general, which opposes self love, and renounces all selfish, private interest, and knows no self, as such; it being an impartial affection, it respects him who exercises it only as belonging to being in general, and included in universal existence. As the excellency of Christ consists in this disinterested love, no one will come to him, and cordially follow him, unless it be in the exercise of this same disinterested affection; for without this, none can approve of his character, which self love opposes.
5. St. Paul decides this matter in the most express terms, and asserts that all the exercises of true religion 473consist in disinterested affection, in that love which seeketh not her own.516516 1 Cor. xiii. He represents love as containing the whole of christian affection, without which there is nothing of any moral worth, or of real Christianity. And in describing this love, he says, “It seeketh not her own.” Q.D. It is not self love which seeketh her own, and nothing else; but is directly opposed to this, and consists in that affection which is perfectly disinterested, which is universal benevolence to being in general, and has not the least partiality in favour of self. This is the wisdom that is from above, which is “Pure, peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and hypocrisy.”517517 James iii. 17.
6. That all true religion, or holy exercises of heart, consist in disinterested affection, is evident to a certainty, from the summary of the law of God, given by Christ himself, in the following words. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”518518 Matt. xxii. 37, 58, 39, 40.
The law of God is a transcript of his moral perfection; for by the creature’s obeying it, he partakes of the divine nature, and puts on the moral image of God. But the moral character of God consists in disinterested love, as has been shown; therefore the love required in the law of God, is disinterested affection: It is not self love, but that which is entirely contrary to selfishness. He who loves God with all his heart, strength and mind, can have no self love, nor any love to himself, or any creature, but that which is implied in this, which certainly must be disinterested, as his love to God is. For disinterested love to God cannot imply interested and selfish affection to any other being, even our own, but necessarily excludes it. And it has been shown that the command to love our neighbour as ourselves, is so far from approving, or supposing self love, that it necessarily excludes every thing of this kind; as it requires that 474 impartiality, and uprightness, which is contrary to every degree of self love, and can exist in nothing but disinterested affection. Men are no farther converted, than they are conformed in the exercise and affection of their hearts to the law of God, which requires disinterested love, and nothing else, and excludes and forbids ail selfishness, or self love, which is the same. Therefore the new heart, and all truly christian exercises, consist in disinterested affection.
Before this subject of disinterested affection is dismissed, to prevent mistakes, and that the nature of it may be farther explained, the following particulars are to be observed and kept in view.
1. This disinterested benevolence regards the interest and happiness of those who are nearest and most in sight, more strongly and tenderly, than of those who are farther off, and more out of sight; and is more affected with the happiness or misery, and the good or bad character of the former, than of the latter.
The mind of man is not omniscient, and cannot have a full, comprehensive view of all men, and their circumstances at the same time; therefore those who are nearest to him, and most in his sight, must be more the objects of his benevolence, than others: And it is reasonable, and therefore his duty to regard these more than others, as they are more in his view, and he has a special care of them, and is under greater advantage to think of them, and do them good. And impartial, disinterested affection, will naturally, and even necessarily, operate thus.
He who has universal benevolence will have a greater regard for the inhabitants of the nation to which he belongs, and be more concerned for their interest, than for those of other nations. He will have a greater regard still for the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood in which he lives, other things being equal. Consequently his benevolent care of the members of the family to which be belongs, will be exercised in a higher degree, and more constantly, and with greater sensibility, than towards those of other families; especially if he be the head of it. And as every person is nearest to himself, and is most in his own view, has opportunity 475to be better acquainted with his own circumstances, and to know his own wants, his mercies and enjoyments, &:c. and has a more particular care of his own interest, than of that of others; and is under greater advantage to promote his own happiness, than others; his disinterested, universal benevolence, will attend more to his own interest, and he will have more and stronger exercises of it, respecting his own circumstances and happiness, than those of others, all other things being equal; not because it is his own interest, but for the reason just given. And were the case reversed, and the circumstances, wants and interests of others, were more in his view, and more under his care, than his own, he would pay more regard to them, and have greater concern for them, and their interest and happiness, than for his own, all other circumstances being alike.
It hence appears that universal benevolence to being in general, not only includes a regard for the interest of every individual, and therefore an equal regard for our own interest; but a special and peculiar regard for the latter, and for that of the family, neighbourhood and town, and all those with whom we have any special connection. And this regard for ourselves, our own interest and happiness, which is necessarily included in universal benevolence, is not only a proper and reasonable regard, but is discerning, wise and judicious, and seeks our true interest. Whereas self love is partial and unreasonable in its own nature, and in every degree of it; and blinds men to their own true interest and happiness, and seeks happiness where it is not to be found; and as certainly and effectually renders them miserable, as if it were ill will to themselves.
2. As the great object of disinterested affection, or benevolence to being in general, is the greatest good of the whole, and it devotes all to this, it will give up any less good for the greater good, and the interest of individuals, for the sake of the greater public interest, and greatest good of the whole, when, and so far as the former is inconsistent with the latter. And the benevolent person is disposed and willing to give up and relinquish his own interest and happiness, when inconsistent with the public good, or the greatest good of the 476 whole; or when this may be necessary to promote a greater good, or more happiness, on the whole, than that of which he deprives himself. Yea, he will be willing to suffer positive evil, to save others, or the public from greater evil, or when necessary to promote and procure a greater and overbalancing good, on the whole. This is the nature of disinterested affection, and essential to it, which appears from what has been said of it above. In this the opposition and contrariety between holy love, and self love appears. He who has the former devotes, all to the greatest good of the whole; and gives up the interest of individuals, and his own interest, when necessary, to promote the good of the whole; and desires not his own happiness, or that of any other particular person, if inconsistent with a greater good to others, or with the greatest public good: And is willing to suffer, and that other particular persons should suffer, any deserved evil, which is necessary to prevent a greater public evil; or to promote the greater good of others, and of the whole. On the contrary, he who is under the government of self love, and so far as he is influenced by this, seeks, and is wholly devoted to his own personal, private interest, as the supreme good, placing all good and happiness in this; and therefore will not give up and relinquish his own supposed interest, or any part or degree of it, for the sake of the interest and happiness of any other being in the universe; their good and interest being nothing to him, no object of his desires and wishes, any farther than he thinks his own selfish good is connected with theirs, and promoted by it. Consequently, he, in the feelings and exercises of his heart, subordinates the whole interest of the universe, and of every other being, to his own little, personal, selfish interest, and wishes no good to any one, or to the whole any farther than it may promote his own selfish ends, and turn to his own advantage. And were sell love under no restraints, but were acted out fully agreeable to the nature of it, it would give up and destroy all the good and happiness of the universe, and of ever) other being but the selfish person, and bring universal evil and misery on all, were this possible, in order to gain die least supposed advantage to himself. This is the 477true character of them who are, “lovers of their own selves.”
This view of disinterested affection will give in some measure, the distinguishing character and properties of the new creature. It consists in the love of benevolence, which implies all that disinterested affection, m the exercise of which the true convert loves God with all his heart, and his neighbour as himself. It implies repentance, faith in Jesus Christ, joy in God, in the Redeemer, humility, resignation to the divine will: A cheerful and pleasing dedication of himself, and of every thing with which he has any concern, to Christ, his interest and honour, and to be disposed of and used by him, in the way which he sees best, to answer his own infinitely wise designs; which shall in the highest degree possible promote the divine glory, and the greatest happiness of his kingdom. It is true wisdom, which discerns and pursues the only objects worthy to be desired and sought. It is goodness and truth, putting on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, temperance and sobriety. It is heavenly minded, setting the affection on things above, not on things on the earth, &c. &c.
1. From this scriptural and rational view of disinterested affection, in which all true virtue, piety and charity consist, may be seen what a great and dangerous mistake they have made, who suppose that there is no virtue or true religion, but that which consists in self love, or originates from it; and that no man ever acts or can act from any higher or other principle, whatever he may think or pretend. Surely these “call evil good, and good evil; put darkness for light, and light for darkness; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.”519519 Isaiah v. 20. They call that virtue and goodness, which is directly opposed to all true virtue and goodness; and in which all moral evil consists. They call the only moral good, evil. They say there is no such thing as disinterested 478affection, and if there were, it must be evil. And all appearance of it, or pretension to it, is nothing but hypocrisy or delusion. They put that for light and wisdom, which is darkness itself, in which all moral darkness consists. They recommend and delight in that, as the source of all happiness, which is the most odious thing in nature, and is the source of all the mischief and misery among creatures.
It is true, that mankind in general appear to act from no higher or better principle than self love. But this affords not the least evidence that man is not capable of disinterested affection, or that self love is not the essence and substance of all sin. It is indeed an evidence that the account the scripture gives of man is true, that he is naturally totally depraved, and wholly corrupt: And that he must be renewed by the Spirit of God, in order to his becoming in the least degree virtuous and holy.
II. We hence learn how false and pernicious that doctrine is, which too many have held and asserted, viz. that true love to God originates from a knowledge or belief that he loves us, and designs to make us happy: Or that a man cannot love God, unless he first has evidence that God loves him with a design to save him. This is excluding disinterested affection entirely, and making all religious affection to consist in self love; for that love to any being which is wholly owing to a knowledge or belief that he loves us, is nothing but self love. Our Saviour therefore condemns this, as not true christian love; but a love which may be found in the most selfish, wicked man. He says, “If ye love them which love you, what thanks have ye? For sinners also love those that love them.”520520 Luke vi. 32. There is no need that a man should be regenerated and born of the Spirit of God, in order to his loving God, so far as he is persuaded that God loves him, with a design to save him from eternal destruction, and make him happy forever. This is consistent with being a real enemy to the divine character: And the greatest enemy to God will do this, without any change of heart for the better. And if any person has no other love to God but this, it is certain he has not a new heart, 479is not converted, and has not the Spirit of God; but all his religious affection and devotion is nothing but wickedness, and enmity against God and his law.
He who has a new heart, and universal disinterested benevolence, will be a friend to God, and must be pleased with his infinitely benevolent character, though he see not the least evidence, and has not a thought that God loves him, and designs to save him. And if he could know that God designed, for his own glory and the general good, to cast him into endless destruction; this would not make him cease to approve of his character; he would continue to be a friend of God, and to be pleased with his moral perfection. And he would, even on this supposition, and in this case, exercise true gratitude to God for all the good he had received or did now enjoy, and for his great and wonderful love to the world, in providing salvation for man. For benevolence exercised and manifested in doing good is the object of gratitude, and will excite it in him who has disinterested benevolent affection, though he receives no personal benefit by it.
Therefore they who cannot love God, unless he first manifest to them that he is their friend, and designs to save them, are the unregenerate, who have no disinterested affection; but are wholly selfish in all their religious exercises and affections; and their religion, whatever appearance it may put on, is false and destructive.
But if such love to God as this were true love, and real piety, it is impossible it should ever take place. For God has not discovered, and never will discover to any man, that he loves him, and will save him, who has no love to God: It is impossible therefore that he who does not now love God should have any real good evidence from any quarter that God loves him, or that he shall be saved. He must first love God in order to have any evidence that God will not destroy him forever. He therefore who cannot love God until he has evidence, and God discovers to him that he shall be saved, never can be brought to love him; because this discovery never w ill be made to him, so long as he does not love God; and if he thinks he has had such a disco very, it is mere delusion, and he is made to believe a 480 lie: Consequently all his love to God is built on a falsehood and delusion. So that they who can have no love to God, unless he first discovers to them that he intends to save them, and think they have had such a discovery, and from this they began, and continue to love him, are deluded two ways, and in two respects. Their supposed discovery that God loves them, and will save them, and their belief of this, is altogether a delusion, and they only believe a lie. But if this were a true and real discovery, and this were possible, yet their love and religious affection which is wholly founded on this discovery, and they love God only because he loves them, and for no other reason, has no moral goodness in it; it is nothing but self love, and therefore nothing but sin: And such cannot be saved, or enjoy God, nor can God love them unless they have new hearts given them, by which this same self love will be destroyed, in a degree at least, and disinterested affection takes place, which will be friendly to God, and love him, whether he be friendly to them, or not.
An expression of St. John has been often produced to confront what has been now advanced; and to prove that the only ground and reason of christians loving God, is a belief of his love to them. This is in the following words, “We love him because he first loved us.”521521 1 John iv. 9. It is of importance carefully to consider what is the real meaning of these words of inspiration, lest by inattention or prejudice we should put a wrong sense upon them, and overlook the truth which is designed to be communicated by them. It has been observed, that in this context the apostle is considering and recommending the love of God in giving his Son to die for the redemption of sinners, and urging christians to imitate this love, which is certainly disinterested love; love to men while they hated God, and not love to them because they loved him. Christians therefore could not imitate the love of God here recommended, by loving him purely because he loved them; for this would be so far from imitating the love of God, that it would be only an exercise of self love, which is in nature and kind directly opposed to the disinterested love of God. Therefore 481the apostle cannot here mean to recommend self love, or interested affection; and assert that the only ground and reason of their love to God, was the manifestation and evidence given to them that God loved them; and that they had good evidence that God loved them, and designed to save them, before they began to love him, and as necessary in order to their loving him: Not only because this would be inconsistent with the whole context, and make all his reasoning contradictory, futile and absurd; but to suppose this, is to make him assert that which is utterly impossible, as has been just now observed. Besides, by putting this sense upon these words, they are made inconsistent with the other parts of the Bible, which represent the holy love of christians to consist in disinterested affection, in opposition to self love; which, it is presumed, has been made evident in this section. Moreover, by understanding these words in this sense, they stand in direct contradiction to the assertion of our Saviour, viz. That to love those who love us, and that purely because they love us, is not a virtuous, holy love, but that which the worst of men may have. “For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them.”522522 Luke vi. 32. It is therefore certain, that those words of the Apostle cannot be understood in this sense, without making him contradict himself, and to assert that which is inconsistent with all the rest of the Bible, and with the plainest dictates of reason and common sense.
And if another meaning offers itself, which is consistent with all those, and which the context points out, and which is a natural and easy sense, who will hesitate to embrace it? The Apostle is in this passage celebrating the love of God in giving his Son to be a propitiation for the sins of men, as the pattern of all holy love. He says, “Herein is love: Not that we loved God; but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” He refers to the love of God as the original ground and cause of all the good which came to them; he loved them first, while men were sinners 482and had no love to him, but were his enemies. His love laid the foundation of all good, moral and natural, in man. Therefore, “We love him because he first loved us.” That is, had he not been first in his love, before we loved him, and opened a way for our reconciliation, by sending his Son to be a propitiation for our sins, and by his Spirit regenerated us unto holy disinterested love, to which the unrenewed heart is an utter stranger: Had he not thus first loved us and done all this for us, we should never have known what true disinterested love is. Therefore we are certain that the cause of our loving God is his love to us, which has opened the way for it, and actually wrought it in us. “We love him, because he loved us,” and gave us the spirit of love in our regeneration; for none but those who are born of God do love him. Thus it appears that these words perfectly coincide with the whole context, when understood in the sense now put upon them; and are very far from asserting that we cannot love God, unless we have evidence or believe that he loves us, and designs to save us; or that a christian’s love to God originates wholly from a belief that God loves him. It does originate from the love of God to him, in the sense now given: It is wholly owing to the love and kindness of God, in giving his Son to die for him; and then saving him by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. So that it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God who sheweth mercy. Had not God first loved him, and done all this for him, he never would have had any true love to God.
III. From this subject may be inferred the propriety and importance of public teachers constantly and with clearness distinguishing between self love, and disinterested affection, and showing that true religion, and all holy exercise consists in the latter, and not at all in the former. If this be not done, and a clear distinction between these two opposites be not constantly made and kept up, true religion cannot be set in a proper light, and distinguished from all counterfeits, and they may leave their hearers in ignorance, and lead them into deception, in this important matter, and to rest in a religion that is nothing more than mere selfishness, and opposition 483to true holiness. If that religion be not taught and inculcated which is opposed to self love: but on the contrary, selfish affections are recommended as true holiness, the blind lead the blind, and they both are like to fall into the ditch. Mankind, when they turn their thoughts to religion, being naturally wholly selfish, are strongly inclined to approve and take up with a selfish religion; as this only is agreeable to their hearts. They are therefore disposed to like that preaching best which gratifies and flatters their self love and pride. And if they are taught that they may be converted and be good christians, without denying themselves and crossing their self love; but in the full gratification of this; and disinterested affection, or that wherein it consists, be spoken of with disapprobation, and condemned as wrong or impossible, or is kept wholly out of sight: This tends to confirm them in a delusion, which doubtless proves fatal to thousands. The more men are inclined to embrace and be satisfied with a selfish religion, the more careful and zealous should public teachers be, to oppose it, and detect the delusion, and preach up that pure and undefiled religion, which consists in renouncing self, and in the exercise of disinterested affection. This would be striking at the root of self love, pride and human depravity, and setting holiness in a true and beautiful light. And though such preaching, when it is understood, may not please, but offend those who have nothing but self love; yet it ought to be inculcated, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.
And it is of importance to keep it in view, that universal benevolence, and impartial disinterested goodness is the sum and source of all holy affection, as it is all implied and contained in this, by whatever different names it may be called, as has been shown. It tends to confuse and mislead the mind on this subject of love, if when love to God is spoken of and described, it is represented as consisting wholly in the love of complacency, and benevolent affection is implicitly excluded: Whereas this is the essence of the whole; and the love of complacency and of gratitude ought to be considered as the exercise of universal, disinterested benevolence, in order to set the subject in the clearest light, and to 484prevent mistakes. Too many who hold the truth on this point in theory, or will assent to it, at least, when it is proposed and explained to them, yet, when they treat on love to God, do either by the influence of habit and custom, or through inattention, leave out all idea of benevolence, as if the love of complacency and gratitude were distinct and stood alone, independent of universal benevolence. And this is too often the case, when love to our neighbour is mentioned. Disinterested benevolence, which is the sum, and comprehends all, is overlooked, as if no such affection existed. This is a misrepresentation of love, and has an evil tendency.
IV. This subject exhibits a rule by which all who suppose themselves to be converted, and real christians, may try their conversion, and religious exercises and conduct, in order to determine of what kind their religion is, whether true or false.
Many have asserted, as has been observed above, that it is impossible to love God unless we first believe that he designs to save us; and that such belief is the necessary foundation of all friendly affection to him. If their hearts agree with their theory, and all their love to God originates from a persuasion that he loves them, it is certain, that all their supposed piety is mere delusion; and that they are not friends, but enemies to the true God; which has been shown above.
There have been, and now are many, who, when they have given a relation of their conversion, have represented that they were first brought to love God, from a persuasion that he first loved them, and designed to save them, that Christ died for them, &c. And that all their after religious exercises and love are founded on this persuasion, and sink or rise, as that is stronger or weaker. If this account which they give of themselves, of their conversion and religious exercises, be in fact true, all their religion, from beginning to end, falls short of real Christianity; and is of a contrary nature. It was impossible they could have such a persuasion on good ground antecedent to their loving God; therefore they believed without any evidence, and all their religion was founded on delusion and falsehood. But if it were miraculously revealed to them, that God designed 485 to save them, and all their love to him originated from such a revelation, and they could not love him, on any other supposition, all their religious exercise has its foundation in selfishness, and is nothing but self love, and consistent with enmity against God.
Others give a different account of their first conversion and after religious exercise, which may consist in disinterested affection, and has that appearance; yet ought to be carefully considered and examined, lest some fatal deception should lurk at bottom. They may reasonably inquire, whether old things are passed away, and all things are become new, in this respect; that whereas they were naturally wholly selfish in their views, exercises and desires, they now have disinterested affection, and new views and desires, which appear to be of this kind. Whether they have that benevolent regard to God and the Redeemer, as to lead them to desire, above all things, that he may be glorified, and his will be done, whatever it may be; that his interest and kingdom may be promoted, and come to perfection, so as to comprise the greatest possible happiness and glory of the universe: And whether they thus “seek first the kingdom of God,” and devote all they have, and themselves, to his glory, and the greatest good of the whole; having no other interest but this, and what is comprehended in it; not desiring their own happiness, or that of any other individual, unless it be consistent with the glory of God, and the greatest general good: And whether they are sincerely desiring and seeking the good of all men now living, and wishing every one to be happy, so far as may be consistent with the w ill of God, and the greatest general good; and actually endeavouring to do good to all men, as they have opportunity; and careful not to injure their character, persons or interest, in any respect, by word or action; at the same time, being liberal and bountiful to the poor and distressed to the utmost of their ability; and expressing their benevolence to all, by praying for them: And whether they love their enemies with benevolent affection, whatever injuries they may have done them: and are disposed to do good to them; and do wish them well, and pray for them: Whether those who 486appear to them to be the benevolent friends of God and man, are peculiarly dear to them, to whom their hearts are united in strong benevolent affection, and complacential love. If they find their religious affection is of this nature, and implies all this, and their words and actions are in some good measure answerable, they may reasonably conclude that they are born of the Spirit of God, and that their religion consists in disinterested affection.
It must be added, that this disinterested benevolence will farther evidence itself in religious, holy joy in God, his works and revealed designs, in which there is no selfishness, but the contrary. It will rejoice in the infinite, independent, unchangeable, and eternal felicity of the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost; and that he is able, and will glorify himself to the highest possible degree forever. It rejoices in the hope and assurance of the glory of God, and that nothing has, or shall take place, which shall not turn to his glory: That the wrath of man shall praise him, and the remainder of wrath he will restrain. It will also rejoice, that the greatest good, and highest happiness of the creation, will be promoted, and take place. That all the evil that does, or shall exist, cannot prevent this; but is all ordered, and will be overruled by infinite wisdom and goodness, to answer this end; so as to issue in the greatest good of the whole. Thus the felicity and glory of God, and the greatest good and happiness of the creation, as one united whole, is the great object of the desire, hope and joy of the truly benevolent. They rejoice in the divine character and perfection; in the independent supremacy, and infinitely wise and good government of God, under which nothing can take place, but what is, all things considered, wisest and best, and necessary in the best manner to promote the greatest good of the whole. They acquiesce and rejoice in his infinitely wise and holy will, that it is done in heaven, and on earth, and will be done forever; And that his counsel and designs, which have fixed all events, from the greatest to the least, are established forever, and cannot be obstructed, or altered.487
In all this the benevolent christian does rejoice, independent of his own personal interest; and whatever may be the will of God concerning that, and whatever may become of him, and other individuals, whether his or their particular personal interest and happiness be consistent with the glory of God and the general good, and included in these, or not. Yet he who exercises this disinterested affection, views his own personal interest as great and important; yea, he feels it to be much greater and more important, than when he was wholly selfish; and has a proper regard for it. But as the public interest now appears to him to be infinitely greater, and of more worth, than the happiness of any individual, he is disposed to give up and renounce all the latter, so far as it is inconsistent with the public interest, and as is necessary to promote the greatest common good. And that self love which is contrary to this, is enmity to the greatest good of the public, and to the good of society; and therefore enmity against God.
The true christian, who, so far as he is such, exercises this disinterested affection, may consider all this, and examine himself by it; and yet be left in doubt, whether he has any degree of such affection, or not; and sometimes may even conclude against himself, that he is an utter stranger to it. This may, in some instances, be owing to not attending to, and understanding the distinction and difference between a proper and great regard to their own interest, which is included in disinterested affection, as it has been stated above, and that self love, which seeks a selfish interest only: And they are ready to look upon all regard to their personal interest and desire of happiness to be self love; and hence are led to doubt whether they have any other affection; and sometimes to conclude they are wholly selfish. This also may arise from a view and sense of the great degree and strength of self love, which yet continues with them. He who has any degree of disinterested affection has a proportionable greater discerning of the nature and exercise of selfishness, which is in his own heart. His disinterested love may be said to be the eye which discerns his self love, in all its secret workings, and the real odiousness of it. His attention is therefore 488turned to this; he looks upon it so much, and watches it so constantly, and sees so much of it, that sometimes he sees nothing else, and is ready to conclude he is wholly selfish in all he does; and is a stranger to disinterested affection. It is hoped that what has been said on this subject, in this section, will be some help to all honest inquirers, who have some degree of disinterested affection, to discern their own character, and to make proper distinction between the love of a true christian and self love; and thus obtain evidence that they are born of the Spirit of God. And that those who have never been renewed to holiness, but are wholly selfish in all their exercises, will, by attending to these things, if they will attend, be convinced that they are far from having any true religion.
These latter are in great danger of continuing in their deception, and holding fast their delusion. They find religion so frequently, and so much represented as a selfish thing, both in public preaching, in books, and in conversation; and disinterested affection so much spoken against, as a mere chimera, and impossible; and so much said in favour of self love; that they may be disposed to treat what is the subject of this section, as erroneous and whimsical, and not worthy of their attention.
And if they be convinced that true religion does consist in disinterested affection, as described above, they are in danger of considering the exercises of their self love, as being disinterested benevolence; since, by the supposition, they know not what the latter is, experimentally; and their self love, in so many ways, puts on the garb of disinterested benevolence, and makes a plausible appearance: And they are so partial in favour of themselves, and their own affections, that they are easily deceived into a favourable opinion of them. Even from self love and pride, they may exert themselves for the public good, either because they consider their own interest as connected with that of the public, and dependent upon it; or because this is the way to escape infamy, and get the applause of their fellow men. And they may be kind and generous to others, either because others love them, or from a selfish desire to have the 489name of generous, charitable persons. And they think they do these things from a disinterested regard to the public, and to others, because it has such an appearance. Besides, the most selfish person has some affections which are not self love, nor disinterested benevolence, but have some resemblance to the latter. What is called natural affection, the affection of parents to children, and of children to parents, &c. is not, of itself, and in the nature of it, moral affection; but what is called mere instinct. This is called love, by which parents and children are inclined to desire the welfare of each other, and looks like disinterested benevolence: But is really nothing but instinct, which falls below moral agency; accompanied and strengthened by self love, in selfish persons; and therefore is no evidence that they who have this in the highest degree, have the least degree of disinterested affection under consideration, or universal benevolence, which is essential to holy love.
And what is called natural pity or compassion, is not self love, nor is it universal benevolence, but an instinct, which God, for wise reasons, and for the good of mankind, has implanted in all men. This being a sort of benevolence, is by many mistaken for disinterested holy love, and so are deceiving themselves and others. Would men know their own moral character, they must distinguish these from universal benevolence, and that disinterested affection, in which all true religion consists.523523 See Edwards on the Nature of true Virtue, Chap. vi.
V. This subject teaches us the excellency of real Christianity; and that it is suited to promote the happiness of individuals who partake of the true spirit of it, and of society, where it prevails.
Self love tends to natural evil, and always produces it, unless it be restrained and counteracted. It contracts the mind of him who is under the power of this selfish affection. It sinks it down to a sordid littleness and lowness of spirit, and prevents his proper enjoyment of the good and happiness of others; and subjects him to innumerable, painful feelings and miseries, which are the necessary attendants of pride, envy, covetousness, &c. And this same self love is the source of all the evils that 490take place in society. All instances of unrighteousness, oppression and cruelty, of contention and war, and of every injury done by one to another, or to the public; and all deceit, falsehood and hypocrisy, incontinency, and every unruly lust; and every thing which worketh evil to others, and to society, are the fruit of self love. Take this away, and all these will cease. And this is removed as far as the spirit of true Christianity is imbibed.
But universal benevolence, christian love, spreads happiness, wherever it flourishes. It enlarges and ennobles the mind, and puts the benevolent person in possession of the good and happiness of others, so that he enjoys it all in a great degree, and rejoices with those who rejoice. By this he becomes a cordial and judicious friend to every one, and more especially to those with whom he has the most connection; and is disposed to do good to all, as he has ability and opportunity: And is devoted to the good of the public, and of the society to which he belongs, being ready to give up his private, personal interest, in any part or the whole of it, when the public interest demands it, and this is necessary for the good of the whole. This disinterested benevolence will lead every one to take his proper place, and to be industrious, active, prudent and faithful in his own business, and honest, upright, sincere and true in all his concerns and dealings with his fellow men. This love is kind, it is mercy, humility, condescension, meekness, peaceableness, temperance, long suffering, and brotherly kindness. This will form rules by which they may fill their station with honour and usefulness; to use their influence for the public good, and the happiness of every individual, so far as is consistent with the greatest public happiness. And this will induce those in more private stations, to acquiesce in, and support good government; to live in peace with all men, if possible. And this will unite all the particular members of the society to each other, and form them into a band of brothers, all engaged to promote the general good, and the best interest of each other, so far as it may be consistent with, and subserve the greatest good of the whole.
Whenever Christianity shall spread over the whole world, and the distinguishing spirit and power of it take 491place universally, forming men to a high degree of universal benevolence, and disinterested affection, it will unite mankind into one happy society, teaching them to love each other as brethren, each one seeking and rejoicing in the public good, and in the happiness of individuals: This will form the most happy state of public society that can be enjoyed on earth. And when we take into view their love to the Redeemer, their devotedness to his honour and service, and obedience to his laws, in the practice of piety, devotion and mercy; their joy in his character, exaltation and honour; their gratitude to him for their redemption from infinite evil, and making them heirs of unspeakable felicity; their unshaken trust in him for the fulfilment of all his promises; and their clear and sure prospects of their eternal happiness, and the endless and increasing glory of his kingdom:—This will be the greatest likeness of heaven of any thing that has taken place on earth, or ever will. And they will hereby be made meet for the eternal inheritance of the saints in light.
This leads to a view of the most perfect, happy, and glorious society in heaven, in the eternal kingdom of God. All the beauty, happiness, and glory of it, will consist in this disinterested love, made perfect, reigning, and having its proper and full effect, without impediment, both in God, and in every member of this kingdom.
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