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might a man determine, that a path, whose direction he can discern only for a furlong, will conduct him in a straight course to a city, distant from him a thousand miles, as to determine, that an action, whose immediate tendency he perceives to be useful, will therefore be useful, through a thousand years, or even through ten. How much less able must he be to perceive what will be its real tendency in the remote ages of endless duration. It is impossible therefore, that utility, as decided by our judgment, should become the rule of moral action.
It has also been objected to this doctrine, that if Virtue is founded in Utility, every thing, which is useful, must so far be virtuous. This objection it is hardly necessary to answer. Voluntary usefulness is the only virtue. A smatterer in moral philosophy knows, that understanding and will, are necessary to the existence of virtue. He who informs us, that, if virtue is founded in utility, ani mals, vegetables, and minerals, the sun, and the moon, and the stars, must be virtuous, so far as they are useful, is either disposed to trifle with mankind for his amusement, or supposes them to be triflers.
REMARKS. 1st. From these obserrations we learn, in an interesting manner, the desirableness of virtue.
The whole tendency of virtue is to promote happiness; and this is its only ultimate tendency. It prefers, of course, the greater happiness to the less, and the greatest, always, to that which can exist in a subordinate degree. It diffuses happiness every where, and to every being capable of receiving it, so far as this diffusion is in its power. In this respect it knows no distinction of family, country, or world; and operates to the benefit of those, who are near, more than to that of those, who are distant, only because its operations will be more effectual, and because, when all pursue this course, the greatest good will be done to all. Its efficacy also is complete. The object at which it aims, it can accomplish. It can contrive, it can direct, it can effectuate. To do good is its happiness, as well as its tendency. It will, therefore, never be inattentive, never discouraged, never disposed to relax its efforts. Thus it is a perennial spring, whose waters never fail; a spring, at which thousands and millions may slake their thirst for enjoyment, and of which the streams are always pure, healthful, and refreshing
2dly. We learn from the same observations the odious nature of Sin.
Sin, or Selfishness, aiming supremely at the private, separate good of an individual, and subordinating to it the good of all others, confines its efforts, of course, to the narrow sphere of one's self. All the individuals also, in whom this spirit prevails, have, each, a personal good, to which each subordinates every other
good. There are, therefore, as many separate interests in a collection of selfish beings, as there are individuals ; and to each of these interests the individual, whose it is, intends to make those of all orners subservient. Of consequence, these interests cannot fail to clash; and the individuals to oppose, and contend with, each other. Hence an unceasing course of hatred, wrath, revenge, and violence, must prevail among beings of this character; of private quarrels, and public wars. All, who oppose this darling interest, are regarded by the individual as his enemies : and thus all naturally become the enemies of all. Where this disposition is in a great measure unrestrained, it makes an individual a tyrant, and a society, a collection of banditti. Where it is wholly unrestrained, it converts Intelligent beings into fiends, and their habitation into hell.
The ruling principle, here, is to gain good from others, and not to communicate it to them. This darling spirit, so cherished by mankind, so active in the present world, so indulged, flattered, and boasted of, by those who possess it, is, instead of being wise and profitable, plainly foolish, shameful, ruinous, and deserving of the most intense reprobation. Notw tstanding all the restraints, laid upon it by the good provident of God; notwithstanding the shortness of life, which prevents us from forming permanent plans, making great acquisitions to ourselves, and producing great mischiefs to others; notwithstanding the weakness, frailty, and fear, which continually attend us ; notwitstanding the efficacy of natural affection, the power of conscience and the benevolent influence of Religion on the affairs of mankind; it makes the present world an uncomfortable and melancholy residence; and creates three fourths of the misery, suffered by the race of Adam.
All these evils exist, because men are disinclined to do good, or to be voluntarily useful. Were they only disposed to promote each other's happiness, or, in other words, to be useful to each other; the world would become a pleasant and desirable habita. tion. The calamities, immediately brought upon us by Providence, would be found to be few; those, induced by men upon themselves and each other, would vanish ; and in their place beneficence would spread its innumerable blessings.
3dly. These observations strongly exhibit to us the miserable state of the world of Perdition.
In this melancholy region no good is done, nor intended to be done. No good is therefore enjoyed. Still, the mind retains its original activity; and is wise and vigorous to do evil, although it has neither knowledge, nor inclination, to do good. Here, all the passions of a selfish spirit are let loose ; and riot, and reign, and ravage. Here, therefore, all are enemies. Here, the wretched individual, surveying the rast regions around him, and casting his eyes forward into the immer-surable progress of eternity, sees himself absolutely alone in the midst of millions, in solitude complete and VOL. II.
endless. Here, voluntary usefulness is for ever unknown, and unheard of; while selfishness in all its dreadful forms assumes an undisputed, an unresisted, dominion, a terrible despotism; and fills the world around her with rage and wretchedness, with terror and doubt, with desolation and despair.
4thly. How delightful a view do these observations give of Heaven!
Heaven is the world of voluntary usefulness. The only disposition of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect, is to do good; their only employment, to produce happiness. In this employment all the energy of sanctified and perfect minds is exerted without weariness, and without end. How vast, then, how incomprehensible, how endlessly increasing, must be the mass of happiness, brought by their united efforts into being! How ample a provision must it be for all the continually expanding wishes, the continually enlarging capacities, of its glorious inhabitants ! How wonderfully, also, must the sum of enjoyment be enhanced to each, when we remember, that he will experience the same delight in the good enjoyed by others, as in that which is immediately his own! Who would not labour to gain an entrance into such a world as this ? Who would not bend all his efforts, exhaust all his powers, encounter any earthly suffering, and resolutely overcome every earthly obstacle, to acquire that
divine and delightful character of volúntary usefulness, which makes heaven such a world; which makes it the place of God's peculiar presence, the means of his highest glory, and the mansion of everlasting life, peace, and joy, to his children?
THE LAW OT COD.-THE DECALOGUE. THE
EXODUS IX. 3 - Thou shall have no other Gods before me.
IN the series of discourses, which I have lately delivered concerning the two great commands of the Moral Law, it has, if I mistake not, been sufficiently shown, that the disposition, required by the Creator of his Intelligent creatures in this law, is Disinterested Love, or the Spirit of doing good. The tendency of this disposition is always to do what is right. It will not, however, follow, that the mind, in which it exists, will be able always to discern the course of conduct, which it ought, upon the whole, to pursue. The disposition may, with absolute correctness, dictate what is absolutely proper to be done in a case, already before the view of the mind; and yet the mind be wholly ignorant, whether that case, or the conduct in question, is such, as would, upon the whole, be best for it to pursue; or whether superior wisdom would not be able to devise for it other, and much more desirable, courses of action. A child may be perfectly holy; and yet possess too little understanding to know in what way he may best act; in what way he may most promote the glory of God, the good of his fellow-creatures, or the good of himself. His disposition may prompt to that, which is exactly right, in all the conduct, which is within the reach of his understanding. Yet, if he had more comprehensive views, he might discern far more desirable modes of action, in which he might be much more useful, than in any which he is at present able to devise. He may be able to apply the two great commands of the Moral Law, which have been so extensively considered, with exact propriety to all such cases, as are actually within his view; and yet be utterly unable to devise for himself those kinds of conduct, in which his obedience to these commands might be most profitably employed.
What is true of a child, is true, in different degrees, of all Intelligent creatures. God only, as was shown in a former discourse, is able to discern, and to prescribe, the conduct, which, upon the whole, it is proper for such creatures to pursue. He sees from the beginning to the end; and perfectly understands the nature, and the consequences, of all Intelligent action.
This knowledge which he alone possesses, and which is indispensable to this purprise, enables him to accomplish it in a manner absolutely perfect.
What is true, in this respect, of Intelligent creatures universally, is peculiarly true of Sinful creatures. The disposition of sinners leads them, of course, to that conduct, which is wrong and mischievous. They are, therefore, always in danger of erring from mere disposition. Besides, sin renders the mind voluntarily ignorant; and in this manner, also, exposes it continually to error. A great part of all the false opinions, entertained by mankind curs. cerning their duty, are to be attributed solely to the biasses of a sinful disposition. None are so blind, none so erroneous, as those who are unwilling to see.
From a merciful regard to these circumstances, particularly, of mankind, God has been pleased to reveal to thein his pleasure, and their duty; to disclose to them all those modes of moral ac tion, all those kinds of moral conduct, in which they may most promote his glory, and their own good. The importance of this Revelation is evidenced, in the strongest manner, by the moral situation of that part of the human race, to whom it has never been published. I need not inform you, that they have been wholly ignorant of the true God, and of a great part of the principles and precepts, of the moral system; that they have worshipped men, animals, evil spirits, and gods of gold and silver, of wood and stone. I need not inform you, that they have violated every moral precept, and every dictate of natural affection. I need not inform you, that without Revelation we should have been heathen also ; and should, in all probability, have been this day prostrating our selves before an ox or an ape, or passing children ihrough the fire unto Moloch.
Among the several parts of the Revelation, which has raised our moral condition so greatly above that of the heathen, the Dectlogue, is eminently distinguished. The decalogue is a larger summary of our duty, than that which is contained in the two great commands, already considered. The same things, in substance, are required in it; but they are branched out into various impor tant particulars; all of them supremely necessary to be known by us. To enforce their importance on our minds, God was pleased to utter the several precepts, contained in this summary, with his own voice ; and to write them with his own finger on two tables of stone, fashioned by himself. They were published, also, amid the thunderings and lightnings of Mount Sinai, from the bosom of the cloud, by which it was enveloped, and out of the flame, which ascended from its summit.
The four first of the commands, contained in the decalogue, reg. ulate our immediate duty to God; the six last, our duty to men. The former were written on one, properly called the first, table ; the latter on another, usually styled the second, table.
Two of these commands, one of the first and one of the second table, are positiv., dat is, direct injunctions of our duty: the rer maining eight are negative, or prohibitory. Both classes, however,