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though other considerations may come in with good effect to incline his will to his duty, yet no other considerations can add to his obligations, or make the duty of obedience more a duty, or more an act of true religion than it was before : for he who honors and obeys God, because he knows that God ought to be honored and obeyed by him, his creature and his servant, acts on as high and as true a principle of religion as a rational mind is capable of.
The second principle of duty, which is the love of our neighbor, may be considered in two views, either as it results from the common relation which all men bear to God, or from the relation which men bear to each other. In the first view, to love our neighbor is properly a religious act, and part of the duty we owe to God; and he knows but little of God and his attributes, who cannot from thence discern that to do good to our fellow-creatures is an acceptable part of obedience to him; that to vex, injure, and oppress them, is injurious to him, the common Father and Maker of all men.
But besides this, could we suppose men to forget God without forgetting themselves, and losing the reason with which they are endowed; the very light of reason, assisted by the natural faculty of distinguishing what is right and wrong, would oblige men to use each other with justice and with tenderness : for reason itself is a law to a reasonable mind : and in the present case, you must either say that it would be altogether as reasonable an act in a man, who believes not in God, to murder an innocent child, as to nourish and support it; or you must allow that reason alone in this case makes a difference, and creates such an obligation as a reasonable mind must ever be sensible of, and inclined to follow. I would not call this religious obedience; but it is obedience to the law of our own minds : and could we be so stupid as to forget the hand which planted this law in our hearts, yet whilst the law itself lives in us; that is, as long as we continue to have reason and sense, so long shall we feel the obligations we are under in obedience to it; so long shall we be dissatisfied with ourselves for acting contrary to what we see, and know, and feel to be right and becoming.
But join these two considerations together, and you see into
the very source of all the obligations a man can be under to do good to his fellow-creatures. We can consider men only as they stand related to us, or as they and we stand equally related to God, our common father; and under these views we may discover whatever we owe to man for his own sake, or for the sake of God who made him; and discern the whole compass of our duty with respect to the second great branch of it, - Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.'
Let us then proceed to the third thing, viz. the love of ourselves and our own happiness; and consider how far this will and ought to influence our religious obedience.
It is very evident from the common and universal sense of mankind, that the desires of life and happiness are impressions which come from the Author of nature; and consequently that to follow these impressions, and to act in pursuance of them, is according to nature, and agreeable to the will of God, the author of them. It is reasonable for a man to be concerned for his own happiness; and since the will of God can never contradict right reason, it is consonant to the divine will for men to act on this principle, the care of themselves and of their own welfare. This concern for our own happiness is a very strong principle of action in us, and when duly pursued, within its proper bounds, a very justifiable one; and though in strictness of speech it cannot be termed a principle of religion, because the reason of our own religious obedience is not to be resolved into self-love; yet, considering the strict union which God has made between our happiness and our duty, the concern for our own happiness, when duly regulated, will always be a powerful principle of action in matters of religion.
The natural care and concern therefore which all men have for themselves and their own happiness, is the great source from which the motives of religion are deduced ; and the reason why this natural principle of action does often furnish very powerful motives to the cause of vice and irreligion, is no other than this; that men often, through the corruption of their affections, judge amiss of their happiness, and pursue those things as pleasant and profitable, which are really pernicious and destructive. In which case men are not to be blamed for pursuing their own happiness, but for the corruption of their hearts, which
makes them place their happiness in the things the most contrary to it.
For since God made man to be happy, and has endowed him with reason to discern wherein his true happiness does consist, it must needs be agreeable to the will of God that man should endeavor to attain that happiness for which he was intended.
The consequence of which is, that it is no blemish to our obedience, that we are moved by the considerations of that happiness, which God has made to be the reward of it.
To judge rightly therefore of the motives on which men act in their religious concerns, we must judge of the nature of the happiness they propose to themselves; and this, I think, we may admit as a rule in this case; that as long as men seek after that happiness which is natural and proper, and intended for them by God, so long they act on motives agreeable to the will of God.
The happiness in which men are capable of having any share, or for which they have any desires, is either that which belongs to this world, or that which belongs to the world to come. That future rewards are proper incitements to virtue and religion, is plain from hence; that God has proposed them as such, and sent his only and well-beloved Son into the world, te bring • life and immortality to light through the gospel.' But these future rewards do not alter the nature of religion, or give God a better title to our obedience than he had before: they contain not the reasons and evidences of the obligations we were under to the supreme Creator, but they added as proper movements to the will and affections of men, and to raise their minds above the temptations of this world, which so easily beset them. The particular rewards promised in the gospel being matter of divine revelation, to reject them is, want of faith; to admit them is an act of religion towards God, with respect to that faith which is the foundation of our receiving them; but with respect to the influence of the rewards themselves, they do not make any thing to be a religious duty which is not so in itself; they do not make any thing cease to be religion, which was religion before.
As to the happiness of this present life, we can, I think, as
little question whether God intended men to be happy here, as we can, whether he intends them to be happy hereafter : the natural desires of men after this happiness, the necessary connexion between virtue and happiness, and the goodness of God towards his creatures, will not permit us to make any doubt of it; and if God intended men for happiness here, to pursue this happiness by the most justifiable means, that is, by the means of virtue and religion, must needs be agreeable to his holy will; and consequently the prospect of the peace and tranquillity of this life is a proper motive to religion.
Under the old law we find the promises of this life were expressly made to religious obedience by God himself; a demonstration, I think, that the motives of this world are not in their own nature destructive of religious obedience. Long life, temporal peace and prosperity in the florishing condition of their country, fruitful seasons, and plentiful harvests, are inducements always proposed to the Jews to keep the commandments : nor may we pretend to say that these promises were peculiar and only proper to the Jews, unless we think that it was peculiar to the Jews to desire long life, prosperity, and plenty : for motives founded in natural desires must be as extensive as the desires themselves ; and having been propounded by God as motives of religion to one nation, it shows they are proper for all. The Jews had indeed an express promise of temporal felicity, if they continued obedient : other nations, if they believe God to be the Governor of the world, must have assurance of the like reward ; for to suppose God to govern the world infers his care of a religious obedient people : and therefore our Saviour gives it as an instance of want of faith, where men distrust the goodness of God in providing for them whilst they endeavor to serve him. But farther ; even under the gospel we are assured that 'godliness hậs the promises of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.'
To encourage ourselves therefore in our duty and obedience, with the hopes that God will reward us here with life, health, and prosperity, is no blemish to our religion; but indeed is an act of faith in God as Governor of the world, and a proper inducement to make us, in all we say or do, to look up to him
who is the giver of every good and perfect gift, both in this life and in the next.
Our Saviour reckons but two general heads of religion, the • love of God,' and the • love of our neighbor ;' but the second of these plainly infers another, the love of ourselves; for since we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, it is evident that we may and ought to love ourselves. A corrupt and irreligious affection can be no rule of duty; and if we are bound to love others according to the measure of the love we have for ourselves, it is evident at least that we may, consistently with the nature of religion, love ourselves as much as we are bound to love others: and since it is our duty to promote the present ease, and happiness, and prosperity of our neighbors, it must be agreeable to the mind of our blessed Saviour that we should take the same care of ourselves; and if this be a lawful care, it must needs be allowed that it is never better employed than when it makes us obedient towards God, in hopes of his favor and protection.
Having now, if not too largely, yet at least as far as the present occasion will give leave, endeavored to clear the first thing proposed, I shall proceed to the second; namely,
How plainly and evidently these principles lead us to works of charity and mercy.
• He that oppresseth the poor,' says the wise King of Israel, reproacheth his Maker : but he that honoreth him, hath mercy on the poor.' The poor
are the creatures of God, not only as they are men, but also as they are poor men : the different orders and degrees of men are from the hand of God; and to despise or oppress a man for being what God has thought fit to make him, is to reproach God: and if we have a true honor for God, the common Father of both rich and poor, it will dispose us to regard even the meanest of his children. The rich are the elder brothers of the world ; and as they share the estate of it among them, so is it incumbent on them to provide for the necessities of the rest of the family; which they can hardly neglect without renouncing the common relation they have to one and the same parent; so that to show
poor of paying honor to God.
is a direct way