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do evil." And the apostle assigns the same cause of the same effect: There shall come scoffers in the last day, walking after their own lusts, and saying where is the promise of his coming, for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." And all sinners are disposed to feel no fear nor concern respecting God so long as they can hold fast the deceit, that he has not the entire control of themselves and all their interests.
It should be the great object of religious instructors to make men know that God reigns. They ought to preach such doctrines and in such a manner, as will answer this purpose. And if they are taught and guided by the word, and the spirit, and the providence of the only living and true God, it will be their chief and constant object, in all their religious instructions, to make men know, that the counsel of the Lord shall stand and that he will do all his pleasure. For of him, and through him, and to him are all things to whom be glory forever.-Con. Evan. Mag.
Clerus. THIS being the last Conference of the year, I have thoughts of attending to the discriminating difference between the genuine spirit of religion, and that which is specious and spurious.
Eusebius. No subject, sir, can be more desirable, and useful for we are strangely prone to put darkness for light, and even to court the most dangerous delusion.
Theophilus. I am heartily glad the conference takes this direction; for it is manifest, as we advance in the study of theology, that we are impressed with the necessity of ascertaining the difference between holy and sinful affections.
Lucinda. Great attention to the difference between genuine and spurious exercises is requisite in theory, but the greatest in practice. O how dangerous to conclude that our hearts are right when we are wrong! I approve the subject in every point of view, and hope we shall derive the greatest adVantage from it.
Theophilus. Please, sir. to define religion in a simple man
Clerus. It is loving God with all the heart, and our fellowcreatures as ourselves.
Theophilus. I am sensible this is a summary definition; for it corresponds with Christ's exposition of the law. But
why are we required to love God supremely, and our fellowcreatures with the love of equality?
Clerus. Because God is infinitely great and infinitely excellent; and because one man or one soul is as valuable as another.
Theophilus. Is this the import of your observations, that it is our duty to love and estimate beings and objects according to their worth and excellency?
Clerus. It is; and if we operate by this rule strictly, we shall be approved; for it is the golden rule, requiring that impartial love which worketh no ill to its neighbor.
Leander. But am I required to love the souls of my two neighbors more than my own soul?
Theophilus. Are you required to love millions of souls, all the souls in the universe, more than your own?Ought you not to imitate Christ in your love? And does not he love millions of souls more than one?
Leander. He surely does; but what is the happiness of millions to me, if I am not happy too?
Theophilus. Is this your question? What is the happiness of millions good for, if you shall be made miserable for your disobedience? Is heaven of no value because there is a hell?
Leander. This is not my meaning.
Theophilus. Is this then your meaning; that the happiness of heaven is of no value because the reprobates rejected it and are miserable?
Leander. I must confess this seems to be the consequence of what I have advanced. But can it be right?
Theophilus. It cannot. For the happiness of the universe is the only reason which can be assigned for the existence of the universe. If neither God nor his rational creatures were happy, we can give no reason for their existence. Except for the sake of enjoyment the universe of intelligences is good for nothing.
Leander. This being true, that enjoyment is the end of being, which I cannot deny, on reflection, it follows that I am obliged to love all beings and objects according to their value. Consequently, the estimation which I must make of myself is very inconsiderable. For compared with the intelligent universe I am like vanity and nothing.
Clerus. I am glad to find, Leander, that your mind is so easily impressed with the theory of truth. It is hoped your heart corresponds; for while we know and oppose the will of God we stand on dangerous ground. But O how divinely excellent to harmonize with all holy beings, in estimatin
all objects according to their worth, and in realizing the consequent enjoyment.
Maria. Religion, agreeebly to this view of things, is impartial, disinterested affection.
Paulinus. Yes, my sister, it is, and what other alternative can be named?
Maria. I have been taught that no affection is disinterested, and that self love is the basis of virtue and the sole principle of action.
Paulinus. If self love is the only principle of virtuous action, what is the principle of vicious action? For between self love and disinterested love there is no medium of moral action. There is no third kind of moral action, which is neither selfish nor unselfish. The moral interest of the universe and that of the individual are the only moral interests of men. Public interest and private, comprise all moral interests. There is no alternative. Hence Christ says, " He that is not with me is against me."
Maria. I am not able to describe a third object of action which is neither of a public nor a private nature, but it appears that we act from the principle of self love.
Paulinus. And does it not appear to sinners that they are influenced by self love?
Maria. I suppose it does; for they are manifestly destitute of any other principle of action.
Paulinus. But, pause a moment Maria, is there no difference between the object of sinners and christians? Is the sinner's motive, and the saint's motive the same? What then is regeneration? And what is the real difference between the friends and the enemies of God?
Maria. I yield the point. Self love i not the principle of holy action. It is the principle of sinful action. For self enjoyment, or selfish gratification is the supreme object of the wicked. They are lovers of their own selves, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. But what are we to understand by disinterested affection?
Theophilus. By disinterested affection we mean that which is opposed to selfishness; but we do not mean that disinterested affection is destitute of a valuable object, for it embraces the most glorious interest in the universe. Disinterested affection has for its object the glory of God, or the greatest happiness of the intelligent system.
Maria. Well, if disinterested affection does not consider the subjects of it indifferent to the best of all interests, I have no objection to the phrase; for I believe, and I trust. know by experience, that the love of virtue sublimes the soul and fills it with the most excellent enjoyment.
Theodore. I am glad, dear sister, that you love the religion of Christ, which is impartial and seeketh not her own. And why good people of information are so averse from the word disinterested, I cannot tell. For after the most elegant writers, while describing an excellent character, have improved every other tint, they will add the epithet disinterested. The disinterested character is the most dignified.Such was Christ, and such was Paul. They sought not their own, but the glory of God in the salvation of souls. But how are the lovers of their own selves treated by the voice of reason and the pen of inspiration? Are they not criminated and despised? Who can trust the subject of supreme self love? And who cannot trust the subject of disinterested affection? Even the wicked are frequently constrained and impelled to applaud the impartial actions of the virtuous.
Lucella. I love to attend to these discriminations between the righteous and the wicked. For the theory of self love appears as black as midnight, with all its gloomy concomitants, and the theory of disinterested love shines like eternal day. The theory of impartial love only, is the theory of heaven. No system of theology, except this, corresponds with the operations and character of God. But what are the consolations of those who love the glorious things of God's word and have no evidence of their love.
Clerus. The only ground of consolation is this, that the Lord reigns. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right, is their sheet anchor.
Lucella. Can they be reconciled to a separation from God's presence, for the sake of advancing his glory?
Clerus. They cannot choose evil for the sake of evil; this is impossible; but they can say, with Christ, in a submissive manner: "If it be possible let this cup pass; but thy will, O God, be done." For the friends of God, whether they have evidence of their love or not, accept the punishment of their iniquity and unreservedly commit themselves to his disposal.
Eusebia. But how do the character of Christ and the atonement appear to persons in this humble, penitent, and submissive posture?
Clerus. The most excellent and glorious; and blessed be God there are but few who lie long at his feet without enjoying the light of his countenance. The dark night of the renewed soul does not remain. It is soon dispelled and succeeded by the light of day, and the cheering smiles of the Redeemer. Sorrow may continue for a night; but joy cometh in the morning. God humbles his chosen to give
them the advantage of exaltation. He wisely puts his chil dren into the dust to find their jewels. Before honor is humility, and before deliverance is submission. No child of God is lost in the dust.
Eusebia. It is manifest that religion is impartial affection and that the object of religious affection is the highest happiness of the universe. It is also equally manifest that the friend of God, whether he has evidence of his friendship or not, is unreservedly devoted to his will. He feels that he deserves nothing except God's wrath, and while he expects nothing else, in consequence of darkness of mind, he says from the heart, the will of the Lord be done, I shall not be injured.
Paulinus. If this is the inspired theory of religion, what shall we think of the theory of universalists and others, who hold that the happiness of man was the ultimate and chief end of God in his creation?
Theophilus. It is impossible to conclude that their theory is right. We must conclude that it is very erroneous and injurious to souls. For if the chief end of God in creating man was man's happiness, all men will be saved; and man has nothing to do, except to act the part of a self lover and seeker of his own felicity.
Theodore. I don't see but you are correct in your inference for if the happiness of man was God's chief end in creation, the theory of disinterested religion is spurious, and the theory of self love or self gratification must be adopted and advocated. All those, therefore, who believe that the happiness of creatures was God's principal motive in creation, to support the shape of consistency, must also commence universalists and believe that all will be saved. For can any one suppose that the Almighty will be finally disappointed? Did God create all men for the sake of their own happiness, and will he not make all finally happy? We cannot reason differently, for God is infinitely able to execute his purpose. If this is not according to the theory of self love, I hope our instructor will correct us.
Clerus. I do not see but your observations are correct and just; and I have thought that all the advocates for the theory of self love, whatever style they assume, to be consistent with themselves and each other, must style themselves universalists, or infidels. For private happiness is their supreme object. The infidel is a self lover. The universalist is a self lover, and the difference between these and all other theorists who discard disinterested affection is merely nominal.