The GOSPEL TRUTH
ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
21. Self-denial is another attribute of love.
If we love any being better than ourselves, we of course deny ourselves when our own interests come in competition with his. Love is good will. If I will good to others more than to myself, it is absurd to say that I shall not deny myself when my own inclinations conflict with theirs.
Now the love required by the law of God we have repeatedly seen to be good will, or willing the highest good of being for its own sake or as an end.
As the interests of self are not at all regarded because they belong to self, but only according to their relative value, it must be certain that self-denial for the sake of promoting the higher interests of God and of the universe, is and must be a peculiarity or attribute of love.
But again. The very idea of disinterested benevolence, (and there is no other true benevolence,)implies the abandonment of the spirit of self-seeking or of selfishness. It is impossible to become benevolent without ceasing to be selfish. In other words, perfect self-denial is implied in beginning to be benevolent. Self-indulgence ceases when benevolence begins. This must be. Benevolence is the consecration of our powers to the highest good of being in general as an end. This is utterly inconsistent with consecration to self-interest or self-gratification. Selfishness makes good to self the end of every choice. Benevolence makes good to being in general the end of every choice. Benevolence, then, implies complete self-denial. That is, it implies that nothing is chosen merely because it belongs to self, but only because of and in proportion to its relative value.
I said there was no true benevolence but disinterested benevolence; no true love but disinterested love. There is such a thing as interested love or benevolence. That is, the good of others is willed, though not as an end or for its intrinsic value to them, but as a means of our own happiness or because of its relative value to us. Thus a man might will the good of his family or of his neighborhood or country or of any body or any thing that sustained such relations to self as to involve his own interests. When the ultimate reason of his willing good to others is that his own may be promoted, this is selfishness. It is making good to self his end. This a sinner may do toward God, toward the church, and toward the interests of religion in general. This is what I call interested benevolence. It is willing good as an end only to self, and to all others only as a means of promoting our own good.
But again. When the will is governed by feeling in willing the good of others, this is only the spirit of self-indulgence, and is only interested benevolence. For example: the feeling of compassion is strongly excited by the presence of misery. The feeling is intense and constitutes, like all the feelings, a strong impulse or motive to the will to consent to its gratification. For the time being, this impulse is stronger than the feeling of avarice or any other feeling. I yield to it and give all the money I have to relieve the sufferer. I even take my clothes from my back and give them to him. Now in this case, I am just as selfish as if I had sold my clothes to gratify my appetite for strong drink. The gratification of my feelings was my end. This is one of the most specious and most delusive forms of selfishness.
Again. When one makes his own salvation the end of prayer, of almsgiving, and of all his religious duties, this is only selfishness and not true religion, however much he may abound in them. This is only interested benevolence or benevolence to self.
Again. From the very nature of true benevolence it is impossible that every interest should not be regarded according to its relative value. When another interest is seen by me to be more valuable in itself or of more value to God and the universe than my own, and when I see that by denying myself I can promote it, it is certain, if I am benevolent, that I shall do it. I can not fail to do it without failing to be benevolent, Two things in this case must be apprehended by the mind.
(1.) That the interest is either intrinsically or relatively more valuable than my own.
(2.) That by denying myself I can promote or secure a greater good to being than I sacrifice of my own. When these two conditions are fulfilled, it is impossible that I should remain benevolent unless I deny myself and seek the higher good.
Benevolence is an honest and disinterested consecration of the whole being to the highest good of God and of the universe. The benevolent man will, therefore, and must, honestly weigh each interest as it is perceived in the balance of his own best judgment, and will always give the preference to the higher interest provided he believes that he can by endeavor and by self-denial secure it.
That self-denial is an attribute of the divine love, is manifested most gloriously and affectingly in the gift of his Son to die for men. This attribute was also most conspicuously manifested by Christ in denying himself and taking up his cross and suffering for his enemies. Observe. It was not for friends that Christ gave himself. It was not unfortunate but innocent sufferers for whom God gave his Son or for whom he gave himself. It was enemies. It was not that he might make slaves of them that he gave his Son nor from any selfish consideration whatever, but because he foresaw that by making this sacrifice himself, he could secure to the universe a greater good than he should sacrifice. It was this attribute of benevolence that caused him to give his son to suffer so much. It was disinterested benevolence alone that led him to deny himself for the sake of a greater good to the universe. Now observe: this sacrifice would not have been made unless it had been regarded by God as the less of two evils. That is, the sufferings of Christ, great and overwhelming as they were, were considered as an evil of less magnitude than the eternal sufferings of sinners. This induced him to make the sacrifice although for his enemies. It mattered not whether for friends or for enemies, if so be he could by making a less sacrifice secure a greater good to them. When I come to consider the economy of benevolence I may enlarge upon this topic.
Let it be understood that a self-indulgent spirit is never and can never be consistent with benevolence. No form of self-indulgence, properly so called, can exist where true benevolence exists. The fact is, self-denial must be and universally is wherever benevolence reigns. Christ has expressly made whole-hearted self-denial a condition of discipleship; which is the same thing as to affirm that it is an essential attribute of holiness or love; that there can not be the beginning of true virtue without it.
Again. Much that passes for self-denial is only a specious form of self-indulgence. The penances and self-mortifications, as they are falsely called, of the superstitious, what are they but a self-indulgent spirit after all? A popish priest abstains from marriage to obtain the honor and emoluments and the influence of the priestly office here, and eternal glory here-after.
A nun takes the vail and a monk immures himself in a monastery; a hermit forsakes human society, and shuts himself up in a cave; a devotee makes a pilgrimage to Mecca, and a martyr goes to the stake. Now if these things are done with an ultimate reference to their own glory and happiness, although apparently instances of great self-denial, yet they are in fact only a spirit of self-indulgence and self-seeking. They are only following the strongest desire. They are instances of making good to self the end.
There are many mistakes upon this subject. For example, it is common for persons to deny self in one form for the sake of gratifying self in another form.
In one man avarice is the ruling passion. He will labor hard, rise early, and sit up late and eat the bread of carefulness, deny himself even the necessaries of life for the sake of accumulating wealth. Every one can see that this is denying self in one form merely for the sake of gratifying self in another form. Yet this man will complain bitterly of the self-indulgent spirit manifested by others, their extravagance and want of piety.
One man will deny all his bodily appetites and passions for the sake of a reputation with men. This is also an instance of the same kind. Another will give the fruit of his body for the sin of his soul; will sacrifice every thing else to obtain an eternal inheritance, and be just as selfish as the man who sacrifices to the things of time his soul and all the riches of eternity.
But it should be remarked that this attribute of benevolence does and must secure the subjugation of all the propensities. It must, either suddenly or gradually, so far subdue and quiet them that their imperious clamor will cease. They will as it were be slain either suddenly or gradually, so that the sensibility will become in a great measure dead to those objects that so often and so easily excited it. It is a law of the sensibility--of all the desires and passions, that their indulgence develops and strengthens them and their denial suppresses them. Benevolence consists in a refusal to gratify the sensibility and in obeying the reason. Therefore it must be true that this denial of the propensities will greatly suppress them until they become tame and easily denied. While, on the contrary, the denial of the propensities and the indulgence of the intelligence and of the conscience will greatly develop them. Thus selfishness tends to stultify, while benevolence tends greatly to strengthen the intelligence.
22. Condescension is another attribute of love.
This attribute consists in a willingness to descend to the poor, the ignorant, or the vile for the purpose of securing their good. It is a willing the good of those whom Providence has placed in any respect below us, together with the means of securing their good, particularly our own stooping, descending, coming down to them for this purpose. It is a peculiar form of self-denial. God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, manifest infinite condescension in efforts to secure the well-being of sinners, even the most vile and degraded. This attribute is called by Christ lowliness of heart. God is said to humble himself, that is, to condescend when He beholds the things that are done in heaven. This is true, for every creature is and must forever be infinitely below Him in every respect. But how much greater must that condescension be that comes down to earth, and even to the lowest and most degraded of earth's inhabitants, for purposes of benevolence. This is a lovely modification of benevolence. It seems to be entirely above the gross conception of infidelity. Condescension seems to be regarded by most people, and especially by infidels, as rather a weakness than a virtue. Skeptics clothe their imaginary God with attributes in many respects the opposite of true virtue. They think it entirely beneath the dignity of God to come down even to notice, and much more to interfere, with the concerns of men. But hear the word of the Lord: "Thus saith the High and Lofty One who inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy.--I dwell in the high and holy place; with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." And again, "Thus saith the Lord, the heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool, where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath my hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord. But to this man will I look even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word." Thus the Bible represents God as clothed with condescension as with a cloak.
This is manifestly an attribute of benevolence and of true greatness. The natural perfections of God appear all the more wonderful when we consider that He can and does know and contemplate and control not only the highest but the lowest of all his creatures; that he is just as able to attend to every want and to every creature as if this were the sole object of attention with Him. His moral attributes appear all the more lovely and engaging when we consider that His "tender mercies are over all His works," that ["]not a sparrow falleth to the ground without Him;" that He condescends to number the very hairs of the heads of His servants, and that not one of them can fall without Him. When we consider that no creature is too low, too filthy, or too degraded for Him to condescend to, this places His character in a most ravishing light. Benevolence is good will to all beings. Of course one of its characteristics must be condescension to those who are below us. This in God is manifestly infinite. He is infinitely above all creatures. For Him to hold communion with them is infinite condescension.
This is an attribute essentially belonging to benevolence or love in all benevolent beings. With the lowest of moral beings it may have no other development than in its relations to sentient existences below the rank of moral agents, for the reason that there are no moral agents below them to whom they can stoop. God's condescension stoops to all ranks of sentient existences. This is also true with every benevolent mind, as to all inferiors. It seeks the good of being in general, and never thinks any being too low to have his interests attended to and cared for, according to their relative value. Benevolence can not possibly retain its own essential nature, and yet be above any degree of condescension that can affect the greatest good. Benevolence does not, can not know any thing of that loftiness of spirit that considers it too degrading to stoop any where or to any being whose interests need to be and can be promoted by such condescension. Benevolence has its end, and it can not but seek this, and it does not, can not think any thing below it that is demanded to secure that end. O, the shame, the infinite folly and madness of pride, and every form of selfishness! How infinitely unlike God it is! Christ could condescend to be born in a manger; to be brought up in humble life; to be poorer than the fox of the desert or the fowls of heaven; to associate with fishermen; to mingle with and seek the good of all classes; to be despised in life, and die between two thieves on the cross. His benevolence "endured the cross and despised the shame." He was "meek and lowly in heart." The Lord of heaven and earth is as much more lowly in heart than any of his creatures as he is above them in his infinity. He can stoop to any thing but sin. He can stoop infinitely low.
23. Candor is another attribute of benevolence.
Candor is a disposition to treat every subject with fairness and honesty; to examine and weigh all the evidence in the case, and decide according to testimony. It is a state of mind which is the opposite of prejudice. Prejudice is pre-judgment. It is a decision made up with but partial information. It is not a mere opinion. It is a committal of the will.
Candor is holding the intelligence open to conviction. It is that state of the will in which all the light is sought upon all questions, that can be obtained. Benevolence is an impartial, a disinterested choice of the highest good of being--not of some parts of it--not of self--but of being in general. It inquires not to whom an interest belongs, but what is its intrinsic and relative value, and what is the best means of promoting it. Selfishness, as we shall see, is never candid. It never can be candid. It is contrary to its very nature. Benevolence can not but be candid. It has no reasons for being otherwise. Its eye is single. It seeks to know all truth for the sake of doing it. It has no by-ends, no self-will or self-interest to consult. It is not seeking to please or profit self. It is not seeking the interest of some favorite. No, it is impartial and must be candid.
It should always be borne in mind that where there is prejudice, benevolence is not, can not be. There is not, can not be such a thing as honest prejudice. There may he an honest mistake for want of light, but this is not prejudice. If there be a mistake and it be honest, there will be and must be a readiness to receive light to correct the mistake. But where the will is committed, and there is not candor to receive evidence, there is and there must be selfishness. Few forms of sin are more odious and revolting than prejudice. Candor is an amiable and a lovely attribute of benevolence. It is captivating to behold it. To see a man where his own interest is deeply concerned, exhibit entire candor, is to witness a charming exhibition of the spirit of the law of love.
24. Stability is another attribute of benevolence. This love is not a mere feeling or emotion, that effervesces for a moment, and then cools down and disappears. But it is choice, not a mere volition which accomplishes its object and then rests. It is the choice of an end, a supreme end. It is an intelligent choice--the most intelligent choice that can be made. It is considerate choice--none so much so; a deliberate choice; a reasonable choice which will always commend itself to the highest perceptions and intuitions of the intelligence. It is intelligent and impartial, and universal consecration to an end, above all others the most important and captivating in its influence. Now, stability must be a characteristic of such a choice as this. By stability it is not intended that the choice may not be changed. Nor that it never is changed; but that when the attributes of the choice are considered, it appears as if stability, as opposed to instability, must be an attribute of this choice. It is a new birth, a new nature, a new creature, a new heart, a new life. These and such like are the representations of Scripture. Are these representations of an evanescent state? The beginning of benevolence in the soul--this choice is represented as the death of sin, as a burial, a being planted, a crucifixion of the old man, and many such like things. Are these representations of what we so often see among professed converts to Christ? Nay verily. The nature of the change itself would seem to be a guaranty of its stability. We might reasonably suppose that any other choice would be relinquished sooner than this; that any other state of mind would fail sooner than benevolence. It is vain to reply to this that facts prove the contrary to be true. I answer, what facts? Who can prove them to be facts? Shall we appeal to the apparent facts in the instability of many professors of religion; or shall we appeal to the very nature of the choice and to the Scriptures? To these, doubtless. So far as philosophy can go, we might defy the world to produce an instance of choice which has so many chances for stability. The representations of Scripture are such as I have mentioned above. What then shall we conclude of those effervescing professors of religion, who are soon hot and soon cold; whose religion is a spasm; "whose goodness as the morning cloud and the early dew goeth away?" Why, we must conclude that they have never had the root of the matter in them. That they are not dead to sin and to the world, we see. That they are not new creatures; that they have not the spirit of Christ; that they do not keep his commandment, we see. What then shall we conclude but this, that they are stony ground Christians?
25. Kindness is another attribute of Love.
The original word rendered kindness, is sometimes rendered gentleness. This term designates that state of the heart that begets a gentleness and kindness of outward demeanor towards those around us. Benevolence is good will. It must possess the attribute of kindness or gentleness toward its object. Love seeks to make others happy. It can not be otherwise than that the beloved object should be treated kindly and gently, unless circumstances and character demand a different treatment. A deportment regardless of the sensibilities of those around us, indicates a decidedly and detestably selfish state of mind. Love always manifests a tender regard for the feelings and well-being of its object; and as benevolence is universal love, it will and must manifest the attribute of gentleness and kindness toward all except in those cases when either the good of the individual or of the public shall demand a different treatment. In such cases it will be love and only love that leads to different treatment; and in no case will benevolence treat any even the worst of beings more severely than is demanded by the highest good. Benevolence is a unit. It does every thing for one reason. It has but one end, and that is the highest good of being in general. It will and must treat all kindly unless the public good demands a different course. But it punishes when it does punish for the same reason that it forgives when it does forgive. It gives life and takes it away. It gives health and sickness, poverty and riches; it smiles and frowns; it blesses and curses, and does, and says, and omits, gives and withholds every thing for one and the same reason, to wit, the promotion of the highest good of being. It will be gentle or severe as occasions arise which demand either of these exhibitions. Kindness is its rule, and severity is its exception. Both, however, as we shall soon see, are equally and necessarily attributes of benevolence.
The gentleness and kindness of God and of Christ are strikingly manifested in providence and in grace. Christ is called a Lamb no doubt because of the gentleness and kindness of his character. He is called the good shepherd and represented as gently leading his flock and carrying the lambs in his bosom. Many such affecting representations are made of him in the bible, and he often makes the same manifestations in his actual treatment of his servants not only, but also of his enemies. Who has not witnessed this? and who can not testify to this attribute of his character as a thousand times affectingly manifested in his own history? Who can call to mind the dealings of his Heavenly Father without being deeply penetrated with the remembrances of his kindness not only, but his loving kindness, and tender mercy, its exceeding greatness? There is a multitude of tender representations in the bible which are all verified in the experience of every saint. "As the eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him and there was no strange God with him." This lovely attribute will and must always appear where benevolence is. It is important however to remark that constitutional temperament will often greatly modify the expression of it. "Charity is kind"--this is one of its attributes; yet as I just said, its manifestations will be modified by constitution, education &c. A manifest absence of it in cases where it would be appropriate is sad evidence that benevolence is wanting.
26. Severity is another attribute of benevolence. "Behold" says the Apostle "the goodness and severity of God." They greatly err who suppose that benevolence is all softness under all circumstances. Severity is not cruelty, but is love manifesting strictness, rigor, purity, when occasion demands. Love is universal good-will, or willing the highest good of being in general. When therefore any one or any number so conduct as to interfere with and endanger the public good, severity is just as natural and as necessary to benevolence as kindness and forbearance under other circumstances. Christ is not only a Lamb, but a Lion also. He is not only gentle as mercy, but stern as justice; not only yielding as the tender bowels of mercy, but as inflexibly stern as infinite purity and justice. He exhibits the one attribute or the other as occasion demands. At one time we hear him praying for his murderers, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." At another time, we hear him say by the pen of an apostle, "If any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed." At another time, we hear him in the person of the Psalmist praying for vengeance on his enemies: "Reproach hath broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness, and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none, and for comforters but I found none. They gave me gall for my meat, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. Let their table become a snare before them, and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap. Let their eyes be darkened that they see not, and make their loins continually shake. Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold upon them. Let their habitation desolate, and let none dwell in their tents. Add iniquity (punishment) to their iniquity and let them not come into thy righteousness. Let them be blotted out of the book of living and not be written with the righteous." Many such like passages might be quoted from the records of inspiration as the breathings of the Spirit of the God of Love.
Now it is perfectly manifest that good will to the universe of being implies opposition to whatever tends to prevent the highest good. Benevolence is and must be severe in a good sense towards incorrigible sinners like those against whom Christ prays in the Psalm just quoted.
The term severity is used sometimes in a good and sometimes in a bad sense. When used in a bad sense, it designates an unreasonable state of mind and of course a selfish state. It then represents a state which is the opposite of benevolence. But when used in a good sense, as it is when applied to God and Christ, and when spoken of as an attribute of benevolence, it designates the sternness, firmness, purity and justice of love, acting for the public good in cases where sin exists and where the public interests are at stake. In such circumstances, if severity were not developed as an attribute of benevolence, it would demonstrate that benevolence could not be the whole of virtue, even if it could be virtue at all. The intelligence of every moral being would affirm in such circumstances, that if severity did not appear, something was wanting to make the character perfect, that is, to make the character answerable to the emergency.
It is truly wonderful to witness the tendency among men to fasten upon some one attribute of benevolence and overlook the rest. They perhaps have been affected particularly by the manifestation of some one attribute, which leads them to represent the character of God as all summed up in that attribute. But this is fatally to err, and fatally to misrepresent God. God is represented in the Bible as being slow to anger, and of tender mercy; as being very pitiful; long-suffering; abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy for thousands; forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; but as also visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and that will by no means clear the guilty; and as being angry with the wicked every day. These are by no means contradictory representations. They only exhibit benevolence manifesting itself under different circumstances, and in different relations. These are just the attributes that we can see must belong to benevolence, and just what it ought to be and must be when these occasions arise. Good will to the universe ought to be and must be, in a good sense, severe where the public weal demands it, as it often does. It is one of the most shallow of dreams that the Divine character is all softness and sweetness in all its manifestations and in all circumstances. The fact is that sin has "enkindled a fire in the Divine anger that shall set on fire the foundations of the mountains and shall burn to the lowest hell." Severity is also always and necessarily an attribute of benevolence in good angels and in good men. When occasions arise that plainly demand it, this attribute must be developed and manifested or benevolence must cease. It is, indeed, impossible that good will to the whole should not manifest severity and indignation to a part who should rebel against the interests of the whole. Benevolence will seek the good of all so long as there is hope. It will bear and forbear, and be patient, kind, meek even to long suffering, while there is not a manifestation of incorrigible wickedness. But where there is, the Lamb is laid aside and the Lion is developed; and his "wrathful anger" is as awful as his tender mercies are affecting. Innumerable instances of this are on record in this world's history. Why then should we seek to represent God's character as all made up of one attribute? It is, indeed, all comprehensively expressed in one word, love. But it should be forever remembered that this is a word of vast import, and that this love possesses, and as occasions arise, developes and manifests a great variety of attributes; all harmonious, and perfect, and glorious. This attribute always developes itself in the character of holy men when occasions offer that demand it. Behold the severity of Peter in the case of Ananias and Sapphira. Witness the rebuke administered by Paul to Peter when the latter dissembled and endangered the purity of the church. Witness also his severity in the case of Elymas, the sorcerer, and hear him say to the Galatians, "I would that they who trouble you were even cut off,"--and many such like things in the conduct and spirit of holy men. Now, I know that such exhibitions are sometimes regarded as unchristlike, as legal, and not evangelical. But they are evangelical. These are only manifestations of an essential attribute of benevolence, as every one must see who will consider the matter. It very often happens that such manifestations, whatever the occasion may be, are denounced as the manifestations of a wicked spirit, as anger, and as sinful anger. Indeed, it seems to be assumed by many that every kind and degree of anger is sinful, of course. But so far is all this from the truth, that occasions often, or at least sometimes, arise, that call for such manifestations; and to be any otherwise than indignant, to manifest any other than indignation and severity, were to be and manifest any thing but that which is demanded by the occasion.
I know that this truth is liable in a selfish world to abuse. But I know also that it is a truth of revelation; and God has not withheld it for fear of its being abused. It is a truth of reason, and commends itself to the intuitions of every mind. It is a truth abundantly manifested in the moral and providential government of God. Let it not be denied nor concealed; but let no one abuse and pervert it.
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