« ZurückWeiter »
prominence and operation which its Author has assigned to it, we cannot be said to do them any good. We may cherish towards them what kindness we please, and we may anxiously desire that they may be happy at last; but we nullify all the kindness, and we frustrate all the desires that we feel in their behalf, when we keep back from them, or do not labour to make known to them, the instituted way of salvation. We do good to them only when, along with a benevolent ambition that they may“ enter into the joy of our Lord,” we instruct them in the path by which it may be attained.
And it is not sufficient for our thus doing good to them, that we rest contented with the mere conveyance of knowledge to their minds respecting the Gospel. Such knowledge is indispensable, but it is not enough; for a bare knowledge of the Gospel will never carry them to heaven. Their knowledge of the Gospel is a good thing, only when it is accompanied with belief and obedience. And therefore, in striving to do them good, it will be our great concern that they may embrace “the truth as it is in Jesus ;" that they may“ believe with the heart unto righteous , ness;" that they may be converted and purified from the sinfulness which disqualifies them for the presence of God; and that they may be diligent in the cultivation of all those holy affections and habits by which they shall become “ meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.” Nor will we omit · any thing by which they may be advanced or kept steadfast in the way that leads to Sion. Whatever bears upon that, whether directly or indirectly, whether in a greater or in a less degree, must form a part
of our labours, if we would promote their welfare. The instruction that maketh wise unto salvation;" the warning that would prevent backsliding or apostacy; the reproof that may check presumption, and deter from sin; the comfort that makes affliction light, and trials tolerable; the encouragement that helps to encounter danger and overcome difficulty;
the example that both guides and animates; the prayer
that availeth much with God, and the kindliness that availeth much with man—all these, and these in all the varieties and modifications of which they are susceptible, enter into the Christian scheme of doing good, and deserve the name and appellation of benevolent works, or real services, because they are calculated to render those with reference to whom they are performed, fit for the holy exercises and the lasting enjoyments of heaven.
The principle of doing good which has been laid down, appears to be not only rational and scriptural, but quite analogous to the views that we take, and the course that we pursue in other cases of a less important kind. In the vegetable kingdom, for instance, by what rule are we governed in our culture of any particular plant that we take under our care? Do not we invariably consider its nature and habits; and thinking at the same time of the
which it is intended to serve, are not we studious to manage it so as that its beauties may be most freely unfolded, or that its fruit may be produced in greater richness and abundance, or that its usefulness, in any other respect, may be most effectually and most extensively secured? Does not the manner in which we rear any of the brute creation, depend on the constitution
which God has given them, and the ends which they are designed to answer in his animal creation; and do not we invariably accommodate our treatment of them to these considerations, and endeavour to render their strength, their sagacity, their instincts, their bodily structure, all their characteristic properties, whatever they may be, available to that for which it pleased their Maker to give them existence? In training up a child even for this world, is not our management of him regulated by the sphere in which he is hereafter to move, the relations in which he may be placed, the duties he may have to perform, the influence he may exercise upon those around him; and do not we cultivate his faculties with a view to these, and study as correct an adaptation of the one to the other as we are able to attain, so that though we may be disappointed at last, the failure may not be owing to any unsuitable or preposterous treatment of our youthful charge ? And what should induce us to conduct ourselves towards our fellowmen, as if they were mere sensitive beings—as if they had no immortality to look to, or prepare for, as if it were their unalterable fate to enjoy a few pleasures, to endure a few pains, and then sink into the abyss of annihilation ? Or why should not we rather consider them as intended for a world of righteous and unerring retribution, and make all our dealings with them so bear upon their character, , as that they “shall never perish, but have everlasting life ?” This would seem to flow naturally and necessarily from a firm belief in the truth of revelation, and from an accurate knowledge of what it tells us of the present state and future prospects of those
rational beings, for whose guidance it has been vouchsafed.
It may, perhaps, be thought, that by limiting our definition of what is good to heaven, and preparation for it, we proscribe many things as evil, which reason, and Scripture, and experience, unite in pronouncing to be at once innocent and proper. few remarks, however, will be sufficient to remove this objection.
Let us suppose that we seriously desire to “ do good” to a particular individual. It will be acknowledged, surely, that our main design, at least, must be to make him wise and happy for eternity.
But that being allowed, it follows of course, that whatever prevents the accomplishment of that design, or makes its accomplishment less certain and less perfect than it might otherwise be, is in his case an unequivocal evil; inasmuch, as it goes to defeat in some measure, if not altogether, what we had principally in view as the good to be pursued. Now this is all that we plead for; and when duly considered nd analyzed, the statement will be found to resolve itself into our original proposition, and to come to this, that nothing is good but what is found in heaven, or in meetness for heaven. Every thing we do to the object of our benevolence, or that we confer upon him, must have the effect of promoting his eternal welfare on the one hand, or of impairing it on the other-it must either make him better than he is, or worse than he might be, in his relation to a hereafter. The idea of any thing whose influence upon him in that respect will be in the middle state of indifference or neutrality, is quite erroneous;
for without entering into a minute examination of its nature and qualities, but granting that in itself it is entirely free from moral guilt and debasing tendency, still it must be held as coming in the place of something else that might have been done or given, positively and directly beneficial to him. It occupies the time, or the means, or the talents, that might have been employed in securing for him what would have contributed to his eternal welfare. Either it has the effect of depriving him altogether of a place in heaven,-in which case there cannot possibly be a doubt that it would be an incalculable evil; or it has the effect of rendering his admission into heaven matter of dubiety,-in which case it is also, though not so strongly, to be deprecated; or it subtracts from that capacity and meetness for the happiness of heaven which otherwise he might have reached, in which case it still partakes in some measure, and comparatively at least, of the nature of a mischief. In all these instances, our kindness, ardent and active as it may have been, has failed to be of real service to him whom we intended to benefit-just as we should be accounted no benefactors to a person from whom in mistaken, however well meant friendship, we have been the means of wresting an inheritance, or whose title to it we have involved in distressing ambiguity, or whose fitness for enjoying it we have lessened, if not destroyed. In both examples, our benevolence has not had its legitimate issue; and though designing to do much good, we have inflicted an unquestionable evil.
Then, upon a consideration of all the particular points to which the objection refers, we shall find