« AnteriorContinuar »
I. I shall consider in general the duty of doing good to all men; the reasonableness, necessity, and excellency of it: "Let us do good unto all men.'
II. The limitations of his duty to some particular sea"as we have opportunity:" and to particular persons; "especially unto them who are of the household of "fai h."
I shall beg leave to detain you a while upon these points; and then endeavour briefly to apply the whole to the present occasion.
I. I am to consider in general the duty of doing good to all men; the reasonableness, necessity, and excellency of it.
It hath pleased Almighty God so to order the affairs of the world, that the welfare and happiness of mankind both present and future shall in a great measure depend upon their mutual kindness, their amicable and friendly offices towards one another. Not only our food and raiment, the necessaries and conveniences of life, come in to us this way, but even our spiritual food and sustenance, our instruction and improvement in piety and virtue, are in a great measure owing to the same; we are beholden to each other for them. God is pleased to convey his mercies and blessings, spiritual and temporal, by the mediation and service of men, making us the dispensers and stewards of the bounties of Heaven. He feeds and clothes us, while tender and helpless, by the assistance of kind parents; instructs us, as we grow up, by masters and teachers; calls us to our duty by his ministers; and provides for us, all along through our manifold wants and necessities, by our friends. Our obligations therefore to do good, to be kind and serviceable to each other in our respective capacities, are laid deep in our nature, are the necessary result of our state and condition here, are what we are all born to, and mainly designed for, and that no doubt for very wise and good reasons.
It would be easy for Almighty God to make every man independent upon any but himself, to send us bread
from heaven, or to make every thing we have occasion for spring up ready to our hands; or he might administer to our necessities a thousand other ways, which we know not of, without the least assistance or service of our neighbours. But not to mention other things, where would there be that lovely harmony of society consisting of mu tual offices? What charms of conversation would be left us, which is rendered so agreeable by our contributing to each other's happiness? What exercise of love and amity, which endears us to one another, and so unites us together? In fine, what foundation would there be for the many social virtues to which we are trained up here, in order to prepare us for much nobler and diviner exercises of love hereafter? Love and amity are the delight of heaven, and make up the blessedness of saints and angels. We are therefore taught the practice of those virtues now, which in greater perfection are to be our chief employment, our joy and bliss for ever. And hence perhaps it is, that we are made in a manner to depend upon one another from the first moment we breathe till our last; and that we have all some means or other of being useful and beneficial to our kind put into our hands, that by the exercise of love and amity in this life we may be duly qualified for a better.
As God has thus taken care, by the very state and condition of our being, to oblige us to this duty of doing good, so to enforce it yet farther, it comes recommended to us by our own natural instinct and passions, by the best and brightest examples, the most frequent and solemn exhortations, and the most engaging motives.
There is no man, who has not very much debauched his nature, but finds in himself a very strong propensity to acts of mercy and pity upon some special occasions'; and feels a sensible pleasure and satisfaction within arising from them. To relieve the needy, to assist the helpless, to raise the drooping soul, and to bring comfort to the afflicted and heavy laden, these are very delightful and pleasurable duties. And it is hard to determine whether
the pleasure of bestowing a favour in this manner does not equal or even exceed the joy of the receiver. Thus by the very bent and inclinations of our nature are we incited to do good; we find pain and trouble in resisting these inward motions of our own breasts, and are never better pleased than when we indulge and gratify them. These soft and tender impressions are the dictates of nature to us, the silent notices of Heaven, and, as it were, the still voice of God unto our souls; and so far as we yield ourselves up and are conformable to them, we resemble in some measure the Divine love, and copy after the pattern which God himself hath set us. To delight in doing good is to imitate him in the noblest and most charming of his excellences. His wisdom and power are infinite, but his goodness is the flower and the perfection of both. This is his darling attribute, which he seems most to delight and triumph in, and which renders him so Divine and so adorable a Being. His happiness is infinite, too great and too secure to be either heightened or impaired. All that he hath in view, if we may so speak, is to communicate some degrees and measures of it; to shed abroad his love, and scatter his rich bounties through the compass of the wide world. This is the design of the creation, and the end of all things. There are as many instances of his goodness, as there are creatures of his making; the heavens and the earth are full of the goodness of the Lord. He is kind even to the brutal part of the creation, in giving them being, and preserving it when given. "He giveth fodder unto the cattle, and feedeth "the young ravens that call upon him; and even the lions "roaring after their prey do seek their meat from God,' as the Psalmist very elegantly observes. But his kindness to man is the most remarkable; since it is for his sake that both the animate and inanimate part of this lower world were created and are preserved. He provideth for the necessities of all men, as seemeth good to his wisdom, in a surprising manner, "filling their hearts "with joy and gladness." Above all, his marvellous lov
ing-kindness is seen in the provision made for our eternal happiness, in his sending his own Son to suffer, bleed, and die to save us. And when this Divine Saviour was pleased to take upon him our nature, to converse with sinful men, all his endeavours were to do them good; and every action of his life and circumstance of his death was a fresh instance of it. He healed diseases, cast out devils, fed thousands by miracle, at once contributing both to the happiness of this life and of that which is to come. He laid hold on all opportunities of being kind and serviceable, and industriously sought out more; in fine, his character is summed up in this, that " he went about doing "good." The like may be observed of the whole host of heaven, the blessed company of saints and angels, who have been always engaged in the same friendly designs, constantly employed in doing good. After so many, and so great and glorious examples, need we any precept, any persuasion, to incite us to this duty? Yet to secure our compliance in this point, to imprint and rivet it into our hearts and minds, every page almost of the Old and New Testament inculcates this lesson to us, and presses it most earnestly upon us. There we find God declaring, that he prefers the works of charity and mercy to his own more immediate service, in as much as he does not stand in need of our services, but our brethren do, and may be benefited by them. He therefore rejects all our prayers and praises in comparison, looking upon them as nothing, if brought into competition with relieving the widow and fatherless in their affliction, or doing good to the bodies or the souls of men. There also we find our blessed Saviour acquainting us with the particulars of the inquiry to be made at the last day; whether we have fed the hungry, or clothed the naked; given drink to the thirsty, or visited the sick and afflicted, to speak comfort to them. And there we see that the unprofitable and wicked servant are the same in God's account of them; that it is in vain for any man who does no good, to pretend he has done no harm he must answer for his neglects and omissions of
this kind. The not doing good, when we might and ought to have done it, is a high crime, and will be enough to condemn us at the great day. So strong, so indispensable are our obligations to this duty. Indeed it is the very life and soul of Christianity, the sum and substance of all religion; and love is the fulfilling both of the Law and the Gospel. All other duties either yield to it, or else are implied in it; and that we may not pretend to want objects of compassion and charity, or to grow straitened and narrow in our affections, all mankind have an interest and concern in them. No distance of place or time can limit the extent of this duty: for our good wishes and prayers at least may reach unto the ends of the earth, and be serviceable where we cannot know it; and the fruits of our present services may spring up and grow to all succeeding generations. No difference in opinions or opposition of parties can make void our obligations; for all are in a Christian sense neighbours; and we are to "love our "neighbours as ourselves." No affronts or injuries, no injustice, violence, or oppression, ought to stifle our sense of this duty; for we are to "love our enemies, to do good "to them that hate us, and to pray for them that despite
fully use us and persecute us. If our enemy hunger, we "must feed him" never the less for being such; and “if "he thirst, we must give him drink; that by so doing," if possible, we may melt him into love and gratitude, "heap"ing," as it were, "coals of fire upon his head." And this indeed is as great an instance of pity and compassion, as curing either the blind or lame; nay, a much greater, thus to heal the rage of a distempered mind, and to bring a man back again to his right senses. "As we have therefore op"portunity, let us do good unto all men," whether friends or enemies, whether brethren or aliens, to all who can stand in need of, and may be any thing the better for us.
Having thus considered the duty in general, the reasonableness, necessity, and excellency of it in its largest extent, I proceed, in the second place,
II. To consider the limitation of it to particular times