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Health is good in itself: a medicine is good, because it preserves, or restores, it.
We are accustomed to hear so much said, and truly said, concerning the excellence, beauty, and glory, of Virtue, that we are ready to conceive, and speak, of it, as being Original, or Ultimate good, independently of the happiness, which it brings with it. Nay, we are ready to feel dissatisfied with ourselves and others, for calling this position in question; to consider this conduct as involving a kind of irreverence towards this glorious object; as diminishing its importance, and obscuring its lustre. This, however, arises from mere misapprehension. I virtue brought with it no enjoyment to us, and produced no happiness to others; it would be wholly destitute of all the importance, beauty, and glory, with which it is now invested. Let any good man ask himself what that is, for which he values his own virtue; what constitutes the commendations of it in the conversation and writings, particularly the sermons, with which he is acquainted; and what is the amount of all that, for which it is commended in the Scriptures; and he will find every idea, which he forms of it distinctly and definitely, completely summed up in these two things: that it is the means of glory to God, and of good to his creatures. I have shown in a former discourse, that to glorify God, that is, voluntarily, (the thing which is here intended) is exactly the same conduct towards him, which, when directed towards creatures, produces their happiness. It is, in truth, doing all that, which it is in our power to do, towards the happiness of the Creator. The happiness of God consists in the enjoyment, furnished partly by his sufficiency for all great and glorious purposes, and partly by the actual accomplishment of these purposes. I separate these things, only for the sake of exhibiting them more distinctly to view; and am well aware, that as they exist in the divine Mind, they are absolutely inseparable. The Lord, saith the Psalmist, shall rejoice in his works. Had these works never existed; God would not thus rejoice. God is also said lo delight in the upright; and to delight in his Church. Were there no upright persons; were there no Church; this delight would
It is therefore true in the proper sense, that virtuous persons, by voluntarily glorifying God, become the objects of his delight; or, in other words, the means of happiness, or enjoyment, to him. It will not be supposed, that God is, for this reason, dependent on his creatures for his happiness, or for any part of it. These very creatures are absolutely dependent on Him; and are made by himself the objects of his delight: and such they become by the same voluntary conduct, which in other cases produces happiness in creatures. When we consider virtue, as it respects creatures only, the character, which I have given to it, is more easily seen, and more readily comprehended. It may easily be seen, in this case, that all its value consists in the enjoyment, which either attends, or follows it. All the exercises of virtue are
delightful in themselves. It is delightful to do good to others; to see them happy, and made happy by our means; to enjoy peace of conscience, and self-approbation. These and the like enjoyments, may be said to attend virtue ; and, it is well known, enter largely into every account, which is given of its excellence. The Consequences of virtue are no other, than the good, which it produces in originating, and increasing, social happiness: and these, together with the articles involved in the two preceding considerations, make up the whole amount of all the commendations of this divine object, given either by the Scriptures, or by mankind. The excellence of virtue, therefore, consists wholly in this : that it is the cause of good, that is, of happiness ; the Ultimate good; the only thing, for which virtue is valuable.
Virtue in God, or Benevolence, is on all hands considered as the glory, and excellency, of the divine character. What is Benevolence? The love of doing good; or a disposition to produce happiness. In what does its excellence consist? In this: that it is the voluntary cause of happiness. Take away this single attribute of Virtue ; and it will be easily seen, that its excellence is all taken away also.
These observations prove, if I mistake not, that happiness is the only Ultimate good; and that virtue is termed good, only as being the cause of happiness.
3dly. Virtue is the only original cause of happiness.
It is hardly necessary to say, that Involuntary beings can, of themselves, produce nothing; as being absolutely inactive; and that there are no Active beings, beside those which are Voluntary. But voluntary beings produce happiness, only when they are disposed to produce it: and the only disposition, which prompts to the production of it, is Virtue. This is so obvious, after what has been said, as to need no further illustration.
Contrivance and Activity are the original sources of all the effects, or changes, which take place in the Universe; particularly of all the happiness, which it contains. Contrivance and Activity in the Creator gave birth to all existence, except his own. Contrivance and Activity in Intelligent creatures, under God, give birth to all the happiness, of which they are the sources to themselves and each other.
Minds are active, only by means of the power of Willing. The two great dispositions of minds, by which all their volitions are characterised, and directed, are Benevolence and Selfishness. Benevolence is Virtue ; Selfishness is Sin. Benevolence aims to promote happiness in all beings capable of happiness : Selfish. ness, at the promotion of the private, separate happiness of one ; subordinating to it that of all others, and opposing that of others, whenever it is considered as inconsistent with that of one's self. Benevolence, therefore, directs the whole active power, or energy, of the mind, in which it exists, to the production of the most extensive
happiness. This is what I intend by the Utility of Virtue ; and that, in which, as it appears to my own view, all its excellence is found. Sin is naturally, and necessarily, the parent of misery ; since it arms every individual against the interest of every other.
Were sin in its own proper tendency to produce, invariably, the same good, which it is the tendency of virtue to produce; were it the means, invariably, of the same glory to God, and of the same enjoyment to the Universe ; no reason is apparent to me, why it would not become excellent, commendable, and rewardable, in the same manner, as Virtue now is. Were Virtue regularly to effectuate the same dishonour to God, and the same misery to Intelligent Creatures, now effectuated by sin ; I see no reason, why we should not attribute to it all the odiousness, blameworthiness, and desert of punishment, which we now attribute to Sin.
All this is, I confess, impossible ; and is rendered so by the nature of these things. Still the supposition may be allowably made for the purposes of discussion.
The great objection to this doctrine arises from a misapprehension of the subject. It is this : that if Virtue is founded in Utility, then Utility becomes the Measure of virtue, and, of course, the Rule of all our moral conduct. This is the error of Godwin ; and, in an indefinite degree, of Paley, and several other writers. omniscient, and able to discern the true nature of all the effects of our conduct; this consequence must undoubtedly be admitted. To the eye of God it is the real rule. It will not, I trust, be denied, that he has chosen, and required, that to be done by his Intelligent creatures, which is most useful; or, in other words, most productive of good to the universe, and of glory to himself; rather than that which is less so. But, to us, Utility, as judged of by ourselves, cannot be a proper rule of moral conduct.
The real usefulness of our conduct, or its usefulness upon the whole, lies in the nature of all its effects, considered as one aggregate. But nothing is more evident, than that few, very few indeed, of these, can ever be known to us by our own foresight. If the information, given us by the Scriptures concerning this subject, were to be lost; we should be surprised to see how small was the number of cases, in which this knowledge was attainable, even in a moderate degree; and how much uncertainty attended even these. As, therefore, we are unable to discern with truth, or probability, the real usefulness of our conduct; it is impossible, that our moral actions should be safely guided by this rule.
The Bible is, with the plainest evidence, the only safe rule, by which moral beings can, in this world, direct their conduct. The precepts of this Sacred Volume were all formed by Him, who alone sees the end from the beginning, and who alone, therefore, un. derstands the real nature of all moral actions. No other being is able to determine how far any action is, upon the whole, useful, or noxious ; or to make Utility the measure of Virtue. As well might a man determine, that a path, whose direction he can discern only for a furlong, will conduct him in a straight course to a city, distant from him a thousand miles, as to determine, that an action, whose immediate tendency he perceives to be useful, will therefore be useful, through a thousand years, or even through ten. How much less able must he be to perceive what will be its real tendency in the remote ages of endless duration. It is impossible therefore, that utility, as decided by our judgment, should become the rule of moral action.
It has also been objected to this doctrine, that if Virtue is founded in Utility, every thing, which is useful, must so far be virtuous. This objection it is hardly necessary to answer. Voluntary usefulness is the only virtue. A smatterer in moral philosophy knows, that understanding and will, are necessary to the existence of virtue. He who informs us, that, if virtue is founded in utility, animals, vegetables, and minerals, the sun, and the moon, and the stars, must be virtuous, so far as they are useful, is either disposed to trifle with mankind for his amusement, or supposes them to be triflers.
REMARKS. 1st. From these obserrations we learn, in an interesting manner, the desirableness of virtue.
The whole tendency of virtue is to promote happiness; and this is its only ultimate tendency. It prefers, of course, the greater happiness to the less, and the greatest, always, to that which can exist in a subordinate degree. It diffuses happiness every where, and to every being capable of receiving it, so far as this diffusion is in its power. In this respect it knows no distinction of family, country, or world; and operates to the benefit of those, who are near, more than to that of those, who are distant, only because its operations will be more effectual, and because, when all pursue this course, the greatest good will be done to all. Its efficacy also is complete. The object at which it aims, it can accomplish. It can contrive, it can direct, it can effectuate. To do good is its happiness, as well as its tendency. It will, therefore, never be inattentive, never discouraged, never disposed to relax its efforts. Thus it is a perennial spring, whose waters never fail; a spring, at which thousands and millions may slake their thirst for enjoyment, and of which the streams are always pure, healthful, and refreshing:
2dly. We learn from the same observations the odious nature of Sin.
Sin, or Selfishness, aiming supremely at the private, separate good of an individual, and subordinating to it the good of all others, confines its efforts, of course, to the narrow sphere of one's self. All the individuals also, in whom this spirit prevails, have, each, a personal good, to which each subordinates every other
good. There are, therefore, as many separate interests in a colsection of selfish beings, as there are individuals ; and to each of these interests the individual, whose it is, intends to make those of all others subservient. Of consequence, these interests cannot fail to clash; and the individuals to oppose, and contend with, each other. Hence an unceasing course of hatred, wrath, revenge, and violence, must prevail among beings of this character; of private quarrels, and public wars. All, who oppose this darling interest, are regarded by the individual as his enemies : and thus all naturally become the enemies of all
. Where this disposition is in a great measure unrestrained, it makes an individual a tyrant, and a society, a collection of banditti. Where it is wholly unrestrained, it converts Intelligent beings into fiends, and their habitation into hell.
The ruling principle, here, is to gain good from others, and not to communicate it to them. This darling spirit, so cherished by mankind, so active in the present world, so indulged, flattered, and boasted of, by those who possess it, is, instead of being wise and profitable, plainly foolish, shameful, ruinous, and deserving of the most intense reprobation. Notwitstanding all the restraints, laid upon it by the good providence of God; notwithstanding the shortness of life, which prevents us from forming permanent plans, making great acquisitions to ourselves, and producing great mischiefs to others ; notwithstanding the weakness, frailty, and fear, which continually attend us ; notwitstanding the efficacy of natural affection, the power of conscience and the benevolent influence of Religion on the affairs of mankind; it makes the present world an uncomfortable and melancholy residence; and creates three fourths of the misery, suffered by the race of Adam.
All these evils exist, because men are disinclined to do good, or to be voluntarily useful. Were they only disposed to promote each other's happiness, or, in other words, to be useful to each other; the world would become a pleasant and desirable habitation. The calamities, immediately brought upon us by Providence, would be found to be few; those, induced by men upon themselves and each other, would vanish; and in their place beneficence would spread its innumerable blessings.
3dly. These observations strongly exhibit to us the miserable state of the world of Perdition.
In this melancholy region no good is done, nor intended to be done. No good is therefore enjoyed. Still, the mind retains its original activity; and is wise and vigorous to do evil, although it has neither knowledge, nor inclination, to do good. Here, all the passions of a selfish spirit are let loose ; and
riot, and reign, and ravage. Here, therefore, all are enemies. Here, the wretched individual, surveying the vast regions around him, and casting his eyes forward into the immeasurable progress of eternity, sees himself absolutely alone in the midst of millions, in solitude complete and VOL. III.