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SUMMARY OF SERMON XXVI.
MATTHEW, CHAP. XXII. -VERSE 39.
OBJECT of the preceding discourse stated : time did not then permit the consideration of an exception, to which the text, applied as a measure of our charity, is liable: namely, that in this case the precept will prove impracticable, such a love being romantic and imaginary ; since who does, or who can love his neighbor in this degree? Nature and common sense seem to forbid it, &c. In answer to this objection it is said ; Be it so, that we cannot attain to this degree of love; yet it may be reasonable that we should be enjoined to do so : reasons for this stated. But neither is the performance of this task so impossible or so desperately hard, if we take the right course and use the right means : for, 1. be it considered that we may be mistaken in our account, when we look on the impossibility or difficulty of this duty, before we have seriously attempted it: many things, very difficult at the first attempt, become easy by practice : instances given. 2. Let us consider that, in some respects and in divers instances, it is very feasible to love our neighbor as ourselves : instances of this given.
3. We see men inclined by other principles to act as much or more for the sake of others, than they would for themselves : instances of patriots and friends. 4. Those dispositions of soul which usually with so much violence thwart the observance of this precept, are not ingredients of true self-love, by the which we are directed to regulate our charity, but a spurious brood of our folly and pravity, which imply not a sober love of ourselves: this point enlarged on.
5. Indeed, we may farther consider that our nature is not so absolutely averse to the practice of such charity, as those may think who view it slightly, either in some particular instances, or in ordinary practice. Man having received his soul from the breath of God, and being framed after his image, there do
bide in him some features resembling the divine original : this shown by our natural sympathy with distress and misery, by our admiration of pure benevolence, and contempt of sordid selfishness, &c.
6. But supposing the inclinations of a depraved nature do so mightily obstruct the performance of this duty in the degree specified, yet we must remember that a subsidiary power is by the divine mercy dispensed to us, able to control and subdue nature, and raise our faculties far above their na. tural force.
7. There are divers means conducive to the abatement of this difficulty, the issue of which may be safely referred to the due trial of them.
1. Let us carefully weigh the value of those things which immoderate self-love affects in prejudice to charity, together with the worth of those which charity sets in balance to them.
2. Let us also consider our real state in the world, in depend. ence on the pleasure and providence of Almighty God: the thought that we are members of one commonwealth, and of the church, under the government and patronage of God, may disengage us from immoderate respect to private good, and incline us to promote the common welfare.
3. There is one plain way of rendering this duty possible ; which is, to make the welfare of our neighbor to be our own: which if we can do, then may we easily desire it seriously, and promote it with the greatest zeal ; for then it will be an instance of self-love to exercise charity. Nor is this an imaginary cause, but one grounded in reason : this point explained : and that it is practicable experience may confirm : this point also enlarged on.
4. It will greatly conduce to the perfect observance of this rule, if we studiously contemplate ourselves, strictly examining our conscience, and seriously reflecting on our unworthiness and vileness. If we do so, what place can there be for that vanity, arrogance, partiality, and injustice, which are the sources of immoderate self-love?
5. Lastly, we may from conspicuous examples and experiments be assured that such a practice of this duty is not impossible.
OF THE LOVE OF OUR NEIGHBOR.
MATTHEW, CHAP. XXII.-VERSE 39.
Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
I have formerly discoursed on these words, and then showed how they do import two observable particulars: first, a rule of our charity, or that it should be like in nature; then a measure of it, or that it should be equal in degree to the love which we do bear to ourselves. Of this latter interpretation I did assign divers reasons, urging the observance of the precept according to that notion : but one material point, scantiness of time would not allow me to consider; which is the removal of an exception, to which that interpretation is very liable, and which is apt to discourage from a serious application to the practice of this duty so expounded.
If, it may be said, the precept be thus understood, as to oblige us to love our neighbors equally with ourselves, it will prove unpracticable, such a charity being merely romantic and imaginary; for who doth, who can, love his neighbor in this degree? Nature powerfully doth resist, common sense plainly doth forbid that we should do so : a natural instinct doth prompt us to love ourselves, and we are forcibly driven thereto by an unavoidable sense of pleasure and pain, resulting from the constitution of our body and soul, so that our own least good or evil are very sensible to us: whereas we have no such potent inclination to love others; we have no sense or a very faint one of what another doth enjoy or endure: doth not therefore nature plainly suggest that our neighbor's good cannot be so considerable to us as our own ? especially when charity deth clash with self-love, or when there is a competition between our neighbor's interest and our own, is it possible that we should not be partial to our own side ? Is not therefore this precept such as if we should be commanded to fly, or to do that which natural propension will certainly hinder ?
In answer to this exception I say, first,
1. Be it so, that we can never attain to love our neighbor altogether so much as ourselves, yet may it be reasonable that we should be enjoined to do so; for
Laws must not be depressed to our imperfection, nor rules bent to our obliquity ; but we must ascend toward the perfection of them, and strive to conform our practice to their exactness. If what is prescribed be according to the reason of things just and fit, it is enough, although our practice will not reach it; for what remaineth may be supplied by repentance and humility in him that should obey, by mercy and pardon in him that doth command.
In the prescription of duty it is just that what may be required, even in rigor, should be precisely determined, though in execution of justice or dispensation of recompense consideration
may be had of our weakness; whereby both the authority of our governor may be maintained, and his clemency glorified.
It is of great use that by comparing the law with our practice, and in the perfection of the one discerning the defect of the other, we may be humbled, may be sensible of our impotency, may thence be forced to seek the helps of grace, and the benefit of mercy.
Were the rule never so low, our practice would come beneath it; it is therefore expedient that it should be high, that at least we may rise higher in performance than otherwise we should do: for the higher we aim, the nearer we shall go to the due pitch; as he that aimeth at heaven, although he cannot reach it, will yet shoot higher than he that aimeth only at the housetop
The height of duty doth prevent sloth and decay in virtue, keeping us in wholesome exercise and in continual improve