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We know that it is the strongest of all benevolent instincts in our nature, and that it tends directly to interest us in behalf of those who need our aid. We are taught to believe that a similar attribute belongs to the Divine nature; in order that, from that species of goodness which we are best acquainted with, and which we can most rely upon, we may
be trained both to love our. Almighty Benefactor, and as long as we are in the practice of our duty, to trust to his protection, amidst every distress. When we hear such a voice of tenderness, as that which my text utters, proceeding from the Almighty, our hearts are comforted. Distrust and dismay are removed. We are no longer oppressed by his greatness. We can draw near to him as to a Father in heaven, before whom we can, with humble confidence, pour out our sorrows; and can trust that, though all our earthly friends should neglect us, our prayers will attract his compassionate regard.
Compassion to the unfortunate, as it is exerted among men, is indeed accompanied with certain disturbed and painful feelings, arising from sympathy with those whom we pity. But every such feeling we must remove from our thoughts, when we ascribe an affection of this nature to the Deity. It is true, that, in Scripture language, the Divine compassion is sometimes figured by strong allusions to the relenting struggles and passionate meltings of the human heart. But we easily perceive that such representations are to be understood with the allowances which figurative language requires. All that is amiable in compassion, belongs to God; but all that is imperfect in it must be left to man. In the Supreme Being, there can be no perturbation or uneasiness; no con
trast of feelings, nor fluctuation of purpose.
His compassion imports a kind regard to the circumstances of the unhappy. But still it is such a regard as suits the perfection of the great Governor of the universe, whose benignity, undisturbed by any violent emotion, ever maintains the same tranquil tenor, like the unruffled and uninterrupted serenity of the highest heavens.
It is important to observe, that this pity and compassion of our heavenly Father, extends itself to our moral and spiritual concerns, in like manner as to our natural and external distresses. In that great dispensation of the redemption of the world by his Son Jesus Christ, he is always represented in Scripture as moved by pity for our fallen and wretched estate. The same principle which leads him to regard with compassion the widow and the fatherless, led him to look down with compassion on an helpless and forlorn race, degraded from their original honour. From infinite mercy he sent his Son to seek and to save that which was lost. According to the prophetical language of the Old Testament, He looked upon us; and his time was a time of love. He saw that there was no man; He beheld that there was no intercessor, and his own arm brought Salvation. He laid his help on one who was mighty to sare. He saw us in our blood, and said, Live. * Agreeable to this spirit of compassion, displayed in our redemption, is the whole dispensation of Divine grace towards man in his present state of infirmity. It speaks continually the doctrine of consolation and merciful aid; grace to be sufficient for us, and strength to be made perfect in our
* Ezek.xvi. 8. Isaiah, lix. 16.
weakness. As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him : for he knoweth our frame ; he remembereth that we are dust. * · I cannot conclude this head without observing how much it adds to the value of the Christian religion, that it hath discovered the Deity to us in a light so amiable. When the nations of the earth worshipped a God unknown, or one whom they arrayed in nothing but vengeful thunders, the true God hath come forth from behind the cloud, and made himself known to us; known not only as a just and good Ruler, but as a compassionate Father, in whom, amidst all their distresses, the virtuous may trust and hope. I now proceed to observe,
II. THAT such discoveries of the Divine nature were designed, not only to administer encouragement and consolation, but also to exhibit the pattern of that disposition which we are bound, in our measure, to imitate and follow. To this purpose tend the repeated exhortations of Scripture, to be followers of God, as dear children; to be merciful, as our Father in heaven is merciful. That hardness of heart which renders men insensible to the distresses of their brethren, that insolence of prosperity which inspires them with contempt of those who are fallen below them, are always represented in Scripture as dispositions' most opposite to the nature of God, and most hateful in his sight. In order to make this appear in the strongest light, he hath turned his goodness chiefly into the channel of compassionate regard to those whom the selfish and the proud
* 2 Cor. xii. 9. Psal. ciii. 13.
despise. He hath avowedly taken up their cause, that he might state himself as an antagonist to such as would bear them down; that he might confound and put to the blush that arrogance of men which makes them slight any of their own brethren. For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord, to set them in safety from him that puffeth at them. * Lord, says the Psalmist, thou hast heard the desire of the humble ; thou wilt arise to judge the fatherless, and the oppressed, that the man of earth may oppress no more. +
Consider, I beseech you, whether any virtue can admit of any higher recommendation than its being that disposition under the character of which the Almighty chooses to be peculiarly known to us : How can we claim any relation to the Father of mercies, or how look up to him for compassion and grace, if we show no bowels of mercy, gentleness, and kindness, to one another? — The whole plan, indeed, on which he hath formed human nature, and all the circumstances in which he hath placed us on earth, are plainly contrived to excite affections of benevolence, and to enforce works of mercy. Not only hath he planted compassion in the human breast, as one of the strongest instincts there, but he hath so connected us in society as necessarily to require that our benevolent instincts should be brought into exercise. For it is apparent that no man, , in any rank of life, even the highest, is sufficient for his own well-being. He can neither supply bis own wants, nor provide for his own comforts, without the co-operation of others. The dependence here is mutual between the high and the low, the rich
and the poor. Each, in one way or other, calls on each for aid. All are so linked together, as to be impelled by a thousand motives to assist one another in the time of need, This is what nature, what society, what Providence, all speak with a loud voice; a voice which may be said to have gone forth even to the ends of the earth, and to have been heard and understood by the most barbarous tribes of men. For among savage and uncultivated nations, no less than among the most civilized and polished, the compassion is felt, and its claims are recognized and obeyed.
In the course of human life, innumerable occasions present themselves for all the exercises of that humanity and benignity, to which we are so powerfülly prompted. The diversities of rank among men, the changes of fortune to which all, in every rank, are liable, the necessities of the poor, the wants of helpless youth, the infirmities of declining age, are always giving opportunities for the display of humane affections. There is perhaps no form in which benevolence appears more interesting, than when it is employed in providing relief for the families and children of those who stand in need of aid, in order that the young may be trained up by proper education for acting a useful part in the world. Benefits conveyed by this channel are often more important than any other acts of liberality. Besides the great advantage which they bring to society, they have the pleasing effect of awakening all the virtuous sensibilities of the heart, both in those who confer, and in those who receive them. They are often felt with warmer relish by a family in distress, and productive of more tender gratitude, than could have been raised