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GRATITUDE, NOT A SORDID AFFECTION.
I JOHN iy. 19.
“We love him, because he first loved us."
SOME theologians have exacted from an inquirer, at the very outset of his conversion, that he should carry in his heart what they call the disinterested love of God. They have set him on the most painful efforts to acquire this affection,—and that too, before he was in circumstances in which it was at all possible to entertain it. They have led him to view with suspicion the love of gratitude, as having in it a taint of selfishness. They are for having him to love God, and that on the single ground that he is lovely, without any reference to his own comfort, or even to his own safety. Strange demand which they make on a sentient being, that even amidst the fears and the images of destruction, he should find room in his heart for the love of complacency! and equally strange demand to make on a sinful being, that ere he admit such a sense of reconciliation into his bosom, as will instantly call forth a grateful regard to him who has conferred it, he must view God with a disinterested affec. tion; that from the deep and helpless abyss of his depravity, he must find, unaided, his ascending way to the purest and the sublimest emotion of moral nature ; that ere he is delivered from fear he must love, even though it be said of love, that it casteth out fear; and that ere he is placed on the vantage ground of the peace of the Gospel, he must realize on his character, one of the most exalted of its perfections.
The effect of all this on many an anxious seeker after rest, has been most discouraging. With the stigma that has been
affixed to the love of gratitude, they have been positively apprehensive of the inroads of this affection, and have studiously averted the eye of their contemplation from the objects which are fitted to inspire it. In other words, they have hesitated to entertain the free offers of salvation, and misinterpreted all the tokens of an embassy, which has proclaimed peace on earth and good will to men. They think that all which they can possibly gather, in the way of affection, from such a contem. plation, is the love of gratitude ; and that gratitude is selfish. ness; and that selfishness is not a gracious affection; and that ere they be surely and soundly converted, the love they bear to God must be of a totally disinterested character; and thus through another medium than that of a free and gratuitous dis. pensation of kindness, do they strive, by a misunderstood gos. pel, or without the gospel altogether, to reach a peace and a preparation which we fear, in their way of it, is to sinners ut. terly unattainable.
In the progress of this discourse let us endeavour, in the first place, to rescue the love of gratitude from the imputations which have been preferred against it,--and secondly, to assign to the love of kindness manifested to the world in the gospel, and to the faith by which that love is made to arise in the heart, the place and the pre-eminence which belong to them.
I. The proper object of the love of gratitude, is the being who has exercised towards me the love of kindness; and this is more correct than to say, that the proper object of this affec. rion is the being who has conferred benefits upon me.
I can conceive another to load me with benefactions, and at the same time, to evince that kindness towards me was not the principle which impelled him. It may be done reluctantly at the bid. ding of another, or it may be done to serve some interested purpose, or it may be done to parade his generosity before the eye of the public. If it be not done from a real principle of kindness to myself, I may take his gifts, and I may find enjoy. ment in the use of them; but I feel no gratitude towards the dispenser of them. Unless I see his kindness in them, I will not be grateful. It is true, that, in point of fact, gratitude often springs from the rendering of a benefit ; but, lest we should
confound things which are different, let it be well observed, that this is only when the benefit serves as the indication of a kind purpose, or of a kind affection, on the part of him who hath granted it. And this may be proved, not merely by showing, that there may be no gratitude where there is a benefit, but al. so by showing, that there may be gratitude where there is no material benefit whatever. Just let the naked principle of kindness discover itself, and though it have neither the power, nor the opportunity of coming forth with the dispensation of any service, it is striking to observe, how upon the bare existence of this affection being known, it is met by a grateful feel. ing, on the part of him to whom it is directed ; and what mighty augmentations may be given in this way, to the stock of en. joyment, and that, by the mere reciprocation of kindness be. getting kindness. For, to send the expression of this kindness into another's bosom, it is not always necessary to do it on the vehicle of a positive donation. It may be conveyed by a look of benevolence ; and thus it is, that by the mere feeling of cordiality, a tide of happiness may be made to circulate through. out all the individuals of an assembled company. Or it may be done by a very slight and passing attention, and thus it is, that the cheap services of courteousness, may spread such a charm over the face of a neighbourhood. Or it may be done by the very poorest member of human society; and thus it is, that the ready and sincere homage of attachment from such a man, may beam a truer felicity upon me, and call forth a livelier gratitude to him who has conferred it, than some splendıd act of patronage on the part of a superior. Or it may be done by a Christian visitor in some of the humblest of our city lanes, who, without one penny to bestow on the children of want, may spread among them the simple conviction of her good will, and call down upon her person the voice of thankfulness and of blessing from all their habitations. And thus it is, that by good will creating good will, a pure and gladdening influence will at length go abroad over the face of our world, and mankind will be made to know the might and the mystery of that tie which is to bind them together into one family, and they will rejoice in the power of that secret charm which so height.
ens and so multiplies the pleasure of all the members of it; and, when transported from earth to heaven, they will still feel, that while it is to the benefits which God hath conferred that they owe the possession and all the privileges of existence; it is to a sense of the love which prompted these benefits, that they will owe the ecstatic charm of their immortality. It is the beaming kindness of God upon them, that will put their souls into the liveliest transports of gratitude and joy; and it is the reciprocation of this kindness on the part of those, who, while they have fellowship with the Father, and with the Son, have fellowship also with one another, that will cause the joy of heaven to be full.
The distinction which we are now, adverting to, is something more, than a mere shadowy refinement of speculation. It may be realized on the most trodden and ordinary path of human experience, and is, in fact, one of the most familiar exhibitions of genuine and usophisticated nature in those ranks of society where refinement is unknown. Let one man go over any given district of the city fully fraught with the material of benevolence; let him be the agent of some munificent subscription, and with nothing in his heart but just such affections, and such jealousies, and such thoughtful anxieties, about a right and equitable division, as belong to the general spirit of his office; let him leave some substantial deposit with each of the families; and then compute, if he can, the quantity of gratitude which he carries away with him. It were a most unkind reflection on the lower orders, and not more unkind than untrue, to deny that there will be the mingling of some gratitude, along with the clamour, and the envy, and the discontent, which are ever sure to follow in the train of such a ministration. It is not to discredit the poor, that we introduce our present observation ; but to bring out, if possible, into broad and luminous exhibition, one of the finest sensibilities which adorns them. It is to let you know the high cast of character of which they are capable ; and how the glow of pleasure which arises in their bosoms, when the eye of simple affection beams upon their persons, or upon their habitations, may not have one single taint of sordid. ness to debase it. And to prove this, just let another man ga
over the same district, and in the train of the former visitation ; conceive him unbacked by any public institution, to have nothing in his hand that might not be absorded by the needs of a single family, but, that utterly destitute, as he is, of the mate. riel, he has a heart charged and overflowing with the whole morale of benevolence. Just let him
people, without one other recommendation than an honest and un. dissembled good will to them; and let this good will manifest its existence, in any one of the thousand ways, by which it may be authenticated; and whether it be by the cordiality of his manners, or by his sympathy with their griefs, or by the name. less attentions and offices of civility, or by the higher aim of that kindness which points to the welfare of their immortality, and evinces its reality, by its ready and unwearied services among the young, or the sick, or the dying ; just let them be satisfied of the one fact, that he is their friend, and that all their joys and all their sorrows are his own; he may be struggling with hardships and necessities as the poorest of them all; but poor as they are, they know what is in his heart, and well do they know how to value it; and from the voice of welcome, which meets him in the very humblest of their tenements; and from the smile of that heartfelt enjoyment, which his presence is ever sure to awaken, and from the influence of graciousness which he carries along with him into every house, and by which he lights up an honest emotion of thankfulness in the bosom of every family, may we gather the existence of a power, which worth alone, and without the accompaniment of wealth, can bestow; a power to sweeten and subdue, and tranquilize, which no money can purchase, which no patronage can create.
It will be readily acknowledged by all, that the most precious object in the management of a town, is to establish the reign of happiness and contentment among those who live in it. And it is interesting to mark the operations of those, who, without advert. ing to the principle that I now insist upon, think, that all is to be achieved, by the beggarly elements which enter into the arith. metic of ordinary business; who rear their goodly scheme upon the basis of sums and computations; and think that by an overwhelming discharge of the material of benevolence, they will