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We were further to consider under the first head, how far Moses was influenced by this motive. It is not to be thought that his own happiness, even his eternal happiness, was the only thing to which he had an ultimate respect. From his subsequent history it very evidently appears, that he had a supreme regard for the glory of God, and a disinterested concern for the good of his people. On several occasions, when it seemed to be the divine purpose to destroy the whole congregation of Israel in the wilderness, at once, the grand anxiety of Moses, was for the honor of God's great name. He also often manifested a most generous concern for the preservation of the chosen tribes. At the foot of Sinai, when they had made a molten god, and offered sacrifice to the idol, and the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold it is a stiff-necked people : now, therefore, let me alone that I may consume them, and I will make of thee a great nation,” Moses still intercedes, “ Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold : Yet now, if thou wilt, forgive their sin: and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.”
I do not indeed apprehend his meaning to be, that he wished his name might be blotted out of the book of life, rather than to have the people of Israel cut off. He could not suppose that his being excluded for ever from the divine favor, would be of any avail for their salvation; nor does the manner of his intercession intimate that he offered to be blotted out of God's book, whatever he might mean by it, as the condition of their being spared. He does not say, If they cannot be forgiven without, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book ; but if they cannot be forgiven at all. That is, if they must die, let me die with them. It is only, I conceive, a strong manner of saying, that his being made a great nation, could by no means reconcile him to the thoughts of having all the other tribes and families destroyed.
But whatever construction we put upon the words, it is evident from them, and from the other passages to which I have refered, that Moses had a disinterested concern for the people of Israel, and for the glory of God : and that his own private good was not the only object, to which he had an ultimate respect.
II. We will now inquire what the general doctrine of scripture is, and what is the dictate of common sense, respecting self-love, and acting from motives of self-interest. And here,
1. It is agreeable to both, I think, that actions which proceed merely from self-love, have no praiseworthiness in a moral view : or, that when we have no ultimate regard to any thing but our own interest or honor in what we do, our most specious deeds are not at all virtuous. Thus the scriptures plainly teach.
If ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive,” says our Sav. iour, “ what reward have ye?” And the apostle says, “ Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” It is the plain meaning of these passages, and of many others, that if self-love be the alone principle from which we act, or if our own interest or glory be our only ultimate end, however much we may promote the good of others, or the glory of God, with a subordinate view, there is nothing rewardable or praiseworthy in our seeming piety or liberality.
And this is evidently the common sense of mankind. Actions esteemed laudable, are ever supposed to imply disinterested goodness. When we know that the man who treats us with great courtesy
and respect, is only courting our friendship; or that the man who relieves us in our straits and necessities, has nothing in view but to be thought liberal, or to
get something by it in the end, do we think him at all entitled to our esteem or gratitude ? When we are well satásfied that the noisy patriot, is only seeking popularity and promotion, and cares nothing for his country do we ever admire him as a virtuous character? When it is well known that the man who prays aloud in the corners of the streets, who fasts often with a sad countenance, or who offers himself to die as a martyr, does all to be seen of men, is he ever thought truly religious ? “ For men to search their own glory,” says Solomon, “is not glory.” And every one feels, that mere self-seeking, is not virtue.
2. There is such a thing as selfishness, which the word of God condemns, and which all mankind condemn, as a vice. The apostle evidently speaks in a way of censure or crimination, when he says, “ All seek their own things :” and when he foretels that men shall be lovers of their own selves, as the cause of evil times, and of all manner of abominable works. And who is there that does not consider a selfish, contracted disposition, as mean, odious, and detestable ? On this particular there is no need of enlarging. Yet,
3. I do not think that the sin of selfishness consists in the natural principle of self-love. I do not think it is either a dictate of common sense, or a doctrine of scripture, that it is wrong for a man to regard his own interest. If this were a thing in itself wrong, it would be so in every degree, and in all
It would be wrong to have the least desire of our own happiness, in itself considered; or to be influenced at all by the hope of enjoying good, or by the fear of suffering evil. But this, certainly, is not agreeable to common sense. No one supposes that it is criminal to labor in an honest calling, to procure the necessaries and comforts of life ; or that all work
ing for wages is a sin. It is never thought that taking prudent care for the preservation of one's health, or good name, or outward estate, is unlawful, or unbecoming a christian. We may use unlawful means, for preserving and furthering any of our valiable interests; but to value them, or to endeavor to secure and advance them, without transgressing any of the rules of righteousness, is what no man's conscience condemns.
Nor is it less evident that God does not condemn, all regard to our own happiness, as a moral evil. He requires that we should love our neighbor as ourselves; but no where does he forbid us to love our selves, as well as our neighbors. In the scriptures both of the Old and New Testament, we are urged to duty by considerations adapted to operate upon the principle of self-love. Threatenings and promises, of a personal nature, relating both to the life that now is, and that which is to come, are abundantly made use of to dissuade men from the ways of sin, and to induce them to the practice of righteousness : whence it evidently appears, that being influenced to the externals of religion and virtue, by a view to our own interest and safety, is not in itself sinful.
But if the sin of selfishness doth not consist in self-love, in what does it consist ?
I answer, in not loving God and our neighbor : in not being benevolent. The difference between a truly benevolent man, and one totally selfish, I conceive, is simply this : the former is kindly affectioned towards all; the latter cares for none but himself. I know of no reason we have to think, that the most selfish man has a stronger principle of self-preservation, or a greater concern for his own happiness, than a good man has. All the radical fault in the first, I apprehend, is, he has nothing of that love which is the fulfilling of the law—he is destitute of that charity which is the end of the commandment. Men may think more highly of themselves than they
ought to think—they may have the self-love of esteem or complacency in an inordinate degree : but the self-love of benevolence, or the desire of one's own happiness, absolutely considered, is probably nèyer to excess. Comparatively, it may indeed be excessive ; and always is, in the unrighteous, or the imperfectly righteous. But then what renders it so, may be only the want, or deficiency, of disinterested benevolence. Being disposed to wish well to others, doth not, that I know of, at all lessen good will to one's self: it only regulates its operations. It restrains us from pleasing ourselves, and from promoting our own interest, in ways displeasing and injurious to others : and it excites to selfdenial, and giving up one's own good, when the greater good of one's neighbor, or of the public, so requires.
Perhaps the most disinterested beings in the universe, have as tender a concern for their own preservation, and enjoyment of good, as the most selfish. But thus much is certain, I conceive, and hath now been sufficiently evinced, that self-love, considered simply as the desire of one's own safety and happiness, is not sinful.
4. There is such a thing as acting from respect to the recompence of the reward, or from the hope of inheriting the promises, which is virtuous and commendable. There is a kind of happiness, the desire of which implies holiness.
When our Saviour exhorted his hearers to labor for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, undoubtedly he set before them a motive by which they would have done we!l to have been influenced. When he said, “ Mary hath chosen the good part which shall not be taken from her,” he evidently commended her choice. When he directed his disciples to give their alms in secret, telling them they should be rewarded openly ; when he said, “ Love