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The Love of Our Neighbour

Jonathan Mayhew

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thy self. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” –Matthew 22:37-41.

In the preceding discourse we inquired into the nature and obligation of the love of God. The love of our neighbour is to be the subject of the present. The precept enjoining this duty is thus expressed in the text: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thy self.” Now the general question, “What is implied in this precept?” naturally resolves itself into these three particular and subordinate inquiries:

1st. Who is here intended by our “neighbour”?

2ndly. What the “love” of our neighbour implies in it?

And, lastly, what is intended by our loving our neighbour ‘as ourselves’? A resolution of these three particular inquiries will give us a full idea of the nature and extent of the duty under consideration.

1st. Then, who is intended by our “neighbour”? I answer, primarily and strictly, those who dwell near us, with whom it is to be supposed we have a frequent intercourse—and so have more opportunities either to serve or injure them than we have to serve or injure those that are far separated from us. But the term also includes all those with whom we have anything to do—all who come within the reach of our abilities, so that we can do them good either by communicating positive happiness of any kind to them, or by removing the causes of their misery. Any person with whom we have any kind of intercourse, whether he be one of our kindred or not; whether he be an acquaintance or a stranger, whether he be a friend or an enemy, whether he profess the same religion with ourselves or a different one, whether he be in a private or a public station, whether he be our own countryman or a foreigner—let him be who he will—he is our neighbour in the sense of the text, when providence puts it in our power to relieve his wants and render him happy. That this is the sense in which our Lord uses the word “neighbour” appears by St. Luke's account of what passed between him and a certain lawyer upon this same subject. Our Lord had told him that if he loved God with all his heart, and his neighbour as himself, he should live. Upon this the lawyer asked the question which we are now endeavouring to answer: “And who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:29). Upon this our Lord relates a story concerning a Jew who fell into the merciless hands of robbers. He was found in the road by two travelers, a bigoted hard-hearted priest, and a Levite of the same disposition. Neither of them afforded the pitiable object any relief, although he were one of their own nation and religion. But when a Samaritan, a man of another country and a different religion, a man who had less orthodoxy and more charity than the other, found this unhappy stranger, he had compassion on him and relieved him. “‘Which now,’ says our Saviour, ‘of these three was neighbour unto him that fell among thieves.’ And he said,‘ he that showed mercy on him.’ Then said Jesus unto him, ‘Go thou and do likewise.’” Go thou, and act the same neighbourly part. Look upon thyself to be a neighbour to every man, and every man a neighbour to thee, who has any wants and calamities to recommend him to thee. Think not that thou dischargest the duty of loving thy neighbour by returning the kind offices of thy friends, by doing good to thy acquaintance, to thy countrymen, to those of thine own feel in religion, but extend thy friendship to all whom thou art capable of serving.

From this piece of history, or this moral fable (call it which you please), it appears, in general, that the charity which is enjoined in revelation is infinitely more noble, generous, and disinterested than the love of our country, as such, so much extolled by some deistical writers, and than that friendship which is recommended by writers of the same stamp—a friendship confined to a particular knot of men, whom humour or interest, or perhaps only a similitude of vices, has tied and united together. To be a friend in the usual sense of the word is to act a kind part to some one or more particular persons, but to love our neighbour, in the sense of scripture, is to love the world and to be that to all with whom we have any concern, which friendship is to one or two.

Lest we should take up a notion that the proper objects of our love were our friends, our kindred, those of our own party, or our country only, our blessed Saviour took care particularly to enjoin upon his disciples the love of their enemies, after his own example, who died for us while we were ‘enemies in our minds by wicked works’ [Col. 1:21], and after the example of ‘his God and our God, his Father and our Father’ [John 20:17], ‘who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just, and on the unjust’ [Matthew 5:44-45]. Our enemies are included in the general term neighbour, but it was highly proper and necessary that they should be particularly and expressly pointed out to the Jews, because they were generally such blind narrow-hearted bigots that they looked upon all the world besides their own nation to be the proper objects of their contempt and hatred. This national hardness and stinginess of soul was continually increased by the influence of the Scribes and Pharisees, who, like too many modern teachers and doctors, instead of inculcating the great duty of universal charity, expended their zeal upon frivolous matters and laboured more abundantly to make the populace adore themselves, and to raise their indignation against all such as dared to say anything against their old traditions or new whims, by which they “made void the law of God” [Matt. 15:6]. And that which made it necessary for our Saviour particularly to recommend to his hearers the love of their enemies, makes it proper for every other preacher to do the same, where bigotry and a party spirit prevails; and would to God that there were not enough of this wretched spirit to be seen in our own land, at the present day, to make the same thing necessary now!

Having thus considered the object and extent of the love recommended in the text, we proceed to inquire,

2ndly. Into the nature of the thing itself. What then is implied in the “love” of our neighbour? I answer, it is the same thing with benevolence, goodwill, or charity, a disposition to do good and communicate happiness. The same word that is used in the text to express that temper of mind which becomes us towards our Maker is used also to express the temper and disposition of heart which is required towards our neighbour. Both are expressed by the word love: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart—and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thy self.” However, although the words are the same, the things intended by them are very different, as different as the objects of this love. When it is referred to God, no one imagines it means benevolence, or wishing well, or doing good to our Creator, but esteem, complacency, admiration, reverence, submission, and the like. The reason of the thing, considering God's independency, power and wisdom and moral perfections, and our own relation to him, plainly points out these to be the things intended when we are commanded to love him. And it is equally plain that when our neighbour is proposed to us as the object of our love, it cannot intend that we mould pay him that same internal reverence, honour, resignation, etc., which we pay to our Maker. This would be idolatry instead of charity. So far as our neighbours resemble God, so far indeed, they are proper objects of the same kind of internal regards which we owe to him, and it is doubtless our duty to esteem and reverence them in proportion to their real greatness and merit, for God requires us to “give honour to whom honour is due” [Rom. 13:7]. However, this is not what is primarily or principally intended by the love of our neighbour. This is a duty which we owe to all in common, with whom we have any concern, too many of whom have little or nothing in them that renders them the proper objects of delight, complacency, esteem and reverence. Nor can they be all in common the object of any other passion besides that of benevolence or goodwill. This, therefore, is what the precept in the text enjoins upon us. And our blessed Saviour plainly leads us to this general idea of the duty in his discourse with the lawyer before referred to (Luke 10). When the lawyer asked who was intended by his neighbour, whom he was to love as himself, our Lord told him the story of the Jew who was neglected in his misery by the priest and Levite and kindly relieved by the schismatical Samaritan—and then added, “Go thou, and do likewise.” This shows that the primary and most proper notion of the love of our neighbour, which he had just before recommended, is a kind and charitable disposition. It also shows farther that the love of our neighbour, as the word is used by our Saviour, is not restrained to the heart and affections, in the same manner with the love of God, but is used in such a large complex sense as to include benevolent action, as well as benevolence of mind—“Go thou, and do likewise. As the natural, and perhaps unavoidable, consequence of God's being good is his doing to his creatures, so there is a close connection between these in all other beings. We cannot conceive of a man's being truly charitable in his heart towards his neighbour without doing good to him also, when it is in his power and the proper occasions present for calling forth this internal principle into action. What a man really wills and wishes in his heart, he effects also, when it does not exceed his abilities. So that benevolent action will always be in proportion to the strength of the benevolent principle, allowing for the different powers, talents, and opportunities for doing good which take place in the world. This I take to be the intention of St. John in his first epistle (3:7): “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doth righteousness, is righteous, even as he is righteous.” He that acts well is really good to the degree that he acts well; and he doth righteousness in proportion to the righteous principle in his heart: these things keep pace, and the one is always the measure and standard of the other.

Love is, in its own nature, an active and vigorous principle. This godlike guest does not lie dozing in that breast where it takes up its abode, and conceal itself from the observation of mankind, like eastern monarchs in their palaces. Its ‘light shines before men, and they see its good works’ [Matt. 5:16]. It is constantly exerting itself for the benefit of those we love. The charitable man “loves not in word and in tongue” only, “but in deed and in truth” [1 John 3:18]. Charity contents not itself with good wishes, with kind speeches, and a courtly address, but does substantial acts of beneficence, according to the exigencies of our neighbours, and our own abilities. It contents not itself with saying to the naked, “Be ye clothed,” and to the hungry, “Be ye filled,” but administers to their necessities [James 2:15-17]. Love is infinite and the methods of its acting various and innumerable. It originates in the heart, and from thence points every way, like various lines drawn from the center of a circle, or rays issuing from the sun. It shines with its benign influence upon all that come in its way. It is “eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame” [Job 29:15]; it draws upon it the ‘blessing of him that is ready to perish, and causes the widow's heart to sing for joy’ [Job 29:13]. It is instruction to the ignorant and consolation to the sorrowful; it is a timely redress to the injured and oppressed, and liberty to the captive. “Charity suffereth long and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly; seeketh not her own; is   not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth: Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” [1 Cor. 13:4-7].

The apostle describes charity, or the love of our neighbour, as comprehending all these virtues in it—and very naturally, for they are plainly, but so many different, branches of the same tree. “Charity suffereth long”—we naturally bear a great while with those whom we sincerely love. It “is kind”—it is benign, courteous, obliging, and sweetens our manners, purging away all roughness, moroseness and asperity. It “envieth not”—does not grieve and fret at the prosperity of others, but rejoices in their happiness. It “vaunteth not itself”—it is not insolent or assuming, but is meek and condescending to others. It “is not puffed up”—it does not swell a man with vain thoughts of his own goodness and importance, compared with others, but leads him to ‘think others better than himself’ [Phil. 2:3]. It “doth not behave itself unseemly”—it prevents men from all indecencies in behaviour, such as may be shocking and offensive to his neighbours, and leads him to such a deportment of himself as may be agreeable to those with whom he converges. It “seeketh not its own”—it is not selfish, but excites a person to consult the benefit of others. [It] “is not easily provoked,” or rather is not greatly provoked (as the word signifies)—it is not angry to an excess upon any occasion, violently imaged and beyond measure, but observes a mean, where there is real ground for resentment and anger. It “thinketh no evil”—it puts the most favourable construction upon the conduct of others and is not apt to impute to them ill designs and intentions. “It rejoiceth not in iniquity”—it is not pleased and delighted with the vices and misconduct of mankind, but pities and laments them. It “rejoiceth in the truth”—it is pleased to let truth and righteousness prevail in the world, they being the foundation of happiness. It “beareth all things,”or rather it covereth all things—agreeably to 1 Peter 4:8: “Charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” It “believeth all things”—it is not suspicious that our neighbours design to deceive and impose upon us, but is prone to believe what they say, presuming upon their honesty and integrity. It “hopeth all things”—it will not suffer us to despair of our neighbour's repentance and reformation, although he may have wandered far in the ways of error and sin, but hopes he may still be reclaimed. Once more, charity “endureth all things”—it is patient and sedate, not fretful and tumultuous; it bears calamities and injuries; it bears with the faults and follies that are to be seen in the world, so far as is confident with the love of truth and virtue and piety. It is a calm and unruffled self-enjoyment, a composed temper of soul, amidst all the tumults and disorders of the world. Thus comprehensive is the duty of charity, or the love of our neighbour, in the scripture sense of it; neither, indeed, have we yet carried it to its full extent. Charity, considered in its greatest latitude, comprehends in it all moral and social virtues. He that is a real lover of mankind will, from this simple uniform principle, practice all those virtues upon which the good order and happiness of the world depends. Benevolence naturally and necessarily leads to this, i. e., to the practice of every virtue without exception, for there is not any particular one that can be omitted, nor any vice that can be indulged, without detriment to the world. The connection between the practice of all moral virtues and public happiness is close and intimate, nor are those more private virtues that fall under the denomination of temperance exceptions to this general assertion. It would take us too long a time to show how all particular virtues (or if you please Christian graces) that respect either ourselves or our neighbour may be derived from this one source of benevolence. But St. Paul's authority will be sufficient to justify the assertion without any farther proof: “He that loveth another,” saith the apostle, “hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” [Rom. 13:9-10]. And for this reason the same apostle calls charity by that emphatical name: “The bond of perfectness” (Col. 3:14)—the tie and nexus, the common source and fountain of all moral perfections and excellencies. From that they all flow, and into that they may all be resolved again, as benevolence in the supreme Father and Lord of all things comprises in it all the moral perfections of God, and as that simple principle, under the direction of infinite wisdom, exerting itself in a variety of ways in order to accomplish the greatest possible good in the whole, receives the various denominations of goodness, grace, mercy, forbearance, justice, etc. in all particular social virtues, may be only the various modifications of charity exerted into action.

When we are speaking of the virtue of charity in mankind, it mould always be remembered that we are not speaking of a blind impulse or instinct, a sort of mad-good nature that diffuses itself abroad without prudence, forethought or discretion, but of the benevolence of rational beings towards their fellow-creatures, which supposes that benevolence is always under the direction of reason pointing out to it the ways in which it is to exert itself, and the channels in which it ought to flow. Simple benevolence, not directed by knowledge, would be only a loving, kind sort of frenzy or distraction, which it is probable might do as much hurt as good. For a being without reason to govern his actions by would be as likely to do wrong as right, to make the object of his kindness miserable as happy. But he that is wise, as well as benevolent, will observe those methods of acting which are the most conducive to happiness, that is, he will use the most effectual means to bring about his end.

There is no conceivable goodness or evil in the actions of an intelligent creature, but as they conduce to some good or bad end. And since happiness, in a large sense of the word, is the only good end, the only thing that is valuable for its own sake, it follows that an action is so far good, and no farther, than it produces happiness. And this is the general rule which we ought to govern ourselves by in our intercourse with the world. To do good is what we should aim at. But then there are other particular and subordinate rules of conduct flowing from this general one, which ought to be the more immediate regulators of our actions, in order to our doing the greatest good we are capable of, such as adhering to truth, justice, doing good to a benefactor rather than to another, providing for our own families and kindred rather than for others, and the like. For there are certain peculiar ties and relations, which make it reasonable to give the preference to some in our kind offices, rather than to others. And this is so far from being inconsistent with universal charity that it is upon the whole most advantageous to the world. Our benevolence would be too vague and diffuse, it would be in danger of evaporating without doing much service to any, had not the wise author of our nature by the constitution he has given us, and certain particular affections, pointed it to some particular objects more especially. In general our kindred demand our first concern, our other friends and benefactors the next, those of our neighbourhood the next, and so on to our country, our nation, and from our own nation to all others. This seems to be the order which God and nature have pointed out to us; and if so, then to observe it, and to arise in our goodwill by those gradations, must certainly be the most conducive to the general happiness of mankind; for the order established by God can never thwart, or interfere with, the good of his creatures. To break in upon the order of nature, or to act out of our proper sphere, can never issue in greater happiness to ourselves or others than keeping strictly to both. And the method of being serviceable to mankind, whatever our station and circumstances in life are, is ordinarily plain enough to those who have any real inclination to follow it. But I must hasten to the third and last inquiry under this head, viz.,

3rdly. What is intended by our loving our neighbour as ourselves?

It has been observed by some[1] that this expression is capable of three different senses: It may intend that we should love our neighbour with as great a degree of intenseness as we do ourselves, and be as solicitous about his happiness as about our own. This would indeed be a glorious temper of mind. But it may be reasonably questioned whether it is possible for mankind in this world, or perhaps in any other, to be so benevolent as not to have a peculiar feeling for themselves. And as the possibility of this may be questioned, it may, in the same degree, be questioned whether this is the true intention of the precept. For all God's commands are adapted to our state, circumstances, and capacities. Again, the precept may intend that we should have a love to our neighbour of the same kind with that which we bear to ourselves, i. e., that as we are all naturally concerned for our own welfare, so we should also have a real concern in some degree for the welfare of others. But this interpretation seems to be as much too low and jejune, as that above mentioned was too sublime and elevated, for a man may have a real love to mankind in this sense, and yet be a wicked and unjust man, by reason that his benevolence is not strong enough to be a balance for his principle of self-love. All men have doubtless some degree of real benevolence, but a regard to their own private good may be so strong as to counteract and defeat it, and so lead them habitually to the most cruel and inhuman practices.

It seems necessary, therefore, that we pitch upon some third way of interpreting the precept before us. And perhaps the sense of it may be this: that we should not barely love our neighbour, but that our love to him bear some certain proportion to our self-love, that we love him to such a degree as shall prevent us from doing any injury to him for the sake of private interest, that in all our intercourse with him we should do to him, as we would that he should do to us. More cannot be well intended in the precept, and it is certain that less cannot. And such a love to our neighbour as this does not only imply that we abstain from all acts of injustice towards him, but also that we are active in serving him when he stands in need of our assistance, for certainly this is what we should expect of him. It is impossible exactly to determine how far we ought to go in acts of beneficence to our neighbour, but certainly something is justly expected of us besides not injuring him. I shall beg leave to use the words of the Bishop of Bristol upon this subject, who seems to prefer the last-mentioned sense of the words:

"Both our nature and condition," says he, "require that each particular man should make particular provision for himself. And the inquiry what proportion benevolence should have to self-love, when brought down to practice, will be what is a competent care and provision for ourselves. And how certain soever it be that each man must determine this for himself, and how ridiculous soever it would be for any to attempt to determine it for another, yet it is to be observed that the proportion is real, and that a competent provision has a bound, and that it cannot be all which we can possibly get and keep within our grasp without legal injustice. Mankind almost universally bring in vanity, supplies for what is called a life of pleasure, covetousness, or imaginary notions of superiority over others, to determine this question. But everyone who desires to act a proper part in society would do well to determine how far any of them come in to determine it in a way of moral consideration. All that can be said is, supposing, what as the world goes is so much to be supposed that 'tis scarce to be mentioned, that persons do not neglect what they really owe to themselves, the more of their care and thought and of their fortune they employ in doing good to their fellow creatures, the nearer they come up to the law of perfection: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thy self.’"

We have now done with the three inquiries which we proposed to answer—Who is our neighbour? What is it to love our neighbour? What is it to love him as ourselves? We shall conclude the present discourse with a few words concerning our obligation to the duty, the nature of which we have been considering. And if it be asked why we should live in the exercise of benevolence, I answer

1st. No man wants that anyone should point out the particular grounds of the obligation that others are under to love and assist him. Every man naturally and unavoidably expects, and thinks he has a right to expect, kind usage from those about him. But will any man be so vain as to imagine that himself is the only person in the world that has any title to such treatment? Can he, if he tries, persuade himself that all are obliged to love and do good to him, according to their abilities, and his own wants, and yet that he is under obligation to none? No man can seriously believe this 'till ‘the light that is in him is become darkness’ [Matt. 6:23]. Let us deal fairly with ourselves: Let the same reason, whatever it be, that satisfies us, that others ought not to injure us, but to be beneficent and humane to us, satisfy us also that we ought not be injurious to them, but studious of their happiness. Happiness is what each man desires for himself as a real good, and he cannot be ignorant that others desire it also and have a right to expect it upon the same terms with himself. Either no one has a right to expect kindness, candour, and goodwill, or all men have the same. And then mutual benevolence, and an intercourse of good offices, ought to take place in the world universally.—But

2ndly. God has required us to be benevolent and friendly to each other. He that commands us to love himself with all our heart, commands us also to love our neighbour as ourselves. And the will or law of a perfect Being, a Being who is in all respects fit to be obeyed, is what constitutes obligation in the primary and most formal notion of obligation. We cannot properly be said to be under obligation but to some Being who has a right to give us law; and the more perfect that right is, the stronger is our obligation. But

3rdly. To inquire why we are obliged to be beneficent just and charitable is to inquire why we are obliged to be morally good, a question that seems to carry its own answer with it—To suppose there is such a thing as moral goodness and excellence is to suppose that all rational beings are under obligation to conform to the rules of it. It is a contradiction to suppose that any particular temper, or course of action, is right, and yet that it may be right for us to deviate from it. It is eternally right to conform to what is right. Nor need we look out for any farther obligation after we are satisfied that a thing is really right. This of itself supposes we are under obligation to do it, and that we cannot do the contrary without acting a wrong and unreasonable part.

4thly. The nearer we conform to the great law of benevolence, the nearer we conform to the perfections of the Deity. God is infinite in goodness. In this the moral perfection of the divine nature consists. And if this be what renders God perfect, it must in proportion render us perfect also. And so far as we fall short of it, so far we fall short of perfection.

5thly. The order and the common good of the world evidently depend upon the exercise of mutual benevolence. From what proceed the tumults and principal calamities that are daily seen in the world, but from a neglect of this duty, and from the indulgence of a narrow selfish spirit? Were men to “put on, as the elect of God, bowels of love and compassion,” did they feel for others as well as themselves, we should no more hear of strife and debate between private families; there would be no longer those contentions and animosities that disturb the peace either of church or state. We should no longer hear of the tyranny and oppression of princes, or the envy and rebellion of subjects. We should hear no more of “wars and rumours of wars” [Matt. 24:6], of fields drunk with human gore, and “garments rolled in blood” [Isa. 9:5]. We should hear no more of cities stormed, countries laid desolate, men devoured by their fellow men, or carried into inglorious captivity and slavery; but all the world would be hushed into peace, “everyone sitting securely under his own vine, and under his own fig tree” [Mic. 4:4]. It is selfishness, prevailing over charity and humanity, that has spread destruction and desolation through the world, that has depopulated the earth, that has turned the whole ocean into a Red Sea, and the whole world into Golgotha and Akeldama,” “the Place of a Skull,” and “a field of blood.”

The constitution of the world is such that plenty, peace, and happiness can prevail no farther than a foundation is laid for them in mutual benevolence, and an exchange of good offices. Love is the spirit that cements mankind together and preserves that order and harmony amongst them, which is requisite in order to the general safety and welfare, just as the regular motions and harmony of the heavenly bodies depend upon their mutual gravitation towards each other. Let this catholic and universal principle be once destroyed, and confusion, discord, and the crush of worlds inevitably follow. And disorders similar to these unavoidably succeed in the moral world, upon the neglect of those social duties that have their foundation in love.

It is this divine principle that makes a good king, a good subject, a good master, and a good servant. This is such a temper of mind as would lead every man to fill up his own particular station in life with honour to himself, and so as to contribute to the general happiness of mankind. It would sweeten the nauseous draught of life and make us all pass the days of our pilgrimage in this world with pleasure. It would spread joy throughout the earth. How glorious would it be, if that time should come, that every man was sure, that he saw his friend every time he saw his neighbour! Would men take as much pains to do good as they do to afflict and grieve and devour one another, the society of men on earth would resemble that of angels in heaven. But as things generally are, there is so much strife and envy, and malice and revenge, that a good man is sick of the world and is ready to cry out with the prophet, “Oh that I had wings like a dove; for then would I fly away and be at rest” [Ps. 55:6]. But

6thly. An argument for charity may be taken from self-love. That which tends to public good tends to private good also. To suppose the contrary is a manifest contradiction. For public happiness is increased no farther than the happiness of individuals is so. The temper of love is in itself, the temper of happiness and serene self-enjoyment, and if the world be under the government of a righteous and wise providence, those must, in the final result of things, be found best to have consulted their own interest who have been the most industrious to advance the happiness of others. Wherefore, let these considerations laid together excite us to put on the divine temper of love. That charity, which reason dictates, is so far from being the love of any sect or party of men that it ought not to be confined even to the whole human species. It ought to extend to every order of beings that is capable of happiness. There are none so high and so much above us as not to have a just claim to it, none so low and despicable as not to deserve our kind regards. The reason why we are not commanded to extend our love to the angels, and all the glorious inhabitants of the other world, is not because they are a different order of beings, but because they are out of the reach of our abilities, because their happiness is not placed in our power, like that of our neighbour. And as to the lower animal world, it is as truly a transgression of the laws of benevolence and humanity to put them to misery out of mere wantonness, and when no good end can be answered by it, as it is groundlessly to assist our fellow men. Nothing ought to be below our notice that is not so low in the scale of being as to be exempted from pain and incapable of happiness. The lower animals are not, and Solomon makes it one part of the character of “a righteous man,” that he “regardeth the life of his beast” [Prov. 12:10]. They are all, in a good sense, the offspring of God. God is the common parent to us and them, and we may say, without a metaphor, even to the worm, “Thou art my sister” [Job 17:14]. Although we may be apt to think that our great superiority to the other inhabitants of this earth sets us above an obligation to regard their happiness, yet God had a particular regard to them in the institution of the sabbath; he even “heareth the young ravens when they cry” [Psalm 147:9]; and “not a sparrow falleth to the ground without him” [Matt. 10:29]. If we would avoid a narrow, selfish disposition, we should consider the whole universe as one magnificent building, with different apartments for different inhabitants, all subjects of the same King, and children of the same Father, whose general law is benevolence and kindness. Him we should consider as sitting upon “the circuit of heaven” [Job 22:14], and saying with a loud voice to all, what St. John said only to a few: My children! Love one another; for love is of God” [1 John 4:7].

This earth, where mankind have their residence, bears but a small proportion to the universe. And this earth is again divided into different countries and nations, these countries and nations into different cities and towns, into distinct societies and corporations and families. This is necessary and convenient, and everyone ought to be principally concerned for the welfare of those to whom he is the most nearly allied. But he ought not to let any part engross the whole of his benevolence. As a man's belonging to a particular family does not destroy his relation to the whole commonwealth of which he is a member, so his particular relation to one political or civil society does not destroy his relation to the greater society of mankind in general—not this, his relation to the whole rational creation. He that seriously considers himself in this light, as a member and part of one stupendous whole, will find little need of any farther arguments to convince him of the folly of being selfish, and contracted. He will be ashamed of anything that looks like a party spirit. A vicious self-love will naturally be weakened in him. Benevolence will spring up in his heart. It will diffuse itself like light from the sun. It will spread from kindred to a country, from a country to a kingdom, and from one kingdom to another, till it reach not only all the inhabitants of this little spot of ground called the earth, but till it grasp the universe; and then a man bears the nearest resemblance to that “one God and Father of all” [Eph. 4:6], who “is good to all, and whose tender mercies are over all his works” [Ps. 145:9].

Speculations of this kind may sometimes be of service to us, in order to open and enlarge our hearts. But our proper business lies chiefly much nearer home. It is our neighbour that we are more immediately concerned with; it is him that we are commanded to love as we do ourselves; and if we comply with this precept, according to its true intention, we cannot be deficient in our kind regards to those that are more remote from us. Benevolence and charity will be the general turn and bent of our mind, and will naturally be felt towards all beings when they present themselves to our thoughts. What connection and dependence there may be of the various parts of the universe upon each other, we cannot tell; our goodness, perhaps, may not extend to all, so as to influence their happiness. But this we are certain of, that the happiness of mankind depends upon mutual kindness and charity. And this being the case, it is a call from God and nature to improve all the powers and capacities we are endowed with, in doing good to those about us.— God grant that we may all be inspired with this divine principle of love, that so we may be “the children of our Father which is in heaven” [Matt. 5:45] and the faithful followers of Jesus Christ, who has said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another” [John 13:35].



[1] See the Bishop of Bristol’s Sermon on this subject.


©2005 American Unitarian Conference