Andrew Fuller Friday: On the Motivation for a Virtuous Life

So long as our adversaries profess a regard to virtue, and, with Lord Bolingbroke,‡ acknowledge that “the gospel is in all cases one continued lesson of the strictest morality, of justice, of benevolence, and of universal charity,” they must allow those to be the best principles which furnish the most effectual motives for reducing it to practice.

Now there is not a doctrine in the whole compass of Christianity but what is improvable to this purpose. It is a grand peculiarity of the gospel that none of its principles are merely speculative; each is pregnant with a practical use. Nor does the discovery of it require any extraordinary degree of ingenuity; real Christians, however weak as to their natural capacities, have always been taught, by the gospel of Christ, that “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, they should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present world.”

Ancient philosophers have taught many things in favour of morality, so far at least as respects justice and goodness towards our fellow creatures; but where are the motives by which the minds of the people, or even their own minds, have been moved to a compliance with them? They framed a curious machine, but who among them could discover a power to work it? What principles have appeared in the world, under the name either of philosophy or religion, that can bear a comparison with the following? “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil-speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” “Be ye therefore followers (or imitators) of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God of a sweet-smelling savour.” “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy:—be of one accord, of one mind.” “Let nothing be done through strife or vain-glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” “Dearly beloved, I beseech you, as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” “Ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” “The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that, if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them, and rose again.” “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burnt up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God!” “Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”

These are motives by which Christians in every age have been induced to practise that morality which, while writing against Christianity, Paine, Bolingbroke, and many others, have been compelled to applaud. But the far greater part of them are rejected by deists; and what will they substitute, of equal efficacy, in their place? The love of Christ constraineth us; but what have they to constrain them? Will self-love, or the beauty or utility of virtue, answer the purpose? Let history and observation determine.

It may be alleged, however, that deists do not reject the whole of these important motives; for that some, at least, admit the doctrine of a future life, which, with the acknowledgment of one living and true God, may be thought sufficient for all the purposes of morality.

That the doctrine of a future life is of great importance in the moral system is allowed; but the greatest truth, if dissevered from other truths of equal importance, will be divested of its energy. As well might a hand dissevered from the body be represented as sufficient for the purposes of labour, as one or two unconnected principles for the purpose of morality. This is actually the case in the present instance. The doctrine of a future life, as held by Christians, has stimulated them to labour and suffer without intermission. From a “respect to this recompense of reward,” a kingdom has been refused, where the acceptance of it would have interfered with a good conscience. Yea, life itself has been sacrificed, and that not in a few, but in innumerable instances, where it could not be retained but at the expense of truth and uprightness. But is it thus among deists? Does the doctrine of a future life, as held by them, produce any such effects? When was it known, or heard, that they sacrificed any thing for this or any other principle of a moral nature? Who among them ever thought of such a thing, or who expected it at their hands?

But this is not all: There is such a connexion in truth, that, if one part of it be given up, it will render us less friendly towards other parts, and so destroy their efficacy. This also is actually the case in the present instance. Our adversaries do not cordially embrace even this truth; but, on the contrary, are continually undermining it, and rendering it of no effect. Lord Herbert, it is true, considered it as an essential article of natural religion; and it was his opinion that he could scarcely be accounted a reasonable creature who denied it; but this is far from being the case with later deistical writers, the greater part of whom either deny it, or represent it as a matter of doubt. Some of them disown every principle by which it is supported, and others go so far as to hold it up to ridicule, labouring withal to prove the hope of it unfriendly to the disinterested love of virtue. Volney, in his Law of Nature, or Catechism for French Citizens, says nothing about it. Paine just touches upon it in his Age of Reason, by informing us that “he hopes for happiness beyond this life;” but as happiness has its counterpart, and stands upon the general doctrine of retribution, he is afraid to say he believes it. It must be reduced to a mere matter of “probability,” lest the thought of it should damp him in his present pursuits, and render him “the slave of terror.”* Bolingbroke, though he acknowledges its antiquity, and great utility in promoting virtue, yet represents it as a “mere invention of philosophers and legislators,” and as being “originally an hypothesis, and which may, therefore, be a vulgar error.” “Reason,” he says, “will neither affirm nor deny a future state.” By this the reader might be led to expect that this writer was neither for it nor against it; yet the whole of his reasonings are directed to undermine it.† Hume, like the writer last mentioned, acknowledges the utility of the doctrine, but questions its truth. He would not have people disabused, or delivered from such a prejudice, because it would free them from one restraint upon their passions. Any person who should undertake this work, he allows, would be a bad citizen; yet he might, for aught he knows, be a good reasoner.* Shaftesbury employs all his wit and satire in endeavouring to raise a laugh at the very idea, representing the heathen world as very happy till Christianity arose, and teased them about an hereafter. “A new sort of policy,” he says, “which extends itself to another world, and considers the future lives and happiness of man rather than the present, has made us leap beyond the bounds of natural humanity, and, out of a supernatural charity, has taught us the way of plaguing one another most devoutly.”†

Lord Shaftesbury’s wit may very well be passed by, as being what it is: in connexion with the foregoing quotations, it suffices to show us what efficacy the doctrine of a future life, as held by deists, may be expected to possess. But this writer is not contented with raillery: he must also attempt to reason against the doctrine; contending that it has a pernicious influence on the morals of men; that it is a mercenary principle, and opposed to the disinterested love of virtue, for its own sake. “The principle of self-love,” he observes, “which is naturally so prevailing in us, is improved and made stronger by the exercise of the passions on a subject of more extended interest: and there may be reason to apprehend that a temper of this kind will extend itself through all the parts of life. And this has a tendency to create a stricter attention to self-good and private interest, and must insensibly diminish the affection towards public good, or the interest of society, and introduce a certain narrowness of spirit, which is observable in the devout persons and zealots of almost every religious persuasion.”‡

This objection, the reader will recollect, is in direct contradiction to the principles of Bolingbroke, and, it may be added, of Volney, and other deistical writers, who maintain self-love to be the origin of virtuous affection. Some Christian writers, in answering it, have given up the doctrine of disinterested love, allowing that all religious affection is to be traced to the love which we bear to ourselves, as its first principle. To me, this appears no other than betraying the truth, and ranking Christianity with every species of apostacy and false religion which have a any time prevailed in the world. A clear idea of the nature of self-love, if I mistake not, will enable us to determine this question, and to answer the deistical objection without rendering Christianity a mercenary system.

Every man may be considered either singly or connectedly; either as a being by himself, or as a link in a certain chain of beings. Under one or other of these views every man considers himself, while pursuing his own interest. If the former, this is to make himself the ultimate end of his actions, and to love all other beings, created or uncreated, only as they subserve his interest or his pleasure: this is private self-love: this is mean and mercenary, and what we commonly understand by the term selfishness. But if the latter, there is nothing mean or selfish in it. He who seeks his own well-being in connexion with the general good seeks it as he ought to do. No man is required directly to oppose his own welfare, though, in some instances, he may be required to sacrifice it for the general good. Neither is it necessary that he should be indifferent towards it. Reason, as well as Scripture, requires us to love ourselves as we love our neighbour. To this may be added, every man is not only a link in the chain of intelligent beings, and so deserving of some regard from himself, as well as from others, but every man’s person, family, and connexions, and still more the concerns of his soul, are, as it were, his own vineyard, over the interests of which it is his peculiar province to exercise a watchful care. Only let the care of himself and his immediate connexions be in subserviency to the general good, and there is nothing mercenary in it.

Excerpt from: The Gospel Its Own Witness, Chapter IV.

Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Controversial Publications. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 2, pp. 21–25). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.

By |October 9th, 2020|Categories: Andrew Fuller Friday, Blog|

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