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A CALVINISTIC DISQUISITION ON DISINTERESTED
The word interest is derived from two Latin words, inter est, which signify, that the person to whom they are applied is within, the place or thing. Thus we say, that a man, who takes a deep interest in any concern, is in the thing, or he enters into the spirit of the affair. To use the word appropriately, when we say that a man is interested in any business, we should simply intend ardour of feeling; or convey the idea, that his soul is in the matter. Thus the man of feeling is interested in the tale of woe; and the benevolent man is interested in the miseries, as well as felicity, of his fellow men. He who sympathizes with a friend, enters into his feelings. This emotion of interest may be good or bad. It may be a benevolent or selfish interest, which we take in any character or concern.
Dis, in composition, is a privative particle. Thus we say dishonour, to denote that honour is taken away; and dis-join, to signify that the union of two things is destroyed; or dis-credit, to express the taking away of credit. In like manner, the analogy of language would lead us to say, that dis-interest denotes the privation of all interest, whether good or bad. Dis-interested benevolence, therefore, strictly speaking, is benevolence from which all sort of interest is taken away. Now, can any one conceive of a benevolence in which the soul has no lively emotion of interest?
Some, however, may be disposed to use interest invariably in a bad sense, to denote selfishness; and then we shall have no objection to the taking away of all such interest from benevolence. But of what use is this long word disinterested, when prefixed to benevolence? Why is it not enough to speak of benevolence,
which signifies to wish well to any and every being, which is the proper object of holy volitions? It is certainly more simple, and more scriptural, to speak of love to God, and love to our neighbour; which affection is not inconsistent with a suitable love of ourselves.
The expression, disinterested benevolence, was probably introduced into theology, to convey something more than any plain man would derive, from what the word of God says about LOVE. It is designed to teach the doctrine of such an imaginary affection, as implies a willingness to be damned. Paul, it is said, possessed disinterested affection, for he was willing to be accursed from Christ for the promotion of the glory of God.
It is affirmed, that such was his love for his brethren, that he was willing to lay down his immortal life, his precious soul, for their salvation. A difficulty exists on this supposition, in reconciling the language of Paul and our Saviour. The latter says, no MAN hath greater love than this, that a man should lay down his life, meaning his natural life, for his friend; but if the formerwas willing to lay down his soul, for any one of his brethren, or for all of them, he had greater love than Christ allows can exist in any human heart. If Paul said what is attributed to him, either he or the Lord was erroneous in representation. It might suit the Socinians to prove, as Dr. Priestley thought he had done, that Paul was liable to make false propositions, and record inconclusive reasonings; but the Calvinists can more easily believe that Dr. Hopkins did not understand Paul, than that the great apostle was a bad logician, or uninspired, or that Paul and his Master were at variance.
Let us examine the text which has originated this controversy.
"I say the truth in Christ, lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost; that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart; for I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ, for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." Rom. ix. 1, 2, 3.
The Hopkinsians make Paul say, " for I could now wish that myself were accursed from Christ :" but this is an evident perversion of the word Hixóny, which is found in the imperfect time, middle voice, and is literally rendered, "I did wish." When Paul was in unbelief, he despised Jesus, as a Nazarene, a Galilean impostor, and did wish to have no part with him; to be accursed from him. Having been himself infatuated as his unbelieving countrymen now were, he knew their danger, and was deeply affected at the knowledge of their guilt and impenitent obstinacy. He knew how to compassionate them, because he had been in their alarming situation. This is an easy explication of the difficult passage; and supposes his countrymen to be the objects of his heaviness and sorrow. The other explanation makes the apostle say, that he had great benevolence, but was grieved at his own disinterestedness. "I say the truth in Christ; I lie not; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have inexpressible anguish, because I could willingly be damned for my brethren." Was Paul given to such solemn nonsense? The Calvinists, generally, believe that the expression, " for I did wish myself accursed from Christ," was introduced by Paul, in a parenthesis, to explain the reason of his great sorrow for his highly privileged countrymen, who were despising the only Salvation. Some of them, however, differ in construction; and suppose that Paul, in expressing his ardent attachment to the Jews, said, "I did wish myself to be set apart," or devoted, as avabeμa sometimes signifies, zò, " by Christ," to the apostleship, "for my brethren ;" and in " Curcellœi Lectiones,” we read iπò, by, instead of and, from.
DR. LEE Supposes Paul to say Hixoμny, “I did boast;" (for gloriari, to vaunt, is the first signification given to the theme of that word;)" I myself did boast, (avros yw and not ¿yw autov) that I was separated from Christ, Tip, more than my brethren." Lee's Ser p. 115.
Common sense declares, that no good man can be willing, that any penitent sinner should perish; that no man ever hated his own flesh, and that no man can so love God, as to be willing to hate him, for ever and ever,
Every Christian knows and feels, that he deserves damnation;
Salvation we are commanded to seek; and to be willing to be the enemy of God, and be accursed for ever, is a direct violation of this command. A willingness to be damned, so long as men are commanded to seek the Lord, must be an unholy emotion. While the sinner remains willing to perish he must remain unholy; and opposed to the divine will. Let us rest assured, therefore, that he who is finally willing to be accursed, will be accursed. Seek the Lord while he may be found. "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord; and not that he should return from his ways, and live ?"
but his prayer is, "God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
"Why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye." Ezek. xviii. 23 and 33.
It is said by some, that the prayer of Moses, when he interceded for rebellious Israel, proves that he was willing to be accursed for his brethren. "And Moses returned unto the Lord and said, '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." If the request to be blotted out of the Lord's book was expressive of a willingness to be damned; then Moses prayed, that if the people must be damned, he might be damned with them. "If thou wilt, forgive their sin; and if not," send me also to perdition. Did Moses ever offer such an absurd and impious prayer as this? The truth is, that the scriptures speak of pardon under the similitude of blotting out a debt. Moses first besought Jehovah to pardon the sin of the people: and then entreated, if Israel was not restored to favour, that his personal transgressions might be remitted. When Jehovah promises to pardon, he sometimes declares, “I will blot out your transgressions." In former times, when accounts were erased, one merchant, having paid another what was due to him, might have said, "please to blot me out of your book."
The answer, which the Lord gave to Moses, proves that this was the nature of his petition. Jehovah did pardon both Moses
and the people; for having refused to conduct the people, he now consents to lead them, and postpone the visitation of their iniquities. "And the Lord said unto Moses, whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken to thee. Behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them."Exod. xxxii. 31-35.
Job said, “though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Job. xiii. 15. Hence it is inferred, that Job was willing to be damned for the glory of God. It is denied that Job intended damnation by being slain. Let those who affirm it prove it if they can. Hé declares, that his great afflictions have not destroyed his confidence in God; and then resolves to continue his trust in Jehovah, even should his sorrows and pains terminate in death. Ve“ rily, he trusted in God that he should not be finally rejected.
It is granted to Dr. Emmons, as an unquestionable fact, that most “dramatic writers" have attempted to form " their amiable characters upon the principle of disinterested benevolence." It is believed, however, that these writers, instead of using a privative particle, compound the Greek Are with the word interested, so as to read Ac-interested; that is, twice-interested; for the characters which they commonly exhibit for imitation are either enthusiastically or selfishly interested in their exploits. At any rate it is to be hoped, that neither Cicero, nor a dramatist, nor a writer of romance, will give a decided cast to theological expression.
Every child of God will be benevolent; and even when he doubts of his own good estate, will desire to promote the glory of God. He will say, "if I perish, let others be saved: if I belong to the kingdom of Satan, (and possibly I may deceive my self,) my present prayer is, "thy kingdom come." Would to God that such benevolence as this pervaded every heart!