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Now we are prepared to understand how it is that both the intellect and sensibility can often be opposed to sin, and yet the will cleave to the indulgence. An inebriate is contemplating the moral character of drunkenness. He instantly and necessarily condemns the abomination. His sensibility sympathizes with the intellect. He loathes the sinfulness of drinking strong drink, and himself on account of it. He is ashamed, and were it possible, he would spit in his own face. Now, in this state, it would surely be absurd to suppose that he could choose sin, the sin of drinking, as an end, or for its own sake. This would be choosing it for an impossible reason, and not for no reason. But still he may choose to continue his drink, not because it is sinful, but nevertheless it is so. For while the intellect condemns the sin of drinking strong drink, and the sensibility loathes the sinfulness of the indulgence, nevertheless there still exists so strong an appetite, not for the sin, but for the liquor, that the will seeks the gratification, nevertheless the sinfulness of it. So it is, and so it must be, in every case where sin is committed in the face of the remonstrances of the intellect and the loathing of the sensibility. The sensibility loathes the sinfulness, but more strongly desires the thing the choice of which is sinful. The will in a selfish being yields to the strongest impulse of the sensibility, and the end chosen is, in no case, the sinfulness of the act, but the self-gratification. Those who suppose this opposition of the intellect, or of the sensibility, to be a holy principle, are fatally deluded. It is this kind of opposition to sin, that often manifests itself among wicked men, and that leads them to take credit for goodness or virtue, not an atom of which do they possess. They will not believe themselves to be morally and totally depraved, while they are conscious of so much hostility to sin within them. But they should understand, that this opposition is not of the will, or they cold not go on in sin; that it is purely an involuntary state of mind, and has no moral character whatever. Let it be ever remembered, then, that a virtuous opposition to sin is always and necessarily an attribute of benevolence, a phenomenon of the will; and that it is naturally impossible, that this opposition of will should coexist with the commission of sin.
As this opposition to sin is plainly implied in, and is an essential attribute of, benevolence, or true love to God, it follows, that obedience to the law of God cannot be partial, in the sense that we both love God and sin at the same time.
11. Compassion for the miserable is also an attribute of benevolence, or of pure love to God and man. This is benevolence viewed in its relations to misery and to guilt.
There is a compassion also which is a phenomenon of the sensibility. It may, and does often, exist in the form of an emotion. But this emotion being involuntary, has no moral character in itself. The compassion which is a virtue, and which is required of us as a duty, is a phenomenon of the will, and is of course an attribute of benevolence. Benevolence, as has been often said, is good willing, or willing the highest happiness and well-being of God and the universe for its own sake, or as an end. It is impossible, therefore, from its own nature, that compassion for the miserable should not be one of its attributes. Compassion of will to misery is the choice or wish that it might not exist. Benevolence wills that happiness should exist for its own sake. It must, therefore, wish that misery might not exist. This attribute or peculiarity of benevolence consists in wishing the happiness of the miserable. Benevolence, simply considered, is willing the good or happiness of being in general. Compassion of will is a willing particularly that the miserable should be happy.
Compassion of sensibility is simply a feeling of pity in view of misery. As has been said, it is not a virtue. It is only a desire, but not willing; consequently, does not benefit its object. It is the state of mind of which James speaks: "If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; nevertheless ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit?" (James 2:15, 16). This kind of compassion may evidently coexist with selfishness. But compassion of heart or will cannot; for it consists in willing the happiness of the miserable for its own sake, and of course impartially. It will, and from its very nature must, deny self to promote its end, whenever it wisely can, that is, when it is seen to be demanded by the highest general good. Circumstances may exist that render it unwise to express this compassion by actually extending relief to the miserable. Such circumstances forbid that God should extend relief to the lost in hell. But for their character and governmental relations, God's compassion would no doubt make immediate efforts for their relief.
Many circumstances may exist in which, although compassion would hasten to the relief of its object, yet, on the whole, the misery that exists is regarded as the less of two evils, and therefore, the wisdom of benevolence forbids it to put forth exertions to save its object.
But it is of the last importance to distinguish carefully between compassion, as a phenomenon of the sensibility, or as a mere feeling, and compassion considered as a phenomenon of the will. This, be it remembered, is the only form of virtuous compassion. Many, who, from the laws of their mental constitution, feel quickly and deeply, often take credit to themselves for being compassionate, while they seldom do much for the downtrodden and the miserable. Their compassion is a mere feeling. It says, "Be ye warmed and filled," but does not that for them which is needful. It is this particular attribute of benevolence that was so conspicuous in the life of Howard, Wilberforce, and many other Christian philanthropists.
It should be said, before I leave the consideration of this attribute, that the will is often influenced by the feeling of compassion. In this case, the mind is no less selfish in seeking to promote the relief and happiness of its object than it is in any other form of selfishness. In such cases, self-gratification is the end sought, and the relief of the suffering is only a means. Pity is stirred, and the sensibility is deeply pained and excited by the contemplation of misery. The will is influenced by this feeling, and makes efforts to relieve the painful emotion on the one hand, and to gratify the desire to see the sufferer happy on the other. This is only an imposing form of selfishness. We, no doubt, often witness displays of this kind of self-gratification. The happiness of the miserable is not in this case sought as an end, or for its own sake, but as a means of gratifying our own feelings. This is not obedience of will to the law of the intellect, but obedience to the impulse of the sensibility. It is not a natural and intelligent compassion, but just such compassion as we often see mere animals exercise. They will risk, and even lay down, their lives, to give relief to one of their number, or to a man who is in misery. In them this has no moral character having no reason, it is not sin for them to obey their sensibility; nay, this is a law of their being. This they cannot but do. For them, then, to seek their own gratification as an end is not sin. But man has reason; he is bound to obey it. He should will and seek the relief and the happiness of the miserable, for its own sake, or for its intrinsic value. When he seeks it for no higher reason than to gratify his feelings, he denies his humanity He seeks it, not out of regard to the sufferer, but in self-defense, or to relieve his own pain, and to gratify his own desires. This in him is sin.
Many, therefore, who take to themselves much credit for benevolence, are, after all, only in the exercise of this imposing form of selfishness. They take credit for holiness, when their holiness is only sin. What is especially worthy of notice here, is, that this class of persons appear to themselves and others, to be all the more virtuous by how much more manifestly and exclusively they are led on by the impulse of feeling. They are conscious of feeling deeply, of being more sincere and earnest in obeying their feelings. Every body who knows them can also see, that they feel deeply, and are influenced by the strength of their feelings, rather than by their intellect. Now, so gross is the darkness of most persons upon this subject, that they award praise to themselves and to others, just in proportion as they are sure that they are actuated by the depth of their feelings, rather than by their sober judgment.
But I must not leave this subject without observing, that when compassion exists as a phenomenon of the will, it will certainly also exist as a feeling of the sensibility. A man of a compassionate heart will also be a man of compassionate sensibility. He will feel and he will act. Nevertheless, his actions will not be the effect of his feelings, but will be the result of his sober judgment. Three classes of persons suppose themselves, and are generally supposed by others, to be truly compassionate. The one class exhibit much feeling of compassion; but their compassion does not influence their will, hence they do not act for the relief of suffering. These content themselves with mere desires and tears. They say, Be ye warmed and clothed, but give not the needed relief. Another class feel deeply, and give up to their feelings. Of course they are active and energetic in the relief of suffering. But being governed by feeling, instead of being influenced by their intellect, they are not virtuous, but selfish. Their compassion is only an imposing form of selfishness. A third class feel deeply, but are not governed by blind impulses of feeling. They take a rational view of the subject, act wisely and energetically. They obey their reason. Their feelings do not lead them, neither do they seek to gratify their feelings. But these last are truly virtuous, and altogether the most happy of the three. Their feelings are all the more gratified by how much less they aim at the gratification. They obey their intellect, and, therefore have the double satisfaction of the applause of conscience, while their feelings are also fully gratified by seeing their compassionate desire accomplished.