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On the regulation of the principle of Self Love.

ONE of those implanted principles, which comes under the denomination of Propensities, is the principle of Self-love or the desire of our own happiness. We do not propose to remark upon all the Propensities; but the principle of Self-love, which is so liable to a perverted and selfish action as sometimes to be regarded as a perverted and evil principle in its own nature, seems to require some notice.

FIRST.— We remark in the first place, that it is generally conceded both by theologians and mental philosophers, that a principle of self-love or a desire of personal happiness is implanted in man. As an implanted or connatural principle, it cannot, in its subordinated and legitimate exercise, be otherwise than right. In other words, when, in the pursuit of our own happiness, we have a suitable regard to the claims of all other beings, especially the Supreme Being, we cannot be otherwise than approved and guiltless in the view of conscience and of our Maker.

The command, that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, evidently implies, that the love of ourselves, in the sense of seeking our own happiness so far as is consistent with the happiness and rights of others, is admissible. Hence men are properly directed and encouraged to seek their own happiness. It is proper even to direct and encourage them to seek religion for the sake, (not for the exclusive sake, but still for the sake,) of their own happiness. In seeking religion, in other words, in seeking the restoration of the mind to God, there can be no doubt, that one legitimate motive may be the desire of our own highest good. It is certain that this is one of the motives, calculated ultimately to lead men in a religious course, which is not unfrequently addressed to them in the Holy Scriptures. "There is not," says Dr. Wardlaw, "any part of the Divine Word, by which we are required, in any circumstances, to divest ourselves of this essential principle in our constitution. That Word, on the contrary, is full of appeals to it, under every diversity of form. Such are all its threatenings, all its promises, all its invitations."

SECOND.— But whatever love we may be permitted to exercise for ourselves or our fellow-men, the obligation still remains of loving God, as the Scripture expresses it, with "all our soul and heart and mind and strength." It seems to be generally agreed, that nothing short of the power of our whole being will satisfy the obligations and claims of divine love. And here it becomes necessary to consider briefly the relation, which self-love or the desire of our own happiness sustains to the desire of God's glory, and the consistency of the one with the other. This is a topic of no small importance; and perhaps it may be added, that it can hardly be supposed to be easily understood, without the aid of some degree of personal experience.

The doctrine on this subject, which seems to us to be a correct one, is this. The desire of our personal happiness, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may take a religious direction, and may operate beneficially. But it will always be found true, in point of fact, that, as we advance in religious experience, the desire of our own happiness will gradually diminish and will finally become evanescent and practically extinct, under the continually increasing influence of the desire of God' s glory.

To state it more particularly and definitely, the process seems to be this. When we first begin the search after God, we are influenced, in a considerable degree, by the consideration of personal happiness. This is a movement, which is in accordance with the principles of our mental constitution; and though exceedingly inferior in kind to that which subsequently takes place, is not in itself wrong. But as God, in condescension to our poor and imperfect manner of seeking him, gradually unveils his nature, we begin to love him and seek him for
himself. And as the divine glory from time to time reveals itself more and more, so in that proportion does the external or objective motive, viz. that of the divine glory, expand itself, and approaching inwardly, begin to occupy the whole mind; while the internal or subjective motive, viz. that of our personal happiness, contracts and recedes. In other words, just in proportion as there is an entrance of God into the soul, there is a retrocession of SELF, using the term self in a subordinate and good sense. There is thus a loss of the one, and a realization of the other; or perhaps we may say, a gradual transition of the human into the divine. The principle under consideration, therefore, is not condemned; but may rather be said to have fallen into desuetude. It is not rejected as criminal; but has become practically extinct, on the ground of having fulfilled its destiny. The higher motive of God's glory has absorbed the less. So that when a person, in the progress of inward growth, arrives at the position of a complete or perfected love, (which is the true position at which every Christian should aim, and is the true place of the soul's permanent rest,) the soul knows its happiness no more but as merged in the divine happiness; it knows its will no more but as encircled and lost in the divine will, and it may even be said, in a mitigated sense of the terms, to know itself no more, but as existent in God. "God is love. And he, that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God; and God in him."

THIRD.— But there is another view of the principle of self-love, or the natural desire of happiness, which requires our attention. We refer to that inordinate and unsanctified modification of it, which, in order to distinguish it from a properly regulated and sanctified action, is denominated SELFISHNESS. Whatever may be true of the properly regulated desire, it is certain that selfishness is morally wrong, and can never be otherwise than wrong. In a certain sense, I think we may truly say, that we find the root and centre of all moral evil in selfishness; meaning by the term here, the inordinate action of the principle of self-love. It is true, that other principles of our nature are susceptible of an inordinate action, and that such obliquity of action always implies guilt. But there seems to be ground for saying, that the inordinate action of other principles results from the inordinate action of the principle of self-love. From this strong root of evil, an influence goes out, which is not more virulent than it is pervasive; and which, by a secret insinuation of itself in every direction, at length reaches and poisons every part of the mind. Examine, for instance, the social propensity, which is a principle good in itself, and we shall find, that, stimulated by a secret influence from the pernicious root of selfishness, it will often become inordinate and evil. The same may be said of the principle of curiosity; a principle entirely innocent in itself, and very important; but which, when unrestrained by sentiments of right and. duty, becomes divergent and capricious in its applications, and insatiable in strength. I think we may reasonably assert, that every active principle of our nature, even those which are embraced under the head of the benevolent and domestic affections, and which are so amiable and beautiful when free from contamination; are liable to be perversely affected by an evil influence going out from this source.

FOURTH.— In connection with this subject, we are enabled to obtain a more precise idea, than we might otherwise possess, of what is frequently and conveniently denominated the LIFE OF NATURE. The life of nature is no other than the life of the soul, deformed, perverted, and poisoned in all its extent, in its fountain and its streams, in its root and its branches, by an influence disseminated from the inordinate action of the principle of self-love. And it is easy to see, as implied in this statement, that the love of God, which is the true corrective of this contracted and pernicious influence, is banished and shut out from the mind that is under its unholy power. It is not possible that the love of God should dwell in a heart where self-love is supreme. So that the life of nature is not only the life of self; but it is a life, which, in being filled with self, is necessarily destitute of God; and which, in seeking nothing but its own ends, overlooks all other claims, and despises that true happiness and true glory, which are found in God alone. With a life originating in a root so evil, and bearing fruits so baleful, a life which deliberately chooses human weakness and error for its basis, instead of the divine strength and wisdom, it is certain that a holy soul can have no kindred spirit of feeling and no union of effort. On the contrary, it is the part of holiness, as an active and indwelling principle in the heart, to meet it, to search it out, contend with it, destroy it. This is the great practical warfare. Having been freely justified and forgiven in the blood of Christ, Christians can do no less than clothe themselves for this battle, and contend step by step, and with divine assistance slay to its very root a life so polluted in its origin and its results, in order that they may receive, enjoy, and perfect the life of God.