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neighbour as ourselves, is the direct contrary of selfishness.
Believing that the perfection of virtue lies in disinterested love, it follows, that the nearer we approach to this state of mind, the nearer we come to sinless moral excellence. This is the temper of the innumerable company of angels-of the spirits of just men made perfect. It has been argued, that we take delight in the happiness of others, because their happiness increases our own but the circumstance of our happiness being increased by promoting theirs, is itself a convincing proof of the existence and exercise of an antecedent good will towards them. Our felicity is raised by theirs. Why?-because we love them. Why am I made unhappy by the sight of another's woe ?—because I have good will to the subject of distress. It is true I am gratified by relieving him, and my comfort would be disturbed if I did not; but what is the origin of these feelings? -certainly a previous good will towards them. It is not affirmed, that all pity proceeds from holy love; but that where love does exist, and in the proportion in which it exists, it is disinterested and is distinguished from selfishness. It may be proper here to distinguish between self-love and selfishness; not that they are essentially different, but only in the use of the terms as they are employed in common dis
By selfishness, we mean such a regard to our own things, as is inconsistent with, and destructive of, a right regard to the things of others: whereas by selflove, we mean nothing more than that attention to our own affairs which we owe to ourselves, as part
of universal being. Selfishness means the neglect or injury of others, in order to concentrate our views, and desires, and pursuits in ourselves; while self-love means only that proper and due regard to our own interests which we may pay, without the neglect or injury of our neighbour.
Self-love, when exercised in connexion with, and subordinate to, good will to mankind, as it may be, is not only consistent with virtue, but is a part of it; but when not thus connected, it degenerates into selfishness.
Selfishness leads men to seek their own interests in opposition to the interests of others. Multitudes care not whom they oppress, so as they can establish their own power; whom they vilify and degrade, so as they can increase their own fame; whom they impoverish, so as they can accumulate their own wealth; whom they distress, so as they can augment their own comforts. This is the worst and most cruel operation of selfishness. It is the same propensity, only sharpened, and guided, and rendered the more mischievous, by the aid of reason, as that which exists in the vulture and the tiger, and which gorges itself to repletion, deaf to the piercing cries of the hapless victim which struggles in its talons.
Intent only on gratification, it riots amidst misery, if by this means it can aggrandize itself. Looking on the possessions of those around only with an envious eye, it is solicitous that they may be appropriated in some way to itself. This is a horrible and truly infernal disposition; for it would reign with a kind of universal despotism, would subdue all
into vassalage, and suffer nothing to exist, but what was tributary to its own comfort.
Selfishness sometimes causes its subjects only to neglect the things of others. They do not oppress, or injure, or despoil; they are neither robbers nor calumniators: but they are so engrossed by self-interest, and so absorbed in self-gratification, as to be utterly regardless of the miseries or comfort of which they cannot but be the spectators. They have no sympathies, no benevolent sensibilities; they have cut themselves off from their species, and care nothing for the happiness of any of their neighbours. Their highest boast and attainment in virtue is, to wrong none: their idea of excellence is purely of a negative kind; to dispel sorrow, to relieve want, to diffuse gladness, especially to make sacrifices; to do this, is an effort which they have never tried, and which they have no inclination to try. The world might perish, if the desolation did not reach them. Miserable and guilty creatures, they forget that they will be punished for not doing good, as well as for doing evil. The unprofitable servant was condemned; and the wicked are represented, at the last day, as doomed to hell, not for inflicting sorrow, but for not relieving it.
A man is guilty of selfishness, if he seeks his own things out of all proportion to the regard he pays to the things of others.
If, from a regard to our reputation, we cannot live in the total neglect of those around us, and, in deference either to public opinion, or to the remonstrances of our consciences, we are compelled to yield something to the claims of the public; yet, at
the same time, our concessions may be so measured in quantity, and made with such reluctance and ill will, that our predominant selfishness may be as clearly manifested by what we give, as by what we withhold. That which we call our liberality, manifests, in this case, our avarice; that which we denominate generosity, demonstrates our sinful self-love.
Selfishness sometimes seeks its own, under the pretence and profession of promoting the happiness of others. Where the ruling passion of the heart is the love of applause, large sacrifices of wealth, and time, and ease, and feeling, will be readily made for fame; and where men have objects to gain, which require kindness, conciliation, and attention, nothing in this way is too much to be done, to accomplish their purpose. This is a disgusting operation of this very disgusting temper, when all its seeming good will is but an efflux of kindness, which is to flow back again, in full tide, into the receptacle of self. Many are the detestable traders, whose geneosity is only a barter for something in return. How much of the seeming goodness of human nature, of the sympathy with human woe, of the pity for want, of the anxiety for the comfort of wretchedness, which passes current for virtue among mankind, is nothing better than a counterfeit imitation of benevolence,-is known only to that God whose omniscient eye traces the secret workings of our depravity through all the labyrinths of a deceitful heart.
But notice now the subjects, in reference to which selfishness is indulged.
Property is the first. It shows itself in an
anxiety to obtain wealth, and an unwillingness to part with it; a disposition greedy as the sea, and barren as the shore. You will see some men so excessively eager to get profit, that they are ever watching to take undue advantage, and so keeneyed in looking after their own, that they need be closely inspected, to prevent them from taking more than their own: for a man who is prevailingly selfish, can hardly be honest. And what they gain, they keep: neither the cause of humanity, nor of religion, can extort a guinea from them, except now and then, to get rid of an importunate suitor, or to prevent their reputation from being utterly ruined.
It is sometimes exercised in reference to opinion. Some will not bear contradiction; they must be listened to as sages: to question what they say is to insult them, and is sure to bring down upon the presumptuous sceptic their contempt or their frown. They will scarcely allow any one to speak but themselves; they must be the oracle of every company and the director of every affair, or they retire in disgust, and refuse to act at all. In the concerns of our churches, this is often seen and felt. What is it but pure selfishness, that leads any one to wish that he should dictate to the rest; that his opinion should be law; and his wishes be consulted and obeyed? This is not love: no; love gives up her own, where conscience does not interfere to forbid it, and meekly and quietly resigns its wishes to increase peace and promote harmony: its object is the public good, and its law is, the best means of promoting the general welfare. If in the intercourse of life, or the affairs of a church, every individual determined to consult