For none of us lives to himself, and no man dies to himself.…
It is the excellence of our rational nature that by it we are capable of living to some known end, and of governing our lives and conduct by some rule, whereas brute creatures necessarily live and act at random, just as the present appetite influences them. Let us, then, make the most of this our prerogative by proposing to ourselves the noblest end of human life, and engaging in such a course of action as will reflect the greatest honour upon our nature, and be productive of the most lasting happiness.
I. We should, according to this apostolical maxim, by no means confine our regards to ourselves, and have our own pleasure, profit, or advantage in view in everything we undertake; but LOOK OUT OF, AND BEYOND OURSELVES, and take a generous concern in the happiness of all our brethren of mankind; make their sorrows our sorrows, their joys our joys, and their happiness our pursuit; and it is in this disinterested conduct, and in this only, that we shall find our own true happiness.
1. This disinterested conduct of man is most agreeable to the course of nature without us. The sun, the moon, the planets, and comets, are strictly connected, and combined into one system. Each body, though so exceedingly remote from the rest, is admirably adapted, by its situation, magnitude, and velocity in its orbit, to the state of the whole, in those respects and many others. This connection, probably, also extends to the remotest bodies in the universe, so that it is impossible to say that the withdrawing of any one would not in some respect or other affect all the rest. The clouds and the rain are designed to moisten the earth, and the sun to warm it, and the texture and juices of the earth are formed so as to receive the genial influences of both, in order to ripen and bring to perfection that infinite variety of plants and fruits, the seeds of which are deposited in it. Are not all plants likewise suited to the various kinds of animals which feed upon them? The various kinds of animals are, again, in a thousand ways adapted to, and formed for, the use of one another. That brute animals are excellently adapted to the use of man, and were, therefore, made to be subservient to the use of man, man will not deny. The strength of some, and the sagacity of others, are as much at our command, and are as effectually employed for our use, as if they belonged to ourselves.
2. The situation of man in this world, or the external circumstances of human nature, oblige us to assert, with Paul, that no man liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. Man himself is but a link, though the highest link, of this great chain, all the parts of which are closely connected by the hand of our Divine Author. Nay, the more extensive are our powers, either for action or enjoyment, on that very account, the more multiplied and extensive are our wants; so that, at the same time that they are marks of our superiority to, they are bonds of our connection with, and signs of our dependence upon, the various parts of the world around us, and of our subservience to one another. The rich, if they would receive the greatest advantages from society, must contribute to the happiness of it. If they act upon different maxims, and think to avail themselves of the pleasures of society without promoting the good of it, they will never know the true pleasures of society. And, in the end, they will be found to have enjoyed the least them. selves who have least contributed to the enjoyment of others. Thus it appears from a view of the external circumstances of mankind that man was not made to live to himself. The same truth may be inferred —
3. From a nearer inspection of the principles of human nature and the springs of human actions. Whence is that quick sensibility which we are conscious of with respect to both the joys and the sorrows of our fellow-creatures if their happiness or misery were a matter of indifference to us? Can we feel what is sometimes called the contagion of the passions when we find that our minds contract a kind of gloom in the company of the melancholy, and that this melancholy vanishes in company which is innocently cheerful, and question the influence of social connections? Much less can the reality or the power of the social principle be doubted when a fellow-creature in distress calls forth the most exquisite feelings of compassion, attended with instant efforts towards his relief. Doth not the sense of honour in the human breast derive all its force from the influence which social connections have over us? Of what use could it be but to beings formed for society? Lastly, of what doth devotion itself consist but the exercise of the social affections? What are the dispositions of our minds which are called forth into action in private or public prayer, but reverence for true greatness, humility, gratitude, love, and confidence in God, as the greatest and best of beings; qualities of the most admirable use and effect in social life.
II. Having given this general view of the social turn of our whole natures, whereby we are continually led out of ourselves in our pursuit of happiness, I shall now consider farther HOW ALL OUR APPETITES AND PASSIONS, which are the springs of all our actions, do, in their own nature, TEND TO LEAD US OUT OF OURSELVES, and how much our happiness depends upon our keeping their proper objects in view, and upon our minds being thereby constantly engaged upon something foreign to themselves, after which I shall show what are the fittest objects thus to engage our attention. Our benevolence, for instance, leads us immediately to relieve and oblige others. Pleasure, indeed, always attends generous actions, but the satisfaction we receive in our minds from having done kind offices to others is far less pure, and less perfectly enjoyed, if at all, when we had any private gratification in view before the action. In like manner, he who courts applause and does worthy actions solely to obtain it, can have no knowledge of the genuine pleasure arising either from the good action itself or the applause that is given to it, because he is sensible in his own mind that if those who praise his conduct were acquainted with the real motive of it they would be so far from admiring that they would despise him for it. It is chiefly an anxious solicitude about ourselves, and the appearance we shall make in the eyes of others, which is the cause of that affectation and constraint in behaviour which is so troublesome to a person's self, and so ridiculous in the eyes of others. This trifling remark, being so frequently verified, may serve to show that these sentiments are by no means merely speculative, but that they enter into the daily scenes of active life. Indeed they are in the highest sense practical, and upon them depend those maxims of conduct which contain the great secret of human happiness, and which are confirmed by every day's experience. Why are persons whose situation in life obliges them to constant labour, either of body or mind, generally more happy than those whose circumstances do not lay them under a necessity to labour? Persons thus employed have not much leisure to attend to the idea of self, and that anxiety which always attends the frequent recurring of it, whereas a person who has no object foreign to himself, which necessarily engages his attention, cannot have his faculties fully exerted, and therefore his mind cannot possibly be in that state of vigorous sensation in which happiness consists.
III. We now come to see what CONSIDERATIONS DRAWN FROM THE HOLY SCRIPTURES will further confirm and illustrate this maxim of human conduct which was first suggested by them. Nothing is more frequent with the sacred writers than to exhort men to the practice of their duty as the command of God, from a principle of love to God, of love to Christ, and of love to mankind, more especially of our fellow Christians, and from a regard to the interest of our holy religion — motives which do not at all turn the attention of our minds upon themselves. This is not borrowing the aid of self-love to strengthen the principles of benevolence and piety, but it is properly deriving additional strength to these noble dispositions, as it were, from within themselves, independent of foreign considerations.
(J. Priestley, L.L.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
WEB: For none of us lives to himself, and none dies to himself.