Universal Benevolence

September 21, 2015

44 Our effective good offices can very seldom be extended beyond our own country. But our goodwill has no boundary. It may embrace the immensity of the universe. We cannot conceive of any innocent and sensible being=

  • whose happiness we should not desire, or
  • whose misery we should not be averse to, when distinctly brought home to the imagination.

The idea of a mischievous, though sensible, being, naturally provokes our hatred. But the ill-will we bear to it in this case is really the effect of our universal benevolence. It is the effect of the sympathy we feel with the misery and resentment of those other innocent and sensible beings, whose happiness is disturbed by its malice.

45 No matter how generous this universal benevolence is, it cannot be the source of solid happiness to anyone who is not thoroughly convinced that all the universe’s inhabitants are under the immediate care of that great, benevolent, and all-wise Being. He directs all the movements of nature.

He is determined to always maintain in it the greatest possible quantity of happiness, by his own unalterable perfections. On the contrary, the very suspicion of a fatherless world, must be the most melancholy of all reflections. It is the thought that all the unknown regions of infinite and incomprehensible space may be filled with nothing but endless misery and wretchedness.

  • All the splendour of the highest prosperity can never enlighten the gloom from so dreadful an idea.
  • All the sorrow of the most afflicting adversity can never dry up the joy of the wise and virtuous man, which springs from the habitual and thorough conviction of an all-wise Being.

46 The wise and virtuous man is always willing to sacrifice his own private interest for the public interest of his own particular order or society. He is always also willing that the interest of this order or society be sacrificed to the greater interest of its state or sovereignty.

He should be equally willing to sacrifice all those inferior interests to the greater interest of the universe. It is the interest of that great society of all sensible and intelligent beings, of which God himself is the immediate administrator and director. He might be deeply impressed with the habitual and thorough conviction that this Being only admits partial evils necessary for the universal good into his government. If he does, he must consider all the misfortunes of himself, his friends, society, or country, as= necessary for the universe’s prosperity,

  • what he should submit to with resignation,
  • what he himself should sincerely and devoutly to have wished for, if he had known all the connections and dependencies of things.

47 This magnanimous resignation to the universe’s great Director is not beyond the reach of human nature.

Good soldiers, who love and trust their general, frequently march with more gaiety and alacrity to the forlorn station. They never expect to return from that station, than they would expect to return from one which had no difficulty nor danger. In marching to the non-difficult station, they could only feel that dullness of ordinary duty. In marching to the forlorn station, they feel that they are making the noblest exertion possible for man. They know that their general would not have ordered them on this station if it were unnecessary for=

  • the army’s safety, and
  • the war’s success.

They cheerfully sacrifice their own little systems to the prosperity of a greater system. They take an affectionate leave of their comrades, to whom they wish all happiness and success. They march out with submissive obedience and often with shouts of the most joyful exultation, to that fatal, but splendid and honourable station appointed to them.

No conductor of an army can deserve more unlimited trust, ardent and zealous affection, than the great Conductor of the universe.

In the greatest public and private disasters, a wise man should consider=

  • that he himself, his friends and countrymen, have only been ordered on the forlorn station of the universe,
  • that had it been unnecessary for the good of the whole, they would not have been so ordered, and
  • that it is their duty to=
    • submit to this allotment with humble resignation, and
    • to try to embrace it with alacrity and joy.

A wise man should surely be capable of doing what a good soldier holds himself ready to do at all times.

48 The idea of that divine Being is certainly by far the most sublime of all the objects of human contemplation.

That Being’s benevolence and wisdom have contrived and conducted the immense machine of the universe from all eternity, to produce the greatest possible quantity of happiness at all times. Every other thought necessarily appears mean in the comparison. The man whom we believe to be principally occupied in this sublime contemplation, seldom fails to be the object of our highest veneration.

Even if his life were altogether contemplative, we often regard him with a religious respect superior to our respect for the commonwealth’s most active and useful servant. The Meditations of Marcus Antoninus turn principally on this subject. It has contributed more, perhaps, to the general admiration of his character, than all the transactions of his just, merciful, and beneficent reign.

49 However, the administration of the universe and the care of the universal happiness of all rational and sensible beings is the business of God and not of man.

A much humbler department is allotted to man. It is one much more suitable to=

  • the weakness of his powers
  • the narrowness of his comprehension

This department is the care of the happiness of=

  • himself,
  • his family,
  • his friends, and
  • his country.

Being occupied in contemplating the more sublime department can never be an excuse for his neglecting the humbler department. He must not expose himself to the charge which Avidius Cassius is said to have brought, perhaps unjustly, against Marcus Antoninus.

The charge was that while he employed himself in philosophical speculations and contemplated the prosperity of the universe, he neglected that of the Roman empire. The most sublime speculation of the contemplative philosopher can scarce compensate the neglect of the smallest active duty.


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