This is a part 4 of 4 of some chapters out of the book by John Fletcher "The Portrait of St. Paul"
Part 1 [url=http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/newbb/viewtopic.php?topic_id=12012&forum=34]Observations upon the repentance of worldly men - Fletcher[/url]
Part 2 [url=http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/newbb/viewtopic.php?topic_id=12013&forum=34]The second point of doctrine, insisted upon by the true minister, is a living faith[/url]
Part 3 [url=http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/newbb/viewtopic.php?topic_id=12014&forum=34]The true minister goes on to announce a lively hope [/url]
The true minister preaches Christian charity.
If the evangelical pastor proclaims repentance, faith, and hope, it is with a view of leading sinners to that Christian charity which is justly esteemed the crown of every grace. In preaching repentance, he lays the axe to the root of every corrupt tree. In publishing evangelical faith, he plants the tree of life. When he proclaims the hope of the Gospel, he causes that tree to put forth a beautiful blossom. But when he preaches Christian charity, he calls for the rich fruit from every vigorous branch. And while he is engaged in performing the various parts of this important work, he denounces the anathemas of the Gospel against that repentance, faith, and hope which are superficial, unfruitful, and delusive.
The minister of the day piques himself upon preaching morality, which he is ordinarily accustomed to do in the manner of a heathen philosopher. Unacquainted with the importance and power of the doctrines of Christianity, he is ashamed to walk in the traces of St. Paul. If he is enabled to paint, with any degree of ability, the serpents of envy, the inquietudes of avarice, and the delights of charity, he imagines that he shall readily dispose his neighbors to love as brethren. He knows not that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is that alone which can make any man free from the law of sin and death, by delivering him from that envy, that avarice, that ambition, that indifference, and those worldly fears which are incompatible with evangelical charity. What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, i.e. our degenerate nature, which has need of stronger motives and more powerful supports than those which the law proposes, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that by the new motives, and the Divine assistance offered in the Gospel, the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who, being regenerate, walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, (Rom. Viii, 4).
The judicious pastor, observing the same connection between the morals and doctrines of Christianity, as between the root and fruit of a vigorous tree, is constrained incessantly to preach those important truths, which naturally give rise to the three first-mentioned graces: and he is perfectly assured, that wherever these truths are permitted to take root, he shall shortly rejoice over the inestimable fruits of Christian charity. This mode of acting is equally conformable to reason and revelation. By publishing those doctrines upon which the necessity of repentance is founded, he exterminates pride and inordinate self love, which are the greatest obstacles to charity. By preaching the doctrines of faith, he gives rise to that universal love which extends to God and man. Thus when a sinner sincerely believes that God is love, (1 John iv, 16); when, penetrated with admiration and gratitude, he can say with the apostle, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me, (Gal. ii, 20): at that moment he necessarily feels a degree of affection toward the creating Father, and the redeeming Son, whom he longs to imitate, and whom he rejoices to obey. This love is as boundless as it is ardent, and reaches to the most unworthy of his fellow creatures, enabling him, after the example of Christ, to sacrifice for his very enemies, not only outward comforts, but even life itself. Hence the Christian faith is said to work by love. Now if this lively persuasion of the unspeakable blessings which God hath already given us in Christ Jesus, is sufficient to produce in the soul a high degree of Scriptural charity, it is evident that a well-grounded hope of greater blessings still to come must necessarily serve to quicken and increase this charity. And if we are fully persuaded that our labors of love shall never be forgotten; that even a cup of cold water, imparted for the love of Christ, shall not go unrewarded; how vast an influence may such a hope be expected to exert in opening the heart to universal benevolence and in producing all the fruits of evangelical love!
Convinced that to plead for charity, without insisting upon the doctrines by which it must be supported, would be building a house without laying a solid foundation, the true minister industriously labors to explain the nature, to exhibit the motives, and represent the effects of this wondrous grace, in the clearest manner. To some, indeed, such discourses are vain; but others among his hearers are found who, ravished with the loveliness of this virtue, and constrained by those motives which the Gospel proposes, betake themselves to the exercise of it, with as much ardor as the voluptuous run to their sensual entertainments.
Darkness differs not more from light, than the charity of the faithful minister differs from that of a scribe ill instructed in the mysteries of the kingdom. The love of the good pastor rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth, (1 Cor. Xiii, 6), which frequently comes to humble human pride. On the contrary, the charity which every false apostle preaches is no more than the phantom of a virtue, consoling the heart in the midst of sin, rejoicing in a lie, and resting upon assurance altogether contrary to the word of God. To be charitable is, according to the notions of these men, to indulge a persuasion that there is much to be abated of the threatenings contained in the Gospel, and that St. Paul is far beside the truth when he declares, that no unclean or covetous person hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ, Eph. V,5). It is to believe that the Holy Spirit was too severe, when it dictated to ST. James, that he who is a friend of the world is the enemy of God, and violates his baptismal vow in as full a sense as adulterers violate the sacred vow of conjugal fidelity, (James iv, 4). It is to insinuate that Christ himself overpassed the bounds of reason when he publicly cried out, Whosoever shall say to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire, (Matt. V, 22). Judge not, saith the Redeemer, that ye be not judged, (Matt. Vii, 1). But, according to the sentiments of those erring guides, to be Divinely charitable, is to conclude from this precept that a man may even revoke the judgments of Christ himself; thus, under pretext of not judging those who are evidently walking in the road to perdition, they indirectly give judgment against the Redeemer, as bearing a false testimony. In errors like these it is that the world will needs have the greatest part of charity to consist.
The true minister attacks this false grace as an enemy to the truth of the Gospel, while he pleads for that Christ-like charity which may properly be called the sister of truth. He asserts the dignity and power of truth; holding it up to the veneration and love of those who would not willfully offend the God of truth. Let us, continues he, speaking the truth in love, grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ, (Eph. Iv, 15); and having first purified our souls in obeying the truth, let us love one another with a pure heart fervently, (1 Pet. I, 22). Between these Scriptural companions he will suffer no separation to take place; and when they are treated by the injudicious as enthusiastic and heretical, he will dare to stand forth in defense of these two confederate virtues.
Another opinion that generally prevails among the professors of Christianity is that charity consists in giving alms to the poor. And this opinion is earnestly contended for by many, although the Pharisees, who were regarded by our Lord as serpents and vipers, (Matt. Xxii, 33), through their want of unfeigned charity, were yet remarkable for their generosity in almsgiving. St. Paul manifestly opposes this erroneous notion, where he declares that it is possible for a man to give all his goods to feed the poor, and yet be destitute of charity, (1 Cor. Xiii, 3). The faithful pastor, it is true, maintains that every charitable person is constrained to assist the poor, according to his ability: but he adds that almsgiving is as uncertain a mark of charity as a constant attendance upon the sacramental table is an equivocal evidence of faith, since it is as possible to relieve the poor from weakness or vanity as to receive the holy communion through timidity or custom.
If the charity of worldly men is ever found to exceed this description, yet it will always be limited to the necessities of the body. As they know not how far the immortal spirit is superior to the perishing body, which must soon be blended in the dust of a thousand carcasses, it is not wonder that their chief concern is engrossed by the latter. The welfare of their own souls is attended to with a very small degree of solicitude: and while this is the case, it cannot be imagined that they should manifest any extraordinary degree of affection toward the souls of their neighbors. They behold without sorrow those deluded partisans, who make war upon each other for the sake of their particular errors. They can even gaze, without pity, upon those upon those obdurate souls who are desperately plunging from one abyss of sin to another. How different were the feelings of David, when, like a true penitent, he not only wept for his own offences, but shed torrents of tears for those who transgressed the law of God, (Psalm cxix, 136). And how contrary was the character of St. Paul, who went through a kind of spiritual travail till the degenerate were born again, (Gal. iv, 19). In like manner the primitive Christians exposed themselves to imminent dangers, that they might give proofs of the most exalted charity, by snatching souls from sin and death. And when they were not able to affect this by their external labors, they then wrestled in their closest, with secret prayers and tears, for the conversion of the ungodly. Where there is no desire after the salvation of others, there Christian charity is unknown. For while a man disregards the soul of his neighbor, all the interest he takes in his temporal affairs can manifest no more than the charity of a disciple of Epicurus, which is as far below the charity of Christs disciples as materialism is inferior to Christianity.
In opposition to all the erroneous notions, which too generally prevail upon this important subject, the ministry of the New Testament teaches that evangelical charity is the image of God. And that eternal and infinite charity is nothing less than God himself. One apostle declares that God is love; and another assures us that we are called to be made partakers of the Divine nature, (2 Pet. I, 4); whence the sacred preacher infers that the new creature, of which St. Paul makes mention, (2 Cor. V, 17), must necessarily consist in charity. When a Christian is filled with charity, he is then regenerate and born of God. Christ is then formed in his heart, the Holy Spirit rests upon him, and he is filled with all the fullness of God, (Eph. Iii, 16, 19). He keeps the first commandment of the law by making a full surrender of his heart to God, from a consciousness that he is in himself the sovereign Good; but he chiefly loves him in the person of Christ, through whom the Father is pleased peculiarly to shine forth as a God of love. In a secondary sense, he loves the works of God in all their wonderful variety, as they shadow forth his matchless perfections, and place them within the reach of mans understanding. And his esteem for these admirable productions is in proportion to the nearer or more distant relation in which they stand to that eternal Wisdom which formed them all. Guided by this principle, he loves all mankind with an extraordinary degree of affection. The soul of man is peculiarly dear to him, because created in the image of God, and redeemed with the blood of his beloved Son: while, as the organized vehicle of the soul, he admires and loves the perishable body. As the souls of the poor and the rich are equally immortal, he is never meanly prejudiced in favor of the latter; but, on the contrary, is ever ready to prefer a poor and pious beggar, before a sensual and supercilious noble. Thus the true Christian cherishes the faithful, not only for love of the Creator and Redeemer, but also for love of the sanctifying Spirit, unto whom their souls are consecrated as living altars, and their bodies as hallowed temples, (1 Cor. Vi, 19, 20). From this Divine charity good works of every kind proceed, as from an inexhaustible fountain; a fountain which is making, as it were, continual efforts to enrich the barren soil around it. But, where this is wanting, all external appearances are without any real value. The lavish giver loses his worth before pious men, and the zealous martyr his reward before a righteous God.
Uniting in his own heart the love of God with the love of his neighbor, the true minister anxiously endeavors to demonstrate the folly of those who seek to separate these kindred virtues. He maintains that charity without piety is but a mere natural virtue, which discovers itself as frequently in the brute creation, as among unregenerate men. Thus, the swallow and the bat are careful of their youngthe beaver and the ant are observed to labor for the respective societies of which they are individuals, and the she bear is ready to meet death in defense of her cubs. On this account, the good pastor furnishes his flock with those exalted motives to Christian love, which, by imparting an evangelical principle to mutual charity, ennobles it in man, and renders it Divine.
As charity, without piety, is no more than a natural virtue, and may be the effect of Pharisaical or diabolical pride, so devotion, without brotherly love, is to be considered as a species of hypocrisy. This our Lord himself teaches in the following passage: If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift, which would otherwise be rejected, as an abomination by the God of love, (Matt. V, 23, 24). True charity embraces all men, because, being made of one blood, they compose but one vast family, of which God himself is the great Parent. And here our Lord permits us not to except even our most cruel enemy. Ye have heard, saith he, that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and, manifesting a concern for their souls, as well as an attention to their person, pray for them that despitefully use and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven. For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, (Mat.. v, 43-45).
Charity consists of two parts, patience and benevolence. By the one, we suffer every kind of indignity, without entertaining a thought of revenge; and by the other, we heap upon our enemies unsolicited favors. Our adorable Master, whose conduct has furnished us with examples of the most perfect charity, discovers to us the extent of this virtue, in the following passages: The world hath hated both me and my Father, (John xv, 24); nevertheless, God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life, (John iii, 16). It hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; and the time is coming, when it shall be said, A thrust with a sword for an abusive word; a pistol shot for a satirical expression. But I say unto you, Resist not, according to the maxims of those by whom you are evil entreated; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also: that is, suffer two insults rather than revenge one. Follow the same rule likewise with respect to your worldly substance, and if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also: that is, far from exacting with rigor, be ready to remit much of thy right, for the maintenance of peace; since it is better to suffer a double injustice that to lack condescension and charity. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain: that is, merely yielding to others in things that are good, or indifferent, is not enough; thy charity should rather prevent and surprise them with unexpected acts of civility and kindness. From these expressions it appears that our Lord would have his disciples to possess a charity not only extraordinary in some degree, but altogether Divine. In point of quality, he requires that it should be equal to the inexpressible love of the Father; as a drop taken from the ocean is of the same nature with those mighty waves that roll over the unfathomable deep. If ye love them, saith he, that love you, what reward have you? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, [in charity], even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect, (Matt. V).
Faith, unspeakably excellent as it is, would be void of any real worth, unless it produced this happy disposition. In Christ, saith the apostle, the whole body, [of the faithful], fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in love, (Eph. Iv, 15, 16). In Jesus Christ, neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith, which worketh by love, (Gal. v, 6). And though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing, (1 Cor. Xiii, 4). This celestial grace runs through the whole circle of Christian virtues. Thus, when St. Paul enumerates the fruits or effects of the Spirit, he points to charity, as the foremost of the train. And when St. Peter recounts the virtues which a Christian should add to his faith, he concludes with the finishing graces of brotherly kindness and charity, (Gal. v, 22; 2 Pet. I, 7). Both these ideas are afterward united by the great apostle, where he exhorts the Colossians to put on charity, as that bond of perfectness, (Col. Iii, 14), without which the Christian character would be incomplete, and which may be said to include all the graces of the Spirit, as a thousand ears of corn are united in the same sheaf, by one common band.
It was with these sublime views of charity, that St. Paul thus addressed his converts. By love serve one another; for all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, (Gal. v, 13, 14). Owe no man anything, but to love one another, for he that loveth another, [in obedience to Christs command], hath fulfilled the law, (Rom. Xiii, 8). Charity never faileth; inasmuch as it is the source of heavenly joy. Now, [in the Church militant], abide faith, hope, and charity; but the greatest of these is charity, which shall certainly animate the Church triumphant, (1 Cor. Xiii, 8, 13).
Even here on earth it is counted as the beginning of eternal life to know, by faith, that God is love, and that he seeks to gain our affections by blessings without number, (John xvii, 3). A discovery of this kind cannot but give rise to some grateful return in the soul; since it is impossible firmly to believe these ravishing truths, without crying out like the first Christian, We love him, because he first loved us, (1 John iv, 19). If God has mercifully made the first advances toward his rebellious creatures, if notwithstanding the distance between him and us be infinite, and the obstacles to our union innumerable, he yet graciously presents himself, in spite of all, within our reach; if he yet inclines to pardon the guilty, and endeavors to reconcile the world unto himself by Jesus Christ, (2 Cor. V, 18), what conscious heart can be unaffected with these tokens of his love, or what tongue can be silent in his praise?
This God of charity thus affectionately addressed an ancient class of his servants: I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore, with loving kindness have I drawn thee, (Jer. Xxxi, 3). The favor here expressed toward the Jewish Church is great: but that which is testified by the same adorable Jehovah to the Christian Church is still more astonishing. His Son, the living and eternal image of his Father, humbles himself to the dust, and invests himself with our nature, that raising us from our low estate, he may at length place us at the right hand of the majesty on high. He loved the Church, saith St. Paul, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it, and that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, (Eph. V, 25, 27). Thus he has given to believers an example of the love which they ought to entertain for all their Christian brethren, and to husbands a pattern of the attachment they should feel to their wives; since he left the bosom of his Father for the very purpose of suffering with and for his Church, which, in the language of Scripture, is called his spouse, (Rev. xix, 7). But, adds the apostle, this is a great mystery, (Eph. V, 32). Now the true minister is happily initiated into this grand mystery of charity. HE can say, with Peter, Lord! Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. He can testify, with Paul, The love of Christ constraineth for utterance, tears of gratitude and joy silently cry out, like those of dissolving Mary, Lord, thou art worthy of all my love, since thou hast graciously pardoned all my sin. Animated with this love, he publicly insists upon universal charity, with all the ardor of St. John, testifying that it flows from the knowledge of God, and must be considered as the root of Christian obedience. Hereby, saith he, Perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. My little children, let us not love inward, neither in tongue; but [according to the example of Christ] in deed and in truth, (1 John iii, 16-18). For, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another, and remember, he that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love, (1 John iv, 11, 8).
Although Christ evidently came to break down the wall of separation between the Jews and Gentiles, by preaching the doctrine of universal charity; yet he willed that believers should love one another with a peculiar degree of affection. We are required to meet the unregenerate with a love of benevolence; but believers should be bound to each other by ties so tender and powerful, that the world may acknowledge them to be men of one heart and one soul. By this, saith our Lord, shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another, (John xiii, 35). And who can describe the generosity, the sweetness, the strength, and the constancy, of this enlivening grace? It is more active than the penetrating flame; it is stronger than death. The communion of saints is received among Christians as a sentence in their established creed. Happy would it be did it constitute a part of their religious experience! As to the difference between Christian charity and that which was required under the law, it seems to be satisfactorily pointed out by St. John in the following passage: Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment, which ye had from the beginning: for Moses himself earnestly exhorted his people to maintain among themselves the holy fire of fraternal love. Again, a new commandment I write unto you, (1 John ii, 7, 8); new, in relation to Christ, who hath loved us not only as himself, but even more than himself: since he offered up his life a ransom for the rebellious. Moses tasted not of death for Pharaoh, as Jesus did for Pilate, Herod, and
Caiaphas. The Christian Legislator alone requires a charity of this perfectly disinterested nature; and for the support of so exalted a precept, he has seconded it with his own great example. Herein is love, continues the apostle, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Love, then, is undoubtedly of God; flowing from him, as from an inexhaustible spring; and he that loveth [after the same pure and fervent manner] is born of God, and knoweth God, (1 John iv, 7, 11).
This charity is set forth by St. Paul as a source of consolation. If, saith he to the Philippians, there be any comfort in love, be ye likeminded, having the same love [one to another]; and let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, (Phil. Ii, 1, 6). And, in another epistle he cries out, I have a great conflict for them at Laodicea, that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, (Col. Ii, 1, 2).
1. Charity may be considered as a spring of comfort, because it frees us from the fear of death, and delivers us from a thousand other terrors, which trouble the peace of worldly men. There is no fear in love; but perfect love, hoping all things, casteth out fear; because fear hath torment. He therefore that feareth is not made perfect in love, (1 John iv, 18).
2. Charity is consoling, because it assists and encourages us in the discharge of our several duties. When we glow with affection to God and our neighbor, works of piety and charity are performed not only without pain, but with heartfelt sensations of secret delight. This is the love of God, that we keep his commandment; and to those who sincerely love him, His commandments are not grievous, (1 John v, 3). Thus a tender mother loses her repose without repining, that she may tend to the wants of her restless infant; thus an affectionate father labors with pleasure for the support and education of his children; and thus, with every testimony of joy, the primitive Christians relieved and supported one another. The admirable effects produced by this unfeigned love are described by St. Luke in the following terms: The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul; neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but [losing sight of every self-interesting view] they had all things common, (Acts iv, 32).
Here we behold that eminently accomplished by Christ which was anciently prefigured unto Moses in the desert, when the manna was so equally distributed among the people, that he who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack, (Exod. Xvi, 18).
Happy were these fleeting days of Christian fellowship! Days that had long been promised by God, and of which a foretaste had been given in the land of Canaan, when it was ordained that, during the year of Jubilee, the poor should be permitted to share the comforts of their richer neighbors. It must be allowed, that a multitude of insincere professors ever spreading the Church in these melancholy times will not permit this method to be generally adopted among us, which would nevertheless be entirely practicable in a country inhabited by the affectionate followers of Jesus. But at the same time, it is no less true that every individual who is possessed of real charity, is still treading in the steps of his elder brethren, and waiting only the return of favorable times to prove that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, (Heb. Xiii, 8), and that unfeigned charity, in the same circumstances, will ever produce the same effect.
It is impossible too highly to exalt this charity, which springs from a grateful sense of the redemption that is in Jesus. He who is unacquainted with this grace is a stranger to every real virtue, and utterly destitute of that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord, (Heb. Xii, 14). Hence we find the Apostle Paul so frequently connecting holiness with love; or rather, pressing the latter as the ground of the former. God, saith he, hath chosen us in Christ, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love, (Eph. I, 3, 4). Let Christ dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend, with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God, (Eph. Iii, 17, 18). The Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men; to the end that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before God, (1 Thess. Iii, 12, 13).
Knowledge [alone] puffeth up, but charity [added to knowledge] edifieth, (1 Cor. Vii, 1), and conducts the soul from grace to grace, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, (Eph. Iv, 13). Happy they who have attained to this high degree of spirituality, from which, with a look of pure beneficence, they can smile on all around them! Such may join the first professors of Christianity, and say, We have known and believed the love that God hath to us, and, penetrated with a deep sense of his affection, we declare, from happy experience, that God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God and God in him, (1 John iv, 16). The love of these persevering disciples may, in a Scriptural sense, he terms perfect; since it enables them to bear a just, though faint resemblance to the God of love, (1 John iv, 17). Their hearts are as replete with charity as sparks are filled with fire; and doubtless the smallest spark may be said to shine with a degree of perfection, in its little sphere, as well as the brighter sun in his more boundless course.
St. Paul, who preached this charity with so much fervency, declares that it was kindled in his heart by the love of Christ; and upon this account he labors to found it upon those doctrines which are universally despised by every class of Deists. In his Epistle to the Romans, which contains sixteen chapters, he employs eleven in laying this solid foundation, while the duties of charity are declared only in the five remaining chapters. Like a wise master-builder, before he attempts to raise this sacred edifice, he endeavors to remove out of the way the ruins of corrupted nature and the rubbish of self-love. But had he endeavored to do this without calling in to his aid the doctrines of the Gospel, he would have acted as ridiculously as Archimedes, had that philosopher attempted the removal of the earth without having first secured a solid footing suited to his purpose.
The most powerful motives employed by this apostle in urging us to the practice of Christian charity, are the love of God and the compassion of Christ. God, saith he, commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, (Rom. V, 8); and, ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye, through his poverty, might become rich, (2 Cor. Viii, 9). Now, whoever is sensible for the power, and tastes the sweetness, of these two grand truths, feels himself at the same time carried to every good work, in the same manner as the miser is led to those actions which serve to increase his hoard. For, being saved by grace, through faith, in these very truths, we are created by Christ Jesus unto good works, (Eph. Ii, 8, 10). Who gave himself for us, on this sole account, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works, (Tit. Ii, 14). The consolatory doctrine of a gratuitous pardon offered to sinners as a token of Gods unfathomable love is another motive frequently made us of to the like purpose. Put on, continues the same apostle, as the elect of God, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye, (Col. Iii, 12, 13). Above all things, have fervent charity among yourselves; for charity shall cover the multitude of sins, (1 Pet. Iv, 8). Yes, it not only covers the sins of others, by considering their doubtful actions in the most favorable point of view, and by overlooking the most unpardonable of their failings; but may, in some measure, be said to cover our own offences, since God, for Christs sake, has promised to overlook our transgressions, as we give proof of a forgiving temper toward our brethren. Discord entered into the world by sin. Hence we see unregenerate men not only separated from God, but divided among themselves: and hence, by the rebellion of his growing passions against his enfeebled reason, every unrighteous man is at war with himself. Dreadful as these evils are, we are here presented with a perfect remedy for them all. He who created man upright, has sent his Son to re-establish harmony in the world, to reduce our passions under the dominion of universal benevolence, to subject our reason to the authority of truth, and to subdue the whole man under the sweet yoke of charity manifested in the flesh; that charity which is destined to reign forever, and whose happy empire is called the kingdom of heaven. The Father of glory, says St. Paul, hath put all things under the feet of Christ, and hath given him to be the head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all, (Eph. I, 17, 23). Ye, who sometimes were far off, are now made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace between Jews and Gentiles, between man and man, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us, that he might reconcile both unto God in one body, by the cross, having slain the enmity by that perfect charity of which he gave so many wonderful proofs. Now therefore, we, who are actuated by the same spirit of love, are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God: and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. In whom the whole building, fitly framed together, growth unto a holy temple in the Lord: in whom also ye are builded together for a habitation of God, through the Spirit of charity, (Eph. Ii, 13, 22).
The minister who feels the force of these constraining motives, cannot fail to place them continually before his hearers. The various parts of his public discourses as naturally incline to this grand point, as the several parts of a solid edifice mutually rest upon the common foundation. There is one body, saith he with the apostle, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling: one Lord, one God, and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all, (Eph. Iv, 4, 6). As we have many members in one body, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Let love be, therefore, without dissimulation: be kindly affectioned one to another, with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another. Rejoice with them that do rejoice; and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath. If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink. Be not overcome of evil; but overcome evil with good, (Rom. Xii, 4, 21). In a word, let all things be done with charity, (1 Cor. Xvi, 14).
To conclude. The evangelical pastor points out the excellence of charity, and urges every motive that can lead to the practice of it, till worldly men are constrained to cry out, with all the admiration of the ancient heathens, See how these Christians love one another! Lucian, indeed, could look with ridicule upon the zeal with which the primitive Christians succored one another: For, says he, their legislator has made them believe that they are all brethren; and hence they have all things common among them, despising even death itself, through the hope of immortality. The good pastor, however, is anxious to do that which this heathen writer was impious enough to censure in Christ. He admonishes believers to address the Almighty as their common parent, (Luke xi, 2); conscious that so soon as they receive power to cry, Abba, that is, Father, by the Holy Spirit, they will necessarily forget every scrupulous distinction between mine and thine, and put up, with unfeigned sincerity, that universal prayer, Give us this day our daily bread. This petition is commonly used by every member of our degenerate Church, while their hearts are comparatively insensible to the wants of their necessitous brethren. But were the love of ancient days to revive among us, we should not only solicit common blessings from above, but rejoice to share them with each other, as brethren partake of a repast provided for them at the table of their common parent.
Happy days! When the Gospel of Christ was seen to flourish in the earth. Surely that sacred season might, with propriety, be termed the golden age of the Church. O that we could recall the felicity we have forfeited, and see the joys of unanimity restored to a distracted world. But while we give vent to our lamentations, let us not sink into despair, since, however deplorable our present circumstances may be, they are not totally remediless. Though for so many ages, self love has usurped the throne of charity: though mankind are prone to injure one another, in their reputation by slander; in their property by injustice; and in their persons by murder, whether perpetrated in the character of an assassin, or that of a duelist; though wars are fomented on the slightest pretences, and Christian princes appear eager to wash their hands in the blood of thousands; though all the earth is full of darkness and cruel habitations, (Psalm lxxiv, 21), yet will we not give up our hope. These unhappy times were foretold by our gracious Master, (Matt. Xxiv, 12). And as he had prescience enough to predict the decays of Christian love, and the calamities consequent thereupon; so he is possessed of sufficient power to re-establish the empire of charity in the world. Believers, then, amidst all their affections, may patiently and confidently expect those times of refreshing which shall assuredly come from the presence of the Lord; looking forward to that promised restitution of all things, concerning which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began, (Acts iii, 19, 21). In the meanwhile, let those who are hastening, by their prayers, this desirable revolution, be careful to preserve in their own hearts those sparks of charity which shall one day kindle the universe into a sacred flame. And let the ministers of the Gospel make a constant display of those evangelical truths which were formerly sufficient to light up this glorious fire; that, by stirring up the dying members of grace, the little light, which still remains in the Church, may be preserved from total extinction.
Should it be here objectedAre not all the ministers of our Church to be considered as preachers of Christian charity? We answer, By no means. The charity, concerning which we speak, must flow from a union with Christ; a union which ministers of the present day are accustomed to treat as enthusiastic and vain. This excellent grace is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us, (Rom. V, 5). But he who dares openly to plead for this Scriptural truth, is esteemed by such preachers no better than a deluded fanatic. These insincere preachers are frequently heard, indeed, to speak of Christian charity, but far from endeavoring to spread it through the world, they use every effort to destroy the very seeds of this grace in the Church of God. If, in a parish that is unhappy enough to have a pastor of this kind, a few persons are happily converted to God, and united together in Jesus Christ; if, having one heart, and one soul, they frequently join together in prayer and in praise, mutually exhorting and provoking one another to love and good works; the worldly minister, instantly alarmed, imagines that these persons, for the sake of forming a new sect, are destroying the unity of the Church; when, on the contrary, they are but just about to experience the communion of saints. And, if he be possessed of zeal, or party spirit, he will labor to make it appear that these Christians, who are beginning to love as brethren, are forming conventicles to disturb the order both of Church and state. Such a minister will give encouragement to companies of jugglers, dancers, and drunkards, rather than tolerate a society which has Christian charity for its object and basis.