|Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly; seeketh not her own; is not easily provoked; thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.| -- 1 Cor.13:4-7.
MY DEAR SISTER:
Although I have often alluded, in the course of these letters, to the work of the Holy Spirit, and his blessed fruit in the heart and life, yet so deeply do I feel impressed with the excellency and amiable sweetness of the grace of Charity, that I feel constrained to commend it to your notice in a separate letter. Charity is the queen of the graces, excelling even faith and hope, and enduring when all those gifts which add brilliancy to the character shall cease their attractions; and, though you may not possess great personal charms, superior accomplishments, or great powers of mind, yet if you do but |put on charity,| you will, like the blessed Saviour, |grow in favor both with God and man.|
The apostle calls charity the |bond of perfectness;| alluding to the girdle of the Orientals, which was not only ornamental and expensive, but was put on last, serving to adjust the other parts of the dress, and keep the whole together. It is a bond which holds all the Christian graces in harmonious union, and, by keeping them together, secures a permanent completeness and consistency of character. Without the girdle, the flowing robes of Oriental dress would present a sad appearance; hardly serving the purposes of decency. So the apostle concludes that the most brilliant gifts and heroic actions are all nothing without charity.
Charity, however, is not to be understood in the popular sense of almsgiving. It is the same word which is elsewhere rendered love. It means a benevolent disposition of heart -- love to God and good will to man, diffused through the whole character and conduct. But the description of charity given by the apostle relates chiefly to its manifestations in our intercourse with our fellow-men. My principal object in this letter will be to apply this description so as to discover negatively what conduct is inconsistent with charity, and positively the effect of charity on the human character.
I. Charity suffereth long. It will endure ill-treatment, and prefer suffering to strife. It will not resent the first encroachments, but patiently bear with injuries as long as they can be borne. If charity reigns in your heart, you will consider how many and aggravated are your offences against God, and yet that his long-suffering bears with your perverseness, and he is daily loading you with benefits; and shall you be impatient of the slightest offences from a fellow worm? Consider also how liable you are to encroach upon the rights of others, and to try their patience by your infirmities. Do not, therefore, be hasty in the indulgence of hard thoughts of others, nor impatient of their faults and infirmities. How much contention and strife might be avoided by a little forbearance! and who is there so perfect as not sometimes to need it to be extended toward himself? The ills of social life are greatly mitigated by the exercise of mutual forbearance; and they find no place under the sweet reign of charity.
II. But charity not only suffereth long, but is kind. |It is benign, bountiful, courteous, and obliging.| But why did the apostle couple these two dispositions together? |Charity suffereth long, AND IS KIND.| Evidently, because long-suffering without kindness would be unavailing. If you bear with the injuries or supposed offences of another, and yet suffer your mind to be soured, and your kind offices remitted, the wound will corrode and inflame, till it breaks out with tenfold violence. But benignity of temper, and the constant practice of friendly offices and benevolent actions, will disarm ill-nature, and bring the offender to see the folly of his conduct. |A soft answer turneth away wrath; and the kind treatment of an enemy will pour coals of fire on his head.| What can be more lovely than a kind and obliging disposition, which delights in occasions and opportunities of contributing to the comfort and happiness of others! This disposition adorns with peculiar grace the female character. Solomon, describing a virtuous woman, says, |In her tongue is the law of kindness.| If you cultivate this disposition at all times, and in all places, your presence will add a charm to every circle; you will honor your Master; and your ability to advance his cause will be greatly enhanced. In your efforts to do good, with the law of kindness in your lips, you can penetrate where, without it, you could gain no admittance; and in your expostulations with the impenitent, you can reach the heart, by the exhibition of a kind and tender spirit, where otherwise you would be repulsed like the seven sons of Seeva, who presumptuously attempted, in imitation of Paul, to cast out devils in the name of Jesus. Especially is this disposition requisite in a Sabbath-school teacher. Without it, he can accomplish very little. Children cannot be won without kindness. If, then, you would be successful in this enterprise of love, cultivate a tender regard for the |little lambs,| and be kind to them whenever you meet them. Never see a child in trouble without relieving him; or, if you can do no more, show your sympathy for his sufferings by such kind offices as are within your power.
III. Charity envieth not. It is not grieved but gratified to see others more prosperous and wealthy, more intelligent and refined, or more holy. The extension of holiness and happiness is an object of rejoicing to the benevolent mind, without regard to himself.
There are some persons who are always complaining of the rich, and fretting about the aristocratic spirit of those whose rank and station, education or mental endowments, place them in any respect above themselves. This is a sure indication of an envious disposition. There may be, in these respects, some ground of complaint; but place these persons in the situation of those of whom they complain, and where the latter are proud, the former would probably be aristocratic; and where these are aristocratic, those would be tyrannical.
An envious disposition argues, 1. A want of self-respect. If we respect ourselves, we shall not desire the factitious importance arising from wealth so much as to grieve that others have more of it than ourselves; nor shall we be willing to concede so much merit to the possession of wealth as to suspect those who have it of esteeming us the less because we have it not.2. It argues a want of benevolence. The truly benevolent mind desires the increase of rational enjoyment, and will therefore rejoice in the happiness of others, without respect to his own.3. It argues a want of magnanimity. The truly great will rejoice in the intellectual and moral elevation of others, as adding so much to the sum of human excellence. But the envious person cannot bear to see any other one elevated above himself. This is the spirit that brought Haman to the gallows, and Satan from the seat of an archangel to the throne of devils.4. It argues a narrow, selfish spirit -- a little and mean mind. The law of God requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and reason sanctions the requisition. But, the envious person will hate his neighbor, because he is not permitted to love him less than himself.
If you regard your own happiness, I conjure you to suppress the first motions of this vile and hateful temper; for, while indulged, it will give you no peace. Its envenomed darts will rankle and corrode in your bosom, and poison all your enjoyments. It is a disposition which can never be satisfied so long as there is a superior being in the universe. It is aimed ultimately at the throne of God; and the envious person can never be happy while God reigns. The effects of this disposition upon human character and happiness are strikingly illustrated in the story of Haman, which I commend to your serious attention. Cultivate, then, the habit of being pleased and gratified with the happiness and prosperity of others; and constantly seek the grace of God to enable you to exercise benevolent feelings toward all, but especially those who are elevated in any respect above you.
IV. Charity vaunteth not itself, (or, as in the margin,) is not rash -- is not puffed up. |It does not act precipitately, inconsiderately, rashly, thoughtlessly.| Some people mistake a rash and heedless spirit for genuine zeal; and this puffs them up with pride and vain-glory, and sets them to railing at their betters in age, experience, or wisdom, because they will not fall into their views and measures. There is scarcely any trait of character more unlovely, especially in a young person, than self-conceit. If the youth who is puffed up with a sense of his own consequence could but see the mingled emotions of pity and disgust which his conduct excites in the bosom of age and wisdom, he would be filled with confusion and shame.
You will hear such persons prating much of independence of mind. They have respect to the opinions of the ancients? Not they! They think for themselves; and form their own opinions without respect to what others have thought, and said, and written. They would scorn to consult a commentary to assist them in determining a difficult passage of Scripture, or the writings of a learned divine, to help them out of a theological difficulty. That would be subjecting their minds to the influence of prejudice, or betraying a want of confidence in their own infallible powers! -- which is the last idea they would think of entertaining. The long-cherished opinions of great, and wise, and good men, are disposed of with a sneer. They be influenced by great names? Not they!
You will hear them delivering their opinions, pragmatically, and with strong assurance, on points of great difficulty, which good men of the greatest learning and ability have approached with diffidence; and boldly advancing ideas which they suppose to have originated in the depths of their own recondite minds, which they afterwards learn, with chagrin, are but some old, cast-off, crude theories or speculations, which had been a hundred times advanced, and as many times refuted, before they were born. But the matter appears so plain to them that they cannot imagine how any honest mind can come to any other conclusion. Hence, they are ready to doubt the piety of all who differ with them, if not to assume the office of judge, and charge them with insincerity or hypocrisy. Whereas, in truth, their strong confidence in their opinions arises from having examined the subject partially and superficially, and overlooked the objections and difficulties which readily occur to a well-balanced and discriminating mind.
I would not, however, be understood to recommend implicit submission to the judgment and opinions even of the greatest or even the best of men. This is Popery. The mind must be convinced before it yields assent to any position. But it would be the height of self-conceited arrogance for any person, but especially for a youth, to presume himself too wise to gain instruction from the writings of men who have devoted their lives to the investigation of truth; or summarily to set aside, as unworthy of his attention, opinions which have been embraced by the greatest and best of men for successive generations. Nor does it argue any uncommon independence of mind; for, you will generally find such persons arranged under the banner of some one of the various schools of theology, morals, philosophy, or politics, and following on with ardor the devious course of their leader receiving whatever falls from his lips as the voice of an oracle, and running with enthusiasm into all his extravagances. Like the vane upon the spire, that lifts up itself with proud eminence to the clouds, they are ready to be carried about by every wind of doctrine. Whereas true independence of mind consists in weighing evidence and argument impartially, and forming a decision independent of prejudice, party feeling, pride of opinion, or self-will; and, when coupled with humility, it will always rejoice to receive instruction from any source. The person who knows himself will be deeply humbled under a sense of his own weakness and ignorance, and will advance his opinions with modesty, while he treats the opinions of others with becoming respect.
V. Again, Charity doth not behave itself unseemly. It does not disregard the courtesies of life, nor break over the bounds of decency and decorum; but pays a strict regard to propriety of conduct under all circumstances. But, it may not be amiss to enumerate some of those things which, by their unseemliness, render the conduct of any person repulsive and disgusting.
1. Forwardness, or a disposition to be conspicuous, is unseemly, especially in a young person. It is indeed the duty of every one to be always ready to engage in every good work; and it is wrong to be backward, and refuse to cooperate with others, in carrying on any useful enterprise. But the heart is deceitful: and, while we satisfy our consciences with the idea that we are going forward in the discharge of duty, we may be but feeding our own vain-glorious spirits, by bringing ourselves into notice. An humble Christian has a low estimate of his ability to do good; and is generally disposed to prefer others, as better qualified than himself, to occupy any conspicuous post. |In honor preferring one another.| He will, therefore, be modest and retiring; though, when the course of duty is plain, he will by no means shrink from it. |The righteous are hold as a lion.| There are several characteristics, however, which distinguish the forward, unseemly spirit. He is jealous and testy. You will hear him complaining of the aristocratic spirit of others; and if he is not noticed as much as he thinks he deserves, he will take offence. He will rarely he found cordially cooeperating with others, in any good work, unless he is foremost in it himself. If you wish to secure his aid, or forestall his opposition, you must he careful to consult him before you undertake any enterprise. Should you neglect to do so, however good your object, or well chosen your measures, you may expect him to find fault, and throw obstacles in the way, at every step of your progress. Such persons often exhibit a fiery zeal and restless activity, which seem for a time to eclipse all their contemporaries. But it is a zeal and activity for self: for it is never roused except for the promotion of an object with which self is in some manner identified.
2. To assume, in a dictatorial manner, to catechise others as to their views on any subject, especially if they are older than yourself, is unseemly. You will meet with some persons who seem to take it for granted that they have a right to call you to account for your opinions, and to determine authoritatively your claim to the character which you profess. I do not question the propriety of kind and modest inquiries as to the opinions and views of others; nor of endeavoring, by fair and candid arguments, to convince them of what we suppose to be their errors. But then we must never forget that they are our equals, possessing the same right to judge of the truth with ourselves, and accountable for their errors to the same tribunal. This will leave no ground for the exercise of a dogmatical or a dictatorial spirit.
3. It is unseemly for young persons to be foremost in speaking, in company, or to give advice with confidence in regard to anything which is to influence the conduct of their superiors in age, wisdom, or experience. Elihu, although a man of superior knowledge and abilities, did not presume to speak to Job till his aged friends had ceased; for he said, |Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom.| Young persons sometimes render themselves ridiculous by such unseemly conduct. The prophet Isaiah gives this as one of the marks of a degenerate age, that |the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honorable.|
4. Fierce contention about personal rights, is unseemly. It begets a selfish, jealous spirit. You never hear this where love reigns; for love is a yielding spirit. The spirit that can never brook the least encroachment upon his rights, is an unseemly spirit, which will always be embroiled in some difficulty or other.
5. All coarseness, grossness, or rudeness of character, is unseemly. This negative description of one of the characteristics of charity is sufficiently comprehensive, if exhibited in all its details, to fill a volume. It conveys the idea of an exquisite propriety of deportment, free from everything indelicate, obtrusive, repulsive, or unamiable.
VI. Charity seeketh not her own. It is not selfish. The temper here described is inculcated in a beautiful manner in Paul's epistle to the Philippians. He exhorts them, in lowliness of mind, each to esteem other better than themselves; and not to look exclusively on their own things, but also on the things of others; and then commends to them the example of our Lord, who, though King of kings, humbled himself to the condition of a servant, enduring hardship, contumely, and an ignominious death, for our sakes. This does not mean that we are not to love ourselves at all, nor be entirely regardless of our own interests; for the rule which requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves, recognizes the right of self-love; and the command, |Thou shalt not steal,| establishes the right of private property. But it forbids us to make our own interest and happiness our chief concern, to the disregard of the rights of others and the general good; and requires us to make sacrifices of feeling and interest for the benefit of others, and even sometimes to prefer their happiness and interest to our own. This is the spirit of genuine benevolence; and the exercise of it will impart far more elevated enjoyment than can be derived from private advantage.
Were this disposition in exercise, it would cut off all ground of envy and jealousy; it would remove the cause of most of the contentions that arise in society; and mitigate, in a wonderful degree, all the ills of life. Indeed, this principle lies at the foundation of all social enjoyment. The reciprocity of mutual affection depends upon the exercise of a self-sacrificing disposition; and the society where this does not exist is intolerable. Nor is it feeling or interest alone that must be given up. There is yet a more difficult sacrifice to be made, before we can be, in any considerable degree, comfortable companions. It is the sacrifice of the will. This is the last thing the selfish heart of man is disposed to yield. He has taken his stand, and the pride of his heart is committed to maintain it. He deceives himself, and compels conscience to come to his aid; while, in reality, it is a matter with which conscience has nothing to do, for the point might have been yielded without doing violence to that ever-wakeful monitor, whose office is thus perverted, and made to subserve the purposes of stiff-necked obstinacy. A disposition to yield to the judgment and will of others, so far as can be done conscientiously, is a prominent characteristic of that charity which seeketh not her own; while an obstinate adherence to our own plans and purposes, where no higher principle than expediency is concerned, is one of the most repulsive and uncomfortable forms of selfishness.
A selfish person never willingly makes the smallest sacrifice of feeling or interest to promote the welfare or happiness of others. He wraps himself up in his own interests and pursuits, a cheerless and forbidding object. He would gladly know no law but his own will. He has a little world of his own, in which he lives, and moves, and has his being. He makes every one, with whom he comes in contact, contribute something to his own selfish purposes. His overweening desire to promote his own interests, disposes him constantly to encroach upon the rights of others; or, if not to encroach upon their rights, to take advantage of their good nature, to drag them into his service. You might as well walk for pleasure in a grove of thorn-bushes, or seek repose on a bed of nettles, as to look for comfort in the society of selfish persons.
VII. Charity is not easily provoked. |It corrects a sharpness of temper, and sweetens and softens the mind.| It does not take fire at the least opposition or unkindness, nor |make a man an offender for a word.| One of the servants of Nabal described his character in this significant manner: |He is such a son of Belial that a man cannot speak to him.| There are many such sons and daughters of Belial. They are so sulky and sour, so fretful and peevish, that you can hardly speak to them, but they will snap and snarl like a growling watch-dog; and if they were equally dangerous, it might not be less necessary to chain them. All this is the opposite of charity. The quality here negatively described may be summarily comprehended in the term good nature; but in a more elevated sense than this term is usually employed, it being the fruit, not of natural amiableness, but of gracious affection. This temper is essential to any considerable degree of usefulness. If you are destitute of it, your Christian character will be so marred as in a great measure to counteract the influence of your positive efforts. A bad temper, even in connection with many excellent qualities, may render a person an uncomfortable companion and an intolerable yoke-fellow, and bring great reproach upon the cause of Christ. Nor need any one excuse himself on the ground of natural disposition; for the Lord has said, |My grace is sufficient for thee.| The gospel of Jesus Christ is a remedy for all our natural corruptions; and we are required to lay aside every weight, even the sin that most easily besets us.
VIII. Charity thinketh no evil -- is not suspicious -- does not lay up slight expressions or equivocal conduct, and reason out evil from them, and suffer it to corrode and sour the mind against an individual; but puts the best construction upon the words and conduct of others that they will bear, not yielding to an ill opinion of another, but upon the most indisputable evidence. There is, perhaps, no more fruitful source of disquiet and unhappiness, both to ourselves and others, than a suspicious disposition. |Jealousy,| says Solomon, |is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are the coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.| Nor is this language too intense. A jealous person always sees a |snake in the grass.| He is afraid to trust his most intimate friend. He puts the worst construction upon the language and conduct of others that they will bear: hence he conceives himself grossly insulted, when no ill was designed; and a gentle rebuke, or a good-humored repartee, constitutes an unpardonable offence. He always looks on the dark side of human character, so that a single foible or one glaring fault will eclipse a thousand real excellences. He is always complaining of the degeneracy of the times, and especially of the corruption of the church; for he can see nobody around him who is perfect, and therefore he comes to the conclusion that there is very little piety in the world; forgetting that, were he to find a church of immaculate purity, his own connection with it would introduce corruption. Should such a person conceive it to be his duty to tell you all your faults, woe betide you! for desirable as self-knowledge is, it is no kindness to have our faults aggravated a hundred-fold, and concentrated before our minds like the converging rays of the sun, in one focal blaze, nor poured upon our heads like the sweeping torrent, nor eked out like the incessant patterings of a drizzling rain. Thus did not Paul. When he felt it his duty to reprove, he was careful to commend what was praiseworthy, and to throw in some expressions of kindness along with his censures. And here, though it be a digression, let me conjure you never to undertake the unthankful office of censor. You will find some inexperienced persons who will desire you, as an office of friendship, to tell them all their faults. Be sure, if you undertake this with a friend, your friendship will be short. It will lead you to look continually at the dark side of your friend's character, and, before you are aware, you will find yourself losing your esteem for it. Very soon, you will beget the suspicion that you have conceived some dislike. If the cause is continued, this suspicion will corrode and increase; and the result will be, a mutual alienation of affection. However sincerely such an experiment may be entered upon, it can hardly fail, in the nature of things, to produce this result.
It may, however, be said, that we are bound, by our covenant obligations, to watch over our brethren. But there can scarcely be a greater misapprehension than to understand this duty in the sense of an incessant lookout to discern and discover the little faults and foibles, or even the more marked and glaring defects of character, in our brethren. The injunction is, |If thy brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault,| &c. But I know of no passage of Scripture which requires us to procure a magnifying-glass, and go about making a business of detecting and exposing the faults of our brethren. On the contrary, there are many cautions against a meddlesome disposition, and against being busy bodies in other men's matters. We are required, with great frequency and solemnity, to watch ourselves; but where is the injunction, |Watch thy brethren?| Even the Saviour himself did not thus attempt to correct the faults of his disciples. He rebuked them, indeed, and sometimes sharply; but he was not continually reminding them of their faults. He was not incessantly brow-beating Peter for his rashness, nor Thomas for his incredulity, nor the sons of Zebedee for their ambition. But he |taught them as they were able to bear it;| and that rather by holding up before their minds the truth, than by direct personal lectures.
Our covenant obligations unquestionably make it our duty to watch and see that our brethren do not pursue a course of life inconsistent with their Christian profession, or which tends to backsliding and apostasy; and if they are true disciples, they will be thankful for a word of caution, when they are in danger of falling into sin. And when they do thus fall, we are required to rebuke them, and not to suffer sin upon them. But this is a very different affair from that of setting up a system of espionage over their conduct, and dwelling continually upon their faults and deficiencies. This latter course cannot long be pursued, without an unhappy influence upon our own temper. The human mind is so constituted as to be affected by the objects it contemplates, and often assimilated to them. Show me a person who is always contemplating the faults of others, and I will show you a dark and gloomy, sour and morose spirit, whose eyes are hermetically closed to everything that is desirable and excellent, or amiable and lovely, in the character of man -- a grumbling, growling misanthrope, who is never pleased with anybody, nor satisfied with anything -- an Ishmaelite, whose hand is against every man, and every man's hand against him. If there is nothing in the human character, regenerated by the grace of God, on which we can look with complacency and delight, then it is impossible for us to obey the sacred injunction, |Love the brethren.|
IX. Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth. One mark by which the people of God are known is, that they |sigh and cry over the abominations that are done in the land,| and weep rivers of water because men keep not the law of God; while the wicked |rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked.| But we may deceive ourselves, and be indulging a morbid appetite for fault-finding and slander, while we suppose ourselves to be grieving over the sins of others. Grief is a tender emotion. It melts the heart, and sheds around it a hallowed influence. Hence, if we find ourselves indulging a sharp, censorious spirit, eagerly catching up the faults of others, and dwelling on them, and magnifying them, and judging harshly of them, we may be sure we have another mark, which belongs not to the fold of the Good Shepherd. One of the prominent characteristics of an impenitent heart is a disposition to feed upon the faults of professors of religion. Those who indulge this disposition will not admit that they take delight in the failings of Christians. They will condemn them with great severity, and lament over the dishonor they bring upon religion. Yet they catch at the deficiencies of Christians as eagerly as ever a hungry spaniel caught after his meat. This is the whole of their spiritual meat and drink. It is the foundation of their hopes. They rest their claim for admittance into the celestial paradise on being quite as consistent in their conduct as those who profess to be God's people; hence, every deficiency they discover gives them a new plea to urge at the portals of heaven. Thus they secretly, though perhaps unwittingly, |rejoice in iniquity.| But it is to be feared, if we may judge from the exhibition of the same spirit, that many who make high pretensions to superior sanctity rest their hopes, to a great extent, on a similar foundation. With the Pharisaical Jews, they think if they judge them that do evil, even though they do the same, they shall escape the judgment of God. They are as eager to catch up and proclaim upon the house-top the deficiencies of their brethren, as the self-righteous moralist, who prides himself on making no profession, and yet being as consistent as those that do. If such persons do not rejoice in iniquity, it is nevertheless |sweet in their mouth,| and they |drink it in like water.| Their plea is, that they do not speak of it with pleasure, but with grief bear their testimony against it. But grief is a very different passion from that which swells in their bosoms. Grief is solitary and silent. |He sitteth alone and keepeth silence.| Who ever heard of a man's proclaiming his grief to every passing stranger? Yet, you may not be five minutes in the company of one of these persons, till he begins to proclaim his grief at the delinquencies of his Christian brethren. And the harsh and bitter spirit, which palms itself on the conscience as a testimony against sin, is but an exhibition of impenitent pride. It bears not the most distant semblance of Christian humility and fidelity. |Brethren,| says the apostle, |if a man be overtaken in a fault, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.| But, from the fault-finding and censorious spirit of some people, one would suppose it never came into their minds to consider whether it might not be possible for them to fall into the same condemnation; although an examination of the lamentable falls that have taken place might show a fearful list of delinquents from this class of persons. David, while in his fallen state, pronounced sentence of death upon the man in Nathan's parable, whose crime was but a faint shadow of his own. The Scribes and Pharisees were indignant at the wretched woman who had been taken in sin; yet they afterwards, by their own conduct, confessed themselves guilty of the same crime. Judas was one of your censorious fault-finders. He was the one that found fault with the tender-hearted Mary, for her affectionate tribute of respect to the Lord of Life, before his passion. He thought it a great waste to pour such costly ointment on the feet of Jesus; and that it would have been much better to have sold it and given the money to the poor. He was very compassionate to the poor, and a great enemy of extravagance; but a little while afterwards, he sold his Lord for thirty pieces of silver. So, in every age, if you examine into the character of apostates, you will find that they have been noted for their severity against the sins of others; and particularly in making conscience of things indifferent, and pronouncing harsh judgment against those who refuse to conform to their views. Especially will such persons be grieved with their brethren on account of their dress, or style of living, or their manner of wearing the hair; or some such matter that does not reach the heart. I was once acquainted with a woman, who (except in her own family and among her neighbors) had the reputation of being very devotedly pious, who went to her pastor, (an aged and venerable man,) greatly grieved because he was in the habit of combing his hair upwards, so as to cover his baldness. She was afraid it was pride. She was a great talker, and often had difficulties with her brethren and sisters in the church; for she thought it her duty to exercise a watchful care over them. Whether she was self-deceived, or hypocritical, I cannot say; but she used to shed tears freely in her religious conversations. She, however, as I have since learned, after maintaining her standing in the church for many years, apostatized and became openly abandoned. You need not look over half a dozen parishes, anywhere, to find cases of a kindred character.
The humble Christian, who looks back to the |hole of the pit whence he was digged,| and remembers that he now stands by virtue of the same grace that took his feet out of the |horrible pit and miry clay,| will be the last person to vaunt over the fallen condition of his fellow-creatures. He will look upon them with an eye of tender compassion; and his rebukes will be administered in a meek, subdued, and humble spirit, remembering the injunction of Paul, |Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.| But the spirit of which I have been speaking is not only carnal, but devilish. The devil is the accuser of the brethren.
But charity not only rejoiceth not in iniquity, but, positively, rejoiceth in the truth -- is glad of the success of the gospel, and rejoices in the manifestation of the grace of God, by the exhibition of the fruits of his Spirit in the character and conduct of his people. Hence, it will lead us to look at the bright side of men's characters; and if they give any evidence of piety, to rejoice in it, and glorify God for the manifestation of his grace in them, while we overlook, or behold with tenderness and compassion, their imperfections. And this accords with the feelings of the humble Christian. He thinks so little of himself, and feels such a sense of his own imperfections, that he quickly discerns the least evidence of Christian character in others; and he sees so much to be overlooked in himself, that he is rather inclined to the extreme of credulity, in judging the characters of others. He is ready, with Paul, to esteem himself |less than the least of all saints;| and where he sees any evidence of piety in others, he can overlook many deficiencies.
I am persuaded, that in few things we are more deficient than in the exercise of joy and gratitude for the grace of God manifested in his children. There are few of the epistles of Paul which do not commence with an expression of joy and thanksgiving for the piety of those to whom he was writing. I have been surprised, on looking over them, to find these expressions so full and so frequent. They are too numerous to be quoted in this place; but I entreat you to examine them for yourself. Even in regard to the Corinthians, among whom so many evils existed, he says, |I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ.| But who among us is ever heard thanking God for the piety of his brethren? On the contrary, how many of the prayers that are offered up in our social meetings resemble the errands of a churlish man, who never visits his neighbor's house without entering some complaint against his children! Yet, we are under greater obligations for the least exhibition of gracious fruits in the lives of his people, than for the daily bounties of his providence, inasmuch as the gift of the Holy Ghost is greater than food and raiment.
X. Thus far, with the exception of the first two heads, and a part of the last, we have had the negative character of Charity. We now come to its positive manifestations, which have, however, to a considerable extent, been anticipated in the previous consideration of the subject.
1. Charity beareth all things; or, as it may be rendered, covereth all things. This seems to be more agreeable to the context; for otherwise it would mean the same as endureth all things, in the latter clause of the verse, and thus make a tautology; while it leaves a deficiency in the description, indicated by the passage in Peter, |Charity shall cover the multitude of sins.| |Charity will draw a vail over the faults of others, so far as is consistent with duty.| What trait of character can be more amiable and lovely? It is the genuine spirit of the gospel, which requires us to |do unto others as we would they should do to us.| And who would like to have his faults made the subject of common conversation among his acquaintances? If no one would like to be thus |served up,| let him be cautious how he treats others. And, if it is contrary to charity thus to speak of the faults of individuals, it is not the less so to speak of the faults of masses of men, as of the clergy or of the church. The injustice is the more aggravated, because it is condemning by wholesale. A member of the church of Christ, who speaks much of its corruptions, is guilty of the anomalous conduct of speaking evil of himself; for the members of Christ's body are all one in him. It may sometimes be our duty to speak of the faults of others; but, where charity reigns in the heart, this will be done only in cases of unavoidable necessity, and then with great pain and sacrifice of feeling. The benevolent heart feels for the woes of others, and even compassionates their weakness and wickedness. It will desire, therefore, as much as possible, to hide them from the public gaze, unless the good of others should require their exposure; and even then, will not do it with wanton feelings. But these remarks apply with much greater force to the practice of Christians speaking of one another's faults. Where is the heart that would not revolt at the idea of brothers and sisters scanning each other's faults, in the ears of strangers? Yet the relation of God's children is far more endearing than the ties of consanguinity.
2. Charity believeth all things, hopeth all things. This is the opposite of jealousy and suspicion. It is a readiness to believe everything in favor of others; and even when appearances are very strong against them, still to hope for the best. This disposition will lead us to look at the characters of others in their most favorable light; to give full weight to every good quality, and full credit for every praiseworthy action; while every palliating circumstance is viewed in connection with deficiencies and misconduct. Charity will never attribute an action to improper motives or a bad design, when it can account for it in any other way; and, especially, it will not be quick to charge hypocrisy and insincerity upon those who seem to be acting correctly. It will give credit to the professions of others, unless obviously contradicted by their conduct. It does not, indeed, forbid prudence and caution -- |The simple believeth every word; but the prudent man looketh well to his going| -- but it is accustomed to repose confidence in others, and it will not be continually watching for evil.
A charitable spirit is opposed to the prevailing disposition for discussing private character. It will not willingly listen to criticisms upon the characters of others, nor the detail of their errors and imperfections; and it will turn away with disgust and horror from petty scandal and evil-speaking, as offensive to benevolent feeling. It is a kind of moral sense, which recoils from detraction and backbiting.
3. Charity endureth all things. This is nearly synonymous with long-suffering; and yet it is a more extensive expression. It will endure with patience, and suffer without anger or bitterness of feeling, everything in social life which is calculated to try our tempers, and exhaust our patience. It is not testy, and impatient at the least opposition, or the slightest provocation; but endures the infirmities, the unreasonableness, the ill-humor, and the hard language of others, with a meek and quiet spirit.
Finally, charity is the practical application of the golden rule of our Saviour, and the second table of the law, to all our intercourse with our fellow-men, diffusing around us a spirit of kindness and benevolent feeling. It comprehends all that is candid and generous, bland and gentle, amiable and kind, in the human character, regenerated by the grace of God. It is opposed to all that is uncandid and disingenuous, coarse and harsh, unkind, severe, and bitter, in the disposition of fallen humanity. It is the bond, which holds society together, the charm which sweetens social intercourse, and the UNIVERSAL PANACEA, which, if it cannot cure, will at least mitigate, all the diseases of the social state. That you may possess it in its highest earthly perfection, is the sincere prayer of
Your affectionate Brother.