"Love bears all things."
"Love believes all things."
"Love hopes all things."
1. "Love BEARS all things."
Some writers consider this seventh verse as an amplification of the foregoing one, and explain it, in reference to the truth, in the following manner "Love bears all things," reported in the truths of Scripturehowever opposed to the corruption of human nature, and counts none of them hard sayings or unfit to be borne. "Love believes all things" imported in the truths of Scriptureor all the inferences which the apostles have deduced from itas being well attached to the source from whence it flows. "Love hopes for all things" promised in the truths of Scripture. "Love endures all things," or patiently suffers all the afflictions that can attend a steady attachment to truths of Scripture. This gives a very good sense of the words, and admits the full force of these universal expressions. Yet it certainly agrees better with the scope of the apostle to understand the verse with reference to the brethren as the objects of this love.
If we render the first expression, "Love bears all things"as our translators have done, it may signify our bearing one another's burdens and weaknesses, which is to fulfill the law of Christand it must be confessed this is strictly true; for whoever is under the influence of the principle of love, will possess a spirit of tender sympathy. In this world we all groan, being burdened. Each has his own load of care, or grief, or imperfection. This world is not the state where we find perfect rest. How wide is the scope, how frequent the opportunity, how numerous the occasions, for the 'sympathy of love'! And who that is possessed of benevolence, can allow himself to pass a brother upon the road, laboring under a heavier burden than his own, without offering to bear a part?
We are not to be audaciously intrusive and intermeddling, nor to pry into the secrets of our neighbors with an inquisitive curiosity; but to inquire into the cause which gives them so much concern or so much griefis the duty of those who are the witnesses of their careworn countenance and downcast look. What an unfeeling heart must that man have, who can see a very sorrowful person before him, and never kindly ask the reason of its existence! It is but little that sympathy can do for the suffererbut that little should be most cheerfully afforded. To be unnoticed and unpitied in our griefs, adds greatly to their weight.
For what purpose are Christians collected into churches? not merely to eat the Lord's Supper togetherthis could be done without any such distinct recognition of a mutual relationship, as that which takes place in the fellowship of believers. The end and design of this bond is, that being united as one body, the members might cherish a general sympathy for each other, and exercise their benevolence in the way of mutual assistance. The rich, by their munificence, should help their poorer brethren to bear the burden of poverty; the strong should aid the weak to bear the burden of their fears and apprehensions; those who are in health and ease should, by seasonable visits, and soothing words, and kind offices, bear the burden of the sick; counsel should always be given, when it is sought by those who are in difficulty; and a disposition should pervade the whole body, to render its varied resources, talents, and energies, available for the benefit of the whole.
But though this also gives a beautiful meaning, and enjoins a necessary duty, it is not the right view of the passage. The word translated "bears "all things, signifies also, "to contain, to conceal, to cover." The idea of "bearing," is parallel in meaning to that of "enduring," of which the apostle speaks in the latter part of the verse; and it is not probable that it was his intention to express the same thought twice. Adopting the idea of "concealment "as the sentiment he intended to express, and the "failings of others" as the object to which it refers, I shall go on to show in what way it is practiced.
To do this with still greater effect, we shall exhibit a general view of those sins to which this view of Christian love stands exposed; and these areslander, detraction, and rash judging, or censoriousness.
[b]Perhaps there are no sins which are more frequently alluded to, or more severely rebuked, in Scripture, than those of the TONGUE; and for this reasonbecause there are none to which we are so frequently temptednone we are so prone to indulge, or so bold to excusenone which are so productive of disorder and discomfort to society. Besides swearing, falsehood, obscenity, and blasphemythe Scripture speaks of bearing false witness, railing, talebearing, whispering, backbiting, slander, and reproacha dismal enumeration of vices belonging to that member which was intended to be the glory of our bodily frame.[/b]
By SLANDER, we understand the circulation of a false report with the intention of injuring a neighbor's reputation. Its most vicious excess is the invention and construction of a story which is absolutely false from beginning to end. Its next lower grade, though little inferior in criminality, is to become the extender of the tale, knowing it to be false. "This," says Barrow, "is to become the hucksters of counterfeit wares, or partners in this vile trade. There is no coiner who has not emissaries and accomplices ready to take from his hand and pass on his money; and such 'second hand slanderers' are scarcely less guilty than the first authors. He who brews lies may have more wit and skillbut the 'spreader of the slander' shows similar malice and wickedness. In this there is no great difference between the vile devil who frames scandalous reportsand the little imps who run about and disperse them."
The next operation of slander, [b]is to receive and spread, without examining into the truth of them, false and injurious reports.[/b] It is a part of a good man's character, that "He takes not up a reproach against his neighbor," that is, he does not easily entertain it, much less propagate it; he does not receive it but upon the most convincing evidence. But slander founds reproachful tales upon 'mere conjecture or suspicion'and raises an injurious representation upon a mere assumption. Sometimes it withers the reputation of a neighbor by rash speaking, or vehemently affirming things which it has no reason to believe, and no motive for affirmingexcept for the hope of exciting ill-will towards the one slandered.
Slander is sinful, because forbidden in every part of Scripture. Slander is cruel, because it is robbing our neighbor of that which is dearer to him than life. Slander is foolish, because it subjects the calumniator himself to all kinds of troublefor it not only exposes him to the wrath of God, the loss of his soul, and the miseries of hell in the world to comebut it makes him odious in the present life, causes him to be shunned and discredited, arms his conscience against his own peace, brings upon himself the most reproachful accusations, and not infrequently the vengeance of that public justice, which is rightly appointed to be the guardian not only of property and lifebut of reputation also.
DETRACTION, or backbiting, differs a little from slander, though in its general nature and constitution it closely resembles it. Slander involves an imputation of falsehoodbut detraction may clothe itself with truth! Backbiting is sweetened poisonserved from a golden cupby the hand of hypocrisy. A detractor's aim is the same as the slanderer'sto injure the reputation of anotherbut he avails himself of means that are a little different. He represents people and their actions under the most disadvantageous circumstances he cansetting forth those which may make them 'appear' guilty or ridiculouswhile ignoring the commendable qualities and actions of those it backbites. "When he cannot deny the metal to be good, and the stamp to be true, he clips it, and so rejects it from being currenthe misconstrues doubtful actions unfavorably, and throws over the very 'virtues' of his neighbors, the name of 'faults'calling the sober sour, the conscientious morose, the devout superstitious, the frugal sordid, the cheerful frivolous, and the reserved crafty! He diminishes from the excellence of good actions, by showing how much better they might have been done; and attempts to destroy all confidence in long established character, and all respect for itby focusing on some single act of imprudence, and expanding it into a magnitudethus painting the whole character with darknesswhich truth and justice forbid. Such is the backbiterwhose crime is compounded with the ingredients ofvileness, pride, selfishness, envy, malice, falsehood, cowardice, and folly."
Backbiting must be peculiarly hateful to God"He is the God of truth, and therefore detests lying, of which detraction ever has a spice. He is the God of justice, and therefore does especially abhor wronging the best people and actions. He is the God of love, and therefore cannot but loathe this primary violation of love. He is jealous of his glory, and therefore cannot endure it to be abused, by slurring his good gifts and graces. He cannot but hate the offense which approaches to that most heinous and unpardonable sin, which consists in defaming the excellent works performed by Divine power and goodnessand ascribing them to bad causes."
The same writer, in speaking of the mischief of detraction, as discouraging others from the performance of that goodness which is thus vilified and defamed, has the following beautiful remarks. "Many, seeing the best men thus disparaged, and the best actions vilified, are disheartened and deterred from practicing virtue, especially in a conspicuous and eminent degree'Why,' will many a man say, 'shall I be strictly good, seeing goodness is so liable to be misused? Had I not better be contented with a mediocrity and obscurity of goodness, than by a glaring luster thereof to draw the envious eye, and kindle raging ridicule upon me?' And when the honor of virtue is blasted in its practices, many will be diverted from it. So will virtue grow out of fashionand the world be corrupted by these agents of the EVIL ONE. It were advisable, upon this consideration, not to seem ever to detract, even not then when we are assured, that by speaking evilwe shall not really do it. If we should discover any man who was reputed to be worthy; whom we discover, by standing in a nearer light, not to be truly suchyet wisdom would commonly dictate, and goodness dispose, not to mar his reputation. If we should observe, without danger of mistake, any beneficent action to be performed out of bad motives, principles, or designs; yet ordinarily, in discretion and honesty, we should let it pass with such condemnation as its appearance may procure, rather than slur it by venting our negative apprehensions about it; for it is no great harm that any man should enjoy undeserved commendation. Our granting its claims is but being over-just, which if it ever be a fault, can hardly be so in this casewherein we do not personally expend any cost or suffer any damage. But it may do mischief to blemish any appearance of virtue. It may be a wrong thereto, to deface its very imagethe very disclosing of hypocrisy does inflict a wound on goodness, and exposes it to scandal, for bad men will then be prone to infer that all virtue does proceed from the like bad principles; so the disgrace cast on that which is spurious, will redound to the prejudice of that which is most genuine. And if it is good to forbear detracting from that which is certainly false, much more so in regard to that which is possibly true; and far more still is it so in respect to that which is clear and sure."
CENSORIOUSNESS is another sin of the same classanother child of the same familyvarying, however, from those we have already considered by acting not so much in the way of 'reporting' faults as in 'condemning' them too severely. It is different from slander, inasmuch as it assumes that what it condemns is true; and from detraction, inasmuch as it is not exercised with an intention to injure another in public estimationbut only to reprove him for what is wrong. It assumes the character, not of a witnessbut of a judgehence the injunction, "Judge not."
Censoriousness, then, means a disposition to scrutinize men's motivesto pass sentence upon their conductto reproach their faultsaccompanied by an unwillingness to make all reasonable allowances for their mistakes, and a tendency to the side of severity, rather than to that of leniency. We are not to suppose that all inspection and condemnation of the conduct of others is sin; nor that all reproof of offenders is a violation of the law of love; nor imagine that we are to think well of our neighborsin opposition to the plainest evidence; nor that we are to entertain such a credulous opinion of the excellence of mankind, as unsuspectingly to confide in every man's claims. But what is wrong in this particular of censoriousnessis needlessly inquiring into the conduct and motives of other men; examining and arraigning them at our personal bar of judgement, when we stand in no relation to them that requires such a scrutiny; delivering our opinion when it is not called for; pronouncing sentence with undue severity; and heaping the heaviest degree of reproach upon an offender which we can find language to express.
"The world has become so extremely critical and censorious that in many places the chief employment of men, and the main body of conversation is, if we mark it, taken up in judging; every company is a court of justice, every seat becomes a tribunal, at every table stands a bar, whereunto all men are citedwhereat every man is arraigned and sentenced. Where no sublimity or sacredness of dignityno integrity or innocence of lifeno prudence or circumspection of demeanorcan exempt any person from it. Not one escapes being taxed under some odious name, or scandalous character or other. Not only the outward actions and visible practices of men are judgedbut their secret sentiments are brought under reviewtheir inward dispositions have a verdict passed upon themand their final states are determined.
Whole bodies of men are thus judged at once! And it is easy in one breathto damn whole churchesat one push to throw down whole nations into the bottomless pit! Yes, God himself is hardly spared, his providence coming under the bold ridicule of those whoas the Psalmist speaks of some in his time, whose race does yet survive"speak loftily, and set their mouth against the heavens."
Barrow, in order to denounce this censoriousness temper, gives the following QUALIFICATIONS OF A JUDGE. He should be appointed by competent authority, and not intrude himself into office. To how many censors may we say, "Who made you a judge?" He should be free from all prejudice and partiality. Is this the case with the censorious? He should never proceed to judgment, without a careful examination of the case, so as well to understand it. Let the private self-appointed judges remember this, and act upon the principle of Solomon"He who answers a matter before he hears itit is a folly and a shame to him."
He should never pronounce sentence but upon good groundsafter certain proof and full conviction. If this rule were observed, how many censures would be prevented. He will not meddle with causes beyond the jurisdiction of his court. If this were recollected and acted upon, the voice of unlawful censure would die away in silence! For who are we, that we should try the hearts and search the thoughts of men, or judge another's servant? He never proceeds against any man, without citing him to appear, either in person or by his representative, and giving him an opportunity to defend himself.
When anyone is censured in company, there should always be found some generous mind, who would propose that the accused should be sent forand the trial put off until he appeared. He must pronounce, not according to private imaginationbut to public and established laws. Is this the rule of the censorious? Is it not rather their custom to make their own private opinion the law? He should be a person of great knowledge and ability. What is the usual character of the private censors of human conduct? Are they not people of great ignorance and few ideas, who, for lack of something else to say, or ability to say it, talk of their neighbors' faultsa topic on which a child, or a fool, can be fluent?
He is not an accuser; and moreover is, by virtue of his office, counsel for the accused. On the contrary, the censorious are generally not only judges but accusers, and counsel against the culprits whom they have brought to the bar. He should lean, as far as the public good will allow, to the side of mercy. But mercy has no place in the bosom of the censorious, and their very justice is cruelty and oppression. He must himself be innocent. Why is there not a voice heard in every company, when the prisoner is arraigned, and the process of judgment begins, saying, "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone?" He proceeds with solemnity, and grief, and slowness, to pass the sentence. But what indecent haste and levity, not excepting joy, do we witness in those who are given to the practice of censuring their neighbors' conduct.
Now, to all these sinful practices, Christian love stands directly opposed. It is a long time before Christian love allows itself to perceive the faults of others. Not more quick is instinct in the bird, or beast, or fish of prey, to discover its victim, than the detractor and the censorious are to observe imperfections as soon as they appear in the conduct of those around them. Their vision is quite telescopic, to see objects of this kind at a distance! And they have a microscopic power of inspection, to examine those that are small and nearand, when looking at faults, they always employ the highest magnifying power which their instrument admits of. They are always looking at those 'small defects' which to the naked eye, would be lost amid the surrounding virtue. They do not want to see virtuesNo! All that is virtuous, and good, and lovelyis passed over in quest of deformity and evil.
But all this is utterly abhorrent to the nature of love, which, intent upon the well-being of mankind, and anxious for their happinessis ever looking to notice the virtues of others. The eye of the Christian philanthropist is so busily employed in searching for excellence, and so fixed and so ravished by it when it is found, that it is sure to pass over many things of a contrary nature, as not included in the object of its inquiryjust as he who is searching for gems is likely to pass by many common stones unheeded; or as he who is looking for a particular star or constellation in the heavens, is not likely to see the candles which are near him upon earth. Good men are his delight; and to find these, very many of the evil generation are passed by. And there is also a singular power of abstraction in his benevolence, to separate, when looking at a mixed character, the good from the evil, and, losing sight of the evil, to concentrate its observation in the good.
And when Christian love is obliged to admit the existence of imperfections, it diminishes as much as possible their magnitude, and hides them as much as is lawful from its own notice. It takes no delight in looking at them, finds no pleasure in keeping them before its attention, and poring into them; but turns away from them as an unpleasant object, as a delicate sense would from whatever is offensive. If we find an affinity between our thoughts and the sins of which we are the spectators, it is a plain proof that our benevolence is of a very doubtful nature, or in a feeble state. On the contrary, if we involuntarily turn away our eyes from beholding evil, and are conscious to ourselves of a strong revulsion, and an acute distress, when we cannot altogether retire from the view of it, we possess an evidence that we know much of that virtue which covers all things. If we are properly, as we ought to be, under the influence of Christian lovewe shall make all reasonable allowances for those things which are wrong in the conduct of our neighbor; we shall, as we have already considered, not be forward to suspect evil; but shall do everything to lessen the heinousness of the action. This is what is meant, when it is said that "Love covers a multitude of sins." "Hatred stirs up strifesbut love covers all sins."
It is the wish and the act of love to conceal from the public all the faults which the good of the offender, and the ends of public justice, do not require to be disclosed. There are cases, in which to conceal offenses, whatever kindness it may be to one, would be unkindness to many. If a person living in sin, has so far imposed upon a minister, as to induce him to propose him for admission to the fellowship of the church, it is the bounden duty of any individual who knows the real character of the candidate, to make it known to the pastor; and the same disclosure should be made in reference to a person already in communion, who is actually living in sinconcealment in these cases is an injury to the whole body of Christians. If a person is likely to be injured in his temporal concerns by reposing confidence in one who is utterly unworthy of it, it is the duty of those who are acquainted with the snare to warn the destined victim of his danger. If any are so far regardless of the peace of society and the laws of the country, as to be engaged in great crimes against both, concealment on the part of those who are aware of the existence of such practices, is a participation in the crime. As our love is to be universal, as well as particularit must never be exercised towards individuals in a way that is really opposed to the interests of the community.
But where no other interest is concernedwhere no claims demand a disclosurewhere no injury is done by concealment, and no benefit is conferred by giving publicity to a faultthere our duty is to cover it over with the veil of secrecyand maintain an unbroken silence upon the subject.
Instead of this friendly and amiable reserve, how different is the way in which many act! No sooner have they heard of the commission of a fault, than they set off with the spicy newsas glad as if they bore the tidings of a victoryproclaiming the melancholy fact with strange delight in every company, and almost to every individual they meet. And as there is a greedy appetite in some people for scandal, they find many ears as open to listen to the tale, as their lips are to tell it. Or perhaps they relate the matter as a 'secret', extorting a promise from those to whom they communicate it that they will never mention it again. But if it be not proper to publish it to the world, why do they speak of it at all? If it be proper for publicity, why lock it up in silence? Sometimes the act of telling faults in secret is a pitiable kind of weakness, an utter impossibility of keeping anything in the mind, accompanied by an intention of publishing it only to a single person; but in other people it is a wish to have the gratification of being the first to communicate the report to a large number; each is made to promise that he will not disclose it, that the original reporter may not be anticipated as he pursues his round, and thus have his delight diminished, in being every where the first to tell the bad news.
Then there are some, who publish the faults of others under the hypocritical pretense of lamenting over themand producing in others a caution against the same thing. You will see them in company putting on a grave countenance, and hear them asking the person who sits near thembut with a voice loud enough to reach every corner of the room, whether he has heard the report of Mr. Such-a-one's conduct; and when every ear is caught, every tongue silent, and every eye fixed, he will proceed in a strain of deep lamentation, and tender commiserationto bewail the misconduct of the delinquent, seasoning the narration of the offense, as he goes through all its circumstances and all its aggravationswith many expressions of pity for the offender, and many words of caution to the company. Thus, under the hypocritical guise of pity and the abhorrence of sinhe has indulged in this mischievous yet too common propensityto publish the failings of some erring brother. Has he mentioned the subject to the individual himself? probably not. And he has withheld this mode of expressing his pity, what avails his public commiseration? What possible sympathy with the offender can it beto placard him in public, and blazon his faults in company?
Some there are, who suppose that there is little harm in talking, in their own particular circles, of the failings of their neighborsthey would not speak of these things before strangers, or society in general; but they feel no scruple in making them matter of conversation among their select friends. But these friends may not all be prudentand if it be desirable that the fact should not be known outside the circle, the best way is, that it be not known within it. Where there is no benefit likely to be obtained by publicity, it is best, in reference to character, to lock up the secret in our own mind, and literally to observe the injunction of the prophet"Do not trust a neighbor; put no confidence in a friend. Even with her who lies in your embrace be careful of your words." Micah 7:5.
Love not only will not originatebut will not help to circulate an evil report. When the tale comes to her, there, at least in that direction, it stops. There are gossips, who, though they would shudder at slander, and, perhaps, would not be the first to give publicity to an idle report of another, yet feel no scruple in telling what many already know. "It is no secret," they say, "else I would not mention it." But we should not do even thiswe should neither invent, nor originate, nor propagate an evil report. While every tongue is voluble in spreading bad tidings, 'love' will be silent; while all seem anxious to enjoy communion in backbiting and censoriousness, and to sip the cup of detraction as it passes around the company, 'love' says to the person who has told the story, "I have no ears for defamation, or even for the tale of another's faults. Go, and affectionately speak with the individual of his failingsbut do not talk of them in public." If all men acted on these principles, slander would die upon the lips which gave it birth; talebearers would cease for lack of customers, to carry on their trade as 'peddlers in detraction'; backbiting would go out of fashion; and the love of scandal be starved for the lack of food.
The evils then to which Christian love is opposed, are
Calumny, which invents a slanderous report to injure the reputation of another.
Detraction, which magnifies a fault.
Censoriousness, which is too meddling and too rigid in condemning a fault.
Tale-bearing, which propagates a fault.
Curiosity, which desires to know a fault.
Malignity, which takes delight in a fault.
Of this list of vices; calumny is of course the worst; but a 'tattling disposition', though it may have little of the malignity of slander, is a servant to do its work, and a tool to perpetrate its mischief. People of this description are far too numerous! They are to be found in every town, in every village, yes, and in every church! They are not the authors of libelsbut they are the publishers; they do not draw up the placardbut only paste it up in all parts of the town; and are responsible, not for the malice which invented the defamatory liebut for the damage of circulating it. Their minds are a kind of common sewer, into which all the filthy streams of scandal are perpetually flowing; a receptacle for whatever is offensive and noxious! Such gossips might be pitied for their weakness, if they were not still more to be dreaded for the damage they do. They are not malignantsbut they are mischief makers; and, as such, should be shunned and dreaded. Every door should be closed against them, or at least, every ear. They should be made to feel that, if silence be a penance to them, their idle and injurious tales are a much more afflictive penance to their neighbors.
Now, such people would not only be rendered more safebut more dignified by 'love'this heavenly virtue, by destroying their propensity to gossiping, would rescue them from reproach, and confer upon them an elevation of character to which they were strangers before. It would turn their activity into a new channel, and make then as anxious to promote the peace of society, as they were before to disturb it by the din of their idle and talkative tongue. They would perceive that no man's happiness can be promoted by the publication of his faults; for if he is penitent, to have his failings made the butt of ridicule, is like pouring vinegar upon the deep wounds of a troubled mind; or if he is not penitent, this exposure will do harm, by producing irritation, and by thus placing him farther off from true contrition.
If it is essential to Christian love, to feel a disposition to cover the faults which we witness, and to treat with tenderness and delicacy the offender, it is quite distressing to consider how little Christian love there is in the world. How much need have we to labor for an increase of it ourselves, and to diffuse it both by our influence and example, that the harmony of society may not be so frequently interrupted by the lies of the slanderer; the exaggerations of the detractor; the harsh judgments of the censorious; or the idle gossip of the tale-bearer.
2. "Love BELIEVES all things."
Nearly allied to the property we have just considered, and an essential part of toleration, is that which follows"Love believes all things"that is, not all things contained in the Word of Godfor faith in divine testimony is not here the subject treated of. But love believes all things which are testified concerning our brethrennot, however, such as are testified to their disadvantagebut in their favor. This property or operation of love is so involved, and has been to such an extent illustrated, in what we have already considered, that it cannot be necessary to enlarge upon the subject again. As love regards with benevolent desire the well-being of all, it must feel naturally disposed to believe whatever can be stated in their favor.
Tell a fond mother of the faults of her child; does she immediately and entirely believe the testimony? No! You will perceive an aspect of unbelief on her countenanceyou will hear inquiries and doubtful insinuations from her lipsand after the clearest evidence has been adduced in support of the testimony, you will still discern that she doubts you. But, on the contrary, carry to her a report of her child's good conducttell her of his achievements in wisdom or in virtue, and you see at once the look of assent, the smile of approbation, hear the language of sureness, and in some cases witness a degree of confidence which amounts to weakness. How can we account for this? On the principle of the apostle, that "love believes all things." The mother loves her child; she is sincerely anxious for his well-being; and as our wishes have an influence upon our convictions, she is forward to believe what is said to her child's honor, and as backward to believe what is said to his discredit.
Here, then, is one of the brightest displays of love, as exhibited in the man who believes all things which are related to the advantage of others. He hears the report with sincere pleasure, listens with the smile of approbation, the nod of assent; he does try to find ground and reason for discrediting the fact, nor does he search with inquisitive eye for some flaw in the evidence, to impeach the veracity of the testimony; he does not cautiously hold his judgment in abeyance, as if afraid of believing too well of his neighbor; but if the evidence amounts to probability, he is ready to believe the account, and delights to find another instance of human excellence, by which he may be more reconciled and attached to mankind, and by which he discovers that there is more goodness and happiness on earth, than he knew of before.
The strongest proof and power of lovein this mode of its operationis its disposition to believe all good reports of an enemy or a rival. Many people can believe nothing goodbut everything bad, of those whom they consider as their enemies or a rivals. Let them have once conceived a prejudice of dislikelet them only have been injured or offended, opposed or humbled, by anyoneand from that moment their ears are closed against every word to his credit, and open to every tale that may tend to his disgrace. Prejudice has neither eyes nor ears for good; but is all eye and ear for evil. Its influence on the judgment is immenseits bewildering operations upon our convictions is really most surprising and frightful. In many cases, it disbelieves evidence as bright, clear, and steady as the meridian splendor of the sunto follow that which is dim and delusive as the feeble candle-light. How tremblingly anxious should we be to keep the mind free from the misleading influence of prejudice! How careful to obtain that candid, impartial, discriminating judgment, which can distinguish between things that differ, and approve of things that are excellenteven in reference to people that are in some respects opposed to us! This is Christian toleration; and a more important disposition of the kind we can scarcely imagine.
Through that great law of our nature, which we call the association of ideas, we are too apt, when we have discovered one thing wrong in the character or conduct of anotherto unite it with nothing but wrong, and that continually. We scarcely ever think of him or repeat his namebut under the malign influence of this unhappy association. What we need is more of the power of objectivity, by which we can separate 'the occasional act' from 'the permanent character'the bad qualities from the good onesand still be left at liberty to believe what is good, notwithstanding what we know of the bad.
If, in accordance with the principles of Scriptural revelation, with the testimony of our senses, and the evidence of experience, we believe that in God's sight, there is none so perfect as to be destitute of all flaws; we should at the same time believe that, so far as mere general excellence goes, there are few so bad as to be destitute of all approvable traits. It is the business of Christian love to examine, to report, to believe with impartialityand toleration is one of the operations of love. This heavenly disposition forbids the prejudice which is generated by differences on the subject of religion, and enables its possessor to discredit the evil, and to believe the favorable testimony which is borne to those of other denominations, and of other congregations. All excellence belongs not to our church or denomination; all evil is not to be found in other churches or denominations! Yet how prepared are many people to believe nothing good, or everything bad, of other churches or denominations. Away, away, with this detestable spirit! cast it out of the church of the living God! Like the demon spirit which possessed the man who dwelt among the tombs, and made him a torment to himself, and a terror to othersthis 'demon of prejudice' has too long possessed, and torn, and infuriated, even the body of the church.
"Spirit of love! descend and expel the infernal usurper. Cast out this spoiler of our beauty; this disturber of our peace; this opponent of our communion; this destroyer of our honor. Before your powerful, yet gentle sway, let prejudice retire and prepare us to believe all things that are reported to us to the credit of othersbe they of our group or notwhether they have offended us or notand whether in past times they have done evil or good."
3. "Love HOPES all things."
Hope has the same reference here, as the faith just considered; it relates not to what God has promised in his word, to those who love him. But love hopes to the good, of that which is reported to exist in our neighbors. In a report of a doubtful matter, where the evidence is apparently against an individual, love will still hope that something may yet turn up to his advantagethat some light will yet be thrown on the darker features of the case, which will set the matter in a more favorable point of view. Love will not give full credit to present appearances, however indicative they may seem to be of evilbut will hope, even against hope, for the best.
If the action itself cannot be defended, then love will hope that the motive was not badthat the intention in the mind of the actor was not so evil as the deed appeared to the eye of the spectatorthat ignorance, not malice, was the cause of the transactionand that the time will come when this will be apparent.
Love does not speedily abandon an offender in despondency. Love does not immediately give him up as incorrigible, nor soon cease to employ the means necessary for his reformation; but is willing to expect that he may yet repent and improve, however discouraging present appearances may be. Hope is the main-spring of exertion; and as love means a desire for the well-being of others, it will not soon let go of that hope, in the absence of which all its efforts must be paralyzed.
There are reasons which make it wise, as well as kindto believe and hope all things for the best. Presumptive evidence, however strongis often fallacious. Many circumstances in the case may look very suspicious; and yet the after-discovery of some little event may alter the aspect of the whole affair, and make the innocence of the accused far more apparent than even his guilt seemed before. The various instances in which we have ourselves been deceived by appearances, and have been led by defective evidence, though at the same time, convincing evidence, should certainly teach us caution in listening to evil reports, and dispose us to believe and hope all things.
When we consider, also, how common is slander, detraction, and tale-bearing, we should not be hasty in forming an opinion; nor should we forget the concern which is often manifested by each party engaged in a contention to gain our alliance to their causeby being first to report the matter, and to produce an impression favorable to themselves. Solomon has given us a proverb, the truth of which we have seen proved in a thousand instances, and which, notwithstanding, we are continually forgetting"The first to present his case seems right, until another comes forward and questions him." Proverbs 18:17
It is a proof of great weakness, so to give our ear to the first reporter, as to close it against the other partyand yet we are all prone to do this! A plausible tale produces an impression, which no subsequent opposing testimony, though attended with far clearer evidence of truth than the first statement, can effectually obliterate. We know that every case has two sideswe have all been experimentally acquainted with the folly of deciding until we have heard both sides; and yet, in opposition to our reason and to our experience, we are apt to take up a prejudice from a one-sided or partisan point of view.
Another circumstance, by which we are in danger of being misled in our opinion of our neighbor's conduct, is the mischievous propensity of many people to exaggerate everything they relate. Whatever be the philosophical cause into which a 'fondness for the marvelous', and a 'delight in exciting surprise', may be resolvedits existence and its prevalence are unquestionable. Perhaps we all like to relate what is new, and strange, and interesting; not excepting even bad news. To such a pitch is this carried, by those who are deeply infected with the propensity to exaggerate, that they never tell anything as they heard itevery fact is embellished or magnified. If a neighbor has displayed a little anger, they saw him 'raging like a fury!' If he was a little cheerful after dinner, he was 'perhaps drunk!' If he was evasive, they protest that he committed falsehood, if not perjury. If he had not been so generous in his transactions as could be wished, he was an extortioner, and devoid of common honesty.
Nothing is moderate and sober in the hands of such people; everything is extravagant or extraordinary! All they meet with is in the form of adventure. Out of the least incident they can construct a tale; and on a small basis of truth, raise a mighty superstructure of fictionto interest and impress every company into which they come! Undeterred by the presence of the individual from whom they received the original fact, they will not scruple to go on magnifying and embellishing, until the author of the statement can scarcely recognize his own narrative. How strange it seems, that such people should either not know, or not remember, that all this while they are telling falsehoods! They do not seem to understand, that if we relate a circumstance in such a manner as is calculated to give an impression which, either in nature or degree, does not accord with realitywe are guilty of the sin of lying. Where another person's character is concerned, the sin is still greater, since it adds slander to falsehood. Many a man's reputation has been frittered away by this wicked and mischievous propensity. Every narrator of an instance of misconduct, an instance not, perhaps, heinous in the first instance, has added something to the original fact, until the offense has stood before the public eye, so blackened by this 'accumulated defamation', that for a while he has lost his character, and only partially recovered it in the end, and this with extreme difficulty.
Remembering the existence of such an evil, we should be backward to take up an unfavorable opinion upon first appearance; and where we cannot believe all things, be willing to HOPE. Such is the dictate of loveand such the conduct of those who yield their hearts to its influence.
"Love bears all things."
"Love believes all things."
"Love hopes all things."
[url=http://www.gracegems.org/21/christian_love.htm]Christian Love by J.A James[/url]