« AnteriorContinuar »
ple, and by keeping that in view in all our investigations, we shall have the advantage, in some measure, of the single eye, which causeth the whole body to be full of light. Whereas, if we have erroneous or indeterminate ideas of the essence of all morality and religion, our judgment concerning ourselves, and all our discourses on moral and religious subjects, will necessarily be full of darkness.
The whole moral law, as given to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai, written by the finger of God on tables of stone, was contained in ten commandments. These are reduced by our Saviour to two; on which, he tells us, hang all the law and the prophets." The apostle Paul, in several of his epistles, has given us a briefer summary still. He says, Rom. xiii. 10, "Love is the fulfilling of the law:" and Gal. v. 14, "All the law is fulfilled in one word; even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." He is indeed there speaking of the second table of the ten commandments; but in our text he appears to have reference to the law at large, without limitation to social duties: and yet here, likewise, he expresses the sum and substance, the whole scope and design of it, in a single word: "The end of the commandment is charity."
It is now proposed to inquire and show, what we are here to understand by charity; and how this is the end of the commandment.
I. What the apostle means by charity, I shall endeavor particularly to explain.
This is a word in very common use; but that it is commonly understood in the fulness of its original signification, is not thence certain. We learn from our Saviour's sermon on the mount, that the law given by Moses, had been very much explained away by former expositors; and so it may not
improbably now be, respecting the words of the NewTestament.
By charity, we often understand, nothing more than external liberality to such as are in want and distress. One who feeds the hungry and clothes the naked, is called a charitable man. And indeed, doing such deeds of kindness, as we have ability and opportunity, is one necessary expression of gospel charity. This is essential to pure and undefiled religion. "Whoso hath this world's goods," says the apostle John, "and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" Job was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame; he delivered the poor that cried, the fatherless, and him that had none to help him: the blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon him, and he caused the widow's heart to sing for joy.' Nevertheless, a man may abound in such outward deeds of charity, while yet he is wholly destitute of this virtue. So the apostle Paul evidently supposes. Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor," says he, "and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." And our Saviour speaks of hypocrites, who gave alms that they might be admired of men, which, he intimates, would be all their reward.
Again; by charity we sometimes mean, a readiness to think well of our neighbors, and of men of different religious opinions. Those who believe that mankind are naturally virtuous, and that men may be in a safe condition respecting another world, let their religious principles be what they will; consider themselves, and are considered by one another, as men of eminent and extensive charity. It is possible, however, they may have little or nothing of that charity which is the end of the commandment. An aptness to entertain a favorable opinion of others, may indeed be owing to an honest and good heart. It may proceed from a truly generous disposition.
Charity thinketh no evil; hopeth all things, believeth all things." It is not the part of christian charity, to be jealous or censorious; but to hope and believe the best, of men of all sects and denominations. In matters of religion, it must be confessed, there is often seen much of that narrowness and bitterness of party spirit, which ought to be condemned. And certainly those christians who are quick-sighted to discern every mote in a brother's eye, while a beam in their own is undiscovered, are justly charge-. able with great want of charity.
But then, on the other hand, it can hardly be, disputed, that liberality of sentiments, as it is called, may be carried too far; and may, in many instances, proced from no good cause.
As to a readiness to believe human nature very good; there may be nothing any more generous in this, than there is in thinking of ourselves, of our own family, our own country, and other connections, more highly than we ought to think. National prejudice is notorious: and is easily accounted for from self-love. So is prejudice in favor of every less society, of which we ourselves are members. And from the same narrow source, it may well be supposed, we have all of us a strong, partial bias in favor of our own species. Hence it is often seen that the fondest admirers of mankind in the gross, when they come to speak of separate individuals, will as readily express a bad opinion of them, as those who believe the total depravity of all men by nature. Self, is then out of the question; or, perhaps, is in the opposite scale. Hence, one may say all manner of evil of other countries, or of persons opposed to us, unconnected with us, and no offence is taken: but say a word against our own country, or against all mankind, and our wrath is soon enkindled. "Master,
thus saying, thou reproachest us also."
As to being apt to think that all men, Pagans, Mahometans, Papists, Socinians, Arians, Arminians,
and even Trinitarians and Calvinists, are essentially right in religious matters; this may be owing to loose notions, to cursory, superficial thinking, or to. extreme carelessness and indifference, about all religion. Nor is it to be wondered at, that some are ready to believe all men will be saved; since, perhaps, on no other ground, can they have any comfortable hope concerning themselves.
It is certain, however, that the author and finisher of our faith, was far from being eminent for this kind of charity. His doctrine was, "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life; and few there be that find it." He testified of the world, that the works thereof were evil; and therefore the world hated him. Though he came into the world, not finally to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved: and though he went about doing good; feeding thousands, restoring sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf, and healing all manner of diseases; yet he was thought, no doubt, exceedingly uncharitable. And so, I believe, would any preacher now be thought, who should teach the laws of God, and give the character of man, with the same truth and freedom that he did. We read of a people of old, that "said to the seers, See not and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things; speak unto us smooth things, prophe→ sy deceits." And we read of teachers in those times, who daubed liberally with untempered morter. Who were so charitable and tender-hearted, as to heal the hurt of sinners slightly; "saying, Peace, peace, when there was no peace." Certainly, thinking that the most of mankind, and all men by nature, are very virtuous and good; and telling them that the broad way, will never lead to destruction; is not the charity of the law of God, or the gospel of Christ.
The Greek word for charity, in the New-Testament, is often translated, and always properly signifies love-a love of benevolence, It is the same that is
rendered love in Rom. v. 8, "God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." In Rom. xiii. 10, "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor." And in 1 John iv. 8, "God is love." And that love-this kind of love, is meant, where our translators have given the word charity, is evident from what is said of it in many places. See particularly, 1 Cor, xiii. 4-7, "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," &c. All these, any one may easily see, are the natural fruits, and proper characteristics, of a benev, olent dispositon.
But it is not enough to show what charity is not, or what are no certain evidences of it; nor to say, in a word, what it is: that it is benevolence; good will; kind affection. Because all men wish well, and are disposed to do good, to some of their fellow-creatures, from some principle or other and there may be many instances of particular friendships, which are not at all of the nature of christian charity. True benevolence, it must therefore be observed, hath these three properties essential to it, whereby it may be distinguished. It is universal-it is impartialand it is disinterested.
1. That charity which is the bond of perfectness, or the end of the commandment, must be universal benevolence. It extends, or is ready to be extended, to all proper objects of good will: that is, to all beings capable of enjoying good, or of suffering evil.
Not that the charitable man actually exercises kind affection, toward every such being in the uniThis is naturally impossible. There are doubtless many beings in the creation, of whose existence we have no knowledge; and towards whom therefore, we can have no particular feelings, either of love or hatred. But when we say, true benevo