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each other, we are led to the consideration of charity; the third and greatest of the Christian virtues.
The word, which we translate charity in the new testament, is love; and, according to the Apostle's description of it, it means that brotherly love and affection, that spirit of peace, unity, and benevolence, which is the life and soul of the Christian society.
There are two mistakes in regard to the nature of charity, which are so current amongst us, that it is necessary to remove them, before the nature of this virtue can be understood by a modern audience.
Some think that charity consists entirely in giving money to the poor: but in this they are greatly mistaken. Almsgiving is a branch, and a necessary branch, of charity; but it is no more; and very often it is not so much; for many are bountiful, who are not charitable ; and many are charitable, who have it not in their power to be bountiful. Though I give all my goods to feed the poor, saith St. Paul, and have not charity, I am nothing. It is therefore possible to give every thing to the poor, and still to have no charity. And it is possible for a Christian to be very charitable, who has nothing
more to give than a cup of cold water; because he gives it upon a right principle. Charity, therefore, is something more sublime than the bare giving of money, or feeding of the poor if this were all, what must they do, who have no money to give? Yet the poorest Christian must have charity, if he hopes to be saved.
There is a second mistake concerning charity, which deceives many. Charity, according to a fashionable opinion of it, is a virtue which finds excuses for those who depart from the doctrines and worship of the Christian church. Such charity makes light of all differences among Christians; it can sit by quietly, and see the church of Christ converted into a Babel of confusion; pretending, that morality, like that of sober heathens, is all that gives excellence to Christianity; and that, if the moral precepts be secured, it matters not what becomes of creeds, articles, and sacraments. But, my brethren, that is a poor sort of charity, which knows nothing more than to find excuses for the breach of charity, and thinks itself authorised to publish indulgences for errors, which are destructive to men's souls: nor is that charity any better, which, while it feeds the poor, can delight itself in a proud, pharisaical singularity,
and look with contempt and hatred upon pious Christians, because they set a proper value upon orthodoxy and uniformity. All this will appear to you, if you listen to the instruction of the Apostle, and learn from thence what charity really is.
Upon occasion of some divisions and disturbances, which had arisen in the church of Corinth, from some who were proud of their spiritual gifts, and had set themselves up in opposition to their brethren; the Apostle teaches them, that whatever differences there might be in their qualifications, they were all to be animated by the same spirit, and to behave themselves peaceably, as members of the same body. That it was as unnatural for Christians, who had but one communion, to divide themselves into parties, as for the members of the body to oppose one another, and follow separate interests not consistent with the unity of the whole. That no superior knowledge of the Gospel, no miraculous gifts, no qualification whatsoever, would warrant any man to make a division in the body of Christ. This is the subject of the 12th chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians; as you will understand, if you read it with attention. Thence the Apostle proceeds to describe charity, in the 13th chap
ter, from the last verse of which I have taken the words of the text: and he recommends this virtue to them, as superior to all gifts and endowments: for all faith and all knowledge. were intended as introductory to this virtue. All knowledge is given to Christians, to keep them together in one body, not to be a pretence for dividing themselves into parties: their knowledge is then worth nothing, because it does not answer its chief purpose: for peace and unity, the objects of it, are so far superior, that they shall be perfected in heaven, when all prophecy, all preaching, all the knowledge we now have, shall be at an end.
Charity then is that principle of love and friendship, which preserves the unity of the Christian society, and binds Christians to Christ and to one another, as members of his mystical body: it unites upon earth those who are to be united in heaven; and therefore it must be the constant endeavour of every true Christian to promote it by every method in his power; by his words and his works; his conversation and example. By this, said our blessed Saviour, shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. Love is the mark, by which his disciples are to be distinguished from other men: nay, the words
of Christ inform us, that the unity of his church is the proof of his divine mission, and the great testimony to the truth of his religionThat they all may be one (says he) as thou, father, art in me and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And such was the unity and affection of Christians in the primitive 'times, that it moved the admiration of heathens, who were heard to say, Behold, how these Christians love one another! If the same people were to see the multiplied divisions of the present times, and to hear the trifling reasons and vain conceits on which they are grounded, and by which they are defended; they might then say, Behold, how these Christians hate one another!
After what hath been said, you will easily be persuaded, that there can be no charity with out faith and hope: indeed it is an absurdity to suppose it there might as well be a Christian without Christianity. Charity is the end, faith and hope are but the means that lead to it the end of the commandment is charity : all doctrines, all precepts, all revelations are given, to build up this divine principle in the heart.
So far as charity is the gift of God to us, it