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It appears by the language of the apostle, that he is not recommending any particular duty, much less any particular acts of duty. The words, rendered "fervent charity," signify 'continual' or 'uninterrupted love.' Love is a principle, or good habit of mind, from which many duties flow; but it does not denote any one kind of duty more than another; and therefore the charity here spoken of has no more relation to alms-giving, (as the use of the word in our language leads people to think it has,) than it has to patience, forgiveness of injuries, or any other natural effect of love or charity. It is therefore the principle of charity, or a general beneficence of mind towards one another, which the apostle recommends. And this must be constant and regular; not subject to the efforts of passion or resentment; it must preside with a superiority over all the desires of our heart, that neither wantonness and lust, nor anger and revenge, nor covetousness and ambition, may carry us away from the ways of righteousness and equity in our dealings one with another. Bishop Sherlock.
Strife, envy, since the world began,
Like sable clouds, on earth have prest;
The love of God, the love of man,
Is the true sunshine of the breast.
O Charity! may we pursue
Thy gentle footsteps, heavenly dove!
Charity is the perfection of all Christian graces. It emanates from God, who is emphatically called LOVE; and, like a fruitful river, it spreads its refreshing streams in numberless directions, diffusing its salutary influence wherever it extends; till at length, all the branches re-uniting, are lost in the boundless ocean of eternal love.
'Tis love that makes our cheerful feet
In swift obedience move;
The devils know, and tremble too;
"Love worketh no ill to his neighbour:" it can work him no ill: it can never injure him in his person, his bed, his property, or his character: it cannot so much as conceive a desire for any thing that belongs to him. But it resteth not content with negatives. It not only worketh him no ill, but it must work for him all the good in his power. Is he hungry? It will give him meat. Is he thirsty? It will give him drink. Is he naked? It will clothe him. Is he sick? It will visit him. Is he sorrowful? It will comfort him. Is he in prison? It will go to him, and, if possible, bring him out. Upon this ground, wars must for ever cease among nations, dissentions of every kind among smaller societies, and the individuals that compose them. All must be peace, because all would be love. And thus would every end of the incarnation be accomplished: good will to men, peace on earth, and to God on high glory from both.
Reflect what an appearance society would wear, if men acted upon this evangelical principle. In superiors there would be equity and moderation, courtesy and affability, benignity and condescension: in inferiors, sincerity and fidelity, respect and diligence. In princes, justice, gentleness, and solicitude for the welfare of their subjects: in subjects, loyalty, submission, obedience, contentment, quietness, peace, patience, and cheerfulness. In parents, tenderness, carefulness of their children's good education, comfortable subsistence, and eternal welfare: in children, duty, honour, and gratitude: In all men, upon all occasions, a readiness to assist, to relieve, to comfort one another. Can we help exclaiming with the celebrated author of the Spirit of Laws, "How admirable the religion, which, while it seems only to have in view the felicity of the other life, constitutes the happiness of this!" Bishop Horne.
But know there is still one duty of universal and perpetual obli❤ gation, i. e. Charity, even when it hath done most, is ever bound, and ever labouring to do more. And this so comprehensive, that it not only takes in the letter, but answers the intent of the whole moral law. Dean Stanhope.
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death, 1 John iii. 14.
According to the Apostle in this place, the surest mark, by which we can know our actual state, is to consider whether we possess that characteristic disposition towards our brethren which the Christian religion enjoins. The high encomium, passed in this and the following verse on love to mankind, is not to be so understood, as if no virtue but benevolence were necessary to complete the Christian character. The virtues have all such a connexion with each other, that they cannot subsist separately. And therefore, if one really loveth his brethren, he will not only be charitable to the poor, but he will be just in his dealings, true to his promises, faithful in all the trusts committed to him. In short, he will carefully abstain from injuring his neighbour in any respect, and will perform every duty be oweth to him, from a sincere principle of piety towards God, whereby his whole conduct will be rendered uniformly virtuous.
"Above all these things," says the apostle, "put on charity;" intimating that christian love is the cardinal grace, that it is the great result to which all the rest will conduct, that it is the chief ornament of them all when combined.
How convincingly strong are the apostle's words on this subject, when writing to the Church at Corinth! Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understood all mysteries, and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing."
What is the possession of the most splendid gifts, or the most penetrating wisdom, when compared with the attainment of this heavenly grace of love! Oh! how contemptible does the lifeless professor of religion appear, when placed before the radiant character of him, who views his principles as important, only in proportion as they stamp upon him. the lovely image of his Redeemer ! How often have our hearts been refreshed, and all our spiritual sensibilities called into action, while we have listened to the ardent breathings of a mind filled with divine love! If the individual was
distinguished by talents, we seemed to lose sight of them amidst the splendours of his piety; or if his mind, in an intellectual sense, resembled the barren desert, yet, in all that appears important to the eye of infinite purity, it was a garden, which God himself had rendered fruitful by the genial influences of his grace.
In short, without this grace of charity, or holy love, all the rest are in vain; they are all most doubtful in their character. Faith is only the belief of a demon; knowledge is but a "wandering star, reserved to the blackness of darkness for ever;" peace is but the short-lived repose of a being insensible to danger; joy is but the wild raving of the maniac; hope is but the delusive phantom of a vain imagination; and humility itself is but the exercise of a pusillanimous mind. But let all these graces appear arrayed in the majestic robe of love, and then do they evince themselves to be the offspring of the Spirit of God; then do they rise up in all their native beauty and simplicity to view, and the christian character Morison's Sermons. presents a scene of harmony and of glory.
O Charity! sweet Charity!
Look on the radiant splendour of the night;
O'er that vast arch, to shade its orb, and say,
And thus it is with Charity!
Have you not seen some lovely bower,
And the King shall answer and say unto them, verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Matt. xxv. 40.
This memorable and gracious answer of our Saviour is fit to be engraven in the heart, and ever sounding in the ears, of all industrious promoters of charity. True it is, our Saviour says, Me in person ye never relieved, supported, comforted; but since ye performed these kind offices to others, who belonged to Me, at My command, and for My sake; I consider what you did to them (even to one of the least of them) as done to Myself, and shall accordingly give you a most valuable recompence. These words, considered as they ought to be, as to their general drift, press upon us two powerful motives to the practice of charity; the one, that upon this point we shall certainly be tried and examined at the great day of account; the other, the acts of mercy done to the poor will then be accepted and rewarded, as done to our Saviour himself. Bishop Atterbury.
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in. Matt. xxv. 35.
It is an observation of some importance to be impressed on our minds, that, although charity to our neighbour, and indeed only one branch of that comprehensive duty-liberality to the poor—is here specified, as the only christian virtue concerning which inquiry will be made at the day of judgment; yet we must not imagine that this is the only virtue which will be expected from us, and that on this alone will depend our final salvation. Nothing can be more distant from truth, or more dangerous to religion, than this opinion. The fact is, that charity, or love to man, in all its extent, being that virtue which Christ has made the very badge and discriminating mark of his religion, is here constituted by him the representative of all other virtues, just as faith is, in many passages of scripture, used to denote and represent the whole Christian Religion. But, that neither charity, nor any other single virtue, can entitle us to eternal life, is clear from the whole tenor of the New Testament, which every where requires universal holiness of life. We are