" And, above all these things, put on charity, -which is the bond of perfectness." — CoLOssiA S iii. 14. Amidst the strife of Christians about the faith once delivered to the saints, by the holy apostles of Jesus, it will be well if a voice can be heard, bidding them all consider how vain are all creeds and forms of worship, without that spirit of Christ which is the plain mark of true discipleship. That we should believe in all the doctrines of our religion, and earnestly contend for them against all error, meekly instructing them that oppose the truth, is a duty too clearly taught to be doubted. And of this earnestness there is no lack; for the pride of opinion, the love of triumph, and the desire of strengthening his party, all combine to urge each individual to a zealous maintenance of the cause which he has espoused. But the meekness which is enjoined by the Christian Scriptures, (as all agree,) is a much rarer quality, since it is very hard to preserve it in connexion with religious zeal. It requires a degree of restraint and self-control, which they who are "valiant for the truth," do not sufficiently practise. Making allowance for peculiarity of temperament, we may safely affirm, that they who seek, with most singleness of heart, the glory of God in the extension of truth, by their zeal for the doctrines which they maintain, will have most of that meekness of spirit, which makes argument more powerful, by conciliating the prejudices which blunt its point. Meekness, however, displayed in argument, or under affront, is a quality (in itself commendable, and highly commended by our Lord and his apostles,) which springs from that principle, just referred to as the mark of true discipleship, and which is so forcibly

316 SERMO XXXVII. inculcated in our text. This principle is charity, or love, — for this is the comprehensive meaning of charity, in the language of the Holy Scriptures. It is a brotherly affection, which Christians are exhorted to cherish for each other chiefly, but likewise for all the world. Its importance, as an ingredient of the Christian character, and a manifestation of the Christian faith, in its influence 06 the heart, may be estimated by the language of St. Paul, in the text and elsewhere, as well as by that of the other apostles. He says to the Colossians, after having exhorted them to clothe themselves with mercy, humility, meekness and long-suffering, as with garments, "and above all these things, (or over all,) put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness." This is to be worn as an outward garment, the badge or livery of Christ's servants. It is to be conspicuous as a distinguishing feature of their character, as the disciples of a holy and divine Saviour. He calls it "the bond of perfectness," which is an expression, in the Hebrew idiom, equivalent to "the perfect bond" in our own idiom, by which he means that charity or Christian love binds together, in the closest union, all the members of the church, (however scattered,) like the various parts of one body, making them, (like these,) subservient to each other, and moving them as by one will, to promote a common cause. This bond of union is a grace of the highest value, in the estimation of all the apostles, who have left us their written testimony to the truth, as it is in Jesus. In the first Epistle to Timothy, St. Paul calls it "the end of the commandment." St. Peter shows his sense of the value of it by this exhortation : "Above all things, have fervent charity among yourselves, for charity shall cover the multitude of sins." St. James calls it "the royal law." St. John declares, that it is "the fulfilling of the law." And our Lord himself speaks of it as the " new commandment" which he gave his disciples. These are some of the particular expressions of the Scriptures, in regard to that principle which we now commend to your careful consideration. Being so important, it ought to be well understood, and diligently cultivated. And we cannot better employ the time which we may now spend together, than in considering the nature, manifestations and motives, to the exercise of Christian charity. If, then, we are asked what it is, we may say very briefly, that it is a principle

of love and beneficence towards our fellow men, and especially

SERMO XXXVII. 317 our fellow Christians. It is a fixed principle, resulting from faith in Christ, constant in its operation, modified perhaps, but not restrained, by circumstances of being. It is not to be confounded with that good nature which is constitutional. And it must be equally distinguished from that impulsive benevolence, towards those who have some traits of character that we admire, or who in some way excite our unwonted generosity and kindness. The love which the Scriptures enjoin, (as the sure evidence of true discipleship,) recognises the claims of the whole human family, upon our affection, and is drawn out by a sense of obhgation to the Saviour, who, moved by love, ofiered himself in sacrifice for all mankind, not for particular classes of men, and taught his disciples to show their sense of his benefits, by imbibing his spirit, and following his example. It implies an earnest desire for the welfare of others, a hearty satisfaction and delight in their prosperity, and a sincere commiseration of their misfortunes and sorrows. These feelings may be expressed in various ways. The desire will find vent in the offering of fervent prayer and supplication to Him who metes out prosperity to the children of men, and who has encouraged them to pray for each other. This prayer may be put forth in general terms for all our fellow mortals, or it may have a special reference to the condition of individuals, or particular classes of them, adapting itself to their peculiar circumstances. He who has a heart glowing with Christian love, will be moved to frequent and powerful intercession with God, through the divine Saviour, in behalf of all whom God hath made after the Bame image, and Christ hath redeemed with the same blood. He will do this spontaneously, to discharge the fulness of a grateful heart, as well as deliberately, with the hope of obtaining benefits for them. And every one that has a just sense of the love of Christ for him, displayed in that grace wherein he stands, will have a heart glowing with charity, which will seek

utterance of its fulness in the language of intercessory prayer. He cannot contemplate the goodness and mercy of God, the wonderful interposition of divine love between himself and destruction, without considering at the same time, the solemn and earnest injunction of his Saviour, " that he should love even as he had been loved," and embracing within his warmest sympathies, the whole

318 SERMO XXXVII. human family. This is grateful affection, the generous tribute of a heart that is sensible of benefits received, that are of inestimable value, and can only show its thankfulness by an obedience to Christ, who has commanded mutual love as an evidence of love for himself. Besides this grateful affection, there is what may be called the love of second nature — that which Christians feel for each other, as brothers in Christ by adoption. We call it a feeling of second nature, because, as brothers by birth are bound together by a natural affection, so are they who are brothers in Christ, (through that adoption by which they become sons of God,) bound together by an affection which springs directly from their new relation. With this spontaneous feeling, there is mingled, (as we may discover by analysis,) some gratitude to him through whom the relation is established. This love between Christians, as brothers by the new birth, and that which is entertained by them for all mankind, will induce intercessory prayer, as an expression of desire for the welfare of those who are thus loved. But besides this expression of such desire, (which may be given without the knowledge of those for whose benefit it is designed,) charity will prompt the Christian to give his fellow men, as occasion may serve, an assurance of his good will tOAvards them, and his good wishes for their welfare. Such an assui'ance may cheer the hearts of those to whom it is given, and add something to their happiness. And, therefore, our duty to ourselves as Christians, bound to show by all means our consistency of character ; and to our Saviour, whose precept and example, direct us to the most extensive beneficence, will prompt us to give it.

True charity implies also, as we have said, a hearty delight in the prosperity of others, and consequent efforts to promote it by actual benefits. Where this holy fruit of the Spirit is found, there is no place for envy. o matter how great be the superiority of our neighbour's fortune to our own, we cannot but rejoice in it, if we abound in that love which is the bond of perfectness. It will follow, of course, from this satisfaction with our neighbour's prosperity, that we shall make efforts to increase it. Doing good is the best and most natural way of showing a good feeling towards others. This active exercise of charity is particularly enjoined by our Saviour, who, in all his ministry on earth,

SERMO XXXVII. 319 beautifully exemplified what he taught. "To do good and communicate, forget not," is the language of the apostle, which sets forth the duty of contributing, in any way that we can, to the comfort and the support of the needy and the afflicted. To give alms of what we possess is only one of the forms of active charity, but it is one so common and obvious, that the word "charity" has become, in ordinary use, synonymous with alms-giving. But in whatever way we may promote the well being of our fellow men, we are bound in charity to do it. We should be ready at all times to protect, instruct, advise and comfort them. If any trouble befall them, we should feel a deep sympathy for them, and show that sympathy by a prompt and diligent endeavour to relieve them. To cheer the desolate with our society, to heal the sick, and comfort the mourners with expressions of sympathy, and with the consolations of religion, are acts of charity which it behooves the Christian habitually to perform. or should he be careful only to minister to the temporal wants of his neighbour, in the various modes of relief which may present themselves. Spiritual wants call for a deeper sympathy, and more delicate attention. Often may it fall to the lot of a private Christian, to behold cases of religious despondency, that he may relieve by his timely and judicious counsel. Then it becomes

him to be a speedy minister of consolation to the forlorn soul; to probe the wound which pains, that he may lay sweet unction at the bottom ; and to draw, if he can, from his own experience, reflections that may bring a cheering assurance to the heart of his despairing brother. So, too, he may be called to confront religious error, and if so, he should be ready to speak the truth in love, meekly instructing them that oppose it. This should be particularly observed. For though you may think that truth always carries its own justification, and therefore may be careless of the mode of stating it, yet charity will suggest the most cautious and gentle mode of correction. It prompts' the Christian to inculcate his own views of what the gospel teaches, when he has reason to expect a patient hearing. But it allows no indignant reproof of hoaest opinion, no rebuke in wrath of the heresy that he condemns. Hence, while there is no breach of charity in withholding correction of religious error, when there is no reason to believe that any good would come of it, we are surely guilty of

820 SERMO XXXVII. such breach In bestowing it in an improper spirit. To maintain truth at all times is the duty of every one. But so it is equally his duty to exercise charity. The spiritual interests of our fellow men should be dear to us, and should call forth our proper zeal in their behalf. But we should always consider whether our zeal for their improvement may not be so unwisely exerted as to defeat our good purposes, by making them more confirmed in error. Though they might patiently hear the truth, if properly enforced, they may rebel against the spirit and mode in which it is addressed to them, and so reject it entirely. While on this branch of our subject, we cannot refrain from noticing the confusion of ideas which widely prevails, in regard to charity, as connected with religious opinion. If we maintain the truth of the doctrines which we profess, in the face of those who entertain very different views of religious truth, we are often charged with a want of charity. ow it is very plain that a man's views of religious truth cannot be affected by charity.

He may have all the love for his fellow men that the gospel enjoins, and may desire earnestly their spiritual welfare, and wish that they could be led to entertain those views which he thinks would best promote that welfare, and yet he cannot help differing from them. If, then, there is no breach of charity in holding certain opinions in regard to scriptural doctrines, there can be none in viewing opposite opinions as erroneous. This follows as a matter of course. And if duty requires that we should say what are erroneous, where is the want of charity ? It can only be found in the spirit Avith which our own views are propounded, and others which conflict Avith them are condemned. If the truth be spoken in triumph, with a contempt for those who differ from us, or with a disposition to vex them, then, surely, there is a great want of charity. But there can be no greater charity than to speak the truth with a good motive, with a desire to correct and lead into the right way 'those who "have erred and are deceived." True charity induces forbearance under provocation, according to the description of St. Paul in the 13th chap. 1 Corinthians: "It suffereth long and is not easily provoked." ow it has been said, and aycII said too, that it is the second blow which makes the quarrel, and hence charity, which makes for peace, will restrain the hand that would retaliate an injury. So it will prompt us to

SERMO XXXVII. 321 keep the mastery over the tongue, that we offend not in word. But how few do thip ! How few even among Christians come up to St. James' standard of a perfect man ! He says, " If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body." How often do Christians heedlessly, and even wilfully provoke each other by harsh censure or untimely reproof ! How often do those who can command their temper, worry their weaker brethren into acts of indiscretion, or expressions of anger and impatience! In religious conversation or controversy, it is a great breach of charity to urge on to such indiscretions, a temper naturally weak and irritable, or one already tried beyond its

power of endurance. Forbearance is the duty of a Christian in such cases. He should always strive to save the weak from that danger into which they are liable to be hurried by their own imprudence. " We that are strong, ought to bear the infirmities of the weak," says the apostle to the Romans. And it is much more charitable to please our neighbour, by yielding to his innocent whims and peculiarities of temper, than to vex and annoy him, by endeavouring to correct them. "We should refrain from doing what is in itself allowable, if it have a tendency to injure our neighbours. And this leads to a point which deserves especial consideration, the connexion between charity and self-denial. It prompts the Christian to abstain from those permitted things, which may be abused by others weaker than himself, who might be encouraged by his example in the use of that which will eventually destroy them. Hence if a Christian who has been in the habit of using temperately, among temperate people, that which may intoxicate, is placed in contact with those who are prone to drink to excess, the love which the gospel enjoins will plead strongly with him for a total abstinence. Of the peculiar call for self-denial in any particular case, each individual is the proper judge. It is a matter between himself and his conscience, the enforcer of God's law. Highly commendable is he who abstains at all times, prompted by so pure a motive as the desire of saving, so far as his influence extends, by the force of his example, all who might be led into ruinous excess. One other mark of charity demands our notice. It is seen in a disposition to have a good opinion of our neighboui'S, to put the 21

322 SERMO XXXVII. best construction upon their conduct, and never to impute bad motives, when it can be explained satisfactorily, on the supposition of good ones. Charity prompts us to extenuate rather than exaggerate faults. Has a fault been committed? Ascribe it to weakness rather than malice. Thus shall ye conform to the pure and holy teaching of that Saviour who said, "Judge not, that ye

be not judged." Thus will ye display the working of that charity "which thinketh no evil." These are some of the marks and evidences of that spirit of love, which is set forth in the Scriptures as the sure sign of a disciple of Christ. The motives to its cultivation and constant exercise, are neither few nor small. It should be enough that Christ has enjoined it, as a proof of our just sense of his love for us, of the benefits of his sacrifice, and of his precious instruction in the way of righteousness. And it is certain that the more highly we appreciate these benefits, the more will our hearts glow with that love for our fellow Christians and our fellow men, which is one of the fruits of faith. But there is motive enough in the happiness derived from the exercise of this feeling. It is twice blessed. It blesses him who gives, as well as him who receives. Indeed it is essential to the Christian character. St. Paul declares that, however great may be our knowledge of the truth which Christ has proclaimed, and our belief of that truth, we are nothing in the sight of God, as Christians, if we have not charity. Hence we have strong motives to cultivate this excellent grace. Without it, we cannot have the approbation of our Saviour, whose chief commandment is that we should love one another. And without it we cannot be satisfied that we have even that faith which justifies the sinner in 'the sight of God. Wherefore " follow after charity." Cultivate with constant care this heavenly principle, which contains within itself the burden of the song which angels sang at our Saviour's birth, "Peace on earth, good-will towards men."

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