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We must acknowledge moral worth wherever we find it. Whatever is good is from God, and He is to be acknowledged in all things; as well in the tinsel on the wing of the butterfly as in the lustre of the sun; as well in the structure of the little ant as in that of the great elephant; as well in the bloom of the modest violet under your feet as in the glory of the heavens over your heads. In like manner all moral excellencies are to be recognized. We must approve of what is right and good in our antagonist, as well as in our friend, whose views harmonize with our own. And we must take care that our own wbim or caprice is not the measure of worth and goodness we see in others. We are not to say that this thing is right and that is wrong, simply because it is or is not conformed to our standard of sentiment or taste. The Word of God is the only infallible standard of right, and by that alone are all views of moral worth to be formed. There are different degrees of moral worth in different individuals, but none are as holy as they ought to be. This fact should teach us mutual forbearance and charity ; to rejoice in moral excellence in whatever degree and in whatever person it is found. And this will sweeten our tempers and remove our animosities; while it is sure to soften down the asperities and win over the respect of our antagonist, and thus tend to lessen the distance between us. There is a kind of spirit which is so different from that charity which thinketh no evil, that it seems to think nothing but evil of those who happen to differ from us. It is a sour, acrimonious state of mind, which looks at everything through a jaundiced eye, and criminates those who honestly differ from us in opinion. We seem not to understand that a jewel may be found even among rubbish ; that Jesus is to be worshiped even when lying in a stable ; and that the ark of God is to be owned though in the possession of the Philistines. Now, if all professing Christians had more of that charity which is not puffed up, and thinketh no evil, they would find their minds more composed and the acidity of their hearts more effectually neutralized. They would see that all truth and wisdom is not with them : that it is possible to be right and owned of Christ though differing from them : that they hold many things in common with those from whom ecclesiastical lines or a bad spirit separates them; and this would make them modest, forbearing, and courteous.
We should think much upon the love of God. “We love him because he first loved us ;” and he that realizes how God has loved him will find in this a constant and urgent reason why he should love his brother. Says John : “ Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” The motive here presented urges us to the exercise of charity the most catholic and comprehensive; charity that endureth all things, and never faileth ; that while it covers a multitude of sins and is slow to impute iniquity, will nevertheless put forth untiring energies to save men from transgression and its dreadful consequences. The love of seraphs burns not like a lamp in a sepulchre, but like the stars of heaven, it sheds its beams upon other objects. The love of God is in its very nature diffusive. It knows no bounds, and will not be confined within prescribed limits. It dispels the clouds, and stills the tempests, and sweetens the whole atmosphere of the soul. It enlarges the mind, and softens the affections, and calms the passions, and smooths the ruggedness of our natures. It cuts up pride and selfishness root and branch, and inspires us with the most kind and generous feelings. Who can contemplate Jehovah sending rain upon the evil and upon the good ; and who can trace the Saviour from the manger to the cross, whose every act was tenderness and love, and not feel his bosom swell with the most enlarged benevolence ? Dwell much upon the astonishing love of God if you would have a full measure of charity.
As another means of cultivating this lovely virtue, we must endeavor to obtain clear views of the yreat design of the Christian religion. That it is not to furnish subjects merely for specula. tion, to awaken the curiosity, and heat the imagination ; but to array before the mind powerful motives to a holy life, to aid us in controlling our passions, subduing our appetites, and directing our wills; and in bringing all our powers into subserviency to the glory of God—to the best good of society, and the salvation of souls. And if Christians would acknowledge this to be their appropriate work, and conscientiously apply themselves to it, they would find enough about which to employ their thoughts, and neither time nor occasion to be prying into the infirmities of their neighbors. They would see how unwise it is to be jealous and suspicious of others' wrongs, when so much remains to be corrected in themselves. There is a sort of moral derangement in such conduct, just as if a man should quarrel with his neighbor about a penny when his house is on fire and his family ready to perish in the flames. The Christian has no moral difficulties to contend with that are of so serious a character as those he finds in his own breast. These require his attention, diligence, and strength to subdue. And he will discover so much in himself to censure, and so little to approve, that he will hasten to forgive the trespass of a brother, and extend to him the charity which he himself so much needs.
Furthermore, we should avoid all passionate and angry disputes on the subject of religion. Charity and truth both suffer in such conflicts. When passion takes the field, reason and judg. ment retire. When the waters are agitated and fouled there is no seeing to the bottom. It is the calm investigator that arrives at the truth and convinces his opponent, while the hot dis. putant only creates clouds which shut out the light, at the sacri. fice of love. If truth rather than triumph be our object, we shall let reason assert her rights and charity maintain her dominion over the soul. We may differ from a brother in our religious opinion, but when we are inclined to assail him vehemently, let us remember the fable of the sun and the wind contending for the traveler's cloak. The wind blew with violence, and the more it blustered the closer did he draw his cloak about him : at length the sun beams out with calm and penetrating rays and gently warmed him into a disposition to take off his cloak himself. There is nothing so convincing and subduing as love : nothing has such power to disarm and paralyze the errorist. ' Approach him in this temper, and you are sure to gain his respect and esteem, if you fail to dislodge his errors and win him over to the truth. As passion and prejudice bear sway he is sure to adhere closer to his errors, and become less susceptible of benefit.
It is true that we are commanded to "contend earnestly for the faith that was once delivered to the saints.” But the faith here meant, does not consist in points of doubtful import, but in the fundamental doctrine that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, accompanied with a holy life; the persons against whom the primitive saints were to contend were the ungodly that denied the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. For essential and fundamental points like this, we may, and ought to contend earnestly, yet in love : but contention about lesser and unessential points is called by the apostle perverse disputing, and is more the result of pride and ignorance than of enlightened rational zeal.
Beware also of a heated sectarian zeal. In the furnace which is kindled by zeal for a religious party, charity is often dreadfully scorched, if not utterly consumed. If our adherence to a particular church or denomination arises from an honest and sincere belief that it is equally if not more Christian in its doctrines, spirit, usages and practice than other branches of Zion, then we are consistent, and our motives may not be questioned. Such an adherence is perfectly consistent with that enlarged liberality and charity towards others who may differ from us in religious opinions and sympathies, that never faileth and is always kind. But our attachment to a church or denomination merely from love to a party, or from a belief that it may better promote some private end, is sheer selfishness. And yet in connection with ihis latter spirit we generally find the most intemperate sectarian zeal. Persons of no higher attachments than these are generally the most opinionated and censorious, and often look upon Christians in other church relations, with denominational pride and contempt, and affect to thank God that they are not like these publicans. They charm themselves with the fond imaginings of their own light, and fancy all others to be in darkness. They heap to themselves teachers, and in their man-worship exclaim, I am for Paul, or I am for Apollos, or I am for Cephas : this man is a powerful reasoner, or that man is eloquent, or such a one is liberal ; while they in turn assure their people that they are God's chosen and favored church!
Such views and feelings are unfriendly to charity, engender animosities and persecutions, and cherish the worst passions of the human heart. We have a striking illustration in the description which Jude has given us of the sectaries in his time. He distinguishes them by various unmistakable marks. By their vain conceits : hence they were dreamers. By their insolent opposition to government : hence they despised dominion, and spoke evil of dignities. By their ignorance and malice : hence they spoke evil of things they knew not. By their unkindness and cruelty to their brethren: hence their relapse into the way of Cain. By their murmurings against their rulers : hence they perished in the gainsayiny of Core. By their false pretensions to virtue': hence they were clouds without water. By their inconstancy: hence they were carried about of winds. By their violent and furious temper: hence they were raging waves of the sea. By the irregularity and danger of their course : hence they were wandering stars. By their discontent: hence they were murmurers and complainers. By their stubbornness : hence they walked after their own lusts.' By their self-conceit and pride of party: hence their mouth spoke great swelling words. By their fond admiration of their own people : hence they had men's persons in admiration. By their sectarian pride and scorn: hence they were called mockers. By their schismatical spirit: hence they were those who separated themselves. By their real sensuality: hence they were justly called sensual, having not the Spirit.
Such is Jude's striking portraiture of a class of religionists in his day, who in their pride and self-righteousness withdrew from the communion of the Christian brotherhood under pretense of greater holiness. And such has ever been and will ever be, the sad results of man-worship, or sectarian zeal in the absence of Christian charity.
Finally, prayer is an eminent means of promoting the charity that never faileth. For, the spirit of prayer and of unkindness have no affinity. The Christian cannot go from his closet where he has had melting views of his own unworthiness; where he has heard the groans and seen the agonies and the blood of his Redeemer; and hate and injure his brother. Let the love of God and man warm his heart in prayer, and it will burn up all censoriousness and unkindness; and his very countenance will radiate the light, love, and benevolence of his inner man. Men have come down from the mount of prayer, and put in motion some of the grandest schemes of Christian benevolence that are now blessing the world. Had there been aught of unkindness and misanthropy in their hearts they could not have given birth to such plans nor put them in execution. If then, my brethren, you ever become selfish, and sour, and worldly in your feelings, go upon the mount and remain there till you have prayed them all away ;-pray till you are melted into repentance and lu.c, till all your passions and affections are sweetened and chastened by Divine Grace, and you can embrace in your arms of piety and benevolence the whole human family—all who are the offspring of a common Parent—the subjects of a like apostasy and redemption—the brethren of the same adoption—heirs of one common glory.
The field is the world. Then let your hearts be enlarged until you can take in the world ; until you can feel that every man has an immortal soul, whose redemption is unspeakably precious; that every man is your brother, and your neighbor, and may become through grace a bright seraph in heaven. Go to Gethsemane and listen to its agonizing prayers. Ascend Calvary and hear the groans and heart-rending cries of the crucified One. Comprehend if you can the deep, unfathomable love of the “ Man of sorrows," as he prays for his murderers. Go often and linger long upon the mount of prayer, until you bathe your souls in the pure streams of Divine grace, and drink deeper than ever at the fountain of Divine love. Charity never faileth : your bodies will be consigned to the grave; your earthly schemes may be dashed in pieces, and your earthly hopes and affections quenched in the darkness of death : but, love to God never dies—it is life everlasting; and having accomplished its blessed mission in this world of sin and sorrow, it will put on immortality, and shine and rejoice forevermore in the kingdom of heaven.