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ON CHARITY AS THE END OF THE COMMANDMENT.
Now the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, and of u good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.1 Timothy, i. 5.
IT appears from this chapter that one design of the Apostle, in writing to Timothy, was to guard him against certain corrupters of Christian doctrine, who had already arisen in the church. To their false representations of religion he opposes that general view of it which is given in the text. Such summaries of religion frequently occur in the sacred writings ; and are extremely useful. By the comprehensive energy with which they express the great lines of our duty, they both imprint them on our memory, and bring them home to our conscience with force. In the progress of this discourse, I hope to make it appear, that the words of the text afford a most enlarged and instructive view of religion in all its chief paris.
The Apostle pronounces charity to be the end or scope of the commandment, that is, of the law of God. At the same time, in order to prevent mistakes on this most important subject, he subjoins to charity certain adjuncts, as necessary to qualify it, and to render the Christian character complete. These are the pure heart, the good conscience, and faith un feigned. In treating of these, I shall shew the nature of their connection with charity, and the importance of their being always united with it.
The end of the commandment is charity. Charity is the same with benevolence or love ; and is the term uniformly employed, in the New Testament, to denote all the good affections which we ought to bear towards one another. It consists not in speculative ideas of general benevolence floating in the head, and leaving the heart, as speculations too often do, untouched and
cold. Neither is it confined to that indolent good-nature, which makes us rest satisfied with being free from inveterate malice, or ill-will to our fellow-creatures, with out prompting us to be of service to any. True charity is an active principle. It is not properly a single virtue; but a disposition residing in the heart, as a fountain whence all the virtues of benignity, candor, forbearance, generosity, compassion, and liberality flow, as so many native streams. From general good-will to all, it extends its influence particularly to those with whom we stand in nearest connexion, and who are directly within the sphere of our good offices. From the country or community to which we belong, it descends to the smaller associations of neighborhood, relations, and friends; and spreads itself over the whole circle of social and domestic life. I mean not that it imports a promiscuous undistinguishing affection, which gives every man an equal title to our love. Charity, if we should endeavour to carry it so far, would be rendered an impracticable virtue, and would resolve itself into mere words, without affecting the heart.
True charity attempts not to shut our eyes to the distinction between good and bad men; nor to warm our hearts equally to those who befriend and those who injure us. It reserves our esteem for good men, and our complacency for our friends. Towards our enemies it inspires forgiveness and humanity. It breathes universal candor, and liberality of sentiment. It forms gentleness of temper, and dictates affability of manners. It prompts corresponding sympathies with them who rejoice and them who weep. It teaches us to slight and despise no man. Charity is the comforter of the afflicted, the protector of the oppressed, the reconciler of differences, the intercessor for offenders. It is faithfulness in the friend, public spirit in the magistrate, equity and patience in the judge, moderation in the sovereign, and loyalty in the subject. In parents it is care and attention ; in children it is reverence and submission. In a word, it is the soul of social life. It is the sun that enlivens and cheers the abodes of men. It is like the dew of Hlermon, says the Psalmist, and the dew that descendeth on the mountains of Zion, where the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.* 1 Such charity, says the text, is the end of the commandment.
This assertion of the Apostle is undoubtedly consonant to all that reason can suggest on the subject of religion. For on considering the nature of the Supreme Being, reason gives us much ground to belive, that the chief design of all the commandments which he has given to men, is to promote their happiness. Independent and self-sufficient, that Supreme Being has nothing to exact from us for his own interest or felicity. By our services
• Psalm. cxxxii. 3.
he cannot be benefitted, nor by our offences injured. When he created the world it was benevolence that moved him to confer existence. When he made himself known to his creatures, benevolence in like manner moved him to give them laws for their conduct. Benevolence is the spring of legislation in the Deity, as much as it was the motive of creation. He issued his commands on earth on purpose that, by obedience to them, his creatures might be rendered happy among themselves in this life, and be prepared for greater happineas in another. Charity, especially when joined with purity, good conscience, and faith, is obviously the great instrument for this purpose; and therefore must needs possess the chief and primary place in the laws of God
Accordingly throughout the New Testament, it is uniformly presented to us in the same light in which it is placed by the text. This is known to all who have any acquaintance with the sacred books. Charity is termed the fulfilling of the law, and the bond of perfectness. It was assumed by our Blessed Lord as the the characteristical distinction of his disciples; and in that magnificent eulogium which the Apostle Paul pronounces upon it, in the thirteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians, it is expressly preferred by him to faith and hope. This deserves to be seriously considered by those who are apt to undervalue charity as an appendage of what they contemptuously call Morality ; while they confine true religion to some favourite tenets and observances of their own, which they consider as comprehending the sum of what is acceptable to God. Such persons shew themselves profoundly ignorant of the nature of religion, and may too often be suspected of being strangers to its influence. For, as the Apostle John reasons, He that loveth not his brother whom he hath scen, how can he love that God whom he hate not seen ?*
At the same time, while I ascribe to charity that high place in the system of religion, which justly belongs to it, I am not to be understood as confining all religion to this disposition alone. With much wisdom and propriety, the text hath annexed to it certain adjuncts, without which neither the character of a good man can be completed, nor charity itself exercised to advantage. To the consideration of these I now proceed ; and I enter the more readily on this branch of the subject, as there is ground to believe, that many pretend to possess charity, without properly understanding its nature and efficacy. There has been always an unhappy tendency among men to run to extremes, on one siile or other, in matters of religion. As one set of men, who mmploy all their zeal on right belief, are prone to undervalue
* 1. John, iv. 20.
verlook centole of theifteemed ratione
good practice ; so another set, who wish to be esteemed rational Christians, are inclined to rest the whole of their duty on charitable deeds, while they overlook certain dispositions and habits which ought always to accompany them. It is therefore of importance that the mistakes of both these classes of men should be rectified, in order that religion may be held forth to the world in its complete form, and in its full and undiminished lustre,
The first qualification of charity pointed out in the text is purity; charity out of a pure heart. Purity includes the virtues which belong to the individual, considered in himself, and with respect to the government of his desires and pleasures. It hath its seat in the heart; but extends its influence over so much of the outward conduct, as to form a great and material part of the character. They are only the pure inheart, we are told by our Saviour, who can see God.* It is also true, that they are only the pure in heart who can properly discharge their duties towards mankind. Inordinate love of pleasure, intemperance, sensuality, and a course of irregular life, are inconsistent, not only with the general character of a good man, but also with the peculiar exercises of charity and benevolence. For nothing is more certain than that habits of licentious indulgence contribute to stifle all the good affections, to harden the heart; to nourish that selfish attachment to our own vicious pleasures which renders us insensible to the circumstances and wants of others. A profligate man is seldom found to be a good husband, a good father, or a beneficent neighbour. How many young persons have at first set out in the world with excellent dispositions of heart; generous, charitable, and humane; kind to their friends, and amiable among all with whom they had intercourse! And yet how often have we seen all those fair appearances unhappily blasted in the progress of life, merely through the influence of loose and corrupting pleasures ; and those very persons who promised once to be blessings to the world, sunk down in the end, to be the burden and nuisance of society! The profusion of expense which their pleasures occasion, accounts in a great measure for the fatal reverse that takes place in their character. It not only drains the sources whence the streams of beneficence should flow, but often obliges them to become oppressive and cruel to those whom it was their duty to have patronised and supported.
Purity of heart and conduct must therefore be held fundamental to charity and love, as well as to general piety and virtue. The licentious, I know, are ready to imagine, that their occasional deeds of bounty and liberality will atone for many of their private disorders. But, besides that such plans of compensation for vices, by some supposed virtues, are always fallacious,
• Matth. v, 8.
the licentious may be assured, that it is an appearance only of charity, not the reality of it, to which they can lay claim. For that great virtue consists not in occasional actions of humanity, in fits of kindness or compassion, to which bad men may be prompted by natural instinct; but in the steady and regular exercise of those good affections, and the discharge of those important duties towards others, for which the licentious are in a great measure disqualified. Their criminal propensities direct their inclinations to very different objects and pursuits; and often de. termine them to sacrifice the just rights of others, sometimes to sacrifice the peace and the reputation of the innocent, to the gratification of their passions. Such is the pernicious influence which the love of pleasure has on the good qualities of its devoted votaries. The impure heart is like the stagnant and putrifying lake which sends forth its poisonous exhalations to corrupt and wither every plant that grows on its banks.
The second qualification annexed to charity in the text is, that it be of a good conscience. By this I understand the Apostle to mean, that charity be in full consistency with justice and integrity ; that the conscience of the man, who purposes to perform actions of benevolence, be free from the reproach of having neglected the primary duties of equity. For, undoubtedly, justice, is a virtue primary to charity ; that is, it must go before it in all its exertions. One must first do justly before he can pretend that he loves mercy.--Religion, my friends, in order to render it useful to mankind, must be brought down by its teachers from the sublimity of speculation to the functions and occupations of ordinary life. It is my duty to admonish you, that you must, in the first place, be fair in all your dealings with others; you must discharge the debts you owe ; you must pay the wages due to your servants and dependants; you must provide for your own family, and be just to the claims of relations ; then, and then only, you can, from a good conscience, as the text enjoins, perform acts of generosity and mercy,
This leads to a reflection which here deserves our attention ; that in order to fulfill that charity which is the end of the commandment, economy, and good order in private life, ought to be carefully studied by all Christians. This is more closely connected with a good conscience, than many seem inclined to admit. Economy, when prudently and temperately conducted, is the safeguard of many virtues, and is in a particular manner favourable to the exertions of benevolence. He who by inconsiderate conduct is injuring his circumstances, will probably in time lose the inclination, and certainly is depriving himself of
the means, of being serviceable to his brethren. Some important exertions, indeed, there are of charity, which have no connection with giving or bestowing. Candour, forgiveness, gentle.