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that juste is in sy by
ness, and sympathy, are due to our brethren at all times, and in every situation of our own fortune. The poor have opportunities for displaying these virtues, as well as the rich. They who have nothing to give can often afford relief to others, by imparting what they feel. But, as far as benificence is included in charity, we ought always to remember, that justice must, in the first place be held inviolably sacred.
The wisdom of Scripture remarkably appears, in the connexion pointed out by the text, between charity and good conscience, or integrity; a connexion which I apprehend is often not attended to so much as it deserves. Among the frugal and industrious, great regard is commonly paid to justice. They will not defraud. They will not take any unlawful advantage in their deal. ings: And, satisfied with this degree of good conscience, they are strangers to that charity which is the end of the commandment. They are hard and unfeeling. They are rigid and severe in their demands. They know nothing of humanity, forgiveness, or compassion. - Among another class of men, who have been more liberally educated, and who are generally of a higher rank in life, justice is apt to be considered as a virtue less noble than charity; and which may, on some occasions, be dispenseil with. They are humane, perhaps, and tender in their feelings. They are easy to their dependants. They can be liberal, even to profusion. While, at the same time, they are accumulating debts which they know themselves unable to discharge. Their affairs are allowed to run into confusion. Economy and good order are neglected. The innocent, in great numbers, suffer materially through their mismanagement: And all the while they assume to themselves the praise of being generous and goodhearted men. This surely is not that charity which the Gospel enjoins; and which in its very essence, involves good conscience and integrity. He who pretends to do good to his brethren without first doing them justice, cannot be aceounted their real friend. True charity is not a meteor, which occasionally glares; but a luminary, which, in its orderly and regular course, dispenses a benignant influence.
The third and last adjunct connected in the text with charity, is, that it be of faith unfeigned. Faith, in the Scripture sense of it, includes the whole of religious principles respecting God, and respecting Christ. Good principles, without good practice, I confess, are nothing; they are of no avail in the sight of God, nor in the estimation of wise men. But practice not founded on principle, is likely to be always unstable and wavering; and therefore, the faith of religious principles enters, for a very considerable share, into the proper discharge of the duties of charity.
It will be admitted that, without faith, our duties towards God, cannot be properly performed. You may be assured that your duties towards men will always greatly suffer from the want of it. Faith, when pure and genuine, supplies to every part of virtue, and in particcular to the virtue of charity, many motives and assistances, of which the unbeliever is destitute. He who acts from faith, acts upon the high principle of regard to the God who hath made him; and to the Saviour who redeems him ; which will often stimulate him to his duty, when other principles of benevolence become faint and languid, or are crossed by opposite interests. When he considers himself as pursuing the approbation of that Divine Being, from whom love descends, a sacred enthusiasm both prompts and consecrates his charitable dispositions. Regardless of men, or of human recompense, he is carried along by a higher impulse. He acts with the spirit of a follower of the Son of God, who not only has enjoined love, but has enforced it by the example of laying down his life for mankind, Whatever he does in behalf of his fellow-creatures, he considers himself as doing, in some degree, to that Divine Person, who hath said, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.* Hence charity is with him not only a moral virtue, but a Christian grace. It acquires additional dignity and energy from being connected with the heavenly state and the heavenly inhabitants. He mingles with beings of a higher order, while he is discharging his duty to his fellow-creatures on earth; and, by joining faith and piety to good works, he completes the character of a Christian.
Thus I have endeavoured to explain the full sense of that comprehensive view of religion which is given in the text. I have shewn in what respect charity, joined with the pure heart, the good conscience, and faith un feigned, forms the end of the commandment. Let us ever keep in view those essential parts of a virtuous character, and preserve them in their proper union. Thus shall our religion rise into a regular and well proportioned edifice, where each part gives firmness and support to another. If any one of those material parts be wanting in the structure ; if, out of our system of charity, either purity, or justice, or faith, be left, there will be cracks and flaws in the building which prepare its ruin.
This is indeed one of the greatest and most frequent errors of men, in their moral conduct. They take hold of virtue by pieces and corners only. Few are so depraved as to be without all sense of duty, and all regard to it. To some moral qualities, which appear to them amiable or estimable, almost all men lay claim; and on these they rest their worth, in their own estimation. But these scattered pieces of virtue, not uniting into one
Matth. $xy. 40.
whole, nor forming a consistent character, have no powerful influence on their general habits of life. From various unguarded quarters they lie open to temptation. Their lives are full of contradiction, and perpetually fluctuate between good and evil. Virtue can neither rise to its native dignity, nor attain its proper rewards, until all its chief parts be joined together in our character, and exert an equal authority in regulating our conduct.
ON OUR LIVES BEING IN THE HAND OF GOD.
(Preached at the beginning of a New-Year.*]
My times are in thy hand.-Psalm xxxi. 15.
THE sun that rolls over our heads, the food that we regive, the rest that we enjoy, daily admonish us of a superior power, on whom the inhabitants of the earth depend for light, life, and subsistence. But as long as all things proceed in their ordinary course; when day returns after day with perfect similarity; when our life seems stationary, and nothing occurs to warn us of any approaching change, the religious sentiments of dependance are apt to be forgotten. The great revolutions of time, when they come round in their stated order, have a fendency to force some impressions of piety even on the most unthinking minds. They both mark our existence on earth to be advancing towards its close, and exhibit our condition as continually changing; while each returning year brings along with it new events, and at the same time carries us forwards to the conclusion of all. We cannot, on such occasions, avoid perceiving, that there is a Supreme Being, who holds in his hands the line of our existence, and measures out to each of us our allotted portion of that line. Beyond a certain limit, we know that it cannot be extended; and long before it reach that limit, it may be cut asunder by an invisible hand, which is stretched forth over all the inhabitants of the world. Then naturally arises the ejaculation of the text, My times, O God, are in thy hand. “My “fate depends on thee. The duration of my life, and all the
* January 6tb, 1793
“ events which in future days are to fill it, are entirely at thy “ disposal.”— Let us now, when we have just seen one year close, and another begin, meditate seriously on this sentiment. Let us consider what is implied in our times being in the hand of God; and to what improvement this meditation leads.
The text evidently implies, first, that our times are not in our own hand; that, as our continuance in life depends not on ourselves, so the events which are to happen while life remains, are unknown to us, and not under our own direction. Of this we may behold many a proof when we look back on the transactions of the year which is just finished. Recollection will readily present to us a busy period, filled up with a mixture of business and amusement, of anxieties and cares, of joys and sorrows. We have talked, perhaps, and acted much. We have formed many. a plan ; in public or in private life, we have been engaged in a variety of pursuits. Let me now ask, how small a proportion of all that has happened could have been foreseen or foretold by us? How many things have occurred, of which we had no expectation; some, perhaps, that have succeeded beyond our hopes; many, also, that have befallen us contrary to our wish? How often were each of us admonished that there are secret wheels, which, unseen by us, bring about the revolutions of human affairs; and that while man was devising his way, Proyi. dence was directing the event ?
That scene is now closed. The tale of that year has been told. We look forward to the year which is beginning; and what do we behold there?-All, my brethren, is a blank to our view : A dark unknown presents itself. We are entering on an untried, undiscovered country, where, as each succeeding month comes forward, new scenes may open; new objects may engage our attention; changes at home or abroad, in public or in private affairs, may alter the whole state of our fortune. New connexions may be at hand to be formed, or old ones just about to be dissolved ; perhaps we may have little more to do with this world, or with any of its connexions; we may be standing on the verge of time and life, and on the point of passing into a new region of existence. In short, the prospect before us is full of awful uncertainty. Life and death, prosperity and adversity, health and sickness, joy and trouble, lie in one undistinguishable mass, where our eye can descry nothing through the obscurity that wraps them up.
While it is thus certain that our times are not at our own disposal, we are taught by the text, that they are in the hand of God. This may be considered in two views. Our times are in the hand of God, as a Supreme Disposer of events. They are in the hand. of God, as a Guardian and a Father.