« ForrigeFortsæt »
were the bottom principle in the virtuous and good, it is plain, there would be no essential difference of character between saints and sinners, or between the angels of heaven and devils in hell. All the difference would be merely circumstantial ; arising from the different conditions in which they are placed, the different treatment they receive, and the different ideas they have of the disposition of other beings towards them, or of their own interest.
Enough has been said, I think, to make it evident beyond all reasonable controversy, that the charity intended in the New Testament must be disinterested, as well as impartial, universal benevolence.
We will now inquire, as was proposed,
II. How this is the end of the commandment. On this, we must be brief.
By the commandment, I conceive is meant, the whole moral law. In this extensive sense the word is used, Psal. cxix. 96, “ I have seen an end of all perfection ; but thy commandment is exceeding broad." Proy. vi. 23, “ The commandment is a lamp, and the law is light.” Rom. vii. 9, “ I was alive without the law once ; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” And that this is meant by the commandment in our text, seems probable by what follows in the next verses : “ From which some having swerved, have turned aside unto vain jangling ; desiring to be teachers of the law,” &c. Nor is there any difficulty in seeing how what is here asserted of it will hold true, if we understand the commandment in this universal sense. For,
1. The end of the commandment is charity, as the design of God in every part of his holy law, was pure benevolence. Deut. vi. 24, “ The Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our
God, for our good always, that he might preserve us aliver”
2. The end of the commandment is charity, as true benevolence will lead us to feel and conduct in all respects, as the divine law requires. Christ is said to be the end of the law for righteousness to them that believe, because he hath fulfilled all righteousness for them. And in like manner, charity is the end of the commandment, because love is the ful· filling of the law. Had we an ultimate and supreme respect to the glory of God, and a proper concern for the good of our neighbor, we should keep all the ten commandments, with readiness and delight : and denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly ; as the grace of God that bringeth salvation teacheth. It is very obvious, that a due degree of impartial, disinterested, universal benevolence, would be an effectual restraint from every thing which the moral law forbids, and a prevailing excitement to all those duties and virtues, which either the law or gospel requires.
3. The end of the commandment is charity, as without this there can be no such conformity to law or gospel, in any of our actions or affections, as will partake at all of the nature of righteousness and true holiness. The apostle says, “ 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 understand all mysteries and all knowledge ; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." He means there is nothing in any of these which is praiseworthy, or which will be recompensed at the resurrection of
the just, if sincere love to God and men be totally wanting. And this is perfectly agreeable to reason and common sense. Certainly no gifts,' nor beneficent offices, nor fortitude, nor faming religious zeal, can please God, if we have no ultimate view to serve and glorify him. Certainly no action can have the least moral excellency, if the agent have no benevolent intention. Take away all true benevolence out of any thing which is esteemed a virtue,
all the virtuousness of it, according to the feelings of every man's conscience. Let us try this with respect to justice. Let us suppose a judge that feareth not God, neither regardeth man; but to avoid trouble or escape reproach, he does justice in some cases : or suppose him, from custom, to have contracted a habit of passing righteous sentences, so that he takes a kind of pleasure in it ; but without any thoughts of serving God, or doing good. What virtue can there be in this, any more than there is in a pair of scales when they give just weight ? Let us try it with respect to truth. Is there any virtue in saying that which is true, without any benevolent or good design ? If so, then it must be a virtue to speak the truth to rocks and hills, when one is alone, and knows that no creature hears him. Speaking the truth in love, is virtuous : to speak it out of malice, is vicious : to speak it without intending good or ill, is idle and impertinent. The apostle says to the Ephesians, “ Putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor.” And he enforces it by this very good reason ; “ for we are members one of another." The good of every society to which we belong, requires of us a sacred regard to veracity in all our words. Without this there could be no mutual confidence ; no administering justice ; no knowing what ought to be done for the decision of most controversies. But if we have no regard to the commandment enjoining it, nor to the end of the commandment--the good of society or of individu
als, no duty is done in speaking the truth. It is the same with respect to meekness. We
may and not sin; and we may sin in not being angry. We do well to be angry when God is dishonored, or when our neighbors are grossly injured. Meekness is commendable as far as it proceeds from a concern for the preservation of peace with men, and from respect to the command of God. For these reasons,
charity suffereth long, and is not easily provoked.” But if we are not influenced by this principle, nor these motives, however long we may suffer abuses without resentment, there is no more virtue in it, than in the patience of a stump or stone. It is the same respecting humility. To be kindly affectioned, and thence in honor to prefer others, is amiable : but that lowliness of mind which arises from no disposition to render honor to whom it is due, however it may make us cringe and give place, can be nothing but despicable meanness, or the want of a manly spirit. And thus it is respecting all other things which are accounted moral virtues, or christian graces. There is nothing gracious or virtuous in them, any further than they imply a truly generous disposition. Benevolence, as now explained, is the life and soul of every thing spiritually good.
By way of improvement;
1. It should hence seem, that it might be known, without much difficulty, what a man's true character is—whether he have any real religion or not. The specific difference between a saint and an unregenerate sinner, being reduced to a single point, one would think, that difference might be discovered, to the certain knowledge of a real christian, that he has, and of the false professor, that he has not, this all decisive mark of grace. Yet,
2. It concerns us to search and look, and it may hence be seen needful to search diligently, whether
we have this root of the matter in us.
There are many counterfeits of a benevolent temper and conduct. There are many ways in which self-love may put on the appearance of social or divine; and there are many lower instincts of kindness, which are apt to be mistaken for real goodness of heart.
If nothing short of disinterested, impartial, universal benevolence, will stand the final test, what reason is there to fear that multitudes will at last find themselves to have been fatally deceived ?
Lastly; Let christians hence be excited to covet, and by practice, and all other proper means, to cul. tivate, this all-important virtue.
“ Exercise thyself unto godliness," was the counsel of Paul to Timothy. As our bodily limbs, so the habits of the soul, are strengthened by exercise. Let us then, in this way, as well as by reading, meditation and prayer, seek to invigorate the law of kindness—the royal law, according to the scriptures. I conclude with the exhortation, Col. iii. 12, 14. “ Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering : And above all these things, put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.”