« AnteriorContinuar »
to encourage with benevolence and honour. The result of attention to these directions will be, that with whomsoever we are concerned, we shall conduct ourselves not only with moderation and good humour, but with civility and friendship. For we shall never arrive at true meekness by any other way, than by having our hearts imbued with self-dejection and a respect for others.
V. How extremely difficult it is for you to discharge your duty in seeking the advantage of your neighbour! Unless you quit all selfish considerations, and, as it were, lay aside yourself, you will effect nothing in this duty. For how can you perform those which Paul inculcates as works of charity, unless you renounce yourself, and devote yourself wholly to serve others? “Charity,” says he, “ suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked,” &c. (h) If this be all that is required, that we seek not our own, we must do no small violence to nature, which so strongly inclines us to the exclusive love of ourselves, that it does not so easily permit us to neglect ourselves and our own concerns, in order to be vigilant for the advantage of others, and even voluntarily to recede from our right, to resign it to another. But the Scripture leads us to this, admonishes us, that whatever favours we obtain from the Lord, we are entrusted with them on this condition, that they should be applied to the common benefit of the Church; and that, there. fore, the legitimate use of all his favours, is a liberal and kind communication of them to others. There cannot be imagined a more certain rule, or a more powerful exhortation to the observance of it, than when we are taught, that all the blessings we enjoy are Divine deposits, committed to our trust on this condition, that they should be dispensed for the benefit of our neighbours. But the Scripture goes still farther, when it compares them to the powers with which the members of the human body are endued. For no member has its power for itself, nor applies it to its private use; but transfuses it among its fellow members, receiving no advantage from it but what proceeds from the common convenience of the whole body. So, whatever
ability a pious man possesses, he ought to possess it for his brethren, consulting his own private interest'in no way inconsistent with a cordial attention to the common edification of the Church. Let this then be our rule for benignity and beneficence; that whatever God hath conferred on us, which enables us to assist our neighbour, we are the stewards of it, who must one day render an account of our stewardship; and that the only right dispensation of what has been committed to us, is that which is regulated by the law of love. Thus we shall not always connect the study to promote the advantage of others with a concern for our own private interests, but shall prefer the good of others to our own. To teach us that the dispensation of the gifts we receive from heaven ought to be regulated by this law, God anciently enjoined the same even in regard to the smallest bounties of his liberality. For he commanded the people to offer to him first-fruits of the corn, as a solemn avowal that it was unlawful for them to enjoy any blessings not previously consecrated to him. And if the gifts of God are not sanctified to us till after we have with our own hands dedicated them to their Author, that must evidently be a sinful abuse which is unconnected with such a dedication. But in vain would you attempt to enrich the Lord by a communication of your possessions. Therefore, since your “goodness extendeth not to him,”() as the Psalmist says, you must exercise it “towards the saints that are in the earth:” and alms are compared to sacred oblations, to shew that these exercises of charity
der the gospel, correspond to those offerings under the law.
VI. Moreover, that we may not be weary of doing good, which otherwise would of necessity soon be the case, we must add also the other character mentioned by the apostle, that “charity suffereth long, and is not easily provoked.” The Lord commands us to do “good unto all men,” (k) universally, a great part of whom, estimated according to their own merits, are very undeserving: but here the Scripture assists us with an excellent rule, when it inculcates, that we must not regard the intrinsic merit of men, but must consider the image of God in them, to which we owe all possible honour and love: but that
(i) Psalm xvi. 2, 3.
() Heb. xiii. 16.
this image is most carefully to be observed in them“ who are of the household of faith," (1) inasmuch as it is renewed and restored by the Spirit of Christ. Whoever, therefore, is presented to you that needs your kind offices, you have no reason to refuse him your assistance. Say that he is a stranger; yet the Lord hath impressed on him a character which ought to be familiar to you; for which reason he forbids you to despise your own flesh. (m) Say that he is contemptible and worthless; but the Lord shews him to be one whom he hath deigned to grace with his own image. Say that you are obliged to him for no services; but God hath made him, as it were, his substitute, to whom you acknowledge yourself to be under obligations for numerous and important benefits. Say that he is unworthy of your making the smallest exertion on his account; but the image of God, by which he is recommended to you, deserves your surrender of yourself and all that you possess. If he not only has deserved no favour, but, on the contrary, has provoked you with injuries and insults; even this is no just reason why you should cease to embrace him with your affection, and to perform to him the offices of love. He has deserved, you will say, very different treatment from me. But what hath the Lord deserved? who, when he commands you to forgive men all their offences against you, certainly intends that they should be charged to himself. This is the only way of attaining that which is not only difficult, but utterly repugnant to the nature of man; to love them who hate us, (n) to requite injuries with kindnesses, and to return blessings for curses. (0) We should remember, that we must not reflect on the wickedness of men, but contemplate the Divine image in them; which, concealing and obliterating their faults, by its beauty and dignity allures us to embrace them in the arms of our love.
VII. This mortification, therefore, will not take place in us unless we fulfil all the duties of charity. These are fulfilled, not by him who merely performs all the external offices of charity, even without the omission of one, but by him who does this from a sincere principle of love. For it may happen, that a man may fully discharge his duty to all men, with respect to exter
nal actions, and, at the same time, be very far from discharging it in the right way. For you may see some men who would be thought extremely liberal, and yet never bestow any thing without upbraiding either by pride of coụntenance, or by insolence of language. And we are sunk to such a depth of calamity in this unhappy age, that scarcely any alms are given, at least by the majority of mankind, but in a haughty and contemptuous manner: a corruption, which ouglit not to have been tolerated even among heathens; for of Christians there is something farther required, than to display a cheerfulness of countenance, and to render their benefactions amiable by civility of language. In the first place, they ought to imagine themselves in the situation of the person who needs their assistance, and to commiserate his case, just as though they themselves felt and suffered the same; so that they may be impelled by a sense of mercy and humanity, to afford assistance to him as readily as if it were to themselves. He who comes to the assistance of his brethren under the influence of such a disposition, not only will not contaminate his services with arrogance or reproach, but will neither despise his brother who is the object of his beneficence, as needing assistance, nor domineer over him as · under an obligation to him; no more, for instance, than we insult a diseased member, for whose restoration the rest of the body labours, or suppose it to be under particular obligations to the other members, because it has needed more assistance than it returned. For the communication of services between the members of the body, is esteemed to be in no sense gratuitous, but rather a discharge of that, which being due by the law of nature, it would be monstrous to refuse. And for thiş reason, he will not suppose himself to have discharged all his duty, who has perfor.ned one kind of service; as it generally happens, that a rich man, after having bestowed some part of his property, leaves other burdens to be borne by other persons, and considers himself as exempted from all concern about them. On the contrary, every man will reflect with himself, that however great he may be, he is a debtor to his neighbour, and that no bounds should be fixed to the exercise of beneficence towards them, except when his ability fails, which, as far as it extends, ought to be limited to the rule of charity. .
VIII. Let us describe again, more at large, the principal branch of self-denial, which we have said relates to God; and indeed many observations have already been made concerning it, which it would be needless to repeat: it will be sufficient to shew how it habituates us to equanimity and patience. First, therefore, in seeking the convenience or tranquillity of the present life, the Scripture calls us to this point; that resigning ourselves and all that we have to the will of God, we should surrender to him the affections of our heart, to be conquered and reduced to subjection. To desire wealth and honours, to be ambitious of power, to accumulate riches, to amass all those vanites which appear conducive to magnificence and pomp, our passion is furious, and our cupidity unbounded. On the contrary, to poverty, obscurity, and meanness, we feel a wonderful fear and abhorrence, which stimulate us to avoid them by all possible means. Hence we may see, how restless the minds of all those persons are, who regulate their lives according to their own reason; how many arts they try, and with what exertions they fatigue themselves, in order, on the one hand, to obtain the objects of ambition or avarice, on the other, to avoid poverty and meanness. Pious men therefore, that they may not be involved in such snares, must pursue the following course. First, let them neither desire, nor hope, nor entertain a thought of prosperity, from any other cause than the Divine blessing; and on that let them securely and confidently depend. For however the flesh may appear to itself to be abundantly sufficient, when it either attempts by its own industry, or strenuous exertions, to attain honours and wealth, or is assisted by the favour of man; yet it is certain, that all these things are nothing, and that we shall obtain no advantage, either by ingenuity or by labour, but as far as the Lord shall prosper both. On the contrary, his benediction alone finds a way, even through all impediments, so as to bring all our affairs to a joyful and prosperous conclusion. And though we may, for the most part, be able without it to obtain for ourselves some degree of opulence and glory, as we; daily behold impious men accumulating great honours and enormous wealth; yet, since those who are under the curse of God enjoy not even the smallest particle of happiness, we shall acquire nothing without the Divine blessing which will not