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and has compassion on him; he raises him, from the earth to which he is fallen, and pours balm into his wounds. What a pleasure would a generous mind take in releasing a poor wretch bound hand and foot by thieves, and left to perish in the field ! How happy is the good man in the opportunity of redeeming a poor Christian slave, who has been chained to the oar, and beaten by unfeeling Turkish tyrants | Such is the satisfaction we ought to take in restoring a sinner to his liberty. All men are entitled to this pity from us by the common ties of humanity: the effects of sin are to be deplored even in Heathens, Jews, and Savages: but Christians have a nearer claim upon us, as members of the same body, in which we are all to rejoice and suffer together. The righteous therefore, instead of triumphing in the sin of his neighbour, and aggravating his fault, is ready to offer any thing that can be said in the way of extenuation: that the sinner might offend through ignorance; that if he had known better, he would have done better; that he might be surprised into sin in an unguarded hour by the sudden violence of some temptation. Charity hopeth all things that are good, and believeth all things that are favourable. And, to conclude these observations, as the fool in mocking at sin imitates the devil, the righteous in shewing favour follows the example of Jesus Christ, who was even reflected upon for his condescension as the friend of publicans and sinners. But here we must be careful to urge the example of our blessed Saviour so far only as it will go. The malice of the hypocrite, and the sins of the impenitent, were the objects of his compassion, and even of his tears; but sin is no object of pardon, till it is confessed and repented of We are commanded to pray for those that revile us and use us despitefully ; but God himself is not faithful and just to forgive us our sins, till they are confessed by the penitent. Christ wept over Jerusalem for the calamities which its apostacy should bring upon it, and devoutly wished it might have seen the things which belonged to its peace; but he pardoned sin in those only who wept for themselves; and none of this temper were ever cast out, when they applied to him. I am now lastly to add some advice proper to the subject. The doctrine we have heard is this; that the righteous is favourable, and the fool is censorious. Let us therefore be careful not to mistake that mockery for wit, which is the greatest instance of folly. To mock at the evil or the shame of sin in those who are guilty of it, is the height of cruelty and malice; it is inhuman; it is more like an undistinguished brute, than one who is indued with the tender feelings of a rational man: and to mock at sin itself, as if there were no harm in it, is the way to let sin loose upon us: it saves trouble to the tempter, by taking off those restraints of religion and virtue which stand in his way. No words can make sin so horrible as it really is. It ruins individuals every day, in mind, body and estate; and there is a time when it shall destroy the world, as eertainly as the fire of the last day shall consume it. If he, that trifles with fire, is accounted a mad man, what must he be, who makes a mock at sin 2 For when fire and sword, and famine and pestilence, are laying waste the world, sin is the spring which puts them all in motion. Mockery, being an act of pride as well as folly, is very dangerous to those who practise it; because pride goeth before a fall; and he, that mocks at sin, is never far from falling into it. The offence is such as
ought to be injustice, and generally is, punished with subsequent disgrace and humiliation. He, that mocketh at others, shall be mocked at himself. We are warned not to be high minded, but to fear. When the wise man sees another fall, he is immediately in fear for himself, knowing that we are all compassed with the same infirmities, and that he himself may come to want that favour which he refuses to another. If he is told of any unhappy person, whom sin hath destroyed or betrayed, he has reason to bless God, that he himself was not made an example to that man, who is now made an example to him. And let me tell you, that no man can be in a safe condition, but he who thus judges of himself. Where there is great danger, there is no safety but in great fear; therefore the Christian is exhorted to leave mockery and levity to the giddy, thoughtless people of this world, who see not the danger of their own situation; and to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling. But of all the considerations which occur on our present subject, this is the most alarming; that they, who make sin the object of their mockery, incur the danger of being themselves cast off with scorn by Almighty God in the great day of retribution. There is an hour of distress, when such shall call upon God, and he will not answer; he shall laugh at their calamity, and mock when their fear cometh. Can we conceive any thing so dreadful, as to be mocked at by him, who is armed with all the instruments of vengeance 2 Of whom it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. The day is approaching, when we shall each of us be stretched upon our beds in a dying condition: and then the sins of our past life will present themselves to our imagination: so that while the body is sinking with weakness, the mind perhaps shall be overpowered with sorrow and amazement. Then, what will become of the unmerciful! How shall that tongue dare to ask forgiveness, which delighted in accusation and mockery 2 How shall those hands belifted up for mercy, which never knew how to spare 7 That we may not fall into this fearful state, let us now provide against it in time: let us be serious to consider the danger of sin; humble, to confess our own infirmities; charitable, to extenuate and overlook the miscarriages of others: then, instead of fearing the threatenings, we may hope in the promises of God, especially in this; Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.
BUT THE GREATEST of THESE IS CHARITY.-1 Cor. xiii. 13.
These three virtues support the Christian life, as the elements support the world. No religion but the Christian did ever teach mankind any one of these virtues: they are all peculiar to the Gospel: and so the Apostle intimates by calling them these three : joining them together as the three elements of the Christian system, none of which ever were or could be found in any other. When he compares them, he gives the preference to Charity; and with good reason; as you will see, when you have considered what it is. To describe it in as few words as possible, it signifies the friendship of Christians; the love we ought to have for the brethren ; that is, for the church and all its members, for the sake of Christ. It is the virtue which binds Christians to one another upon earth, and shall unite them for ever in heaven: it proves us to be true disciples of Christ in the eyes of the world; and it recommends us to God, because it brings us to a nearer resemblance with himself; for God is love *. To understand this virtue rightly, we must know whence it proceeds, and how it is to be attained.
* 1 John iv. 8