Imágenes de páginas

branch, of charity ; but it is no more; and very often it is not so much ; for many are bountiful, who are not charitable; and many are charitable, who have it not in their power to be bountiful. Though I give all my goods to feed the poor, saith St. Paul, and have not charity, I am nothing. It is therefore possible to give every thing to the poor, and still to have no charity. And it is possible for a Christian to be very charitable, who has nothing more to give than a cup of cold water; because he gives it upon a right principle. Charity, therefore, is something more sublime than the bare giving of money, or feeding of the poor: if this were all, what must they do, who have no money to give? Yet the poorest Christian must have charity, if he hopes to be saved.

There is a second mistake concerning charity, which deceives many. Charity, according to a fashionable opinion of it, is a virtue which finds ex-. cuses for those who depart from the doctrines and worship of the Christian church. Such charity makes light of all differences among Christians; it can sit by quietly, and see the church of Christ converted into a Babel of confusion; pretending, that morality, like that of sober heathens, is all that gives excellence to Christianity; and that, if the moral precepts be secured, it matters not what becomes of creeds, articles and sacraments. But, my brethren, that is a poor sort of charity, which knows nothing more than to find excuses for the breach of charity, and thinks itself authorised to publish indulgences for errors, which are destructive to men's souls : nor is that charity any better, which, while it feeds the poor, can delight itself in a proud, pharisaical singularity, and look with contempt and hatred upon pious Christians, because they set a proper value upon ortho

doxy and uniformity. All this will appear to you, if you listen to the instruction of the Apostle, and learn from thence what charity really is.

Upon occasion of some divisions and disturbances, which had arisen in the church of Corinth, from some who were proud of their spiritual gifts, and had set themselves up in opposition to their brethren; the Apostle teaches them, that whatever differences there might be in their qualifications, they were all to be animated by the same spirit, and to behave themselves peaceably, as members of the same body. That it was as unnatural for Christians, who had but one communion, to divide themselves into parties, as for the members of the body to oppose one another, and follow separate interests not consistent with the unity of the whole. That no superior knowledge of the Gospel, no miraculous gifts, no qualification whatsoever, would warrant any man to make a division in the body of Christ. This is the subject of the 12th chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians ; as you will understand, if you read it with attention). Thence the Apostle proceeds to describe charity, in the 13th chapter, from the last verse of which I have taken the words of the text: and he recommends this virtue to them, as superior to all gifts and endowments: for all faith and all knowledge were intended as introductory to this virtue. All knowledge is given to Christians, to keep them together in one body, not to be a pretence for dividing themselves into parties : their knowledge is then worth nothing, because it does not answer its chief purpose: for peace and unity, the objects of it, are so far superior, that they shall be perfected in heaven, when all prophecy, all preaching, all the knowledge we now have, shall be at an end.

Charity then is that principle of love and friendship, which preserves the unity of the Christian society, and binds Christians to Christ and to one another, as members of his mystical body: it unites upon earth those who are to be united in heaven; and therefore it must be the constant endeavour of every true Christian to promote it by every method in his power; by his words and his works; his conversation and example. By this, said our blessed Saviour, shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. Love is the mark, by which his disciples are to be distinguished from other men: nay, the words of Christ inform us, that the unity of his church is the proof of his divine mission, and the great testimony to the truth of his religion- That they all may be one (says he) as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And such was the unity and affection of Christians in the primitive times, that it moved the admiration of

Christians love one another! If the same people were to see the multiplied divisions of the present times, and to hear the trifling reasons and vain conceits on which they are grounded, and by which they are defended; they might then say, Behold, how these Christians hate one another!

After what hath been said, you will easily be persuaded, that there can be no charity without faith and hope: indeed it is an absurdity to suppose it: there might as well be a Christian without Christianity. Charity is the end, faith and hope are but the means that lead to it: the end of the commandment is

[ocr errors]

given, to build up this divine principle in the heart.

So far as charity is the gift of God to us, it arises necessarily from the nature and conditions of the Christian religion; where unity is so conspicuous in all its rites and doctrines. We have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one spirit to animate us; one hope of our calling: and, in the sacrament of the Lord's supper, we all partake of one bread, and thereby become one body. Thus we are called to unity and love, by all the terms of our faith and worship. God hath made us one, as members of his Church: and so far charity is his gift. How it is to be preserved, we are taught at large in the chapter from whence the text is taken. There it appears, that Christians, who are called to a state of unity, are to keep themselves in it, by kindness and long suffering; by bearing with one another's imperfections and weaknesses; by putting away all envy and opposition, all that carnal vanity, which makes us desire to be distinguished in the sight of men, rather than in the favour of God; by bearing with things that may be disagreeable to us; hoping that things are not so bad as they may seem; and that what is bad will be better; by lamenting the offences of our brethren; not rejoicing at their miscarriages : in short, by serving others and reducing ourselves : for thus did the son of man come to take upon him the form of a servant, and to minister to the wants of all, rather than to be magnified and ministered to by any lle, who can follow this example, will be a charitable man, and shall inherit the rewards of charity, in that blessed place from whence it cometh. His faith may remove mountains ; his hope may lift him above the world; but his charity alone will carry him to heaven.



MATTH. xxi. 13.

ABOUT four hundred years ago, when the corruptions of Popery had overspread this kingdom, and were become insupportable, the office of preaching was almost totally neglected in country parishes : and there were indeed but few of the clergy who were qualified to preach, so that the ministerial duty was reduced in a manner to the offices of baptizing, confessing, praying and administering the sacrifice of the mass. Such gross errors were mixed with the doctrines of the church, and so many abuses were practised in the discipline of that time to supply the avarice of the bishop of Rome, and render the priesthood at home a more profitable trade, that it was thought more advisable to keep the common people in ignorance; who were therefore but meanly provided with preachers. But when the eyes of men began to be opened by the remonstrances of the Reformers, the clergy themselves became sensible of the defect, and preaching was again in fashion. As the people grew more enlightened, their inclination to preaching increased, and the clergy found it their interest, as well as their duty, to gratify it, and to adorn their preaching with a proper degree of learning and eloquence.

But such is the weakness of mankind, that they are always prone to correct one error by running into

« AnteriorContinuar »