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dispensation distinguished by its tender mercy to sinners, dwell mostly upon the former: but neither of these principles is inconsistent with the other. We may bear the utmost good will to men as the creatures of God, and as being within the limits of hope; while yet, considered as the Lord's enemies, we abhor them. If we love others as we love ourselves, that is all that is required: but the love which a Christian bears to^his own soul is consistent with his abhorring himself as a sinner. Our Lord exemplified both these dispositions at the same time. In denouncing the damnation of hell against the scribes and pharisees, you would think him void of every feeling but that of inflexible justice: yet looking upon the same people, in reference to their approaching miseries, he bujet into a flood of tears. The same spirit possessed the apostle Paul towards his countrymen. When they rejected the gospel, he did not scruple to apply to them the awful prophecies of Isaiah, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see and shall not perceive, &c. yet the same apostle solemnly declares, that he had great heaviness, and continual sorrow in his heart on their behalf. So far from an abhorence of the wicked jn respect of their wickedness, being inconsistant with genuine benevolence, it is necessary to it The compassion that is void of this, is not benevolence, but the workings of disaffection to God, and of criminal partiality towards his enemies.
Benevolence has not, as observed before, an immediate respect to character; yet it considers its objects within the limits of hope, in respect to their becoming the friends of God. If a creature be a confirmed enemy to God, as in the case of devils and lost souls, true benevolence will cease to mourn over them, as it would imply a reflection upon the Creator. It is on this principle that Aaron was forbidden to mourn for his sons, Nadab and Abihu, and that Samuel was reproved for mourning over Saul. Lev. x. 6. 1 Sam. xvi. 1. Hence also we see in the benevolence of David and Isaiah towards the heathen, (Psal. lxvii. Isa. xlix.) a prospect of their future conversion: and as this prospect was to be realized under the gospe! dispensation, we perceive the reason of benevolence' in it, arising to its highest pitch. By the appearance and sacrifice of Christ, the glory of God was to be manifested in a way of good will to men, even to enemies; angels therefore dwelt upon this idea at his birth, and the disciples were taught to cherish it.
But to bear good will to our enemies, to pity them that hate us,and to pray for them that despitefully use us and persecute us, is, after all, a strange doctrine in the account of a selfish world. If the love of God be not in us, self-love in one shape or other' will have possession of our souls. Hence infidels have treated this precept as extravagant, and imputed the conduct of Christians to affectation. Conscious, it seems, that self-love is the governing principle of their own actions, they imagine it to be the same with all others. The general prevalence also of this spirit leads them to expect little else from one another, and to act as if it were a law of nature, for every one to love himself supremely, and all other beings only as they are subservient to him. Nor are infidels the only persons who have spoken and written in this strain: many of the advocates of Christianity have so formed their systems as to render self-love the foundation on which they rest. . Neither God nor man is to be regarded but on our own account. On. this- principle, however, it would follow, that there is no such thing as glorifying God as God, nor hating sin as sin, and that the gospel has no charms on account of its revealing mercy in a way of righteousness, any more than if it had revealed it in a way of unrighteousness. If our love be directed merely " to that which relieves ns " it would be equally worthy of acceptation in our account, let that relief come how it might; and thus the character of God as the Jost and the Justifier of them that believe in Jesus, forms no part of the good news to sinful men: the glory of the gospel is no. glory.
There is much meaning in the words of the apostle John—We are op Gon: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not op God heareth not us. Hereby know ice the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Every false system of religion originates and terminates in self. This is the character of the spirit of error. But if we be of God, we shall lqve him, and every image of him ins creation. Those objects which bear his moral image, such as his holy law, his glorious gospel, and his renewed people, will occupy the first place in our esteem; and those which at present bear only his natural image, while there is any hope of their recovery to a right mind, will be the objects of onr tender compassion, and their salvation the subject of our earnest prayers.
It is thus that we manifest ourselves to be the children of onr Father who is in heaven; who, till sinners are fixed in a state of irreconcileable enmity to him, and to the general good, causeth his. tun to rise, and his rain to descend upon them, whatever be their characters.
If self-love be the spring of our religion, it is declared by our Saviour to be of no value, and that it will issue in no divine reward. How should it be otherwise, when it differs not from the spirit of the world? The most abandoned men love those that love them. If this were true religion, we do not need to be taught it of God; for it is perfectly suited to our depraved nature. But if true religion consists in being of the mind of God, or in being perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, it is absolutely necessary that we be born again, or we cannot see the kingdom of God.
ON ALMS-GIVING, AND PRAYER:
Our Saviour having detected various false glosses upon the law, and shown the spirituality of its requirements, proceeds to discourse on some of the most common and important duties of religion. Of these he instances alms-giving and prayer, Three things are observable from what is said of the former, ver. 1—4.
First: It is taken for granted that the disciples of Christ were' in the habit of giving alms; and this notwithstanding they generally consisted of persons who laboured for their subsistence. And would this bear to be taken for granted of the body of professors among us? They might have said, 'We have enough to do to provide for our own houses: it is for the rich, and not for labouring people, to give alms.' But feeling, as they did, for the afflicted and necessitous, especially for those of the household of faith, they would deny themselves many comforts for the sake of being able to relieve them. True religion always teaches men* to be merciful.
Secondly: As, through the deceitfulness of the human heart, the most beneficial actions may arise from corrupt designs, and thereby be rendered not only void, but evil inthe sight of God, we are warned as to our motives—Take heed that ye do not ijouf
alms BEFORE MEIf, TO BE SEEN OF THEM do not SOCND A TRUMPET
before you, as the hypocrites do. In what concerns the relief of individuals, this counsel will commonly apply in the most literal sense of the words. The liberality of vain men, having no other object than to be thought generous, is commonly, either publicly proclaimed, or exercised in a way that shall by some means come to the knowledge of the neighbourhood; while that of the modest Christian, desirous only of approving himself to God, is done in secret. The words, however, do not apply in all cases. It i» not so much the act as the principle or motive, that our Lord condemns. If we understand it literally of the former, it would follow, that nothing ought to be given in public subscriptions or collections for the poor; for in this, concealment would be improper, if not impossible. The primitive Christians did not always conceal their donations; but consulted, and subscribed for the poor brethren at Jerusalem, Acts xv. 29, 30. Nor would privacy be consistent with other commandments; particularly that in Chap. v. 16. Let your light so shine before men, that others seeing your good works, may glorify your Father which is in heaven. There is no evil in our works being seen of men, provided they be not done for this end, bnt for the glory of God. Secrecy itself may become a cloak to avarice: and it is a fact, that many, by affecting to be very private in their donations, have contrived to keep their money to themselves, and at the same time to be thought very generous. The evil lies in the motive; doing what we do from ostentation, or to be seen of men. The desire of human applause, is a canker that eats out the charity of many gifts, and renders that which would otherwise be good and well-pleasing to God, a mere exercise of selfish hypocrisy.
Thirdly: As every thing in this world bears a relation to eternity, we are reminded of the final issue of things. If we give from ostentation, we Have our reward: but if from love, and with an eye to the glory of God, that which has been done in secret, shall be rewarded openly. It is so ordered in the divine administration, that the selfish soul shall be disappointed in the end; while he who seeks the good of others, shall find his own. But how is it that the ivorks of those sinful creatures should be rewarded with eternal life? In themselves considered, they cannot; and if any mm> think, by a series of beneScent actions, to atone for the sins of his past life, and to obtain the kingdom of heaven, he will be awfully deceived. But if he believe in Jesue, he is accepted in him; and being so, his offerings are accepted and rewarded, both in this. world and that which is to come.
From alms giving our Lord proceeds to prayer, vcr. 5—3. The former respected our conduct to men, the latter our approaches to God. And here also it is observable, that it is taken for granted that Christ's disciples are praying men. What he says is not to persuade them to prayer, but to direct them in. it. Infidels may imagine that God does not concern himself with the affairs of mortals, and may excuse themselves by pretending that it were presumption in them to solicit the Supreme Being to do this or that: formalists may say their prayers, and be glad when the task is over: but Christians cannot live without communion with God. Prayer has with propriety been called the breath of the new creature. To satisfy Ananias that Saul was become a Christian, it was enough to say, Behold, he prayeth!