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CHARITY, THE ESSENCE OF MORAL VIRTUE.
1 TIMOTHY I. 5.
Now, the end of the commandment is charity.
NEXT to what man is to believe concern
ing God, what duty God requires of man, is necessary to be understood. In this chapter, the apostle tells of some at that time, who desired to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they said, nor whereof they affirmed. And it may be the case with some at all times, who think themselves capable of preaching the gospel, that they are ignorant of the spirit and end of the moral law-the eternal rule and standard of right. This is the case, not only when the law is supposed to be still a covenant of works, by the personal obedience of which a sinner may be justified; but also when it is conceived of and inculcated as a rule of life, in a loose, vague, and superficial manner.
In order to speak correctly, or think accurately, on any subject or branch of science, the first principles of it must be rightly understood, and well ascertained. As in architecture, so in divinity and morals, it is necessary to begin at the foundation. By reducing all virtue and duty to a focal point, or radical princi
ple, and by keeping that in view in all our investigations, we shall have the advantage, in some measure, of the single eye, which causeth the whole body to be full of light. Whereas, if we have erroneous or indeterminate ideas of the essence of all morality and religion, our judgment concerning ourselves, and all our discourses on moral and religious subjects, will necessarily be full of darkness.
The whole moral law, as given to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai, written by the finger of God on tables of stone, was contained in ten commandments. These are reduced by our Saviour to two; on which, he tells us, "hang all the law and the prophets." The apostle Paul, in several of his epistles, has given us a briefer summary still. He says, Rom. xiii. 10, "Love is the fulfilling of the law:" and Gal. v. 14, "All the law is fulfilled in one word; even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." He is indeed there speaking of the second table of the ten commandments; but in our text he appears to have reference to the law at large, without limitation to social duties: and yet here, likewise, he expresses the sum and substance, the whole scope and design of it, in a single word: "The end of the commandment is charity."
It is now proposed to inquire and show, what we are here to understand by charity; and how this is the end of the commandment.
I. What the apostle means by charity, I shall endeavor particularly to explain.
This is a word in very common use; but that it is commonly understood in the fulness of its original signification, is not thence certain. We learn from our Saviour's sermon on the mount, that the law given by Moses, had been very much explained away by former expositors; and so it may not
improbably now be, respecting the words of the NewTestament.
By charity, we often understand, nothing more than external liberality to such as are in want and distress. One who feeds the hungry and clothes the naked, is called a charitable man. And indeed, doing such deeds of kindness, as we have ability and opportunity, is one necessary expression of gospel charity. This is essential to pure and undefiled religion. "Whoso hath this world's goods," says the apostle John, "and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" Job' was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame; he delivered the poor that cried, the fatherless, and him that had none to help him: the blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon him, and he caused the widow's heart to sing for joy. Nevertheless, a man may abound in such outward deeds of charity, while yet he is wholly destitute of this virtue. So the apostle Paul evidently supposes. "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor," says he, "and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." And our Saviour speaks of hypocrites, who gave alms that they might be admired of men, which, he intimates, would be all their reward.
Again; by charity we sometimes mean, a readiness to think well of our neighbors, and of men of different religious opinions. Those who believe that mankind are naturally virtuous, and that men may be in a safe condition respecting another world, let their religious principles be what they will; consider themselves, and are considered by one another, as men of eminent and extensive charity. It is possible, however, they may have little or nothing of that charity which is the end of the commandment. An aptness to entertain a favorable opinion of others, may indeed be owing to an honest and good heart. It may proceed from a truly generous disposition.
"Charity thinketh no evil; hopeth all things, believeth all things." It is not the part of christian charity, to be jealous or censorious; but to hope and believe the best, of men of all sects and denominations. In matters of religion, it must be confessed, there is often seen much of that narrowness and bitterness of party spirit, which ought to be condemned. And certainly those christians who are quick-sighted to discern every mote in a brother's eye, while a beam in their own is undiscovered, are justly chargeable with great want of charity.
But then, on the other hand, it can hardly be disputed, that liberality of sentiments, as it is called, may be carried too far; and may, in many instances, proceed from no good cause.
As to a readiness to believe human nature very good; there may be nothing any more generous in this, than there is in thinking of ourselves, of our own family, our own country, and other connections, more highly than we ought to think. National prejudice is notorious: and is easily accounted for from self-love. So is prejudice in favor of every less society, of which we ourselves are members. And from the same narrow source, it may well be supposed, we have all of us a strong, partial bias in favor of our own species. Hence it is often seen that the fondest admirers of mankind in the gross, when they come to speak of separate individuals, will as readily express a bad opinion of them, as those who believe the total depravity of all men by nature. Self, is then out of the question; or, perhaps, is in the opposite scale. Hence, one may say all manner of evil of other countries, or of persons opposed to us, unconnected with us, and no offence is taken: but say a word against our own country, or against all mankind, and our wrath is soon enkindled. "Master, thus saying, thou reproachest us also."
As to being apt to think that all men, Pagans, Mahometans, Papists, Socinians, Arians, Arminians,