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Originally the first Sermon of the Fourth Volume.
1 CORINTH. xiii. 5.
Charity — thinketh no evil.
RELIGION and Government are the two great
foundations of order and comfort among mankind. Government restrains the outrages and crimes which would be subversive of society, secures the property, and defends the lives, of its subjects. But the defect of government is, that human laws can extend no farther than to the actions of merr. Though they protect us from external violence, they leave us open on different sides to be wounded. By the vices which prevail in society our tranquillity may be disturbed, and our lives in various ways embittered, while governnient can give us no redress. Religion supplies the insufficiency of law, by striking at the root of those disorders which occasion so much misery in the world. Its professed scope is to regulate, not actions alone, but the temper and inclinations. By this means it ascends to the sources of conduct; and very ineffectual would the wisest system of legislation prove for the happiness
of mankind, if it did not derive aid from religion, in softening the dispositions of men, and checking many of those evil passions to which the influence of law cannot possibly reach.
We are led to this reflection by the description given in the context of charity, that great principle in the Christian system. The Apostle places it in a variety of lights, and under each of them explains its operation by its internal effects ; not by the actions to which it gives rise, but by the dispositions which it produces in the heart. He justly supposes, that, if the temper be duly regulated, propriety of action will follow, and good order take place in external behaviour. Of those characters of charity I have chosen one for the subject of this Discourse, which leads to the consideration of a virtue highly important to us, both as Christians and as members of society. I shall endeavour, first, to explain the temper here pointed out, by showing what this description of charity imports, that it thinketh no evil; and then to recommend such a disposition, and to display the bad effects of an opposite turn of mind.
I. Let us consider what this description of charity imports. You will easily perceive that the expression in the text is not to be understood in a sense altogether unlimited ; as if there were no occasion on which we are to think unfavourably of others. To view all the actions of men with the same degree of complacency, would be contrary both to common understanding, and to many express precepts of religion. In a world where so much deprayity abounds, were we to think and speak equally well of all, we must either be insensible of the distinction