« AnteriorContinuar »
charge. Their affairs are allowed to run into confusion. Economy and good order are neglected. The innocent, in great numbers, suffer materially through their mismanagement: And all the while they assume to themselves the praise of being generous and goodhearted men. This surely is not that charity which the Gospel enjoins; and which, in its very essence, involves good conscience and integrity. He, who pretends to do good to his brethren without first doing them justice, cannot be accounted their real friend. True charity is not a meteor, which occasionally glares; but a luminary, which in its orderly and regular course, dispenses a benignant influence.
THE third and last adjunct connected in the text with charity is, that it be of faith unfeigned. Faith, in the Scripture sense of it, includes the whole of religious principles respecting God, and respecting Christ. Good principles, without good practice, I confess, are nothing; they are of no avail in the sight of God, nor in the estimation of wise men. But practice not founded on principle, is likely to be always unstable and wavering; and, therefore, the faith of religious principles enters, for a very considerable share, into the proper discharge of the duties of charity.
It will be admitted that, without faith, our duties towards God cannot be properly performed. You may be assured that your duties towards men will always greatly suffer from the want of it. Faith, when pure and genuine, supplies to every part of virtue, and in particular to the virtue of charity, many motives and assistances, of which the unbeliever is destitute. He who acts from faith, acts upon the high
principle of regard to the God who hath made him, and to the Saviour who redeems him; which will often stimulate him to his duty, when other principles of benevolence become faint and languid, or are crossed by opposite interests. When he considers himself as pursuing the approbation of that Divine Being, from whom love descends, a sacred enthusiasm both prompts and consecrates his charitable dispositions. Regardless of men, or of human recompence, he is carried along by a higher impulse. He acts with the spirit of a follower of the Son of God, who not only has enjoined love, but has enforced it by the example of laying down his life for mankind. Whatever he does in behalf of his fellow-creatures, he considers himself as doing, in some degree, to that Divine Person, who hath said, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. * Hence charity is with him not only a moral virtue, but a Christian grace. It acquires additional dignity and energy from being connected with the heavenly state and the heavenly inhabitants. He mingles with beings of a higher order, while he is discharging his duty to his fellow-creatures on earth; and, by joining faith and piety to good works, he completes the character of a Christian,
THUS I have endeavoured to explain the full sense of that comprehensive view of religion which is given in the text. I have shown in what respects charity, joined with the pure heart, the good conscience, and faith unfeigned, forms the end of the commandment. Let us ever keep in view those essential parts of a
* Matth. xxv. 40.
virtuous character, and preserve them in their proper union. Thus shall our religion rise into a regular and well-proportioned edifice, where each part gives firmness and support to another. If any one of those material parts be wanting in the structure; if, out of our system of charity, either purity, or justice, or faith, be left, there will be cracks and flaws in the building which prepare its ruin.
This is indeed one of the greatest and most frequent errors of men, in their moral conduct. They take hold of virtue by pieces and corners only. Few are so depraved as to be without all sense of duty, and all regard to it. To some moral qualities, which appear to them amiable or estimable, almost all men lay claim; and on these they rest their worth, in their own estimation. But these scattered pieces of virtue, not uniting into one whole, nor forming a consistent character, have no powerful influence on their general habits of life. From various unguarded quarters they lie open to temptation. Their lives are full of contradiction, and perpetually fluctuate between good and evil. Virtue can neither rise to its native dignity, nor attain its proper rewards, until all its chief parts be joined together in our character, and exert an equal authority in regu lating our conduct.
On our Lives being in the Hand of God.
[Preached at the Beginning of a New Year. *]
PSALM XXXi. 15.
My times are in thy hand.
HE sun that rolls over our heads, the food THE that we receive, the rest that we enjoy, daily admonish us of a superiour power, on whom the inhabitants of the earth depend for light, life, and subsistence. But as long as all things proceed in their ordinary course; when day returns after day with perfect similarity; when our life seems stationary, and nothing occurs to warn us of any approaching change, the religious sentiments of dependence are apt to be forgotten. The great revolutions of time, when they come round in their stated order, have a tendency to force some impressions of piety even on the most unthinking minds. They both mark our existence on earth to be advancing towards its close, and exhibit our condition as continually changing; while each returning year brings along with it new events, and at the same time carries us forwards to the conclusion of all.
* January 6th, 1793.
We cannot, on such occasions, avoid perceiving, that there is a Supreme Being, who holds in his hands the line of our existence, and measures out to each of us our allotted portion of that line. Beyond a certain limit, we know that it cannot be extended; and long before it reach that limit, it may be cut asunder by an invisible hand, which is stretched forth over all the inhabitants of the world. Then naturally arises the ejaculation of the text, My times, O God, are in thy hand. My fate depends on thee. The duration of my life, and "all the events which in future days are to fill it, are entirely at thy disposal." - Let us now, when we have just seen one year close, and another begin, meditate seriously on this sentiment. Let
us consider what is implied in our times being in the hand of God; and to what improvement this meditation leads.
THE text evidently implies, first, that our times are not in our own hand; that, as our continuance in life depends not on ourselves, so the events which are to happen while life remains, are unknown to us, and not under our own direction. Of this we may behold many a proof when we look back on the transactions of the year which is just finished. Recollection will readily present to us a busy period, filled up with a mixture of business and amusement, of anxieties and cares, of joys and sorrows. We have talked, perhaps, and acted much. We have formed many a plan; in public or in private life, we have been engaged in a variety of pursuits. Let me now ask, how small a proportion of all that has happened could have been foreseen, or foretold by us? How