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If there should be the excitement of such a sensibility, the proper improvement of it is to the repentance which is “unto salvation;" to recourse to the mercy of God for pardon, through the merits of the adorable Redeemer; and to the “renewal after the image of Him who created us;" which is the only possible preparation for the enjoyment of his presence hereafter; and for the being, even here, delivered from a fearful apprehension, which cannot otherwise but sometimes intrude, of that "end of all men,” which the living should lay to heart.”
With the view of impressing this, there shall be a repetition of the principal sentiment of the discourse — that now is especially the time to begin to cultivate a sense of the continual presence of God, in the mercies of his providence and in the influences of his grace: which, having been a living principle of conduct, will, in all the possible exigencies of life, and in the sure event of death, cause us to feel ourselves still under the rod of our spiritual Shepherd; and, after conducting us through the dark vale which we have been contemplating, will seat us in that better country, where there is “no need of the light of the sun nor of that of the moon to shine in it, but the LORD GOD doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof."
Brethren ; at this beginning of a new year, it may be profitable to look back on the occurrences of the old, so as to profit by any extraordinary event of it, which may be made to have a propitious influence on the annual point of time at which we have again arrived. It is still in our memories, and still interesting to our feelings, that an epidemical disorder, after having been reported to us from the climates of the East, and afterward from countries to which we are more allied by customs and by commerce, was at last permitted to invade our shores. Owing to the novelty of the disease, we were not prepared for it by medical experience; and although the well earned reputation of our physicians was sustained, by a speedy adaptation of their skill to the existing evil, yet it was not without much injury to the pursuits of industry, nor without its carrying off a considerable proportion of our population, with very short warnings, to their graves.
The use to be made of the retrospect, is its adding to the weight of the instructions, issuing ordinarily from the knowledge of the uncertainty of human life, by showing how much this is increased by some extraordinary visitation which a righteous Providence may inflict, being a stronger emphasis to the admonition that “Now is the accepted time, that now is the day of salvation ;” and to the excitement applicable alike to the concerns of eternity and of time -“WHATSOEVER THOU HAST TO DO, DO IT WITH THY MIGHT, FOR THERE IS NO WORK OR DEVICE IN THE GRAVE, WHITHER THOU GOEST.”
BY THE RIGHT REV. HENRY USTICK ONDERDONK, D. D.
1 Cor. xiii. 18—" The greatest of these is Charity."
GREATER than faith, greater than hope, how transcendent is the virtue of charity! Chief of graces, it is the best of the good and perfect gifts which come down from the Father of lights.
But how shall we recognise this exalted Christian attainment; how shall we test it? Charity is one of the commonest terms in language; and, as commonly employed, expresses some of the most frequent actions of life. Particularly in this benevolent age, scarcely an individual can be said to be without charity in one of its current senses; and if that sense be sufficient, there must be almost none who possess not a higher quality than either faith or hope.
From such a conclusion, so over-flattering to fallen men, every mind in the least conversant with religious truth instinctively recoils. Valuable as are kindnesses to the poor, to those in any species of want, or sorrow, or ignorance, they are not to be made a substitute for the high graces of the soul; they are not to cast into the shade the exalted principles of faith and hope. To surpass principles so high and so holy, will require a grace more ennobling and more sanctifying. For this greatest of Christian virtues, therefore, we must look much farther and much deeper than to ordinary acts of benevolence, or to any partial traits of excellence. To this inquiry let us now devote our thoughts. No subject can be more in unison with the eucharistic solemnity. With charity for our theme, and true charity in our hearts, we cannot be unprepared for the feast which celebrates mercy from heaven and good-will among men. May the Spirit of God sanctify our meditations, and make us perfect in holy love!
In opening our subject, we are first naturally led to the remark, founded on the use of the word “charity” in different senses, that it is the misfortune of language to be continually varying. Words which once had a definite signification, come to be employed with looseness, and at length change materially their sense.
This were of small moment if the things before signified received new appellations, and correct ideas of them were thus preserved. But too often with the misapplied word, the subject itself passes into a mistaken apprehension. These changes have been exemplified in the word "charity.” We now appropriate that word, sometimes to mere alms-giving, sometimes to that gentle and unsuspecting candor which prompts a kind construction of the conduct of others, and sometimes even to that passiveness which concedes largely to error itself. In opposition to these several mistakes, we remark that the Apostle declares that “all our goods may be bestowed to feed the poor” while we yet are destitute of “charity;" that, though candid and kind feeling is one particular of charity, it cannot be that entire virtue which is the greatest of the ornaments of grace; and that scriptural charity is never passive concerning opinions, since it “rejoiceth not in iniquity,” but only and exclusively “ in the truth.” It is evident, therefore, that when the present translation of the Bible was made, the word "charity" had a nobler signification than it usually has in our day.
For this reason, it has been proposed to substitute the word "love" in the present chapter, and in some other passages. And this would be much nearer the true sense, than any word which is understood of only a few kind actions, or benevolent thoughts, or complying dispositions. Love, universal love, toward God and toward men, is unquestionably the highest attainment of a Christian, for it marks the entire subjection of the spirit of self, and this indicates the subjection of the spirit of depravity. Love is the bond of the spiritual universe, enclosing men and angels within one circle, of which the Godhead is the centre. Love is the pervading light which animates with one impulse all holy creatures, diffused from the eternal throne, reflected from spirit to spirit, and from soul to soul, and returning, in rays almost infinitely intermingled, to its divine source. Such is the grace of love, a kind affection uniting every holy creature with every other, and all with their God, and Saviour, and Sanctifier.
Sublime as is such a sentiment, it yet comes short of the full and true meaning of “charity.” Strictly speaking, love is the mere inward grace or principle, charity is that principle in operation ; love is experienced within the heart, charity comprises both the heart and the life. The sentiment of love cannot indeed be genuine, except as it is practical; but charity, rightly defined, comprehends within itself both the perfection of the sentiment and principle, and the faithful practice of it. He who has only some moving of sensibility presumed to be “love,” might deem it the grace commended by St. Paul, should we let it pass by that name: but if we retain the practical term “charity,” in the corrected and entire sense now given it, no one can thus deceive himself. We conclude, therefore, that the language of our translation in this and like passages cannot be changed with advantage, but that the common and loose conception of the meaning of the word in question, arising from the mutability of language, must be corrected, our idea of charity must be improved and exalted, and the word restored to its original signification. Charity, then, is more than alms-giving, more than candor, and a meek judgment, more than individual kind
affections, and very different from passiveness concerning the truth; it is the divine principle of love, united with its practice, being in its entireness, felt and fulfilled toward all beings to whom we bear any known relation, toward God and toward men. The “greatest of all virtues is such “charity."
And now, under the light of these remarks, let us prosecute further the illustration of this exalted grace.
The origin of this sentiment is in the kindness bestowed on us by the Deity; “we love Him, because He first loved us.” High and holy, therefore, as is this virtue, it is not, taken as a wbole, one of pure disinterestedness. Some of the emotions of love are undoubtedly an admiration of the Deity simply for His infinite excellences; but, for the most part, we combine with this admiration the idea that the perfections of God have produced benefits, both temporal and eternal, to ourselves. Angels and men owe their existence to the Divine benevolence, their preservation, their every comfort, and every grace, and it necessarily follows that much of their best love assumes the shape of gratitude, and has reference to benefits conferred. While, therefore, we would not undervalue the disinterested admiration of God, we would guard against its evaporating in a mere sentimental attachment to Him; we would convert that attachment into a subduing and practical love of the Deity. In order to this, we must keep in mind "all His benefits,” and thus “ love God because He first loved us."
This virtue, we are further to remark, is to occupy our every and entire capacity; we are “to love the LORD our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, with all our strength.” Love to God is to control every part of our nature, is to engage to the uttermost our affections, and govern our whole conduct. It is to pervade our every feeling, our every thought, our every word, our every action : not indeed that we are to profess continually “LORD, LORD," nor that we are to exhibit in any manner too gross our heartfelt communion with the Deity; but there should be spread over our deeds and our conversation those delicate shades of divine love, which, though the ignorant and blind fail to recognise them, will be discerned