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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 whole, 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
and esteemed by all who are enlightened. Such a grace is the deep stamp of heaven, imprinting the name of God on our every spiritual feeling and principle, and on our every spiritual deed and babit. Such love toward God is “charity” in its highest
This word is expressly applied, in certain old writings, to our true affection for the Deity; hence the homilies declare, “Charity is to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our powers and strength;” again, “Charity stretcheth itself both to God and man."* Such a term applied to beings above us may seem misplaced, but we ought to conform our ideas to this ancient and more correct mode of speaking ; it gives the meaning of the word when the Bible was translated. Charity toward God is the fulfilment of every thing that the love of Him suggests in a holy bosom, its fulfilment “with all our heart, and soul, and strength.”
This love of God, be it especially borne in mind, we are to exercise under a full understanding and acknowledgment of our obligation to the Redeemer. Through the Redeemer we receive all kindness and mercy, and through Him must our gratitude for every kindness and mercy be returned. God loves us only through Christ, and through Christ only do we acceptably love God; as is implied in language he used to his disciples, “ The Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me;" and again, intimating the several links in the chain of love, which unites men through their Redeemer to their God, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you;" love descends from the Father first to CHRIST, and from Christ it descends to us; through Him only are we in the love of God. And, as by the Saviour "all things consist,” as to Him we owe our life, our preservation, all comfort, and all grace, so our every grateful emotion should be sent upward in the incense of the merits of the cross. Here is the warmest and deepest exercise of Christian love, to trace the value of a mediator, of Christ, the one mediator between God and men, in every bounty granted us, as all is for His sake; to acknowledge His intercession, in every
Homilies, Swords' edit. p. 50, 53.
grace that advances us to final pardon, and His strength, in every victory wbich overcomes our carnal mind, and brings our crown into nearer prospect. A deep exercise of Christian love it is to recognise that Mediator, not only in regard to spiritual things, the spiritual benefits and gifts of which He is peculiarly the centre, but also in the daily courses of earthly things, whether they bring prosperity to win us, or adversity to give us wholesome correction. Of ourselves, we are fallen, and have forfeited every privilege and every hope; but in Christ, we are restored; through CHRIST, both earthly and spiritual blessings have again become ours, and eternal happiness also awaits our acceptance. For thus restoring us, and for doing it at the cost of so much humiliation and agony, the Saviour is entitled to love peculiarly ardent, to service and devotedness peculiarly replete with holy sensibility.
The love of the Father and of Christ introduces the love of men for their sakes; "If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” And, as our Saviour declares, that what is done to the least of our brethren is done unto Him, and that what is refused to them is refused to Him, we have authority for regarding the love we devote to our fellow-creatures as, in a great degree, the standard for ascertaining how much umfeigned loye we devote to God. Love to men must in this view include not only aid to the necessitous, and kindness toward all who are bound to us by the ties of kindred, of friendship, of acquaintance, but must also seek the welfare of mankind at large, of those of them over whom God may give us influence. More especially will charity endeavor to forward the moral and spiritual improvement of men; and this it will do by counsel seasonably administered, and by candidly and firmly opposing error and delusion, knowing that these are the greatest and most real enemies to human happiness, and that charity rejoiceth only in the truth. And, in thus seeking the eternal good of men, sound charity will use the instrument which God has appointed, and which himself uses for that purpose ; – that instrument is the Church of CHRIST. Above all, it is required by charity to our fellow-beings, as well as by duty to God, that
we let our light shine before men, in a godly, but unobtrusive example, "showing out of a good conversation our works with meekness of wisdom.” This is “charity” indeed, charity to the souls as well as the bodies of immortal beings; charity to the household of Gon; charity to the great family of mankind. These duties, performed through the love of God, will be accepted by the Saviour as done unto himself.
And this love to mankind is to be without any exceptions, no enmity or bitterness is to exclude even one mortal from our benign affections. To human nature, weakened by depravity, this is a hard precept: but it is express; and the obstinate refusal to obey it is, we are assured, a deadly sin; “If ye, from the heart, forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you." Let this denunciation warn us to avoid enmities, if possible; and if they arise, to expel them at once from our hearts. And, for our encouragement in fulfilling a duty so difficult, let us reflect, that it was “while we were enemies that we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son." In this branch, the forgiveness and love of our enemies are the most exalted exercises of charity. It was thus that God “commended his love toward us;" and, by excelling in this branch, we shall most effectually commend our love toward God.
The duty of love, we are lastly to note, includes a reasonable and genuine love of one's self. Self-love is, however, generally misunderstood, and therefore undervalued; nay, accounted base. The gratification of appetite, of vanity, of ambition, of avarice, all have the name of self-love: but alas, they are all opposed to the real and best interests of self. They are like the indulgence claimed by a child, which, though it affords temporary pleasure, unfits him for honorable and energetic manhood. The manhood of an immortal being comes not until hereafter; here, we are but under education, preparing for our eternal maturity; and if we give the present life to indulgence in evil, we destroy the future. It is therefore as incorrect to call the worldly or wicked gratifications of riper years self-love, as it is to give that name to the hurtful caprices of infancy and childhood.