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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 which 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 unseigned love 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.
True self-love is expressed in the maxim of our Saviour, “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul ?" True self-love is the anxiety and effort to secure our personal salvation. In this view, it becomes the first of our duties. Nor indeed is it unworthy of this eminence from its very difficulty; for in no other department is it less easy to give to love the features of true charity. Who would deny that men love themselves ? and yet, who can ascribe to the majority of them real charity to self? If we believe that the day of judgment will bring everlasting punishment on all who fail of life eternal, we cannot doubt that self-batred is the unnatural principle that rules in disguise in the hearts of men. And it must rank as the most signal delusion of the evil one, that he can inveigle men into a self-love which is void of self charity. The Christian who has the true light of love will let it shine in brightest charity upon his own soul.
On a subject, my brethren, so important and of such wide application, we might extend our remarks, but it is time to concentrate them upon the sacramental ordinance of which we are now to partake.
The holy supper is closely connected with the grace of charity, it is the festival of love. Are we at enmity with the Sovereign of heaven? have iniquities separated between us and our God? We come in humility and with confessions of guilt to the footstool of His throne, the altar; we ask forgiveness; and the Father of mercies here grants it : He not only pardons us, but restores us to His love. Are we ungrateful to the Redeemer who hath borne our sorrows and carried our griefs, who was wounded for our transgressions, and bare our sins in His own body on the tree? have we trampled His blood under foot, and crucified Him afresh by our misdeeds? We approach at the altar, the memorial of his sacrifice for sin ; we approach it as we would the cross itself; we weep for his agony and passion, and more deeply for the guilt staining our conscience, which made that agony and passion necessary; we renounce every wickedness, even to the right hand or the right eye, if they cause us to offend; and He who was touched with a feeling of our infirmities, and was tempted in all points as we are, will again welcome us to His love, and assure us, “Thy sins are forgiven thee, go in peace.” Are we rebelling against the Holy Spirit, doing despite to His good motions in our hearts, grieving Him by our uncured infirmities, or vexing Him by our unconquered sins? If we return to Him sincerely in this ordinance, He will not forsake us; gentle as the dove, He would win again our affections, restore us to His tenderness, and open a deep and cheering communion with our reviving spirits. Faith and hope are exalted graces; but the love mutually sealed between us and heaven in the eucharistic festival, far transcends them.
In, also, this feast of love, the Christian embraces every brother in the bosom of Christian friendship. His charity will in their behalf, “bear all things, believe all things, endure and hope all things." His charity will be benevolent to them in distress, courteous in intercourse with them, gentle yet firm in winning them to the truth, and studious in every way to promote their salvation. Has then any brother, through want of caution, or through infirmity, suffered the chain of this good-will to be broken? here is the place to repair it. Here, where CHRIST gives us the symbol of that blood which made peace for us with God, we surely cannot refuse to be at peace with any who equally share His redemption; we cannot surely, in this place, hate any whom the Saviour loves. Charity should reign in perfection among those who bend at the same altar. O then, my brethren, let us not esteem this a hard duty; let us regard it as infinitely repaid by the happiness that will attend it! What unspeakable happiness, to feel that not one beating of our hearts, and not one breathing of our bosoms, is other than in unison with the peace of those whom God hath made of one blood with us, and, by the one blood of CHRIST, hath with us purchased and redeemed.
In love to God, and in love to men, may we, my brethren, find at the altar both strength and comfort for our hearts; and may our lives attest that “charity is the bond of perfectness !"