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FAITH, HOPE, AND CHARITY.
1 CORINTHIANS, CHAPTER 13, VERSE 13. “ Faith, Hope, Charity, these three ; but the greatest of
these is Charity.”
In two preceding discourses we have considered the Christian graces of faith and hope: and it now remains for us to apply the same argument which was then proposed, to the Christian grace of charity. Of the whole it was asserted, that to the want of a right understanding, an honest cultivation, or a conscientious practice of one, or other, or all of the three great Christian graces, “ Faith, hope, charity,” might be ascribed the chief cause of so much irreligion, so much positive sin as we unhappily find among us. This assertion is still before us, as it more immediately relates to charity
When the absence of any one of these three Christian graces is spoken of, it must be un
derstood as enforcing the utmost attention to them all. It is only by their union in our daily character that real progress in the spiritual life can be expected. The young man whom Jesus loved for his other virtues, lacked but “one thing ;" but inasmuch as he did lack that one; as he was unwilling to make the sacrifice which that one required, he was not admitted into the kingdom of God.
If we would be saved, we must believe and obey, not a part only of the Gospel, but the whole; “ for,” as the Scripture very plainly
“ whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point,” that is, wilfully commit sin or neglect a known duty against the express command of almighty God, " is guilty of all.”*
With respect, then, to the Christian grace of charity, it may be shewn that, either because people do not really understand what charity is, or do not use the right means of becoming charitable, or do not exercise the acknowledged rules of charity in social and daily life, they do not become holy, wise, and good; but remain unhappy in themselves, and a constant source of unhappiness to others.
There are many persons who seem perfectly ignorant of what charity really means. Many think that bestowing goods to feed, instruct, and clothe the poor, is charity, without any sufficient respect to the end or to the motive from which these outward works proceed, Many will say that much talking about doing good and feeling charitable, much outward shew of kindly and courteous behaviour, much splendid entertaining of equals and superiors, and some equally ostentatious entertaining of inferiors and dependents, is charity. Many think themselves charitable because they have strong feelings of benevolence, and a mind ready to sympathize in another’s grief; but this, if their character be not consistently religious, may be no more than mere animal feeling, which the dumb creatures of the earth possess as well as we.
* St. James, ii. 10.
Many call that charity which leads them to soften their own sins by gently speaking of the same sins in others, not distinguishing between the duty of remembering “the beam" so as not needlessly to notice “the mote," and that generalizing spirit which, under a hope of palliating positive sin, puts darkness for light, and calls evil good, And, lastly, there are many who call that the great duty of Chriștian charity in the forgiveness of injuries, under which they are content to rest after a real or fancied wrong, and say, with a
temper too well understood, I can forgive, bu cannot forget the wrong which I have received
Now with these different ways of human estimation of charity, let us compare that which Scripture gives : “ Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself upseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things,"*
Comparing this true description of Christian charity with what the world so often deems to be this heavenly grace, and considering these fruits of charity with what, as we pass on in life, we all see, and hear, and feel, may it not with truth be said, that ignorance of what charity really is causes much of that evil which embitters the little space of human existence in all ranks of society, in public as well as in domestic life? 1
There is another great error in the matter of Christian charity, and which consists in seldom or never using the proper means of becoming charitable. In earthly things people are ready enough to use the means of obtaining what appears to them good and proof any
* 1 Cor. xii. 4, 7.
fitable; and no one would expect earthly good
kind when he himself took no pains to procure it. It is just the same in matters spiritual. How can any one suppose that heavenly graces and good dispositions will be granted to an idle prayer of the lips, when the heart is far removed from the object prayed for, and God's other appointed means of obtaining spiritual blessings are neglected and despised? If, from the Holy Word of God, we have well learnt what Christian charity really is, and are earnestly desirous of obtaining it, we must undoubtedly ask it by prayer; but it must be in frequent and heart-felt prayer. At the same time we must take good heed that we oppose not our own prayer by neg. lecting the other means of obtaining Christian charity. We must practise self-denial; we must consider well our mutual weaknesses and our common wants; we must remember “the beam in our own eye,” and then we shall not suffer charity to grow cold because, amid our common fallen and sinful race, we find “a mote in our brother's eye.”
Under these our own honest endeavours, we must use fervent prayer to Almighty God for the grace of charity, grounded, as it ever is, upon the love of God. If we love not God, it will be vain for us ever to expect that we can love our fellow-creatures in the proportion of