صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

"was not of the world," but aspire at being made perfect in one, together with our forerunner, and now exalted Lord.

This inestimable privilege belongs only to Christians; it is the gospel alone which thus unites us to God here, by the mediation of a Saviour. This is confirmed by the discourse of our Lord with his disciples, in the eleventh of Matthew, where he says, "verily I say unto you, that among them that are born of a woman, there hath not risen a greater (prophet) than John the Baptist; notwithstanding be that is least in the kingdom of heaven (in my church) is greater than he." Let us therefore rejoice in the grandeur of our vocation, as members of the Church of Christ; let us not rest contented with those external marks of union, which can only draw upon our heads accumulated mischief, if they do not produce a spiritual and vital union with God; which being began here, will go on increasing to perfection for ever and ever.

Let us now examine the sixth consequence, which flows from the infinite goodness of God, which is a disposition to love our neighbour as ourselves; in furnishing us with the most powerful motives to this sincere and universal charity.

Though every sincere Christian finds reason to lament, that the gospel does not prodace as much good in the world as might naturally follow from its excellent institutes; nevertheless it has so far enlarged the minds of men, since it has been disengaged from the dreadful errors and superstitions that disfigured it before the reformation; and none I believe will need now to be told who is their neighbour; they acknowledge, however their actions may deny, that their fellow creatures, beings of the same common nature, are their brethren: and this is true without distinction of good or bad; friends or enemies; believers or unbelievers; countrymen or strangers; all are our neighbours.

What then is implied in loving all men as we do ourselves? It is to be interested in their happiness, as sincerely as we are in our own, and for this perfect charity the love of God furnishes us with the most powerful motives. It is worthy of being remarked that this perfect, this universal charity, from which not even our enemies are excluded; was never equally insisted upon, till the goodness and infinite love of God to all men, was manifested in the gospel; where it is given as a new commandment.

I do not say however of charity, as I did of joy, and of love to God, that his infinite goodness is their only foundation; because it is in the nature of man, to love his fellow beings; whence it is evident on the one hand that man is by his nature amiable; and on the other, that he is by his nature good, and formed for social love: these important truths I shall endeavour to set in the clearest light.

In the first place I assert, that the nature of man is amiable, and worthy of being loved. I need not, in order to prove this, enter into a 16

detail of all the noble faculties with which he is endowed; but shall confine myself to that capacity of knowing, loving, and resembling his Creator, which constitutes at once his excellence, his dignity, and his felicity. For though we often see this capacity for holiness and perfection, giving way to criminal and odions sentiments, and a being amiable by his nature, become the perpetrator of atrocious crimes; nevertheless we cannot help perceiving that this depravity is contrary to nature; consequently accidental and transitory; and must sooner or later he destroyed by the complete development of his excellent faculties.

But I have said in the second place, that man is by his nature good, and formed for social love. Many are the evidences I could bring forward in support of this truth, but from amongst them I shall select only the most simple and apparent.

If man is made after the Divine image; his nature must be good, and formed to love his neighbour as himself, for God is love; therefore without goodness he can never resemble a Being perfectly good. He may by his intellectual powers, bear some resemblance to his Maker, but these are only given to render him capable of distinguishing and of loving whatever is by its nature amiable and excellent: he must therefore resemble his heavenly Father, in his sincere and universal love of his brethren.

It is true however, that in this love an essential and necessary difference must remain between God and man. An indigent and dependent creature, cannot love with the disinterestedness of a perfect and self-sufficient Creator. But though a sense of his wants, and a necessity of supplying them may sometimes deprive him of leisure, or of means to shew his benevolence, by actual benefits; yet unless blinded and led astray by some disorderly passion, it will not prevent his resembling his Maker, by sentiments of universal good-will; and so far will his own wants be from stifling his benevolence, that they will excite in him a more lively and active compassion for the relief of his fellow creatures. I conclude then that man is naturally inclined to goodness and benevolence, because he is the child of God, whose image he bears.

The nature of happiness, furnishes us with a second proof of this truth. If man is formed for happiness, he is formed for charity. Happiness consists in the full exercise and development of our faculties. Now among those the most active, the most lively, and the most delightful in its exercise, is the faculty of loving. The heart, is the seat of this facul ty and formed for love, as the eye is for sight,. and the ear for hearing. Those cold, insensible, and unnatural hearts, whose love is centred in themselves, must be wretched; happiness will fly before them, and elude their eager grasp. This is the situation of all such as seek their happiness in the world, and not in God. Wealth, honours, and power, though

E 2

125

they excite such ardent desires, have a mark | are formed, and which we shall one day enjoy. of falsity stamped upon them, which proves the good they confer to be counterfeit, not real; for they can only yield exclusive happiness, which belongs to some, only in consequence of the privation of it to others; thence an opposition which divides mankind, gives rise to continual wars in public, and to discords and animosities in private life, which stifle the natural sentiments of charity and brotherly love; and in their stead place insensibility, disdain, and a barbarous and inflexible cruelty, properly called inhumanity; and give their possessors a stronger resemblance to savage beasts, than to heinan creatures.

It was necessary thus particularly to demonstrate the natural inclination of man to good. ness and charity; in order to establish that celes tial virtue on its true foundation. But it must be observed also that I assert this, as it relates to human nature in its principle, and not in that animal and degraded state to which carnal and worldly passions lead. For notwithstanding any inherent good in man, he may be, and alas! continually is, drawn aside by the jarrings and contentions of his own temporal interest, with those of his neighbour; and when this selfishness is become habitual and predominant, he is in danger of degene rating into the most cruel and ferocious animal in the universe. It is therefore necessa ry for man in order to his following his natu ral bent to charity, that he should be freed from the slavery of his passions, for St. Paul observes, that "charity proceeds out of a pure heart;" to obtain this emancipation he has need of continual and powerful motives, capable of exciting him to virtue, and of suppressing every emotion of covetousness, of anger, and hatred, the instant they arise in his soul. If therefore we are convinced of the infinite goodness of the Supreme Being, we shall find therein every possible motive of charity.

Far different is that happiness for which we were designed; it is composed of true, of spiritual blessings; such as the pure and lively rays of truth will afford to the mind, and virtuous sentiments to the heart. It is a communicative happiness which expands and becomes greater the more it is diffused. Our Saviour who was well acquainted with our nature, and with the felicity suited to it, has declared that it is more blessed to give, than to receive; as St. Paul records in the twentieth chapter of the Acts.

They may be reduced to three, as they

Besides, in order to confirm this by representing it under another, and perhaps more striking point of view; man is formed for society, and must therefore be of a kind and beevolent nature, and inclined to love his neigh-relate to our own interest, to that of our neighbour as himself. That he is a social being is bour, and to charity considered in itself. evident from the declaration of his Maker, who said, "it is not good for man to be alone," which is true both in a physical, and moral

sense.

With respect to the first of these, Divine Goodness has strictly connected our particular interest with that of our neighbour; because in requiring our supreme love, it produces on the one hand an indifference to worldly objects, and on the other makes us see in our neighbour a second self, instead of a rival and competitor.

The love of God, by detaching us from the world, and purifying us from carnal passions, destroys every obstacle to charity, and leaves it to flow in an uninterrupted course. The happiness of others becomes necessary in or der to our own, and we desire it with equal sincerity. Thus our interests become so strictly united, that in labouring to promote those of our neighbour, we are inevitably advancing our own.

With respect to the former of these, sclitude is not good for man; because destitute of the assistance of others, he could not procure a supply of his wants, but must either perish, or drag on a miserable existence. He is therefore formed for society. But can it promote his happiness if he is not a sociable being, that is, if his heart is not naturally disposed sincerely to love his fellow-beings. Suppose for a moment a community among which no one was any way concerned for the welfare of the rest; this society without any bond of union, far from procuring happiness to any one of its members, would be a horrible theatre of odious crimes, and shocking misery.

That it is not good for man to be alone, is not less true, considered in a moral view; for solitude would cause him to feel a dreadful void; by leaving unsatisfied the greatest, the most imperious wants, a necessity of loving. He could neither soften his troubles by pouring them in the heart of a being like himself; nor increase his enjoyments, by sharing them; in a word, he could not fail of being miserable. But draw him from this solitude, place him in a society of beings like himself, rational, enlightened, pious and good, cemented by that charity which St. Paul calls the bond of perfectness, and he will be as completely hap-love. py as his nature will admit. The picture 1 have just drawn, is not the effect of fancy or imagination; it is a faithful, but humble sketch of the celestial society for which we

Placing the supreme affection of our souls on a being whose adorable goodness renders him the object of our love, we cannot fail of seeing in our neighbour a second self,

66

for he who loveth God, loveth his brother also." Can we love God for the multitude of his tender mercies, and take no interest in, or concern for, the creatures who are the objects of them? This is impossible. We may therefore conclude that we do not love God aright, if we do not love our neighbour as ourselves.

The second motive for charity relates to our neighbour, whom the intnite goodness of the Deity makes us behold as an object worthy of Are we not endowed with similar na tures, partakers of the same celestial vocation, objects of the same love, and sharers in the same redemption? We need therefore only consider our neighbour as an equal

[ocr errors]

partner with us in the love and favour of God, and as a brother and companion in future felicity; in order to experience fervent charity. But should our neighbour be our enemy, should his hatred incline him to seek our injury; must we then forget our own interests to advance those of an implacable and cruel foe? The knowledge we have of God resolves this question, by shewing us, what is indeed our true interest; it teaches us to view our bitterest enemy, as an instrument in his hand, incapable of proceeding farther than he shall permit. We may, by every lawful means, preserve ourselves from the effects of his malice, as we would avoid sickness, or any other calamity; but by keeping our eye fixed on the adorable goodness of the First Cause, we shall never give way to the bitterness of resentment, but shall behold the blindness and wickedness of our enemy, with the compassion it deserves; for of all the unhappy beings that cover the earth, none ought more to excite pity, than the wicked. Poor, wretched creatures! slaves to the worst of masters, their own horrid passions, and engaged, as the wise man observes, in a deceitfui work; shall not we, beings of the same nature, and liable to the same errors, feel our hearts melt with compassion for creatures who know not what they do? No other sentiment can possibly become us.

The wickedness and cruelty of our enemy, by exciting our compassion, enables us to see him, as God himself beholds him. Odious and detestable as his present state of vice renders him; yet when the means Divine Wisdom shall employ for his correction and amendment, shall have produced their effect; when he is washed and purified, he will become our companion in eternal felicity. At present he persecutes and injures us; but a time will certainly come, when he will do us justice, and make us ample amends. Far then from being ever "overcome of evil," let us resolve to "overcome evil with good;" and in the true spirit of Christianity; if our enemy hunger let us feed him, if he thirst let us give him drink ;" thus shall our charitable treatment melt down his resentment, as zoals heaped on the head of a crucible, dissolve the metal it contains: we must, therefore, according to the command of our Saviour, return blessing for cursing, and pray for our enemies. Such are the powerful motives, with which the infinite goodness of God furnishes us, for the love of our fellow crea-. tures; even for the wicked, and our implacable enemies.

whose delight is to shower down on all hap piness and joy; doing good even "to the evil and unthankful?" Where, amidst the immense universe, could such a being be placed to find happiness? In solitude he would be destitute, forlorn, and miserable; and in society he would be an unwelcome, and unhappy intruder.

But when on the contrary our heart is enlarged by charity, which makes us sincerely desire, and zealously pursue every opportunity of promoting the happiness of our fellow creatures; then it is that we resemble the best of beings, that we bear his image, and that in our measure and degree, we are "merciful, as our Father in heaven is merciful," or as St. Matthew expresses the words of our Saviour, that we are perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect."

66

It will be obvious to all who are conversant with scripture, that as among the Divine perfections, goodness and mercy, are the most frequently and strongly mentioned; so no virtue is so largely commended, or so strongly enforced as charity: I request my reader to peruse the thirteenth chapter of the first of Corinthians, which contains a description of charity, and gives it the pre-eminence over every other virtue. Let us also collect some of the most remarkable texts on that subject. The first of which is taken from the above mentioned chapter, we cannot carry our submission to the divine will farther, than to give our body to be burned; and nevertheless this act will profit us nothing if we are destitute of charity: disqualified for a society of spirits who dwell in perfect love, we shall be excluded, and have our portion with the reprobate. How positively does this decision shew, that we cannot be acceptable to God, without charity.

The end and design of the gospel dispensation is our purification from all iniquity. But wherein consists this important change? St. Paul informs us, "that the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart: this is the end of the gospel; and if love prevail in our hearts, we shall be workers together with God in his great plan of universal salvation; for we shall desire happiness to be extended, and labour to promote it. But while our minds are strangers to these benevolent desires, while they are cold and indifferent to the interests of others; we may be assured that this happy change, this renovation of mind, is not yet wrought in us; and that whatever may be the virtues to which we make pretence, we are tares in the field, whose portion is to be burned. But when the gospel, which sets forth the infinite good. ness of God, has inflamed our hearts with charity to our neighbour; then are we such as he would have us to be, and prepared for a communion with the God of charity; in a word, we are the wheat which will be gathered in'o his garner.

I come now to consider, thirdly, charity in ief, as the most excellent and glorious virtue the can possibly adorn our nature. Sentiments of kindness, of brotherly love, and charity, are such as can alone constitute any resemblance between the human, and Divine mature. Destitute of them, can we hope to bear any likeness to a being who is love? Were we even possessed of every other virtue, ¦ The last example I mean to cite in favour what analogy could be found in a creature, of this divine virtue, we meet with in the whose sole care, attention and pursuits were twenty-fifth chapter of St. Matthew from the confined to his own interests; and a being thirty-first verse to the end.

After having perused the awful and interesting picture of a future judgment which it contains; let us reflect for a few moinents upon a scene at which we shall every one be present: "for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ," there to receive the glorious sentence of absolution and pardon, or of condemnation and punishment. We see that we shall be judged solely concerning our charity, and acquitted or condemned, in proportion as we have cultivated, or suppressed this most excellent of virtues. We are told by St. James that "if we fulfil the royal law, according to the scriptures, and love our neighbour as ourselves; we do well." This is the law of our judge, by which we shall be tried; because it was his great, his new, his special commandment: "for he that loveth his brother, abideth in light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him :" for every one "that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God."

In the sentence whi our celestial King, Our Divine Judge will issue from his glorious throne, let us observe the tenderness of charity, tempering the authority of a sovereign master. He places the least and meanest of the human race, among his brethren; and speaks of the smallest office of charity granted, or refused them, as if immediately regarding himself. How affecting is the idea, that whenever we minister to the necessities of a poor mortal, our Saviour considers the benefit as if done to himself. Let us not lose sight of this truth, and we shall never refuse to succour the distressed; or wish to evade any opportunity of doing them all the good in our power.

my promise of drawing proofs from reason and scripture for every thing I have advanced; and am able to declare, in the presence of him, before whose tribunal I must account for every action; that I have not endeavoured to impose any thing on the faith of others which I do not believe true, on these two great foundations.

That the Supreme Being is perfectly good, is so capital and interesting a truth, that the whole of religion hangs upon it. When I am assured that goodness is the foundation, and happiness the end of all the ways of God, to myself and every creature; hope is the anchor of my soul, sure and steadfast; for though "his ways should be in the deep and his paths in the mighty waters;" though I should experience every external evil; no affliction shall shake my confidence, never will I dishonour, by a moment's mistrust, a being who has in mercy commanded me "to cast all my care upon him ;" because "he careth for me."

But if I entertain any doubts on this subject, by the admission of any doctrine incompatible with it, alas! in losing this assurance, I have lost my all; and religion presents nothing to my mind but terror and desolation. The prospect of futurity fills me with alarm, and immortality distracts me. The greatest of beings, without perfect goodness, is no longer an object infinitely amiable to me; and together with the love of God must every pious sentiment expire. Should charity remain, because the native inmate of my being, alas! it could only aggravate and insure my misery. So true is it that the whole of religion depends on the doctrine of the infinite goodness of God.

Descend, O divine charity! animate our And if religion is thus founded, it must folhearts with thy celestial flame; form our per- low of necessity, that every doctrine incompatifection, constitute our delight, and render us ble with goodness is false, absurd, and even peracceptable to the God of charity; before nicious and fatal to the last degree. I have whom destitute of thee, we are nothing. Come therefore in the whole of this treatise, in esand unite us forever to the greatest and best tablishing the doctrine of perfect goodness, of beings, and to his living image, our be- and following it in its consequences; connevolent Redeemer. Render us merciful, that stantly combated such erroneous opinions, as we may obtain mercy; teach us sincerely to represent the Creator of the human race, as a forgive, even until seventy times seven, that being whose power will be employed in inwe may receive the pardon of our innumera- flicting never ending torments on a conserable offences. Sublime delightful virtue, thou ble portion of his creatures, and have esshalt never fail, but shalt form the blessed-tablished the non-eternity of future torments. ness of the blessed, and be a river of pleasure Let not mankind be induced to suppress this of which they shall drink for ever in the glo- truth, from any apprehended abuse of it; berious abodes of heaven. cause this is tacitly to deny, that it is the will of God that all men should come to the knowledge of the truth; and to affirm, that some are best conducted to salvation by ignorance and error. It is also to assert that in order to produce the love of God in the heart of man, he must be represented to them as a being infi

I quit with regret this delightful subject, which has furnished matter for my sixth and last consequence, drawn from the infinite goodness of God; and I flatter myself, I have made it appear that the knowledge of the perfect goodness of the Divine Nature, contains every possible motive that can lead us to love our neigh-nitely cruel. But lest sinners should abuse bour as ourselves. I have shewn the union of this truth so ill understood, it is necessary it interest that subsists among mankind; the should be rightly explained to them; that they amiableness and excellence of human na may not give themselves up to fatal illusions, ture; and lastly the attractive beauty and either respecting the severity, or the mercy of dignity of charity in itself, as the most glori- God. O God! Thon Being supremely good! ous virtue that can adorn an intellectual cause the precious ray of thy truth to illumibeing, and without which, it is impossible to nate every heart, that they may be filled with be happy in any state. thy love and thy fear; and to effect this, open the lips of thy ministers, that they may shew forth thy praise. Amen.

I have now completed what I proposed on this subject. In what I have said I have adhered to

123

THE END.

THE

TWENTY-FOURTH AND TWENTY-FIFTH CHAPTERS

OF

SAINT MATTHEW'S GOSPEL,

ILLUSTRATED WITH NOTES, &c.

BY HOSEA BALLOU, 2d.

PHILADELPHIA:

GIHON, FAIRCHILD & CO.

1843.

« السابقةمتابعة »