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SUNDAY AFTER ASCENSION DAY.
1 ST. PETER, iv. 8.
Among the many excellent things, which are spoken of charity, in Scripture, the present assurance is, in several respects, the most remarkable.--It is remarkable for the disputes, to which it has given rise ; and for the very different meanings, which have been affixed to it and, as there are few texts which, when rightly understood, are more abundant in instruction, and in comfort, to the humble Christian ; so there is none, of which the ignorant and sensual have so frequently taken hold,—in wresting the Scriptures to their own destruction. it has been made a direct encouragement to sin ; as pointing out—what they supposed to bean easy way of delivering themselves from punishment.-By others, it has been perverted into a deadly source of pride, and of confidence
in their own good deeds,—not only for pardon, but for recompense.—To many, it has, I fear, been fatal ; as withdrawing their attention and trust from the single expiation and atonement, which is appointed for man, in the blood, the merits, and the intercession, of Jesus Christ, our Lord. How these mistakes arose, and how they may
be best avoided, will appear in the course of my present sermon ; in which I purpose, with God's help,—to explain the real meaning of the words before us, and the practical consequences, , which we are, as Christians, bound to draw from them.
There are two ways, in which the words of St. Peter have been understood by different interpreters : and the grounds of their dispute are reducible to the questions :-“ Whose faults are they which our charity is said to conceal,—and from whom are they thus hidden ? the faults of other men, or our own ? Are they hidden from our own recollection, and from the notice of the world ? or are they covered from the wrath, and the fearful sentence, of The Almighty?” These are the questions, which naturally arise from the consideration of the text, which has been read to you : and to these, the following answers have been given by the defenders of the one, and of the other, interpretation.
They, who suppose that the faults here intended, are the faults of other men, understand
St. Peter to be doing no more, in his present words, than exhorting the members of the Christian church to a charitable forbearance and tenderness, one towards another ; by which every man may, undoubtedly be, in a certain sense, asserted to hide the faults of his neighbour, both from his own observation, and from the observation of the world: - inasmuch as the charitable and kind-hearted man is in himself disposed to “ think no evil;” and to shut his eyes, so far as is possible, to the faults and follies of his brethren: and is still more anxious, even when he himself cannot avoid observing them, to conceal them (by all fair constructions and decent apologies, or, at all events, by a kind and friendly silence) from the observation, and reprobation, of the world. And to prove that the expression of “ covering sins” is very capable of this explanation, they bring forward the words of Solomon; (Prov. x. 12) to which they suppose the present passage to be an allusion; - and in which it is observed that — “ Hatred stirreth up strifes; but Love covereth all sins."
There is yet another way, in which a charitable man, they tell us, may be said to cover the sin of his neighbour : and that is, by obtaining forgiveness for it through his loving and charitable prayers in his behalf; and by leading him to a true repentance of it, through his gentle dealing, his patient teaching, and endurance; and by that tender care for his brother's soul, which is one of the most necessary parts of charity: and by which “he, who turneth a sinner from the evil of his ways,” is said by St. James, in the last verse of his Epistle, to “ hide a multitude of sins.” - Not, say they, that the sins of the teacher himself were necessarily thus numerous but that the transgressions of “ the soul which he has saved from death” are hidden, by this conversion, from Almighty Vengeance.
And thus, beyond a doubt, a very useful lesson is conveyed; and a duty, recommended to the practice of the Church; which it well became the Apostle to recommend; and the Church, in every age, to practise. But this explanation, it may be thought, neither suits the tenour of St. Peter's argument, nor the aweful circumstances under which his counsel is brought forwards. — He had begun by telling us, that the “ end of all things” was drawing near. sequence of this alarming prospect, he had exhorted us, “ therefore” to be “sober, and watch unto prayer.” Then, for the same cause, he urges, with yet greater earnestness : “ above all things, have fervent charity among yourselves;” - as an additional motive to the practice of which, and still, as it may seem, with an eye to the approaching terrors of Christ's coming to judge the world, he assures us, that this “charity
shall cover the multitude of sins.”—Surely something more is here intended, than the assurance of that, which nobody ever questioned ; namely, that a kind and charitable man overlooks, and conceals, as far as possible, the faults of his guilty neighbour.
Whether an allusion is, in these words, designed to the words of Solomon already mentioned, is a point, which must always be doubtful. But even, if we should grant that this was the case, it would by no means follow, that the words, as they stand in St. Peter's Epistle, are to be understood, in exactly the same sense, as that which they bear in the 10th chapter of Proverbs: since nothing is more common, than the accommodation, in the New Testament, of passages taken from the Old,- to a sense very
different from their former meaning; and generally more exalted, more spiritual, and more mysterious.
Nor can we fail to observe, that the other way, in which the charitable man is supposed to cover his neighbour's faults, by converting him, that is, from the error of his ways, can scarcely be the thing here intended; inasmuch as the charity here mentioned, as that, by which a multitude of sins may be covered, is not said to be exerted by the good, towards the wicked; by the Christians, towards the Heathen ; but by the Christians,— those who are already converted, — to