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wards each other. “ Above all things, have fervent charity among yourselves; for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” It is true, indeed, that, as Christians may,
and do sin, notwithstanding their conversion ; so charity may be fully exerted among ourselves, in exhorting each other to holiness ; in reproving each other's sins; and, by our zeal and our prayers, pleading for each other at the throne of grace; but still, if this had been the apostle's meaning, it is almost impossible to suppose, that he would not have explained himself further; or that he would not have at once exhorted us to labour, by these charitable offices, for the salvation of our brethren. It should seem, then, that there are great difficulties, in supposing, that, by the sins, which are to be covered by our charity, the sins of other people are, in this place, intended : and it is possible, that this opinion would never have been resorted to, by the learned men, who maintain it; if it had not been for the grievous abuses, of which I shall speak presently, to which the other interpretation has been exposed, and which made them fly too hastily from the plain and obvious sense of Scripture,— in order to avoid that misapplication, for which, not the truth itself, but the sins of those, by whom that truth is perverted, may be justly considered as answerable.
The second way of explaining the present
passage of Scripture is their's, who
that the sins here intended are not the sins of others, but of the charitable person himself: and who understand the doctrine thus conveyed, teaching us, [what we are taught in many other places, by all the writers of the New Testament,] that true love and charity towards the brethren is an offering so acceptable in the sight of God, that, where this is found, our sins will, undoubtedly, be, through Christ's merits pardoned : and, where this is not found, the pardon, which Christ has bought by His blood, can by no means be expected to extend to us.-It need not, nay, it must not be fancied, that either this, or any other action, or habit, can have a positive value in God's sight; as that, which, of itself, can cover sins; or purchase pardon for them.This is the consequence of Christ's blood, and of His merits only. But still, our love for the brethren, and our kindness to them, when founded in love to God; and when expressive of our love to Him, and of our faith in His Son's mediation; -- both may be, and undoubtedly are, the principal means by which we are enjoined to seek,and by which only we can hope to receive or obtain, — the salvation, which Christ has procured for those, and those only, who apply for it in the appointed manner.
I will endeavour to explain myself. — Supposing an insolvent debtor receives, from some
generous benefactor, the promise of a sum of money — sufficient to supply all his wants ; — which he is directed to apply for, in a certain street, and on a certain day; it might be said, indeed, in one particular sense, that the debtor could not have paid his debts, without walking to such a street, and enquiring in such a house; and that, therefore, it was by this walk, that the debts were discharged; but no one would, [if he were asked who paid the debts,] answer — the debtor himself paid them — since the means of payment were furnished by another person ; and since the action, which the debtor was enjoined to perform, in order to obtain those means, [the walking, namely, to such a street, and to such a house,] had, in itself, no power whatever to discharge a single penny; any further, than as it was received by the free goodness of his friend, as expressive of his wants, and of his thankfulness. By the strict application of this case to ourselves, and to our hopes of salvation, we may find, first,—that, though Christ's merits, and sufferings only, redeem us from death and hell; yet, in order to profit by those heavenly merits, certain appointed actions, and habits, of our own are necessary: and that, therefore, it may be said of us, that we are, in a certain sense, saved by our faith, by our hope, and, as in the present instance, by our charity ; inasmuch as these are the means whereby we lay hold on the promise; and plead with God the payment of our debt, in the person of the Lord Jesus.—But it is not by these alone, nor by any merit, or power, which these have, in themselves, that we are saved from death, and misery; since the advantages given to us by Christ are such, as no possible exertions of our own could have any chance of obtaining: and since, in fact, there is no more necessary connection between our faith, our hope, and our charity,—and the pardon and happiness, which God, for His Son's sake, bestows on us; than there is between knocking at a door, and receiving a purse of money.
Charity, then, may cover sins, in the same manner, as that, in which faith covers, or obtains a pardon for them ; not that our imperfect and unsteady love, or faith, can claim, of themselves, either reward, or pardon, from our judge: but because these are the means, by which that blessed judge has taught us to seek for the pardon, and the reward; which his own sufferings have brought for us :—and which his own merits have claimed, on our behalf, from his Father.
And that charity has this power, as an appointed means of salvation ; nay, that it is the means by which, above all others, and even more than faith itself, our salvation is to be sought for, is plain, from many positive assurances of Scripture ; in which our love for others is spoken of, not only as a condition, without which we
must not hope for pardon ; but as a pledge, whereby we may assure ourselves, when we really feel it in our hearts, that our iniquities are forgiven; and our sins, covered. Thus the love of one another, which is nothing else than another word for charity, is said by St. Paul “ to fulfil the Law ;" that is, to free us from the punishment, which a transgression of the law brings down upon us.—The same love is repeatedly said, by St. John, to be a sure and certain mark, that he, who feels it, is in a state of grace and favour with God; and that he is an heir of everlasting life. Thus,—“ He, that loveth his brother, abideth in the light.” 2_“ If we love one another, God dwelleth in us."3_“ We know, that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." 4—“ Every one, that loveth, is born of God.'
Nor are these expressions, forcible as they are, the strongest which may be found, to the same effect, in Scripture. Forgiveness of our enemies, which is a known and necessary part of charity, is particularized by our Saviour, in His comment on the prayer, which He taught us; as availing, through His mercies, to obtain forgiveness of our sins from God.
ye forgive men their tres