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KNOWLEDGE AND CHARITY.
1 CORINTHIANS, VIII. 1.
Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
In a place dedicated to the advancement of science, and before an audience of persons set apart for that purpose, it might seem an undertaking no less improper than invidious, to point out its ill effects, had not the great Doctor of the Gentiles authorized such a proceeding, and the present pious and judicious institution demanded it at our hands. No person ever entertained a higher idea of true wisdom than St. Paul, who has employed the most exalted strains of divine oratory to set forth the excellency of knowledge and understanding. But yet the holy apostle saw, that learning makes not the man of God perfect; that something may still be wanting in him who is at the top of intellectual attainments; and
a A Benefaction left by Mr. MASTERS, for two Sermons to be preached on certain texts by him selected, tending to inculcate the duty of Christian humility, as opposed to the pride of science, and to point out the true nature and end of the ministerial office.
that the complete scholar may fall short, at last, of the kingdom of heaven. He saw that spiritual, like bodily wealth, unless used for the benefit of others, would prove no blessing to its owner, serving only to hasten his fall and increase his condemnation. And, therefore, that the wise man might not glory in his wisdom, but sink into himself by humility as he rises above others in understanding, remembering always the account he must make, proportionable to the talents delivered, the apostle determines, that not only human learning, but the knowledge of all prophecies and mysteries, that is, of all the dispensations of God and every truth in the Scriptures, and that knowledge formed into an orthodox faith animated by a lively hope, will profit a man nothing, if charity, or divine love, be not superadded, which, like the vital heat in the human frame, may disperse and actuate all' to the edification of the body.
This is the great argument of his epistle to the Corinthians; a people in whom their reputation for polite literature and a distinguished taste, had produced not a little conceit of themselves and their endowments. This temper and disposition they most unhappily brought with them into the church; where, not being mortified, as it ought to have been, by the spirit of the meek and humble Jésus, it began to display itself in religious, as it had before done in secular learning. The object was changed, but the passions were the same; and Christ himself was made the occasion of pride, envy, and contention, among those who all alike professed themselves to be his disciples. The new converts were soon divided into
little parties struggling for the pre-eminence of their respective leaders, like so many sects of philosophers, rather than zealous for the glory of their Lord, as members of his one universal church. St. Paul does not accuse them of ignorance. On the contrary, he bears them witness, that they were "enriched with "all knowledge, and came behind in no gift;" but complains, notwithstanding, that they were still carnal; they did not "all speak the same thing," as brethren of one family and fellow-members of the same body should do, but formed themselves into separate factions and schisms; insomuch that he feared lest, in contending for knowledge, charity should have been pulled in pieces of them, while all sought to excel for the sake of excelling, and not to the edifying of the church; all regarded their own glory, not the advantage of their brethren, whom they cared not how much they offended, so they had but an opportunity of manifesting their own superiority.
A remarkable instance of this presented itself in the case of meat offered to an idol; concerning which the apostle tells them, "they had knowledge;" they knew "that an idol was nothing," and that therefore they might as well eat meat so offered as any other, provided it was not brought to them as such, and made a test of their faith. But then, he observes, there was not in every man that degree of knowledge. There were some who, through infirmity and overscrupulousness, could not so eat without considering themselves as partakers of an idol-sacrifice. The danger therefore was, lest such, emboldened by the
example of a brother better established in faith, should be led to sin against their own consciences, and so through the other's greater knowledge a weak brother should perish, for whom Christ died no less than for him that was stronger. Knowledge, thus used to the destruction of others, could never farther the salvation of its possessor. And therefore St. Paul declares, that if the case were to be pushed even to the utmost, charity should make him wave all the privileges of his knowledge, for the edification of his brother. "Wherefore if meat make my bro"ther to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world "standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”
Upon this occasion it is that he advances the general assertion in the text; which resolves itself into these two propositions
I. That knowledge without charity endeth in pride, and consequently in the destruction of him that hath it: "knowledge puffeth
II. That charity directeth it to its proper end, the edification of the church: "charity edi"fieth."
I. Knowledge without charity endeth in pride; it puffeth up, saith the apostle; it produceth an inflation in the mind, which, like a tumour in the body, carries the appearance of solidity, but has in reality nothing within, and only indicates a distempered habit. And indeed knowledge, as well as faith, if it be alone, is vain; it is dead. For all knowledge is given as a means to some end. The means abstract
ed from their end, cease to be means, and answer no
purpose whatsoever. The end of knowledge is action. "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye "do them." Every article of the Creed involves in it a correspondent duty, and it is practice alone that gives life to faith, and realizes knowledge. What is true of human wisdom with regard to things temporal, is as true of divine with relation to things spiritual: "Through wisdom is an house builded, "and by understanding it is established, and by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all "precious and pleasant riches. A wise man is (" strong, yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength; and by a man of understanding and knowledge the state of a land shall be prolonged." "The science that terminates where it begins, in the
intellect, what availeth it?" Or what profit is there in the learning which promoteth not, in any measure, the interest either of the church or the state of which its proprietor is a member?"The manifestation of "the Spirit," as that Spirit himself testifies, "is given
to every man to PROFIT withal." Otherwise it is of no effect; and the man becomes, as St. Jude finely describes such a character, like "a cloud "without water," raised aloft, as it should seem by its appearance, for the benefit of those beneath it; but how wretchedly are they disappointed! It sails along before the wind, proudly swelling in the sufficiency of its own emptiness, instead of dropping fatness and plenty on the lands over which it passes. "Knowledge puffeth up." And that this will always be the effect of it where charity is wanting, we may b John, xiii. 17.
c 1 Cor. xii. 7.