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considered, That the external acts of mercy here mentioned, are supposed to include that principle of divine love, or charity, from whence they flow, and from which alone they derive all their worth and excellence. Tis the inward habit, or grace of charity, which recommends the outward act; so that the least and lowest instances of goodness, springing from this fource, are in the fight of God of great price : even a cup of cold water giver to a thirsty disciple, in the name of Christ, shall not lofe its reward, Matth. X. 42. Whereas the most extraordinary and shining acts of charity, when separated from a principle of divine love, are of no value; for, if we bestow all our goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth us nothing, 1 Cor. xiii. 3. And therefore the
First, And most obvious account of the distinguishing mention here made of acts of mercy, may be taken from the surpassing dignity and worth of that divine grace which produceth them; which St. Paul tells us, is preferable even to faith and hope : for the greatest of these three is charity, 1 Cor. xiii. 13.
I should not wander from my point, if I took occasion here largely to explain the grounds and reasons of this preference; since whatever excelkence there is in the cause or principle, must derive a proportionable excellence also on the effect; and therefore a full display of those grounds and reasons would tend to satisfy our present enquiry. But having other matter to offer, which is of nearer and plainer use, I shall mention them only without insisting upon them. Charity then (or a love of God, which works
by a love of our neighbour) is greater than faith or hope, because it supposes these graces to be previously exercised, and is indeed the result and reward of them. Faith stedfastly believes, hope eagerly expects; but love, which is the end and confummation of both, enjoys...
It not only unites us to God, but it makes us like him too, and transforms us into a divine image! God is Love: 1 John iv. 8. whereas faith and hope have no place in the supreme Mind; and consequently, we ourselves bear no resem, blance to God, when we abound in them.
Charity is more extensive, as to its object and ufe, than either of the two other graces, which center ultimately in ourselves; for we believe, and we hope, for our own fakes: But love (which is a more disinterested principle) carries us out
of ourselves, into desires and endeavours of
pro moting the interests of other beings.
Charity excels also in point of duration, for it never faileth; 1 Cor xiii. 2. it doth not end with this world, but goes along with us into the next, where it will be advanced and perfected: but faith and hope shall then totally fail; the one being changed into fight, the other into en joyment. And indeed, well hath God suited these
graces to the several states to which they belong. Faith and hope, which are useful in this life only, may, in this life be exercised to perfection. We inay have so vigorous and piercing a faith, as can be out-done by no evidence, but that of sight; wc may
have so erect and lively an hope, as can on. ly be exceeded by fruition, in which it is loft
. But But love is as endless in its degrees, as it is in its duration ; and is fitted therefore to an im nortal ftate, where it may be exerted and improved ta áll eternity
2. And this remarkable property of love will fuggest to us one reason, why acts of charity shall be enquired after so particularly, at the day of general account; because good men are then to be consigned over to another state, a state of everlasting love and charity: and therefore the chief enquiry must then be, How they have abounded in those graces which qualify them best for an admiffion into that state, and for a due relish of the divine pleasures of it; how they have practia sed charity here, the exercise of which must be their duty, and their happiness for ever. Heaven, and hell are the proper regions of love and hatred, mercy and uncharitableness: Blessed angels and pure souls evercised in the ministry of love, are to ppsless, the one; devils and damned spirits, who are all rage, envy, and malice, are to inhabit the other. When we stand therefore on the brinks and confines of those states, at the day of doom, we shall be examined, how fit we severally, are for such places and such coinpany: according as that appears, our several mansions shall be suitably assigned to us; and men and angels, good and bad, even we ourselves shall, upon the issue of this single article, acknowledge the justice of the sentence. Indeed
3dly, This single article is fufficient to abfolve or condemn us : for it is the short test and sure proof of universal goodness. The whole duty of a Chriftian is nothing but love, varied thro'
the several kinds, acts, and degrees of it. And works of mercy are the most natural and genuine off-spring of love; so that from these a good man is denominated. The Scripture therefore frequently sums up our duty in charity; and, for that reason styles it the fulfilling of the law, and the bond of perfectness. Indeed where charity is (that is, where the bleffed fruits of charity, springing from a true principle of divine love, are) there no other Chriftian grace or perfection can be totally wanting; and where charity is not, there may be the imperfect resemblances of other Christian graces and virtues, but not those graces and virtues themselves for such they cannot be, unless fed, and invigorated, and animated, by a principle of universal charity. So that our Saviour, by profeffing to examine us on this head, brings matters to a short iffue, a single point, by which our cause may be decided as effectually, as by larger enquiries. It will furnish us with a
4th Reason of his conduct in this cause, if we consider, how great a stress he laid upon this duty, while he was upon earth; how earnestly he recommended it; in how exalted a degree of perfection he prescribed the practice of it to us ; fo that he cannot but enquire, with a particular concern how we have complyed with it.
It is his peculiar, his distinguishing precept, the special mark and badge of our discipleship: " A new commandment (faid he) I give unto you, that
love one another; by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another, John xiii. 24, 35. And upon the article therefore of our obedience to this new commandment, he himself will declare, whether we do, or do not belong to him. It was one of the last injunctions he gave, and often repeated to his difciples, in that divine exhortation he made to them juft before he entered on the bloody scene of his passion ; 'twas the great direction he left with them, when he himself was leaving the world. The first and chief enquiry, therefore, when he returns to judgment, will be, What weight his dying words have had with us?
5. The nature of the sentence he is to pronounce, the rule of judgment by which he will at the last day proceed, requires that a particular regard be then had to our observation of this precept. We shall be judged by the grace and mercy of the gospel, and not by the rigours of unrelenting justice. God will indeed judge the world in righteousness, but 'tis by an Evangelical, not a Legal righteousness; and by the intervention of the Min Christ Jesus, who is thc Saviour, as well as the Judge, of the world; and as such, hath procured that pardoning grace for us, which mitigates and tempers the severity of the rule, and entitles us to the favour and mercy of our Judge. But what title can he have to mercy himself, who hath not exercised it towards others ? Matth. v. 7, “ Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain “ mercy,” in that day when “Mercy rejoiceth
against judgment:" But, on the other hand, “ They shall have judgment without mercy, who “ have shewed no mercy," James ii. 13. The power of covering fin, is in fcripture ascribed to no other grace, or virtue whatsoever, but charity : when therefore the multitude of our fins is to be