« PreviousContinue »
most powerful appeal to our hearts. In
approaching the table of the Lord, the glory of God must be the predominant object of our contemplation. All the stupendous mysteries which the Gospel combines for our redemption and salvation, are, as it were, concentrated in that sublime and sacred office of our Church. We cannot join in it without feeling that spiritual refreshment of our souls, which it is designed to impart. We cannot deliberately and habitually neglect it, without impairing our title to the benefits of the Christian Covenant. Let me earnestly conjure you, therefore, to embrace the present opportunity of partaking in this holy ordinance. If you are conscious that
faith in Christ is firmly fixed, and that your lives are passed in conformity with your faith, gratitude alone for so unspeakable a blessing, must be sufficient to bring you to the altar, in humble acknowledgment of the mercies of your God. But if your faith at any time falls short of that stability and assurance, which it is so desirable to possess, a state of mind from which even the best of men are by no means secure—or if your conduct is not upon all occasions so exactly framed upon Christian principles, as it
might and ought to be-you have still more reason to prostrate yourselves before the Lord, in devout supplication for the assistance of his Holy Spirit, to guide you into the way
of truth, to remove the mists of error from your understandings, and to purify your hearts with the love of virtue : so that when the changes and chances of this mortal life are ended, it may be your happy fate, through the merits of your Redeemer, to behold, with unclouded vision, the glory of God.
1 CORINTHIANS xiii. 13.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but
the greatest of these is charity.
Such is the emphatical conclusion of this great Apostle's description of the virtue of Christian love or charity: to which he justly assigns the pre-eminence over faith and hope; and indeed over every other particular grace and endowment-for this plain reason, that it includes in itself every thing that constitutes the perfection of the Christian character. The whole chapter is well worthy of the attention of every one, who is desirous of forming correct ideas of the doctrines of our religion. But especially of those, who
may, from any causes have been led to attach an exclusive, or an undue importance to faith, as if by it alone we could either be justified or secure our salvation. How they who maintain, that we are esteemed innocent and righteous before God, on account of a certain quality in our minds called faith, and not for our actions, can reconcile that position with the unequivocal superiority which the text assigns to charity (which I shall shew to be a practical principle, demonstrable only by our actions) over faith, I profess not to know. But I think their difficulty in so doing will be not a little encreased, when they consider that it is the very same Apostle upon whom they principally, if not entirely rely for the support of their doctrine, who has (as I contend) in this admirable chapter furnished us with a complete refutation of it. It is not, however, my present purpose to discuss this topic, important as I at all times deem it to be; but merely to give an exposition of the text, with such practical inferences as will naturally result from it.
In the preceding chapter, St. Paul had discoursed at large to his Corinthian converts, upon the different orders and functions of different men in the infant Church, whether arising from spiritual gifts miraculously imparted to them, or from qualifications naturally
possessed or acquired. This it should seem he did with a view to allay certain jealousies which existed amongst them, about the precedency due to their respective ranks. Having explained to them, by aptly comparing the Church of Christ to the human body, the absolute necessity for a great variety and subordination of members, and the impossibility that all should be of equal value and dignity, he exhorts them nevertheless to covet earnestly the best gifts—that is, of prophecy, of miracles, of healing, of tongues, and some others, by which they might become more eminently serviceable to their brethren, and advance the great cause which he had so much at heart. But yet, he adds—that he will shew unto them a more excellent way to accomplish that object. And he then proceeds in the chapter before us, to describe very particularly, and to analyse as it were the properties of that charity, which he affirms in the text to be greater than faith or hope, and consequently than any other Christian virtue that can be mentioned.
From a consideration of the various qualities both negative and positive, which the Apostle has enumerated as belonging to