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The Nature, Properties, and Acts of Charity. 45
give unto you, That ye love one another. And he SERM. maketh the observance of it the special badge and XXVII. cognizance of his followers; By this shall all men John xiii. know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.
It being therefore a duty of so grand importance, it is most requisite that we should well understand it, and faithfully observe it; to which purposes I shall, by God's assistance, endeavour to confer somewhat, first by explaining its nature, then by pressing the observance of it by several inducements.
The nature of it will, as I conceive, be best understood by representing the several chief acts, which it compriseth or implieth as necessary prerequisites, or essential ingredients, or inseparable adherents to it; some internally resident in the soul, others discharged in external performance; together with some special properties of it. And such are those which follow.
I. Loving our neighbour doth imply, that we should value and esteem him: this is necessary, for affection doth follow opinion; so that we cannot like any thing which we do not esteem, or wherein we do not apprehend some considerable good, attractive of affection; that is not amiable, which is wholly contemptible; or so far as it is such.
But in right judgment no man is such; for the Wise Man telleth us, that he that despiseth his Prov. xiv. neighbour, sinneth; and, He is void of understand- Prov. xi.12. ing that despiseth his neighbour: but no man is guilty of sin or folly for despising that which is wholly despicable.
It is indeed true, that every man is subject to defects and to mischances, apt to breed contempt, espe
SERM. cially in the minds of vulgar and weak people; but no man is really despicable. For,
Every man living hath stamped on him the venerable image of his glorious Maker, which nothing incident to him can utterly deface.
Every man is of a divine extraction, and allied to Heaven by nature and by grace; as the son Job xxxi. of God, and brother of God incarnate. If I did de13, 14, 15. spise the cause of my man-servant or of my maidservant, when they contended with me; what then shall I do when God riseth up? and when he visiteth, what shall I answer him?
Did not he that and did not one
Job xxxii. made me in the womb make him? fashion us in the womb?
Every man is endued with that celestial faculty of reason, inspired by the Almighty, (for, There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding,) and hath an immortal spirit residing in him; or rather is himself an angelical spirit dwelling in a visible tabernacle.
Every man was originally designed and framed for a fruition of eternal happiness.
Every man hath an interest in the common redemption, purchased by the blood of the Son of God, who tasted death for every one.
Every man is capable of sovereign bliss, and hath a crown of endless glory offered to him.
In fine, every man, and all men alike, antecedently to their own will and choice, are the objects of his Ps. cxlv. 9. love, of his care, of his mercy; who is loving unto every man, and whose mercy is over all his works;
Job xxxiv. who hath made the small and the great, and careth
Wisd. vi. 8. for all alike; who is rich, in bounty and mercy, toRom. x. 12. ·ward all that call upon him.
How then can any man be deemed contemptible, SERM. having so noble relations, capacities, and privileges? XXVII.
How a man standeth in esteem with God Elihu telleth us; God, saith he, is mighty, and despiseth not Job xxxvi. any: although he be so mighty, so excellent in per- Ps. Ixix. 33. fection, so infinitely in state exalted above all, yet doth not he slight any; and how can we contemn those, whom the certain voucher and infallible judge of worth deigneth to value? Indeed God so valued every man as to take great care, to be at great cost and trouble, to stoop down from heaven, to assume mortal flesh, to endure pinching wants and sore distresses, to taste death for every one.
We may ask with St. Paul, Why dost thou set at Rom. xiv. nought thy brother?
Is it for the lowness of his condition, or for any misfortune that hath befallen him? But are not Jam. ii. 5. the best men, art not thou thyself obnoxious to 33. cxlvi. 9. the like? Hath not God declared that he hath a special regard to such? And are not such things commonly disposed by his hand with a gracious intent?
Is it for meanness of parts, or abilities, or endowments? But are not these the gifts of God, absolutely at his disposal, and arbitrarily distributed or preserved; so that thou who art so wise in thy own conceit to-day, mayest, by a disease, or from a judgment, deserved by thy pride, become an idiot to-morrow? Have not many good, and therefore many happy 1 Cor. i. 26. men, wanted those things?
Is it for moral imperfections or blemishes; for vicious habits, or actual misdemeanours? These indeed are the only debasements and disparagements of a man; yet do they not expunge the characters of di
SERM. vinity impressed on his nature; and he may by God's mercy recover from them. And are not we ourselves, if grace do not uphold us, liable to the same? Yea, may we not, if without partiality or flattery we examine ourselves, discern the same within us, or other defects equivalent? And, however, is not pity rather due to them than contempt? Whose characLuke xviii. ter was it, that they trusted they were righteous, 9. xvi. 15. and despised others? That the most palpable offender should not be quite despised, God had a special care in his Law, for that end moderating punishDeut. xxv. ment, and restraining the number of stripes; If, saith the Law, the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain number. Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee.
We may consider that the common things, both good and bad, wherein men agree, are far more considerable than the peculiar things wherein they differ; to be a man is much beyond being a lord, or a wit, or a philosopher; to be a Christian doth infinitely surpass being an emperor, or a learned clerk; to be a sinner is much worse than to be a beggar, or an idiot. The agreement of men is in the substance and body of things; the difference is in a circumstance, a fringe, or a shadow about them; so that we cannot despise another man, without reflecting contempt on ourselves, who are so very like him, and not considerably better than he, or hardly can without arrogance pretend to be so.
We may therefore, and reason doth require that
we should value our neighbour; and it is no impos- SERM. XXVII. sible or unreasonable precept which St. Peter giveth us, to honour all men; and with it a charitable mind 1 Pet. ii. 17. will easily comply: it ever will descry something valuable, something honourable, something amiable in our neighbour; it will find somewhat of dignity in the meanest, somewhat of worth in the basest, somewhat hopeful in the most degenerate of men; it 1 Cor. xiii. therefore will not absolutely slight or scorn any man whatever, looking on him as an abject or forlorn wretch, unworthy of consideration.
It is indeed a point of charity to see more things estimable in others than in ourselves; or to be apprehensive of more defects meriting disesteem in ourselves than in others; and consequently in our opinion to prefer others before us, according to those apostolical precepts, Be kindly affected one toward Rom. xii. another with brotherly love, in honour preferring one another. In lowliness of mind let each esteem Phil. ii. 3. other better than themselves. Be subject one to 1 Pet. v. 5. another.
II. Loving our neighbour doth imply a sincere and earnest desire of his welfare, and good of all kinds, in due proportion: for it is a property of love, that it would have its object most worthy of itself, and consequently that it should attain the best state whereof it is capable, and persist firm therein; to be fair and plump, to flourish and thrive without diminution or decay; this is plain to experience in respect to any other thing (a horse, a flower, a building, or any such thing) which we pretend to love: wherefore charity should dispose us to be thus affected to our neighbour; so that we do not look upon his condition or affairs with an indifferent eye BARROW, VOL. II.