« AnteriorContinuar »
say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
, Then shall he say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels :
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink : 'I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and
ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
• Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as
ye did it not unto one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
• And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.'
It would, I think, my dear fellow-Christians, give just cause of offence to you all, should I now make you an harangue on the subject of Christian charity in general, or on that of alms-giving in particular. Should I not in so doing too strongly say, you are not Christians; you do not understand the plainest, nor feel the most pathetic words of Christ? Nay, should I not be guilty of arrogance intolerable, should I presume to add any thing to an address, made by infinite wisdom to the understandings and affections of a Christian audience, drawn together on this occasion, by the previous power of that very spirit, which dictated this address? Who shall come after God?
The eloquence of men, of angels, would be but futility to this. Christ hath-spoken. You are Christians. Shall I not therefore quit the pulpit, and return into my own extreme insignificance?
No, I perceive, by that profound silence, you expect even I should say somewhat. Be it so.
· A little time may possibly be passed by us with some profit, and much pleasure, in a few reflections on this wonderful sermon of our God and Saviour. We cannot add ; but we may, we ought to meditate. Let us therefore cordially enter into the most beautiful of all discourses, on the most beautiful of all subjects.
The religion of Christ, which, in a thousand places of his gospel, is finely figured to us as light to the understanding, is here, with regard to the heart, summed up in love; love towards God, and love towards our neighbour. God himself is a sun, is love. The true religion beaming forth from him, all luminous and lovely, partakes his nature, and imparts it; partakes and imparts Christ Jesus, who comes to us as a great light, and the Holy Spirit, who descends upon us as fire, to warm us with charity. Our religion, like the second and third persons in the Holy Trinity, consists of light and love coessential with each other, and with its source. St. James speaks of them as one. • Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know, that he which converteth a sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.' See how error and sin are treated as one; and are not their opposites, truth and charity, one? Most surely. To know God is to love him. To know our neighbour, as of the same nature with ourselves, and as the creature, if not child, of God, is to love him. To love God and our neighbour is to fulfil the whole law of Christ; for every man, warmed by this charity, must labour to honour God, and cherish his neighbour, in proportion to his degree of love. Truth and charity, or goodness, are, in the real Christian, so essentially united, like light and warmth, their scriptural emblems, in the natural world, as never to be separated. Every one knows how the sunbeams operate on the vegetable and animal creation. The good Christian knows, how, in like manner, true religion, the emanation of God, sheds daylight on the understanding, charity on the heart, penetrates, pervades, invigorates, the soul, and matures its virtues. He experimentally knows how it may, by meditation and devotion, be so socially collected, as to consume every thing in him that is earthly, and assimilate to itself the purer part of his composition, which, thus sublimed, rises, and mixes with its connatural element above. By this train of thinking you see how all good Christians are made partakers even of the divine nature.
And from this view of our religion, as consisting of light and love, the words of Christ, just now repeated, carry us to the consideration of this religion, as operat
ing on the heart particularly, and there begetting love or charity.
Now, it is very observable, that in this love towards God and man, our divine Instructor places the sum and substance of all true religion and virtue. It is his own assertion, that on these two hang all the law and the prophets, for in his mouth the charitable are the righteous. St. Paul too maintains, that love is the fulfilling of the law. But lest you should take this for an account of the law, as contradistinguished from the gospel, you perceive our blessed Saviour, in that which I call his charity sermon, states the trial of the last day on the footing of charity alone, as extended, or refused, to him in his indigent members. This is the very gospel; and here its author lets all Christians, whether real, or only professed, know beforehand, in what manner he will deal with them at the final judgment. His two sentences are already pronounced and recorded, as the sanctions of his law; Come, ye blessed of my Father,' or ye charitable, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;' and, 'Go, ye accursed,' or ye uncharitable, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. The execution immediately follows, 'these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.'
It is very observable, indeed, till we reflect a little, astonishing, that our Lord, after placing all religion and duty in charity, should, farther still, reduce all charity to almsgiving; whereas St. Paul plainly intimates the possibility of a man's giving all his goods to the poor, without having charity. It is certain, this he may do through vanity, superstition, or hatred towards his relations. But it is equally certain, that he who relieves the poor through compassion for the poor, and love towards Christ, is a very different sort of man. This man must be a true Christian, and can hardly be supposed to want, in any one respect, at least as much solicitude for the honour of God, and the safety of his own soul, as for the body of his neighbour. If however he hath sinned (and who hath not), his fervent, or rather, extensive, charity shall cover the multitude of his sins. Who is there among us who shall hear the poor man crying to the rich in the name of Jesus for help, and see the rich melting into
pity, and its beneficent effects, and will not take it for granted, that the latter is a Christian ? Change the scene, let the poor man go away unrelieved, who is he that will call his rich neighbour a Christian? It will be evident, that this most honourable appellation is, on these occasions, neither given, nor refused, at random, if it is considered, that Christian faith, the mother of all the gospel graces and virtues, is, in a peculiar manner, the principle and spring of Christian charity. Faith in Christ is a firm belief of his doctrines, and of all he hath done and suffered for our salvation. Hence love for him, and for all that are one with him. Hence that exquisite feeling, which is immediately perceived in every member of Christ, when any other is touched. Hence that consent of parts in the spiritual body, which shews, that the whole is united to a common head, and animated by one common soul.
It is through this that the sensations of Christ are communicated upwards from every individual of his church, and that he feels in every Christian, I mean, particularly in the sufferings of every Christian, more keenly than he did in the hands and feet of his natural body, when the nails went through them into his cross. It is therefore on this he founds that idea of charity, which he would have all his followers imbibe, when he represents himself as hungry, as thirsty, as naked, as a stranger, as sick, as imprisoned, in every the most inconsiderable Christian, who is destitute of meat, drink, clothes, or lodging; or who languishes on a sick bed, or in a jail.
O blessed Jesus ! what condescension, what compassion, what tenderness is here! Scarcely the cross itself can exhibit more.
How can a Christian be hard-hearted ? Oh! A son may tear the flesh from the bones of his aged father, a mother may roast her new-born infant alive; and the corruption of nature may palliate the horror; but a Christian must be tender, must have pity, cannot give up the Son of God, who died for his soul, to new and unnecessary distresses, that he may save a few shillings, to be wasted on those pomps and vanities, or on those sinful lusts of the flesh, which he renounced by the most solemn of all vows, when he called himself after Christ. This is too much indeed for the new nature to bear. A man born again
is like Christ, the author of regeneration; is incorporated with, and lives in Christ ; is acted by the spirit or mind, which is in Christ Jesus. How then can that joy or sorrow, which are felt by Christ, be unfelt by a Christian? It is true, the church is called the body of Christ, in a figure. Is Christ therefore to expect nothing more from us, than a mere figurative belief? Is the union between Christ and a Christian only notional? Is it not as much a reality, as the most literal truth could vouch it to be? Nay, is it not a li. teral truth, that Christ gave up his natural body to a most painful and ignominious death, to save his church or spiritual body, as dearer to him? And does not the Holy Ghost, in representing the sin of a Christian as a fresh crucifixion of Christ, give us plainly to understand, that our blessed head, mystically indeed, but really and truly, feels in us his members as keenly, as for us, on the first cross, to which we nailed him?
If I should say to my neighbour, I am hungry, and he should deny it, every by-stander would charge him not only with a lie, but with brutish impudence. A man best knows his own distresses. Christ who knows all things, may surely be allowed to know, when he himself is hungry, thirsty, &c. To prevent all hard-hearted and selfish cavils on this subject, he hath stated the case, asserted his own distress, and put the doubt concerning it into the mouths both of the charitable and uncharitable, When saw we thee an hungred, or thirsty,' &c. To which, lest they should not perfectly believe him, he answers with an emphasis,' Verily I say
unto you, as you did, or did it not, unto one of the least of these, you did it, or did it not, unto me.'
A fact, thus cleared and asserted by our Lord himself, no Christian will dare to question in words. But let it be here observed, that whosoever, though able, does not relieve the distresses of his Saviour, gives the lie to that Saviour by refusing help, more strongly and inhumanly, than it is possible to do it in words; or at least disowns all obligation from gratitude, all inducement from hope, and that connexion with him and his body, which ought to produce the relief he stands so much in need of, and here so loudly calls for.
Our blessed Redeemer, when persecuted to death by the