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This may be gathered from the text ; where the Apostle hath placed the three great virtues of a Christian in their natural order. The first of them is Faith ; the second is Hope; and the last is Charity; Hope arises from Faith, and Charity from Faith and Hope. Where there is no Faith, there can be no Hope; and where there is neither Faith nor Hope, there can be no Charity.
This is what I shall endeavour to prove in the following discourse; and to correct a common mistake concerning the nature of Charity, so far as the time will permit.
If we enquire into the nature of Faith, we shall find, that it is a kind of Spiritual Sense ; without which we cannot receive the Christian doctrines, nor believe the promises of God. It is that kind of apprehension, with which we admit things not yet seen: and as the word of God treats chiefly of such things, Faith is the faculty with which we receive the word of God; if we receive it at all. By Faith, says the Apostle, we know that the worlds were framed by the word of God, and that the things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. We should not so much as know that God created the world, unless he himself had informed us of iti and so weak is human reason without Faith, that some, who pretend to be wiser than all other men, do not believe this after they have been told of it. The general object of our Faith is the word of God, as revealed to us in the scripture; the more particular object of it is the redemption of man by Jesus Christ, as it includes the whole work of our regeneration and final salvation, Till we admit of this, and of the nature of the person, both God and man, by whom it is 'accomplished, we have no Faith. St. John reduces Faith to this single article of receiving the record God hath given of his Son. He that believeth not God, saith be, hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his son: and this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his son. So that to believe in God, according to the terms of the gospel, is to believe in his son Jesus Christ; who as the promised seed, the Conqueror of the serpent, and the Redeemer of the world, has been the object of Faith to all believers from the beginning of the world. By virtue of this Faith, Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain. Cain brought of the fruits of the earth; Abel brought a sacrifice, and shed the blood of it; confessing thereby, as a true' believer, that without shedding of blood there was no remission of sin. All the saints of old time obtained a good report on the same principle: they believed that man is fallen, and must be redeemed by a saviour; that this life is a pilgrimage ; and that there is an heavenly inheritance, which the saints shall possess after the resurrection from the dead. Such was their faith, and such is ours; and, when we have it, it is our defence against all the assaults of our spiritual enemies: "Above all
(saith the Apostle) taking the shield of faith,
wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery “ darts of the wicked." Faith has an answer to all temptations, a solution of all difficulties; and we may now add farther concerning it, that it is the only introduction to the virtue of Hope. The heart may as well be supposed to have gladness in it without having life, as the Christian can be supposed to have Hope without having Faith. For Faith, as the scripture declares, is the substance of things hoped for : which means literally, that Faith is the groundwork or foundation of Hope. This, therefore, is now, in its proper place, to be considered.
When the root of Faith is once planted in the heart, Hope will naturally grow out of it. The word of God is a seed, which, by the operation and power of divine grace, will be unfolded, and yield its fruits. Of these Hope is the first: for when Faith has received the promises, Hope will rejoice in the expectation of their accomplishment. Faith informs us, that Christ is risen from the dead : Hope learns from thence, that he is the first fruits of an harrest, and that all the sheaves of the field shall follow him. Faith tells us, that he is seated at the right hand of God: Hope infers, that he is gone there to prepare a place for us.
Faith knows that he shall return to judge the world: Hope is assured, that his reward is with him: in a word, Hope expects what Faith promises; and therefore, where there is no faith, there can be no hope: so that it is better not to be born, than not to be a Christian. Such as the world would be, without the light of the sun, to gild and adorn the objects of the creation, such is the life of man without the hope of a Christian. To the unbeliever all things are dark and dismal : pleasure is worthless, and pain is insupportable. How miserable would be the condition of the sailor, when he is traversing the wide ocean, if he had no hope of reaching the desired haven? It is this expectation, which supports him under the dangers of the storm, and the labours and sufferings of a tedious voyage. . And every Christian is supported on the same principle : he looks forward to the end of his faith, even the salvation of his soul; and the faculty, or passion of the mind, with which he looks forward, is no other than Hope. Faith accepts the means of salvation, and Hope looks to the
end of it. The object of a Christian's hope is the appearance of Christ in glory, to dispel the shades of death, and put his disciples in actual possession of the promised inheritance. At present a cloud has received him out of our sight; but we know, that other clouds shall restore him to us! and that, when he appears the second time, he will appear without sin unto salvation. We see the blessed Apostle St. Paul so animated with this hope, that he triumphed over the afflictions and sufferings, under which an ordinary man, with the greatest human fortitude, must have sunk; we hear him even uttering praises to God, that he had the honour to suffer for the name of Christ : and, when the time of his martyrdom was approaching, “ I am now, says he, ready to be offer" ed, and the time of my departure is at hand. I “ have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, “ I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up
for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the “ righteous judge, shall give me at that day." There is a day approaching, when all they, who suffer from unrighteous judges upon earth, shall be tried and rewarded by a righteous judge from heaven : and this hope is an anchor to the soul, which keeps it steady to its profession in life and in death ; even wben the winds rage, and the waves beat, and the deep threatens to swallow it up in destruction. While the body is confined to the objects of sense, and circumscribed by this lower world, their thoughts enter within the veil. to survey and enjoy the heavenly things there laid up in store for them. This glorious light, which is presented to the imagination of every believer, was realized to the senses of the blessed St. Stephen. When the Jews gnashed upon him with their teeth, and were prepared to stone him to death, he, being
full of the holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and said, “ Behold, I see " the heavens opened, and Jesus standing at the " right hand of God.” This happened for an assurance to that noble army of martyrs, who were afterwards to suffer in the same cause: the very name of Stephen, the first of martyrs, expresses the reward of those who were to suffer after his example: it signifies a crown.
Fron St. Paul and St. Stephen we may understand the nature and efficacy of Christian hope; which they, who love the appearing of our blessed Saviour as much as these disciples did, may experience in the same degree. But such hope must be founded upon faith: it is never to be attained on any other condition. St. Paul had kept the Faith; otherwise he would not have rejoiced at the approach of death, The martyr, Stephen, was first full of faith; without which he had never beheld the heavens opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
Through faith and hope, thus depending on each other, we are led to the consideration of charity; the third and greatest of the Christian virtues.
The word, which we translate charity in the new testament, is love; and, according to the Apostle's description of it, it means that brotherly love and affection, that spirit of peace, unity, and benevolence, which is the life and soul of the Christian society.
There are two mistakes in regard to the nature of charity, which are so current amongst us, that it is necessary to remove them, before the nature of this virtue can be understood by a modern audience."
Some think that charity consists entirely in giving money to the poor : but in this they are greatly mistaken. Almsgiving is a branch, and a necessary