Page images
PDF
EPUB

might levy it wherever they could find it. The truth is, there are more of the gross and erroneous opinions than many are aware of ; for men are seldom at ease on the commission of sin, till they have found some way to satisfy their own minds by wrong principles.-Well, are we to think all these honest and impartial inquirers, and to have charity for them in the sense so often mentioned? I imagine some will at last stop short, and say, there is a distinction to be made ; these opinions are formed by the influence of prejudice, and the bias of corrupt affections.

affections. Here then your charity fails, and you have set limits to your forbearance ; or rather you have given up the cause ; for all false opinions arise from the bias of corrupt affections. The fallacy of the whole arguments on this subject lies in confounding two things very different, viz. a man's being truly of an opinion, and his being so upon fair and unprejudiced inquiry. A train of reasoning is carried on, which is built upon the last of these suppositions, and applied to cases where only the first takes place. Perhaps some may chuse to say, as to the case of immoral opinions, that men are not to be disapproved or condemned for the opinion in itself

, but for presuming to act in consequence

of it. To which I answer, That if any man will prove the innocence of forming such opinions, I will undertake to prove, with at least equal evidence, the obligation that lies upon every one so persuaded, to act according to his light.

5. In the last place, To suppose that charity is the same thing with forbearance, and yet that it is unlimited, is self-contradictory, and impossible, in many instances, to be put in practice. True Christian charity being the indispensible duty of all, must at least be possible to all, and consistent with every other duty. Now, to believe the safety of the state, or the goodness of the character of many persons for whom charity is pleaded, may be to some absolutely impossible. They may have a conviction of the contrary on their judgment. They may think, that the scripture clearly and explicitly

commands them to separate from such people, to oppose and detest their errors ; and surely there are many much more absurd and groundless opinions truly entertained. What then shall they do? The scripture com, mands them to contend with erroneous persons ;

and if they do, they are guilty of a breach of charity, one of the most essential of all gospel duties : for the apostle tells us, “ Though I speak with the tongue of men and angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”

Thus, I hope, it has been proved, to the satisfaction of all impartial persons, that if charity, in scripture, is the same thing with that forbearance we owe to others who differ from us, it must have some bounds, and be praise or blame-worthy, according to the cases in which it is exercised. If it be asked, Who shall state the bounds beyond which it is not to extend ? I answer, Every one for himself, according to the best of his own judgment. Some perhaps will contend with, or judge others, for things in which they ought to forbear them; but many others will carry their forbearance too far, and retain erroneous or vicious persons in their society, when they ought to expel them. For this there is no remedy, as it is the consequence of the weakness of human nature, and no way different from what happens as to every duty incumbent on us as men or Christians.

II. Let us now coine to the second part of this discourse, and consider what reason there is to believe, that charity in scripture, is a duty altogether distinct from forbearance, and founded on distinct principles.

One general consideration will go nigh to prove this of itself, viz. That forbearance, as has been shewn in the preceding pages, hath limits, beyond which it is culpable;

whereas charity hath none, at least as to its object. There is no person or character that can be conceived, for which we are allowed to be without charity. With respect to forbearance, the object of it is clearly pointed out in the passages where it is spoken of, and is the difference of opinion as to smaller matters,

viz. the lawfulness or unlawfulness of meats and drinks, and whether certain days were holy or common. But there is no passage in which charity is spoken of, that gives the least hint, or indeed that leaves room to suppose, that it hath any limits as to its object. Charity, we are told, is “the end,” or sum, “of the commandment.” And indeed it is the same thing with love, which is the fulfilling of the law. And in the explication which our Lord gives of the sum of the second table of the law, in answer to that question, Who is my neighbor? he plainly teaches us, by the parable of the Samaritan, that all men are our neighbors. There was a great opposition, in point of religion, between the Jews and Samaritans ; yet he shews plainly, that this ought not to obstruct the exercise of charity, in the true sense of that word. For this reason, I think it highly probable, that forbearance is different from charity; the one points out our duty to our fellow-Christians in certain circumstances, and the other includes our duty to our fellow-creatures at all times.

This will be confirmed, by refiecting, that the word which, in some places, is translated charity, is the same, in all other passages without variation in any one of them, with that which is translated love. is the New Testament word for charity, which, as it is generally translated love, so I do not see the least reason for altering the translation, in those places where charity is substituted in its rooin. Charity then is love ; that is to say, it is a sincere and fervent affection to others, and a desire of their welfare, temporal and eternal. This not only may consist with, but of itself naturally produces, the strongest abhorrence of their wicked principles, and the deepest concern for their dangerous state. There is a great affinity between the sentiments we ought to entertain with regard to error and vice. Our love to vicious persons ought not to carry in it any approbation or indulgence of their vices, and far less any belief of the safety of their state ; but an earnest concern to bring about their reformation.

ayann

In the same manner, a sincere and fervent charity for erroneous persons, does not imply any approbation of their opinions, or supposition of their consistency with soundness in the faith, but an earnest desire to recover them, if possible, from their unhappy delusion. Nay, though a man be so narrow-minded, as to judge those whom he ought to forbear, it may, very possibly, be attended with no breach of charity ; because there may be as much love to his neighbor in that person's. heart, and as much concern for his welfare, as if he had seen more clearly his own mistake. The Apostle Paul calls these weak persons, and ascribes their conduct to the imperfections of their judgment. It was the strong, or those who had more knowledge, that he blamed, as not walking charitably, when they would not abstain from meat, to prevent their brethren's offence.

It will be an additional confirmation of this meaning of charity, that it makes the several duties of Christians at once clear and intelligible, and consistent one with another, by leaving to each its full scope, and its proper object. If we take charity in the sense which I have rejected, there will be a continual opposition between zeal and charity; and in proportion as you in crease in any one of them, you must necessarily fail in the other. And indeed this seems to be verified in experience ; for those who espouse this sort of charity, do frequently fall into so cool a state in point of zeal, that they give themselves little trouble, either in instructing the ignorant, or reproving the vicious ; and are not backward in stigmatizing those, as narrow-minded . and uncharitable, who do. But if we take charity for unfeigned love, then, instead of opposition, there is the most perfect harmony between one duty and another. So far from hindering, or even limiting each other in their exercise, they strengthen each other in principle, and direct each other in their application. The more fervent love I have for inv fellow-creatures and my fellow-Christians, it will but excite my zeal

to promote their benefit, by endeavoring to convince them of any dangerous mistake, and deliver them from the dominion of every vicious practice. At the same time, this love will naturally produce forbearance, where it is lawful and proper ; because, if I love any person sincerely, I will judge of him candidly, and not impute any bad sentiment or practice to him without necessity. It will prevent us from interfering with others where we ought not, and will urge us to activity and diligence where the case seems really to call for it.

This subject may be well illustrated by parental affection, when it is both strong in its principle, and well directed in its exercise. It will certainly prevent a parent from judging hardly of his children, or being casily incensed against them, on wrong or doubtful information : but it will be so far from making him think favorably of their mistakes, either in principle or practice, that the more tender his love, the greater his concern to prevent their being misled, or to recover them if they have gone astray. Examples to be sure there are many, of a sort of love in parents to their children, that operates like the false charity I am now pleading against, making them blind to their failings, and even partial to their crimes: but I think it must be allowed that all such partiality and indulgence is a weakness, instead of a virtue, in the parent, and is commonly a curse, instead of a blessing, to the child. To have just apprehensions of the several duties of the Christian life, we must always consider their relation to, and dependance upon, one another. There are some sins opposite to, and destructive of, each other ; but there is no truly good disposition, that is not perfectly consistent with, or rather that does not improve and strengthen every other. It is remarkable, that in scripture, the duties of reproof and correction are frequently attributed to love as their principle, not only in God, but in man : “ Whom the Lord loveth, he chastiseth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.”—“He that spareth the rod, hateth his son; but he that loveth him,

« EelmineJätka »