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ciousness, censoriousness; is condescending, courteous, kind, compassionate, merciful, and liberal; judges candidly and favourably; is disposed to think well and hope well of others, as far as reason will permit; and rejoiceth at their temporal and spiritual welfare.
He who possesseth this virtue in its full extent, and who is incited to the practice of it by Christian principles, by faith in God and in our Saviour, and by hope of living hereafter in that state of happiness which is promised to the obedient, is supposed by St. Paul to be a good Christian, human infirmities excepted, and to love God and man. And indeed the word charity, in its largest sense, means not only the love of man, but the love of God also; and there is no reason to exclude this sense of it from the text: although the apostle, in his description of charity, seems to consider it principally as a social duty, and as influencing and directing our conduct towards our neighbour.
Concerning charity St. Paul observes, that without it all natural or supernatural gifts are nothing, and all hopes of pleasing God groundless and vain. The end for which extra ordinary gifts were conferred upon the first Christians, and to which every accomplishment and power, natural and acquired, should tend, is the increasing of virtue, peace, and happiness in the world. A man who hath not this end in view, let him have all the abilities that can be conceived, is a bad man; and so much the worse, by how much the greater are the means of doing good which are committed to him, and of which he makes an ill use.
St. Paul placed charity above the knowledge of divine things and the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. The reason was plain: because it was a Christian virtue, and they were not; because by it men might judge whether they were in the favour of God,-by them, they could not; and because it was more excellent than they, knowledge lying within narrow limits, and the uncommon gifts of the Spirit not being intended to continue long.
The highest degree of knowledge which we can acquire at present, is very imperfect, though fully sufficient to conduct us to a better state: and then they who shall be found worthy of a blessed immortality, shall know, even as they are known of God, and receive improvements to which the discoveries of the wisest men bear no proportion.
Above all knowledge, and all the extraordinary powers given by the Holy Spirit to the first believers, above these stand the moral and Christian virtues,-as faith in God, and hope of eternal life grounded upon that faith: but above these also is charity,-as in usefulness, so likewise in duration. For faith shall cease, when we shall have put off these mortal bodies, and see the completion of God's promises; and hope shall cease, when there shall be no room for expectation or fear of disappointment Faith and hope accompany a Christian through his state of trial, inspiring him with constancy and courage, giving him peace of mind, lessening the evils incident to this life, by placing before him the reward for which he contends.
When he hath finished his course, and is admitted into the joy of his Lord, they seem to have performed their part. But charity, universal benevolence, follows him into heaven, there to be exercised by him for ever. Indeed it may be, that some parts of charity shall then cease, as those which consist in relieving the needy, instructing the ignorant, reclaiming the bad, protecting the oppressed, forgiving injuries, and bearing with the weakness and follies and frowardness of others; for the kingdom of heaven is represented as a place, where none of these imperfections and evils will be found. But if God should employ the saints hereafter as ministering spirits to inferior creatures, they may perhaps have occasion to exert some of these acts of kindness and patience, no less than the holy angels, who now do us service, who doubtless surpass us in charity as well as in other perfections. Of this we may be certain, that an affectionate regard for all, a desire that they may serve their Maker, and act suitably to their several stations, and an endeavour to promote the general good, shall be part of the occupation of the righteous in the life which is to come. And, if we may judge from some expressions in scripture, the most distinguished and glorious reward in heaven shall be given, not to the wise, not to the learned, not to the prophet, not to the worker of miracles; but to him who hath been the best friend to mankind, the most assiduously employed in the labour of love, in endeavouring to make others happier and wiser.
Such is charity, as described by St. Paul, and such its extent, its excellence, and importance.
ST. MATT. vi. 16.--When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites.
[Text taken from the Gospel for the Day.]
THE practice of fasting from a principle of religion has been thought of by different persons in so very different a manner; some placing it amongst the highest duties, whilst others account it mere superstition; and a great part of those, who observe it the most rigidly, are so little improved by it in true goodness, that, I hope, discoursing on this subject may be useful in general, as well as particularly seasonable at present, to direct your judgement and behaviour in relation to it. And, therefore, I have chosen to treat of it from words of the greatest authority-those of our blessed Saviour: which contain,
I. A supposition that religious fasting would be used amongst his followers; When ye fast:
II. A caution against using it amiss: Be not as the hypocrites.
I. A supposition, that religious fasting would be used amongst his followers: which, indeed, he must suppose of course, unless he forbade it; because the custom had very long been, and was then, universal in the world. We find, from the early times of their Commonwealth downwards, many public fasts observed by the Jews, as exigencies required: we find the prophets approving and enjoining them, and directing how they are to be solemnised: we find the most exemplary in goodness amongst them, taking this way of humbling themselves before God in secret, not only on personal and domestic, but national accounts, and graciously accepted in so doing.
The same usage continued to our Saviour's days; for we` read in St. Luke, of Anna the Prophetess, that she served God with fasting and prayers, night and day.' Indeed, by this time, over and above several yearly fasts, appointed by authority, the stricter sort observed two every week voluntarily. And not only the Pharisees, but John's disciples also, fasted often. Nor doth our blessed Lord condemn any part of these things: but, leaving the frequency of fasting to public and
private prudence, regulates only the manner of it; and, by so doing, plainly treats it as a practice, intended for perpetual use. And had he not designed, that fasting should be considered in some degree as a duty also, he would never have promised a reward to the right performance of it, as he doth in the next verse but one after the text. And besides, he not only fasted himself, in a manner quite beyond our imitation, but declared, that though then his disciples did not fast, yet after he was taken from them, they should;' which they verified accordingly. We read in the following chapters of the Acts, that congregations, under the guidance of Prophets and Apostles, fasted on more occasions than one. St. Paul enjoins private persons to give themselves at times to fasting and prayer.' The whole Christian Church, from the beginning, hath both esteemed and practised it not a little; and to this day both the ecclesiastical and civil powers continue to prescribe it.
If, then, we have any regard to the example and experience of good persons, to the injunctions and commands of our earthly superiors, or to the authority of Scripture itself, we cannot think fasting an observance to be either blamed or slighted. But for yet fuller satisfaction, and, indeed, for our direction also, let us enquire more particularly, what its meaning and uses are.
One very useful meaning is, to express our sorrow for having offended God, and our sense of not deserving the least of his favours. Abstaining for some time from our daily food signifies, most naturally, that we are unworthy of it; and can take no comfort in it, whilst we are under the Divine displeasure. It is true, a proper confession in words would have expressed the same thing, that this ceremony doth, and somewhat more clearly, unless it were explained by words. But words alone are far from carrying with them that energy and influence upon the mind, which the superadded solemnity of such an abstinence must, even in private cases; and much more, when whole assemblies, and cities, and countries, join in it. But, above all, when either persons or nations have been remarkably wicked, such moving and afflicting acknowledgements of it are singularly adapted to produce more powerful and lasting impressions on those who make use of them; and by that means to render them fitter objects of Divine mercy.
And, besides the good effects it may have, as a strong out
ward mark of repentance, it may be a cause, by its physical effects, of our feeling greater degrees of inward conviction. Without what is commonly called excess, a constant course of high or full living hath so powerful a tendency to immerse our thoughts in worldly objects, and make us both indolent, as to our internal interests, and fearless of the consequences of such indolence, that all, who pass their days in the free enjoyment of plenty, have need frequently to interrupt their indulgences, however lawful in their nature: to admonish themselves, by so doing, that they have much more important concerns, than the gratification of sense and ease; and to view the state of their souls with attentive thoughtfulness; which abstinence, and its proper companion retirement, would beget. Assuredly numbers of them would then see their condition in respect of God, and a future life, in a very different light, from that which warm blood, gay spirits, and presumptuous imaginations place it in. Nay, even single acts of such restraint will usually, for the time, lower our passions into some good measure of composedness, and make our sorrow for sin humbler and deeper: on both which accounts, fasting is called, in Scripture, afflicting the soul; for it mortifies the desires of the sensitive part, and enlivens the remorse of the rational. By these means, it may contribute much to render our faith of invisible things more lively, and our devotions more fervent: for which reason, fasting is always understood in Scripture, and always ought, in practice, to be accompanied by prayer. And in proportion as it qualifies us to pray as we ought, it assures us of obtaining our requests, whether they be for averting God's judgements, or deriving his mercies upon us, in our public capacity or private.
But further yet, fasting not only assists humiliation and devotion, but is in other ways also friendly to virtue. Inflicting it on ourselves as a penalty, when we have been guilty of any great sin, will contribute greatly, and yet with perfect safety, if it be done with discretion, to our becoming weary and afraid of sinning. Accordingly, St. Paul speaks of selfpunishment, as a very useful and beneficial fruit of true repentance. For behold, your sorrowing after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you; yea, what zeal; yea, what revenge.' But especially, if we have been seduced into unlawful pleasures of sense, or even are in danger of it only,