페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

native and original integrity. To provide effectually for the maintenance of the social virtues, it hath pleased God to implant in man, not only the power of reason, which enables him to see the connexion between his own happiness and that of others, but also certain instincts and propensities, which make him feel it, and, without reflexion, incline him to take part in foreign interests. For, among the other wonders of our make, this is one, that we are so formed as, whether we will or no, to rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weept. But now this sympathetic tenderness, which nature hath put into our hearts for the concerns of each other, may be much impaired by habitual neglect, or selfish gratifications. If, instead of listening to those calls of nature, which, on the entrance into life, are incessantly, but gently, urging us to acts of generosity, we turn a deaf ear to them, and, charmed by the suggestions of selflove, yield up ourselves to the dominion of the grosser appetite, it cannot be but that the love of others, however natural to us, must decline, and Become, at length, a feeble motive to action; or, which amounts to the same thing, be constantly overpowered by the undue prevalence of other principles. Thus we may see, how ambition, avarice, sensuality, or any other of the more selfish passions, tends directly, by indulgence, to obstruct the growth of charity; and how favourable an uncorrupt mind is to the production and maturity of this divine virtue.

t Rom. xii. 15.

1

But, further, the impurities of the heart do not only hinder the exertions of benevolence ; ; they have even a worse effect, they cause us to pervert and misapply it. It is not, perhaps, so easy a matter, as some imagine, to divest ourselves of all attachment to the interest of our fellow-creatures. But, by a long misuse of our faculties, we may come in time to mistake the objects of true interest; and so be carried, by the motives of benevolence itself, to do irreparable mischief to those we would most befriend and oblige. This seems to be the case of those most abandoned of all sinners, who take pains to corrupt others, and not only do wicked things themselves, but have pleasure in those who do them. All that can be said for these unhappy victims of their own lusts, is, that their perverted benevolence prompts them to encourage others in that course of life, from which, if it were rightly exercised, they would endeavour, with all their power, to divert them. .

u Rom. i. 32.

So necessary it is, that charity should be out of a pure heart! It is polluted in its very birth, unless it proceed from an honest mind: it is spurious and illegitimate, if it be not so descended.

II. The next step in this line of moral ancestry, is a GOOD CONSCIENCE: which phrase is not to be taken here in the negative sense, and as equivalent only to a pure heart; but as expressing a further, a positive degree of goodness. For so we find it explained elsewhere'; having, says St. Peter, a GOOD CONSCIENCE, that whereas they speak evil of you, as EVIL DOERS, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your GOOD CONVERSATION in Christ Jesus : for it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for WELL DOING, than for evil doing * Whence, by a good conscience, we are authorized to understand a mind, conscious to itself of beneficent actions. And thus the Apostle's intention will be, to insinuate to us, that, to be free from depraved affections, we must be actively virtuous ; and that we must be zealous in good works, if we would attain to that purity of heart, which is proper to beget the genuine virtue of Christian charity.

* | Peter üj. 16.

For, we may conceive of the matter, thus. A good conscience, or a mind enured to right action, is most likely, and best enabled, to shake off all corrupt partialities ; and, as being intent on the strenuous exercise of its duty, in particular instances, to acquire, in the end, that tone of virtue, which strengthens, at once, and refines the affections, till they expand themselves into an universal good-will. Thus we see that, without this moral discipline, we should scarce possess, or not long retain, a pure heart ; and that the heart, if pure, would yet be inert and sluggish, and unapt to entertain that prompt and ready benevolence, which true charity implies.

So that an active practical virtue, as serving both to purify and invigorate the kind affections, has deservedly a place given to it in this lineal descent of Christian love. But,

III. The Apostle rises higher yet in this genealogical scale of charity, and acquaints us that a good conscience, or a course of active positive virtue, is not properly and lawfully descended, unless it proceed from a FAITH UNFEIGNED, that is, a sincere undissembled belief of the Christian religion.

And the reason is plain. For there is no dependance co virtuous practice; we cannot expect that it should either be steady, or lasting, unless the principle, from which it flows, be something nobler and more efficacious, than considerations taken from the beauty, propriety, and usefulness of virtue itself. Our active powers have need to be sustained and strengthened by energies of a higher kind, than those which mere philosophy supplies. We shall neither be able to bear up against the difficulties of a good life, nor to stand out against the temptations, which an evil world is always ready to throw in our way, but by placing a firm trust on the promises of God, and by keeping our minds fixed on the glorious hopes and assurances of the Gospel. And experience may satisfy us, that practical virtue has no stability or consistency, without these supports,

Besides, considering a good conscience, or a moral practical conduct, with an eye to its influence on a pure heart, till it issue in complete charity, we cannot but see how the Christian

« 이전계속 »