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considered, That the external acts of mercy here mentioned, are supposed to include that principle of divine love, or charity, from whence they flow, and from which alone they derive all their worth and excellence. Tis the inward habit, or grace of charity, which recommends the outward act j so that the least and lowest instances of goodness, springing from this source, are in the fight is Cod of great price: even a cup os cold water given to a thirsty disciple, in the name os Christ, jhall not lose its reward, Matth. x. 42. Whereas the most extraordinary and shining acts of charity, when, separated from a principle of divine love, are of no value; for, // we bestow all our goods to seed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth us nothing, 1 Cor. xiii. 3. And therefore the
First, And most obvious account of the distinguishing mention here made of acts of mercy, may be taken from the surpassing dignity and worth of that divine grace which produceth them; which St. Paul tells us, is preserable even to faith and h$pe 1 for the greatest rf these three it charity , 1 Cor. xiii. 13.
I should not wander from my point, if I took occasion here largely to explain the grounds and reasons of this preserence; since whatever excellence there is in the cause or principle, must derive a proportionable excellence also on the effect; and therefore a sull display of those grounds and reasons would tend to satisfy our present enquiry. But having other matter to offer, which is of nearer and plainer use, I shall mention them only .without insisting upon them.
Charity then (or a love of God, which .work*
by a love ot our neighbour) is greater than faith or hope, because it supposes these graces to be previously exercised, and is indeed the.result and, reward of them. Faith stedfastly believes, hope eagerly expects but love, which is the end and, consummation of both, enjoy.?. ,
It not only unites us to God, biutjt. makes us like him too, and transforms us into, a divine; image! Cod is Love: i John iv. 8'. wfiereas faith and hope have no place in the supreme.. Mind l and consequently, we ourselves bear np . resemblance to God, when we abound, in them.
Charity is more extensive, as to its object and use, than either of the two, other grace?, which center ultimately in ourselves.; for we believe, and we hone, for our own fakes: But love (which is a more disinterested principle) carries us out. of ourselves, into desires and endeavours of promoting the interests of ether beings.
Charity excels also in point of duration, for it never fails tb i I Cor xiii. 2. it doth not end with this wor'd, but goes along with us into the next, where it will be advanced and perfected: but faith and hope shall then totally fail; the one being changed into sight, the other into enjoyment.
And indeed, well hath God suited these graces To the several states to which they belong. Faith and hope, which are useful in this life only, may in this life be exercised to perfection. We may have so vigorous and piercing a faith, as can be out-done by no evidence, but that of sight; we may have so erect and lively an hope, as can only be exceeded by fruition, in which it is lost. But love is as.e.ndless in its degrees, as it is in it* duration; and is sitted therefore to an im:nortal state, where it may be exerted, and improved ta all eternity.
2. And this remarkable property of love will suggest to ns one reason, why acts of charity shall be enquired after Cq particularly, at the day o£ general account j because good men are then ta be consigned over to another state, a state os e* .verlasting love and charity: and therefore the chief enquiry must then'be, How they have abounded in those graces which qualify them best for an admission into that state, and for,a due relish of the divine pleasures of it; how they have practised charity here, the exercise of which must be. their duty, apd their happiness for ever. Heaven, and hell are the proper regions of love and hatred, mercy and uncharitableness: Blessed angels and pure fouls evercised in the ministry of love, are to possess the one; devils and damned spirits, .who are all rage, envy, and malice, are to inhabit the other. When we stand therefore on the brinks and consines of those states, at the day of doom, we shall be examined, how sit we severally are for such places and such company: according as that appears, our several mansions shall be suitably assigned to us; and men and angels, good and bad, even we ourselves shall, upon the issue of this single article, acknowledge the justice of the sentence. Indeed
3,//v, This single article is sufficient to absolve or condemn us: for it is the short test and sure proof of universal goodness. The whole duty of a Christian is nothing but love, varied thro'
the the several kinds, acts, and degrees of it. And works of mercy are the most natural and genuine osf-spring of love; so that from these a good man is denominated. The Scripture therefore frequently sums up our duty in charity; and, for that reason styles it the fuf/iHing of the law, and the bond of rerfeclnefs. Indeed where charity is (that is, where the blessed fruits of charity, springing from a true principle of divine love, are) there no other Christian grace or perfection can be totally wanting; and where charity is not, there may be the imperfect resemblances of other Christian graces and virtues, but not those grace* and virtues themselves for such they cannot be, unless fed, and invigorated, and animated, by a principle of univerfal charity. So that our Saviour, by professing to examine us on this head, brings matters to a.short issue, a single point, by which our cause may be decided as effectually, as by larger enquiries. It will furnish us with a
4th Reason of his conduct in this cause, if we consider, how great a stress he laid upon this duty, while he was upon earth; how earnestly he recommended it; in how exalted a degree of perfection he prescribed the practice of it to us; so that he cannot but enquire, with a particular concern how we have complyed with it.
It is his peculiar, his distinguishing precept, the special mark and badge of our discipleship: "A new commandment (faid he) I give unto you, that ye love one another; by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another, John xiii. 24, And upon the article theresore of our obedience to this new ■ • commandcommandment, he himself will declare, whether •we do, or do not belong to him. It was one ofth# last injunctions he gave, and often repeated to his disciples, in that divine exhortation he made to them just before he entered on the bloody scene of his passion 'twas the great direction he left with them, when he himself was leaving the world. The sirst and chief enquiry, therefore, when he returns to judgment, will be, What weight his dying words have had with us?
5. The nature ofthe sentence he istopronounce, the rule of judgment by which he will at the last day proceed, requires that a particular regard be then had to our observation of this precept. "We shall be judged by the grace and mercy of the gospel, and not by the rigours of unrelenting justice. God will indeed judge the worul m righteousness but 'tis by an Evangelical, not a Legal righteousness; and by the intervention of the M'n Christ Jesus, who is the Saviour, as well as the Judge, of the world \ and as such, hath procured that pardoning grace for us, which mitigates and tempers the severity of the rule, and entitles us to the favour and mercy of our Judge. But what title can he have to mercy himself, who hath not exercised it towards others? Matth. v. 7, "Blessed are the mercisul, for they shall obtain, "mercy," in that day when "Mercy rejoiceth. '* against judgmentBut, on the other hand, "They shall have judgment without mercy, who "have shewed no mercy," James ii. 13. The power of covering sin, is in scripture ascribed to no other grace, or virtue whatsoever, but charity: when therefore the multitude of our sins is to be