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The word used by our Lord more immediately implies the compassionate, the tender-hearted; those who, far from despising, earnestly grieve for those that do not hunger after God. This eminent part of brotherly love is here, by a common figure, put for the whole; so that “the merciful,” in the full sense of the term, are they who love their neighbours as themselves.
2. Because of the vast importance of this Love,-without which, “ though we spake with the tongucs of men and angels, though we had the gift of prophecy, and understood all mysteries, and all knowledge, though we had all faith so as to remove mountains ; yea, though we gave all our goods to fecd the poor, and our very bodies to be burned, it would profit us nothing,”—the wisdom of God has given us, by the Apostle Paul, a full and particular account of it; by considering which we shall most clearly discern who are the merciful that shall obtain mercy.
3. “Charity,” or Love, (as it were to be wished it had been rendered throughout, being a far plainer and less ambiguous word,) the Love of our Neighbour as Christ hath loved us, “ suffereth long ;” is patient toward all men: it suffers all the weakness, ignorance, errors, infirmities, all the frowardness and littleness of faith, of the children of God; all the malice and wickedness of the children of the world. And it suffers all this, not only for a time, for a short season, but to the end; still feeding our enemy when he hungers; if he thirst, still giving him drink ; thus continually “hcaping coals of fire,” of melting love,“ upon his licad.”
4. And in every step toward this desirable end, the “ overcoming evil with good,” “Love is kind : ” (XONSUETQI : a word not easily translated :) it is soft, mild, benign. It stands at the utmost distance from moroseness, from all harshness or sourness of spirit; and inspires the sufferer at once with the most amiable sweetness, and the most fervent and tender affection.
5. Consequently, “ Love envieth vot :” it is impossible it should; it is directly opposite to that baneful temper. It cannot be, that he who has this tender assection to all, who earnestly wishes all temporal and spiritual blessings, all good things in this world and the world to come, to every soul that God hath made, should be pained at his bestowing any good gift on any child of man. If he has himself received the same, he does not sricve, but rejoice, that another partakes of the common benefit. If he has not, he blesses God that his brother at least has, and is herein happier than himself. And the greater his love, the more does he rejoice in the blessings of all mankind; the farther is he removed from every kind and degree of envy toward any creature.
6. Love 8 HERTEREUETQi—not “vaunteth not itself;" which coincides with the very next words; but rather (as the word likewise properly imports)— is not rash or hasty in judging ; it will not hastily condemn any one. It does not pass a severe sentence, on a slight or sudden view of things: it first weighs all the evidence, particularly that which is brought in favour of the accused. A true lover of his neighbour is not like the generality of men, who, even in cases of the nicest nature, “see a little, presume a great deal, and so jump to the conclusion.” No: he proceeds with wariness and circumspection, taking heed to every step; willingly subscribing to that rule of the ancient Heathen, (O where will the modern Christian appear!) “ I am so far from lightly believing what one man says against another, that I will not easily believe what a man says against himself. I will always allow him second thoughts, and many times counsel too.”
7. It follows, Love “is not puffed up :" It does not incline or suffer any man “ to think more highly of himself than he ought to think;” but rather to think soberly: yea, it humbles the soul unto the dust. It destroys all high conceits, engendering pride; and makes us rejoice to be as nothing, to be little and vile, the lowest of all, the servant of all. They who are “ kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love,” cannot but “in honour prefer one another.” Those who, having the same love, are of one accord, do in lowliness of mind “ each esteem other better than themselves.”
8. “ It doth not behave itself unseemly:" It is not rude, or willingly offensive to any. It “ renders to all their due; fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour;” courtesy, civility, humanity to all the world; in their several degrees “ honouring all men.” A late writer defines good breeding, nay, the highest degree of it, politeness, “A continual desire to please, appearing in all the behaviour:” but if so, there is none so well-bred as a Christian, a lover of all mankind. For he cannot but desire to “ please all men for their good to edification :” and this desire cannot be hid; it will necessarily appear in all his intercourse with men. For his “love is without dissimulation:" it will appear in all his actions and conversation ; yea, and will constrain him, though without guile, to“ become all things to all men, if by any means he may save some.”
9. And in becoming all things to all men, “ Love seeketh not her own." In striving to please all men, the lover of mankind has no eye at all to his own temporal advantage. He covets no man's silver, or gold, or apparel : he desires nothing but the salvation of their souls : yea, in some sense, be may be said, not to seek his own spiritual, any more than temporal advantage; for while he is on the full stretch to save their souls from death, he, as it were, forgets himself. He does not think of himself, so long as that zeal for the glory of God swallows him up. Nay, at some times he may almost seem, through an excess of love, to give up himself, both his soul and his body ; while he cries ont, with Moses, “Oh, this people have sinned a great sin ; yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin- ; and if not, blot me out of the book which thou hast written!” (Exod. xxxii. 32, 33 :)-or with St. Paul, “ I could wish that myseif were accursed from Christ, for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh !” (Rom. ix. 3.)
10. No marvel that such “Love is not provoked :" 8 TongoUVETU. Let it be observed, the word easily, strangely inserted in the translation, is not in the original; St. Paul's words are absolute. “Love is not provoked :" it is not provoked to unkindness toward any one. Occasious indeed will frequently occur; outward provocations of various kinds ; but love does not yield to provocation ; it triumphs over all. In all trials it looketh unto Jesus, and is more than conqueror in his lovc.
It is not improbable that our Translators inserted that word, as it were, to excuse the Apostle; who, as they supposed, might otherwise appear to be wanting in the very love which he so beautifully describes. They seem to have supposed this from a phrase in tlie Acts of the Apostles; which is likewise very inaccurately translated. When Paul and Barnabas disagreed concerning John, the translation runs thus, “And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder." (Acts xv. 39.) This uaturally induces the reader to suppose, that they were equally sharp thercin ; that St. Paul, who was undoubtedly right, with regard to the point in question, (it being quite improper to take John with them again, who had deserted them before,) was as much provoked as Barnabas, who gave such a proof of bis auger, ils to leave the work for which he had been set apart by the Holy Glost. But the original imports no such thing; nor does it affirm that St. Paul was provoked at all. It simply says EyevETO OUV napožuonos,—" And there was a sharpness,” a paroxysm of anger; in consequence of which Barnabas left St. Paul, took John, and went his own way. Paul then “ chose Silas and departed, being recommended by the brethren to the grace of God;” (which is not said concerning Barnabas ;) “and he went through Syria and Cilicia,” as he had proposed, “ confirming the churches.” But to return.
11. Love prevents a thousand provocations which would otherwise arise, because it “thinketh no evil.” Indeed the merciful man cannot avoid knowing many things that are evil, he cannot but see them with his own eyes, and hear them with his own ears : for love does not put out his eyes, so that it is impossible for him not to see that such things are done; neither does it take away his understanding, any more than his senses, so that he cannot but know that they are evil. For instance : when he sees a man strike his neighbour, or hears him blaspheme God, he cannot either question the thing done, or the words spoken, or doubt of their being evil. Yet, o novi gerai TO xaxoy. The word Royisetai, (thinketh,) does not refer either to our seeing and hearing, or to the first and involuntary acts of our understanding; but to our willingly thinking what we need not; our inferring evil, where it does not appear; to our reasoning concerning things which we do not see ; our supposing what we have neither seen nor heard. This is what true love absolutely destroys. It tears up, root and branch, all imagining what we have not known. It casts out all jealousies, all evil surmisings, all readiness to believe evil, It is frank, open, unsuspicious ; and, as it cannot design, so neither does it fear evil.
12. It “rejoiceth not in iniquity;”-common as this is, even among those who bear the name of Christ, who scruple not to rejoice over their enemy, when he falleth either into affliction, or error, or sin. Indeed how hardly can they avoid this, who are zealously attached to any party? How difficult is it for them not to be pleased with any fault which they discover in those of the opposite party,--with any real or supposed blemish, either in their principles or practice? What warm defender of any cause is clear of these? Yea, who is so calm as to be altogether frec? Who does not rejoice when his adversary makes a false step, which he thinks will advantage bis own cause ? Only a man of love. He alone weeps over
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14. This “ Love covereth all things :"150, withouia: cookie Birta 576/should be translated; for otherwise it would be ibe very same with 7.7i7Z UTOEred, endureth all things: because the merciful man rejoiceth not in iniquit', neither does he willingly make mention of it. Whatever evil he sees, hears, or knows, he nevertheless conceals, so far as he can, si:6005 making himself “ partaker of other men's sins." Wheresoover or with whomsoever he is, if he secs any thing which be approves not, it goes not out of his lips, unless to the person concerned, if haply he may gain his brother. So far is be from making the faults or failings of others the matter of his conversation, that of the absent he never does speak at all, unless he can speak well. A tale-bearer, a backbiter, a whisperer, an evil-speaker, is to him all one as a murderer. He would just as soon cut his neighbour's throat, as thus murder his reputation. Just as soon would he think of diverting himself by setting fire to his neighbour's house, as of thus “ scattering abroad arrows, fire-brands, and death,” and saying, “Am I not in sport?”
He makes one only exception. Sometimes he is convinced, that it is for the glory of God, or (which comes to the same) the good of his neighbour, that an evil should not be covered. In this case, for the benefit of the innocent, he is constrained to declare the guilty. But even here, 1, He will not speak at all, till love, superior love, constrains him. 2, He cannot do it from a general confused view of doing good, or promoting