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Charity the Bord of Peace and of all Virtues : a Sermon preached before : the Society of the Sons of the Clergy in the Diocese of Durham, on
Thursday, Sept. 2, 1802; and published at their request. By Thomas Burgess, B.D. Prevéndary of Durham. 8vo. Pp. 43.
TTis most judiciously observed, and admirably proved in the exordium I to this discourse, that Christianity, in order to produce practical effects, 'must be studied and cultivated in its principles. Many have a general regard for the Christian religion, and an admiration of its moral precepts; but they are too often found deficient in the discharge of those duties, which, by their own confession, they are bound to perform, and yield too easily to offences, for wlrich, in the moment of reflection and reproof, they blush and are sorry. The reason of this want of firmness and consistency, is this
* They are, for the most part, influenced by some external and casual bias; and owe much more to accident, to the moment, and the fluctuating qualities of disposition, than to principle. Whoever, there. fore, wishes not to trust his conduct in this life, or his hopes of happi. ness in another, to such uncertain issues, must go to the great and dis. tinguishing principles of Christianity; and must look to them as the armoury, which alone can supply him with that shield and buckler, which are to secure his peace here, and his happiness hereafter." : Now as Charity is the great characteristic principle of Christian morality, it is essentially necessary that it should be zealously cultivated by every Christian, since “ the possession or absence of it will have a very material influence on his sentiments and conduct here, and his destiny hereafter."
These important truths being premised and settled, the learned Preacher proceeds to point out the most effectual means of cultivating the principle of benevolence, and then answers the several excuses and objections which may and will arise against the practice of charity, concluding this part of the subject with the following striking and awful remark:
“Whoever, therefore, lives not in habits of charity, or withholds his alms on proper occasions, whatever others may think of him, he ought himself to suspect not only his present motives, but the sincerity and reality of his religion.”
Under the next division, the advantages of public charitable institutions, are clearly and forcibly proved; and the particular one for which the sermon was delivered, is pleaded for in a manner not more to the honour of the clerical character in general, than to the feelings and abilities of the learned advocate. • In conclusion, the religious incitements and obligations to the exercise of charity, as recorded in Scripture for our admonition and encoufagement, are copiously and perspicuously stated and enforced. Among other passages here considered is the celebrated text of St. Peter “ Above all things have fervent charity among yourselves, for charity shall cover the multitude of sins," These latter words tour Author pro
perly guards against several instances in which they may be abused and perverted ; and then considers in what they may be allowed to contain the strongest motives and encouragements to the duty under consideration, and to all good works properly so called. After stating that “they are abused if it be supposed, that charity alone, without faith and re. pentance, will be an atonement for sin : or that our own good works in themselves, can at all be an atonement for present or past sin,”-he proceeds to prove from Scripture, and we are convinced he has sufficiently proved it, that “ Almsgiving, one of the habits of charity, iş highly acceptable to God, and very conducive to salvation ; and that it is one of those duties of godliness, which have the promise of this life, and of that which is to come.” In a note subjoined to this text, the Author makes these observations upon it.
« The question resolves itself to this, Whose sins are here meant, the sins of others or our own. Charity covers, at present, the sins of others, by concealing, and forgiving them: it will cover our own, hereafter, by rendering us objects of God's mercy, and heirs of the atonement, which Christ made for us by his death. In the Hebrew language to cover and atone for are synonymous terms. And in this sense the son of Sirach says, “ Alms maketh an atonement for sins.' That this is St. Peter's meaning in the limited sense before given) I am inclined to think, because our charity can atone only for our own sins, not the sins of others; and, secondly, because the effect of charity is, in the Apostle's words, confined to the future ( shall cover) that is, as I suppose, in some future day of judgment and recompence. By charity, however, St. Peter meant, that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues,' which induces us to give and forgive, to bear and forbear, to assist the bodily wants and spiritual necessities of our fellow creatures. And in this last sense also “ charity will hide a multitude of sins.” (James v. 20.)
We have extracted this note entire, that our readers may be enabled to judge of the extreme candour of the reviewers in the CHRISTIAN OBSERVER, who have gone into a long consideration of this part of the discourse, and treated the author's interpretation of the text as tending to produce dangerous consequences. They attempt, in the first place, to prove that he has greatly mistaken the sense of the text, on which his observations are grounded, and they quote a passage for this, from Proverbs x. 12. “ Hatred stirreth up strifes, but love covereth all sins," which they consider as parallel with this of St. Peter, and as having been in the Apostle's view when he wrote this espistle, But that this is a flimsy conjecture will appear from this great difference, that the one text is in the present, and the other in the future tense. Solomon is opposing the character of a virtue against that of its opposite vice, St. Peter is holding out a monition with a corresponding motive of encouragement, by promising what will be the blessed reward of a charitable spirit and conduct. If he had meant only that charity hideth or concealeth the sins of others, he certainly would not have expressed himself in a manner so liable to be misunderstood ; for, that the text has been taken from the earliest times, as conveying a promise is clear from St. Clement's 1st epistle to the Corinthians, where he magnifies, in the loftiest terms, the personal benefits of charity, and quotes, in proof of it, this very text, after which he adds, (wbat
the the CHRISTÍAN OBSERVER will hardly approve, after charging the venerable IGNATIUS * himself with savouring of superstition) that I
by charity were all the elect of God made perfect : and without it nothing is pleasing and acceptable in the sight of God.”
In the epistle of Barnabas, among other directions for the attaining the way to light, is this, " Thou shall also labour with thy hands to give to the poor, that thy sins may be forgiven thee. Such was the high opinion held of the benefits resulting from charity by writers nearest to the times of the Apostles, and who could not well be ignorant of St. Peter's meaning in the passage under consideration. But this opinion, according to the ChrisTIAN OBSERVER, is dangerous inasmuch as it tends to puff up men's minds into a dependence for salvation upon the meritoriousness of their good deeds. If so, vur Lord himself must be involved in the charge, (with deference we thus speak) for preaching as he did · "When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth ; that thine alms may be in secret, and thy father which seeth in secret shall REWARD thee openly," and for saying, 'that “ to forgive men their trespasses,” which is an act of charity, “is a CONDITION, without which " our Father will not forgive us our trespasses.” Matt. vi. 4-15.
To what extent indeed, or in what manner, these acts will operate in our favour, either in Paradise, or at the Day of Judgment, does not precisely appear; but that we are encouraged to hope they will be remembered for our benefit is evident from the many encouraging promises made by our blessed Lord, and particularly in his affecting description of his second coming. But are we hence taught that mere alms-giving will cover any of our transgressions? By no means. After all we are but “unprofitable servants," and can only hope for the pardon of our offences, and the acceptance of our best works through the merits and mediation of Christ.
Should any person, professing the Christian religion, depend for salvation, not upon what the Redeemer has done for him, but upon the merit of his own works and deservings, however harmless his life may have been, and however benevolent his practice, he will undoubtedly be as miserably disappointed as he, who, by a strong faith, knew his Lord's : will, and did it not. Faith and Charity must be united ; but it is not unscriptural to say, that the latter only gives life to the former, and that where it is cultivated as a Christian principle, it will be remembered in extenuation of many offences.
After saying so much, and perhaps to some, rather unnecessarily, upon this subject, we shall quote the opinion of a great man of our, church, who was far enough from symbolizing with the Church of Rome in the matter of justification or any other doctrine.
Archbishop Sharpe, in his Spital Sermon, April 14, 1680, edit. 4to. p. 37, hath these observations :
"The last text to this purpose that I desire may be taken notice of, is that of St. Peter, Above all things, my brethren, have fervent charity,
*In a garbled and perverted version of the fourth epistle of that holy man, in the Number for July 1803, p. 389.
among yourselves, for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. 0, how comfortable are these words! There is none of us, even the best, but hath a multitude of sins to answer for ; by what means now must we obtain, that these sins shall be covered ? that is, shall be forgiven; for covering of sins is the forgiveness of them in the scripture-language. Why, the Apostle hath directed us to the method, above all things put, en charity, for it is charity that shall cover the multitude of sins. Charity is of that power with God, that it alone, is able to overcome the malig pity of many of our sins and frailties that would otherwise do us mis, chief. If any thing can make atoneinent for the carelessness and the many failings of our lives; and prevent the punishment that is due to them; it is to be very charitable and to do much good ; charity covers a multitude of sins in this life. A great many temporal judgments, that would otherwise have fallen upon us for our sins are hereby prevented, and that not only private ones but public too: And I think it no popery to affirm, that charity will cover a multitude of sins in the other life also. That is, whoever is of a truly charitable disposition, and doth a great deal of good in his generation, though he may have a great many infirmities and miscarriages to answer for; yet if he be sincerely virtuous in the main, and so capable of the rewards of the other world; his other failings will be overlooked, they will be buried in his good deeds, and the man shall be rewarded notwithstanding. Or if he be a vicious per, son, and so must of necessity fall short of the glory that shall be revealed ; yet still in proportion, the good that he hath done in his life will cover the multitude of sins. Though it will not be available for the, making him happy, because he is not capable of being so; yet it will be for the lessening his punishment. He shall be in a much more supportable condition among the miserable, than those that have been un. merciful, or cruel, or uncharitable in their lives.”
We shall conclude with giving the judgment of our Church upon this subject, and that surely, with all TRUE CHURCHMEN, cannot but be decisive. In the second part of the Homily on Alms-deeds, she thus explains the saying of our Saviour, Give alms and behold all things are clean unto you, Luke xi. 41.
“ He teacheth them, that to be merciful and charitable in helping the poor, is the means to keep the soul pure and clean in the sight of God. We are taught, therefore, by this, that merciful Alms-dealing is profitable to purge the soul from the infection and filtby spois of
After guarding against the abuse of this position much in the same way as hath been done by the learned Author of thię Sermon now be. fore us, the Homily says,
" Alms deeds do WASH AWAY OUR SINS, because God doth vouchsafe then to repute us as clean and pure, when we do them for his sake, and not because they deserye or merit our purging, or for that they have any such strength and virtue in themselves. i know that some men, too much addict to the advancing of their works, will not be contented with this answer; and no marvel, for such men can no answer content or suffice. Wherefore leaving them to their own wilful sense will here rather have a regard to the reasonable and godly, who as they most certainly know and persuade themselves, that all goodness, all bounty, all mercy, all benefits, all forgiveness of sins, and whatsoever can be named good and profitable, either for the body or the foul, do come only of God's mercy and mere favour, and not of themselves :
50 though they do never so many and so excellent good deeds, yet are .. they never puft up with the vain confidence of them. And though they hear and read in God's word, and otherwhere in godly men's works, that ALMS-DEEDS, MERCY, and CHARITABLENESS, doth WASH AWAY SIN, and 'BLOT OUT INIQUITY; yet do they not arroganıly and proudly stick and trust unto them, or brag themselves of them, as the proud Pharisee did, lest with the Pharisee they should be condemned : but rather with the humble and poor Publican, confess theniselves sin. ful wretches, unworthy to look up to Heaven, calling and craving for mercy, that with the Publican they may be pronounced of Christ to .. be justified.”
Such is the sound decision of our venerable mother, in conformity with the most ancient and sacred authorities of the Christian Church, upon the virtue and benefits of Charity, so that our Author, (now de. servedly advanced to the episcopal bench) does not stand alone in the opinion which has called forth the animadversions and lamentations of the CHRISTIAN OBSERVER.
Methodism inspected. Part I. With an Appendix on the Evidences of a
State of Salvation. By William Hales, D. D. Rector of Killesandru · (Ireland) 8vo. pp. 94. 25. Spragg.
W ITH the learning and ingenuity of the Author of this pamphlet
our readers are well acquainted, his productions having frequently given importance to our Miscellany. The present performance will not detract from his well-earned reputation, and if his country possesses the spirit of gratitude commensurate to its obligations, it will honour itself by raising him from a private to a public station in the Church. .
It seems that the occasion which drew the Doctor's attention to the subject of Wesleyan methodism. (for it is that class only which is here considered) was the great exertion making by the Teachers of that Sect, to propagate their opinions in Ireland, and particularly in the province (Ulster) where our author resides., He admits it to be a desir. able object that a reformation could be brought about amongst the Roman Catholics ; but he questions, whether the preaching of the Methodists is likely to produce such an event, or even whether the conversion of them from popery to methodism be, on all points considered, a matter devoutly to be wished. His observations are as follow :
“The influence and authority of the Romish Clergy is too predomi. nant, and too firm rooted, to be suddenly shaken or overthrown by the transient and desultory impressions of unlicensed intruders into their pale. And though they may not, like the Skibbereen priest, * have re
* In a letter from one of the Methodist Missionaries, published in the Arminian Magazine, 1802, p. 426, and here quoted, the writer says, “From Korry we went to Skibbereen and its neighbourhood, where many of the poor Catholics attended preaching. At every meeting we had a gracious roatering.': Many were awakened out of their long slees,' to see their danger; nay, thc whole Vol. V. Charchm. Mug, Aug, 1803.