We Shall not be Curious in the Ranking of the Duties in which Christian Love...
We shall not be curious in the ranking of the duties in which Christian love should exercise itself. All the commandments of the second table are but branches of it: they might be reduced all to the works of righteousness and of mercy. But truly these are interwoven through other. Though mercy uses to be restricted to the showing of compassion upon men in misery, yet there is a righteousness in that mercy, and there is mercy in the most part of the acts of righteousness, as in not judging rashly, in forgiving, &c. Therefore we shall consider the most eminent and difficult duties of love, which the word of God solemnly and frequently charges upon us in relation to others, especially these of the household of faith.

I conceive we would labour to enforce upon our hearts, and persuade our souls to a love of all men, by often ruminating upon the words of the Apostle, which enjoin us to "abound in love towards all men," 1 Thess. iii.12. And this is so concerning, that he prays earnestly that the Lord would make them increase in it, and this we should pray for too. An affectionate disposition towards our common nature is not a common thing. Christianity enjoins it, and it is only true humanity, Luke vi.36, 37. "Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged, condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned, forgive, and ye shall be forgiven." Now in relation to all men, charity hath an engagement upon it to pray for all sorts of men, from that Apostolic command, 1 Tim ii.1: "I exhort therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men." Prayers and supplications, earnest prayers out of affection, should be poured out even for them that cannot, or do not pray for themselves. Wherefore are we taught to pray, but that we may be the mouth of others? And since an intercessor is given to us above, how are we bound to be intercessors for others below, and so to be affected with the common mercies of the multitude, as to give thanks too! If man, by the law of creation, is the mouth of the stones, trees, birds, beasts, of heaven and earth, sun and moon and stars, how much more ought a Christian, a redeemed man, be the mouth of mankind to praise God for the abounding of his goodness, even towards these who are left yet in that misery and bondage that he is delivered from?

Next, Charity by all means will avoid scandal, and live honestly in the sight of all men. The apostle says, "Give none offence, neither to the Jews nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God," 1 Cor. x.32. And he adds his own example, "Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved," ver.33. Charity is not self addicted. It hath no humour to please. It can displease itself to profit others. I do verily think there is no point of Christianity less regarded. Others we acknowledge, but we fail in practice. This scarce hath the approbation of the mind. Few do conceive an obligation lying on them to it. But O how is Christianity, the most of it, humanity? Christ makes us men as well as Christians. He makes us reasonable men when believers. Sin transformed our nature into a wild, beastly, viperous, selfish thing. Grace restores reason and natural affection in the purest and highest strain. And this is reason and humanity, elevated and purified, -- to condescend to all men in all things for their profit and edification, to deny itself to save others. Whatsoever is not necessary in itself, we ought not to impose a necessity upon it by our imagination and fancy, to the prejudice of a greater necessity, another's edification. Indeed charity will not, dare not sin to please men. That were to hate God, to hate ourselves, and to hate our brethren, under a base pretended notion of love. But I believe, addictedness to our own humours in things not necessary, which have no worth but from our disposition, doth oftener transport us beyond the bounds of charity than the apprehension of duty and conscience of sin. Some will grant they should be tender of offending the saints. But they do not conceive it is much matter what they do in relation to others, as if it were lawful to murder a Gentile more than a Christian. That is a bloody imagination, opposite to that innocent Christian, Paul, who says (Philip. ii.15.), we should be "blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation," among whom we should shine "as lights." And truly it is humanity elevated by Christianity, or reason purified by religion, that is the light that shines most brightly in this dark world. And he says (in Col. iv.5.), "Walk in wisdom toward them that are without," and (1 Thess. iv.12.) "walk honestly toward them that are without," -- avoiding all things, in our profession and carriage, which may alienate them from the love of the truth and godliness walking so, as we may insinuate into their hearts some apprehension of the beauty of religion. Many conceive, if they do good, all is well -- if it be a duty, it matters nothing. But remember that caution, "Let not then your good be evil spoken of," Rom. xiv.16. We would have our eyes upon that too, so to circumstantiate all our duties, as they may have least offence in them, and be exposed to least obloquy of men, 1 Pet. ii.12. "Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles, that whereas they speak against you as evil doers, they may by your good works which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation."

Then, Thirdly, Charity follows peace with all men, as much as is possible, Heb. xii.14. "If it be possible as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men," Rom. xii.18. Many spirits are framed for contention. If peace follow them, they will flee from it. But a Christian having made peace with God, the sweet fruit of that upon his spirit is to dispose him to a peaceable and quiet condescendency to others, and if peace flee from him, to follow after it, not only to entertain it when it is offered, but to seek it when it is away, and to pursue it when it runs away. (Psal. xxxiv.14, which Peter urges upon Christians, 1 Pet. iii.8, 9, 10, 11.) "Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous. Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing, knowing that ye are thereunto called that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile. Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it." I think, since we obtained the mercy to get a Peace maker between us and God, we should henceforth count ourselves bound to be peace makers among men. And truly such have a blessing pronounced upon them, Matt. v.9. "Blessed are the peace makers." The Prince of peace pronounced it, and this is the blessedness, "they shall be called the children of God," because he is "the God of peace," and to resemble him in these, first in purity, then in peace, is a character of his image. It is true, peace will sometimes flee so fast, and so far away, as a Christian cannot follow it without sin, and that is breach of a higher peace. But charity, when it cannot live in peace without, doth then live in peace within, because it hath that sweet testimony of conscience, that, as far as did lie in it, peace was followed without. Divine wisdom (James iii.17.), "is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without wrangling and without hypocrisy." If wisdom be peaceable and not pure, it is but a carnal conspiracy in iniquity, earthly and sensual. But if it be pure it must be peaceable. For the wisdom descending from above hath a purity of truth, and a purity of love, and a purity of the mind and of the affection too. Where there is a purity of truth, but accompanied with envying, bitter strife, rigid judging, wrangling, and such like, then it is defiled and corrupted by the intermixture of vile and base affections, ascending out of the dunghill of the flesh. The vapours of our lusts arising up to the mind, do stain pure truth. They put an earthly, sensual, and devilish visage on it.

Charity, its conversation and discourse, is without judging, without censuring, Matth. vii.1. Of which chapter, because it contains much edification, I shall speak more hereafter. James iii.17. "Without partiality, without hypocrisy." The words in the original are, {GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER DELTA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER KAPPA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER RHO}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER TAU}{GREEK SMALL LETTER OMICRON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER FINAL SIGMA} {GREEK SMALL LETTER KAPPA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA} {GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER NU}{GREEK SMALL LETTER UPSILON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER PI}{GREEK SMALL LETTER OMICRON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER KAPPA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER RHO}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER TAU}{GREEK SMALL LETTER OMICRON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER FINAL SIGMA}, (without judging and wrangling, and without hypocrisy), importing, that great censurers are often the greatest hypocrites, and sincerity has always much charity. Truly, there is much idle time spent this way in discourses of one another, and venting our judgments of others, as if it were enough of commendation for us to condemn others, and much piety to charge another with impiety. We should even be sparing in judging them that are without, 1 Cor. v.12, 13. Reflecting upon them or their ways, hath more provocation than edification in it. A censorious humour is certainly most partial to itself, and self indulgent. It can sooner endure a great beam in its own eye, than a little mote in its neighbour's, and this shows evidently that it is not the hatred of sin, or the love of virtue, which is the single and simple principle of it, but self love, shrouded under the vail of displeasure at sin, and delight in virtue. I would think one great help to amend this, were to abate much from the superfluity and multitude of discourses upon others. "In the multitude of words there wants not sin," and in the multitude of discourses upon other men, there cannot miss the sin of rash judging. I find the saints and fearers of God commended for speaking often one to another, but not at all for speaking one of another. The subject of their discourse (Mal. iii.16.) certainly was of another strain, -- how good it was to serve the Lord, &c. -- opposite to the evil communication of others there registered.

Charity is no tale bearer. It goeth not about as a slander to reveal a secret, though true, Prov. xx.19. It is of a faithful spirit to conceal the matter, Prov. xi.13. Another man's good name is as a pledge laid down in our hand, which every man should faithfully restore, and take heed how he lose it, or alienate it by back-biting. Some would have nothing to say, if they had not other's faults and frailties to declaim upon, but it were better that such kept always silent, that either they had no ears to hear of them or know them, or had no tongues to vent them. If they do not lie grossly in it, they think they do no wrong. But let them judge it in reference to themselves. "A good name is better than precious ointment," (Eccles. vii.1.) "and rather to be chosen than great riches," Prov. xxii.1. And is that no wrong, to defile that precious ointment, and to rob or steal away that jewel more precious than great riches? There is a strange connection between these. "Thou shalt not go up and down as a tale-bearer, nor stand against the blood of thy neighbour," Lev. xix.16. It is a kind of murder, because it kills that which is as precious as life to an ingenuous heart. "The words of a tale bearer are as wounds, and they go down to the innermost parts of the belly," Prov. xviii.8 and xxvi.22. They strike a wound to any man's heart, that can hardly be cured, and there is nothing that is such a seminary of contention and strife among brethren as this. It is the oil to feed the flame of alienation. Take away a tale-bearer, and strife ceaseth, Prov. xxvi.20. Let there be but any (as there want not such who have no other trade or occupation), to whisper into the ears of brethren, and suggest evil apprehensions of them, they will separate chief friends, as we see it in daily experience, Prov. xvi.28. "Revilers" are amongst these who are excluded out of the kingdom of God, 1 Cor. vi.10. And therefore, as the Holy Ghost gives general precepts for the profitable and edifying improvement of the tongue, that so it may indeed be the glory of a man, (which truly is no small point of religion, as James expresses, Chap. iii.2. "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man,") so that same spirit gives us particular directions about this, "Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law," (James iv.11.) because he puts himself in the place of the Lawgiver, and his own judgment and fancy in the room of the law, and so judges the law. And therefore the Apostle Peter makes a wise and significant connection, 1 Pet. ii.1. "Laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil-speakings." Truly, evil speaking of our brethren, though it may be true, yet it proceeds out of the abundance of these, in the heart, of guile, hypocrisy, and envy. While we catch at a name of piety from censuring others, and build our own estimation upon the ruins of another's good name, hypocrisy and envy are too predominant. If we would indeed grow in grace by the word, and taste more how gracious the Lord is, we must lay these aside, and become as little children, without guile, and without gall. Many account it excuse enough, that they did not invent evil tales, or were not the first broachers of them; but the Scripture joins both together. The man that "shall abide in his tabernacle" must neither vent nor invent them, neither cast them down nor take them up, "He backbiteth not with his tongue, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour;" (Psal. xv.3.) or receiveth not or endureth not, as in the margin. He neither gives it nor receives he it, hath not a tongue to speak of others' faults, nor ear to hear them. Indeed he hath a tongue to confess his own, and an ear open to hear another confess his faults, according to that precept, "Confess your faults one to another." We are forbidden to have much society or fellowship with tale-bearers; and it is added, Prov. xx.19, "And meddle not with such as flatter with their mouth," as indeed commonly they who reproach the absent, flatter the present; a backbiter is a face-flatterer. And therefore we should not only not meddle with them, but drive them away as enemies to human society. Charity would in such a case protect itself, if I may so say, by "an angry countenance," an appearance of anger and real dislike. "As the north wind drives away rain," so that entertainment would drive away a "backbiting tongue," Prov. xxv.23. If we do discountenance it, backbiters will be discouraged to open their pack of news and reports: and indeed the receiving readily of evil reports of brethren, is a partaking with the unfruitful works of darkness, which we should rather reprove, Eph. v.11. To join with the teller is to complete the evil report; for if there were no receiver there would be no teller, no tale-bearer. "Charity covers a multitude of sins," 1 Pet. iv.8; and therefore "above all things have fervent charity among yourselves," says he. What is above prayer and watching unto the end, above sobriety? Indeed, in reference to fellowship with God, these are above all; but in relation to comfortable fellowship one with another in this world, this is above all, and the crown or cream of other graces. He whose sins are covered by God's free love, cannot think it hard to spread the garment of his love over his brother's sins. Hatred stirreth up strife, all uncharitable affections, as envy, wrath. It stirreth up contentions, and blazeth abroad men's infirmities. But "love covereth all sins," concealeth them from all to whom the knowledge of them doth not belong, Prov. x.12. Love in a manner suffers not itself to know what it knoweth, or at least to remember it much. It will sometimes hoodwink itself to a favourable construction. It will pass by an infirmity and misken(418) it, but many stand still and commune with it. But he that covereth a transgression seeks love to bury offences in. Silence is a notable mean to preserve concord, and beget true amity and friendship. The keeping of faults long above ground unburied, doth make them cast forth an evil savour that will ever part friends. Therefore, says the wise man, "He that covereth a transgression seeketh love: but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends," Prov. xvii.9. Covering faults christianly, will make a stranger a friend; but repeating and blazing of them will make a friend not only a stranger, but an enemy. Yet this is nothing to the prejudice of that Christian duty of reproving and admonishing one another, Eph. v.11. "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." Love commands to reprove in the "spirit of meekness," (Gal. vi.1.) as a man would restore an arm out of joint. And therefore thou "shall not hate him in thy heart, but shall in any ways reprove him, and not suffer sin upon him," Lev. xix.17. And he that reproves his brother after this manner from love, and in meekness and wisdom, "shall afterward find more favour of him than he that flatters with his tongue," Prov. xxviii.23. To cover grudges and jealousies in our hearts, were to nourish a flame in our bosom, which doth but wait for a vent, and will at one occasion or other burst out. But to look too narrowly to every step, and to write up a register of men's mere frailties, especially so as to publish them to the world; that is inconsistent with the rule of love. And truly, it is a token of one "destitute of wisdom to despise his neighbour; but a man of understanding will hold his peace." He that has most defects himself, will find maniest(419) in others, and strive to vilify them one way or other; but a wise man can pass by frailties, yea, offences done to him, and be silent, Prov. xi.12.

chapter iii i may briefly
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