1 Peter 3:8-9
Finally, be you all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brothers, be pitiful, be courteous:…
The precept of the text does not, indeed, belong to the highest order of Christian precepts. It does not rank with self-denial, purity of heart, patience, forgiveness of injuries, love of the brethren, love to Christ Himself, and heavenly mindedness; yet it enjoins a duty of very great importance, and of everyday use. The demands for courtesy are continually occurring. Every person with whom we have intercourse may give an occasion for the observance or neglect of it. It is, moreover a duty which every man has it in his power to perform. It costs nothing.
I. THE NATURE OF COURTESY AS A CHRISTIAN DUTY.
II. ITS BENEFICIAL EFFECTS ON SOCIETY.
III. THE STRENGTH WHICH IT ADDS TO CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLE. Courtesy, as a Christian duty, is, in fact, nothing more or less than a particular exercise of Christian love. It is one of the outward acts wherein is manifested that disposition of heart which the new commandment of Jesus Christ inculcates. Yet, as courtesy is but the out ward expression of that inward excellence, it may be shown by those in whose hearts the grace of love does not dwell. The very same things to which love would prompt may be done on lower grounds, and from inferior motives. Indeed, the perfection of good breeding is simply this, that it makes a man seem to be what love causes him to be indeed. But then, where the principle of Christian love is wanting, the courtesy which springs from mere good breeding is very partial and very irregular — sometimes it falls short of the mark, at other times it goes beyond it; towards inferiors it is often scanty in its attentions; towards superiors, excessive. "The poor," says Solomon, "useth entreaties, but the rich answereth roughly." This is but too true where the intercourse between these two grand classes of mankind is regulated by no higher law than the law of politeness. But it is the character of Christian love in no case to behave itself unseemly. Shall I answer such a one roughly because he wears a coarser garment or feeds on meaner fare? Politeness may not forbid it; but Christian love surely will. There is another irregularity in the courtesies of politeness which is not found in those of love. It is one main office of courtesy to keep in check those petulant tempers which, wherever they are not checked, create uneasiness and give offence. Now, if there is any place where it is peculiarly important that a man should restrain these tempers, it is at home. Yet good breeding, which leads a man to curb his sullen humours when he is abroad, by a strange contradiction suffers him to let them loose at home. And here I would observe that the good which is done by Christian courtesy is also done by the imitation of it. The counterfeit, when well executed, passes current, and produces the same effect as the sterling coin. It is here just the same as in the case of almsgiving; the alms which are given from ostentation do the same good as those which are given from love. It makes a great difference to the giver, but none at all to the receiver. Take courtesy on the very lowest ground: suppose there to be nothing of Christian love in it, yet think what it prevents that is contrary to love. Many a quarrel has arisen, and many a deadly feud been caused by the mere absence of courtesy. Where courtesy prevails, no affronts are offered, no feelings are wounded; nothing is said or done which can provoke to wrath. And the benefits hence arising are incalculable. But the most important view of courtesy is that which we proceed, in the third place, to consider, viz., the strength which it gives to Christian principle. Here, however, I must premise that it must be a Christian principle itself before such a principle can be strengthened by its exercise. It must proceed from love, or it cannot strengthen love. And in making this inquiry we may observe that where courtesy is not there is reason to suspect that love is wanting also. It is true some minds are cast in a rough mould, and cover much substantial kindness under a rough exterior. It is pity it ever should be so; and when it is so, the reality of Christian love appearing in so questionable a shape is not lightly to be taken for granted. Is the grace of God to do nothing for a man? These are considerations well worth being weighed by those who would excuse their want of courtesy upon the plea of a naturally rugged temper. It behoves such to examine themselves whether they be in the faith. Courtesy alone is not sufficient to prove a man a true Christian.
1. In the first place, then, is your courtesy irrespective of persons, shown to the poor as well as to the rich?
2. Does not your courtesy sometimes go beyond the mark, as well as fall short of it? Does it not sometimes degenerate into flattery or a hypocritical gentleness? If, on fairly considering these questions, you have good reason to conclude that the spirit of Christian love does indeed dwell in you, be thankful for so excellent a gift, and let it exercise itself in truthful courtesy as much as possible. By every such exercise the principle of love itself is strengthened. Such is the very law of our nature. And though this courtesy does not of itself take so high a rank as the other graces which have been mentioned, though it is a very familiar, and may be thought trivial thing, yet it has this advantage, that the opportunities which it affords for the increase of love are far more numerous than those which can be obtained from any other source. They are continually occurring. Rut two things are to be remembered. It has been already shown that love must be formed in the heart before it can be exercised. From what source, then, does love proceed? It springs front faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and from nothing else. But though I say this, I would observe, in the last place, that I do not mean by so speaking to shut out the continued agency of the Holy Spirit in strengthening the principle of love, nor the necessity of prayer for the supply of that Spirit.
(J. Fawcett, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: