1 Peter 1:22-23
Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit to unfeigned love of the brothers…
I. ITS NECESSITY.
1. The injunctions of Christ (John 13:34, 35; John 15:12; Matthew 5:24; Matthew 25:34, 35, 41, 42).
2. The teachings of His apostles (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:22; 1 Corinthians 13:1.; 1 John 4:7, 16, 20, etc.).
II. ITS EXTENT.
1. To all mankind. The more general it is, the more Christian and the more like God's love.
2. The more special objects of our love ought to be those who agree with us in a common faith (Galatians 6:10) — i.e., all Christians, as Christians, and because such. To love those that are of our way, humour, and opinion, is not charity, but self-love; 'tis not for Christ's sake, but our own.
III. ITS EXCELLENCE.
1. It is the image of God, and of all the graces renders us most like our Maker, for God is love and the lover of men. And is it not a glorious excellency that makes men like the fountain of all perfection?
2. It is the spirit of angels, glorified souls, and the best of men.
3. Love is an eminent branch of the Divine life and nature (1 John 4:7, 8).
4. Love is the bond and type of Christian communion.
5. Love is the most Catholic grace, and upon that account the most excellent, since that which promotes the good of the whole is better than any private perfection.
6. Love commends Christianity to those without, and cleanseth the profession of it from many spots it hath contracted.
IV. THE MEANS OF ATTAINING THIS EXCELLENT AND CATHOLIC TEMPER.
(1) Acknowledge worth in any man. Whatever is good is from God, and He is to be loved and owned in all things, as well in the paint upon the butterfly's wing as in the glorious uniform lustre of the sun; in the least herb under our feet as well as in the stupendous fabric of the heavens over us. And moral perfections are to be acknowledged, as wall as these natural ones. And we must take care that we make not our relish the measure of worth and goodness. Say not this is excellent because it is agreeable to your particular palates, and that on the other hand is vile because it is distasteful to your genius. Let us, then, be so ingenious as to own the virtue and the goodness that is in all parties and opinions; let us commend and love it.
(2) Be much in the contemplation of the love of God. He that knows how much God hath loved him, hath a mighty reason to love his brother (1 John 4:11).
(3) Make the great design of religion yours; and know that the intent of that is, not to teach us systems of opinion, but to furnish our minds with encouragements of virtue and instances of duty; to direct us to govern our passions and subdue our appetites and self-wills, in order to the glory of God, the good of societies, and our own present and eternal interests.
(4) Study the moderate, pacific ways and principles, and run not in extremes. Both truth and "love are in the middle. Extremes are dangerous.
(1) Love is part of religion; but opinions, for the sake of which we lose charity, are none. The first I have proved already, and for the other we may consider that religion consists, not in knowing many things, but in practising the few plain things we know.
(2) Charity is certainly our duty, but many of the opinions, about which we fall out, are uncertainly true; viz., as to us. The fundamental points of faith are indeed as firm as the centre, but the opinions of men are as fluctuating as the waves of the ocean. The root and body of a tree is fast and unshaken, while the leaves are made the sport of every wind. And colours sometimes vary with every position of the object and the eye, though the light of the sun be an uniform splendour. The foundation of God standeth sure, but men often build upon it what is very tottering and uncertain. The great truths of religion are easily discernible, but the smaller and remoter ones require more acuteness to descry them; and the best light may be deceived about such obscure and distant objects. The apostle tells us that we know but in part (1 Corinthians 13:9), and makes confidence an argument of ignorance (1 Corinthians 8:2).
(3) Christian love is necessary, but agreement in opinions is neither necessary nor possible.
(4) Errors of themselves are infirmities of the understanding, and not enormities of the will, for no man is willing to be deceived. So that they ought not to be the objects of our hatred but our pity. We all are pilgrims in our way to the Jerusalem that is above. If some will go in this path, some in the other, these in a circuit, and those amongst the rocks, we may be sure it is because they know not the danger and inconveniences which they choose.
(5) We ought to make allowance for education, authority, and fair pretences, which have a mighty power, even over honest minds, and do often unavoidably lead them into error. For let us consider how easily we receive the first impressions, and how deeply they sink into our souls.
(6) In many things we err ourselves; and, therefore, shall have need of the charity of others.
(1) Beware of inordinate admiration and love of any sect. When we passionately admire a party, we are apt to despise them that differ from it.
(2) Avoid eager and passionate disputes. In these charity is always lost, and truth seldom or never found. If thou art desirous to prevail with thy friend to lay down his opinion, assault him not by the fierceness of disputes; for such attempts will but raise his passion, and that will make him stick the closer to his error; but shine upon him with a calm light, insinuate thy better principle by modest and gentle suggestions.
(3) Beware of zeal about opinions, by which I mean all the propositions of less certainty or consequence.
(4) Beware of censuring and affixing odious names and consequences upon the persons or opinions of others.
Parallel VersesKJV: Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: