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all have a voice, and this voice has a circle within which it commands respect; let us raise that voice in praise of every one within its circle who is honest, generous, and pious, and in disapprobation and censure of every one known to be the reverse. We all have occasion, in matters respecting which no one may dictate to us, to give men practical proof of our sentiments ; let us at such times show our readiness to promote the interests of estimable men; and, as far as may be without prejudice to others, let us inexorably and sternly refuse to show any favour for those whom we must not esteem. Why is this justice, which every one may exercise, practised so little ? Some are restrained by selfishness and servility, thinking that rank even ennobles vice, and that riches hide even a multitude of sins. With these I have nothing to say. But there are others who are restrained by weakmindedness and by a mistaken use of certain precepts of religion. These imagine it to be a Christian duty to have no decided opinion upon men; to forget the past and hope for the best, and to be indulgent and gentle towards all. To these especially the following discourse shall be addressed, and I will endeavour to make very plain what is the correct and scriptural view upon this subject.
TEXT. -1 Cor. xiii. 7. “ Love beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."
These words seem at first sight to command that passive virtue which is pleased with everything, and to favour those who are inclined,—where not acting expressly in the name of society,—to accord unconditional forbearance towards human faults and offences. Let us, however, from the same words get a clear idea of the limits of this forbearance, and so convince ourselves that that justice which is necessary for the good of society and this requirement of love by no means conflict with each other. The forbearance which is here commended to us, has
reference to two things—our judgment respecting men, and our conduct towards them. Let us closely consider both.
I. Love “ believeth all things and hopeth all things." This seems to require that, in its judgment upon the actions of men, the best conceivable view, according to the constitution of human nature, is to be taken in every single instance. Can this really be demanded of us ? prejudiced innocent mind, which judges of all human actions upon the supposition that every one wishes for that which is good, and is working to the best of his ability for the better-such a mind shows so much innocence, and appears therefore so amiable, that many of us cannot help the wish: Oh that the happy time were still here when I too viewed the world in this way, and sad experience, had not yet shaken my faith in men! But that time is past and gone; and, so far as it was a time of ignorance, you cannot possibly wish it back or regard it as a better. This experience you have now had, and you cannot look
should have had it in vain. You have often enough seen how
. one, where necessary, will always profess respect for virtue and religion, but not only follow practically the suggestions of sefishness, but even openly confoss himself, where he may venture it, an adherent to these principles. If, now, he again clothes himself in the garb of integrity, will you believe him to speak the truth ? You have often enough seen how another, for dishonest gain, will take advantage of inexperienced honesty. If, now, he wishes again, with the same appearance of disinterestedness and well-meaning, to lead you or another astray, do you consider yourself bound to believe that for just this once he will be sincere and honest ? You know a man whose sole aim is the gratification of his appetite, and who for this purpose takes the greatest possible trouble to suppress all that is best and noblest within him. If you see this man again in a state of temporary religious emo* tion, are you to hope that this time at last the good spirit will conquer, and that he will now turn and repent? You are living, perhaps, with a man who is wholly wanting in energy and will, who follows every first impression, and allows himself to be ruled by custom and caprice. If he tells
you that he is now resolved to do this or that, and from this time forward to live so and so, are you to believe that the spirit of energy has at 'length come upon him, and that matters will now be different with him ? I confess to you, that so far from regarding this as a Christian disposition, it rather proves to me a manifest want of it. If this empty faith and hope arise from not comparing the present with the past; then confess that you do not consider the persons with whom you live with that serious attention which you owe to them. If it arise from the fact that you do not trust your inference from this outward resemblance to the inward, do not, I pray
, you, think of this as a praiseworthy modesty. If you can believe that a bad man can really do good deeds; or if you think that, spite of his being before your eyes, he may have undergone a change for the better without your observing it, or that the greatest change which can come upon a man will show itself as a fugitive emotion of but a few hours' duration ; then you are ignorant of the true nature of the good, and I cannot but conclude either that you do not yet possess it for yourself, or that you do not worthily honour it. I warn you as earnestly as possible against this empty faith and hope. While you retain it, your false judgment must be constantly leading to false action which will be just as empty. And do not imagine, if your life passes uselessly away, that God will excuse all that in consequence of a good opinion you have neglected. He gave you eyes; why did you not see?
But if you at length grow tired of the faith which has always deluded you, you will infallibly sink into groundless vexation and suspicion; and, by way of consoling yourself for neither knowing men nor being able to do anything with them, you will fancy that neither the one nor the other is worth the trouble.
What does it mean then,—that love is to believe all things and hope all things ? This precept occurs in a connection having special reference to the conduct and sentiments of Christians in regard to one another. member that in those early times of the Church's history, being a Christian meant something more than it does now; and that no one readily entered the Church unless urged by his need of a religion founded upon purity of heart. In relation to such men as these-men governed by the voice of conscience, and whom you acknowledge as your fellow-citizens in the kingdom of God-this injunction applies to you in its whole extent. Believe all things of them. If anything occurs in their conduct which you cannot understand, be not rash to condemn such conduct or to impute improper motives; but believe that there is something in the circumstances which you have not seen, and which would show their conduct to be consistent with their principles. Seek this with modesty, . and although you do not find it, still believe it to be there until you see the contrary, or until the signs of re-pentance show you that a fault has been committed. By so doing you will often come to see a once doubtful-looking act in its true light; ay, even if
your faith should occasionally deceive you, that deception will not leave behind it any bitterness of feeling. And where you are obliged to take back your faith, there let the other precept begin to assert itself. Hope all things. If you still see in your
brethren at times traces of evil inclinations or habits suddenly threatening their consistency, cease not
to hope that they will yet grow better, and set no limit to the self-control and the perfection of character which they will yet acquire. I tell you, your hope will not be put to shame. This faith and this hope in regard to your brethren must never fail you, if the genuine feeling of justice dwells within yourselves. To him who is acquainted with the life of God, such faith as this is natural, for he must know that it not only produces this or that particular virtue, but necessarily improves the whole man. To him who has the mind of Christ, such hope as this is natural, for it is a result of his own experience daily of the growth of goodness in himself.
These, then, are they of whom all things are to be hoped and believed. But believe and hope that every one is of this mind until you see indubitable proof to the contrary. Believe of no one that his badness springs from hatred to the good, but seek the cause of it in passion and weakness; believe that there are means whereby every one may be restrained from much that is evil, and incited to much that is laudable and useful ; and hope that no human soul is so entirely closed to goodness but that by some means or other it
may find our common goal, and seek to attain it in the right way. If you lack this faith and hope, then either a contempt of human nature must dwell within you or a detestable pride, as if you were formed of different mould from other people ; and neither is consistent with love.
(To be continued.)
“ GOODNESS and mercy,” like an ever-deepening river, follow the godly. If their path should be through obscure glens, intricate windings,. and terrible ravines, the river will meander so as to be near them at every point; bearing ever on its calm and majestic bosom fresh cargoes of provisions from the fruitful stores of eternity.