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öf Man: Is it not therefore of
great Consequence to us rightly to understand this great Virtue, that we may
Methods to attain it; since it is that only which can fanctify our Offerings to God, and make either our Prayers or Praises, or our Alms and Oblations, acceptable in his Sight; since it is that only which can make the Gifts and Abilities bestowed on us of any Use, or render them a proper Means to save ourselves and others ?
It is necessary to enter into the Consideration of the Nature of this great Virtue, that we may rightly apprehend the Meaning of the Text. St. Peter affirms, that Charity Shall cover a Multitude of Sins. Whatever we are to understand by this Expression, it is evident that this great Promise or Effect must be ascribed to that Virtue only, which the Apostle had in his Mind, and which he meant to express in the Words of the Text; and if we apply it to any thing else, we abuse his Authority, and deceive ourselves. I shall therefore confine this Discourse to two Inquiries :
First, What that fervent Charity is, which the Apostle in the Text so earnestly recommends; and,
Secondly, What is the true Meaning of the Apostle's Affirmation concerning this Charity, that it shall cover the Multitude of Sins,
As to the First Inquiry, it will appear by the Language made use of by St. Peter, that he is not recommending any particular Duty, much less any particular Acts of Duty, (The Words in the Original, rendered by our
Translators fervent Charity, are årányu éxlerñ, continual or uninterrupted Love.) Love is a Principle, or a good Habit of Mind, from which many Duties flow, but does not denote any one kind of Duty more than another ; and therefore the Charity spoken of in the Text has no more immediate Relation to Almsgiving, (as the Use of the Word in our Language often leads People to think it has) than it has to Patience, Forgiveness of Injuries, or any other natural Effect of Love or Charity. It is therefore the Principle of Charity, or a general Beneficence of Mind towards one another, which the Apostle recommends. And this must be constant and regular, not subject to the Efforts of Passion or Resentment; it must preside with a Superiority over all the Desires of our Heart, that neither Wantonness and Lust, nor Anger
and Revenge, nor Covetousness and Ambition may carry us aside from the Ways of Righteousness and Equity in our Dealings one with another.
This Description distinguishes the Virtue of the Gospel from what the World means by Good-nature, which seems to be a Quality resulting rather from the Constitution, than from the Reason of a Man, and is frequently subject to great Efforts of Paffion and Resentment; to the Desires of Ambition and Lasciviousness, and other Vices, which have no Society, which can have none, with Christian Charity. Good-nature has oftentimes something that wants to be corrected in the very Principles of it; sometimes it is an agreeable and easy Weakness of Mind, or an Indolence or Carelessness with respect to Persons and Things. But Charity is Reason made perfect by Grace : It is a Beneficence which arises from a Contemplation of the World, from a Knowledge of the great Creator, and the Relation we bear to Him and to our Fellow-Creatures : It is that Reason into which all Duties owing from Man to Man are ultimately resolved ; and when we chuse to say in a word what is the Character, the Temper, or the Duty of a Dif
ciple of the Gospel, Charity is the only Word that can express our Meaning.
The same Sort of Actions materially confidered do oftentimes proceed from very different Principles. Liberality and Hospitality are natural Effects of Charity, which inspires us with the tender Motions of Compassion and Benevolence towards our FellowCreatures : But it is no very uncommon Thing for Men to be liberal out of Pride, and hofpitable out of Vanity ; to do their Alms before Men, that they may be seen of them; and of such our Saviour's Judgment is, that they fhall have no Reward of their Father, which is in Heaven.
This leads to an Inquiry, By what Means we may certainly distinguish the Principles from which our Actions are derived, without which we can have no well-grounded Confidence towards God, how specious soever the Appearance may be which we make in the Eyes of the World ? The ready Answer to which Inquiry is, that we must confult our own Hearts, and examine what paffes in them, in order to form a right Judgment upon the Motives of our own Actions. But if we consider what is meant by fearching the Heart, we shall find that to search
the Heart, and to examine into the Motives and Principles of our Actions, is one and the fame Thing; and therefore this Direction does not set us one Step forward in the Inquiry. Besides, it is no easy Matter to come to the Knowledge of our own Hearts, since from Experience it is plain, that Men do impose upon themselves at least as often as they do upon the World ; and find an Ease and Satisfaction in doing the Things, which shall yield no Fruit in the great Day, when the Secrets of all Hearts shall be disclosed. And though in Actions which require Deliberation, and are not undertaken without a previous Debate had with ourselves upon their Expediency or Inexpediency, an honest Man' may judge of his own Motives and Sincerity ; yet a thousand Things there are which Men do habitually, and with so much Ease and Readiness, as not to attend to the Influence of any particular Motive at the Time of doing the Action. Charitable Persons do not, in each single Instance of Charity, set before their Minds the Connection of that Action with the Honour of God, and the Good of the World; nor can they perhaps be able to say what particular Motive led to each Act of Charity. A Man of a