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OF THE LOVE OF OUR NEIGHBOUR.
Matth. xxii. 39.
lour as thyself.
THE essential goodness of God, and his special benig- SERM. nity toward mankind, are to a considering mind divers ways very apparent; the frame of the world, and the natural course of things, do with a thousand voices loudly and clearly proclaim them to us; every sense doth yield us affidavit to that speech of the holy Psalmist, The earth Pfal. xxxiii. is full of the goodness of the Lord : we see it in the glo- 5. cxix. 64. rious brightness of the skies, and in the pleasant verdure of the fields; we taste it in the various delicacies of food, supplied by land and sea; we smell it in the fragrances of herbs and flowers; we hear it in the natural music of the woods; we feel it in the comfortable warmth of heaven, and in the cheering freshness of the air; we continually do possess and enjoy it in the numberless accommodations of life, presented to us by the bountiful hand of nature.
Of the same goodness we may be well assured by that common providence which continually doth uphold us in our being, doth opportunely relieve our needs, doth protect us in dangers, and rescue us from imminent mischiefs, doth comport with our infirmities and misdemeanours;
SERM, the which, in the divine Pfalmift's style, doth hold our soul
XXV. in life, and suffereth not our feet to be moved; doth redeem Plal.lxvi. 9. our life from destruction; doth crown us with loving-kindIvi. 1.3. ciii. nefs, and tender mercies. 4. cxlv. 16.
The dispensations of grace, in the revelation of heavenly truth, in the overtures of mercy, in the succours of our weakness, in the proposal of glorious rewards, in all the methods and means conducing to our salvation, do afford most admirable proofs and pledges of the same immense benignity.
But in nothing is the divine goodness toward us more illustriously conspicuous, than in the nature and tendency of those laws which God hath been pleased, for the regulation of our lives, to prescribe unto us, all which do palpably evidence his serious desire and provident care of our welfare ; so that, in imposing them, he plainly doth not so much exercise his sovereignty over us, as express his kindness toward us; neither do they more clearly declare his will, than demonstrate his good-will to us.
And among all divine precepts this especially, contained in my text, doth argue the wonderful goodness of our heavenly Lawgiver, appearing both in the manner of
the proposal, and in the substance of it., Luke x. 27. The second, saith our Lord, is like to it; that is, to the
precept of loving the Lord our God with all our heart : and is not this a mighty argument of immense goodness in God, that he doth in such a inanner commend this duty to us, coupling it with our main duty toward him, and requiring us with like earnestness to love our neighbour as to love himself?
He is transcendently amiable for the excellency of his nature; be, by innumerable and inestimable benefits graciously conferred on us, hath deferved our utmott affection; so that naturally there can be no obligation bearing any proportion or considerable semblance to that of loving him: yet hath he in goodness been pleased to create one, and to endue it with that privilege; making the love of a man (whom we cannot value but for his gifts, to whom we can owe nothing but what properly we owe to him)
no less obligatory, to declare it near as acceptable as the SERM. love of himself, to whom we owe all. To him, as the XXV. sole author and free donor of all our good, by just correspondence, all our mind and heart, all our strength and endeavour, are due: and reasonably might he engross them to himself, excluding all other beings from any share in them; so that we might be obliged only to fix our thoughts and set our affections on him, only to act directly for his honour and interest ; saying with the holy Psalmist, Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is Pfal. lxxiii. none on earth that I defire befde thee : yet doth he freely 25. please to impart a share of these performances on mankind; yet doth he charge us to place our affection on one another ; to place it there, indeed, in a measure so large, that we can hardly imagine a greater; according to a rule, than which none can be devised more complete or certain.
O marvellous condescension, O goodness truly divine ; which furpasseth the nature of things, which dispenseth with the highest right, and foregoeth the greatest interest that can be ! Doth not God in a sort debase himself, that he might advance us? Doth he not appear to wave his own due, and neglect his own honour for our advantage? How otherwise could the love of man be capable of any resemblance to the love of God, and not stand at an infinite distance, or in an extreme disparity from it? How otherwise could we be obliged to affect or regard any thing befide the sovereign, the only goodness? How otherwise could there be any second or like to that first, that great, Matt. xis. that peerless command, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God 17..
Matt. xxii. with all thy heart?
38. This indeed is the highest commendation whereof any law is capable: for as to be like God is the highest praise that can be given to a person; so to resemble the divinest law of love to God is the fairest character that can be affigned of a law: the which indeed representeth it to be róuo Beco Aixòs as St. James calleth it; that is, a royal and Jam. ii. 8. sovereign law; exalted above all others, and bearing a Sway on them. St. Paul telleth us, that the end of the
only good that first, the thy God Wate, sei
Rom. xiii. 8, 9.
i Cor. xiii
23, 11. iv 21.
SERM. commandment (or, the main scope of the evangelical doc
XXV. trine) is charity out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, 1 Tim. i. 6. and faith unfeigned ; that charity is the sum and substance
ill. of all other duties, and that he that loveth another hath Gal. v. 14. fulfilled the whole law; that charity is the chief of the 13. theological virtues, and the prime fruit of the divine Spirit; Gal. v. 22. and the bond of perfection, which combineth and consumCol. jii. 14. 1 Cor. xvi. mateth all other graces, and the general principle of all
our doings. St. Peter enjoineth us that to all other vir3 Pet. i. 7. tues we add charity, as the top and crown of them; and, 1 Pet. iv. 8. Above all things, faith he, have fervent charity among
yourselves. St. John calleth this law, in way of excellence, 1 John iii. the commandment of God; and our Lord himself claimeth
1. ". it as his peculiar precept, This, faith he, is my commandJohn xv.12. ment, that ye love one another as I have loved you; A new John xiii.
commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another :
and maketh the observance of it the special cognizance of John xiii. his followers, By this shall all men know that ye are my
disciples, if ye love one another.
These indeed are lofty commendations thereof, yet all of them may worthily veil to this; all of them seem verified in virtue of this, because God hath vouchsafed to place this command in so near adjacency to the first great law, conjoining the two tables; making charity contiguous, and, as it were, commensurate to piety: · It is true, that in many respects charity doth resemble piety; for it is the most genuine daughter of piety, thence in complexion, in features, in humour much favouring its sweet mother : it doth consist in like dispositions and motions of soul : it doth grow from the same roots and principles of benignity, ingenuity, equity, gratitude,
planted in our original constitution by the breath of God, 1 John iv. and improved in our hearts by the divine Spirit of love ; Matt. v. 45. it produceth the like fruits of beneficence toward others, Eph. v. and of comfort in ourselves; it in like manner doth assi1, 2.
milate us to God, rendering us conformable to his nature, followers of his practice, and partakers of his felicity : it is of like use and consequence toward the regulation of our practice, and due management of our
whole life: in such respects, I say, this law is like to the SERM. other ; but it is however chiefly so for that God hath XXV. pleased to lay so great stress thereon, as to make it the other half of our religion and duty; or because, as St. John saith, This commandment have we from him, that he Matt. xxii. who loveth God, love his brother also; which is to his john iv. praise a most pregnant demonstration of his immense 21. goodness toward us.
But no less in the very substance of this duty will the benignity of him that prescribeth it shine forth, displaying itself in the rare beauty and sweetness of it; together with the vast benefit and utility, which it, being observed, will yield to mankind; which will appear by what we may discourse for pressing its observance. But first let us explain it, as it lieth before us expressed in the words of the text, wherein we shall consider two particulars observable: first, the object of the duty; secondly, the qualification annexed to it: the object of it, our neighbour ; the qualification, as ourselves.
I. The object of charity is our neighbour; that is, (it being understood, as the precept now concerneth us, according to our Lord's exposition, or according to his intent and the tenor of his doctrine) every man, with whom we have to do, or who is capable of our love, especially every Christian.
The Law, as it was given to God's ancient people, did openly regard only those among them who were linked together in a holy neighbourhood or society, from which all other men being excluded were deemed strangers and foreigners; (aliens, as St. Paul speaketh, from the com- Eph. ii. 19. monwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise.) For thus the Law runneth in Leviticus, Thou Levit. xix. Malt not bear any grudge against the children of thy people, 18. but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; where plainly Jews and neighbours are terms equivalent; other men being supposed to stand at distance without the fold or Levit. x1. politic enclosure, which God by several ordinances had 26, 24. fenced, to keep that nation unmixt and separate : nor can xxxiii. 16. it be excepted against this notion, that in the same chapter i
men Deut. vii. 6.