A SERIOUS CALL TO A DEVOUT AND HOLY LIFE
By WILLIAM LAW, A.M.
CHAPTER XXRecommending devotion at twelve o'clock, called in Scripture the sixth hour of the day. This frequency of devotion equally desirable by all orders of people. Universal love is here recommended to be the subject of prayer at this hour. Of intercession, as an act of universal love.
IT WILL perhaps be thought by some people, that these hours of prayer come too thick; that they can only be observed by people of great leisure, and ought not to be pressed upon the generality of men, who have the cares of families, trades, and employments; nor upon the gentry, whose state and figure in the world cannot admit of this frequency of devotion. And that it is only fit for monasteries and nunneries, or such people as have no more to do in the world than they have.
To this it is answered,
First, That this method of devotion is not pressed upon any sort of people, as absolutely necessary, but recommended to all people, as the best, the happiest, and most perfect way of life.
And if a great and exemplary devotion is as much the greatest happiness and perfection of a merchant, a soldier, or a man of quality, as it is the greatest happiness and perfection of the most retired contemplative life, then it is as proper to recommend it without any abatements to one order of men, as to another: because happiness and perfection are of the same worth and value to all people.
The gentleman and tradesman may, and must, spend much of their time differently from the pious monk in the cloister, or the contemplative hermit in the desert; but then, as the monk and hermit lose the ends of retirement unless they make it all serviceable to devotion; so the gentleman and merchant fail of the greatest ends of a social life, and live to their loss in the world, unless devotion be their chief and governing temper.
It is certainly very honest and creditable for people to engage in trades and employments; it is reasonable for gentlemen to manage well their estates and families, and take such recreations as are proper to their state. But then every gentleman and tradesman loses the greatest happiness of his creation, is robbed of something that is greater than all employments, distinctions, and pleasures of the world, if he does not live more to piety and devotion than to anything else in the world.
Here are therefore no excuses made for men of business and figure in the world. First, Because it would be to excuse them from that which is the greatest end of living; and be only finding so many reasons for making them less beneficial to themselves and less serviceable to God and the world.
Secondly, Because most men of business and figure engage too far in worldly matters; much farther than the reasons of human life, or the necessities of the world require.
Merchants and tradesmen, for instance, are generally ten times farther engaged in business than they need; which is so far from being a reasonable excuse for their want of time for devotion, that it is their crime, and must be censured as a blameable instance of covetousness and ambition.
The gentry and people of figure either give themselves up to state employments, or to the gratifications of their passions, in a life of gaiety and debauchery; and if these things might be admitted as allowable avocations from devotion, devotion must be reckoned a poor circumstance of life.
Unless gentlemen can show that they have another God than the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; another nature than that which is derived from Adam; another religion than the Christian; it is in vain to plead their state, and dignity, and pleasures, as reasons for not preparing their souls for God, by a strict and regular devotion.
For since piety and devotion are the common unchangeable means of saving all the souls in the world that shall be saved, there is nothing left for the gentleman, the soldier, and the tradesman, but to take care that their several states be, by care and watchfulness, by meditation and prayer, made states of an exact and solid piety.
If a merchant, having forborne from too great business, that he might quietly attend on the service of God, should therefore die worth twenty instead of fifty thousand pounds, could any one say that he had mistaken his calling, or gone a loser out of the world?
If a gentleman should have killed fewer foxes, been less frequent at balls, gaming, and merry meetings, because stated parts of his time had been given to retirement, and meditation, and devotion, could it be thought, that when he left the world, he would regret the loss of those hours that he had given to the care and improvement of his soul?
If a tradesman, by aspiring after Christian perfection, and retiring himself often from his business, should, instead of leaving his children fortunes to spend in luxury and idleness, leave them to live by their own honest labour, could it be said that he had made a wrong use of the world, because he had shown his children that he had more regard to that which is eternal, than to this which is so soon to be at an end?
Since, therefore, devotion is not only the best and most desirable practice in a cloister, but the best and most desirable practice of men, as men, and in every state of life; they that desire to be excused from it, because they are men of figure, and estates, and business, are no wiser than those that should desire to be excused from health and happiness, because they were men of figure and estates.
I cannot see why every gentleman, merchant, or soldier, should not put those questions seriously to himself:
What is the best thing for me to intend and drive at in all my actions? How shall I do to make the most of human life? What ways shall I wish that I had taken, when I am leaving the world?
Now to be thus wise, and to make thus much use of our reason, seems to be but a small and necessary piece of wisdom. For how can we pretend to sense and judgment, if we dare not seriously consider, and answer, and govern our lives by that which such questions require of us?
Shall a nobleman think his birth too high a dignity to condescend to such questions as these? Or a tradesman think his business too great, to take any care about himself?
Now here is desired no more devotion in any one's life, than the answering these few questions requires.
Any devotion that is not to the greater advantage of him that uses it than anything that he can do in the room of it; any devotion that does not procure an infinitely greater good than can be got by neglecting it, is freely yielded up; here is no demand of it.
But if people will live in so much ignorance, as never to put these questions to themselves, but push on a blind life at all chances, in quest of they know not what, nor why; without ever considering the worth, or value, or tendency of their actions, without considering what God, reason, eternity, and their own happiness require of them; it is for the honour of devotion, that none can neglect it, but those who are thus inconsiderate, who dare not inquire after that which is the best, and most worthy of their choice.
It is true, Claudius, you are a man of figure and estate, and are to act the part of such a station in human life; you are not called, as Elijah was, to be a prophet, or as St. Paul, to be an Apostle.
But will you therefore not love yourself? Will you not seek and study your own happiness, because you are not called to preach up the same things to other people?
You would think it very absurd, for a man not to value his own health, because he was not a physician; nor the preservation of his limbs because he was not a bone-setter. Yet it is more absurd for you, Claudius, to neglect the improvement of your soul in piety, because you are not an Apostle, or a bishop.
Consider this text of Scripture: "If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." [Rom. viii. 13, 14] Do you think that this Scripture does not equally relate to all mankind? Can you find any exception here for men of figure and estates? Is not a spiritual and devout life here made the common condition on which all men are to become sons of God? Will you leave hours of prayer, and rules of devotion to particular states of life, when nothing but the same spirit of devotion can save you, or any man, from eternal death?
Consider again this text: "For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." [2 Cor. v. 10] Now if your estate would excuse you from appearing before this judgment-seat, if your figure could protect you from receiving according to your works, there would be some pretence for your leaving devotion to other people. But if you, who are now thus distinguished, must then appear naked amongst common souls, without any other distinction from others but such as your virtues or sins give you; does it not as much concern you, as any prophet or Apostle, to make the best provision for the best rewards at that great day?
Again, consider this doctrine of the Apostle: "For none of us," that is, of us Christians, "liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living." [Rom. xiv. 7, 8, 9]
Now are you, Claudius, excepted out of the doctrine of this text? Will you, because of your condition, leave it to any particular sort of people, to live and die unto Christ? If so, you must leave it to them, to be redeemed by the Death and Resurrection of Christ. For it is the express doctrine of the text, that for this end Christ died and rose again, that none of us should live to himself. It is not that priests, or Apostles, or monks, or hermits, should live no longer to themselves; but that none of us, that is, no Christian of what state soever, should live unto himself.
If, therefore, there be any instances of piety, any rules of devotion, which you can neglect, and yet live as truly unto Christ as if you observed them, this text calls you to no such devotion. But if you forsake such devotion, as you yourself know is expected from some particular sorts of people; such devotion as you know becomes people that live wholly unto Christ, that aspire after great piety; if you neglect such devotion for any worldly consideration, that you may live more to your own temper and taste, more to the fashions and ways of the world, you forsake the terms on which all Christians are to receive the benefit of Christ's Death and Resurrection.
Observe, farther, how the same doctrine is taught by St. Peter: "As He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation." [1 Pet. i. 15]
If, therefore, Claudius, you are one of those that are here called, you see what it is that you are called to. It is not to have so much religion as suits with your temper, your business, or your pleasures; it is not to a particular sort of piety, that may be sufficient for gentlemen of figure and estates; but it is, first, to be holy, as He which hath called you is holy; secondly, it is to be thus holy in all manner of conversation; that is, to carry this spirit and degree of holiness into every port, and through the whole form of your life.
And the reason the Apostle immediately gives, why this spirit of holiness must be the common spirit of Christians, as such, is very affecting, and such as equally calls upon all sorts of Christians. "Forasmuch as ye know," says he, "that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation . . . but with the precious blood of Christ," [1 Pet. i. 18, 19]
As if he had said, Forasmuch as ye know ye were made capable of this state of holiness, entered into a society with Christ, and made heirs of His glory, not by any human means, but by such a mysterious instance of love, as infinitely exceeds everything that can be thought of in this world; since God has redeemed you to Himself, and your own happiness, at so great a price; how base and shameful must it be, if you do not henceforth devote yourselves wholly to the glory of God, and become holy, as He who hath called you is holy!
If, therefore, Claudius, you consider your figure and estate; or if, in the words of the text, you consider your gold and silver, and the corruptible things of this life, as any reason why you may live to your own humour and fancy, why you may neglect a life of strict piety and great devotion; if you think anything in the world can be an excuse for your not imitating the holiness of Christ in the whole course and form of your life; you make yourself as guilty as if you should neglect the holiness of Christianity, for the sake of picking straws.
For the greatness of this new state of life, to which we are called in Christ Jesus, to be forever as the Angels of God in Heaven, and the greatness of the price by which we are made capable of this state of glory, has turned everything that is worldly, temporal, and corruptible, into an equal littleness; and made it as great baseness and folly, as great a contempt of the Blood of Christ, to neglect any degrees of holiness, because you are a man of some estate and quality, as it would be to neglect it because you had a fancy to pick straws.
Again; the same Apostle saith, "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." [1 Cor. vi. 19, 20]
How poorly, therefore, Claudius, have you read the scripture, how little do you know of Christianity if you can yet talk of your estate and condition, as a pretence for a freer kind of life.
Are you any more your own, than he that has no state or dignity in the world? Must mean and little people preserve their bodies as temples of the Holy Ghost by watching, fasting, and prayer; but may you indulge yours in idleness, in lusts, and sensuality, because you have so much rent, or such a title of distinction? How poor and ignorant are such thoughts as these!
And yet you must either think thus, or else acknowledge, that the holiness of saints, Prophets, and Apostles, is the holiness that you are to labour after, with all the diligence and care that you can.
And if you leave it to others to live in such piety and devotion, in such self-denial, humility, and temperance, as may render them able to glorify God in their body, and in their spirit; you must leave it to them also, to have the benefit of the Blood of Christ.
Again; the Apostle saith, "Ye know how we exhorted, comforted, and charged every one of you, that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto His kingdom and glory." [1 Thess. ii. 11, 12]
You perhaps, Claudius, have often heard these words, without ever thinking how much they require of you. And yet you cannot consider them, without perceiving to what an imminent state of holiness they call you.
For how can the holiness of the Christian life be set before you in higher terms, than when it is represented to you as walking worthy of God? Can you think of any abatements of virtue, any neglects of devotion, that are well consistent with a life that is to be made worthy of God? Can you suppose that any man walks in this manner, but he that watches over all his steps, and considers how everything he does may be done in the spirit of holiness? and yet as high as these expressions carry this holiness, it is here plainly made the necessary holiness of all Christians. For the Apostle does not here exhort his fellow Apostles and saints to this holiness, but he commands all Christians to endeavour after it. "We charged," says he, "every one of you, that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto His kingdom and glory."
Again; St. Peter saith, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability that God giveth; that God in all things may be glorified in Jesus Christ." [1 Pet. iv. 11]
Do you not here, Claudius, plainly perceive your high calling? Is he that speaketh to have such regard to his words, that he appear to speak as by the direction of God? Is he that giveth to take care that he so giveth, that what he disposeth of may appear to be a gift that he hath of God? And is all this to be done, that God may be glorified in all things?
Must it not then be said, Has any man nobility, dignity of state, or figure in the world? Let him so use his nobility, or figure of life, that it may appear he uses these as the gifts of God, for the greater setting forth of His glory. Is there now, Claudius, anything forced, or far-fetched in this conclusion? Is it not the plain sense of the words, that everything in life is to be made a matter of holiness unto God? If so, then your estate and dignity is so far from excusing you from great piety and holiness of life, that it lays you under a greater necessity of living more to the glory of God, because you have more of His gifts that may be made serviceable to it.
For people, therefore, of figure, or business, or dignity in the world, to leave great piety and eminent devotion to any particular orders of men, or such as they think have little else to do in the world, is to leave the kingdom of God to them.
For it is the very end of Christianity to redeem all orders of men into one holy society, that rich and poor, high and low, masters and servants, may in one and the same spirit of piety become "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that are to show forth the praises of Him who hath called them out of darkness, into His marvellous light." [1 Pet. ii. 9]
Thus much being said to show that great devotion and holiness is not to be left to any particular sort of people, but to be the common spirit of all that desire to live up to the terms of common Christianity; I now proceed to consider the nature and necessity of universal love, which is here recommended to be the subject of your devotion at this hour. You are here also called to intercession, as the most proper exercise to raise and preserve that love.
By intercession is meant a praying to God, and interceding with Him for our fellow-creatures.
Our Blessed Lord hath recommended His love to us, as the pattern and example of our love to one another. As, therefore, He is continually making intercession for us all, so ought we to intercede and pray for one another.
"A new commandment," saith He, "I give unto you, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another." [John xiii. 34, 35]
The newness of this precept did not consist in this, that men were commanded to love one another; for this was an old precept, both of the law of Moses, and of nature. But it was new in this respect, that it was to imitate a new, and till then unheard-of example of love; it was to love one another, as Christ had loved us.
And if men are to know that we are disciples of Christ, by thus loving one another, according to His new example of love, then it is certain, that if we are void of this love, we make it as plainly known unto men, that we are none of His disciples.
There is no principle of the heart that is more acceptable to God, than an universal fervent love to all mankind, wishing and praying for their happiness; because there is no principle of the heart that makes us more like God, who is love and goodness itself, and created all beings for their enjoyment of happiness.
The greatest idea that we can frame of God, is when we conceive Him to be a Being of infinite love and goodness; using an infinite wisdom and power, for the common good and happiness of all His creatures.
The highest notion, therefore, that we can form of man is when we conceive him as like to God, in this respect, as he can be; using all his infinite faculties, whether of wisdom, power, or prayers, for the common good of all his fellow-creatures; heartily desiring they may have all the happiness they are capable of, and as many benefits and assistances from him, as his state and condition in the world will permit him to give them.
And on the other hand, what a baseness and iniquity is there in all instances of hatred, envy, spite, and ill-will; if we consider that every instance of them is so far acting in opposition to God, and intending mischief and harm to those creatures which God favours, and protects, and preserves, in order to their happiness! An ill-natured man, amongst God's creatures, is the most perverse creature in the world, acting contrary to that love by which himself subsists, and which alone gives subsistence to all that variety of beings, that enjoy life in any part of the creation.
"Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do unto them." [Matt. vii. 12]
Now, though this is a doctrine of strict justice, yet it is only an universal love that can comply with it. For as love is the measure of our acting towards ourselves, so we can never act in the same manner towards other people, till we look upon them with that love, with which we look upon ourselves.
As we have no degrees of spite, or envy, or ill-will, to ourselves, so we cannot be disposed towards others as we are towards ourselves, till we universally renounce all instances of spite, and envy, and ill-will, even in the smallest degrees.
If we had any imperfection in our eyes, that made us see any one thing wrong, for the same reason they would show us an hundred things wrong.
So, if we have any temper of our hearts, that makes us envious, or spiteful, or ill-natured towards any one man, the same temper will make us envious, and spiteful, and ill-natured towards a great many more.
If, therefore, we desire this Divine virtue of love we must exercise and practise our hearts in the love of all because it is not Christian love, till it is the love of all.
If a man could keep this whole law of love, and yet offend in one point, he would be guilty of all. For as one allowed instance of injustice destroys the justice of all our other actions, so one allowed instance of envy, spite, and ill-will, renders all our other acts of benevolence and affection nothing worth.
Acts of love, that proceed not from a principle of universal love, are but like acts of justice, that proceed from a heart not disposed to universal justice.
A love which is not universal, may indeed have tenderness and affection, but it hath nothing of righteousness or piety in it: it is but humour, and temper, or interest, or such a love as publicans and heathens practise.
All particular envies and spites are as plain departures from the spirit of Christianity, as any particular acts of injustice. For it is as much a law of Christ to treat everybody as your neighbour, and to love your neighbour as yourself, as it is a law of Christianity to abstain from theft.
Now the noblest motive to this universal tenderness and affection is founded in this doctrine: "God is love, and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God." [1 John iv. 16]
Who, therefore, whose heart has any tendency towards God, would not aspire after this Divine temper, which so changes and exalts our nature into an union with Him?
How should we rejoice in the exercise and practice of this love, which, so often as we feel it, is so often an assurance to us, that God is in us, that we act according to His Spirit, who is Love itself! But we must observe, that love has then only this mighty power of uniting us to God, when it is so pure and universal as to imitate that love which God beareth to all His creatures.
God willeth the happiness of all beings, though it is no happiness to Himself. Therefore we must desire the happiness of all beings, though no happiness cometh to us from it.
God equally delighteth in the perfections of all His creatures: therefore we should rejoice in those perfections, wherever we see them, and be as glad to have other people perfect as ourselves.
As God forgiveth all, and giveth grace to all, so we should forgive all those injuries and affronts which we receive from others, and do all the good that we can to them.
God Almighty, besides His own great example of love, which ought to draw all His creatures after it, has so provided for us, and made our happiness so common to us all, that we have no occasion to envy or hate one another.
For we cannot stand in one another's way, or by enjoying any particular good, keep another from his full share of it.
As we cannot be happy but in the enjoyment of God, so we cannot rival or rob one another of this happiness.
And as to other things, the enjoyments and prosperities of this life, they are so little in themselves, so foreign to our happiness, and, generally speaking, so contrary to that which they appear to be, that they are no foundation for envy, or spite, or hatred.
How silly would it be to envy a man, that was drinking poison out of a golden cup! And yet who can say that he is acting wiser than thus, when he is envying any instance of worldly greatness?
How many saints has adversity sent to Heaven! And how many poor sinners has prosperity plunged into everlasting misery! A man seems then to be in the most glorious state, when he has conquered, disgraced, and humbled his enemy; though it may be, that same conquest has saved his adversary and undone himself.
This man had perhaps never been debauched, but for his fortune and advancement; that had never been pious, but through his poverty and disgrace.
She that is envied for her beauty, may perchance owe all her misery to it; and another may be forever happy, for having had no admirers of her person.
One man succeeds in everything, and so loses all; another meets with nothing but crosses and disappointments, and thereby gains more than all the world is worth.
This clergyman may be undone by his being made a bishop; and that may save both himself and others, by being fixed to his first poor vicarage.
How envied was Alexander, when, conquering the world, he built towns, set up his statues, and left marks of his glory in so many kingdoms!
And how despised was the poor preacher St. Paul, when he was beaten with rods! And yet how strangely was the world mistaken in their judgment! How much to be envied was St. Paul! How much to be pitied was Alexander!
These few reflections sufficiently show us, that the different conditions of this life have nothing in them to excite our uneasy passions, nothing that can reasonably interrupt our love and affection to one another.
To proceed now to another motive to this universal love.
Our power of doing external acts of love and goodness is often very narrow and restrained. There are, it may be, but few people to whom we can contribute any worldly relief.
But though our outward means of doing good are often thus limited, yet, if our hearts are but full of love and goodness, we get, as it were, an infinite power; because God will attribute to us those good works, those acts of love, and tender charities, which we sincerely desired, and would gladly have performed, had it been in our power.
You cannot heal all the sick, relieve all the poor; you cannot comfort all in distress, nor be a father to all the fatherless; you cannot, it may be, deliver many from their misfortunes, or teach them to find comfort in God.
But if there is a love and tenderness in your heart, that delights in these good works, and excites you to do all that you can: if your love has no bounds, but continually wishes and prays for the relief and happiness of all that are in distress; you will be received by God as a benefactor to those, who have had nothing from you but your good will, and tender affections.
You cannot build hospitals for the incurable; you cannot erect monasteries for the education of persons in holy solitude, continual prayer, and mortification; but if you join in your heart with those that do, and thank God for their pious designs; if you are a friend to these great friends to mankind, and rejoice in their eminent virtues; you will be received by God as a sharer of such good works as, though they had none of your hands, yet had all your heart.
This consideration surely is sufficient to make us look to, and watch over our hearts with all diligence; to study the improvement of our inward tempers, and aspire after every height and perfection of a loving, charitable, and benevolent mind.
And on the other hand, we may hence learn the great evil and mischief of all wrong turns of mind, of envy, spite, hatred, and ill-will. For if the goodness of our hearts will entitle us to the reward of good actions, which we never performed; it is certain that the badness of our hearts, our envy, ill-nature, and hatred, will bring us under the guilt of actions that we have never committed.
As he that lusteth after a woman shall be reckoned an adulterer, though he has only committed the crime in his heart; so the malicious, spiteful, ill-natured man, that only secretly rejoices at evil, shall be reckoned a murderer, though he has shed no blood.
Since, therefore, our hearts, which are always naked and open to the eyes of God, give such an exceeding extent and increase, either to our virtues or vices, it is our best and greatest business to govern the motions of our hearts, to watch, correct, and improve the inward state and temper of our souls.
Now there is nothing that so much exalts our souls, as this heavenly love: it cleanses and purifies like a holy fire, and all ill tempers fall away before it. It makes room for all virtues, and carries them to their greatest height. Everything that is good and holy grows out of it, and it becomes a continual source of all holy desires and pious practices.
By love, I do not mean any natural tenderness, which is more or less in people, according to their constitutions; but I mean a larger principle of the soul, founded in reason and piety, which makes us tender, kind, and benevolent to all our fellow-creatures, as creatures of God, and for His sake.
It is this love, that loves all things in God, as His creatures, as the images of His power, as the creatures of His goodness, as parts of His family, as members of His society, that becomes a holy principle of all great and good actions.
The love, therefore, of our neighbour, is only a branch of our love to God. For when we love God with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our strength, we shall necessarily love those beings that are so nearly related to God, that have everything from Him, and are created by Him to be objects of His own eternal love. If I hate or despise any one man in the world, I hate something that God cannot hate, and despise that which He loves.
And can I think that I love God with all my heart whilst I hate that which belongs only to God, which has no other master but Him, which bears His image, is part of His family, and exists only by the continuance of His love towards it?
It was the impossibility of this that made St. John say, that "If any man saith he loveth God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar." [1 John iv. 20]
These reasons sufficiently show us, that no love is holy or religious, till it becomes universal.
For if religion requires me to love all persons, as God's creatures, that belong to Him, that bear His image, enjoy His protection, and make parts of His family and household; if these are the great and necessary reasons why I should live in love and friendship with any one man in the world; they are the same great and necessary reasons why I should live in love and friendship with every man in the world; and, consequently, I offend against all these reasons, and break through all these ties and obligations, whenever I want love towards any one man. The sin, therefore, of hating, or despising any one man, is like the sin of hating all God's creation; and the necessity of loving any one man, is the same necessity of loving every man in the world. And though many people may appear to us ever so sinful, odious, or extravagant in their conduct, we must never look upon that as the least motive for any contempt or disregard of them; but look upon them with the greater compassion, as being in the most pitiable condition that can be.
As it was the sins of the world that made the Son of God become a compassionate suffering Advocate for all mankind, so no one is of the Spirit of Christ, but he that has the utmost compassion for sinners. Nor is there any greater sign of your own perfection, than when you find yourself all love and compassion towards them that are very weak and defective. And on the other hand, you have never less reason to be pleased with yourself, than when you find yourself most angry and offended at the behaviour of others. All sin is certainly to be hated and abhorred, wherever it is; but then we must set ourselves against sin, as we do against sickness and diseases, by showing ourselves tender and compassionate to the sick and diseased.
All other hatred of sin, which does not fill the heart with the softest, tenderest affections towards persons miserable in it, is the servant of sin, at the same time that it seems to be hating it.
And there is no temper which even good men ought more carefully to watch and guard against, than this. For it is a temper that lurks and hides itself under the mover of many virtues, and by being unsuspected, does the more mischief.
A man naturally fancies, that it is his own exceeding love of virtue that makes him not able to bear with those that want it. And when he abhors one man, despises another, and cannot bear the name of a third, he supposes it all to be a proof of his own high sense of virtue, and just hatred of sin.
And yet, one would think, that a man needed no other cure for this temper, than this one reflection:
That if this had been the spirit of the Son of God, if He had hated sin in this manner, there had been no redemption of the world; that if God had hated sinners in this manner, day and night, the world itself had ceased long ago.
This, therefore, we may take for a certain rule, that the more we partake of the Divine nature, the more improved we are ourselves; and the higher our sense of virtue is, the more we shall pity and compassionate those that want it. The sight of such people will then, instead of raising in us a haughty contempt, or peevish indignation towards them, fill us with such bowels of compassion, as when we see the miseries of an hospital.
That the follies, therefore, crimes, and ill-behaviour of our fellow-creatures, may not lessen that love and tenderness which we are to have for all mankind, we should often consider the reasons on which the duty of love is founded.
Now we are to love our neighbour, that is, all mankind, not because they are wise, holy, virtuous, or well-behaved; for all mankind neither ever was, nor ever will be so; therefore it is certain, that the reason of our being obliged to love them cannot be founded in their virtue.
Again; if their virtue or goodness were the reason of our being obliged to love people, we should have no rule to proceed by; because though some people's virtues or vices are very notorious, yet, generally speaking, we are but very ill judges of the virtue and merit of other people.
Thirdly, We are sure that the virtue or merit of persons is not the reason of our being obliged to love them, because we are commanded to pay the highest instances of love to our worst enemies: we are to love, and bless, and pray for those that most injuriously treat us. This therefore is demonstration, that the merit of persons is not the reason on which our obligation to love them is founded.
Let us farther consider, what that love is which we owe to our neighbour. It is to love him as ourselves, that is, to have all those sentiments towards him which we have towards ourselves; to wish him everything that we may lawfully wish to ourselves; to be glad of every good, and sorry for every evil, that happens to him; and to be ready to do him all such acts of kindness, as we are always ready to do to ourselves.
This love, therefore, you see, is nothing else but a love of benevolence; it requires nothing of us but such good wishes, tender affections, and such acts of kindness, as we show to ourselves.
This is all the love that we owe to the best of men; and we are never to want any degree of this love to the worst or most unreasonable man in the world.
Now what is the reason why we are to love every man in this manner? It is answered that our obligation to love all men in this manner is founded upon many reasons.
First, Upon a reason of equity; for if it is just to love ourselves in this manner, it must be unjust to deny any degree of this love to others, because every man is so exactly of the same nature, and in the same condition as ourselves.
If, therefore, your own crimes and follies do not lessen your obligation to seek your own good, and wish well to yourself; neither do the follies and crimes of your neighbour lessen your obligation to wish and seek the good of your neighbour.
Another reason for this love is founded in the authority of God, who has commanded us to love every man as ourself.
Thirdly, We are obliged to this love in imitation of God's goodness, that we may be children of our Father which is in Heaven, who willeth the happiness of all His creatures, and maketh His sun to rise on the evil, and on the good.
Fourthly, Our redemption by Jesus Christ calleth us to the exercise of this love, who came from Heaven and laid down His life, out of love to the whole sinful world.
Fifthly, By the command of our Lord and Saviour, who has required us to love one another, as he has loved us.
These are the great, perpetual reasons, on which our obligation to love all mankind as ourselves is founded.
These reasons never vary or change, they always continue in the full force; and therefore equally oblige at all times, and in regard to all persons.
God loves us, not because we are wise, and good, and holy, but in pity to us, because we want this happiness: He loves us, in order to make us good. Our love, therefore, must take this course; not looking for, or requiring the merit of our brethren, but pitying their disorders, and wishing them all the good that they want and are capable of receiving.
It appears now plainly, from what has been said, that the love which we owe to our brethren, is only a love of benevolence. Secondly, That this duty of benevolence is founded upon such reasons as never vary or change, such as have no dependence upon the qualities of persons. From whence it follows that it is the same great sin, to want this love to a bad man, as to want it to a good man. Because he that denies any of this benevolence to a bad man, offends against all the same reasons of love, as he does that denies any benevolence to a good man; and consequently it is the same sin.
When, therefore, you let loose any ill-natured passion, either of hatred or contempt, towards (as you suppose) an ill man, consider what you would think of another that was doing the same towards a good man, and be assured that you are committing the same sin.
You will perhaps say, How is it possible to love a good and a bad man in the same degree?
Just as it is possible to be as just and faithful to a good man, as to an evil man. Now are you in any difficulty about performing justice and faithfulness to a bad man? Are you in any doubts, whether you need be so just and faithful to him, as you need be to a good man? Now why is it that you are in no doubt about it? It is because you know that justice and faithfulness are founded upon reasons that never vary or change, that have no dependence upon the merits of men, but are founded in the nature of things, in the laws of God, and therefore are to be observed with an equal exactness towards good and bad men.
Now do but think thus justly of charity or love to your neighbour; that it is founded upon reasons that vary not, that have no dependence upon the merits of men, and then you will find it as possible to perform the same exact charity, as the same exact justice, to all men, whether good or bad.
You will, perhaps, farther ask if you are not to have a particular esteem, veneration, and reverence for good men? It is answered, Yes. But then this high esteem and veneration is a thing very different from that love of benevolence which we owe to our neighbour.
The high esteem and veneration which you have for a man of eminent piety, is no act of charity to him -- it is not out of pity and compassion that you so reverence him, but it is rather an act of charity to yourself, that such esteem and veneration may excite you to follow his example.
You may, and ought to love, like, and approve the life which the good man leads; but then this is only the loving of virtue, wherever we see it. And we do not love virtue, with the love of benevolence, as anything that wants our good wishes, but as something that is our proper good.
The whole of the matter is this. The actions which you are to love, esteem, and admire, are the actions of good and pious men; but the persons to whom you are to do all the good you can, in all sorts of kindness and compassion, are all persons, whether good or bad.
This distinction betwixt love of benevolence, and esteem or veneration, is very plain and obvious. And you may, perhaps, still better see the plainness and necessity of it, by this following instance.
No man is to have a high esteem or honour for his own accomplishments, or behaviour; yet every man is to love himself, that is, to wish well to himself; therefore this distinction betwixt love and esteem is not only plain, but very necessary to be observed.
Again, if you think it hardly possible to dislike the actions of unreasonable men, and yet have a true love for them: consider this with relation to yourself.
It is very possible, I hope, for you not only to dislike, but to detest and abhor a great many of your own past actions, and to accuse yourself of great folly for them. But do you then lose any of those tender sentiments towards yourself, which you used to have? Do you then cease to wish well to yourself? Is not the love of yourself as strong then, as at any other time?
Now what is thus possible with relation to ourselves, is in the same manner possible with relation to others. We may have the highest good wishes towards them, desiring for them every good that we desire for ourselves, and yet, at the same time, dislike their way of life.
To proceed: all that love which we may justly have for ourselves, we are, in strict justice, obliged to exercise towards all other men; and we offend against the great law of our nature, and the greatest laws of God, when our tempers towards others are different from those which we have towards ourselves.
Now that self-love which is just and reasonable, keeps us constantly tender, compassionate, and well-affected towards ourselves: if, therefore, you do not feel these kind dispositions towards all other people, you may be assured, that you are not in that state of charity, which is the very life and soul of Christian piety.
You know how it hurts you to be made the jest and ridicule of other people; how it grieves you to be robbed of your reputation, and deprived of the favourable opinion of your neighbours; if, therefore, you expose others to scorn and contempt in any degree; if it pleases you to see or hear of their frailties and infirmities; or if you are only loth to conceal their faults; you are so far from loving such people as yourself, that you may be justly supposed to have as much hatred for them, as you have love for yourself. For such tempers are as truly the proper fruits of hatred, as the contrary tempers are the proper fruits of love.
And as it is a certain sign that you love yourself because you are tender of everything that concerns you; so it is as certain a sign that you hate your neighbour, when you are pleased with anything that hurts him.
But now, if the want of a true and exact charity be so great a want, that, as St. Paul saith, it renders our greatest virtues but empty sounds and tinkling cymbals, how highly does it concern us to study every art, and practise every method of raising our souls to this state of charity! It is for this reason that you are here desired not to let this hour of prayer pass, without a full and solemn supplication to God, for all the instances of an universal love and benevolence to all mankind; such daily constant devotion being the only likely means of preserving you in such a state of love as is necessary to prove you to be a true follower of Jesus Christ.
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This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library
at Calvin College. Last updated on July 16, 1999.