Masonic Sermon of Right Rev. Robert Smith
By: Right Rev. Robert Smith
Charity Sermon for the Masons No. 100
And yet show I unto you a more excellent way.
There being evidently a comparison in the text, brethren the more excellent way, and something before mentioned or intercede, it is necessary to look back to see how the relation stands, and what the thing is, to which the more excellent way is compared and preferred. The whole chapter is upon the argument of spiritual gifts; where their author, their end, their diversities and their value are all dastinelly laid down. As they all came from the self same spirit, who dividth to every man severally as he will, so the end and design of them was the profit and edification of the Church. Their respective value therefore may be estimated from this consideration; each was better than other as it must promoted this end. As to their diversity, let it be sufficient to observe that it was very great; there was a subordination of their, as there is of the members in the human body. For to one was given by the sprit the word of wisdom, the faith & doctrine of the gospel which is the wisdom of God; or such a mouth & wisdom, in the defense and confirmation of it, as all their adversaries were not able to gainsay nor resist: To another, the word of knowledge enabling him to understand & explain all the mysteries & all the knowledge of the old testament: To another faith, so vigorous & active as to manifest, the gifts of healing all manner of diseases: To another the working of miracles, a power of performing operations still more miraculous, as casting out devils & raising the dead to life: To another prophecy: To answer disserting of sprits, highly necessary when many false seducing sprits were gone out into the words: To another, divers minds of tongues, & to another, the interpretation of tongues.
These were gifts & powers of a very extraordinary nature to get the excellent way spoken of in the text, is preferred before them. What way that is, appears from the next chapter, which is wholly taken up in the description commendation with Charity. The atone refer I come now to consider of which at large.
Charity is one of those words, which through the length of time has suffered some alteration in its meaning. It often signifies now in common use no more than giving of Alms; Through that at best, & when it proceeds from a principle of charity, is but one effect of it; and when done, as it may be done, upon selfish motives, or out of mere simple good nature, is no effect or argument of it at all. If this will not help us to the true notion or charity, much less shall we find it in any personal or party passion; where our love to part is generally so strong & eager, as to destroy our benevolence to the whole. Even the love of ones country, though laudable surely when under proper regulations, whenever it exceeds its due bounds, may become the source of many mischievous effects. If the few could only extend his good will beyond the limits of his country, & the professors of his Religion; did not to the polite of the parts of the heath words represent the rest of mankind, rather under the image of Barbarians than men? In consequence of which they thought it sťance murder to destroy them.
But Christian Charity in its widest acceptation, is neither more, or less, than universal love, distinguishes by its object into Divine & Human; the one productive of all holy obedience to God, the other active in doing good to Men. It is to the latter of these that our attention is more discrete, both by occasion & subject. For though we need not say that Paul excludes the love of God in what he says of Charity in the context, yet it seems plain from the qualities he there ascribes to it, that he had principally in his view the love of our neighbor. Who that neighbor is, our Lord has taught us in his parable concerning a good Samaritan, who relieves a person in distress, with whom he had no connection but the common type of humanity; when two others, under greater obligations to assist him, had passed by without compassion & left him to expire of his wounds, Tho an object by the by, which must have drawn relief from any, whose heads were not as hard as adamant & whose natural affections were not frozen up with an insensibility as cold & rigid as death. Our neighbor then is any man, or every man, to whom we have an opportunity of doing good. And love consists in that good will towards men, that habitual disposition & readiness to do them any good offices, which in a change of circumstances, we could reasonably expect from them; which is in effect, loving our neighbors ourselves.
As we are at best, but indigent beings our liberality & bounty must be limited; & it is but reasonable perhaps that they who stand nearest us, should most amply partake of them. St. Paul, who commands us to do good unto all men, that is, as much as in us lies; immediately adds, & especially unto them that are of the household of Faith. But though the power of doing good be limited; the disposition & desire of doing it should be more extensive, & our benevolence universal, though our bounty be confined. Indigent as we are, our Love may be unbounded, & we may wish the good we are unable to produce. One caution, however is always to be remembered, very needless it may be with regard to good men, but necessary to be mentioned in justice to the subject we are upon; & that is, that good wishes will not stand for good deeds, when it is in the power of they have to do them. And if some persons have thought that Xtianity itself is but a mind of divine philosophy in the mind, it is not impossible but others may image that Christian Charity is but a sort of sedate benevolence in the heart; much pleased with the contemplation of itself, but of little benefit to others, & consistent with great indolence, if not with great vice. But St. James & St. Paul have determined in another manner, "If a brother or sister be naked & be destitute of daily food, & one of you say unto them, depart in peace, be ye warned, & be ye filled; not withstanding ye give them not these things which are needful for the body; what doth it profit And St. Paul is so far from considering Charity as a sure inactive affection, that he represents it as a the sum & substance, & full filling of the law-ye owe no man any thing, (so the scope sense of the peace seems to require it should be rendered,) (ye owe no man any thing,) but to love one another: that is, all the duties which man owes to man, are comprehended this of love or charity; for he that loveth and then hath fulfilled the Law. For surely he that loves another will not injure him, either in his bed, person, reputation, or so much as covet any thing that is his, he will neither commit adultery, nor kill, steal, bear false witness, nor covet, on the contrary he will serve & assist him in all these respects as opportunity offers, or occasions require, & therefore by just consequences, he that thus loveth another, hath fulfilled the law. For all these duties relating to our neighbor, & if there be any other commandment of thy mind, but still, they are all briefly comprehended in this varying namely, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy self. Particular duties & particular virtues have indeed distinct names of their own, but still, they are all but parts & branches of this Royal Law. And all transgressions of duty are, in reality, transgressions of this same law of love, however they may be marked by various denominations. "For all the laws is fulfilled in one word, even in this, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy self the extent of which, as before observed, universal, equal to the magnitude of the object, which is all mankind.
Having observed thus much concerning the nature extent & influences of Love or Charity: give me leave briefly to show upon what accounts it is so highly commended which considerations without further application, will be (I hope) deemed sufficient to convince all of the indispensable duty necessary of practicing it. And first, It is worthy of all convention, & of that high preference which the Apostle has given it, because it is a divine perfection; in the possession & practice of it consists our noblest imitation of God himself: for God is Love. St. John has been accused, very wrongfully of stealing his doctrines from Plato; which he learnt at the feet of a more heavenly Teacher but this sentence of his puts one in mind of the Theology of that sublime Philosopher who represents the supreme being under the name & notion of pure Goodness. There is little difference here but in names; for their is no goodness without love & benevolence: And St. Paul; has joined them together in one emphatically period, when he prays for the Thesslowians "that God would fulfill towards them all the benevolence of his goodness. The circumstance & arguments of the goodness of God are commensurate with the creatures of his power & his tender mercies are over all his works. Evoke the inanimate parts of the words through no proper objects of goodness, yet considered in their relative use, are arguments of it. If we rise one step higher in the beings, & contemplate those which are endure with life & service, we shall find an ample provision made for them, that they may be able to preserve the one we gratify the other. Man, who was made in his Creators image, still more largely partaken of his bounty & through the good are his friends & favorite in a peculiar manner, yet are the ordinary blessings of his providenceís from seriously dealt amongst the children of men. "He causeth his Son to rise on the evil & on the good; & sendth rain on the just, & on the unjust.
And as for the evils which are sown in life, though they conquer this Landship, & darken the Scene a little; yet they cast no Cruelty upon God, when it is considered, that in the end "they worth for us a far more exceeding & eternal weight of glory; giving scope & occasion in the mean time, for the noblest exercise of virtue, & affording the most instructive example, as of the bravest suffering virtues on the one hand, so of the most active Charity on the other. The rich & the poor, the sick & the soured, meet here & are interment together, that like the members of the human body, they may have the same care one for another; & when one suffers, the rest may sympathize with it, & relieve it. But what room could there be for this fellow-feeling & compassion, the most amiable part of our nature, & deservedly called humanity, if all the members exempt both from weakness & disorder again.
Charity or Love is more excellent than the gifts before mentioned, because it is more beneficial to the Possessor himself. A man may speak with the tongues of Men & of Angles, & get no better than sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. Nay, he may enjoy all those gifts & graces in their full latitude & perfection, & yet after all be himself a cast-away. But he that walks in the more excellent way shall never fail with regard to present happiness, he has written himself a perpetual source of delight, as he has the art of making other menís satisfaction, productive of his own & cannot do a good action to another without at the same time doing one to himself. And highly just & true in this sense is the maxim of our Lord. It is more blessed to give, than to receive. It affords more self-satisfaction, more true joy of heart, when that heart is inflamed with Love to confer a benefit than to receive it. Then a person of this benevolent temper is free from those pestilent passions, which are the troubles of human life-corroding cares-& fearful for fooling, with those infernal funnies, bitter- strife-blend passion-brutal revenge-jealousy of jaundiced eye-felt hate-pining envy-rapacious appetite-& pale remorse. Whenever he turns his view inwards, he finds all regular within; he finds a little image of heaven pictured in his own breast; he finds all that harmony of affection, & all the rectitude of will, in which the fruit Adam was created, & which the second came to restore. There can be little doubt as the future happiness of a person, who has arrived to so great a degree of train perfection: He seems to have a clear title to obtain that mercy, which he was always ready to shew; the natural frailties consistent with this exalted state of Charity will surely be covered by it, for it will make him the boast of human nature & the favorite of heaven. And
As Love or Charity is more excellent than the other gifts & graces upon a personal, so is it also upon a publick account; it being not only more beneficial to the possessor, but likewise to the rest of mankind. Nothing is more self evident, than that we are a system of beings, related to, & dependant upon one another. We cannot subsist, in any order, or with any comfort, without one anotherís concurrence & support. And through self-love & private interest might prompt us to afford it in several instances, yet upon the whole, we shall need not scruple to affirm, that they would prove defective. We have it much oftener in our power to occasion the misery, than to increase the happiness of our fellow-creatures, & were there no love or charity amongst us, we should almost always have it in our will. Without this, personal accomplishments would be dangerous to the publick, as they give the possessor greater scope to execute his mischievous designs: & amongst all animals, none is more mischievous than that, which is defined to be rational when he hath once left off to behave himself wisely, & to do good. Let us then suppose a number of men endued with all the qualifications of an Apostle but utterly void of that spirit of love, so conspicuous in those of our blessed favors. And it is more favorable, that we shall find them inflicting diseases, instead of healing them; & sending men to the grave instead of raising them from it. And as these gifts, without charity, would be destructive of publick happiness, so faith & hope which are better than these would not at all promote it. For these are Acts of the mind, which terminate in a mans self, & have us expect & influence upon the rest of the words. Whereas the reverse is true of Charity, which streams forth in good offices upon all occasions to all persons. It exerts itself in pity to the insurable is protection to the distresses, to the ignorant it administers counsel to the indigent relief it comforts those who are upon the bed of languishing, & giveth medicine to heal their illness. It is, in short, the source & spring of every social virtue & a faithful discharge of all the relative duties is its genuine effect. Upon this account it is said to be of the same importance in the moral words, that motion is in the natural; for as the natural words is either harmonious or out of order, according as the Catholic laws of motion are either happy or miserable, in proportion as the laws of universal benevolence are embraced or rejected. Our happiness or misery rise or fall according to this election; & we are in a state of peace, or a state of hostility as the spirit of love, or the spirit of hated, sieges in our hearts. But farther.
Charity is more excellent than spiritual gifts upon the score of its duration. For whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away; & through words, for the present, abideth faith & hope, yet shall they hereafter be swallowed up & lost, in sight the other in a blessed enjoyment. The fortune were a sort of temporary engines erected like scaffolds in a building to serve a present end; & when that was attained, or at least the building was so far finished that the rest could be carried on without them, they were taken away. But Charity never failth. Instead of being extinguished in heaven, it will flow with greater fervor, & as the spirits of just men shall be made perfect in all other reflects, so shall they likewise in this of Love.
As Charity is more excellent than the gifts before mentioned upon the score of its duration, so is it likewise with regard to its extent; being confined, as to no Centuries of years, so to no rank or number of men, but the common privilege & perfection of every Xtain. But all could not at first, & more can now, be Apostles or prophets or inspired Teachers or workers of Miracles or have the gifts of healing or speak with tongues which they never learnt. The more excellent way of Charity still lies open, & every one that is will may walk in it. And certainly it must give pleasure to every man, of a good & elevated mind, to reflect that it is in his power to acquire & possess quality, which is the perfection of his own nature, & makes him become partaker of the Divine.
Many particle inferences & observations might be drawn from what has been offered, but I trust, it needless to this Auditory. I have endeavored to show the more excellent way-a path which I hope will be deemed suitable upon this occasion --- if not---
--impute my error to your own decree,
my pen is guilty, but my heart is free.
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