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the happiness of mankind, if it did not derive aid from religion, in softening the dispositions of men, and checking many of those evil passions to which the influence of law cannot possibly reach.
We are led to this reflection by the description given in the context of charity, that great principle in the Christian system. The Apostle places it in a variety of lights, and under each of them explains its operation by its internal effects; not by the actions to which it gives rise, but by the dispositions which it produces in the heart. He justly supposes, that if the temper be duly regulated, propriety of action will follow, and good order take place in external behaviour. Of those characters of charity I have chosen one for the subject of this Discourse, which leads to the consideration of a virtue highly important to us, both as Christians and as members of society. I shall endeavour, first, to explain the temper here pointed out, by showing what this description of charity imports, that it thinketh no evil; and then to recommend such a disposition, and to display the bad effects of an opposite turn of mind.
I. LET us consider what this description of charity imports. You will easily perceive that the expres sion in the text is not to be understood in a sense altogether unlimited; as if there were no occasion on which we are to think unfavourably of others. To view all the actions of men with the same degree of complacency, would be contrary both to common understanding, and to many express precepts of religion. In a world where so much depravity abounds, were we to think and speak equally well of all, we must either be insensible of the distinction
between right and wrong, or be indifferent to that distinction when we perceived it. Religion renders it our duty to abhor that which is evil; and on many occasions, to express our indignation openly against it. But the Apostle, with great propriety, describes the temper which he is recommending, in such strong and general terms, as might guard us against that extreme to which we are naturally most prone, of rash and unjust suspicion. The virtue which he means to inculcate, is that which is known by the name of Candour; a virtue which, as soon as it is mentioned, every one will acknowledge to be essential to the character of a worthy man; a virtue which we seldom fail of ascribing to any person whom we seek to recommend to the esteem of others; but which, I am afraid, when we examine our own conduct in a religious view, is seldom the subject of inquiry.
It is necessary to observe, that true Candour is altogether different from that guarded, inoffensive language, and that studied openness of behaviour, which we so frequently meet with among men of the world. Smiling, very often, is the aspect, and smooth are the words of those who inwardly are the most ready to think evil of others. That candour which is a Christian virtue, consists not in fairness of speech, but in fairness of heart. It may want the blandishment of external courtesy, but supplies its place with humane and generous liberality of sentiment. Its manners are unaffected, and its professions cordial. Exempt, on one hand, from the dark jealousy of a suspicious mind; it is no less removed, on the other, from that easy credulity which is imposed on by every specious pretence, It is perfectly consistent with extensive
knowledge of the world, and with due attention to our own safety. In that various intercourse which we are obliged to carry on with persons of every different character, suspicion, to a certain degree, is a necessary guard. It is only when it exceeds the bounds of prudent caution, that it degenerates into vice. There is a proper mean between undistinguishing credulity and universal jealousy, which a sound understanding discerns, and which the man of candour studies to preserve.
He makes allowance for the mixture of evil with good, which is to be found in every human character. He expects none to be faultless; and he is unwilling to believe that there is any without some commendable quality. In the midst of many defects, he can discover a virtue. Under the influence of personal resentment, he can be just to the merit of an enemy. He never lends an open ear to those defamatory reports and dark suggestions, which among the tribes of the censorious, circulate with so much rapidity, and meet with such ready acceptance. He is not hasty to judge, and he requires full evidence before he will condemn. As As long as an action can be ascribed to different motives, he holds it as no mark of sagacity to impute it always to the worst. Where there is just ground for doubt, he keeps his judgment undecided; and, during the period of suspense, leans to the most charitable construction which an action can bear. When he must condemn, he condemns with regret; and without those aggravations which the severity of others adds to the crime. He listens calmly to the apology of the offender, and readily admits every extenuating circumstance which equity can suggest. How much soever he may blame the
principles of any sect or party, he never confounds, under one general censure, all who belong to that party or sect, He charges them not with such consequences of their tenets, as they refuse and disavow. From one wrong opinion, he does not infer the subversion of all sound principles; nor, from one bad action, conclude that all regard to conscience is overthrown. When he beholds the mote in his brother's eye, he remembers the beam in his own. He commiserates human frailty; and judges of others, according to the principles by which he would think it reasonable that they should judge of him. In a word, he views men and actions in the clear sunshine of charity and good-nature; and not in the dark and sullen shade which jealousy and party-spirit throw over all characters. Such being, in general, the spirit of that charity which thinketh no evil, I proceed,
II. To recommend, by various arguments, this important branch of Christian virtue.
Let us begin with observing what a necessary requisite it is to the proper discharge of all the social duties. I need not spend time in shewing that these hold a very high rank in the Christian system. The encomium which the Apostle in this chapter bestows upon charity, is alone sufficient to prove it. He places this grace at the head of all the gifts and endowments which can be possessed by man; and assures us, that though we had all faith, so that we could remove mountains, yet if we be destitute of charity, it will profit us nothing. Accordingly, love, gentleness, meekness, and long-suffering, are enumerated as distinguishing fruits of the spirit of Christ,
Gal. v. 22, 23.
But it is impossible for such virtues as these to find place in a breast, where the propensity to think evil of others is predominant. Charitable and candid thoughts of men are the necessary introduction to all good-will and kindness. They form, if we may speak so, the only climate in which love can grow up and flourish. A suspicious temper checks in the bud every kind affection. It hardens the heart, and estranges man from man. What friendship or gratitude can you expect from him, who views all your conduct with distrustful eyes, and ascribes every benefit you confer to artifice and stratagem? The utmost which you can hope from one of this character, is justice in his dealings: nor even that can you be assured of; as the suspicions to which he is a prey will afford him frequent pretexts for departing from truth, and for defending himself with the same arms which he conceives to be employed against him. Unhappy will they be who are joined with him by any close connexion; exposed to every malignant suspicion which arises in his own mind, and to every unjust suggestion which the malice of others may insinuate against them. That store of poison which is collected within him, frequently throws out its venom on all who are within its reach. As a companion, he will be severe and satirical; as a friend, captious and dangerous; in his domestic sphere, harsh, jealous, and irascible; in his civil capacity, seditious and turbulent, prone to impute the conduct of his superiours to improper motives, and upon loose information to condemn their conduct.
The contrary of all this may be expected from a candid temper. Whatever is amiable in manners, or useful in society, naturally and easily ingrafts itself