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SERMON XIII.

CHARITY THE CHARACTERISTIC OF

CHRISTIANITY.

BY THE

REV. THOMAS BARCLAY, A. M,

MINISTER OF CURRIE.

JOHN xiii. 35.

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By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye

have love one to another."

If we are to fix on any single quality as the peculiar and distinguishing characteristic of a Christian, we must look for it among his affections, rather than among his opinions. The profession of the faith is a sign sometimes absolutely false, often equivocal, never universal. Hypocrisy and corruption daily conceal themselves under the mask of religious profession, and hence that profession cannot be assumed as a universal characteristic; it is not applicable to all; it cannot be recognized and felt by all; it cannot, in short, distinguish all the disciples of Jesus of every sect and denomination of Christians.

But there is a sure, clear, and characteristic mark of distinction : sure, because it proceeds from the heart; clear, because it stamps its impression on all the actions of life; and characteristic, because it is the basis on which the morality of the Gospel rests, and a principle which pervades all its doctrines; and, to sum up all in one word, that which our blessed Lord himself points out as the distinguishing badge of all his followers. It is charity, or brotherly love. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

It can scarcely be necessary to premise, that in speaking of the brotherly love which is here declared to be the characteristic of a Christian disciple, we must guard against confounding this evangelical principle with that natural feeling of benevolence, which has been called, with much beauty, 66 the milk of human kindness.” The one is an impulse which has no regard to any higher sanction than the inclination of the agent; the other is the result of religious principle, and has a constant reference to the will of God. The one is purely the dictate of nature, and may exert itself with much force in the heart which has never been renewed by grace; the other is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and can reside only in the heart which that Spirit has renewed and sanctified. In a word, the one is nature working without faith; the other is “ faith working by love."

When we speak of the characteristic of a true disciple, what do we understand by the term? What does it imply? It evidently is, to conform to the instructions and the example of his master. These two ideas comprehend all the duties which result from that relation; and, therefore, the professing Christian does not answer to the glorious title of a disciple of Christ,” except in so far as he takes the doctrine of Christ for his rule, and the conduct of Christ for his model. Now, it is proposed to shew, in the first place, that charity, or love to man, pervades the doctrine of Christ; and, in the second place, that it was the animating principle of his conduct: from which propositions, it necessarily follows, that whoever does not habitually cherish and practise this grace, is not a Christian,

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I. The limits of a single discourse will not permit me to enter into all the details of which this subject is susceptible. The divine principle of charity extends its influence through all the branches of the evangelical system. Springing from the bosom of God, it diffuses into all the doctrines of Jesus a benign influence, communicating to the minutest precept, life, beauty, and energy. It is every where visible; it pervades the whole and every part; there is no truth which does

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not bear its impression, no promise which does not reflect its image.

Instead, therefore, of tracing it through all the subordinate branches of the Christian system, let us view its general application to the doctrines of Christianity respecting the character of God, the principles of moral duty, and the nature of future happiness.

If we advert to the ideas of God which the Gospel inspires—if we contemplate with attention the different aspects under which it represents the Supreme Being, we shall find that, in this interesting picture, the most prominent attributes—those which most frequently and most vividly strike our eyes, are precisely those which are founded in love. The power of God is undoubtedly painted in the most magnificent colours; his wisdom, his justice, his holiness, shine with a splendour and glory eminently calculated to impress us with admiration and reverence. But these perfections of the Deity, glorious as they are, seem to fade before his goodness. It seems as if the Saviour of the world felt a peculiar delight in representing the Author of our being in this affecting view : he appears to have been anxious to impress strongly on our minds the interesting truth, that God loves us- 5—that he watches incessantly for our good—that all the wonders of his power, all the counsels of his wisdom, and all the dispensations of his providence and grace, have the happiness of his children for their great and ultimate end.

Are we to be instructed in the relation in which God stands to us? The Gospel employs all that is expressive and affecting in human language; it arrays the

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Supreme Being in the tenderest sentiments which it can find in the human heart. The Deity, as it were, divests his awful attributes of their overpowering grandeur, in order to exhibit himself to us in the amiable and affecting character of a Father. Of this endearing relation, he displays all the compassion, all the protection, and all the indulgence. For so many testimonies of love, what have we returned ? insensibility and ingratitude, disobedience and rebellion. Still we are his children ; still he holds out to us the everlasting arms of his mercy. We were wandering in the valley of the shadow of death, plunged in the depths of ignorance and depravity: he caused the Sun of Righteousness to rise upon us. We were dead in trespasses and sins ; God manifested his infinite love in giving us life by Jesus Christ. “ God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Such are the ideas of God which the Gospel inspires; ideas often repeated in every variety of form and expression, but always energetic and affecting ; ideas so predominant in the Gospel, that John, the beloved disciple, who had imbibed in the bosom of his Master the most correct conceptions, employs this single quality to represent the Divine Being. “ God,” says he, "is love;" ideas, in fine, of which the same Apostle deeply impresses on our minds the importance, in that beautiful and comprehensive proposition which contains the sum and substance of what I am now endeavouring to prove—“he that loveth not his brother, knoweth not God, for God is love."

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