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ON THE CHARITY OF THE GOSPEL. *
2 Cor. xiii. 8.
66 Charity never faileth.”
In the splendid passage, my brethren, from which these words are taken, and which you have this day heard from the altar,—the Apostle begins with enforcing the necessity of Charity, as an essential part of Christian virtue, and then describes its influence on the duties of social life. In the text, he proceeds further to point out its permanence and stability; and, while all other virtues and eminent qualities are only steps of advancement to some greater perfection,
* Preached on Quinquagesima Sunday.
Charity (he affirms) never faileth.” To this view of the subject I am desirous at present to direct your attention, as it
may both lead us to a discovery of the exact nature of the principle which the Apostle here so powerfully recommends, and as it will
open some interesting views of the system of Christianity.
In the first place, when we throw our eyes upon the scene of human existence, every thing which we see around us appears to contain a principle of failure. Man and his employments,-systems of Empire,--systems of Religion,--the Universe itself,—seem destined only foratemporary being; and all that we behold most splendid and attractive, we cannot but be aware is only fora season. Amidst this con
course of shadows, however beautiful and glittering, we must often feel ourselves dissatisfied and sad; and it is natural for us to inquire, whether there is any one principle in life which is not destined to submit to the general decay. In making this examination, we shall find, that all the efforts of human ambition,--all the exercise of mere abilities,-perish without producing any permanent effects, or that their lasting influence is commonly very different from what they designed ; that the influence of vice, however fatally extensive, yet shrinks from observation, as if conscious of its final degradation and overthrow;--that all the brilliant acquirements of the human mind, and all the exertions of genius, are yet only imperfect employments of powers, which have not received their last improvement; that our views of Religion are inadequate and low, when compared to the lofty object at which they aim ; that “ we know but “ in part, and prophesy but in part, and “ that when that which is perfect is come, “ that which is in part shall be done “ away.” Thus, even that principle of our nature, and those discoveries of Revelation, which point to an higher and a permanent order of existence, proclaim their own incompleteness and instability, no less than the decay of all those purposes and affections which extend not beyond the bounds of mortal life.
Is there, then, among all the operations and the affections of man, any one which has the seal of stability affixed to it? Is there any one principle of our nature, which, in all periods of society, and amidst all the passing phantoms of the world, seems to have a real and substantial form? We cannot place it in the desire of human distinction, or in any of those exertions for present good, which lose their object even while it is within their grasp; we cannot place it even in many of the nobler efforts of Virtue, which, however admirable in themselves, are yet accommodated to the present life as a state of trial and school of probation, and not to what we believe will be our final condition ; we cannot either place it, we perceive, in religious Faith, which, although it looks forward to a perfect state of being, shall itself also be lost in greater perfection. We must seek for it, then, my brethren, in the principle of Humanity, in that tie of affection which binds man to man--in that sympathetic feeling which makes the interest of others our own, and which, amidst all the weakness and vices of our nature, has yet, in every age, presented one pleasing form on which the eye of contemplation might rest; one vestige of the celestial origin from which we sprung not yet quite ef