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Chapter XXIX.

Of That Reconciliation To Our Neighbor, Without Which God Withdraws His Grace.

First be reconciled to thy brother.Matt. 5:24.

Every one who desires to be reconciled to God, must of necessity endeavor to reconcile himself to his neighbor; because God takes the injury which is offered to man, as offered to himself, and the evil done to man, as done to himself.

2. When, therefore, any one offends both God and man, he cannot be restored to the favor of God before he is reconciled to man his neighbor; for having offended them both, he must also be reconciled to both, which is expressly attested by Christ himself: “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Matt. 5:23, 24.

3. It will be needful, therefore, to say something further of the love of God and of our neighbor, and to show how impossible it is to separate the one from the other: and again, that this reconciliation, so joined together, proves the true source of brotherly love and affection.

4. This the beloved disciple has expressed as follows: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, that he that loveth God love his brother also.” 1 John 4:20, 21. So utterly impossible is it, that the love of God should subsist without the love of our neighbor. Hence, also, it follows, that he who truly and unfeignedly loves God, will also embrace his neighbor with the same sincere affection. And again, if the love which we profess to bear to God be hypocritical and false, then the love with which we seem to love our neighbor, will rise no higher than its principle, but prove false likewise. Therefore, the love of our neighbor is the test of our love of God, by the right application of which, the truth or falsehood of that love will easily be discovered.

5. This consideration gives us a true insight into the love of our neighbor, and that brotherly reconciliation which ought to attend it. There is a twofold object given by God to man, to which all the actions of his life are constantly to tend; namely, the love of God, and of our neighbor. Into this, all our endeavors ought finally to be resolved, and we ought to make a daily progress in this holy exercise; since we are to this very end, created, redeemed, and sanctified. In a word, Christ himself is the one and only scope in which all our actions ought to centre. Now, the more we approach to love, the more 95 we approach to Christ, and the better we imitate his unblamable life.

6. For this end God was made man, or, the Word was made flesh, that he might set before our eyes a most lovely and living image of his infinite love and kindness, and that from hence it might appear, that God was Love itself; love in His own immense, incomprehensible, and unsearchable essence; and that man, by viewing so amiable an object of love as is displayed in Christ Jesus, might be transformed into the same image day by day.

7. Furthermore, as, in Christ, God and man are united together by an indissoluble tie, so the love of God is so closely connected with the love of our neighbor, that the former cannot exist without the latter. Nay, the love of God and of our neighbor can be no more disjoined or put asunder, than the divine and human natures in Christ. And as he who injures the humanity of Christ cannot but affront his divinity also; so he who offends man, is in like manner guilty of offending the infinite God himself. We cannot be angry with our neighbor, without being, at the same time, angry with God!

8. We will illustrate what has been said, by the following comparison. When a circle is made, and from its centre a number of lines are drawn to the circumference, all these lines, though ever so distant in the circumference, meet together in the point, which is in the middle. Here they are all united in one, and all flow into one, be they ever so wide asunder, yea, even directly opposite one to the other. Not one of all the lines, let their number be ever so great, can be broken from the rest, without losing its communication with the centre itself, wherein they all meet. So God is a point, or a centre, whose circumference is everywhere, extending in a manner, to all men upon earth. Whoever presumes to break off the lines of his love from his neighbor, must, in like manner, disjoin and break them off from God at the same time. And as all these lines cohere and concur in the centre, and therein mutually affect one another, so is there a sort of central sympathy, and a fellow-feeling, as it were, of the sufferings of our neighbor, provided we be but all united in God, the great centre of all good Christians.

9. The truth of what has been said, is forcibly illustrated in the history of Job. When the tidings were brought him, that his temporal goods were destroyed, it appears that he quietly bore the loss of them, without giving any great sign of discontent at the appointments of Providence. He still continued to bless the Lord, and freely to own, that he who had given him his property, had also a right to take it away whenever he pleased. But when he was told, that he had also lost his children, then indeed it went to his heart: then he “arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground.” Job. 1:20. So let every true Christian act when he hears of the calamity of his neighbor (here represented by the children of Job); knowing that he ought more to be affected with the misery of his neighbor, than with the loss of all his worldly substance. For it is the property of true love, to be moved with the miseries of other men more than with our own losses. O, happy men! if they would live together in mutual love and affection! Then frauds would cease; then injuries would be known no more, nor would there be any complaint 96 of unjust ways, or of underhand dealings.

10. In order that this might be the more deeply impressed on the heart, God was pleased to create but one man in the beginning, together with Eve, who was soon afterwards made. Gen. 2:21, 22. This was done, that all mankind, springing up from one original stock, and, as it were, from one root, might all unite in mutual kindness and brotherly affection with one another. This is the reason why God did not create a multitude of men in the beginning, but one only; whereas he created many beasts, trees and herbs at once.

11. The love which God commands us to pursue, is of that agreeable nature, and of that incomparable sweetness, that it does not in the least burden either a man's soul or body. Nay, it renders the mind easy under every event, is most agreeable to our very nature, and in every respect attended with a quiet and blessed life. But if the same God who has enjoined thee to love thy neighbor, had commanded thee to hate him, thou wouldest then have had cause to complain of hard usage, and of a far heavier burden than that which love can possibly impose upon thee. For the spirit of hatred and revenge is a tormentor of the soul, and a daily grief and vexation to those that are enslaved by it. On the contrary, love refreshes the whole man; and is so far from weakening or destroying body or soul (which is the common effect of hatred and envy), that it is a great preserver of both, and exhilarates them by the healing influence which it carries with it. In a word, to those that love God, it is a pleasure to love their neighbor also; but those who do not love God think it a hard and difficult task to embrace their neighbor with brotherly love.

12. But if thy depraved nature should still find it a hard task to love thy neighbor, then consider how much harder it will be to be banished forever from the presence of God, and to endure the pangs of hell to all eternity. Wretched is the man, who makes so sad a choice as to prefer hell-torments to a friendly reconciliation. Our own experience would soon convince us, if we made the trial, that as by faith we enjoy solid peace with God (as the apostle assures us, Rom. 5:1); so by Christian love and reconciliation we enjoy peace with men, together with much ease and tranquillity of heart: whereas, on the contrary, a mind full of rancor and malice frets itself, and has no other reward to expect than the lashes of an unruly conscience.

13. The sum of all this is: Every virtue rewards its followers with peace of conscience; and every vice punishes those that commit it with the recompense which they deserve. Every virtue exalts those that practise it; and every vice covers its slaves with shame.

14. With regard to the order and method by which we are to proceed in working out a sound reconciliation with our offended neighbor, the Scripture is explicit. The terms of reconciliation are these: 1. The offender is to confess his sin to his neighbor whom he has offended. 2. He is faithfully to restore that of which he has defrauded his neighbor; that is, he ought to return not only the principal, but also the fifth part over and above it. 3. If there be none to receive it, he is then to offer it unto the Lord himself. Numb. 5:7, 8.

15. This restitution of things unlawfully taken away, is commanded 97 in such strong and expressive words, as to show that it is absolutely a necessary part of unfeigned repentance. St. Augustine has thus expressed his mind on this subject: “The sin is not remitted, unless the thing unlawfully taken away be restored.”—“When the thing that is taken away may be restored, and is not restored, there is no true, but a feigned repentance.”

16. And truly it is the property of unfeigned repentance to contemn all earthly things, and count them as loss (Phil. 3:8), in respect of that abounding grace which is bestowed upon a penitent sinner. Of this we have a glorious instance in Zaccheus, and in his conversion to God (Luke 19:8); who has had, however, comparatively few followers in this age. Sound conversion to God cleanses the heart, and purifies the conscience, by faith in Christ; it breaks the power of sin, and by influencing a man to restore such things as are wrongfully detained, not only clears the heart before God, but also the outward conduct in the eye of the world. For in the heart and conscience a man is a thief before God, as long as he keeps any thing back that is taken away, however he may cease to steal hereafter. Therefore, in order that repentance may prove true, and the conscience be freed from guilt, all possible restitution is to be made: or if a man be not able to make full restitution, he ought fervently to implore the Lord, that he himself, in his stead, would restore the things taken from his neighbor, and thus do justice.

17. Since a sinner is thus bound in a twofold respect to God and to his neighbor, in order that his repentance may be full and efficacious, it is required that both be satisfied. God does not accept any man's repentance, unless he be first reconciled to his neighbor. Therefore, it is to no purpose if thou shouldest say unto God: “Merciful God, I confess that I have offended and injured my neighbor; I have damaged him by wicked usury and fraud; and have dealt so with him, as I would not that another should deal with me: which iniquity I humbly entreat thee, O Lord, to pardon for thy dear Son's sake.” Be not deceived; God will not be mocked! He repels thy prayer, and saith: “Restore first that which with fraud and usury thou hast taken from thy neighbor, and then thy pardon shall be ready.” Not as if a man merited the pardon of God by this restitution; this is a debt due to his neighbor, and how can he pretend to merit any thing by that restitution which he is so engaged to make, and which the law of God expressly enjoins? For thus hath the Lord commanded: “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” Matt. 7:12. “For with the same measure that ye mete withal, it shall be measured to you again.” Luke 6:38.

18. The same truth is confirmed by the following Scriptures: “Leave thy gift (oblation or sacrifice) before the altar and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Matt. 5:24. “Cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Isa. 1:16-18. And again, by the same prophet the Lord thus reasons: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, 98 and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.” Isa. 58:6-8.

19. All these Scriptures, with one consent, proclaim this great truth,—that God will not accept the repentance of any man, or hear his prayer, or regard his alms and oblations, unless he be first reconciled to his neighbor, and make him all the restitution that is in his power.

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