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Of The Fruits Of Love.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.—1 Cor. 13:4-7.
Even as the tree of life stood in the midst of Paradise (Gen. 2:9); so Jesus Christ stands in the Paradise of the Christian Church, in order that all believers might derive life and strength from him. The whole substance of the Christian religion consists in faith and love. As by faith in Christ, the life of a Christian is rendered acceptable to God (the life which he lives being not so much his own, as the life of Christ in him); so Love proves the fruitful principle of all such charitable acts as relate to his neighbor. And so true is it, that all virtues, how shining soever they may be, are of no account without charity; that even faith itself is counted dead if it be without love. James 2:17. For although faith, as it respects justification, has no regard to works, either preceding, accompanying, or following it, but to Jesus Christ only, on whom it lays hold; yet is that faith but mere show and pretence which is not attended with love, though it should even work miracles. For as a body destitute of a soul is dead; so the inward spiritual man, if he have not love, is dead in all his members. Therefore hath the apostle declared, that faith should work by love. Gal. 5:6. It is true that faith justifies a sinner without works (Rom. 4:6); yet when it performs the functions of mutual love among men, it will necessarily be accompanied with a train of good works; this being the true test by which genuine faith can be distinguished from all counterfeits. This is that faith which works by love; this is the tree which bears abundance of fruits, as from the following considerations will farther appear.
2. The first of these fruits is long-suffering. “Charity suffereth long.” 99 The nature and constitution of this virtue no one ever more fully expressed than Christ himself, the true tree of life, whose goodly and salutary fruits we ought to eat, and to convert into our own substance and nature. As he by his wonderful long-suffering bore the malice of the world, that thereby sinners might be brought to repentance (Rom. 2:4); so do thou also, O man, order thy life and manners, that it may appear evident, that the meek and gentle Christ lives in thee, and that thou mayest continue in him, as a member firmly united to its head.
3. The second fruit is kindness. “Charity is kind.” This virtue was also most eminently seen in Christ Jesus, and in that example which he hath set us. David says: “Grace is poured into thy lips.” Ps. 45:2. And the Evangelist tells us, that “they wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth.” Luke 4:22. To these words do thou give attention, O man, and follow this great pattern of love and benignity, that so Christ may also speak by thy mouth, and that thou mayest remain united to him in perpetual charity.
4. The third fruit is, not to be envious and revengeful, but to be ready to remit any offence whatsoever. “Charity envieth not.” Nothing is more agreeable to the nature of God, than to forgive. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide, neither will he keep his anger forever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” Ps. 103:8-10. “If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him; in his righteousness that he hath done, he shall live.” Ezek. 18:21, 22. “Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still; therefore my bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord.” Jer. 31:20. And lastly, this divine goodness is most clearly expressed by Isaiah, and represented as the very character of God: “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions, for my own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” Isa. 43:25. Therefore be thou in this respect also like unto the merciful God. Forgive, I say, and forget the trespasses of thy neighbor, that so, in like manner, Christ may also forgive thine offences and transgressions. It is then that the same mind is in thee which was also in Christ. And in this order alone thou shalt obtain fellowship with him.
5. The fourth fruit is candor. “Charity vaunteth not itself.” A kind and charitable man does not misjudge his neighbor, vaunt it over him, rashly censure him, or disingenuously deride him before others. True love is altogether averse to these unfair proceedings. Whoever sincerely loves his neighbor, shows his heart in his countenance, and does all things ingenuously, and without guile. A visible example hereof Christ himself hath left us, whose deportment was equal both to friends and enemies, and who from the bottom of his heart endeavored most earnestly to promote the salvation of mankind. Let this be an example to thee, O man, and follow in thy Master's footsteps, that so the candor which was in Christ, may also 100 shine forth in thy life and conduct. As the Lord has most heartily espoused our good and interest, so ought we in like manner, to do the same among ourselves also; if we wish to partake of the nature of Christ, and to be united to him, as living members to their Head and Saviour.
6. The fifth fruit is, not to be “puffed up.” Charity is not of a haughty and supercilious temper. It is not swelled with high conceit on account of its own deeds and performances. Behold again thy Lord Jesus! When a woman, in a great concourse of people, lifted up her voice and said: “Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked,” “Yea,” replied he, “rather blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:27, 28); humbly removing from himself that praise which was entirely due to him, and resigning it to those that truly loved the Lord. If thou also resolvest to do this, then verily the humble Jesus lives in thee, and thou livest in him; it being the constant character of true charity, to transfer the praises of men to another whom it esteems more worthy of them.
7. The sixth effect of charity is, “not to behave itself unseemly.” A man endued with love, is not easily soured with discontent, or with any morose humor. His conversation is easy, obliging, and so concordant with all the offices of love and humanity, that the kindness residing within may even be read in his countenance. Of this sweetness of temper, the Lord Jesus hath left us a most bright and holy pattern. He did all with a spirit of mildness; and when he conversed with sinners, then pity and compassion visibly appeared in his very mien and aspect. This sweet temper of Christ ought also to be transfused into our souls, so that our life may prove a transcript of this most blessed original.
8. The seventh fruit of true love is, “not to seek her own.” A true Christian has by love obtained such enlargement and liberty of soul, as to serve his fellow-creatures freely, without any view to self-interest. Nothing is more pleasing to him than to do good to all without the least expectation of gain. This pure and disinterested love originally dwells in God Almighty. He gives all things freely, without receiving any profit at all. He commands us to fear and worship him, for no other reason than to make us proper objects of his divine love and benignity. And, lo! what a glorious pattern of disinterested love Christ has set before us! Matt. 20:28. As a tree, without respect of persons, imparts its fruit to all in the most ample and universal manner; so has Christ, and God in Christ, given himself unto us as the greatest and most excellent Good. Go now, O man! and practise the same virtue; that so Christ, the ever-living vine, may bud in thee, and that thou mayest become a fruitful plantation of the Lord. Isaiah 61:3.
9. The eighth fruit of true love is, “not to be easily provoked.” A man that has tasted of true love, is not apt to entertain any bitterness, much less to vent it by cursing and railing words. Contemplate again the life of Jesus, who did not so much as open his mouth against his enemies, nor pour forth any bitter and vehement speeches, but gave blessing and life to those that hated him. Isaiah 11:3; 42:2. And though he, indeed, denounced wrath against Chorazin, Capernaum, and Bethsaida, and uttered many woes against the Pharisees (Luke 10:13; 101 11:42); yet this did not proceed from a bitter or revengeful temper; but was no more than a serious and earnest exhortation to true and unfeigned repentance, that so the offenders might at last be saved. Therefore, let us be cautious, lest any root of bitterness should at any time spring up in us, and so hinder our charity, and thus many be offended. Heb. 12:15.
10. The ninth fruit of charity is, “to think no evil.” This is also the property of God Almighty, as he himself testifies: “For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” Jer. 29:11, 13. Whence it follows that whosoever has thoughts of peace towards his neighbor, has the mind of Christ, and is animated and influenced by his Spirit.
11. The tenth fruit is, “Love rejoiceth not in iniquity,” nor has it pleasure in the injury or oppression of good men, as Shimei had when David fled before Absalom. 2 Sam. 16:5, 6. On the contrary, true love imitates Christ Jesus, who, with a tender compassion, beholding with a mournful countenance, the fall of Peter (Luke 22:61), raised and reclaimed him, and thereby fulfilled the words of the Psalmist: “God raises them that are bowed down.” Ps. 146:8. And how did he deplore the evil which was hanging over the men of Judea, and the destruction of their temple and city! Luke 19:41; 15:4. With what fervency, with what a hearty desire, did he bring his wandering sheep into the right way; and with what a sweet and gentle voice did he allure them home! Let us imitate so great a master of love; and if any one be overtaken in a fault, let us bewail his case, instruct him in the spirit of meekness, and bear his burden, that so we may fulfil the law of Christ. Gal. 6:2. For he did first bear himself the burden of our sins, that we, being made his living members, might be formed to the same temper by him, who is the Head of the Church.
12. The eleventh property of charity is, that it “rejoiceth in the truth,” and is exceedingly pleased with a Christian order of things. Of this we have an example in Christ Jesus, who, at the return of the seventy disciples, rejoiced in spirit and praised his Father for the success which had attended their function. Luke 10:21. Thus also the angels in heaven rejoice (as Christ himself teaches us), over the conversion of a sinner. Luke 15:10. Whoever, therefore, seriously lays to heart the practice of so Christian a virtue, manifests thereby an angelical temper of mind: nay, it is a proof that the very mind of Christ, yea, of God himself, resides in that soul.
13. The twelfth fruit of charity is, to “bear all things,” in order to preserve the bond of peace and of mutual friendship. Love patiently bears the infirmities of others, after the example of St. Paul, who was made weak with the weak, that he might profit the weak: nay, he was made all things, if by any means he might be an instrument to save some. 1 Cor. 9:22. The same heavenly love believeth all things, and suspects no evil of its neighbor; hopeth all things, praying and desiring that peace and happiness may constantly accompany our fellow-creatures. And, lastly, true love endureth all things for the sake of benefiting a neighbor; all which our blessed Redeemer, by his own example, has most feelingly taught us. He bore all manner of reproaches 102 and injuries for our sins; he underwent most inhuman scourgings and buffetings, with extreme poverty, that in him, and by him, we might obtain everlasting joy and honor.
14. The thirteenth fruit of love is, “not to faint or be weary,” in doing good. Herein it is like God, whose mercy is from everlasting to everlasting upon those that fear him. Ps. 103:17; Luke 1:50. God expects and waits that he may be gracious unto us. Isa. 30:18. In order that he might have mercy on us, he rose up to spare us, and he loves to be exalted in showing mercy. His love is stronger than death, which many waters are not able to quench, and from which nothing can ever separate us. Cant. 8:7. He hath mercy on us with everlasting mercies. And though he declares, on a certain occasion, that he is “weary with repenting” (Jer. 15:6); yet is this confined to those only who wilfully reject the tender of his mercy, who despise his grace, and abuse his goodness: and in no wise affects those that heartily fear him. “The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.” Isa. 54:10. After this standard of divine mercy, we ought also to regulate the love we bear to our neighbor, so that it may never fail or faint in acts of humanity and kindness; no, not even in those which we are bound to bestow on our very enemies. As Christ did, so ought we, from a compassionate and never-failing love, to pray, “Father, forgive them.” Luke 23:34.
15. In a word, Love is the greatest, the best, and the noblest of all virtues. First, because God himself is love. 1 John 4:16. Secondly, because it is the fulfilling and the summary or comprehension of the whole law. Rom. 13:10. Thirdly, because it is eternal and never-failing, so that it is not like faith and hope, which vanish away when that happiness appears which is the end of faith. 1 Cor. 13:8. Fourthly, because all good works and services done to our neighbor without it, are vain and of no account before God. And lastly, because love gives us an assurance here, that by faith in Christ we shall inherit life eternal hereafter. Hence it follows, that Christian love must excel all other gifts and graces whatsoever, and that our main concern ought to centre in so divine a virtue. Nothing, certainly, can be greater than experimentally to know that love of Christ which “passeth all knowledge,” that we may be filled with all the fulness of God, and the fruits of love. Eph. 3:19.
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