ON THE EXERCISE OF FRATERNAL CHARITY
Consider first, that the charity which we owe to our neighbour, like that by which we love God, is in the nature of a fire, which is ever in motion, and must be kept alive by being nourished with its proper fuel by the means of repeated acts and these not exercised only by affection, but by effects: 'My little children,’ saith St. John, 1 John iii. 15, 'let us love, not in word, nor in tongue, but in deed, and in truth.’ Fraternal charity is not a love of concupiscence, it is not selfish love that looks no further than at the honour, profit, or pleasure which may accrue to one’s self from our neighbours; it is a love of a sincere benevolence; now, as it is the nature of the love of benevolence to desire, to seek, to procure, and to promote whatever may be for the real good of the person beloved, to be delighted with all that is to his advantage, and to be concerned at all that hurts him: so this benevolent love which we owe to out neighbours, by virtue of the precept of fraternal charity, is to be kept alive in our souls by repeated acts of its own kind, by frequently exercising in favour of our neighbours as well the spiritual as the corporal works of mercy, with a pure intention of God’s glory and their welfare, by bewailing their errors and vices, by earnestly praying for their conversion and salvation, and neglecting nothing in our power to procure it. Do we evidence our charity for our neighbours by the exercise of such acts as these?
Consider 2ndly, that the love of true charity, which we are commanded to bear our neighbours is to love them for God’s sake, to love them in God, and in order to God. Fraternal charity is a branch of that same divine virtue by which we love God, and ought ever to be grounded upon the same divine motive of God’s own infinite goodness. No carnal, worldly, or natural affection, influenced by flesh and blood, or by any other consideration but God, can be called charity. If then we would fulfil this great precept, we must not content ourselves with loving our neighbours at any rate - heathens and publicans often love one another and assist one another, and yet they are void of divine charity - but we must love according to God and with relation to God; we must love in out neighbours the image of God; we must consider them as made by him and for him, and as redeemed by the precious blood of his Son; we must love them for his sake, and because it is his holy will and commandment. And we must exercise the acts of this love, by contributing on every occasion, all that lies in us, to bring them to the love of God here, and to his kingdom hereafter, that they may glorify him in a happy eternity. This is truly charity indeed.
Consider 3rdly, by what rules we are to be directed and regulated in the exercise of the love of our neighbours. The old commandment of the divine law was to love every neighbour as ourselves. The new commandment of the gospel of Christ is to love every neighbour ‘even as Christ has loved us,' John xiii. 34. Have we ever seriously reflected upon the perfection of the love which these rules require of us? - ‘To love our neighbours as ourselves.’ O how tender is the love we bear ourselves! how intent upon our own welfare! how sensible of everything that we apprehend as an evil to us! Is the love of our neighbours any thing like this Do we treat them as we would desire to be treated ourselves? Are we concerned at the evils which befall them, as if they had befallen ourselves? I fear we cannot say it. Again, 'To love our neighbours as Christ has loved us.' O what a love is this! He has laid down his very life for the love of us; and this without any desert on our side; for we deserved nothing but hell we were his enemies by sin. Can our love for our neighbours stand the test of this rule? Are we willing to part with so much as our own humour, our convenience or inclination, our pleasure or satisfaction, for the love of our neighbours, and rather than give them occasion of grief or sin? If not, how far are we from loving our neighbours as Christ has loved us.
Conclude to exercise daily repeated acts of fraternal charity, both in the affective and the effective way; lest otherwise thy love for thy neighbours, for want of nourishment, quickly languish away and die. Have thy eye always upon those two great rules of charity, and regulate thy love accordingly.
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