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body; rejoicing with them that do rejoice,' and suffering with those who suffer.
The excellency of Christian charity is derived from this dignity of its object. In morality we can rise no higher than to consider men as men, as partakers of the same common nature with ourselves; and the natural sense we have of misery is the foundation of our tenderness and compassion towards others. In this case the regard we have for others is derived from ourselves; and our love and compassion bear a proportion to the relation that is between us and them : our children share as largely in our affections as they do in our blood : next to them our relations and friends have the preference: and in all cases the love of ourselves is the fountain from which our love to others is derived. But Christian charity flows from another spring : here all the affections terminate in Christ; and we know no other relation but that which is derived from him, who is head over the whole family,' And as the love of Christ is the source of Christian charity, so is it the measure of it too ; and the rule by which we must adjust our love and charity to others : he is our nearest relation who is nearest related to Christ, and is therefore the most immediate object of our love and charity. He that receiveth you,' says our blessed Lord to his Apostles,' receiveth me; and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me.' Then follow immediately the words which I have now read to you for the subject of this discourse.
In treating on which, I beg leave to observe to you,
First, the several degrees of charity mentioned in them; and wherein the excellency of one above the other consists.
Secondly, how truly Christian and excellent in its kind that charity is, which is the end and design of this annual solemnity.
I. If we begin our account at the verse immediately preceding the text, we shall find four degrees of charity enumerated, and distinguished from each other by the several and distinct promises made to them. The first is, that of receiving an Apostle: "He that receiveth you, receiveth me.' The second, that of receiving a prophet: 'He that receiveth a prophet, in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet's reward.' The third, that of receiving a righteous man: * He that receiveth a righteous man, in the name of a righteous man, shall receive a righteous man's reward. The fourth, that of relieving the meanest of Christ's disciples: · Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.'
Charity is distinguished into these different kinds and degrees, by the dignity of the persons who are the objects of it. For since receiving a prophet shall intitle us to a prophet's reward; and receiving a righteous man to a righteous man's reward; it is plain that receiving a prophet as far exceeds the charity of receiving a righteous man, as a prophet is more excellent than he.
To receive a prophet because he is our friend or relation, is but a common degree of kindness ; the honor must be paid him because he is a prophet; it must be done in the name of a prophet: so that the motive and principle on which we act must be taken into the account; and our good deeds will receive their true and proper value, from the views and regards with which they are done.
In this lies the difference between the Christian and the moral virtue : the same object appears not in the same light to both. Nature melts at the sight of misery, and by a secret sympathy feels what it sees; and relieves itself by administering comfort and support to the afflicted : but grace looks the sufferings of Christ in all his members; and gives that assistance to the miserable for his sake, which nature gives only for its own.
For this reason we find Christ charging himself with all the kindnesses and acts of mercy shown to his brethren and disciples. “I was an hungered,' says he, "and ye gave ME meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in ; naked and ye clothed ME; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto ME.' This regard to Christ is the very life and soul of Christian charity; and that only which can intitle our good works to reward at the last day: for our good works themselves have neither merit nor righteousness, but as they begin and end in Christ: the love of Christ is the fountain of Christian charity; and Christ in his members is the object of it.
This being the nature of Christian charity, it is plain that one kind will differ from another in perfection, as it more nearly approaches the person of Christ, who is the object, and as it more strongly partakes of the principle, which is the love of Christ. And by this rule of proportion, our Saviour has placed the several degrees of charity mentioned in the text; as will appear by considering the characters and relations of the per sons who are the immediate objects.
The persons mentioned are four sorts: Apostles ; prophets; the righteous; and the little ones. They are ranked according to the dignity of their characters, which arises from the relation they bear to Christ, who is head over all. And under one or other of these denominations may every Christian be found : so that we have here, in truth, a perfect scheme of Christian charity, and a rule to direct us in the choice of proper objects.
The Apostles, on the death of our Saviour, succeeded to the government and direction of the church : they were commissioned to feed and to rule the flock in his stead and in his
Under them were placed teachers and pastors of different orders, who are comprehended under the general name of prophets.
These offices have been perpetuated in the church by a constant succession of men duly called to them; and the present governors and pastors of it stand in the same degree of nearness and relation to Christ that the Apostles and Prophets did who went before them in the same work of the ministry; and we must ‘so account of them, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God:' 1 Cor. iv. 1.
The two next characters belong to the flock of Christ; who are not distinguished from each other by any difference in character or office, but only by their different attainments in faith; the righteous are the strong' in faith : the little ones are the
weak.' The righteous are those who, as the Apostle to the Ephesians expresses it,are come unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.' The little ones are those he calls children ;' unsettled in the faith, and liable “to be tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine :' Eph. iv. 13. 14.
The learned Grotius reckons here but three degrees, (for he
leaves out the Apostles, who yet are plainly mentioned in the 40th verse) and of them he says, that they are tres discipulorum Christi gradus. The righteous he makes to be a middle kind, of Christian, between the little ones and the perfect; and by prophets he understands only perfect Christians, without regard to any peculiar office or character in the church belonging to them. But this is agreeable neither to the language of Scripture, nor to our Saviour's design in this place; the diracol, the righteous,' are always spoken of as perfect Christians : those who are to shine forth in the kingdom like the sun, are surely no mean or middle kind of Christians; but they are called the righteous.' So in the 25th of St. Matthew, those who at the last day shall be intitled to eternal life, are the
righteous.' In the 12th of the Hebrews, the Apostle tells them they are come-to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven; and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, kai πνεύμασι δικαίων τετελειωμένων. Are the δίκαιοι, “righteous,' here spoken of as middle Christians, where their distinguishing character is, that they are made perfect ?'
Nor is the word “ prophet' ever used where Christians in general are spoken of; but it always denotes a peculiar character and office : He gave,' says St. Paul to the Ephesians,
some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists ; and some, pastors and teachers.' Where the offices are thus distinctly enumerated, prophet denotes a distinct order in the ministry; but when it is used generally, it denotes the pastors and teachers of the church, without regard to their distinct orders: and in the text prophets follow after apostles, in the same manner that little ones follow after the righteous: for as little ones include all degrees of Christians under the righteous, so prophets include all degrees of pastors under apostles.
Besides, our Saviour's design in this place was evidently to lay a foundation for the support of the Christian ministry; he forbids them to provide for themselves for this reason, because they were workmen worthy of their hire, and ought to be provided for by others : and to encourage men cheerfully to discharge this duty to them, he adds, · He that receiveth you, receiveth me.' And when this was his design and intention,
could he forget all degrees of teachers but apostles, and yet be so particular in reckoning up all degrees of Christians? It was necessary to his purpose indeed, and to complete the comparison, to mention the several degrees of Christian charity, that it might appear how highly he valued, above all others, that which was to be the support of his ministry on earth ; and therefore having shown the preference that was to be given to his ministers, according to the dignity of their office, he proceeds to show that others were but in a lower degree, and were to be regarded according to their personal attainments in taith and holiness; which was evidently giving the preference to his ministers on account of their office, before all others, how great soever their spiritual attainments might be. This was effectually to recommend them to the care of the faithful, by showing that, by providing for them here, they laid up for themselves hereafter the greatest riches : for he that receiveth a prophet, in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet's reward.'
From this declaration, made by our Saviour, we learn what ought to give the preference in Christian charity. The relation which men bear to Christ is the foundation of the love and honor that are due to them; and the nearer the relation is, the greater love and honor are due to it. Of his disciples our Saa viour said in the gospel, Behold my mother and my brethren :' no wonder then that he says to them here, “He that receiveth you, receiveth me.' By this rule our kindness must descend from the greatest to the meanest of Christ's disciples; and when it rests there, “it shall in no wise lose its reward.'
It were easy here to show the title that these several de grees of charity have to their respective rewards; but I should tire your patience, should I run through every kind; give me leave only to instance in one, and because it is most applicable to our present discourse, in that of receiving a prophet in the name of a prophet.'
This charity is intitled to a prophet's reward: and well it may; for it is a charity that does a prophet's duty: by enabling him to do the work of his calling, we share with him in it, and preach the gospel by the mouth which we feed. It is St. Austin's observation concerning St. Paul, that when he