SATURDAY, FIRST WEEK IN LENT
ON THE SPIRITUAL WORKS OF MERCY
Consider first, that the spiritual works of mercy, by which we relieve our neighbours in the necessities of their souls, are of far greater value in the sight of God, than such as merely relate to their bodies. If, then, he is pleased to promise such ample rewards to the feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and such like good works, which relate only to those corruptible carcasses, and to the short time of our mortal pilgrimage; how much more will he esteem and reward those works of mercy and charity, by which immortal souls, made after God’s own image, and redeemed by the blood of Christ, are drawn out of darkness and sin, rescued from Satan and hell, and brought to God and a happy eternity ‘He that causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his way,’ saith the Scripture, ‘shall save his soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins,’ James v. 20. ‘And they that instruct many to justice, shall shine as stars for all eternity.’ Dan. xii. 3.
Consider 2ndly, that the spiritual works of mercy are principally exercised by reclaiming sinners from their evil ways, even the ways of death and hell, by admonitions, remonstrances, fraternal corrections, &c.; by enlightening and instructing such as, through ignorance, are in danger of losing their precious souls, or by procuring them this light and instruction from other proper persons; by comforting the afflicted, encouraging the pusillanimous, upholding and assisting them that are under temptations, reconciling such as are at variance, bearing with all, forgiving all, overcoming evil with good, and praying for all. O how happy, how precious in the sight of God, is a life spent in such works of mercy and charity as these are! And how happy will that death be that shall conclude such a life! O my soul, that we may lead such a life! O that we may die such a death!
Consider 3rdly, that these spiritual works of mercy, are not only the most acceptable of all, and the most meritorious in the sight of God, but also are of strict obligation, and this not only to pastors, but to all other Christians, according to their circumstances and abilities. Charity is a virtue of universal obligation, and the principal object of that love, which charity obliges us to have for our neighbours, is the eternal welfare of their immortal souls. If then we can unconcernedly see numbers of souls crowding into hell, without affording them all the help that lies in our power, in order to rescue them from that extremity of endless misery, is it not evident that we have no charity for them; and if not, may not our case be one day as bad as theirs? What then must we do? We must gladly lay hold of every opportunity of contributing what lies in us to the conversion and salvation of any one of these poor unhappy souls, and we shall quickly find that opportunities of this nature will not be wanting, if we take the matter to heart. At least there are two ways, and those the most effectual of all, of reclaiming sinners and bringing them to God, which are certainly in the power of every one, and from which no one can be excused, and these are the example of a holy life, and the efficacy of fervent prayer poured out to God in behalf of poor sinners.
Conclude ever to make use of these two, the most effectual ways of bringing sinners to God; yet, so as not to neglect any other means that lie in thy power. What a comfort will it be to thee; what an honour, what a happiness, to be the instrument of God in the salvation of souls in that same great work, which brought the Son of God from heaven. But what dreadful punishments mayest thou not justly apprehend if for want of this charity, any of these souls should perish, because thou wouldst not lend them a helping hand to withdraw them from the precipice to which they were running! Ah! will not their blood one day cry to heaven for vengeance against thee.