SUNDAY WITHIN THE OCTAVE OF THE ASCENSION
ON THE PRECEPTS OF CHARITY TO OUR NEIGHBOURS
Consider first, that after that greatest and first commandment, of loving God with our whole heart and soul, the next of all the divine precepts is, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ This, saith our Lord, is like to the other; and indeed it has so necessary a connexion with it that we cannot fulfil the one without the other. ‘God is charity,’ says the beloved disciple, 1 John iv. 16, ‘and he that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him.’ And again, ‘he that loved, not [his neighbour] knoweth not God, for God is charity,’ v. 8. And again, ‘if any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar,’ v. 20. These two precepts of charity by which we are commanded in the first place to love God above all things, and in the next place, to love our neighbours as ourselves, contain an abridgment of the whole duty of a Christian. They are two branches that spring from the same root, and belong to the self-same divine virtue, because the same motives that oblige us to love God for his own goodness’ sake, oblige us also to love all that are made after his image and redeemed by the blood of his Son, for the sake of their maker and redeemer. It is he that requires this love of us, and requires it in such a manner as that we should love him in our neighbours, and love them in him. O the Infinite goodness and bounty of our God! that, notwithstanding the immense distance there is betwixt him and us, he should be pleased to put us as it were upon an equality, by requiring that we should love one another with the like love, and upon the same motive, as we love himself.
Consider 2ndly, that this charity to our neighbours is so essentially necessary to salvation, that without it, though we spoke with the tongues of men and angels, had the gift of prophecy, and all knowledge of the deepest mysteries, and faith strong enough even to remove mountains, we should still be nothing; and though we should give our whole substance to the poor, and our bodies to the flames, it would profit us nothing, saith St. Paul, 1 Cor. xiii. ‘He that loveth not,’ saith St. John, ‘abideth in death,’ 1 John iii. 14. ‘He is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because the darkness hath blinded his eyes,’ chap. ii. 11. And this charity which is so necessary to salvation, must be general; for, as we learn from our Lord in the parable of the good Samaritan, Luke x., all men, without exception of nations or opinions, are here to be considered as our neighbours: and if there should be any mortal whom we should exclude from our charity, our heavenly Father would exclude us from his mercy. Matt. xvii. 25.
Consider 3rdlv, how much our Lord takes to heart that we should have this mutual love and charity for one another. He has made it his favourite commandment; the very badge by which he would have his disciples known and distinguished. ‘I give you a commandment,’ saith he, John xiii. 34,35, ‘that you love one another as I have loved you. By this shall men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ And chap. xv. 12, ‘This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.’ And this mutual love for one another he desires may be so perfect that it may in some measure resemble the love and union that there is between him and his Father; as he has declared in that heavenly prayer that he made for his disciples, John xvii. 20,21. ‘And not for them only,’ said he, ‘do I pray, but for them also, who, through their word shall believe in me; that they all may be one as thou Father in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou best sent me’ This mutual love, this union and charity, he inculcates in these strong terms in this last confidence of his mortal life with his beloved disciples, that both they and we might consider it as his last dying injunction, and as a most precious legacy which he has bequeathed to us all. O my soul, embrace this legacy of love which has been thus left thee by thy Lord dying for the love of thee.
Conclude to prove thyself henceforward to be a disciple of Christ indeed, by this spirit of universal charity for all, as he has died out of charity for all. In the beginning of the church, ‘the multitude of the believers had but one heart and one soul,’ Acts iv. 32. Such was their mutual love and union. O blessed charity, when shall we see thee once more reign in this manner amongst Christians?
Conclude to lay up in thy heart all these lessons which Christ desires to teach thee in his ascension and so to adhere to his footsteps, that nothing in life or death may ever separate thee from him.