On Charity

William Wilberforce

"'We cry peace while there is no peace;' and both to ourselves and others that complacency is furnished, which ought only to proceed from a consciousness of being reconciled to God, and a humble hope of our possessing his favor.

I know that these sentiments will be termed uncharitable; but I must not be deterred by such an imputation. It is time to have done with that senseless cant of charity, which insults the understanding, and trifles with the feelings, of those who are really concerned for the happiness of their fellow-creatures. What matter of keen remorse and of bitter self-reproaches are they storing up for their future torment, who are themselves its miserable dupes; or who, being charged with the office of watching over the eternal interests of their children or relations, suffer themselves to be lulled asleep, or beguiled by such shallow reasonings into sparing themselves the momentary pain of executing their important duty! Charity, indeed, is partial to the object of her regard; and where actions are of a doubtful quality, this partiality disposes her to refer them to a good, rather than to a bad, motive. She is apt also somewhat to exaggerate merits, and to see amiable qualities in a light more favorable than that which strictly belongs to them. But true charity is wakeful, fervent, full of solicitude, full of good offices, not so easily satisfied, not so ready to believe that everything is going on well as a matter of course; but jealous of mischief, apt to suspect danger, and prompt to extend relief. These are the symptoms by which genuine regard will manifest itself in a wife or a mother, in the case of the bodily health of the object of her affections. And where there is any real concern for the spiritual interests of others, it is characterized by the same infallible marks. That wretched quality, by which the sacred name of charity is now so generally and so falsely usurped, is no other than indifference; which, against the plainest evidence, or at least where there is strong ground of apprehension, is easily contented to believe that all goes well, because it has no anxieties to allay, no fears to repress. It undergoes no alternation of passions; it is not at one time flushed with hope, nor at another chilled by disappointment. ...

Innocent young women! Good hearted young men! Wherein does this goodness of heart and this innocence appear? Remember that we are fallen creatures, born in sin, and naturally depraved. Christianity recognizes no innocence or goodness of heart, but in the remission of sin, and in the effects of the operation of divine grace. Do we find in these young persons the characters, which the Holy Scriptures lay down as the only satisfactory evidences of a safe state? Do we not on the other hand discover the specified marks of a state of alienation from God?

Put the question to another issue, and try it, by appealing to the principle of life being a state of probation; (a proposition, indeed, true in a certain sense, though not exactly in that which is sometimes assigned to it,) and you will still be led to no very different conclusion. Probation implies resisting, in obedience to the dictates of Religion, appetites which we are naturally prompted to gratify. Young people are not tempted to be churlish, interested, and covetous; but to be inconsiderate and dissipated, 'lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.' People again in middle age are not so strongly tempted to be thoughtless, and idle, and licentious. From excesses of this sort they are sufficiently withheld, particularly when happily settled in domestic life, by a regard to their characters, by the restraints of family connections, and by a sense of what is due to the decencies of the married state. Their probation is of another sort; they are tempted to be supremely engrossed by worldly cares, by family interests, by professional objects, by the pursuit of wealth or of ambition. Thus occupied, they are tempted to 'mind earthly rather than heavenly things,' forgetting 'the one thing needful;' to 'set their affections' on temporal rather than eternal concerns, and to take up with “a form of godliness,” instead of seeking to experience the power thereof: the foundations of this nominal Religion being laid, as was formerly explained more at large, in the forgetfulness, if not in the ignorance, of the peculiar doctrines of Christianity. These are the ready-made Christians formerly spoken of, who consider Christianity as a geographical term, properly applicable to all those who have been born and educated in a country wherein Christianity is professed; not as indicating a renewed nature, as expressive of a peculiar character, with its appropriate desires and aversions, and hopes, and fears, and joys, and sorrows. To people of this description, the solemn admonition of Christ is addressed; 'I know thy works; that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain that are ready to die; for I have not found thy works perfect before God.'

If there be any who is inclined to listen to this solemn warning, who is awakened from his dream of false security, and is disposed to be not only almost but altogether a Christian - O! Let him not stifle or dissipate these beginnings of seriousness, but sedulously cherish them as the 'workings of the Divine Spirit,' which would draw him from the 'broad' and crowded 'road of destruction into the narrow' and thinly peopled path 'that leadeth to life.' Let him retire from the multitude. Let him enter into his closet, and on his bended knees implore, for Christ’s sake and in reliance on his mediation, that God would 'take away from him the heart of stone, and give him a heart of flesh;' that the Father of light would open his eyes to his true condition, and clear his heart from the clouds of prejudice, and dissipate the deceitful medium of self-love. Then let him carefully examine his past life, and his present course of conduct, comparing himself with God’s word: and considering how anyone might reasonably have been expected to conduct himself, to whom the Holy Scriptures had been always open, and who had been used to acknowledge them to be the revelation of the will of his Creator, and Governor, and Supreme Benefactor; let him there peruse the awful denunciations against impenitent sinners; let him labor to become more and more deeply impressed with a sense of his own radical blindness and corruption; above all, let him steadily contemplate, in all its bearings and connections, that stupendous truth, the incarnation and crucifixion of the only begotten Son of God, and the message of mercy proclaimed from the cross to repenting sinners. - 'Be ye reconciled unto God.' - 'Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.'

When he fairly estimates the guilt of sin by the costly satisfaction which was required to atone for it, and the worth of his soul by the price which was paid for its redemption, and contrasts both of these with his own sottish inconsiderateness; when he reflects on the amazing love and pity of Christ, and on the cold and formal acknowledgments with which he has hitherto returned this infinite obligation, making light of the precious blood of the Son of God, and trifling with the gracious invitations of his Redeemer: surely, if he be not lost to sensibility, mixed emotions of guilt, and fear, and shame, and remorse, and sorrow, will nearly overwhelm his soul; he will smite upon his breast, and cry out in the language of the publican, 'God be merciful to me a sinner.' But, blessed be God, such an one needs not despair - it is to persons in this very situation, and with these very feelings, that the offers of the Gospel are held forth, and its promises assured; 'to the weary and heavy laden' under the burden of their sins; to them who thirst for the water of life; to them who feel themselves 'tied and bound by the chain of their sins;' who abhor their captivity, and long earnestly for deliverance. Happy, happy souls! which the grace of God has visited, 'has brought out of darkness into his marvelous light,' and 'from the power of Satan unto God.' Cast yourselves then on his undeserved mercy; he is full of love, and will not spurn you: surrender yourselves into his hands, and solemnly resolve, through his Grace, to dedicate henceforth all your faculties and powers to his service."

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