THE BLESSINGS OF A BENIGNANT SPIRIT.
Coll. iii. 12. Put on, therefore, as the elect of God—kindness.
"what, an invaluable- blessing is a kind and benignant spirit.! How invaluable to an individual, in a family, in a church, in any community! It is a spirit which the gospel is adapted to produce-; which serves much to remove the asperities which are met with in life; which contributes to happiness every where. My wish, at this time, is to illustrate its nature and importance; and I shall show,
I, In what it consists; and
II. Its value. . •
I. Kindness, or a benignant spirit, consists in the following things.
(I.) In a disposition to be pleased—a. willingness to be satisfied with the conduct of others towards us. This disposition lies back of all external actions, and refers to the general habit of feeling. It is not that which is created by any sudden impression made on us, or by receiving from others any proofs of favor; it is a previous disposition rather to be satisfied than dissatisfied; rather to look on the favorable than the unfavorable side in the conduct of others; rather to suppose that they are right than to suppose that they are wrong; and father to attribute to them good motives than bad motives. It is such a disposition that if we ever think unfavorably of others, it is because we are Compelled to do it rather than because we wish to do it; such that any moment we would be willing to listen to any explanation in extenuation of their conduct.
This disposition contributes much towards our being actually pleased. It is usually not difficult to find enough in others that we can approve to make life pleasant and harmonious when we are disposed to; and this disposition will do more than all other things to make social life, move on -with comforUand with joy. This disposition stands opposed to a spirit of fault-finding and complaining; a"temper which nothing satisfies,and which nothing pleases.; a propensity to magnify trifles and never to forget them; and a turn of mind that is irritable, and that is constantly chafed and fretted. For this latter state of mind we are now much in the habit of blaming the nervous system, and there can be no doubt that from the intimate connexion between the mind and the body, a disordered nervous system may have much to xlo with such a. temperament. But it may be also true that the body is often blamed when the soul should be] and that the responsibility is often improperly changed from the heart to the nervous system. More frequently this disposition is to be.traced to long habits of indulgence; to mortified pride; to an overweening self-valuation; to the fact that the respect is not paid us which we think we deserve; to the fact that the heart is wrong, and the will obstinate and unsubdued. The spirit of the gospel of Glirist would'do more to eradicate this evil disposition than any physical applications to the nervous system, and it is the heart rather than the bodily health that demands appropriate treatment. A man who is willing to be pleased and gratified will in general pass pleasantly through life. He who is willing to take his proper place in society, content with the small share of public notice which properly belongs to an individual, and believing it to be possible that others may be as'likely to be right in their opinions as he is, will usually find the journey of life to be a pleasant way, and will not have much occasion to be dissatisfied with the world at large.
(2.)' A spirit of kindness or benignity consists in a disposition to attribute to others the possession of good motives when.it can be done. One of the rights of every man in society is, to have it supposed that he acts with good intentions unless he furnishes irrefragable proof to the contrary. This right is quite as valuable as the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"—and is essential to them all. He may do me a more palpable and lasting wrong who ascribes to me. a bad motive, than he does who takes my purse; and he has no more right to do the one than the other. Now there are many actions performed which may be either from a good or bad motive. There are many where the action may be attended with injurious consequences when the motive is good. There are many where the motive may be for a long time concealed; where we may not be permitted to understand why it was done; and where it may seem to haye been originated from the worst possible intention. In all such cases, it is our duty to suppose that the motive was good until the contrary becomes so clear that it can no longer be doubted. Where an action may be performed from either a good or a bad intention, it is a mere act of justice that we should attribute (he correct arid' noble motive in the case rather than evil one—or at least that we should not assume that the motive was bad—for " love rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things; believeth all things; hOpeth all things; endureth all things; And Never Faileth." 1 Cor. xiii. 6, 7, 8. Yet there are some persons who seem never to have heard of this rule.. The worst possible motive is at once suspected. The worst construction is given to an. action. In the view of such persons every circumstance combines to lead to the conclusion thatthe motive was a bad one. Such persons, too,, will have that. unhappy species of memory which recollects all the ill of another, and forgets all the good; and when an action is performed of doubtful character, it is surprising what a number of similar deeds will be found to have been treasured up in the memory all going to confirm the suspicion that the motive was a bad one. Now a spirit of benignity and kindness will iead us to pursue directly the contrary course. The first impression on such a mind will be, that the action was performed from a good motive. That impression will be retained until there is positive proof to the contrary; and will be confirmed by the recollections of the former life. The good will have been remembered; the evil will have been forgiven and forgotten. Past deeds of unkindness towards you will be found to have been written in sand which the next wave washed away; deeds of beneficence will be found to have been engraved on marble or steel. A kind memory has treasured up all the favors ever shown you—and now they come flocking to your recollec
tion, and help to throw the mantle of charity over the act now even if it be wrong.
(3.) A spirit of benignity or kindness consists in bearing with the foibles, infirmities, and faults of others. We do not go a great.distance with any fellow-traveller on the journey of life, before we find that he is far from our notions of perfection. He has a temperament different from our own. He may be sanguine, or.choleric, or melancholy in his temperament, while we are just the reversa. He has peculiarities of taste, and habit, and dispositioii,"which differ much from our own. He has his own plans and purposes in life ; and like ourselves he does not like to be crossed or embarrassed. He has his own way and time of doing things ; bis own manner of expression; his own riiode's of speeciu He has grown up under other influences than those which have'affected our minds; and his habits of feeling may be regulated by his education, and by his calling- in life. Neighbors have occasion to remark this in their neighbors; friends in their friends; kindred .in their kindred. In proportion as the relations of life become more intimate, the more these peculiarities become visible; and hence the more intimate we become, the more necessity there is for bearing patiently with the frailties and foibles of others. In the most tender connections, like that between a husband and wife; a parent and child; a brother and sister, it may require much of a, gentle and yielding spirit to adapt ourselves to their peculiarities so that life shall move on smoothly and harmoniously. When there is a disposition to do this, we soon learn to bear and forbear. We understand how to avoid the look, the gesture, the allusion, the remark that would excite improperly the mind -of our friend. We dwell on those points where there is sympathy and barmony; and we thus remove the asperities of character, and the feelings and. affec-. tions meet and mingle together. With any one of our friends there may be enough, if excited, to make life with him uncomfortable. A husband and wife—such is the imperfection of human nature—can find, if they will, enough in each other to embitter life, if they choose to magnify foibles, and to become irritated at imperfections; and there is no friendship which may not be marred in
this way if we will suffer it, The virtues of life are tender plants. Love is most delicate in its texture, and may not he rudely handled. To be preserved, we must cease to expect perfection. We must be.prepared for little differences of opinion, and varieties of temperament. We must indulge the friend that we love, in the little peculiarities of saying and doing things which may be so important to him, but which can be of so little moment to us. Like children, we must suffer each other to build his own play-house in his own way, and not quarrel with hirh because he does not think our way the best. If we have a spirit of kindness, we shall cease to look for perfection in any others; and. this is much in promoting our own happiness in any relation of life. It will make us indulgent, and forgiving, and tender. Conscious of our own imperfection, we shall hot harshly blame others; sensible how much we need indulgence, we shall not withhold it from them; feeling deeply how much our happiness depends on their being kind toward our frailties and foibles, we shall not be unwilling to evince the same indulgence towards them.
(4.) A kind and benignant spirit is shown by our not blaming others with undue harshness when they fall into sin. In no circumstances does frail human nature need more of the kindness of charity -and forgiveness—no where usually is less benignity shown. We weep with the. father who has lost his only son; we sympathize with the man who has lost his all in a storm at sea; we compassionate him who is deprived of the organs of vision or of hearing, to whom the world is always dark, or who is a stranger to the sweet voice of wife or child, or to the soul-stirring harmony of music. But when a man is overtaken by "a fault, all our sympathies at once usually die. We feel that he has cut all the cords that bound him to the living and the social world, and that henceforth he is to be treated as an alien and ah outcast. We exclude him from our social circle.s. We strip him of oflicc. We bind and incarcerate him. We place him in a dark, damp, cold dungeon. We feed him on coarse fare. We separate him from wife, and children, and home, and books, and friends. To a certain extent all this is inevitable and proper. We owe it to ourselves; we owe it to the community. But we need not withhold our kindness from an offending brother. We need not withdraw all the expressions of benignant feeling. "Brethren," says Paul, "if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." GaL vi. 1. "Love suffereth long-and is kind; love is not easily provoked; thinketh no evil; believeth all things; hopeth all"things." Let the following things be remembered when a brother is accused of a fault. (1.) He is a brother still. He. has.the same corrupt, fallen, ruined nature that we have—and. originally no worse. "John Bunyan, but by the grace of God," was the honest expression of the author of the Pilgrim's Progress, when he saw a poor victim of profaneness and intemperance. That erring, guilty, and wretched man—that man of guilt, and profaneness, and crime, is thy brother. .You. and he had the same father'. The same blood.flows in your' veins and his. That wretched female —that frail and guilty woman—is thy sister. You had a common, erring mother. She once had sympathies like thine own. She once had a heart that could love and be loved, like thine. She had a mother that loved her as thine loved thee. She once was playful, and blithe, and happy, when a child—and perchance beautiful and accomplished, as others are. Fallen, and ruined, and guilty as she .may be, she is not heyond the possibility of being saved; she is not beyoifd the reach of prayer. Fop the soul of that same guilty and erring daughter of vice, the Saviour's blood was shed as well as for thine own; and the "kindness aud love of God our Saviour" may yet recover even her, and make her a companion with thyself in glory. Remember (2.) that when another seems to fall into sin, if you understood all the circumstances of the case, its aspect might be greatly changed. "Judge not, that ye be not judged; condemn not, that ye be not condemned," was the command of the Master. Luke vi, 37. "Above all things have fervent charity among yourselves; for charity shalLcover the multitude of sins.'' 1 Pet. iv. 8. Remember (3.) that when a brother seems to err or fall, it is possible that an explanation may remove all the difficulty. Give him that opportunity. It is due to him. Appearances, which he could not control, may have been sadly against him; and malignant enemies may have helped the matter on. ' It is due to him to allow him a full opportunity to explain all. A kind spirtt would make you ready to listen; and the same spirit, when' he has confessed s error—if he has done wrong—would lead you to say, 'My brother, I forgive you. The offence shall beremejubered no'more. I will forgive you as Christ hath forgiven me. Your fault shall not be alluded to in our intercourse; it shall not be allowedto make me unkind, or suspicious; and. I will never refer to it to harrow up your feelings, or to suffuse your cheeks with shanie. So Christ hath forgiven me; so I forgive you.' (5.) A kind and benignant spirit is that which prompts us to aid others when in our power. It wishes well to the stranger; to the wayfaring man; to the fatherless; to the poor; to the prisoner; to the oppressed. It looks rather on considerations why they should be aided than on those why they should not be; and asks the question, not how much we.must d& for them, but how much we may do. On-the man who has failed in business honorably to himself, or without dishonor, it looks with benignity, and . asks in what way he may be assisted, and not how his fall may' be accelerated. The poor man at the door it meets with the enquiry whether he may be assisted consistently with other duties and obligations. For the man in oppression, it seeks relief when it can be done, and prompts to measures to secure it. When relief is almost hopeless, still, it looks benignantly towards the sufferer, and is.willing to listen to any suggestions for his aid. It does not lead us at,once to sit down as if nothing can be done—appalled by the magnitude of the evil, or indifferent to it; nor does it lead us to favor the opinion that all attempts at relief are improper, or. to be abandoned,
I may add, on this point, that where relief cannot be afforded, it should be declined with a gentle and benevolent heart. It often happens,' from the necessity of the case, that we must decline aid to the poor, to the needy, to the stranger, and to the cause of humanity and religion at large. Circumstances put it out of our power to assist them. But it mitigates the evil if benevolence beams in the eye, and gentleness and love dictate the terms by which it is done. It may become pleasant even to have an application rejected. It may be done with so much good will and sincerity; where it is so evident that the heart is in it; where there is such a manifest wish that the circumstances were different, that the pain of the refusal shall.all.be taken away, and good shall be.done to the soul even where the aid sought for the body could not be granted. We are often troubled by applications for aid—I say troubled, from their frequency, and because we allow them to trouble us. We are liable to constant solicitations of this sort—solicitations all of which we cannot comply with. It can neither be right for us, nor would it be possible for us to comply with them all. Part of those who apply to us for assistance we know; part are strangers whom we may never see again. Yet we are to remember that most of them are children of misfortune. Many of them have by nature sensibilities as keen as we ourselves, and they will feel a cold look and a stern repulse as much as we. We are to remember, too, that not a few of them suffer mor.e from the necessity of. asking assistance than from almost any other ill of life. Long will a widowed mother suffer from poverty and want, before she will go to the stranger to seek assistance. Long would she suffer still rather than do it, but it is not her own sufferings that prompt her to it ;t—it is the cry of her children for bread, the desolation of her home without fuel, and without food, and without work, that compels her to. subdue her strong reluctance to solicit charity, and she does this under a depth of mingled, agitated emotions which the affluent never know. If to all this there is now to be added the cool repulse; the harshj forbidding look; the refusal even to- hear the simple story of her sufferings, and the sufferings of her children, and if she is to return and say to them that nothing can be obtained for them—and to see them weep and suffer the more by disappointment, you infuse the bitterest dreg into her cup of woes. Christian kindness would have mitigated all; Christian kindness might have prompted to that little aid from your superabundant wealth, which not being missed in your dwelling, would have made hers to her like Eden. The same thing is true when help is asked for any object of beneficence. The man who asks your aid to relieve a people suffering the evils of famine; or to help a family whose all has been consumed by fire; or to liberate a slave from bondage; or to enable a man to purchase his wife or children in order that they all may be free together 5 or to send the preached gospel to the heathen world, has a right to a kind reception. On his part it is a work of benevolence, in which he is usually no more interested than we are—and in doing it he may have overcome much reluctant feeling, and sacrificed many comforts,from the strong conviction of duty. He has a right to expect, where aid cannot be granted for his object, that his feelings shall not be harrowed up by an uncivil and cold reception. If aid is declined, he has a right to expect that it should be in gentleness and love—so declined that if may be pleasant for him and for you to meet when your circumstances shall be better.
(6.) Once more. A kind spirit should be shown toward those who are applied to for aid, and who decline to assist us. Here, I fear, We walk sometimes not charitably toward others. We apply to them for assistance, and are refused. How natural to feel that there was something unkind in it! Especially is this so, if we see him to whom we apply live in a splendid house, and surrounded with the means of luxury; or if we find him engaged in a large business; or if we see him rolling along in his carriage. And it may be difficult to avoid the conviction that his might easily have assisted us, and that he is a man of a narrow and parsimonious spirit.' I admit too, that in'not a few instances this irresistible conviction may be well founded ; and I admit, too, that there is always an inconsistency—a- painful, and I believe a guilty inconsistency—where this style of living is maintained, and where the hand is systematically closed against the objects of Christian benevolence. But there is often much that may be said that would mitigate the harshness of your judgment. You see one side. But you may not know how much he is embarrassed in business; or how much he secretly gives away to other objects; or how many poor relations he may have dependent on him; or how imperative may be the demand on him just now to meet pressing obligations. For one, I am endeavoring to learn to exercise more charity for those Avho seem to me to be able, and who fall below the standard in benevolence which I should regard as the true one. I think on two things; first, that I do not know all the circumstances in the case; and second, that to his own master each one standeth or falleth. It is his business, not mine. I can insist only as a right that he should show "kindness"—whether, he-give or withhold. In other things he must act as he shall answer it to God. Such are some of the things involved in kindness—a disposition to be pleased—a readiness to impute good motives—a patient bearing with the faults and foibles of others—a disposition not to blame them harshly when they fall—a readiness to aid, and kindness when aid can.not be rendered—and a charitable spirit toward those who refuse to aid us when we apply to them* Let us,
II. In the second place, consider the value of this spirit. A few remarks will be all; and with these I shall close. In illustrating this, I observe,
(I.) That much of the comfort of life depends on it. Life is made up of little things that are constantly occurring, but which if disarranged or displaced render us miserable. Breathing is in itself a small matter, and ordinarily scarcely noticed; the beating of the heart, and the gentle flowing of the blood are in themselves small matters, and it is only when they are deranged or laborious that we become sensible of their importance. So in morals and in social intercourse. The happiness of life depends not so much on great and illustrious deeds; .not so much on glory in the field of battle, or splendid talents, or brilliant eloquence, or the stern virtues tha't shine in daring achievements, as in the quiet duties that are constantly occurring. It is in the kind look; the gentle spirit; the peaceful,calm,contented disposition; the cheerful answer; the unaffected and unobtrusive interest in the welfare of others\ the mild eye and the- smooth brow which show that the heart is full of love. When these are what they should be, they are to social intercourse what unobstructed breathing, and the healthful flow of blood along the numerous arteries and veins of the body are to the vigor and comfort of the bodily system. Life cannot be happy, if it can be prolonged, without them; and when these things do not exist, comfort dies::
(2.) Usefulness depends on this no less than happiness. A man's usefulness in the Christian life depends far more on the kindness of his daily temper, than on great and glorious deeds that shall attract the admiration of the world, and that shall send his name down to future times. It is the little rivulet that glides through the meadow, and that runs along day tfnd night by the farm-house that is useful, rather than the swollen flood, or the noisy cataract. Niagara excites our wonder,- and fills the mind with amazement and awe. We feel that God is there; and it is Wbii to go far to see once at least ho'w solemn it is to" realize that we are in the presence of the Great God, and to see what wonders his hand can do. But one Niagara is enough for a continent—or a worlds while that same world needs thousands and tens of thousands of silvery fountains, and gently flowing rivulets, that shall water every, farm, and every meadow, and every garden, and that shall flow on every day and every night with their gentle and quiet beauty. So with life. We admire the great deeds of Howard's benevolence, and wish that all men were like him. We revere the names of the illustrious martyrs. We honor the man who will throw himself in the "imminent deadly breach," and save his country— and such men and such deeds we must -have when the occasion calls for them. But all men are not to be useful in this way—any more than all waters are to rush by us in swelling and angry floods. We are to be useful in more limited spheres. We are to cultivate the gentle charities of life. We are by a -consistent walk to benefit those around us—though in a humble vale, and though like the gentle rivulet we may attract little attention, and may soon cease to be remembered on earth. Kindness will always do good. It makes others happy—and that is doing good. It prompts us to seek to benefit others— and that is doing good. It makes others gentle, and benignant—and that is doing good.
Let it be remembered, also, that it is by the temper, and by the spirit that we manifest, that the world forms its opinion of the nature of religion. It is not by great deeds in trying circumstances that men will judge of the nature of the gospel. The world at large cares little how Ignatius and Polycarp felt or how they died. Perhaps the mass of those around you never heard their names. They are little impressed by the virtues which Latimer, and Ridley, and Cranmer evinced at the stake. But that unbelieving husband cares- much for the gentle and kind spirit of the wife—for all his happiness depends on it; that brother is interested much in the conversation and the spirit of his sister—for'he daily observes her temper, and is forming his views of religion from what he sees in her; that child is constantly marking the temper of the father and the mother, and is forming his views of religion not so much from what he hears in the pulpit, or in the Sabbath-school, as from the- temper which you evince fromrone day to another. In these fields—humble though they may seem, and little as they, may appear to furnish a theatre for the display of eminent virtues—your usefulness lies. There, with the " gentleness" that was in Christ you cannot but be useful;'and. exhibiting such a spirit you will not live in vain.
Let it be remembered, also, that all usefulness may be prevented by an unkind, a sour, a crabbed temper of mind. A "spirit of-constant fault-finding; a harsh-judging temper; a constant irritability; little inequalities and perversenesses in the look, and air, and manner of a wife, whose brow is cloudy and dissatisfied her husband cannot tell why; or of a husband ehafed,-and fretted, and morose when he returns home from his daily toil, and who is satisfied with nothing, will more than neutralize all the good you can do, and render your life any thing but a blessing. Some come into the church cursed by the fall with such a crabbedness of temper. Some have an unmanageable and perverse neryous temperament. Some are proud, and envious, and disappointed, and ambitious, and all these things are constantly breaking out in their professedly religious life; and even amidst much that is excellent, these passions are so constantly showing themselves that no one can tell whether there is at heart any true religion. Now you may give money for benevolent objects, but it will not prevent the injury which will be done by such an unhappy temperament. You may build churches, and found schools and asylums; you may have "the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge'; and you may bestow all your goods to feed the poor, and give your body to be burned," &nd all will not answer the purpose. It will all be like "souriiding brass or a tinkling cymbal." Nothing will be a compensation for that "loVe which surfers long and is Kind :—that love which envieth not, which is not soon provoked, which thinketh no evil, which beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all tilings, endureth all things, and which Never Faileth.""
(3,) And finally, this virtue is commended to us by the example of the Master-—the Lord Jesus. "I beseech you," says Paul, "by the meekness and gentleness of Christ." II. Cor. x. 1. What an expression! The Gentleness Of Christ ! .. How much is there in that short sentence! How' much td admire; how much to imitate!- Christ performed great deeds-—such as no other one ever did; but not that we should imitate them. He spake to the tempest, and stilled the rolling billows— but not that we should lift up our voices when the wind blows, and the thunders roll, and the waves are piled mountain high, and attempt to hush them to peace. He stood by the grave and spake, and the dead man J eft his tomb, and came forth to life—but.not that we should place ourselves by the graves of the dead and attempt to restore them to life. He opened the eyes of the blind, and taught the lame man to leap, as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb to sing—but not that we should imitate him in this, or attempt by miracle to give vigor to the feeble, or health to the diseased. But Christ Was meek.and gentle, that we might be so too. Christ was benignant and kind, that we might be too. Christ patiently bore reviling that we might do it also; he was not irritable, and uncharitable, and fretful, and envious, and revengeful—and in all these we may imitate him. His was a life of benevolence, diffusive like the light of a morning without clouds; a life undisturbed by conflicting emotions; unbroken by a harsh and dissatisfied temper; kind when otheis were unkind; gentle when the storms of furious passions raged in their bosoms; and tranquil and serene while all around him were distracted by anger, and ambition, and envy, and revenge. To us may the same spirit be given; and while the world around us is agitated with passion, and pride, and wrath, in our hearts may there reign evermore "the gentleness of Christ." Amen.