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ADD TO YOUR FAITH, VIRTUE ; AND TO VIRTUE, KNOWLEDGE; AND TO KNOWLEDGE,
TEMPERANCE ; AND TO TEMPERANCE, PATIENCE; AND TO PATIENCE, GODLINESS; AND TO GODLINESS, BROTHERLY KINDNESS; AND TO BROTHERLY KINDNESS, CHARITY.
This enumeration of graces or christian accomplishments gives us a fine picture of the various excellencies of the christian character, and particularly of the character to which the apostle wished his converts to attain. Though the text is not liable to any considerable misapprehension, yet, as the manner of expression appears to be, in some respects, tautological, it may not be amiss, to offer some remarks on the separate clauses.
As the text now stands, when the apostle exhorts his converts to add to their faith, virtue, and to virtue, temperance and patience, it would seem to be a looseness of expression, which we should not expect, be. cause our definitions of virtue include the subsequent qualities of temperance and patience. In the same general English word, too, are included brotherly kindness and charity; and these two last qualities, also, are generally supposed to be nearly the same. But there is not this want of discrimination in the original. The word, rendered virtue, here, accurately means, courage or fortitude; temperance, here, is properly, self-command; and brotherly kindness, as distinguished from charity, means, here, the peculiar affection of the converts to their christian brethren, in distinction from universal love, the perfection of all social virtue.
The apostle, then, addressing his converts, as believers in the gospel, exhorts them to take the most earnest care to add to their faith, or to their simple belief of the gospel, which, alone, was unprofitable, courage--a quality very necessary in those days, when an open profession of christianity was a dangerous, but an indispensable duty-and to their courage, knowledge-for, at that time, the miracles of the apostles might produce a sudden and irresistible conviction of the divine original of the gospel in many, who had never heard of it before, and who, therefore, had very little knowledge of its doctrines and duties—and to knowledge, self-command, or an habitual control of the affections, passions and appetites; and to self-command, patience under afflictions; and to patience, godliness, or piety; and to piety, brotherly kindness, or love of their christian brethren; and to love of the brethren, charity, or love to all men, the ultimate point, the perfection of all moral excellence, This view of the several qualities is, with some slight variations, given by most commentators.
Thus we find the text contains a copious enumeration of christian virtues in their connexion and mutual dependence. Perhaps they are not all placed in the precise order, in which they commonly appear, or in which they are most successfully cultivated; but it is enough to remark, that the apostle intimates their mutual connexion and influence, and that he represents faith and knowledge barren and unfruitful without them. This is in perfect correspondence with the whole strain of the New Testament. For, if these things be in you, and abound, if you cultivate these dispositions, they will make, that ye shall be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It would occupy too much time, to consider the text in all its parts, and to give all the dispositions here enumerated a distinct consideration, as well as to attend to their succession and intimate connexion. This, indeed, would require severat discourses. We shall, therefore, take the liberty to lay out of our present view the personal graces of courage, temperance and patience, which, though unquestionably connected with the other dispositions enumerated, seem rather to form a distinct class, and shall proceed, after defining the terms, to consider the close connexion and reciprocal influence of knowledge, piety and charity. What, then, is the meaning of these terms ?
It is sufficiently clear, that the knowledge, which the apostle recommends, is something beyond that faith, which he had first mentioned, and which he supposes his converts already to possess. Add to your faith, knowledge. Faith, therefore, even christian faith, does not supersede the acquisition, or diminish the value of knowledge. Neither are we authorized to say, that the faith of the text includes knowledge in any greater degree, than it includes the other accomplishments of temperance, patience, godliness or charity, which are, also, to be added to faith. If the faith here mentioned is nothing more, than a simple belief of the divine origin of the gospel, which is extremely probable, the knowledge, which is to be added, is, of course, such an enlarged acquaintance with religion or christianity, as shall render our faith intelligent, and contribute to its per. manence, fruitfulness and value.
The knowledge, then, which the apostle exhorts his converts to seek, is, the knowledge of religion. This is to be acquired by the exercise of our reason, and especially by the study of the scriptures, which then were and will always remain the great repos. itory of facts, precepts and doctrines, from which the man of God is to be thoroughly furnished to every good word and work.
The godliness, which we are required to add to our faith and knowledge, is not, here, the whole of our christian deportment, which the word sometimes expresses, but rather the principle of religious obedience, or the sentiment of religious fear, which is called, the beginning of wisdom. If this, however, should be considered as too comprehensive a meaning for the word, in the place, in which it stands, we may properly understand it of the disposition to piety, or those devout affections, of which God is the immediate object, which express themselves in the usual and edifying forms of private and public devotion, and which diffuse a sanctity and devotion over the whole character of the mind and manners.
By charity, here, we cannot fail to understand that consummate grace, which is the end of the command. ment, and which is described in the well-known chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians. It may, indeed, include the love of God; but usually expresses the love of mankind. It means, not mere. ly the common feelings of consanguinity, or of local and occasional attachments, but universal good will. It is a sentiment superiour to generosity, superiour to compassion, and superiour to that enthusiasm, which often prompts to extraordinary sacrifices for particular purposes; a sentiment, which may exist between men of different opinions, parties, tempers and interests, and is not confined to their temporal or present concerns. It is that love, which, as the apostle says, is kind and forbearing; which envieth not ; which is not vain or provd; which doth not behave itself unseemly, or with indecorum, but consults the feelings of others; which seeketh not its own advan. tage; is not easily provoked; which thinketh no evil; nor rejoiceth in iniquity, that is in falsehood, but rejoiceth in the truth, wherever discovered; which, in fine, is full of hope, full of contentment, full of petience, and, like the mercy of God, which endureth for ever, survives our present knowledge, faith and hope in those regions of eternal charity and light, where the great God will be its perpetual exemplar and reward.
After these descriptions, then, of knowledge, piety and charity, we proceed, according to our plan, to offer some remarks on their inseparable connexion, and reciprocal influence.
1. Our first topic, then, may be, the influence of knowledge on piety and charity.
If any one is doubtful, whether the diffusion of christian knowledge promotes the growth of piety, it must be either, because he has formed mistaken notions of piety, as independent of knowledge; or, perhaps, because he believes, that religious knowledge is now extensively diffused, and yet that piety is on the decline; or because he bas observed some men, who are engaged in the pursuit of what is called religious studies, deficient in godliness, or in devout habits and affections. In what follows these will be the subject of occasional remarks.
There is some reason to suspect, that many, even in the protestant world, have secretly adopted the degrading maxim, that ignorance is the mother of devotion. It is, indeed, the mother of devotion, if by devotion is meant a blind habit of religious services, of which the reason and the object are alike unknown. Ignorance is the mother of all that devotion, which is paid to any other, than the Supreme Being. It is the mother of that devotion, which attaches itself to times,