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ON LOVING ONE ANOTHER.
JOHN xiii. 35.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have
love one to another.
Nothing is more frequently the subject of conversation,-and perhaps nothing is less understood, with regard to its true nature and design, than religion. There are few subjects, indeed, that make less impression on the mind, if we may judge from its influence upon human conduct. One man regards it with indifference, or looks upon it as an invention, contrived to make impressions upon weak minds and keep them in awe. Another imagines that it consists in formality, in pompous worship, and insignificant ceremonies. A third believes that it consists in gloom and melancholy,--in a moroseness and austerity of countenance,-in divesting ourselves, as far as we can, of human nature, and changing ourselves into different creatures from what our wise Creator intended us to be. So lamentable is the ignorance that has prevailed, and that does frequently still prevail, as to the true nature of religion. A little attention, however, applied with seriousness and sincerity, would convince every man, that religion derives its strength and obligation from the will of a Being who is infinite in wisdom and goodness ;--and that it was by Him intended to refine our nature, to harmonize our souls, to regulate our passions, to control our desires, and to qualify us, by its holy and moral discipline, for eternal happiness. Its laws are framed with so exquisite a design, and are so wisely disposed for preserving the benevolent union, and promoting the happiness of mankind, that nothing can show in a stronger or more pleasing light, the love which God has towards us in giving us such precepts and rules for our conduct. In all that it commands, or prescribes, or advises, true religion breathes forth the spirit of peace and concord. Our blessed Saviour, who came to enlighten our minds, and to dispel those clouds of ignorance and error in which our reason was enveloped, and to restore that light of truth which had forsaken the world, recommends in all his precepts, and in all the circumstances of his example, the same mild and benevolent spirit. He came, indeed, to exhibit Religion in her native loveliness.
In his parables and discourses, and in the whole tenor of his life, he enforces charity, or benevolence as a duty of the very highest obligation, and as, the only sure means of qualifying us for bliss and immor. tality. It was love, the strongest and purest love to our fallen race-that induced him to quit the bosom of the Eternal Father, to live degraded in human flesh, and to submit to the hardships of poverty and suffering,--to a necessitous life and an ignominious death. Love was the reigning principle that he endeavoured to plant in the hearts of his disciples. It engaged his care, and was the subject of his discourse, when they were assembled with him for the last time before his crucifixion. His last charge to them, and, if we may so call it, his dying legacy, was, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another ; as I have loved you, so ye also should love one another.”—“ By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."
Mutual love, which, in the language of the New Testament, is also styled charity, consists in a disposition of mind always ready to do acts of kindness, and always intent on promoting the welfare and contributing to the happiness of all around us. It must be founded upon the strong conviction, that it is our duty to do all the good we can ; which conviction must arise from duly considering the relations in which we are placed with respect to God and man. If our benevolence does not proceed from such a conviction, but arises from a natural easiness of temper, or a calm and peaceable flow of spirits, it may,
indeed, conduce something to win us the favour of men, but it is not that charity which God requires, or which is highly acceptable in his sight. Indeed, a naturally easy and indulgent disposition may, if it is not guarded with some degree of firmness, and balanced with discretion, lay us open to be preyed upon by artful and insinuating persons : but the charitable disposition, which is cultivated by wise men and required of Christians, is always associated with a sound judgment, and directed by it. We must habituate ourselves to do good in such a manner, that we may be able to continue it. We must be charitable not merely because we are unable to resist importunity, nor yet merely because we have met with proper objects; but we must love one another, from a reasonable sense of the necessity of such mutual affection.
But further,—This duty is as extensive as its object is ;—and we know that its object are all mankind. The love of ourselves is the first movement. It is the principle that puts us into activity by arousing our passions, which, as long as they are under the control of reason, proceed regularly towards proper objects. But love must not centre in ourselves ; for then it would be confined within very narrow bounds. It must be extended so as to include our friends and relations ; for they are naturally entitled to our regard, and have a claim upon our benevolent feelings. We must take even a wider range than this. Our affections are not to be limited to the circle of our families and of our own immediate acquaintance. They must extend to all our countrymen, to all who breathe the same native air, speak the same language, and live protected by the same government as ourselves. They must further embrace all who profess the same faith that we do, and acknowledge the same Saviour, and are our brethren by the holy ties and privciples of religion. We are assured by the Sacred Writings,—and our own reason strengthens the assurance,—that “there is one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all ;” and that, therefore, the whole race of mankind are the work of his hands,-creatures of his power, dependent upon his will,—and objects of his mercy and love. From this it follows, of course, that all our species are bound to perform his will, and have their several duties assigned to them by his laws, among which duties, one of the most prominent is, that they should have a tender and benevolent regard one for another. The very condition, indeed, of our existence, and the frame of our nature, have made us subject to such a variety of wants and necessities, that, without mutual assistance pervading all our intercourses, human life could not, with any comfort, be supported. In all circumstances however prosperous, and in all climates however genial, we may be overtaken by misfortunes ; for from them, as the