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INFIRMARY SERMON. *
1 PETER iv, 10.
As every one hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good Stewards of the manifold Grace of God.
Of the indissoluble connection between morality and religion, and of that entire consistency which pervades the ordinary and extraordinary dispensations of the Deity, we have numerous and decisive proofs in the very earliest ages of the Christian Church. The Holy Spirit was in a degree evidently supernatural bestowed upon the Apostles, and many of their companions. It was to them an experimental proof of the truth of the Gospel, and it not only awakened the attention, but confirmed the belief of their followers, The ends, however, for which it was bestowed, went beyond the advantage of the individual who possessed it, and for the use of it he was responsible upon the very same principles, which ought to have regulated every other part of his moral agency. Like wealth, or talent, or power, the gift of the Holy Spirit is again and again represented as a trust assigned to man for the benefit of his fellow creatures, Though in reality a distinction, it was not to be considered as any ground for spiritual pride. It did not relax, but on the contrary it increased the obligations, which lay upon the possessor to practice every other virtue. Thus, as we read in the verse subsequent to my text, if any man speak, that is, if he had the gift of explaining and interpreting scriptural truth, he was to speak as the oracles of God. He was not to intermingle the suggestions of his own fancy with his explanations of the doctrines revealed to him, but to cominunicate them soberly, exactly, and reverently, so far only as his real inspiration might reach. If any man were to minister, that is, if he were a steward of those charities which in the infancy of the gospel were provided for the poor, he was to do it as of the ability which God giveth—not for the gratification of his own vanity, but for the good of mankind, that God in all things might be glorified through Jesus Christ.
* Written for Dr. Vaughan, late Warden of Merton, and preached by him at Leicester, 1817.
The command, you see, was extended from temporal to spiritual things. In proportion as men had received the gift, and even in consequence of having received it, they were bound to minister the same one to another, and so approve themselves as good stewards by their diligence, their fidelity, and their cheerfulness, in employing the manifold grace of God, for the improvement of God's creatures.
Now it becomes alike the grateful believer and the dispassionate sceptic to observe, that, when adverting to these subjects, which more immediately related to their mission, and were more likely to take a strong hold on their affections, the teachers of the gospel never lose sight of moral excellencies, even at the time in which they inculcate graces, peculiarly Christian, and insist upon the peculiar, or even preternatural means which God had employed for disseminating Christian knowledge. Hence in the chapter of my text, St. Peter instructs his followers to cherish a spirit of intense, that is of unwearied, unabated, unceasing charity one towards another. He bids them use hospitality one towards another, without grudging or partiality-faults, to which it should seem some of the Jewish converts were too prone, when they carried into their new profession those narrow prejudices and exclusive regards which, as we learn from the testimony both of sacred and profane history, their countrymen were wont to indulge towards persons who held not the same opinions, nor worshipped according to the same forms with themselves. With this apostolic precept, which points out to us the real character of Christian love, comprehending within its views every convert from every sect, every Jew, and every Heathen who might remain unconverted, every man of every kindred and nation, St. Peter joins and enforces the necessity of making a right use of spiritual gifts. The union of these duties in the mind of the Apostle is an additional proof to us of the importance, which Christianity assigns to every act of kindness, and therefore ought to be an additional incitement to
us to be good stewards, in ministering the manifold means which God may have granted us,
promoting the present as well as the future welfare of all mankind.
In proportion to the degree in which we have received the gift of God, and to the intrinsic importance of the gift itself, must be our exertions to minister the same one to another. For the very acceptance indeed of faith aided by grace, as the subject of reward from the moral governor of the world, every believer in every age must depend upon their united efficacy in facilitating and enlarging the exercise of all his other moral faculties. Am I then asked in what that exercise consists? I am told by one Apostle that it consists in adding hope unto faith, and charity to faith and hope, as the greatest of the three. I read in another inspired writer, that the faithful follower of Christ must add to his faith, virtue, or as the original word has been well explained by Bishop Warburton, fortitudethat to fortitude he must add knowledge, a term, which, in holy writ, peculiarly and frequently means knowledge of the Christian dispensation, in its evidences, doctrines, precepts, and sanctions, that to knowledge he must add temperance, to temperance patience, to patience godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity; and from the letter and spirit of the Gospel I find that by such a conscientious discharge of all practica duties from religious motives, a Christian will come unto the perfect man according to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ himself.
Having thus opened to you the sound, large, and most salutary principle upon which Christian benevolence, as interwoven with the whole system of Christian duty, has been recommended by the inspired disciples of Christ, I may without violence to language transfer the words of my text to the performance of those charitable deeds, which are more directly intended to supply the wants, and to mitigate the sufferings, of our Christian brethren in their worldly concerns.
By the natural propensities of our minds we are led to remove the weight under which our fellow creatures may labour from poverty, or from sickness; and the satisfaction we feel from the success of our endeavours, will justify us in maintaining that the scriptures are not to be charged with exaggeration when they tell us, that under some circumstances it may be “more blessed to give than to receive.” Whatsoever gratification may accompany the contracted and grovelling notions of the covetous, or the licentious indulgences of the prodigal, they are quite unworthy of comparison with the permanent and solid delight, which arises from compassionating the miseries and supplying the exigencies of other men. In addition to that unmixed purity, that undisturbed serenity, which furnishes the mind of the merciful man with a continued feast, he meets with a recompence, the more pleasing to him because it was not the primary and immediate object of his wishes, in the good opinion and good will of other social beings. Rational and moral creatures like ourselves act up to the dignity of their nature, by