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Seventh Letter to the Rev. Dr. Miller. On the Na.
ture and Objects of Christian Charity. SIR,
The fourth division of your Reply is occupied in explaining your views of christian charity. As this service was gratuitous on your part, and not called for by the original conditions of the subject, I should not think it necessary to bring your remarks under consideration, were it not, that you have contrived to deduce from them a sort of apology for the harsh and revolting aspect of your charges.
You introduce the subject in the following words. “My Baltimore accuser dwells much and pathetically on what he considers a gross violation of christian charity, in speaking as I have done of unitarians." And then you go on to inform your readers, that this accuser takes charity to "consist in entertaining a favourable opinion of others, however widely they may differ from us on the most essential points; in supposing that they have inquired after truth as candidly as we have done; and in taking for granted, that there is as much reason to hope they will be finally accepted of God, as that we ourselves shall be accepted.” Against this sense of the term you loudly bear your testimony, and affirm, that “though current enough in common society, among a thousand other popular crudities, it is certainly not found in scripture, and ought to receive no countenance from any accurate thinker.” After this formality of statement, and freedom of censure, your readers could hardly be prepared to learn, that the word charity is not once inentioned in my letter, as being necessarily understood in any definite sense.
It is never used except incidentally, and in each instance I should be willing, that your own meaning should be affixed. I had said, that the censorship you exercised, and the judgment you passed against unitarians, were "at variance with the letter and spirit of the Gospel of the Saviour, and even the common principles of charity," and I hold this to be equally true, in whatever sepse you may choose to receive the word charity. And yet, upon the strength of this phrase, and this alone, you talk about my dwelling much and pathetically on what I consider a gross violation of this virtue. But it is enough to have mentioned these things, without attempting to conjecture by what accidents you were led into them. They conducted you to the subject of charity, and to this I propose at present to confine my attention.
I will commence with your definition. “The word charity, as used in scripture is equivalent to the word love. To exercise charity towards another, in the language of the Bible, is to love him. I may, therefore, exercise the most perfect charity towards one, whose principles I reprobate, and whose conduct I abhor, and ought to abhor.” Before I examine the merits of this definition, as founded on the language and spirit of scripture, allow me to ask one or two questions. You make the term charity exactly synonymous with love. When you speak of loving a man, what is the specific object of your affection? Is not this coinprised in such of his moral qualities, as come within your notice, and gain your approbation? Take a man's principles and his conduct away, and what is left, which you can either love or hater His principles are interwoven with all the moral elernents of his nature, and his conduct is the only test we can have of the rectitude and purity of his motives; or, in other words, the principles and the conduct constitute the whole moral man. Now what kind
of love is that, which is extended to a person whose principles are to be reprobated, and whose conduct is to be abhorred? Surely not the love of a virtuous, pious mind. Such a mind can love only virtue and piety. Hence the very terms of your definition should have proved to you its looseness and fallacy, and suggested the necessity of a virtue essentially different in its operations from the general principle of love; a virtue by which the compassion and good affections of our nature may be brought into exercise, in favour even of the unprincipled and the vicious, whom we cannot in any proper sense of the word love, except in proportion as we are willing to dispense with holiness and virtue in ourselves.
And again, on the principles of calvinism it is impossible for the charity, which you define, to be extended to any but a very small part of the human race. How can a good man love any of his fellow beings, who are under a sentence of eternal reprobation by an unalterable decree of God, who are totally depraved, destitute of all good and wholly inclined to all evil, whose every deed is wickedness, and whose every thought is rebellion against their Maker? If this be possible, it is a mystery in ethics, which I confess my inability to solve. No good man could love such beings, because every thing in them must be wicked, odious, and repulsive. He might, even under these circumstances, have for them a fellow feeling, or an affection, which the world have united in calling charity, because this dreadful condition would not be their fault, but their misfortune in having been born into the world. Calvinism, therefore, requires something more, than your general virtue of love, unless it would teach its advocates to withhold all civility and kindness from the great mass of men, who were either brought into the world by the Deity with the express
purpose of making them eternally miserable, or who have not yet been released froin the bondage of their inherent depravity by a miraculous visitation of divine grace.
But these distinctions, you will say, perhaps, are "popular crudities," the pastimes of erring reason, which may be well enough in common use, but are not sanctioned by the Scriptures, and “ought to receive no countenance from any accurate thinker.” That charity requires us to think favourably of the opinions of our brethren, to suppose them sincere and conscientious in the search of truth, and to indulge a hope, that they may be in a fair way of meeting the divine acceptance, you consider a vulgar notion, and "assert with confidence,” that it makes no part of the true scripture doctrine. This was a point of much importance in your apology, or defence, for if your position can be made out, then it follows, that unitarians are beside themselves to imagine any want of charity in those, who, in their kind solicitude, call them heretics, utter anathemas against their opinions, and in the spirit of christian love console them with the comforting declarations, that they are not christians at all, and no more in the way of salvation than Mohammedans and Jews, that they cling to "dreadful, soul destroying errors," and in their morals are to be numbered among the loose and licentious, upon whose lives religion has no purifying power. These are all to be taken as the genuine fruits of charity, since it is made to appear, that they may be accompanied with a due degree of scriptural love.
Let us come now to the primary object of inquiry, and endeavour to ascertain what the Scriptures teach respecting the virtue of charity, and whether it be not
allowable to exercise this virtue towards the sincere opinions of our fellow christians.
When you say, that “in the language of Scripture charity is equivalent to the word love,” I know not what you mean, unless it be that the original Greek word, which denotes the general principle of love, is sometimes rendered into English by the word charity. This is not denied. It proves nothing, however, except that there was no term in Greek exactly corresponding to the word charity in English. The meaning of the Greek word is to be determined, like the meaning of almost every other word, not by assigning to it an arbitrary, undeviating signification, but by the connexion in which it stands; and this is no difficult thing. Such an attempt at induction might have amazed the schoolmen, and confounded Aquinas himself, but since the days of Locke and Reid the province of thought is too well understood, and the principles of language are too easily apprehended, to admit of difficulties in this pro
It is a rule as old as Hilary, that the force of words depends on their sense, and not on their sound. Verba non sono sed sensu sapiunt. . This rule is not to be deserted in the Scriptures.
Schleusner, whose accuracy and discrimination will not be called in question by any biblical scholar, has assigned no less than six distinct significations to the word of which we are now speaking. I will not enumerate these, but mention three only, which will be sufficient to show the incorrectness of your assertion.
First, it means the general principle of -love, or "an invariable preference of Good," as this principle is defined by a late acute and philosophical writer.* 'This is the kind of love, which the Deity exercises towards
* Cogan's Philosophical Treatise on the Passions, p. 25,