The Spirit of Charity Seeks the Good of Fellow Creatures
[Note: Since I was personally edified by this excerpt from Jonathan Edwards, especially the section on our concern for the community to which we belong, I wanted to pass it on to you. It is not too long]
by Jonathan Edwards
...they that have the spirit of charity, or Christian love, have a spirit to seek the good of their fellow creatures. Thus the apostle commands (Phil. 2:4), â€œLook not every man on his own things; but every man also on the things of others.â€ We ought to seek the spiritual good of others; and if we have a Christian spirit, we shall desire and seek their spiritual welfare and happiness, their salvation from hell, and that they may glorify and enjoy God forever. And the same spirit will dispose us to desire and seek the temporal prosperity of others, as says the apostle (1 Cor. 10:24), â€œLet no man seek his own, but every man anotherâ€™s wealth.â€ And we should so seek their pleasure, that therein we can, at the same time, seek their profit, as again it is said by the apostle (1 Cor. 10:33), â€œEven as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved;â€ and again Rom. 15:2), â€œLet every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.â€
But more particularly, under this head, I would remark, that a spirit of charity, or Christian love, as exercised toward our fellow creatures, is opposite to a selfish spirit, as it is a sympathizing and merciful spirit. It disposes persons to consider not only their own difficulties, but also the burdens and afflictions of others, and the difficulties of their circumstances, and to esteem the case of those who are in straits and necessities as their own. A person of selfish spirit is ready to make much of the afflictions that he himself is under, as if his privations or sufferings were greater than those of anybody else; and if he is not in suffering, he is ready to think he is not called to spare what he has in possession, for the sake of helping others. A selfish man is not apt to discern the wants of others, but rather to overlook them, and can hardly be persuaded to see or feel them. But a man of charitable spirit is apt to see the afflictions of others, and to take notice of their aggravation, and to be filled with concern for them, as he would be for himself if under difficulties. And he is ready, also, to help them, and take delight in supplying their necessities, and relieving their difficulties. He rejoices to obey that injunction of the apostle (Col. 3:12), â€œPut on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness;â€ and to cherish the spirit of â€œwisdom (Jam. 3:17) that is from above,â€ which is â€œfull of mercy;â€ and, like the good man spoken of by the Psalmist (Psa. 37:26), to be â€œmerciful,â€ that is, full of mercy.
And as it is a sympathizing and merciful spirit, so the spirit of charity, as exercised toward our fellow creatures, is the opposite of a selfish, inasmuch as it is a liberal spirit. It not only seeks the good of others that are in affliction, but it is ready to communicate to all, and forward to promote their good, as there may be opportunity. To do good, and to communicate, it forgets not (Heb. 13:16); but obeys the exhortation (Gal. 6:10), â€œAs we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men.â€ But on this point I need not enlarge, having already dwelt upon it at length in the lecture on â€œCharity is kind.â€
And as the spirit of charity, or Christian love, is opposed to a selfish spirit, in that it is merciful and liberal so it is in this, also, that it disposes a person to be public-spirited. A man of a right spirit is not a man of narrow and private views, but is greatly interested and concerned for the good of the community to which he belongs, and particularly of the city or village in which he resides, and for the true welfare of the society of which he is a member. God commanded the Jews that were carried away captive to Babylon, to seek the good of that city, though it was not their native place, but only the city of their captivity. His injunction was (Jer. 29:7), â€œSeek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it.â€ And a man of truly Christian spirit will be earnest for the good of his country, and of the place of his residence, and will be disposed to lay himself out for its improvement. A man was recommended to Christ by the Jews (Luke 7:5), as one that loved their nation and had built them a synagogue; and it is spoken of as a very provoking thing to God, with respect to some in Israel (Amos 6:6), that they were â€œnot grieved for the affliction of Joseph.â€ And it is recorded, to the everlasting honor of Esther (Est. 4:16), that she herself fasted and prayed, and stirred up others to fast and pray, for the welfare of her people. And the apostle Paul (Rom. 9:1-3) expresses the deepest concern for the welfare of his countrymen. And those that are possessed of the spirit of Christian charity are of a more enlarged spirit still; for they are concerned, not only for the thrift of the community, but for the welfare of the Church of God, and of all the people of God individually. Of such a spirit was Moses, the man of God, and therefore he earnestly interceded for Godâ€™s visible people, and declared himself ready to die that they might be spared (Exo. 32:11, 32). And of such a spirit was Paul, who was so concerned for the welfare of all, both Jews and Gentiles, that he was willing to become as they were (1 Cor. 9:19-23), if possibly he might save some of them.
Especially will the spirit of Christian love dispose those that stand in a public capacity, such as that of ministers, and magistrates, and all public officers, to seek the public good. It will dispose magistrates to act as the fathers of the commonwealth, with that care and concern for the public good which the father of a family has for his household. It will make them watchful against public dangers, and forward to use their powers for the promotion of the public benefit; not being governed by selfish motives in their administration; not seeking only, or mainly, to enrich themselves, or to become great, and to advance themselves on the spoils of others, as wicked rulers very often do; but striving to act for the true welfare of all to whom their authority extends. And the same spirit will dispose ministers not to seek their own, and endeavor to get all they can out of their people to enrich themselves and their families, but to seek the good of the flock over which the great Shepherd has placed them; to feed, and watch over them, and lead them to good pastures, and defend them from wolves and wild beasts that would devour them. And so, whatever the post of honor or influence we may be placed in, we should show that, in it, we are solicitous for the good of the public, so that the world may be better for our living in it, and that, when we are gone, it may be said of us, as it was so nobly said of David (Acts 13:36), that we â€œserved our generation by the will of God.â€
Excerpt from Charity and Its Fruits by Jonathan Edwards