Charity and Its Fruits - charity suffers long...(part one)

Charity and Its Fruits
Lecture IV, part one

(This week we continue our reading together of the Jonathan Edwards' classic, Charity and Its Fruits. We have just concluded the reading of the "Doctrine" portion of Lecture Four. We will continue with the "Application" portion of this lecture in next week's reading. This is the pattern we will be using for the entirety of the reading. The notes below follow Edwards' outline directly, with all direct quotes from the text in italics. My goal is to make each post edifying on its own, even for those who are not reading along with us. I will welcome your questions or comments in the form below.)

"Charity suffereth long, and is kind." - 1 Cor. 13:4

Charity Disposes Us Meekly to Bear the Injuries Received from Others.
Having proven in the previous lectures just how essential this Christian love is, and hopefully yearning to see this virtue at work and growing in our lives, Edwards, following the reasoning of Paul, moves us forward to show us just what this love looks like in its activities “by describing its several amiable and excellent fruits.” Here is where we get into specifics, and things begin to get very practical. If your experience is anything like mine, and the rest of the ladies in our local study, you will find that it is here where you really begin to feel the rubber meeting the road. Here is where the testing begins in earnest. Not only that, I've found that it is here where I begin to find the understanding and encouragement I need to grow in this grace. Edwards begins painting a picture here of what Christian love looks like, and it is beautiful. That's the encouraging part - seeing the beauty of it and desiring it. The challenging part is not to give way to discouragement when seeing how far we fall short of this beautiful standard, but to persevere, in spite of failure after failure, and bumbling step after bumbling step - looking instead to Christ and running to Him.

The verse we will begin unpacking now teaches two main aspects of love:  "Charity suffereth long..." "which has respect to the evil or injury received from others..."; and charity "is kind," "which has respect to the good to be done to others".

The focus of this lesson will be the first of these, and Edwards "would endeavor to show...

"THAT CHARITY, OR A TRULY CHRISTIAN SPIRIT, WILL DISPOSE US MEEKLY TO BEAR THE EVIL THAT IS RECEIVED FROM OTHERS, OR THE INJURIES THAT OTHERS MAY DO TO US."

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Mt. 11:28-29

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience [long-suffering], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." Gal. 5:22

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love..." Eph. 4: 1-2

"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive." Col. 3:12-13


Edwards, drawing upon such Scriptures concludes that "Meekness is a great part of the Christian spirit....And meekness, as it respects injuries received from men, is called long-suffering in the Scriptures." In other words, long-suffering is how meekness responds when mistreated or offended.

Expounding further upon this, Edwards will discuss: (I) the types of injuries we can expect to endure meekly (II) what it means to bear injuries meekly, and (III) how it is that love will dispose us to do this.

I. "I would briefly notice some of the various kinds of injuries that we may or do receive from others."

Edwards lists several main categories of injury. Men may be injured:

  • "in their estates": "by unfairness and dishonesty in their dealings, by being fraudulent and deceitful with them, or at least by leading them to act in the dark, and taking advantage of their ignorance; or by oppressing them, taking advantage of their necessities; or by unfaithfulness...not fulfilling their promises and engagements, and being slack and slighting in any business they are employed in by their neighbors, aiming at nothing but just to meet the letter of their engagements, and not being careful to improve their time to the utmost in accomplishing that which they are engaged to do; or by asking unreasonable prices...or by withholding what is due...neglecting to pay their debts, or unnecessarily putting their neighbors to trouble and difficulty to get what is due from them...."
  • "in their good name": "by reproaching or speaking evil of them behind their backs...making or spreading false reports about them, and so cruelly slandering them....Others, without saying that which is directly false, greatly misrepresent things, picturing out everything respecting their neighbors in the worst colors, exaggerating their faults, and setting them forth as far greater than they really are, always speaking of them in an unfair and unjust manner...uncharitably judging one another, and putting injurious and evil constructions on on another's words and actions."
  • in their thoughts" "...by unjustly entertaining mean thoughts, or a low esteem of them. Some are deeply and continually injurious to others, by the contempt they habitually have of them in their hearts, and by their willingness to think the worst about them. And, as the outflowing of the thoughts, a great deal is done to the injury of others by the words; for the tongue is but too ready to be the wicked instrument of expressing the evil thoughts and feelings of the soul."
"So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brother, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have better jealousy and selfish ambition in your hears do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." James 3: 5:18
  • "in their treatment and actions toward them" Those who bear some authority may abuse their authority in any number of ways, in actions and attitudes. Those who are under authority by disrespecting those over them. Some have
"a very selfish spirit, seeming to be all for themselves...having no regard to the good or benefit of their neighbor, but all their contrivance is only to better their own interests. Some carry themselves injuriously in the manifestation of a very haughty and proud spirit, as though they thought they were more excellent than all others, and that nobody was at all to be regarded except themselves alone....Some...by the exercise of a very willful spirit, being so desperately set on having their own will....Some...in public affairs, [think politics here] acting not so much from a regard for the public good, as from the spirit of opposition to some party, or to some particular person....Some injure others by the malicious and wicked spirit they cherish against them, whether with or without cause....having no delight in each other's honor and prosperity, but, on the contrary, being pleased when they are cast down and in adversity, foolishly and wickedly thinking, perhaps, that another's fall is their own elevation...Some...by the spirit of envy they shew toward them, cherishing ill-will toward them for no other reason than for the honor and prosperity they enjoy. Many injure others from a spirit of revenge..."
 II.  "I would go on to shew what is meant by meekly bearing such injuries, or how they ought meekly to be borne."

1.  "I would show the nature of the duty of meekly bearing the injuries we suffer from others."
    First...injuries should be borne without doing anything to revenge them. And there are more ways of exercising revenge than obvious retaliation:
    "...if after we are offended or injured, we speak reproachfully to our neighbor, or of him to others, with a design to lower or injure him, and that we may gratify the bitter spirit we feel in our hearts for the injury that neighbor has done us, this is revenge.
    This attitude may also be expressed in the inability to tolerate hearing the object of your anger spoken well of without saying something to bring them down a notch or two. It may be revealed in your strong words to or about them, an impatient attitude, rolling of the eyes (what Edwards called an "exasperated countenance"), or rough handling of them in conversation.

    Edwards here recognizes that occasions may arise when it is necessary and appropriate to reprove one who has committed an offense against us and gives us some guidelines for the appropriate attitude and demeanor with which this is to be undertaken.
    "...if he does, it will be without impoliteness, and without that severity that can tend only to exasperate; and though it may be with strength of reason and argument, and with plain and decided expostulation, it will still be without angry reflections or contemptuous language.....as reproving the offender for a sin against God, rather than as for the offense against himself; as lamenting his calamity, more than resenting his injury; as seeking his good, not his hurt; and as one that more desires to deliver the offender out of the error into which he has fallen, than to be even with him for the injury done to himself."
    Secondly, that injuries be borne with the continuance of love in the heart, and without those inward emotions and passions that tend to interrupt and destroy it.
    "Not only a smooth external behavior should be continued, but also a sincere love with it."
    Thirdly, That injuries be borne without our losing the quietness and repose of our own minds and hearts. Here Edwards gives us several symptoms to look for which evidence a lack of long-suffering:
    • we are unsettled
    • we are unable to enjoy ourselves
    • our ability to engage in our various duties is affected
    • our prayer and spiritual life in negatively impacted



    Fourthly....we should be willing to suffer much in our interests and feelings for the sake of peace, rather than do what we have opportunity, and perhaps the right, to do in defending ourselves. Here Edwards gives two motives that should make us willing to suffer much in our interests at the hand of others:
    • tenderness/sincere Christian love: "ought to dispose us...to suffer somewhat ourselves, rather than bring so much suffering on him"
    • peace: vindicating ourselves "would probably lead to a violation of peace, and to an established hostility, whereas in this way [long-suffering] there may be hope of gaining our neighbor, and from an enemy making him a friend."
    "To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat or you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?" 1 Cor.6:7

    "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful." Col. 3:15

    2.  Why it is called long-suffering, or suffering long.

    First, Because we ought meekly to bear not only a small injury, but also a good deal of injurious treatment from others....
    "...that we should meekly continue to bear them though they are long continued, even to the end."
    Secondly, Because in some cases we should be willing to suffer a great while in our interests, before we improve opportunities of righting ourselves.

    If we find that necessity requires that we right ourselves we must keep these considerations in mind:
    • that we are not doing it from revenge or with a hope to cause injury
    • that we do only as much as is needful and no more - indeed the great desire should be to avoid causing injury.
    III. "How that love or charity, which is the sum of the Christian spirit, will dispose us meekly to bear such injuries."

    1.  Love to God and the Lord Jesus Christ has a tendency to dispose us to this.

    First, Love to God disposes us to imitate him, and therefore disposes us to such long-suffering as he manifests.  Long-suffering is often spoken of as one of the attributes of God.

    "The long-suffering of God is very wonderfully manifest in his bearing innumerable injuries from men, and injuries that are very great and long-continued...He is long-suffering to the sinners that he spares, and to whom he offers his mercy, even while they are rebelling against him...A child's love to his father disposes him to imitate his father, and especially does the love of God's children dispose them to imitate their heavenly Father. And as he is long-suffering, so they should be."
    See: Exodus 34:6; Romans 2:4; 1 Timothy 1:12-16
     "When tempted to be disgusted at the dullness of another, or to be revenged on one who has wronged you, call to remembrance God's infinite patience and long-suffering with yourself....The patience of God is manifested in His dealing with sinners....instead of drawing His sword for the extermination of such rebels, God, 'suffered all nations to walk in their own ways,' and gave them 'rain from heaven and fruitful seasons' (Acts 14:16,17)....How wondrous is God's patience with the world today.  On every side people are sinning with a high hand.  The Divine law is trampled under foot and God Himself openly despised. It is truly amazing hat He does not instantly strike dead those who so brazenly defy Him.  Why does He not suddenly cut off the haughty infidel and blatant blasphemer, as He did Ananias and Sapphira." -  A.W. Pink
     Are there some in your life from whom you've been withholding the very mercy which God has shown you? Remember the grace God has shown you and seek to emulate His mercy in your most difficult relationships. In reality, for the Christian, every offense, every insult a gift from God.  Each is a golden opportunity given us to reflect one of God's most beautiful attributes to the world around us.

    Secondly, Love to God will dispose us thus to express our gratitude for his long-suffering exercised toward us.

    Read Matthew 18:21-35
    "They that love God as they ought, will have such a sense of his wonderful long-suffering toward them under the many injuries they have offered to him, that it will seem to them but a small thing to bear with the injuries that have been offered to them by their fellow-men. All the injuries they have ever received from others, in comparison with those they have offered to God, will appear less than a few pence in comparison with ten thousand talents."
    Thirdly, Love to God tends to humility, which is one main root of a meek and long-suffering spirit.
     "A humble spirit disinclines us to indulge resentment of injuries; for he that is little and unworthy in his own eyes, will not think so much of an injury offered to him as he that has high thoughts of himself....It is pride or self-conceit that is very much the foundation of a high and bitter resentment, and of an unforgiving and revengeful spirit."
    "....walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love..." Ephesians 4:1

    Fourthly, Love to God disposes men to have regard to the hand of God in the injuries they suffer, and not only to the hand of man, and meekly to submit to his will therein.
    "Love to God disposes men to see his hand in everything; to own him as the governor of the world and the director of providence; and to acknowledge his disposal in everything that takes place. And the fact, that the hand of God is a great deal more concerned in all that happens to us than the treatment of men is, should lead us, in a great measure, not to think of things as from men, but to have respect to them chiefly as from God - as ordered by his love and wisdom, even when their immediate source may be the malice or heedlessness of a fellow-man."
    Fifthly, Love to God disposes us meekly to bear injuries from others, because it sets us very much above the injuries of men. 

    "Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?" 1 Peter 3:13

     "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

    "...nothing can ever really hurt those that are the true friends of God.  Their life is hid with Christ in God....the more they love God, the more they will place all their happiness in him.  They will look to God as their all, and seek their happiness and portion in his favor, and that not in the allotments of his providence alone; the more they love God, the less they set their hearts on their worldly interest, which are all that their enemies can touch."
     2.  Love to our neighbor will dispose us to the same....Love will bear with a multitude of faults and offenses, and will incline us to cover all sins....Those that we have a great and strong affection for, we always bear a great deal more from, than those that we dislike, or to whom we are indifferent....All know that love is of such a nature, that it is directly contrary both to resentment and revenge; for these imply ill-will, which is the very reverse of love, and cannot exist with it."

    Comments

    1023 said…
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    That's Life said…
    Oh boy - how indignant I can get at, for example, unfair customer service - one of the minor "injuries" of life.
    I want to REMEMBER beautiful LOVE BEFORE I've lost my patience, not afterwards - at least grow in longsuffering. May we all let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts.
    I can just say "thank you!" from the bottom of my heart, Laurie, for life-changing posts (if we listen).
    Laurie M. said…
    You know, Estelle, (well, first of all, thank you) I read this book before deciding to use it for our next ladies's study. I knew it was what I needed, and so likely would the rest of us. But reading it that first time, straight through has not brought me half the benefit of slowing down and really chewing on the material, being forced to dwell on it week by week, and then having rich discussions. All this focus gives our souls time to steep in the rich truths. I feel my life being changed by increments, for the better. I'm glad that you, too, are being blessed.

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