Charity and Its Fruits - love is kind (part one)

Charity and Its Fruits
Lecture V, part one

(This week we continue our discussion of the Jonathan Edwards' classic, Charity and Its Fruits. We have just concluded reading the "Doctrine" portion of Lecture Four. We will continue with the "Application" portion of this lecture in next week's 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

Our last two readings focused on the first portion of this verse, "Charity suffereth long...." We learned that Christian love inclines us to bear the offenses we receive at the hands of others meekly, without seeking or desiring revenge. This week we will turn our attention to the next phrase, " kind".
We will first discuss what kindness entails, and then how it is that the Christian spirit inclines us to it.

I. The "nature of the duty of doing good to others." At this point we will focus on three aspects of Christian kindness: 1) what it does, 2) who it does it to, and 3) with what disposition is it done.

1. What kindness does: Kindness seeks to do good to others, both spiritually and temporally.

First, Persons may do good to the souls of others, which is the most excellent way of doing good. There are many ways in which we can extend kindness to the souls of others. We can:
  • "instruct the ignorant" - leading them to Christ and sound doctrine
  • "counseling and warning"
  • "stirring them up to their duty, and to a seasonable and thorough care for their soul's welfare."
  • "setting them good examples"
And the last must not be overlooked:
"Such and example must accompany the other means of doing good to the souls of men...and is needful to give force to such means, and to make them take effect; and it is more likely to render them effectual than anything else whatsoever; and without it, they will be likely to be in vain."
It is common wisdom. Even unbelievers say that "actions speak louder than words". Unsubstantiated words are little more than noise. We prove our words by our deeds and in our acts of kindness give form to the love in our hearts. It is one thing to tell someone who's never seen one that a flower is lovely. It's another to produce a rose.

Some of the hopeful outcomes of our kindness to the souls of others are their comfort, establishment in the faith, strengthening, encouraging in trials, "raising one another out of dull and dead frames, and helping one another out of temptations, and onward in the divine life...and thus being mutually fellow-helpers on their way to glory."

Second, Persons may do good to others in outward things, and for this world. They may help others in their external difficulties and calamities. Edwards lists many ways in which we can do "external" good to a person:
  • "furthering their outward estate or substance"
  • "aiding their good name" - speaking well of them, defending them against slander or unfair accusation, seeking to ensure that others think as highly of them as is appropriate
  • adding to their physical comfort and personal happiness through kind words and deeds.
The kindnesses we can do for others can be summed up under three headings:
  • Giving to others
  • Doing for others
  • Suffering for others - "aiding them to bear their burdens, and doing all in our power to make those burdens light."
"Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Gal. 6: 2
"By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth." 1 John 3:11
"...when our instructions, counsels, warnings, and good examples are accompanied with such outward kindness, the latter tends to open the way for the better effect of the former, and to give them their full force, and to lead such persons to appreciate our efforts when we seek their spiritual good."

2. Who kindness does good to:  Edwards gives us three categories:
  • the good and the bad. If we claim God as our Father, then we will seek to love as He loves, and who He loves.
And, as if to ensure we rule no one out, Edwards names many of the bad types we are to love. I found it helpful to list them. I think you'll find everyone you've made excuses for not loving somewhere in this list :
the proud
the immoral
the covetous
the profane
the unjust
the severe
the despisers of God
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." Matt. 5: 43-45
As Edwards says, "...any or all of these bad qualities should not hinder our beneficence, nor prevent our doing them good as we have opportunity. On this very account, we should rather be diligent to benefit them, that we may win them to Christ..."
  • friends and enemies
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Mt. 5:43-48
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life." Romans 5:6-10
"To do good to those that do ill to us,
is the only retaliation that becomes us as Christians..."

I found it very interesting that Edwards referred to doing good as "retaliation". It doesn't sound very spiritual to view it that way, and yet when I read Romans 12:19-21 I'm forced to reevaluate:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' To the contrary, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head'. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
It's not only okay to want to heap "burning coals" of guilt on the head of an evildoer, Paul encourages us to think of our retaliation of kindness in that way. We are to want to see evil overcome by good, and this is a means to that end. Just as when we avenge ourselves we are seeking a triumph, so when we retaliate with kindness we are to have a conquest in mind. When we seek our own revenge we cannot conquer; evil overcomes us. When we "retaliate" with good, evil is overcome, and only then do we triumph.

Vengeance belongs to God, not us. We Christians are called to be instruments of His mercy and grace. That's what we've been freely given; that's what we are to freely give. It is not even acceptable for us to rejoice when we witness God's judgment on our enemies, as it is purely a result of the grace of God that we do not find ourselves under the hand of His judgment.

"Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,
lest the LORD see it and be displeased,
and turn away his anger from him. "
Prov. 24:17-18

  • the thankful and the unthankful
"But love your enemies, and do good,and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." Luke 6:35-36
Edwards has this to say of those who refuse to do good to those they feel consider ungrateful:
"...such persons do not sufficiently look at Christ; and they shew either their want of acquaintance with the rules of Christianity, or their unwillingness to cherish its spirit."

3.  The disposition of kindness: in other words, the attitude with which true Christian love does good to others. Edwards sums it up in a single word: freely. By "freely" Edwards has three things in mind:

First, That our doing good be not in a mercenary spirit.
"We are not to do it for the sake of any reward received or expected from the one to whom we do the good....not for the sake of any temporal good, or to promote our temporal interest, or honor, or profit, but from the spirit of love."
" good,and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the most High..." Luke 6:35

If we love our Father in heaven, then being like Him and being His child is joy enough, and reward enough for us.

Second, That our doing good be free, it is requisite that we do it cheerfully or heartily, and with real goodwill to the one we would benefit...
"...What is done heartily, is done from love; and what is done from love, is done with delight, and not grudgingly or with backwardness and reluctance of spirit."
 "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." 2 Cor. 9:7

If you look into your own heart, you will find it to be true that whatever you do heartily, with energy and gusto, is done from love, whether it be love of God, love of another, or love of self. Understand that love of self is something Scripture assumes us to have (Mt. 22:39), and is not sinful in and of itself. We do love ourselves. That's a fact. This love for ourselves is to be our guide for how to love others. It is when our love for ourselves leads us to disregard God or others that our self-love is sinful.

Third, That we do it liberally and bountifully. We are not to be stingy or tight-fisted in our giving, but liberal, big-hearted, and open-handed, seeking more ways to help and give rather than less.

II. A Christian spirit will dispose us thus to do good to others.
1. The main thing in that love which is the sum of the Christian spirit, is benevolence, or good-will to others...the main thing in Christian love is good-will, or a spirit to delight in and seek the good of those who are the objects of that love.

A true and heart-felt desire to see good come to a person is at the heart of Christian love.  I've so far found this to be the best test of my own heart toward any individual: "Do I really want good things to happen to this person, or does the idea of their misfortune give me a secret smile?"

2. The most proper and conclusive evidence that such a principle is real and sincere, is, its being effectual...
"...The proper and conclusive evidence of our wishing or willing to do good to another is, to do it. In every case nothing can be plainer, than that the proper and conclusive evidence of the will, is the act; and the act always follows the will, where there is power to act."
Our actions are the only reliable evidence of what we will, of what is most important to us. This is why James can say:
"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead....Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.....For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead." (See James 2:14-26)
And so, as faith without works is no living faith, so love without acts of kindness is no real love.
(See Gal. 5:6)


That's Life said…
Once again, instruction to take to heart and to live out!

Laurie, you write:
"I've so far found this to be the best test of my own heart toward any individual: "Do I really want good things to happen to this person, or does the idea of their misfortune give me a secret smile?"'
I'm so with you, that this is one of the best barometers of a truly kind heart.
Lisa notes... said…
Hasn't this been a great chapter? It really convicts me about my own "acts of kindness" and exactly how kind (or not!) I am really being...

I loved your summary, Laurie. It's as good as reading the chapter itself.

My summary is here from Part 1.

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