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fulfilling the letter of charity, they violate its spirit. We would not willingly suspect, that if they are more averse from bestowing commendation, than from receiving it, a little envy, unsuspected by themselves, mixes with this reluctance. But be this as it may, tender spirits and feeling hearts, especially in the first stages of their religious course, require the fostering aid of kindness and encouragement. They are not able to go alone, they need the soothing voice and the helping hand. They are ready to suspect that they are going wrong, if not occasionally encouraged to believe that they are going right.
History presents us with numberless instances, in which the success or the failure of great enterprises has depended, not altogether on the ability, but partly on the temper of him who conducted it. The importance of conciliatory and engaging manners is no where more strikingly illustrated than by the opposite conduct and different success of two famous Athenian generals. Plutarch observes, that though Pericles and Nicias both pursued the same end, the former, in the progress of his purpose, always won the people by his kind and insinuating address; while the latter, not employing the mild powers of persuasion, exasperated instead of winning them over, and thus commonly failed in his enterprise.
Paul's consummate knowledge of human nature, no less than his tenderness of heart, led him to encourage in his young converts every opening promise of goodness. He carefully cultivates every favourable symptom. He is "gentle among them as a nurse cherisheth her children." He does not expect every thing at once; he
does not expect that a beginner in the ways of religion should start into instantaneous perfection. He does not think all is lost if an error is committed; he does not abandon hope, if some less happy converts are slow in their progress. He protects their budding graces, he fences his young plants till they have had time to take root; as they become strong he exposes them to the blast. If he rejoices that the hardy are more flourishing, he is glad that the less vigorous are nevertheless alive.
Characters which are great are not always amiable; the converse is equally true; in Saint Paul there is an union of both qualities. He condescends to the inferior distresses, and consults the natural feelings of his friends, as much as if no weightier cares pressed on his mind. There is scarcely a more lovely part of his cha racter, though it may be less striking to common eyes, as being more tender than great, than the gentleness exhibited to his Corinthian converts; where he is anx ious, before he appears among them again, that any breach might be healed, and every painful feeling done away, which his sharp reproof of an offending individual might have excited. He would not have the joyful. ness of their meeting overshadowed by any remaining cloud.
Though he expresses himself in the most feeling manner, lest he might have given them pain by his severe reproofs in a preceding letter, yet instantly the predo minating integrity of his mind leads him to take comfort in the reflection, that this temporary sorrow had produced the most salutary effects on them who felt it,
His rejoicing that the very sorrow he had excited was a religious sorrow,-his reflections on the beneficial results of this affliction -on the repentance it had produced, the distinction between this and worldly sorrow, his generous energy in enumerating the several instances in which this good effect had appeared ;"yea, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear," and the animating conclusion, that "in all things they had proved themselves to be clear in the matter ;”— all afford a proof of his being on the watch to lay hold of any possible occasion, on which to build instruction, as well as to graft consolation.
No one ever possessed more nearly in perfection, the virtuous art of softening the severity of the censure he is obliged to inflict, no one ever more combined flexibility of manner with inflexibility of principle. He takes off the edge of reproof by conveying it negatively. To give a single instance out of many, when he thought some of his converts had acted improperly, instead of saying I blame you, he adopts a mitigating phrase, "I praise you not. This address would prepare them to receive with more temper the censure to which it is an introduction.
Of this Christian condescension each successive example furnishes us with a most engaging and beautiful model for our own conduct. With what keen regret does he allude to the necessity under which he had been of animadverting severely on the atrocious instance of misconduct above-mentioned! With what truth and justice does he make it appear that reproofs, which are so
painful to the censor, are a more certain evidence of friendship than commendations, which it would have given to him as much joy to have bestowed, as to them to have received! An important admonition to all, to those especially whose more immediate concern it is to watch over the conduct of others, that though this most trying duty should never be neglected by them, yet that the integrity which obliges them to point out faults, should be exercised in a manner so feeling as to let the offender see, that they have no pleasure in adopting harsh measures; of this truth they give the surest proof by the joy with which, like the apostle, they welcome the returning penitent back to virtue.
Observe the delicacy of his distinctions,―he wrote to them out of much affliction and anguish of heart; not that he wished to grieve them by a display of his own sorrow, but that they might judge by it of the abundant love he had for them. Nor does he, as is the vulgar practice, blame a whole community for the faults of individuals: I am grieved but in part, that I may not overcharge you all. Mark his justice in separating the of fending party from the mass. Is not this a hint against an indiscriminate mode of attack? Do we not occasionally hear one audience addressed as if it were composed entirely of saints, and another, as if all were grossly impenitent sinners?
Having received sufficient proofs of the obedience of the community in inflicting the punishment, and of the penitence of the offender in submitting to it, he was now not only anxious for his restoration, but for his comfort. Me sets a most amiable example of the manner in which
the contrite spirit should be cheered, and the broken heart bound up. No one was ever more studious than Saint Paul, to awaken contrition; none more eager to
heal its pangs.
Want of consideration is an error into which even good men sometimes fall. They do not always enter intimately into the character and circumstances of the persons they address. Saint Paul writes to his friends like one that felt, because he partook, the same fallen humanity with them; like one who was familiar with the infirmities of our common nature, who could allow for doubt and distrust, for misapprehension and error; who expected inconsistency, and was not deterred by perverseness; who bore with failure where it was not wilful, and who could reprove obduracy without being disappointed at meeting with it. In Saint Paul, the heart of flesh was indeed substituted for the heart of stone.
Our spiritual strength is invigorated by the retrospection of our former errors. Saint Paul's tenderness for his converts was doubtless increased by the remembrance of his own errors; a remembrance which left a compassionate feeling on his impressible heart. It never, however, led him to be guilty of that mischiev ous compassion, of preferring the ease of his friends to their safety. He never soothed where it was his duty to reprove. He knew that integrity was the true tenderness; that a harsh truth, which might tend to save the soul, had more humanity than a palliative, which might endanger it.