IN CHARITY WITH ALL MEN
PREACHED IN GRACE CHURCH IN NEW YORK
CHARLES LEWIS SLATTERY, D.D.
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012
IN CHARITY WITH ALL MEN
"With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering,
forbearing one another in love."—Ephesians iv. 2.
ONE of the sentences in the Exhortation at the Holy Communion requires of us that we be in love and charity with our neighbours. Often men and women who hear these words, search their hearts, and then decide that because they have certain hard feelings against this person or that, they have no right to receive the Sacrament.
I wish to assure you first of all that the Holy Communion is not so much for saints as for sinners. It is not for those who are unconscious of any lack; it is, rather, for those who feel great need of help. If, when you think of those who have ill-used you or yours, you give to them what I may call a willing hate,—that is, a hate which you solemnly intend to keep,—then I fear you ought not to come to the Great Feast. But if you honestly strive against your hard feelings, if you honestly pray one sincere prayer to God that the stinging thoughts [3/4] may melt into kindness, then by all means you have not only the right but the most urgent command to go forward to beg of Christ all the help which His love can give. It is your real desire which counts.
This, you will notice, does not in any sense explain the words away. You do not come to the Holy Communion intending to feel as you feel now. You are eagerly reaching up out of your old self towards that new and altogether loving person whom you aspire to be. So the main question which I shall try to answer today is, How may you overcome hard feelings?
That we may keep strictly to what is possible, I am going to ask you to think of the experience and words of a very sensitive human soul whose honesty was as transparent as his sensitiveness, St. Paul.
Before I repeat St. Paul's rules, let a word be said about St. Paul himself. There is an impression among those who make no attempt to soften their hard feelings that the person who remains in charity with all men does so at the cost of keenness, and sometimes at the cost of justice. Now think of St. Paul. Think of him as he faced [4/5] St. Peter, his fellow apostle, his friend. It was in a sharp controversy about the rights of Gentile Christians. St. Paul had been commissioned by St. Peter and others to found a Gentile Church at Antioch. St. Peter at length visited the Church; but, because he was afraid of Jewish prejudice, he refused to eat with the Gentile Christians. What did St. Paul do? Did he say that in order to be in charity with all men he must overlook this affront to his Gentile parishioners? Did he go up to his fellow apostle and say that he did not care what St. Peter did, so long as there was peace between them? No; St. Paul was evidently quite angry, for the record still survives: "I resisted him," he said, "to the face." There were no smiles, we may be sure, at that significant meeting, but a consuming wrath, which brought Peter to a sense of his lack of Christian breadth and firmness.
Let us be clear at the start about this discrimination. Being "in charity with all men" does not mean any diminution of justice. But you will notice that St. Paul's indignation was aroused not by a personal injury to himself, but by the abuse of [5/6] a great Christian principle affecting many people, and indeed the whole history of the Church. The people who have heart-burning for massive public wrongs are not, ordinarily, the people who carry about the remembrance of small personal injuries. Our Saviour, for example, was vividly scornful of the people who made elaborate rules and then by a cunning casuistry evaded the primal laws of God; but He bore no hard memories of those who struck Him in the face and nailed Him to the Cross: "Father, forgive them," He said, "for they know not what they do." He who was ablaze with indignation at the wrongs which hypocrites heaped upon simple peasants, was alert to forgive all affronts personal to Himself, however cruel and malicious. What I wish you to notice is this: St. Paul and St. Paul's Master have demonstrated for all time that to be in charity with all men does not mean any tame permission to let evil take its course in the surrounding world.
Now we are ready, I think, to weigh St. Paul's rules for the overcoming of hard feelings.
 St. Paul's first word is "lowliness." To be lowly has a smug sound from which a wholesome man is apt to retreat. But when we give it a modern translation, and say that to be lowly is to have a modest estimate of oneself, we find lowliness a very practical word.
If you are inclined to cherish hard feelings,—St. Paul would say then,—be sure to maintain a modest estimate of yourself. As I think over the hard feelings of which I happen to have some knowledge, an astonishing number may be attributed to an exaggerated valuation of one's importance. Many injuries which cut deep wounds are inflicted unconsciously. Some people are absent-minded, some are awkward, some are insufferably stupid. They say and do what sends icy shivers over one's whole frame and never know it. How absurd then to treasure the memory of such unintentional wrongs!
Again, even when injuries are evidently aimed at you, when the arrow is carefully dipped in poison and shot at what is deemed your most vulnerable part,—even then [7/8] a modest estimate of yourself is an immeasurable help towards forgetting it. One might wisely recall how Mozart, with the genius of the ages aglow within him, was invited to visit the great Duchess, who, when he came, kept him waiting in a cold room till his fingers were frozen, and then, bidding him play, she and her guests loudly talked. "It is an odd world," some one has said, "which lets Homer go begging, claps Bunyan in gaol, and pays its jockeys ten thousand a year!" When the immortals have been treated with indignity and have gone forward undaunted, without bitterness, is it not altogether absurd that we, in our small corners, should grow crusty and sour because somebody does not give to us what we think our meed of respect, or drops an uncomfortable word about us? Are we then so enormously important!
I am sure it will take us a long way out of our hard feelings if we rigidly school ourselves to be modest,—quite modest,—in estimating our own importance.
 St. Paul's second word is "meekness." That word, too, has a remote, uncanny sound. Bishop Gore has admirably translated it "mildness in mutual relations." There is no doubt that a great deal of the injury which comes to people is invited by sharpness of tongue. One sharp word invites another, and there is no knowing how bitter the last word may be. If a man is sensitive, if he is likely to brood over the harsh things people say to him or about him, it is wise for him to hold his cleverness in check. Conversation may lose its colour and dash for a season, but now we are not bent upon being brilliant, we are merely honestly in search of that which will overcome our hard feelings. This meekness, or mildness in mutual relations, will vastly help.
St. Paul's third word is " longsuffering." This, I think, can be compared with our Saviour’s command, "Judge not." Quick judgments are the source of interminable trouble. Circumstantial evidence has hanged perfectly innocent people. [9/10] The quick judgments which, with a good deal of apparent justice, are pronounced upon sometime friends, are often as unjust, and almost as cruel. Our Saviour said, "With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged." How often do we see the relentless return of quick judgments. The man who has a habit of summarily condemning others, is sure to be judged by his neighbours in the same way. And then what a howl of dismay goes up from the lips of that once unjust judge! He has, with insufficient investigation, played fast and loose with people's reputations, and now the nemesis has come to him, and people are twisting his name into all sorts of unpleasant tales, old sores are opened, the pain is intense, and bitter thoughts rankle in his soul. He is out of charity with all men; men point to him as a pitiful example of a bitter, disappointed soul.
I have known people otherwise estimable, sometimes almost great, who have no faculty for saying exactly what they know to be true. They mingle with facts what they infer from facts, they even romance a little, and then with one or two tellings they [10/11] deliver facts, inferences, and romance all in one piece, as something which they aver to be true. He who is prone to hard feelings needs most of all to hold back judgment till he knows every scrap of evidence as he knows the fingers on his two hands. He must not only hold back the words, he must hold back the judging thoughts. Let no bitterness enter on some free and easy hearsay, or by some facile inference of your own. Be longsuffering.
St. Paul's fourth and last word, for overcoming hard feelings, is forbearance,—"Forbearing one another in love." We have come to the last hard stage. The injury is certain. The malicious word has been said: the hostile act has been done. It is neither conjecture nor inference; it is indubitable fact. Is there not ground for bitterness? Shall one not say that Christ asks too much: we must be out of charity with one or two men after all. St. Paul's reply is that when the worst is proved we must forbear one another in love. The sentence comes in St. Paul's wonderful exhortation to unity. [11/12] That unity is in Christ: as we are all members of Christ, so are we members of one another. Therefore when any one does us injury or insult, it is our duty to look on him not as an alien, but as a friend still. For the argument must ever run: he is Christ's, and I am Christ's; therefore he is mine and I am his. Then the bitterness tends—you notice I say tends—to be swallowed up by a larger feeling, a feeling of common ownership by One who is the common Master of all.
In passing, we may notice the practical outcome. If you treat a man as an enemy, he will become your enemy. So the tiny spring of bitterness will flow down the hill till it becomes a wide river of bitterness. And it is your own fault. You have persisted in making a quasi enemy into a real enemy, and your insistence upon treating him as such makes him every day a more pronounced enemy. That is an ugly thought; so let us turn to the other side of the truth. Treat a man who has done you an injury, said the sharp word of you behind your back, done the crooked deed which involved you in pain,—treat that man [12/13] as if he were still your friend, and he will gradually become your friend. You may say that you are proud and do not want his friendship. That does not matter. You are not independently in business in God's world. God is your Master; and through His Son He has made it plain that you are to treat all men who touch your life, and in so far as they do touch your life, as friends, just as Christ treated Nicodemus and Zaccheus and the sons of Zebedee. Very well, let us suppose that you obey. Do you remember what happened to Sidney Carton in the story? He was every one's enemy, and the world gave him a cordial hatred. One woman, true and beautiful, believed in him,—in this man who had even ceased to believe in himself. A dark time came to that woman: her husband was condemned to the guillotine. Every hope seemed futile. Then at the last moment this Sidney Carton, this human beast whom all but one detested, became the good man this one woman believed him to be: he slipped into the place prepared for her husband,—and he died the hero her belief gave him the courage to be. An enemy who is treated [13/14] as a friend will gradually be transformed, and as the transformation advances the old bitterness will grow dim, till at length it passes quite away. You may say that it is an outward act. Yes, so it will doubtless be at first. You will bow, you will speak, you will smile, when it costs you much to do so. But you will be no hypocrite. You will be trying to follow Jesus Christ in the hardest path he trod; and at last you will come to the place where you can say that you are indeed "in charity with all men."
The trait which I most dread in any friend of mine is bitterness. Bitterness ruins life with amazing swiftness. He who is out in the thick of the world must have many buffets and many scars. Bitterness will tend to come into his soul. My dear parishioners, this would be a unique congregation if there were not bitterness at the threshold of many lives here to-day. I beg you not to tolerate it. If it knocks at the door of your heart, shut it out. Do not, for your own sake, for the world's sake, for Christ's sake, allow bitterness to get a permanent lodging in your heart. Never give up the fight against it. It is one of [14/15] the compensations of long life that as a good life goes forward it grows tenderer, more considerate, freer of bitterness. A famous man used to speak bitterly of wasted, inefficient lives; but when his own son was found dead after a drunken brawl the sorrow of his experience made that father tender towards all who had failed. The bitterness all melted away. So as we go on in life, the very greatest things,—life, love, immortality,—loom high above our disappointments and troubles. We more easily forget and forgive. We face the world with a calm eye; God's love kindles its holy fire in our hearts; we are "in charity with all men."
So let us come to the Supper of the Lord this bright morning with an honest desire to overcome our hard feelings; and as we go out into the spring sunshine may there be the refreshing sense that we have left at the feet of the Lord Jesus whatever bitterness we had. So may we draw near, not in complacent satisfaction in our own goodness, but "with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love."