Christian Love,
or the Influence of Religion upon Temper

By John Angell James, 1828


"Love is kind."

It is a decisive proof and a striking display of the excellence of the Christian religion, that it enjoins not only the loftier and more rigid excellencies of the human character—but those also which are delicately amiable and tender; not only the masculine virtues—but the feminine graces; in short, that it not only prepares its possessor to be a patriot on the great theater of his country, or a spectacle of heroic martyrdom to God, to angels, and to men—but a sympathizing friend in the social and domestic circles. Love can either expand its benevolence to the claims of the whole human family—or concentrate its emotions, for a time, in one individual object of pity or affection.

"Love is kind." KINDNESS means a disposition to please—a concern, manifested by our conduct, to promote the comfort of our race. Pity commiserates their sorrows; mercy relieves their needs and mitigates their woes; but kindness is a general attention to their comfort. It is thus described and distinguished by a celebrated writer on English synonyms—"The terms affectionate and fond, characterize feelings. Kind, is an epithet applied to outward actions, as well as inward feelings; a disposition is affectionate or fond; a behavior is kind. A person is affectionate, who has the object of his regard strongly in his mind, who participates in his pleasures and in his pains, and is pleased with his society. A person is kind, who expresses a tender sentiment, or does any service in a pleasant manner. Relatives should be affectionate to each other; we should be kind to all who stand in need of our kindness." Kindness, then, appears to be an affectionate behavior. This is what the apostle means when he admonishes us to "be kindly affectioned one to another."

Let us view the KIND MAN in contrast with some other characters.

A kind man is the opposite of the rigid, severe, and censorious person, who will make no allowance for the infirmities or inexperience of others; but judges harshly, reproves sternly, and speaks severely, of all who do not come up to his standard. Kindness, on the contrary—makes all reasonable allowances—frames the best excuses it can, consistently with truth and holiness—speaks of the offender in a way of mitigation, and to him in a way of compassion—does not publish nor exaggerate his faults—and endeavors to find out some redeeming qualities to set off against his failings.

A kind man is the opposite of a proud and overbearing one. The latter is ever seeking an opportunity to display his superiority, and make you feel your inferiority; and cares not how much your feelings are hurt by this offensive exhibition of his consequence. Kindness, if conscious, as it sometimes must be, of its superiority, takes care that those who are below it shall not feel a painful sense of their inferiority. Without sacrificing its dignity, it will conceal as much as possible its pre-eminence, or unite it with such affability as shall render it by no means unpleasant.

Kindness is opposed to coldness and selfishness of disposition. There are people who, though neither cruel, nor injurious, nor really hard-hearted—are yet so cold, and distant, and retiring, and repulsive—that they can neither be approached nor moved. They look upon the scenes around them with the fixed and beamless eye, the chilliness and quiescence of the statue—for they have no interest in the concerns of the world. But kindness is the visible expression of a feeling and merciful heart; it is the goings-forth of a tender and susceptible mind; it claims kindred with the human race; it is all ear to listen—all heart to feel—all eye to examine and to weep—all hand and foot to relieve; it invites the sufferer with kind words, and does not send him away empty.

Kindness is opposed to a vain and ostentatious liberality. "When you give a gift to someone in need, don't shout about it as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I assure you, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone, don't tell your left hand what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in secret, and your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you." Matthew 6:2-4.

Some will be charitable if they may have spectators of their good deeds, who shall go and proclaim their charities. They spoil the action by their mode of performing it—for they will, in the most indelicate manner, make the object of their bounty feel a painful sense of obligation—they will state the exact amount, almost in monetary value, of the favors they have conferred; and then go away and give such publicity to their doings, that the beneficiary is almost everywhere sure to hear of what has been done for him.

Kindness will on the other hand conceal as much as possible that it is actually conferring a favor; will do everything to cause it to descend lightly upon the spirit of the recipient; and would, if circumstances allowed, gladly extend relief from behind a veil which hides the giver, and does everything to prevent the sense of obligation from being either painful or oppressive.

Kindness is opposed to the benevolence of partiality, prejudice, and caprice. There are not a few who are lavish in their fondness towards people of their own family, friends and party—or upon those who happen to be their favorites for the time. But for any outside their own circle of family and partisans, or of their select friends—they have none of the charities of life. Their benevolent regards are purely sectarian or absolutely capricious. But true kindness is a clear perennial spring, rising up from a heart replete with universal philanthropy, holding on its way, unimpeded by prejudices or partialities, and distributing its benefits alike upon all that it meets with in its course.

Having thus contrasted kindness with some characteristics to which it is opposed, let us now consider the manner in which it acts.

Kindness expresses itself in WORDS that are calculated to please. As not only our words, but the tones of our voice are indicative of our thoughts and feelings, it is of consequence for us to be careful, both as to what we say, and how we say it. Half of the quarrels which disturb the peace of society arise from unkind words, and not a few from unkind tones. We should sedulously avoid a sour, morose, chiding mode of speech, and adopt a soothing, conciliatory, and affectionate style of address. A surly tone is calculated to wound or offend; and love, which carries the law of kindness upon its lips, will consequently avoid it. A snappish, petulant, scolding address, is in the highest degree repulsive and dissonant in the communion of society. We may not have, it is true, the music of sound in our speech—but it is our own fault if we have not the music of love. We need not employ grimace, fawning flattery, hollow and unmeaning compliment—but we may be courteous and affectionate; and we ought to "let our speech be seasoned with salt, that it may minister grace to the hearers." Every word and every modulation of the voice that is likely to offend, should be studiously avoided, and will be avoided by kindness—which extends also to ACTIONS. It is anxious not to give offense by anything which it does; it is most delicately tender in reference to the feelings of its object, and would not unnecessarily crush the wing of an insect, much less inflict a wound on a rational mind. There are people who, in a spirit of selfish independence, care not whom they please or whom they offend, But love is as anxious not to offend—as it is solicitous about its own gratification. Its neighbor's comfort is as dear to it as its own. It calculates, deliberates, weighs the tendency of actions, and when by incaution, or pure misfortune, it has occasioned distress, it hastens by every practicable means to heal the wound.

Kindness not only abstains from actual injury—but it is active in conferring benefits—watches for an opportunity to please—is ever ready to afford its assistance when appealed to—and is not satisfied unless it can do something to increase the general stock of comfort. Kindness accommodates itself to men's habits, partialities, or prejudices. Kindness adapts itself, in things indifferent and lawful, to their modes of acting, and does not wantonly oppose their desires, when such resistance would occasion them distress. A stiff uncomplying behavior, which consults nothing but its own desires, and which will not sacrifice the least punctilio of its own habits to give pleasure, has not a particle of beneficence about it. Such an individual is like a person in a crowd, who will walk with his arms stretched out, or with annoying weapons in his hand.

Kindness extends of course to little things, as well as to great ones. The happiness or misery of life does not consist so much in the 'transport of joy', or the 'anguish of affliction', as in feelings of an inferior kind—which, though less violent, are more frequent than those strong emotions. Hence it is in our power to make others miserable in life; not perhaps, by deeds of cruelty or injustice, which we dare not or cannot commit—but by indulging in unaccommodating dispositions towards them—by vexing them with acts of unkindness, which will neither blast our reputation, nor put in peril our property, liberty, or life.

And it is also in our power to make them happy, not so much by signal and material services, which are seldom called for at our hands—as by the inferior offices of little benevolences. The daily and almost hourly reciprocity of little acts of good or ill will, which we have an opportunity of performing, go a great way to the making up of good or bad neighborship. There are those who, in the greater expressions of Christian mercy, are really humane; whose benevolence at the same time has not learned to stoop to little things. They are compassionate—but they lack kindness. They would relieve a starving beggar—but they would not put themselves in ever so small a degree out of their way to accommodate in trivial matters a near neighbor.

Kindness is universal in its objects. We have known individuals who could never do enough for some objects of their regard—but they are by no means people of diffusive kindness. And perhaps, if we examine, we shall find that their benevolence has a great mixture of selfishness in it—for it is exercised only towards those from whom they expect an ample return. It is the kindness of barter—not of love. It is so much of their giving put out at interest—not given away to the needy. They either have had, or expect to have, value received for all they do. But love is universal in its aspect; it is ever ready to do a kind office for anyone that either solicits or needs its assistance. Its language is, "Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters." It has a kind look, word, and act—for everybody. Nor are its enemies denied the assistance of its efforts.

Such is the generous spirit of the Christian religion, as appears from the passages quoted in a preceding chapter. Such is the refined, the sublime morality of the New Testament. Yes, these are the principles on which kindness acts—it extends its beneficence to the very man that has treated it with ridicule and scorn—with cruelty, insult, and oppression. This is its duty and its inclination. In imitation of the dying Savior, who gave his last prayer to his murderers, it says, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" We have known many, who will endure any hardship, make any exertion, bear any sacrifice for their family and friends, for whom they can never do enough. But toward their enemies, they are unkind, implacable, and resentful. The man who has injured them, they can never forgive; for him they have no kindness—but hold him in contempt, aversion, and neglect. But Christianity requires a higher and more unselfish virtue than this—for it commands us to be kind to our enemies.

What a fascinating character is the man of distinguished kindness! He is invested with indescribable loveliness—he may not have the glory in which the patriot, the hero, or the martyr is enshrined; but he is adorned in no common degree with the beauties of holiness. He carries about with him the majesty of goodness, if not the dominion of greatness. The light of his countenance is the warm sunshine, to which the grief-stricken turn from their dark retreats, to bask in its glow. And his gentle words are like soft melody to chase away the evil thoughts from the bosom of melancholy, and to hush to peace the troubled reflections of the distempered mind. As he moves along his career, distributing the inexpensive but efficient expressions of his regards, it is amid the blessing of those that were ready to perish, and the notes of the widow's heart, which he has turned to joy. When he comes unexpectedly into the company of his friends, every countenance puts on the appearance of delight, and it appears as if a beneficent person had come among them to bless the party; as he looks round on the circle, with the smile of kindliness that has found an abiding place upon his brow, he presents the brightest resemblance to be found in our selfish world, of the entrance of the Savior among his disciples when he said, "Peace be unto you!" and breathed upon them the Holy Spirit.

Although he neither seeks nor wishes an equivalent in return for his many acts of benevolence, his gentle spirit receives back, in a full tide, the streams of consolation which had ebbed from his own heart to fill the empty channels of his neighbor's happiness. Who can be unkind to him—who is kind to all? What heart is so hard, what mind is so cruel, what spirit is so diabolical—as to wound him, who never appears among his race, but as a ministering angel? There is a magic in his tears to melt to sympathy the stubborn soul of cruelty itself, which has a tear for no one else. There is no less a magic in his smiles, so far to relax and soften the hard features of envy, as to reflect for a moment the sunshine of his joy. While he lives, every man is his admirer—and when he dies, every man is his mourner. While he is on earth, his name has a home in every heart—and when he is gone, he has a monument in every memory—and this is the description of his character—the record of his praise—love is kind!