Mere Christianity, Book Three, Chapter 9: “Charity”

We touched on Charity in chapter 7, Forgiveness, but this chapter goes deeper.

The modern meaning of ‘Charity’ is given to the poor, or ‘alms.’ The original meaning was much wider, and giving to the poor was a part of Charity. Charity is a ‘state of the will.’

Charity means ‘Love, in the Christian sense’. But love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.

  • As we discussed in Forgiveness, loving ourselves does not mean we like ourselves, but that we wish out own good.
  • In the same way, Christian Love/Charity for our neighbors does not mean we’ll automatically have affection for our neighbors.
  • Natural liking/affection for some people makes it easier to be charitable toward them. For this reason, we should encourage affection for the reason that it will make us more Charitable. (The affection, however, is not the virtue.)
  • We need to be aware that our affection for some will make us less charitable to others, as well as be on guard that our affections for some people will cause us to be unwise for some people.
  • Affection cannot be ‘manufactured’ by setting and ‘thinking it up.’
  • The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.

  • In the same way, action on negative impulses will make it easier to dislike someone more –> making treating them badly easier –> making disliking the more easier –> ….

Consequently, though Christian charity sounds a very cold thing to people whose heads are full of sentimentality, and though it is quite distinct from affection, yet it leads to affection. The difference between a Christian and a worldly man is not that the worldly man has only affections or ‘likings’ and the Christian has only `charity’. The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them: the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on — including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.

  • “Good and evil both increase at compound interest.” Every good/Godly action makes more goodness possible. Every trivial indulgence is ground lost to the enemy. Some of these losses will lead to enemy strongholds in our lives. Every battle is important to a victorious life.
  • Charity not only describes our relationships with people, but also with God… but we often don’t feel emotional towards God. The thing is to act as though you do, and the feelings will grow in that obedience.
  • God’s love toward us is easier to think about…

Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’ He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.

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Parent: Mere Christianity: Leaders’ Notes Series

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