« PreviousContinue »
for the right performance of it, supposed to be a christian duty. My business therefore must be to explain, I. What it is that Christians are obliged to do
in general, with regard to alms-giving. II. The true meaning of this particular caution,
of not doing it before men, to be seen of them.
I. WHAT it is that Christians are obliged to do, with regard to alm[-giving. And this will best be done, by considering, (1.) To what persons we are to give. (2.) What, or how much. (3.) When, or at what time.
(1.) I begin with the first, where I am to shew, to what persons we ought to give. And these, no doubt, are properly those who are in want, and are not able to help themselves. If they can do this, tho' they be in want, 'twere better even for themfelves, as well as for the public good, that they are left to their own industry, than suffered to prey upon the fruits of other mens labours, while they indulge themselves in sloth and idleness: for idleness is the greatest corrupter both of body and mind, an enemy to the health, a certain fixer of poverty, when men are once fall’n into it, as well as the usual cause and occasion of falling into poverty; the seed-plot of many misfortunes, the parent of many vices, and the spring of several public and mischievous crimes, the pest of a common-wealth, and what apparently tends to its decay and ruin. In consideration of which evils, the Apostle St. Paul wrote thus to the Thesalonians, * For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any man would not work, neither should be eat. And
afterwards speaking to such as these, he says, + Now them that are such, we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. The proper objects of charity, therefore, are poor, helpless orphans and widows; such fick, and aged, and decayed persons, as are not able to help themselves; to assist these is a singular piece of charity, and this charity an eminent
part of Christianity, a pure and undefiled religion. So St. James hath told us, #Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, viz. to comfort, support and relieve them in the affliction they labour under. But as those who are unable to help themselves are the proper objects of compassion, and to be relieved on that account; so are there certain other circumstances to be considered in this case, as requiring a more especial charity
As first of all, if the person fell into. want and poverty, not by his own neglect or vices, not by idleness or debauchery, but by calamities either in his body or estate, which it was not in his
power to prevent: This case requires an especial favour. Here God in the way of his providence prepares an object for our charity, and therefore no doubt requires a freer exercise of it, than where a man makes himself so by that which God forbids, by idleness, luxury, and excess.
And then again another circumstance, which commands a more especial charity, is, where the person is a Christian, and that not only in profeslion, but in practice too. And this is that which St. Paul considered, * As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the houshold of faith. There is a chari
7 2 Theil. iii. 12.
# James. i. 27.
* Gal. vi. 1o.
ty due to all who stand in need of our assistance, but more especially due to them who make profefsion of Christianity, as being fellow-members with us, of the body of Christ, and heirs of the same glory that we our selves expect from him; and therefore fpiritually related to us, and more particularly dear to Christ himself, and therefore worthy of more regard, where other circumstances are alike, than those that have not so much of the divine image upon them, and of his grace in them.
Add hereunto a third circumstance, thąt ought to recommend a poor person to our especial confideration; namely, natural kindred and relation to us. For as the proper rule of charity, first requires a provision for a man's own family; infomuch, that He is worse than an infidel, who provides not for them of his own house: fo the next care it requires, is of the branches of the same house. But here observe, that I speak of the matter of charity only; for 'as to publick places and offices in Church or state, no doubt, but a fit and able person is to be preferr'd before a relative; because publick offices are designed for publick advantage, and therefore the best qualified are to be chosen without regard to blood and affinity, unless a near relation be equally fit, or at least sufficiently and duly qualified; and this may fuffice to shew the properest objects of our charity. Proceed we now to the
(2.) SECOND point, which is, how much we ought to give: And here the general rule is, that we give according to the wants of others, confidered together with our own ability. Where I Thall lay down these two rules. First, That we are not so 'to give, as to exhaust the very fountain. But yet, secondly, That we are obliged to give liberally, with regard to our estates and power,
t : Tiin. V. 8.
FIRST, We are not so to give, as to exhaust the very fountain, to disable our felves from being in a capacity of giving more. For if to give, be
bc to do a good action highly acceptable to God, and agreeable to our own minds; is it not absurd and childish, by an over forward zeal, to run our selves out of breath for it; and out of mere eagerness of the duty, to destroy our own capacity of performing it? Besides, were there any obligation upon us from God to break our estates into pieces, and to distribute them to the poor, how would it consist with the other obligations, which he has certainly laid us under, of providing for our families, according to the degree we are planted in? Or suppose there were no families to be taken care of, what would be the issue of such an extravagant bounty, but a vain and useless reciprocation ? For when I had by this means made my self poor, another must put himself into the like circumstances to enrich me, and so on in an endless circle of change and confusion to no manner of purpose. For though our Lord required a certain young man to sell all he had, and to give to the poor, and to follow him (who no doubt would have provided for him, had he complied with that command) the precept there was only a trial, who ther his forward client could find in his heart, or not, to quit all his worldly possessions for the sake of religion, if times should come that might make it necessary, as afterwards the times of persecution did. So that it implies no more to us in general, than that whosoever will be a Christian in earnest, must fit fo loose to all the enjoyments in this world, as to be fincerely ready and willing to part with them ; how great, how dear foever, when they cannot be kept without quitting his rcligion and a good conscience. But no part of the Scripture, that I know of, obliges us by any standing law to part with all we have in charity to others, and thereby reduce our selves to want.
Yet, secondly, There is no doubt, but that every man ought to give liberally, with respect to what estate he hath. This is suggested in the words, * Give alms of such things as ye bave. Tho' ye have neither lilver nor gold to give, yet give of such things as ye have. From whence it appears, that there is a bounty demanded even from meaner persons, a liberality required in them, and much more from those of fortunes or estates. But that which does most effectually shew, that God requires us to give liberally, is, that the reward of charity shall rise in proportion to the generosity and greatness of it. So St. Paul tells us, † He which Joweth sparingly, shall reap Sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully, Mall reap bountifully. To the fame purpose is the exhortation that follows, Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let bim give; not grudgingly, or of necesity: For God loveth a chearful giver. God requires that we give with free and chearful minds, and therefore hath not punctually determined the very sums, or the strict proportion to be given, but left that loose and unsettled, that there may be room to fhew our liberality. But I have said enough of this head, to make way for the
(3.) Last point, when we ought to give. The . resolution is, that we are obliged then to give, when christian prudence shall determine, that it is most seasonable so to do. And though I will not say, that it is always, in all cases, and in all circumstances, to be our rule, to give speedily, and without delay; yet it is generally lo, and that for two very good reasons.
* Luke X. 41.
t 2 Cor, ix. 6.