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for poor sick people, in the properest, indeed the only way in which they can be provided for; yet persons of too severe tempers can, even upon this occasion, talk in a manner, which, contrary surely to their intention, has a very malignant influence upon the spirit of charity-talk of the ill deserts of the poor, the good uses they might make of being left to suffer more than they do, under distresses which they bring upon themselves, or however . might, by diligence and frugality, provide against; and the idle uses they may make of knowing before hand, that they shall be relieved in case of those distresses. Indeed there is such a thing as a prejudice against them, arising from their very state of poverty, which ought greatly to be guarded against; a kind of prejudice, to which perhaps most of us, upon some occasions, and in some degree, may inattentively be liable, but which pride and interest may easily work up to a settled hatred of them; the utter reverse of that amiable part of the character of Job, that "he was a father to the poor. ""* But it is undoubtedly fit, that such of them as are good and industrious should have the satisfaction of knowing beforehand, that they shall be relieved under diseases and casualties and those, it is most obvious, ought to be relieved preferably to others. But these others, who are not of that good character, might possibly have the apprehension of those calamities in so great a degree as would be very mischievous, and of no service, if they thought they must be left to perish under them. And though their idleness and extravagance are very inexcusable, and ought by all reasonable methods to be restrained; and they are highly to be blamed for not making some provision against age and supposable disasters, when it is in their power; yet it is not to be desired, that the anxieties of avarice should be added to the natural inconveniences of poverty.
It is said, that our common fault towards the poor is
*Job xxix. 16.
not harshness, but too great lenity and indulgence. And if allowing them in debauchery, idleness, and open beggary; in drunkenness, profane cursing and swearing in our streets, nay, in our houses of correction; if this be lenity, there is doubtless a great deal too much of it. And such lenity towards the poor is very consistent with the most cruel neglects of them, in the extreme misery to which those vices reduce them. Now, though this last certainly is not our general fault, yet it cannot be said, every one is free from it. For this reason, and that nothing which has so much as the shadow of an objection against our public charities, may be entirely passed over, you will give me leave to consider a little the supposed case above mentioned, though possibly some may think it unnecessary, that of persons reduced to poverty and distress by their own faults.
Instances of this there certainly are. But it ought to be very distinctly observed, that in judging which are such, we are liable to be mistaken; and more liable to it, in judging to what degree those are faulty, who really are so in some degree. However, we should always look with mildness upon the behaviour of the poor; and be sure not to expect more from them than can be expected, in a moderate way of considering things. We should be forward, not only to admit and encourage the good deserts of such as do well, but likewise, as to those of them who do not, be ever ready to make due allowances for their bad education, or, which is the same, their having had none; for what may be owing to the ill example of their superiors, as well as companions, and for temptations of all kinds. And remember always, that be men's vices what they will, they have not forfeited their claim to relief under necessities, till they have forfeited their lives to justice.
"Our heavenly Father is kind to the unthankful and the evil; and sendeth his rain on the just and on the unjust."* And, in imitation of him, our Saviour ex
*Matt. v. 45. Luke vi. 35.
pressly requires, that our beneficence be promiscuous. But we have, moreover, the divine example for relieving those distresses, which are brought upon persons by their own faults; and this is exactly the case we are considering. Indeed the general dispensation of Christianity, is an example of this; for its general design is to save us from our sins, and the punishments which would have been the just consequence of them. But the divine example in the daily course of nature, is a more obvious and sensible one. And though the natural miseries which are foreseen to be annexed to a vicious course of life, are providentially intended to prevent it, in the same manner as civil penalties are intended to prevent civil crimes; yet those miseries, those natural penalties, admit of, and receive natural reliefs, no less than any other miseries which could not have been foreseen or prevented. Charitable providence then, thus manifested in the course of nature, which is the example of our heavenly Father, most evidently leads us to relieve, not only such distresses as were unavoidable, but also such as people by their own faults have brought upon themselves. The case is, that we cannot judge in what degree it was intended they should suffer, by considering what, in the natural course of things, would be the whole bad consequences of their faults, if those consequences were not prevented, when nature has provided means to prevent great part of them. We cannot, for instance, estimate what degree of present sufferings God has annexed to drunkenness, by considering the diseases which follow from this vice, as they would be if they admitted of no reliefs or remedies; but by considering the remaining misery of those diseases, after the application of such remedies as nature has provided. For as it is certain on the one side, that those diseases are providential corrections of intemperance, it is as certain on the other, that the remedies are providential mitigations of those corrections; and altogether as much providential, when administered by the good hand of charity in the case of our neighbor, as when
administered by self-love in our own. Thus the pain, and danger, and other distresses of sickness and poverty remaining, after all the charitable relief which can be procured; and the many uneasy circumstances which cannot but accompany that relief, though distributed with all supposable humanity; these are the natural corrections of idleness and debauchery, supposing these vices brought on those miseries. And very severe corrections they are; and they ought not to be increased by withholding that relief, or by harshness in the distribution of it. Corrections of all kinds, even the most necessary ones, may easily exceed their proper bound; and when they do so, they become mischievous; and mischievous in the measure they exceed it. And the natural corrections which we have been speaking of, would be excessive, if the natural mitigations provided for them were not administered.
Then persons, who are so scrupulously apprehensive of every thing, which can possibly, in the most indirect manner, encourage idleness and vice; which, by the way, any thing may accidentally do, ought to turn their thoughts to the moral and religious tendency of infirmaries. The religious manner in which they are carried on, has itself a direct tendency to bring the subject of religion into the consideration of those whom they relieve; and, in some degree, to recommend it to their love and practice, as it is productive of so much good to them, as restored ease and health, and a capacity of resuming their several employments. It is to virtue and religion, they may mildly be admonished, that they are indebted for their relief. And this, amongst other admonitions of their spiritual guide, and the quiet and order of their house, out of the way of bad examples, together with a regular course of devotion, which it were greatly to be wished might be daily; these means, it is to be hoped, with the common grace of God, may enforce deeply upon their consciences those serious considerations, to which a state of affliction naturally renders the mind attentive; and that they will
return, as from a religious retreat, to their several employments in the world, with lasting impressions of piety in their hearts. By such united advantages, which these poor creatures can in no sort have any other way, very remarkable reformations have been wrought. Persons of the strictest characters therefore would give a more satisfactory proof, not to the world, but to their own consciences, of their desire to suppress vice and idleness, by setting themselves to cultivate the religious part of the institution of infirmaries, whica, I think, would adınit of great improvements, than by allowing themselves to talk in a manner, which tends to countenance either the institution itself, or any particular branch of it.
Admitting, then, the usefulness and necessity of these kinds of charity, which indeed cannot be denied; yet every thing has its bounds. And, in the spirit of severity before mentioned, it is imagined, that people are enough disposed, such, it seems, is the present turn, to contribute largely to them. And some, whether from dislike of the charities themselves, or from mere profligateness, think, "these formal recommendations of them at church every year, might very well be spared.”
But surely it is desirable, that a customary way should be kept open for removing prejudices as they may arise against these institutions; for rectifying any misrepresentations which may, at any time, be made of them; and informing the public of any new emergencies; as well as for repeatedly enforcing the known obligations of charity, and the excellency of this particular kind of it. Then sermons, you know, amongst Protestants, always of course accompany these more solemn appearances in the house of God: nor will these latter be kept up without the other. Now public devotions should ever attend, and consecrate public charities. And it would be a sad presage of the decay of these charities, if ever they should cease to be professedly carried on in the fear of God, and upon the principles of religion. It may be added, that