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which our Saviour intimates in that saying of his, Give Alms and all things are clean unto You. By Mercy, says Solomon, Iniquity is purg'd, Prov. 16.6. and the Son of Sirach, Water will quench a flaming Fire, and Alms make an Atonement for Sins, Ecclus 3. 30. To which we may add that of St Peter, tho’I know it is interpreted sometimes in another Sense,Charity covers a multitude of Sins. Without doubt We may with a well-grounded Confidence hope, that this our dayly Prayer will be graciously heard, Forgive Us our Debts, when by having shewn Mercy to the Poor, we have made God, or rather God has made himself, our Debtor.
Indeed there are so Great and Glorious things to be said, and truly said, of Bounty to the Poor, that the only danger is left we should carry our Opinion of it beyond its Bounds, and by letting too great à Value upon our Good Works in our own Eyes, make’em not only of no Value at all, but even Sinfull and Abominable in the Eyes of God. And this we should do, if we should think that by their Efficacy, they could cleanse us from Guilt, or that upon the Score of their inherent Worth, God were oblig'd to forgive us our Sins, or that in ftrict Justice and of Condignity they merited an Everlasting Reward. This were impiously to Equal Ourselves with God, to come to terms and drive a bargain with our Maker, and which is the highest of all linpieties, facrilegiously to rob Christ of the Merits of his Sufferings, whose Blood only can wash away Sin. To do good and to diftribute are indeed Sacrifices of a sweet smelling Savour unto God, and Offerings in which he declares himself well-pleas d, yet by their own Efficacy can no more atone for Sin than the Old Legal Sacrifices could, which had all their Virtue from that One perfect Oblation, which they were all but Figures and Shadows of, even That which was once for all offer'd up by our Saviour on the Cross. In short, Good Works instrumentally conduce to, and are indispenfable Conditions, but not meritorious Causes of Salvation. Without God's favourable ACceptance of 'em thro' Christ's Merits, we must own that Our best Deeds are but as Dross, and We ourselves but unprofitable Servants.
And here let no Patron of the Romish Merit object, that this Doctrine is any Discouragement to the Works of Charity, or that it cuts off all Plea to a Recompence for our Chriftian Obedience at the hands of God. What? because we dare not arrogantly and fallly plead Desert, have we no other Plea? Yes and a much surer too. God be ever blessed for it, there are other Attributes of his that oblige Him in his
Transactions with Men as much as his Justice can. Such are his Mercy and Truth, which are here met together. He looking upon us thro' Christ has expressly promis d a plentyfull and glorious Reward to very mean and unproportiop'd Performances : which Promise tho' meer Grace induc'd him to make, yet, when made, his Essential Veracity and Justice ftand oblig'd to see perform’d. And from the Confidence of this, we have in all reason as strong and enforcing Motives to raise our Minds to the highest and most heroic Acts of Christian Cha. rity, as if every such fingle Act could by its own intrinsick Worth merit an Eternal Weight of Glory. Since in the Natural course of things it is plain, that the chief Excitement to undertake any Performance is not so much a Perswasion of the Merit of our Work, as the Assurance of the Certainty of our Reward :
Which naturally leads to the II. thing propos d to be consider'd in the Text, and that is the promis d Reward.
And here we may take notice in general, that it is too fine a Nocion, which fome Men with more Zeal than Knowledge, to speak the most Charitably of 'em, have advanc'd; namely, That God and Goodness are so excellent in their own Nature, that
the One is to be Worship’d and Obey'd, and the Other Study'd and Practis'd merely and solely for their own Sakes. That we ought not to have an Eye to Reward: This being a low Principle unworthy of a Chriftian, making our best Performances felfish and mercenary, and thereby Destructive of all that is good in our Love and Obedience. This I affirm to be as fallly as it is fpeciously and ambitiously said, and I don't know, which is the greater Pride, thus to flight a Reward from God freely offerd, or to challenge one of Him as justly deferv'd. He who knows whereof we are made and what is the chief Spring of Action in us, never bids us Work, but he bids us Hope, and to disregard his glorious Promises is as great an Affront to the Divine Majefty, as to difobey his Righteous Commands; as on the Other hand to believe and embrace what he has promis d is as high an Act of Religion, as to do what he has Enjoyn'd. Indeed Faith and Good Works ought never to be Separated, yet by St Paul's Suppofition it is possible to have Faith without Charity, but it is impossibie to have Charity without Faith. For it is Belief in Chrift that turns Natural Works into Chriftian Ones; The Relyance upon God's Word and doing good for his fake is that which ennobles and spiritualizes Munificence, and makes
it become Charity. So that the Duty we are treating of, could not be itself without Respect to the Promise, it might be an Exercise of good Nature but none of Faith, it might be a Moral Virtue not an Evangelical Grace; it might be a Giving to the Poor, but not a Lending to the Lord.
I come now lastly to consider the
particular Promise made to this Duty in the Text, Caft thy Bread upon the Waters, and after many days thou shalt find it. Which all Expositors agree to be understood both of a Temporal and Eternal Reward, and that in these Words Charity has the Promise of the Life that now is and that which is to coine.
ift. Of the Life that now is, which obviates that great Difficulty which the Devil is wont to throw in our Way, and the Covetous Worldling so readily lays hold of for Excuse, namely, the fear of Exhaufting our Estates by too liberal Contributions, and reducing Ourselves to the fame Necesfities that we relieve. But this is a most Unchristian as well as a moft Unreasonable Fear, a most Ungodly as well as a most Unmanly Diftruft. ift. A moft Ungodly One, because there is nothing thro' the whole Book of God so frequently and expressly promis’d, as that these Worldly Goods are