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bound to give to the extent of our ability. But how is each to ascertain what his ability really is ? The income may be relatively great, but the expenditure may be necessarily great also. Without any improper conformity to the corrupt maxims and fashions of the world, our expenses must bear some near proportion to what the usages of society have rendered becoming in the rank in which we are placed. Can we, with decency, greatly retrench, or without incurring the imputation of penuriousness?
Every man must judge for himself on this point: but in forming his judgment, let him remember, that it is clearly his duty to make his charity bear a proportion to his income; and that he ought so to regulate his expenditure, that it may never interfere with the sum which is sacredly allotted to charitable purposes. It should not satisfy his conscience that he can,
, without any apparent extravagance, consume his whole income; and that he finds at the end of the year that little as he has given away, he has given as much as he can afford. It may be so: but let him seriously ask himself, whether he has included charity in the necessary expenditure of the year, “as an article to be increased with every augmentation of his revenue; and as an article never to be suffered intentionally to fall short of a definite proportion of that revenue.”
“ Remember also, that the scriptural measure of your obligation to bounty is your reasonable ability, not your artificial inability. The duty of opening your hand wide to your brother, to the poor and to the needy, is not to be escaped by encircling your hand with voluntary ligatures, and then shewing to how small a compass only it can be expanded. Reduce the external trappings of your station, be it higher or lower, within the narrowest limits which decency of appearance will authorize. Renounce every extravagant indulgence; be sparing in lawful gratifications which entail expense. The foundation of christian bounty must in part be laid in christian self-denial*.”
It has been often remarked, and the fact is undoubted, that the poor and the inferior ranks of society in general contribute much more liberally in proportion to their income, for the relief of the indigent, than the rich. How readily, in many cases, do they
. bestow their time, a share of their food, and a mite out of their earnings, on the destitute, the sick, and the aged in their neighbourhood! Let those who are in affluent circumstances learn from their example how inuch more liberal they might be, and ought to be, in comparison of from what they actually are. Might they not devote a much larger share of their property to charitable uses without encroaching on any necessary comfort, or reasonable indulgence, without being prevented from providing, with christian moderation, for the future comfort of their children, and without affecting that expenditure which is suitable to the decent maintenance of that rank in which Providence has placed them?
With regard to the manner in which charity should be exercised, it is clear that before what we give away can with propriety be called by this name, it
* Gisborne's Christian Morality, p. 182.
must be a voluntary and disinterested offering. What is wrung from us through importunity, or bestowed grudgingly, or from interested motives, is not charity.
Every man, according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver.” If we give with true benevolence, we shall give willingly and cheerfully, in obedience to the will of God, and from the pleasure of doing good, and communicating. On a christian mind, the motive suggested in Scripture to the practice of this duty is most powerful :-" Herein
is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another."
To exercise charity efficiently, we must exercise it appropriately and with discrimination. We must endeavour to distinguish who are fit objects of christian bounty, and adapt the relief we administer to the nature of their wants and circumstances. While we cherish our instinctive compassion, as implanted in our nature for the best ends, we must accustom ourselves to act, not under the humane impulse of the moment, but under the influence of judgment, and fixed principle ; and shew, by the manner in which we give away, that it is not from carelessness as to the possession of property, nor from good nature merely, but from the desire of doing good.
In administering our charity appropriately, it may be necessary for us often to give, not money, but food, clothing, education, moral and religious instruction, consolation, advice, patronage. The kind of
relief which we offer must vary with the exigences of the case. If our brethren are in want, our charity must be of a nature to furnish a supply; if they are in ignorance, we must give them the means of knowledge ; if they are in sickness, the most acceptable aid which we can afford them may be medicine, or medical skill. “ If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit ?”
Our charity, too, in order to be pure, must be free from ostentation. It is this vitiating principle, and not the publicity of the act, which our Lord condemns in the rule which he has laid down for the regulation of our conduct in the distribution of our bounty. “ Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven; therefore, when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily, I say unto you, they have their reward.” But that it is quite possible to give from pure motives, and yet to give publicly, is clear, from another direction of our
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” It has been suggested, I think, with considerable propriety, as a rule of conduct in reference to private and public charity, that when our bounty is beyond our fortune and station, that is, when it is more than could be expected from
us, our charity should be private, if privacy be practicable: when it is not more than might be expected, it may be public. To this general rule there may,
for good reasons, be many exceptions. And it should be remembered that our bounty, whether bestowed in private or in public, in order to be conformable to the laws of christian morality, must be given from a sense of duty, and in obedience to the will of God.
This is being charitable upon system, and according to a formed plan. It is to consider ourselves as stewards of what the Great Proprietor of all things has intrusted to our charge; and bound regularly to distribute among the poor and necessitous a portion of his bounty. What have we that has not been given us from above? It is the will of the divine Donor that a portion of what he has bestowed upon us we should be in the habit of freely giving away. Hence, in reference to systematic charity, the excellency of the apostolic rule ;-a rule which has been observed from time immemorial in the Church of Scotland :
Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by in store, as God hath prospered him." To collect for the poor at the church-doors on every first day of the week, is to afford to all the opportunity of being charitable upon plan, and to enjoy the greater blessedness of giving to that of receiving. Finally, charity to the poor, in order to be pure and
, acceptable, must proceed from love to God and man. This, as we have already seen, is the animating principle of all virtuous conduct. It is the more necessary to scrutinize our motives in alms-giving, because this is often, it is to be apprehended, extended under the