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influence of views and feelings which, however amiable some of them may be, do not come up to the standard of virtue. Multitudes, doubtless, give of their property to the poor, from natural compassion, and constitutional generosity; from a desire to acquire the esteem of others, and perhaps from the belief that actions of this nature merit for them a happy immortality. It is unnecessary to repeat that no action is truly virtuous which is not performed from a sense of duty, from love to God, and in obedience to his authority.
There is indeed no conduct that secures more generally the esteem of others than a generous attention to suffering humanity. Its excellency and usefulness are admired by all. And as reputation gives us an influence over our fellow-men, and thereby enables us to do greater good in our day and generation, it is desirable to possess it. But we are to seek it as a means, and not as an ultimate end: we are to do our duty to the extent of our opportunity, from pure and disinterested benevolence, and leave the consequence to Him whose wisdom and goodness will amply provide for our happiness.
If we are charitable from this motive, our alms and our prayers shall come up for a memorial before God. —“Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." “ Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive, and he shall be blessed upon the earth: Thou wilt not deliver him into the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him
upon his bed of languishing. Thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness."
Thus, it appears, that the obligation of giving to the
poor is enforced by express and repeated exhortations to liberality in the sacred Scriptures,-by the revered sayings of Him who has pronounced it to be more blessed to give than to receive,-and by the motives suggested to our instinctive compassion by the numerous wants and sufferings of human nature.
Obvious, however, as this duty is, it must be discharged, in order to answer the end in view, with discretion, and under those restrictions which reason and revelation suggest. Though all the possessions of the rich were lavished on the poor for the supply of their immediate necessities, indigence, and its attendant evils, might not only continue, but would probably be increased by the donation.
Alms must be given in such a way, that neither the giver nor receiver may be injured. We must be satisfied that we give to the extent of our ability, and that we do not go beyond that extent; and that we have wherewith to discharge all the claims of justice, while we exercise liberality to the needy. Our alms must be given in such a manner, and in such cases only, as that distress may not be relieved at the expense of virtue and industry; and that we may not by a thoughtless and mistaken bounty be accumulating the evils which we had hoped to remove, and frustrating the designs of his Providence who has connected laborious exertion with the present lot of human nature. The injunctions,
The injunctions, “give to him that asketh of thee,”—and, “if any man will not work,
neither should he eat,” rest on precisely the same authority; and we are not at liberty to encourage a violation of the one, by what we may reckon an obedience to the other,
Secondly, who are the persons to whom we ought to administer charity? All who suffer, or who are liable to suffer, from ignorance, disease, want, or any other cause, and whose sufferings we have it in our power to alleviate or remove. Nor do I think, that we are at liberty, in every case, to reject even common beggars. In this class there may be some who are unable to labour, and who are, at the same time, destitute of friends and of a home. By what rule of christian morals is it allowable to leave such persons to perish? When it is quite clear that only the idle, the healthy, and the vicious solicit our alms in this way, we may be excused from contributing to their support, since the effect of our charity will be, to perpetuate idleness and vice. It must always be our duty to relieve hunger and nakedness, by imparting, as we are able, food and clothing; and to provide lodging, medicine, and medical skill for the sick poor.
Hence, the manifest obligation of contributing liberally to hospitals, infirmaries, and houses of recovery and of refuge. And as religious education, irrespective of its influence on the spiritual interests of man, is a preventive of indigence, as it leads to an honest and persevering industry, we are efficiently exercising charity when we apply a share of our property in its promotion.
We should be led to a selection of the objects of our beneficence by such circumstances as these; their having become unable to work, or aged, in our service; their connexion with the christian congregation, parish, and neighbourhood to which we belong; their general industry and fidelity in labouring to supply their own necessities, though, from affliction, or want of employment, they are reduced to poverty ; and their piety, uprightness, and modesty. Their being of the household of faith gives them the strongest claims to our christian love and liberality. Whatever is done for their comfort, our blessed Lord regards as done to himself. A cup of cold water given to them, because they are his disciples, shall in no wise lose its reward *.
It is no uncommon thing for persons to excuse themselves from giving to the poor, on the ground,
I. That their liberality does not procure them a return of gratitude. Though this were true, which, as it respects the great majority of cases, I do not admit, it only shews that those who urge it as an objection have erroneous views of duty and of charity. We must give, if we give aright, not with a view to gratitude, but from a sense of duty. The characteristic of true charity is, that it is disinterested, proceeding from pure benevolence. “ If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if
your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect ;for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the
• Matt. x. 42.
good, and sendeth rain on the just, and on the unjust *.”
II. They are liable to be imposed on. The answer to this objection was stated, when I pointed out the duty of exercising charity with judgment and discrimination. Let us not disobey the will of God, impair our own benevolent feelings, and withhold relief from those who really require it, because there is a possibility of our occasionally being deceived.
CHIARITY; OR, PROFESSIONAL ASSISTANCE,
The most valuable charity to the poor, because it is often the most appropriate and permanently available, is professional assistance. There are maladies of the mind which no contribution of property can alleviate ; and how can benevolence be exercised to greater advantage than in the bestowment of medical skill and medicine, for the purpose of restoring health to the person on whose labour and life the family depend for bread?
I. The ministers of religion, in the benevolent exercise of their sacred profession, have it in their power to bestow the noblest charity. In removing ignorance, in rectifying error, in declaring the disease, in pointing out the remedy, in leading to repose with humble confidence on the sure foundation of trust, and
* Matt. v. 45-48.