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An exhortation to the. duty of charity to the poor.
We are professors of Christianity, we pretend to be the followers of Jesus, and to make the gospel our rule. We have the Bible in our houses. Let us not behave ourselves in this particular, as if we had never seen the Bible, as it we were ignorant of Christianity, and knew not what kind of religion it is. What will it signify to pretend to be Christians, and at the same time to live in the neglect of those rules of Christianity which are mainly insisted on in it? But there are several things which I would here propose to your consideration.
I. Consider that what you have is not your own; i. e. you have only a subordinate right. Your goods are only lent to you of God, to be improved by you in such ways as he directs. You yourselves are not your own; 1 Cor. vi. 20. “Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price; your body and your spirit are God’s.” And if you yourselves are not your own, so then neither are your possessions your own. Many of you have by covenant given up yourselves and all you have to God. You have disowned and renounced any right in yourselves or in any thing that you have, and have given to God all the absolute right; and if you be true Christians, you have done it from the heart.
Your money and your goods are not your own; they are only committed to you as stewards, to be used for him who committed them to you; 1 Pet. iv. 9, 10. “Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” A steward has no business with his master’s goods, to use them any otherwise than for the benefit of his master and his family, or according to his master’s direction. He hath no business to use them, as if he were the proprietor of them; he hath nothing to do with them, only as he is to use them for his master. He is to give every one of his master’s family their portion of meat in due season.
But if instead of that, he hoards up his master’s goods for himself, and withholds them from those of the household, so that some of the family are pinched for want of food and clothing; he is therein guilty of robbing his master and embezzling his substance. And would any householder endure such a steward? If he discovered him in such a practice, would he not take his goods out of his hands, and commit them to the care of some other steward, who should give every one of his family his portion of meat in due season? Remember that all or us must give account of our stewardship, and how we have disposed of those goods which our Master has put into our hands. And if when our Master comes to reckon with us, it be found that we have denied some of his family their proper provision, while we have hoarded up for ourselves, as if we had been the proprietors of our Master’s goods, what account shall we give of this?
II. God tells us, that he shall look upon what is done in charity to our neighbours in want, as done unto him; and what is denied unto them, as denied unto him. Prov. xix. 17. “He that hath pity on the poor lendeth to the Lord.” God hath been pleased to make our needy neighbours his receivers. He in his infinite mercy hath so interested himself in their case, that he looks upon what is given in charity to them, as given to himself; and when we deny them what their circumstances require of us, he looks upon it that we therein rob him of his right.
Christ teaches us, that we are to look upon our fellow-Christians in this case as himself, and that our giving or withholding from them, shall be taken, as if we so behaved ourselves towards him; see Matt. xxv. 40. There Christ says to the righteous on his right hand, who had supplied the wants of the needy, “In that ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” In like manner he says to the wicked who had not shown mercy to the poor, ver. 45. “Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”—Now what stronger enforcement of this duty can be conceived, or is possible, than this, that Jesus Christ looks upon our kind and bountiful, or unkind and uncharitable, treatment of our needy neighbours, as such a treatment of himself?
If Christ himself were upon earth, and dwelt among us in a frail body, as he once did, and were in calamitous and needy circumstances, should we not be willing to supply him? Should we be apt to excuse ourselves from helping him? Should we not be willing to supply him so, that he might live free from distressing poverty? And if we did otherwise, should we not bring great guilt upon ourselves? And might not our conduct justly be very highly resented by God? Christ was once here in a frail body, stood in need of the charity, and was maintained by it; Luke viii. 2, 3. “And certain women which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalen, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.” So he still, in many of his members, needs the charity of others.
III. Consider that there is an absolute necessity of our complying with the difficult duties of religion. To give to the poor in the manner and measure that the gospel prescribes, is a difficult duty, i. e. it is very contrary to corrupt nature, to that covetousness and selfishness of which there is so much in the wicked heart of man. Man is naturally governed only by a principle of self-love; and it is a difficult thing to corrupt nature, for men to deny themselves of their present interest, trusting in God to make it up to them hereafter.—But how often hath Christ told us the necessity of doing difficult duties of religion, if we will be his disciples; that we must sell all, take up our cross daily, deny ourselves, renounce our worldly profits and interests, &c. And if this duty seem hard and difficult to you, let not that be an objection with you against doing it; for you have taken up quite a wrong notion of things, if you expect to go to heaven without performing difficult duties; if you expect any other than to find the way to life a narrow way.
IV. The Scripture teaches us, that this very particular duty is necessary. Particularly,
1. The Scripture teaches, that God will deal with us as we deal with our fellow-creatures in this particular, and that with what measure we mete to others in this respect, God will measure to us again. This the Scripture asserts both ways; it asserts that if we be of a merciful spirit, God will be merciful to us: Matt. v. 7. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Ps. xviii. 25. “With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful.” On the other hand it tells us, that if we be not merciful, God will not be merciful to us; and that all our pretences to faith and a work of conversion will not avail us, to obtain mercy, unless we be merciful to them that are in want. James ii. 13-16. “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy.—What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food; and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be you warmed, and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?”
2. This very thing is often mentioned in Scripture, as an essential part of the character of a godly man; Ps. xxxvii. 21. “The righteous showeth mercy, and giveth;” and again, ver. 26. “He is ever merciful, and lendeth.” Psal. cxii. 5. “A good man showeth favour, and lendeth:” and ver. 9. “He hath dispersed, and given to the poor.” So Prov. xiv. 31. “He that honoureth God, hath mercy on the poor.” Again, Prov. xxi. 26. and Isa Lvii. 1. A righteous man and a merciful man are used as synonymous terms: “The righteous perisheth, and merciful men are taken away,” &c.
It is mentioned in the New Testament as a thing so essential, that the contrary cannot consist with a sincere love to God. 1 John iii. 17-19. “But whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” So the apostle Paul, when he writes to the Corinthians, and proposes their contributing for the supply of the poor saints, tells them what he doth it for, viz. a trial of their sincerity: see 2 Cor. viii. 8. “I speak to prove the sincerity of your love.”
3. Christ teaches, that judgment will be past at the great day according to men’s works in this respect. This is taught us by Christ in the most particular account of the proceedings of that day, that we have in the whole Bible; see Matt. xxv. 34., &c. It is evident that Christ thus represented the proceedings and determinations of this great day, as turning upon this one point, on purpose, and on design to lead us into this notion, and to fix it in us, that a charitable spirit and practice towards our brethren is necessary to salvation.
V. Consider what abundant encouragement the word of God gives, that you shall be no losers by your charity and bounty to them who are in want. As there is scarce any duty prescribed in the word of God, which is so much insisted on as this; so there is scarce any to which there are so many promises of reward made. This virtue especially hath the promises of this life and that which is to come. If we believe the Scriptures, when a man charitably gives to his neighbour in want, the giver has the greatest advantage by it, even greater than the receiver: Acts xx. 35. “I have showed you all things, how (hat so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” He that gives bountifully is a happier man than he that receives bountifully; Prov. xiv. 21. “He that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.”
Many persons are ready to look upon what is bestowed for charitable uses as lost. But we ought not to look upon it as lost, because it benefits those whom we ought to love as ourselves. And not only so, but it is not lost to us, if we give any credit to the Scriptures. See the advice that Solomon gives in Eccl. xi. 1. “Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shall find it after many days.” By casting our bread upon the waters, Solomon means giving it to the poor, as appears by the next words, “Give a portion to seven, and also to eight. 167167 Eccl. xi. 2. ” Waters are sometimes put for people and multitudes.
What strange advice would this seem to many, to cast their bread upon the waters, which would seem to them like throwing it away! What more direct method to lose our bread, than to go and throw it into the sea? But the wise man tells us, No, it is not lost; you shall find it again after many days. It is not sunk, but you commit it to Providence; you commit it to the winds and waves: however it will come about to you, and you shall find it again after many days. Though it should be many days first, yet you shall find it at last, at a time when you most need it. He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord: and God is not one of those who will not pay again what is lent to him. If you lend any thing to God., you commit it into faithful hands. Prov. xix. 17. “He that hath pity on the poor lendeth to the Lord, and that which he hath given will he pay him again.” God will not only pay you again, but he will pay you with great increase; Luke vi. 38. “Give, and it shall be given you,” that is, in “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.”
Men do not account that lost, that is let out to use: but what is bestowed in charity is lent to the Lord, and he repays with great increase. Isa. xxxii. 8. “The liberal deviseth liberal things, and by liberal things shall he stand.” Here I would particularly observe,
1. That if you give with a spirit of true charity, you shall be rewarded in what is infinitely more valuable than what you give; even eternal riches in heaven. Matt. x. 42. “Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones, a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple; verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.”
Giving to our needy brethren, is in Scripture called laying up treasure in heaven, in bags that wax not old; Luke xii. 33. “Sell what ye have and give alms, provide for yourselves bags that wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, nor moth corrupteth. Men, when they have laid up their money in their chests, do not suppose that they have thrown it away; but, on the contrary, that it is laid up safe. Much less is treasure thrown away, when it is laid up in heaven. What is laid up there is much safer than what is laid up in chests or cabinets.
You cannot lay up treasure on earth, but that it is liable to be stolen, or otherwise to fail. But there no thief approacheth nor moth corrupteth. It is committed to God’s care, and he will keep it safely for you; and when you die, you shall receive it with infinite increase. Instead of a part of your earthly substance thus bestowed, you shall receive heavenly riches, on which you may live in the greatest fulness, honour, and happiness, to all eternity; and shall never be in want of any thing. After feeding with some of your bread those who cannot recompense you, you shall be rewarded at the resurrection, and eat bread in the kingdom of God. Luke xiv. 13-16. “When thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind: and thou shall be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. And when one of them that sat at meat with him, heard these things, he said unto him, Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.”
2. If you give to the needy though but in the exercise of moral virtue, you will be in the way greatly to gain by it in your temporal interest. They who give in the exercise of a gracious charity, are in the way to be gainers both here and hereafter; and those that give in the exercise of a moral bounty and liberality, have many temporal promises made to them. We learn by the word of God, that they are in the way to be prospered in their outward affairs. Ordinarily such do not lose by it, but such a blessing attends their concerns, that they are paid doubly for it: Prov. xi. 24, 25. “There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. The liberal soul shall be made fat: and lie that watereth, shall be watered also himself.” And Prov. xxviii. 27. “He that giveth to the poor, shall not lack.”
When men give to the needy, they do as it were sow seed for a crop. When men sow their seed, they seem to throw it away; yet they do not look upon it as thrown away; because, though they expect not the same again, yet they expect much more as the fruit of it: and if it be not certain that they shall have a crop, yet they are willing to run the venture of it; for that is the ordinary way wherein men obtain increase. So it is when persons give to the poor; though the promises of gaining thereby, in our outward circumstances, perhaps are not absolute; yet it is as much the ordinary consequence of it, as increase is of sowing seed. Giving to the poor, is in this respect compared to sowing seed, in Eccl. xi. 6. “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.” By withholding the hand, the wise man means, not giving to the poor. (See ver. 1, 2.) It intimates, that giving to the poor is as likely a way to obtain prosperity and increase, as sowing seed in a field.
The husbandman doth not look upon his seed as lost, but is glad that he has opportunity to sow it. It grieves him not that he has land to be sown, but he rejoices in it. For the like reason we should not be grieved that we find needy people to bestow our charity upon; for this is as much an opportunity to obtain increase as the other.
Some may think this is strange doctrine; and it is to be feared, that not many will so far believe it as to give to the poor with as much cheerfulness as they sow their ground. However, it is the very doctrine of the word of God, 2 Cor. ix. 6, 7, 8. “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly: and he which soweth bountifully, shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound towards you; that ye always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.”
It is easy with God to make up to men what they give in charity. Many but little consider how their prosperity or ill success in their outward affairs depends upon Providence. There are a thousand turns of Providence, to which their affairs are liable, whereby God may either add to their outward substance, or diminish from it, a great deal more than they are ordinarily called to give to their neighbours. How easy is it with God to diminish what they possess by sickness in their families, by drought, or frost, or mildew, or vermin; by unfortunate accidents, by entanglements in their affairs, or disappointments in their business! And how easy is it with God to increase their substance, by suitable seasons, or by health and strength; by giving them fair opportunities for promoting their interest in their dealings with men; by conducting them in his providence, so that they attain their designs; and by innumerable other ways which might be mentioned! How often is it, that only one act of providence in a man’s affairs either adds to his estate, or diminishes from it, more than he would need to give to the poor in a whole year.
God hath told us, that this is the way to have his blessing attending our affairs. Thus, in the text, ver. 10. “Thou shall surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him; because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto;” and Prov. xxii. 9. “He that hath a bountiful eye, shall be blessed.” Il is a remarkable evidence how little many men realize the things of religion, whatever they pretend; how little they realize that the Scripture is the word of God, or if it be, that he speaks true; that notwithstanding all the promises made in the Scripture to bounty to the poor, yet they are so backward to this duty, and are so afraid to trust God with a little of their estates. Observation may confirm the same thing which the word of God teaches on this head. God, in his providence, generally smiles upon and prospers those men who are of a liberal, charitable, bountiful spirit.
6. God hath threatened to follow with his curse those who are uncharitable to the poor; as Prov. xxviii. 27. ” He that giveth to the poor shall not lack; but he that hideth his eyes, shall have many a curse.” It is said, he that hideth his eyes, because this is the way of uncharitable men; they hide their eyes from seeing the wants of their neighbour. A charitable person, whose heart disposes him to bounty and liberality, will be quick-sighted to discern the needs of others. They will not be at any difficulty to find out who is in want; they will see objects enough of their charity, let them go whither they will.
But, on the contrary, he that is of a niggardly spirit, so that it goes against the grain to give any thing, he will be always at a loss for objects of his charity. Such men excuse themselves with this, that they find not any one to give to. They hide their eyes, and will not see their neighbour’s wants. If a particular object is presented, they will not very readily see his circumstances; they are a long while in being convinced that he is an object of charity. They hide their eyes; and it is not an easy thing to make them sensible of the necessities and distresses of their neighbour, or at least to convince them, that his necessities are such that they ought to give him any great matter.
Other men, who are of a bountiful spirit, can very easily see the objects of charity; but the uncharitable are very unapt both to see the proper objects of charity, and to see their obligations to this duty. The reason is, that they are of that sort spoken of here by the wise man, they hide their eyes. Men will readily see, where they are willing to see; but where they hate to see, they will hide their eyes.
God says, such as hides his eyes in this case shall have many a curse. Such an one is in the way to be cursed in soul and body, in both his spiritual and temporal affairs. We have shown already, how those that are charitable to the poor are in the way of being blessed. There are so many promises of the divine blessing, that we may look upon it as much the way to be blessed in our outward concerns, as sowing-seed in a field is the way to have increase. And to be close and uncharitable, is as much the way to be followed with a curse, as to be charitable is the way to be followed with a blessing. To withhold more than is meet, tends as much to poverty, as scattering tends to increase, Prov. xi. 24. Therefore, if you withhold more than is meet, you will cross your own disposition, and will frustrate your own end. What you seek by withholding from your neighbour, is your own temporal interest and outward estate; but if you believe the Scriptures to be the word of God, you must believe that you cannot take a more direct course to lose, to be crossed and cursed in your temporal interest, than this of withholding from your indigent neighbour.
7. Consider, that you know not what calamitous and necessitous circumstances you yourselves or your children may be in. Perhaps you are ready to bless yourselves in your hearts, as though there were no danger of your being brought into calamitous and distressing circumstances. There is at present no prospect of it; and you hope you shall be able to provide well for your children. But you little consider what a shifting, changing, uncertain world you live in, and how often it hath so happened, that men have been reduced from the greatest prosperity to the greatest adversity, and how often the children of the rich have been reduced to pinching want.
Agreeable to this is the advice that the wise man gives us, Eccles. xi. 1, 2. ’‘Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou shall find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon earth.” Thou knowest not what calamitous circumstances thou mayest be in thyself, in this changeable uncertain world. You know not what circumstances you or your children may be brought into by captivity, or other unthought of providences. Providence governs all things. Perhaps you may trust to your own wisdom to continue your prosperity; but you cannot alter what God determines and orders in providence, as in the words immediately following the fore-mentioned text in Ecclesiastes, “If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth; and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north; in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be; 168168 Eccl. xi. 3. ” i.e. you cannot alter the determinations of Providence. You may trust to your own wisdom for future prosperity; but if God have ordained adversity, it shall come: as the clouds when full of rain, empty themselves upon the earth; so what is in the womb of Providence shall surely come to pass. And as Providence casts the tree, whether towards the south, or towards the north, whether for prosperity or adversity, there it shall be, for all that you can do to alter it; agreeably to what the wise man observes in chap. vii. 13. “Consider the work of God; for who can make that straight which he hath made crooked?”
This consideration, that you know not what calamity and necessity you may be in yourselves or your children, tends very powerfully to enforce this duty several ways.
1. This may put you upon considering how your hearts would be effected, if it should so be. If it should happen, that you or some of your children should be brought into such circumstances, as those of your neighbours, how grievous would it be to you! Now perhaps you say of this and the other poor neighbour, that they can do well enough; if they be pinched a little, they can live. Thus you can make light of their difficulties. But if Providence should so order it, that you or your children should be brought into the same circumstances, would you make light of them then? Would you not use another sort of language about it? Would you not think that your case was such as needed the kindness of your neighbours? Would you not think that they ought to be ready to help you? And would you not take it hardly, if you saw a contrary spirit in them, and saw that they made light of your difficulties?
If one of your children should be brought to poverty by captivity, 169169 The author repeatedly brings in this idea, doubtless because Northampton, the place where the author lived, was at that time a frontier-town, and suffered much by the incursions of the Indians from Canada, who slaughtered and captivated the people, as they found opportunity. or otherwise, how would your hearts be affected in such a case? If you should hear that some persons had taken pity on your child, and had been very bountiful to it, would you not think that they did well? Would you be at all apt to accuse them of folly or profuseness, that they should give so much to it?
2. If ever there should be such a time, your kindness to others now will be but a laying up against such a time. If you yourselves should be brought into calamity and necessity, then would you find what you have given in charity to others, lying ready in store for you. Cast thy bread upon the waters, and thou shall find it after many days, says the wise man. But when shall we find it? He tells us in the next verse; “Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. 170170 Eccl. xi. 2. ” Then is the time when you shall find it, when the day of evil cometh. You shall again find your bread which you have cast upon the waters, when you shall want it most, and land in greatest necessity of it. God will keep it for you against such a time. When other bread shall fail, then God will bring to you the bread which you formerly cast upon the waters; so that you shall not famish. He that giveth to the poor shall not lack.
Giving to the needy is like laying up against winter, or against a time of calamity. It is the best way of laying up for yourselves and for your children. Children in a time of need very often find their fathers’ bread, that bread which their fathers had cast upon the waters. Psal. xxxvii. 25. “I have been young and now am old, yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” Why? what is the reason of it? It follows in the next verse., “He is ever merciful and lendeth, and his seed is blessed.”
Whether the time will ever come or not, that we or our children shall be in distressing want of bread; yet doubtless evil will be on the earth. We shall have our times of calamity, wherein we shall stand in great need of God’s pity and help, if not of that of our fellow-creatures. And God hath promised that at such a time, he that hath been of a charitable spirit and practice, shall find help, Psal. xli. 1-4. “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; and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness.” Such as have been merciful and liberal to’ others in their distress, God will not forget it, but will so order it, that they shall have help when they are in distress.
Yea, their children shall reap the fruit of it in the day of trouble.
3. God hath threatened uncharitable persons, that if ever they come to be in calamity and distress they shall be left helpless; Prov. xxi. 3. “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he shall cry himself and not be heard.”
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