Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

strained by laws and exterior tendernesses from acting such dire purposes. And he that prays for revenge, may indeed procure a justice to be done upon the injurious person; but oftentimes it happens then to fall on him when we least wish it, when we also have a conjunct interest in the other's preservation and escape: God so punishing the first wrong, that we also may smart for our uncharitable wishes. For the ground of all this discourse is, that it is part of Christian charity to forgive injuries: which forgiveness of the injury, although it may reasonably enough stand with my fair and innocent requiring of my own, which goes no further than a fair repetition; yet in no case can it stand with the acting and desiring revenge, which also, in the formality of revenge, can have no pretence of charity, because it is ineffective to my restitution. This discourse concerns private persons; whether it concern the question of war, and how far, is not proper for this consideration.

PART II.

Of Alms. 1. But Christian charity hath its effect also in benefits as well as gentleness and innocence. “Give to him that asketh, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away. But when thou doest thine alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.”. These are the precepts of the Lord, for the substance and the manner of alms, for the quantity and freeness of the donative, and the simplicity of him that gives ; to which add those other words of his, Sell your possessions, and give alms." This precept, with its circumstances, was intended as a defensative against covetousness and prodigality, and a suppletory to make up the wants, and to make even the breaches of mankind : in which we shall best understand our obligation, if we consider in what proportion we must give alms, and to what persons, and in what manner.

1 Matt. v. 42; vi. 3.

2. First, For the quantity, we shall best take an estimate of it, if we remember the portion which God allows to Christians : · Having food and rai. ment, let us be content with it :'? and our blessed Saviour, at the latter end of this sermon, stirs us up to confidence in God, and not to doubt our provisions, by telling that God · feeds the ravens, and clothes the lilies, and he will much rather do it to us :' he will clothe us and feed us. No more is in the promise, no more is in our need : and therefore whatsoever is beside our needs natural and personal, that is, proportioning our needs to the condition of our life, and exigence of our calling, and quality of our person, all that can be spared from what we modestly and temperately spend in our support, and the supply of our families, and other necessary incidents, all that is to be spent in charity or religion. “He defrauds the poor of their right who detains from them beyond his own necessary, prudent, and convenient supplies,"? saith St. Jerome. And this is intended to be a retrenchment of all vain expenses, costly feasts,

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

rich clothes, pompous retinue, and such excrescences of expense, which, of themselves, serve no end of piety or just policy, but by wise and temperate persons are esteemed unnecessary, and without which the dignity and just value of the person may still be retained. Whatsoever is vainly spent is the portion of the poor; whatsoever we lose in idle gaming, revelling, and wantonness or prodigality, was designed by Christ to refresh his own bowels, to fill the bellies of the poor ; whatsoever lies in our repository useless and superfluous, all that is the poor man's inheritance : and certainly there is not any greater baseness than to suffer a man to perish, or be in extreme want of that which God gave me for him, and beyond my own needs. It is unthankfulness to God, it is unmercifulness to the poor, it is improvidence to ourselves, it is unfaithfulness in the dispensation of the money, of which God made him but the steward, and his chest the bank for the exchange and issuing it to the indigent. And he that is unmerciful and unjust, is extremely unlike God. But in taking this estimate concerning our excrescences, we are to proceed according to the rules of prudence, not making determinations in grains and scruples, but in the greater actions and accountable proportions of our estates. And if any man, seeing great necessities of indigent and calamitous persons, shall give beyond his ability, he hath the Philippians for his precedent, and he hath God engaged for his payment, and a greater share in heaven for his reward. Only this; as we are to provide for ourselves, so also for our family, and the relatives of our charge and nearer endearments ; not only with a provision of the present day's entertainment, but also for all nearer, probable, foreseen, and expected events ; such as are portions for our children, doweries for daughters. But this must not be extended to care and reservations for all possible and far-distant events; but so much is to be permitted to the divine providence as our present duty gives leave. In which, although a prudent guide and a sober reason are to make application to practice; yet the rule in general is, that by so much we are to relieve the poor, as we can deduct from such a portion of good things as God permits us to use for our own support, and reasonable and temporal conveniences of our person and condition : ever remembering, that if we increase in our estate, we also should increase in charity ; that in this also may be verified what is written : · He that had much, bad nothing over; and be that had little, had no lack. There is in the quantity of these donatives some latitude: but if we sow sparingly, or if we scatter plentifully, so we shall reap. Only we must be careful, that no extreme necessity or biting want lies upon any poor man, whom we can relieve without bringing such a want upon ourselves, which is less than the permissions of fortune which the mercies of God have permitted to us; that is, food and raiment proper for us. Under food and raiment all the necessaries of our life are to be understood. Whatsoever is more than this, is counsel and perfection; for which a proportionable reward is deposited in the treasures of eternity.

3. Secondly, If question be made concerning the persons who are to be the object of our alms, our rule is plain and easy ; for nothing is required in the person suscipient and capable of alms, but

that he be in misery and want, and unable to relieve himself. This last clause I insert in pursuance of that caution given to the church of Thessalonica by St. Paul: “If any one will not work, neither let him eat.'' For we must be careful that our charity, which is intended to minister to poor men's needs, do not minister to idleness and the love of beggary, and a wandering, useless, unprofitable life. But, abating this, there is no other consideration that can exempt any needy person from participation of your charity : not though he be your enemy; (for that is it which our blessed Saviour means in the appendix of this precept, • Love your enemies;' that is, according to the exposition of the apostle, 'If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink;') not though he be an unbeliever; not though he be a vicious person. Provided only that the vice be such to which your relief ministers no fuel, and adds no flame : and if the mere necessities of his nature be supplied, it will be a fair security against the danger. But if the vice be in the scene of the body, all free comforts are to be denied him, because they are but incentives of sin, and angels of darkness. This I the rather insert, that the pride and supercilious austerities of some persons become not to them an instrument of excuse, from ministering to needy persons, upon pretence their own sins brought them into that condition. For though the causes of our calamities are many times great secrets of providence; yet suppose the poverty of the man was the effect of his prodigality, or other baseness, it matters not as to our duty how he came into it, but where he is;

12 Thes. iii. 10.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »