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Christian clergy; without seeing that the consequence, if there be any thing in it, must equally affect the whole body of Christians : -for the reason why the governors of the church were poor, was because the whole church was so; and if the example must be pressed to oblige the present times, all men must part either with their estates or their religion ; otherwise we cannot be in the condition of the primitive church. It would at this. time of day be no very proper exhortation to call on all Christians, without distinction, to work with their hands, that they might have something to spare in charity : but it was not only proper,
necessary in the beginning, when there was no other source of riches in the church but the work and labor of Christians. In the text you see the elders, and with them all others, were called on to labor, that they might be able to support the weak; and in the Epistle to the Ephesians the precept is general, To labor, working with the hands,' that there may be something to spare to him that needeth. Can you imagine that nothing is fit to be dedicated to charity but what is earned by bodily labor? or that those who have plentiful fortunes and estates are obliged to work with their hands, that they may by their labor supply the wants of others, which they can better and more effectually supply out of their large revenues ? It may be, and certainly is, very proper for us to exhort you to part with something out of your abundance to ease the wants of the poor; to spare something out of the superfluities of fortune to support the necessitous; but it had been very improper for the apostles so to have exhorted Christians, at a time when there were none who had either abundance or superfluity; all
; they could do was to admonish and persuade those who were able to labor more abundantly, that they might be in a condition to contribute to the relief of such as were unfit for work by age, sickness, or other infirmity. Those who are able to work, who are blessed with health and strength, and soundness of limbs, are rich with respect to those who are incapable through want of limbs, or by the weight of years, to assist themselves; and therefore when bodily labor was the whole riches of the church, there was a necessity that the strong should work to support the weak; or that the weak should perish in their want and poverty.
And this shows the reason of such precepts
of charity, in which men are moved to part with something, even out of the little they can earn by the sweat of their brows.
This will help us likewise to understand some other passages of Scripture relating to the exercise of charity. St. Paul gives the Corinthians timely notice of his intention to make a collection among them for charitable uses ; and exhorts them to lay by a little every week, as they could spare it, that he might find them prepared to contribute when he should come. Now this plainly regards their poverty and low circumstances; for had they been rich, there had been no need for it; but they were not so wealthy as to pay bills at sight; and therefore their only way was to prepare their sum by little and little, as their circumstances would give them leave to spare it.
In the second Epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle is on the same argument, and presses them to be liberal with great earnestness ; but that he might not seem to bear too hard on their necessities, he thus corrects himself: “I mean not that other men be eased, and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want :' 2 Cor. viii. 13. 14. What does this equality mean, which he would introduce between the givers and receivers of charity ? Must we strip ourselves so far as to be on a level with the poor, who ask our alms ? This is a hard saying, and if pursued strictly, would introduce great confusion and disorder into the world. But if you consider the condition of the church when the apostle wrote, you will see how properly he addresses them. They might well have said to him, why must all the burden lie on us? What have we that we do not purchase by irksome toil and labor? To prevent which complaint, the apostle is beforehand with them in declaring that he meant not that they should be burdened, and others set at ease : had he been applying to the rich and wealthy, there could have been no occasion for this caution, for they can give with a liberal hand, and yet not be burdened. So likewise the equality he speaks of has the same view; he presses it not as in itself just or necessary; but in respect to the time, it could not be avoided; for when there are none but poor to relieve the poor, it is plain how near the equality must be between the giver and the receiver. This equality, therefore, the apostle. ..
does not lay down as a general rule and proportion to be observed in charity, but rather excuses it, as the necessary circumstance of the charity of those times.
From what has been said, we may learn to give an answer to the first inquiry, namely, how far the duty of charity extends? The apostle brings all under the obligations of it who are able to labor; but this must be mitigated by the difference of circumstances between us and those to whom the apostle spoke, He pressed all to labor, in order to their being charitable: the reason is plain, he had none to speak to but such as lived by their labor : but were he in this place at this day, his exhortation, I doubt not, would be directed especially to the rich and wealthy, to such of you as enjoy the blessings of heaven in an uncommon degree. Those who live by their labor are rich and prosperous in comparison of the poor wretches who move miserably on crutches, or who want bands to help themselves; and they owe a tribute to God for the strength they enjoy of his gift. This is plain from the apostle's rule; and if it is, if even the meaner sort are indebted to their great Master, and must pay an acknowlegement out of the little they receive; how much greater are your obligations, who neither toil nor spin, and yet are clothed in glory, who neither reap nor gather into barns, and yet are fed in plenty? This is plain. But it is harder to say with respect to the lower part of mankind, where the obligation to this duty begins; for although some who labor may be debtors to charity, yet all are not, because all are not able to answer the necessities of themselves and their families by the profit of their work; and such can be under no call to contribute to others. If I may have leave to deliver an opinion in a matter no where clearly determined, I would found it on the advice which St. Paul gives to the Corinthians, that they should lay by in store the first day of every week, as God had prospered them; that is, that some part of what remained after a provision for the present occasions of themselves and families, should be reserved to charity. In this view, all who are in a saving way, or who may be so with prudent care, are under the obligations of charity; for it is but reasonable that we should do good in proportion as we grow rich. Between our own present wants, and the present wants of others, nature
will admit of no comparison; but when we are able to lay up for ourselves, it is hardly consistent with the love we owe our brother, to be so partial to ourselves as to suffer the care for our own future wants to shut out the consideration of his present misery. But this matter is left to every man's discretion, in order to prove his love, since too strict rules would in great measure destroy the virtue of charity, the true value of which lies chiefly in this, that it is a free-will offering.
Let us then proceed to the second inquiry, namely, who are duly qualified to receive charity.
• I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak.' By the weak' here we must understand such as are not able to labor and work for their own living; for since all who can labor are placed on one side, and made debtors to charity, the weak, who are placed on the other side, and who have a right to be supported by charity, must be such as are not able to work, or to provide for themselves in any honest calling or employment. This case is fully determined by the apostle in his second Epistle to the Thessalonians : · When we were with you,' says he, “this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busy-bodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread:' chap. iii. 10. 11. 12. Here you see all such as could work excluded from the benefit of charity, and laid under a necessity to labor by this injunction : . If they will not work, neither let them eat;' that is, let them not be supported in their idleness, but be compelled by hunger to do their duty, that they may, as the apostle speaks, eat their, own bread,' and not become a burden on the charity of the church.
The general rule then arising from these apostolical précepts seems to be this : that such only are due objects of charity, who are through sickness or other infirmity rendered incapable of labor. And yet this rule, if construed to a rigorous sense, will be found inconsistent with reason and equity; for it may happen that the man who is most able to labor, and who does labor to the utmost of his strength and power, may be the most
pitiable and unexceptionable object of charity : the reason is, because a man is not in all cases able to earn so much as the necessities of himself and family require, and then he must either perish or be relieved ; and his working for his maintenance as much as he can is so far from excluding him, that there cannot be a better plea in his behalf. Where poor families are numerous, and consist mostly of young children, who can bring in nothing to the common stock by any thing they are capable of doing, this case often happens; and the wants of the family exceed all that the diligence and industry of the parents can provide.
But though we cannot state the rule of charity so as to exclude all who can labor ; yet it may seem reasonable perhaps so to limit it, as that all who can work should work before they are intitled to any assistance from others. There is much more equity in this than the other; yet even to require this in all cases would be cruel and inhuman: we know the casualties that all human things are subject to; we have seen many reduced to poverty and want, from the most florishing and prosperous condition : fire and water, winds and storms, which are the secret ministers of Providence, cause mighty changes in the world, and often place the richest on the same level with the poorest; and whenever it pleases God to set such instances before us, the tenderest regard is due to their misfortunes. When you see a man fallen under such calamities, one perhaps too who has been a father to the needy and friendless, who has relieved hundreds in the days of his prosperity, would you, when the hand of God was on him, turn aside from his affliction and say, Go, work for your living ? Though indeed, in a reasonable way of judging, they who have not been inured to labor from their youth, but have had a liberal ingenuous education, may be fairly reckoned in the number of those who are not able to work. The plea of the unjust steward in the gospel, when it was put into the mouth of such an honest unfortunate man, has every thing in it to move your pity and compassion; 'I cannot dig, to beg I am ashamed.'
Since then there can be hardly any general rule fixed, which will be equally applicable to all cases, it may be worth our