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The time already spent admonishes me to be short. In a word then : if you compare the conditions into which men are divided, and the several duties; if you consider the obligation the rich are under to assist the needy, and compare it with the much harder obligation the poor are under to toil for a mean livelihood ; you will have reason to bless God, who has placed you on the happier side, and to comply with the duty of your station with all thankfulness to the Almighty, and to acknowlege that he has chosen for you the better part; and if you
discharge the duties proper to your condition, you may have this comfort added to it, it shall not be taken from you.
Secondly, in regard to the present pleasure and satisfaction attending on works of charity, the giver has in all respects a better share than the receiver. The poor man has a present comfort in the relief of charity; it is ease to his suffering, and it is an encouragement to see that his poverty is not despised by his richer neighbors, who are so compassionate as to come to the support and assistance of it. But what is this to the joy of giving ease and comfort to the oppressed; it is a godlike virtue to do good, and the pleasure of it has something in it so divine, that words cannot express. To be eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame, to be a father to the poor,' and a defender of all under oppression, are characters which bear some resemblance to the prerogatives of the Almighty, and are the noblest efforts of a rational mind, aspiring to be like its great Creator.
Thirdly, if we look beyond this present scene, the difference is wider. There is no virtue in being relieved ; a poor man is not a better man for the charity he receives; it brings with it an increase of duty, and calls on him for a more sure trust on God, for greater thankfulness to him; and some obligations it lays him under with respect to his benefactors here. And it may happen that the charity, which is his present relief, may be a burden on his future account; and will be so if he misapplies the gift. But the giver has a better prospect before him : charity is the discharge of a duty, and has the general promises of obedience; it is a virtue likewise distinguished from the rest, and has its own reward ; the blessings of the life which is, and of that which is to come : it is a debt which God will own at the last day; it is a treasure transferred to heaven, and will be repaid in never failing riches. To conclude, charity is a double maintenance; it gives temporal life to the poor, and spiritual life to the rich : it bestows the comforts of this world on the receiver, and the glories of immortality on the giver.
SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE IX.
MATTHEW, CHAP. XVIII.--VERSES 29. 30.
When we consider the various distresses under which many persons and families labor, and their utter inability to support themselves under these evils, it is some alleviation to observe the diligence of Christian charity in finding proper methods for the comfort and support of such objects.
This thought arises naturally from the business of the day. Series of observations made on the present assembly ; on the manner in which men oppress the poor and miserable; particularly in the case to which the text refers ; that is, the hard-hearted cruelty exercised towards insolvent debtors. Consideration of what reason, conscience, and Christian charity require of us in this case,
Observations on the words of our Saviour's parable in the text.
First; here is a debt supposed to be justly due. The poor man owed his fellow-servant an hundred pence.
Secondly; when the debt is demanded, he does not deny it or refuse to pay it, but desires forbearance only, till by his labor he could discharge it.
Thirdly; he asks even this as a favor, and with great submission. On the contrary,
Fourthly; the creditor with insolence and violence demands the debt; for which behavior he is called, (ver. 32.) Thou wicked servant.
Some of these circumstances seem to be added, in order to aggravate the cruelty of this wicked servant; as the violence
used on the one side, and the submission made on the other, And the case commonly falls out to be so.
But the circumstances on which the reason of the case depends are principally two: first, that the debtor was not able to discharge the debt at the time of the demand : secondly, that he was willing to do justice to his creditor, and to endeavor, by the best means in his power, to raise a sum „which might answer the demand. Therefore where either of these circumstances are wanting, the reason of the case ceases, and together with it all pleas for compassion and forbearance: this point enlarged on.
Another circumstance, on which the judgment of our Saviour in this case depends, is, that there be a readiness and willingness in the debtor to do justice whenever he is able, and to use his best endeavors for that purpose : consequently all such debtors are out of this case who deny their just debts, or any part of them; or who conceal their effects to defraud their creditors; also such as live idly and profusely on the estate which ought to be applied to do justice to whom it is due. The reason of these exceptions given in each case.
In these therefore, and others of the like nature, a good man may, and a wise man will, make use of the power which the law gives him for the security of his property.
But when the circumstances mentioned in the text meet together; when the debtor is chargeable with no fraud or fault, but is disabled by mere poverty from discharging his debts, to use the extremity of the law against such a man is not only cruel and inhuman, but contrary to the true meaning and design of the law: this point enlarged on.
Is it then a general rule that the law can never with good conscience be executed against insolvent debtors ? There may possibly be many exceptions; but they must all be attended with this circumstance, that there be a prospect of recovering the debt, though the debtor be insolvent: this point explained.
Some think that no severity is too great to be used against those who have spent their estates riotously, to the injury of their creditor ; and indeed little is to be said in behalf of such persons. Yet still it is worth consideration, whether a man would choose to be judge and executioner in his own cause.
But the case which is now principally in view, stands clear of these exceptions. Those unfortunate persons with whom the jails are crowded, are for the most part such as have neither money nor friends to assist them; such as have fallen into
poverty by misfortunes, by a decay of business, or perhaps by the numbers of a family which their utmost diligence could not support. Were they at liberty, they might be of use to themselves, to their poor families, and also to their creditors: this case enlarged on: the report read. Concluding observations.