« PreviousContinue »
the earth. Every rank and station participate in its baneful effects. Riches, power, and might, generate pride, self-indulgence, and insensibility. Poverty, depression, and labour, beget complainings, discontent, and revolt. But these are the fruits of sin; not the natural consequence of distinctions in society. The gospel of Jesus directs its grace to the removal of the parent root of the evil, by delivering men from the power of sin. It does not attempt the placing all upon an equal level in external things: this would not accord with, either God's original design, or with man's present circumstances: and therefore, whilst Christian love demands, and ensures the liberal impartation of succour to the distressed, according to the ability which a man possesses, it does not require, that any man should surrender his own particular right in his property or goods. Such a requirement would be prejudicial it would prevent the exercise of the habit of kindness, self-denial, and sympathy, from the rich to the poor; and it would rob the poor of an opportunity to exercise and exhibit gratitude, faith, and contentment of soul. On the part of God it seems to be in reference to His design of exercising men in suitable dispositions, that He said to Moses, "the poor shall never cease out of the land," and, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother." There are some passages in the word of God, which might lead to
the supposition, that Christians were required to give up their own rights for the benefit of the community. Jesus said to the rich young man, "sell all that thou hast, and distribute to the poor." And in the first days, "All that believed were together, and had all things common, and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men as every man had need." But these words do not express a general, and binding law to the end of the world. The words of Christ were to one, whose heart was wedded to his riches, and who needed this touchstone, in order to disclose to himself the unsoundness of his professed discipleship. And the practice, in the first days, was not imposed as a Gospel law, but was a voluntary act on the part of Christians, evidently arising out of the necessitous times in which they lived, when the profession of Christianity exposed the Christian to beggary, persecution, and famine; and when, had there been no such charity amongst the disciples, many must have perished in want. It was soon found impossible, and unnecessary, to observe this rule generally amongst Christians. Nevertheless should times, such as these return, and try the Christian church, the same necessity may exist; and no doubt would be met in the same spirit of love; for the Lord's people have one mind in every age, and each member of His body will feel the sacred obligation of caring for the whole.
Can we prove from the word of God, that Jehovah appointeth different ranks amongst His creatures? 1 Sam. ii. 7. 1 Cor. xii. 27-30. 1 Pet. iii. 22.
Is it by His government that the poor abound in the world? Deut. xv. 11.
Does this arrangement tend to beneficial effects both to the poor and the rich? Deut. xv. 7-10. Heb. xiii. 5.
Is it the duty of the rich to distribute, &c. to the poor? Luke xi. 41. 1 Tim. vi. 17. 18.
Have the poor a right to the possessions of the rich? or can they plead that the Gospel example in the primitive times was a Gospel law? Acts v. 3. 4.
This sacred witness, to the infinitely wise government of Jehovah, is to be received with reverence; and whilst the heart is probably fully disposed to acquiesce in the wisdom, which gives every man a right over his own property, it must be remembered, that he is not rendered independent by this law. The duty he owes to his fellow creatures is lasting, and he is bound to administer relief to human misery if he has the power so to do. The duty he owes to fellow christians is sacred, and he is under law to Christ, that his possessions and property and goods shall be at the Lord's disposal, and consecrated to his service. There is not a sin, that stands with greater accumulation of curse upon
it, than that of covetousness, which is considered idolatry, and which makes a man to be abhorred of the Lord. No cloke of religion will conceal this monstrous abomination from the searching eyes of the Almighty and He remarkably unfolds to us the importance of exercising christian liberality, from motives of love to Him, when He explains the nature of the last judgment: see Matt. xxv. 36-39.
Let every christian therefore cherish the mind of the Lord, and be willing to communicate to others, even at the expence of personal inconveniences, and self-denial: let it be done liberally, and according to his ability, "God loveth a cheerful giver:" and let faith, in the Son of God, be the inexhaustible motive, through which, as His disciples, these fruits shall increase, and abound yet more and more: "Blessed is the man that considereth the sick and needy, the Lord shall deliver him in the time of trouble." Psalm xli. 1.
Of a Christian Man's Oath.
As we confess that vain and rash swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ, and James his Apostle so we judge that Christian religion doth not prohibit, but that a man may swear when the magistrate requireth, in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the prophet's teaching, in justice, judgment, and truth.
UPON the subject contained in this Article, christians should be fully informed. It is a question upon which the human mind is prone to err. Either there is a disposition profanely to disregard the nature of an oath, or superstitiously to refuse on any occasion to enter into such a bond; and men are greatly divided, both in their opinion and practice upon this point. All men, however, with reflection or religion, must be agreed in the opening confession in this Article, for "vain and rash swearing is, decidedly forbidden," and the law and the gospel reiterate upon us the solemn charge that in this way" we swear not at all." This prohibition has led into the supposition that nothing can