« PreviousContinue »
If we cannot relieve those of their families without their having something of it; yet that ought not to be a bar in the way of our charity; and that because it is supposed that those of their families are proper objects of charity; and those that are so, we are bound to relieve : the command is positive and absolute. If we look upon that which the heads of the families have of what we give, to be entirely lost; yet we had better lose something of our estate, than suffer those who are really proper objects of charity to remain without relief.
Object. X. Some may object and say, Others do not their duty. If others did their duty, the poor would be sufficiently supplied. If others did as much as we in proportion to their ability and obligation, the poor would have enough to belp them out of their straits. Or some may say, it belongs to others more than it does to us. They have relations that ought to help them ; or there are others to whom it more properly belongs than to us.
Ans. We ought to relieve those who are in want, though brought to it through others' fault. If our neighbour be poor, though others be to blame that it is so, yet that excuses us not from helping him. If it belong to others more than to us, yet if those others will neglect their duty, and our neighbour therefore remains in wani, we may be obliged to relieve him. If a man be brought into straits through the injustice of others, suppose by thieves or robbers, as the poor Jew whom the Samaritan relieved; yet we may be obliged to relieve him, though it be not through our fault that he is in want, but through that of other men. And whether that fault be a commission or a neglect alters not the case.
As to the poor Jew that fell among thieves between Jerusalem and Jericho, it more properly belonged to those thieves who brought him into that distress, to relieve him, than to any other person. Yet seeing they would not do it, others were not excused; and the Samaritan did no more than his duty, relieving him as he did, though it properly belonged to others.—Thus if a man have childien or other relations, to whom it most properly belongs to relieve him ; yet if they will not do it, the obligation to relieve him falls upon others. So for the same reason we should do the more for the relief of the poor, because others neglect to do their proportion, or what belongs to them; and that because by the neglect of others to do their proportion they need the more, their necessity is the greater.
OBJECT. XI. The law makes provision for the poor, and obliges the respective towns in which they live to provide for
them ; therefore some argue,
that there is no occasion for particular persons to exercise any charity this way. They say, the case is not the same with us now, as it was in the primitive church; for then Christians were under an Heathen government: and however the charity of Christians in those times be much to be commended; yet now, by reason of our different circumstances, there is no occasion for private charity ; because, in the state in which Christians now are, provision is made for the poor otherwise.—This objection is built upon these two suppositions, both which I suppose are false.
1. That the towns are obliged by law to relieve every one who otherwise would be an object of charity. This I suppose to be false, unless it be supposed that none are proper objects of charity, but those that have no estate left to live
which is very unreasonable, and what I have already shown to be false, in answer to the fourth objection, in showing that it doth not answer the rules of Christian charity, to relieve only those who are reduced to extremity.
Nor do I suppose it was ever the design of the law, requiring the various towns to support their own poor, to cut off all occasion for Christian charity : nor is it fit there should be such a law. It is fit that the law should make provision for those that have no estates of their own; it is not fit that persons who are reduced to that extremity should be left to so precarious a source of supply as a voluntary charity. They are in extreme necessity of relief, and therefore it is fit that there should be something sure for them to depend on. voluntary charity in this corrupt world is an uncertain thing. Therefore the wisdom of the legislature did not think fit to leave those who are so reduced, upon such a precarious foundation for subsistence. But I suppose not that it was ever the design of the law to make such provision for all that are in want, as to leave no room for Christian charity.
2. This objection is built upon another supposition, which is equally false, viz. That there are in fact none who are proper objects of charity, but those that are relieved by the town. Let the design of the law be what it will, yet if there are in fact persons who are so in want, as to stand in need of our charity, then that law doth not free us from obligation to relieve them by our charity. For as we have just now shown, in answer to the last objection, if it more properly belong to others to relieve them than us; yet if they do it not, we are not free. So that if it be true, that it belongs to the town to relieve all who are proper objects of charity; yet if the town in fact do it not, we are not excused.
If one of our neighbours suffers through the fault of a particular person, of a thief or robber, or of a town, it
alters not the case : but if he suffer and be without relief, it is an act of Christian charity in us to relieve him. Now it is too obvious to be denied, that there are in fact persons so in want, that it would be a charitable act in us to help them, notwithstanding all that is done by the town. A man must hide his mental eyes, to think otherwise.
THE NATURE AND END OF EXCOMMUNICATION.
1 Cor. v. 11.
But now I have wrillen unto you, not to keep company, if any
man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner ; with such an one, no not to eat.
The apostle reproves the church at Corinth for not excommunicating an offending person; and directs them speedily to cast him out from among them; thus delivering him to Satan. He orders them to purge out such scandalous persons, as the Jews were wont to purge leaven out of their houses when they kept the passover.
In the text and two foregoing verses, he more particularly explains their duty with respect to such vicious persons, and enjoins it on them not to keep company with such. But then shows the difference they ought to observe in their carriage towards those who were vicious among the heathen who had never joined with the church, and towards those of the same vicious character who had been their professed brethren ; see ver. 9-12, “I wrote unto you not to company with fornicators. Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters, for then
needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you, not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one, no not to eat."
In the words of the text we may observe,
1. The duty enjoined ; including the behaviour required, negatively expressed, not to keep company; and the manner or degree, no not to eat.
2. The object; a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner. We are not to understand merely these particular vices, but also any other gross sins, or visible wickedness. It is evident, that the Vol. VI.
apostle here, and in the context, intends that we should exclude out of our company all those who are visibly wicked men. For in the foregoing verses he expresses his meaning by this, that we should purge out the old leaven; and explaining what he means by leaven, he includes all visible wickedness; as in ver. 8. "Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."
Another thing by which the object of this behaviour or dealing is characterized is, that he be one that is called a brother, or one that hath been a professed Christian, and a member of the church.
DOCTRINE. Those members of the visible Christian church who are become visibly wicked, ought not to be tolerated in the church, but should be excommunicated.
In handling this subject, I shall speak, (1.) of the nature of excommunication ; (2.) of the subject; and (3.) of the ends of it.
1. I shall say something of the nature of excommunication. It is a punishment executed in the name and according to the will of Christ, whereby a person who bath heretofore enjoyed the privileges of a member of the visible church of Christ, is cast out of the church and delivered unto Satan. It is a punishment inflicted ; it is expressly called a punishment by the apostle, in 2 Cor. ii. 6. Speaking of the excommunicated Corinthian, he says,
“ Suflicient to such a man is this punishment." though it be not designed by man for the destruction of the person, but for his correction, and so is of the nature of a castigatory punishment, at least so far as it is inflicted by men; yet it is in itself a great and dreadful calamity, and the most severe punishment that Christ hath appointed in the visible church. Although in it the church is to seek only the good of the person and his recovery from sin--there appearing, upon proper trial no reason to hope for his recovery by gentler means--yet it is at God's sovereign disposal, whether it shall issue in his humiliation and repentance, or in his dreadful and eternal destruction; as it always doth issue in the one or the other. In the definition of excommunication now given, two things are chiefly worthy of consideration ; viz, wherein this punishment consists, and by zchom it is inflicted.
First, I would show wherein this punishment consists ; and it is observable that there is in it something privative, and something positive.
First, There is something privative in excommunication, which consists in being deprived of a benefit heretofore en