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are divided, and their several duties; if we consider the obligation of the rich to assist the needy, and that of the poor to toil for a mean livelihood, we shall have reason to bless God, who has placed us on the happier side, and thankfully to comply with the duty of our condition; whence this comfort may be added to it, that it shall not be taken from us.
Secondly; in regard to present pleasure and satisfaction attending on works of charity, the giver has in all respects a better share than the receiver : this point enlarged on.
Thirdly; if we look beyond this present scene, the difference is still wider. There is no virtue in being relieved: a poor man is not a better man for the charity he receives; it rather brings with it an increase of duty : it may happen that it may be a burden on his future account, and will be so if he misapplies it. But the giver has a better prospect before him : this enlarged on.
Preached before the Lord Mayor, &c. at St. Bride's, April
ACTS, CHAP, XX. -VERSE 35.
I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to
support the weak; and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
THESE words concluded the moving speech which St. Paul made to the elders of the church of Ephesus, when he took his final leave of them. The time he had to discourse with them was but little, and the occasion was very solemn; which circumstances would determine him to mention nothing to them but what he judged to be of the last consequence and concern; and what they ought always to remember, as the dying words of their great teacher and apostle.
At the 25th verse you find him, under the passion of a father, bidding adieu to his children and the world ; ' And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.' But to show that this care of them would outlive himself, he gives them his last advice, the best, the only legacy he had to bestow. Two things he especially recommends to them; the care of the church of God, and the providing for the necessities of the poor and helpless. The former charge you have at the 28th verse; • Take heed, therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. The latter you
read in the words of the text: 'I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak; and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.'
There are some duties so essential to religion, so necessary to form the character of a good man, much more of a good Christian, that they always have been, and I hope will always continue to be, the preacher's common topic. Yet this I know is in some respects a disadvantage, and that exhortations of this kind are esteemed to be so much things of course, that they are often used with more effect by others, from whom they are less expected. I have need therefore to bespeak your favor, that I may
be heard on this subject, without incurring the censure of being thought a common beggar. And yet not to dissemble my intention, beg I would ; partly indeed for your sakes, whose necessities can no otherwise be relieved but by charity; but much more for your sakes, whose ample fortunes, if rightly administered, intitle you to the choicest blessings of the gospel; For it is more blessed to give than to receive.'
In speaking of the duty and obligations of charity, in this restrained sense of the word, in which it regards only the temporal wants and necessities of our brethren; there are three things proper to be considered.
First, how far the obligations of this duty extend; for that they do not extend equally to all is evident, because such as are qualified to receive are in all' ordinary cases exempted from giving.
Secondly, who are duly qualified to receive charity.
Thirdly, what is the blessing and reward that attends on the faithful discharge of this duty.
The first thing to be considered is, how far this duty extends; I have showed you all things, says the apostle, “how that so laboring’ye ought to support the weak. In the verses preceding the text he had set before them his own example, and the method he took to provide for himself and those who were with him. I have coveted,' says he, 'no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.' Now the exhortation of the text being founded on the example
which the apostle himself had given, and those words, That so laboring ye ought to support the weak,' necessarily referring to such labor as St. Paul'' had undergone,' when his own hands ministered to his own necessities; it is evident that the apostle directed that part of what they could earn, even by the labor of their hands, should be set aside and dedicated to works of charity. The same direction is repeated in his Epistle to the Ephesians, chap. iv. 28. Let him that stole steal no more; but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Where you find labor enjoined them, not only that they may have an honest means of supporting themselves, but that they might have something likewise to spare in charity to such as were in distress, and unable to work for their own living. As the apostle pleads his own example to the elders of the church of Ephesus, so does he likewise to the Thessalonians in his second Epistle written to them : · Neither did we,' says be, eat
any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: not because we have not power,' (i. e. a right to claim a maintenance as ministers of the gospel,) . but to make ourselves an ensample for you to follow us:' chap. iii. ver. 8. 9.
From these passages laid together, it is manifest that the apostle calls on all indifferently, the elders and pastors of the church, as well as others, to labor, working with their hands; and he charges on their labor not only the duty of providing for themselves and families, but also the care of supporting those among them who were indigent and necessitous: but the mea+ sures and proportions of charity not being things of a determinate nature, but such as are relative to the circuinstances and conditions of times and persons, and vary and change together with them ; it must be absurd to apply the rules relating to charity, which are to be found in the holy Scriptures, to ourselves and our own times, without making a due allowance for the difference in our circumstances and theirs to whom the rules were first directed. And therefore to give you a just sense of the meaning of the text, and of other apostolical rules concerning the practice of charity, it will be necessary to show you what
was the state of the times and persons to which those rules have reference.
The church of Christ at the first preaching of the gospel consisted almost wholly of the poor and indigent, such as were hardly able to support and maintain themselves by their labor, much less to be liberal towards the support of others : for this reason St. Paul chose rather to work for his bread with his own hands, than to make his ministry burdensome to the churches; though at the same time he asserts the right he had to be supported by them in his function, notwithstanding the narrowness of their own circumstances. The learning and education of the first converts were no better than their fortunes; and even the rulers of the church were oftentimes taken from trades and mean employments; the Spirit of God wonderfully supplying their defects, and enabling them under all outward disadvantages to promote the cause of the gospel with great courage and success. On this account the gospel is spoken of as the peculiar portion and inheritance of the poor; our Saviour gives it as a characteristic of himself and his mission, that the poor had the gospel preached to them :' Matth. xi. 25. And St. Paul addressing to the Corinthians, discovers to us the condition of that church; • Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called : but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought the things that are : 1 Cor. i. 26. 27. 28.
These circumstances of the first Christians considered, it is easy to justify the propriety of the apostle's exhortation in the text. When you reflect how poverty reigned through the whole body, you will not think it strange that the apostle speaks of labor, even to the elders of the church ; since their own labor and work were the only riches the Christians of those days were in possession of; and it must be either perverseness or ignorance that makes some argue from this and other like passages of Scripture, against a settled maintenance for the