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this neglect certainly brings guilt upon the soul in the sight of God, as is evident by the text : “ Beware that thine eye be not evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought, and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee,” ver. 9. This is often mentioned as one of the sins of Judah and Jerusalem, for which God was about to bring such terrible judgments upon them; and it was one of the sins of Sodom, for which that city was destroyed, that she did not give to supply the poor and needy, Ezek. xvi. 49. “ This was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness in her, and in her daughters; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."
And have we not reason to fear, that much guilt lies upon this land on this very account? We have a high conceit of ourselves for religion: but do not many other countries shame us? Do not the Papists shame us in this respect? So far as I can understand the tenor of the Christian religion, and the rules of the word of God, the same are in no measure in this respect answered by the general practice of most people in this land. There are many who make a bigh profession of religion; but do not many of them need to be informed by the apostle James, what true religion is ?
Let every one examine himself, whether he do not lie under guilt in this matter. Have you not forborne to give, when you have seen your brother in want? Have you not shut up the bowels of your compassion towards him, and forborne to deny yourselves a little for his relief? Or when you have given, have you not done it grudgingly ? And has it not inwardly hurt and grieved you? You have looked upon what you have given, as lost: So that what you have given, has been, as the apostle expresses it, a matter of covetousness, rather than of bounty. Have not occasions of giving been unwelcome to you? Have you not been uneasy under them? Have you not felt a considerable backwardness to give? Have you not, from a grudging, backward spirit, been apt to raise objections against giving, and to excuse yourselves ? Such things as these bring guilt upon the soul, and often bring down the curse of God upon the persons in whom these things are found, as we may shew more fully hereafter,
An Exhortation to the Duty of Charity to the Poor.
We are professors of Christianity, we pretend to be the followers of Jesus, and to make the gospel our rule. We have
the Bible in our houses. Let us not belave ourselves in this particular, as if we had never seen the Bible, as if we were ignorant of Christianity, and knew not what kind of religion it is. What will it signify to pretend to be Christians, and at the same time to live in the neglect of those rules of Christianity which are mainly insisted on in it? But there are several things which I would bere propose to your consideration.
I. Consider that what you have is not your own; you have only a subordinate right. Your goods are only lent to you of God, to be improved by you in such ways as he directs. You yourselves are not your own; 1 Cor. vi. 20. “ Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price; your body and your spirit are God's.” And if you yourselves are not your own, so then neither are your possessions your own. Many of you have by covenant given up yourselves and all you have to God. You have disowned and renounced any right in your. selves or in any thing that you have, and have given to God all the absolute right; and if you be true Christians, you have done it from tbe heart.
Your money and your goods are not your own ; they are only committed to you as stewards, to be used for him who committed them to you; 1 Pet. iv. 9, 10. “Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”. A steward has no business with his master's goods, to use them any otherwise than for the benefit of his master and his family, or according to his master's direction. He hath no business to use them, as if he were the proprietor of them; he hath nothing to do with them, only as he is to use them for his master. He is to give every one of his master's family their portion of meat in due season.
But if instead of that, he hoards up his master's goods for himself, and with holds them from those of the household, so that some of the family are pinched for want of food and clothing; he is therein guilty of robbing bis master and embezzling bis substance. And would any householder endure such a steward? If he discovered him in such a practice, would he not take his goods out of his hands, and commit them to the care of some other steward, who should give every one of his family bis portion of meat in due season? Remember that all of lis must give account of our stewardship, and how we have disposed of those goods which our master has put into our hands. And if when our master comes to reckon with us, it be found, that we have denied some of his family their proper provision, while we have boarded up for ourselves, as if we had been the proprietors of our master's goods, what account shall we give of this?
II. God tells us, that he shall look upon what is done in charity to our neighbours in want, as done unto him; and what is denied unto them, as denied unto him. Prov. xix. 17. “ He that hath pity on the poor lendeth to the Lord.” God hath been pleased to make our needy neighbours his receivers. He in his infinite mercy hath so interested himself in their case, that he looks upon what is given in charity to them, as given to himself: and when we deny them what their cir cumstances require of us, he looks upon it that we therein rob him of his right.
Christ teaches us, that we are to look upon our fellow Christians in this case as himself, and that our giving or with.. holding from them, shall be taken, as if we so behaved ourselves towards him; see Matt. xxv. 40. There Christ says to the righteous on his right hand, who had supplied the wants of the needy, “In that ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." In like manner he says to the wicked who had not shewn mercy to the poor, ver. 45, “ Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of the least of these, ye did it not to me."--Now what stronger enforcement of this duty can be conceived, or is possible, than this, that Jesus Christ looks upon our kind and bountiful, or unkind and uncharitable treatment of our needy neighbours, as such a treatment of himself?
If Christ himself were upon earth, and dwelt among us in a frail body, as he once did, and were in calamitous and needy circumstances, should we not be willing to supply him? Should we be apt to excuse ourselves from helping bim? Should we not be willing to supply bim so, that he might live free from distressing poverty? And if we did otherwise, should we not bring great guilt upon ourselves ? And might not our conduct justly be very bighly resented by God? Christ was once here in a frail body, stood in need of the charity, and was maintained by it; Luke viii. 2, 3.
“ And certain women which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance." So he still, in many of his members, needs the charity of others.
III. Consider that there is an absolute necessity of our complying with the difficult duties of religion. To give to the poor in the manner and measure that the
gospel prescribes, is a difficult duty; i.e. it is very contrary to corrupt nature, to that covetousness and selfishness of which there is so much in the wicked heart of man. Man is naturally governed only by a principle of self-love; and it is a difficult thing to corrupt nature, for men to deny themselves of their present
interest, trusting in God to make it up to them hereafter.But how often hath Christ told us the necessity of doing difficult duties of religion, if we will be his disciples; that we must sell all, take up our cross daily, deny ourselves, renounce our worldly profits and interests, &c. And if this duty seem hard and difficult to you, let not that be an objection with you against doing it; for you have taken up quite a wrong notion of things, if you expect to go to heaven without performing difficult duties; if you expect any other than to find the way to life a narrow way.
IV. The scripture teaches us, that this very particular duty is necessary. Particularly,
1. The scripture teaches, that God will deal with us as we deal with our fellow-creatures in this particular, and that with what measure we mete to others in this respect, God will measure to us again. This the scripture asserts both ways; it asserts that if we be of a merciful spirit, God will be merciful to us : Matt. v. 7. “ Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Psal. xviii. 25. “ With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful.” On the other hand it tells us, that if we be not merciful, God will not be merciful to us, and that all our pretences to faith and a work of conversion will not avail us, to obtain mercy, unless we be merciful to them that are in want. James ii. 13-16. “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy.-What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works ? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food; and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed, and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?"
2. This very thing is often mentioned in scripture, as an essential part of the character of a godly man; Ps. xxxvii. 21. “ The righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth ;” and again, ver. 26. “ He is ever merciful, and lendeth." Ps. cxii. 5.“ A good man sheweth favour, and lendeth :” and ver. 9.“ He hath dispersed, and given to the poor." So Prov. xiv. 31. “ He that honoureth God, hath mercy on the poor.” Again, Prov. xxi. 26; and Is. lvii. 1. A righteous man, and a merciful man, are used as synonymous terms: “ The righteous perisheth, and merciful men are taken away,” &c.
It is mentioned in the New Testament as a thing so essential, that the contrary cannot consist with a sincere love to God. 1 John iii. 17-19.“ But whoso hath this world's goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in bim? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” So the apostle Paul, when he writes to the Corinthians, and proposes their contributing for the supply of the poor saints, tells them what he doth it for, viz. a trial of their sincerity: see 2 Cor. viii. 8. “I speak to prove the sincerity of your love."
3. Christ teaches, that judgment will be past at the great day according to men's works in this respect. This is taught us by Christ in the most particular account of the proceedings of that day, that we have in the whole Bible; see Matt. xxv. 34, &c. It is evident that Christ thus represented the proceedings and determinations of this great day, as turning upon this one point, on purpose, and on design to lead us into this notion, and to fix it in us, that a charitable spirit and practice towards our brethren is necessary to salvation.
V. Consider what abundant encouragement the word of God gives, that you shall be no losers by your charity and bounty to them who are in want. As there is scarce any duty prescribed in the word of God, which is so much insisted on as this, so there is scarce any to which there are so many promises of reward made. This virtue especially bath the promises of this life and that which is to come. If we believe the scriptures, when a man charitably gives to his neighbour in want, the giver has the greatest advantage by it, even greater than the receiver; Acts xx. 35. “ I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring 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.” He that gives bountifully is a happier man than he that receives bountifully; Prov. xiv. 21. “He that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he."
Many persons are ready to look upon what is bestowed for charitable uses as lost. But we ought not to look upon it as lost, because it benefits those whom we ought to love as ourselves. And not only so, but it is not lost to us, if we give any credit to the scriptures. See the advice that Solomon gives in Eccl. xi. 1. “ Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days.” By casting our bread upon the waters, Solomon means giving it to the poor, as appears by the next words, “ Give a portion to seven and also to eight." Waters are sometimes put for people and multitudes.
What strange advice would this seem to many, to cast their bread upon the waters, which would seem to them like throwing it away! What more direct method to lose our bread, than to
and throw it into the sea. But the wise man tells us, No, it is not lost; you shall find it again after many days. It is not sunk, but you commit it to Providence; you commit it to the winds and wayes: however it will come about to you, and you shall find it again after many days.