Page images

consumed in benevolence of their own; all that was stolen from poultry-yard, out-house, or drying. ground; so much at least his benevolence found to spare. How much good had he done with it? How much misery had he lessened? How much happiness had he communicated ? He does not know. Will that answer do? Perhaps he has afforded a day's enjoyment, and a night's repose, to some who will be encouraged by it to spend a year in idleness and vagrancy, and rear their children to the same. He has given to some a premium for iniquity, that will bring them to destruction. To some honest men he may have spared one day of suffering out of their threescore years and ten. To a few, it is possible, he may even have deferred the hour of starvation and death by many days and weeks. It can scarcely be calculated, that he has permanently amended the condition, or augmented the happiness of

individual among

them. This is what he has done. But what has he left undone? Where is the honest labourer, whom, with the sacrifice of a little leisure, he might have found upon the bed of pain, and by timely administration, saved to be the father and the husband still? Where are the orphans, whom, with some little of his influence, and understanding, and trouble, added to the money he could spare, he might have saved from ignorance and infamy? Where are the children of vice, whose confidence he might have won by well-timed pity, and gained access for his piety to touch their hearts? Where are the children of God, his brethren and companions in eternity, pining uncomforted, except of Heaven, in whose chamber he would have been welcomed as a messenger of love, and have heard a prayer, that might indeed have been his meet reward? All this was done before the alms-giving be

gan. What, all? Not one left anywhere within his reach? Did he inquire; did he go and see ? Admit that his money did more good than harm, did it the most it might have done?

What moral or physical disability might be upon my friend, to go after the suffering that came not to his door, since he has not told me, I am not obliged to know. But this I know. Money is not the only thing that is not his own: time, and thought, and knowledge, and power; moral influence and spiritual advantage—all must be answered for, for all are God's. I will give my friend, however, the utmost advantage of this plea. I will suppose him planted in Grosvenor Square, with an utter incapability, from some cause I would rather not undertake to explain, of seeing, hearing, knowing, finding, or imagining, any misery but what presents itself to his charitable vision in the streets; which, indeed, appears to be his actual condition. What better could occur in such an emergency, than that one should come to his imprisoned humanity and say, 6. There are those at hand whose hearts are warmed with pity; the haunts of vice are not fearful to them; the filth of poverty does not disgust them; the infection of disease cannot prevent them: they have time, they have understanding, and they are determined to give tribute of all that they possess; but they have not money. What they can spare is not enough to answer the demand. Give them of

your ten talents, and in pity for your helplessness, they will go and earn usury


you against your Lord's return.' These are the societies of which my correspondent speaks. If every individual could or would do all that is due from him to suffering humanity. there would be no need of societies; but they cannot, or they will not. Thousands, like my

unfortunate friend, cannot perceive misery till it molests them, or feel pity till they are asked for it. If they do, their incarcerated benevolence consumes their very vitals, till the prospectus of a society sets it free. The guineas are paid, and the conscience returns to its

repose. D—S, with reason, asks, whether these have done enough? Yes, if they can do no more. If this is all the money they can dispense, and money is the only thing they have at their disposal. If not, whatever else they have, is yet to answer for. Be it supposed we give also to every well ascertained case of distress: if we have not yet reached the limit of our means, there are more cases of distress that might be found. There is many a garret, many a cellar, yes, and many a respectable hiding-place of silent penury, where the misery needs but be looked upon to authenticate itself. “O! but we cannot go.” Are we sure we cannot? And cannot we send either? Is it come to this, that we must take the chance of feeding the full, and bribing the impostor, by indiscriminate alms, while harmless indigence lies starving, to avoid the alternative of “ giving nowhere ?" Have a care, lest the most subtle selfishness be hid beneath this subterfuge of pity. To give costs us little; to inquire might cost us much. Self-indulgent nature bids the one-for the other, the feelings of nature must be overcome by duty. Asking pardon of my friend; the good Samaritan did no such thing. He did not fling his penny to the sufferer, without inquiry. He paused on his journey; he ascertained the cause of his misfortune, and what he needed; he conveyed him to a proper place; provided the kind of relief that was most essential; left him in proper charge, and promised to come again. It seems to me we rest on the wrong ground, when

we ask, if by indiscriminate alms we do good or harm. The question should be, do we the greatest quantity of good we might do with the sums that we dispense? When they of old appeared to give their reckoning, it was ten for the ten, and five for the five. Had he who was intrusted with ten talents gained other five, would he have been commended of his Lord ?

But if I have not yet said enough; if I have not yet convinced my friend, and left the beggars to despair, there is a unit in the great account: the world takes little note of it, and moral philosophers have balanced their arguments without it; but overlooked, forgotten as it is, it is that which must at last decide in every thing for loss or gain.

The greatest enemy of man is not his misery. There is a blight upon him more bitter than the December wind; a shame more degrading than his body's nakedness. The tears that Jesus shed over Jerusalem were for her sins and her foreseen destruction; not for the misery that thronged her streets : and when he healed the diseases of the body, he administered always to the spirit too. Man is of another mind. He is troubled to see his fellow-creature cold and naked; but not at all that he should live in vice, and perish everlastingly. It is not uncommon, when any thing is undertaken to elevate the moral character of the poor, and give them religious instruction, to hear it said, We had better feed and clothe them. Yet if there be any right principle of charity at all, it must be the same in the servant as in his lord. All misery is the progeny of sin. If we foster the parent, while we endeavour to repress the offspring, what do we but cut from the bitter root a single bud, and scatter the seed of it to produce a thousand ? If “ to do good to all men,” VOL. II.


were to procure for them such brief intervals of ease as our alms could most readily purchase, I would try to give money to every beggar I should meet. It would enable him to purchase at least some kind of temporary enjoyment. But if every root of evil bears its fruit of misery, as surely as the brier bears its thorns, and if by far the greater portion of all human suffering has its origin in the awful and souldestroying vice of intemperance, which yearly sends its hundreds of thousands of victims to the drunkard's grave, and to the bar of God; what is the principal of that charity, which, in pity for the shivering limb, rewards the beggar's lie, and, lest he should go unfed, tempts him to the commission of iniquity? The actings of such a charity are pernicious, by so much as sin is worse than sorrow: and as for the same hours of suffering spared, it may produce a life, yes, and an eternity of pain, to the individual it encourages, or others whom it entices. And it is false in its principle; because the Lord of all, when he gives his property in charge, would have it used as he had used it to diminish sin, and alleviate its consequences—till he returns to banish both from his regenerated kingdom. To give increase to iniquity, though, by doing so, we could banish want and nakedness from our streets, would not be to fulfil his commission, or promote his glory,

To act properly, and judge rightly, we must be determined in action and in judgment by principle, not by sensation. I think the purpose of God is the principle of charity. That they who make light of sin should act upon this principle, is not to be expected. They think, perhaps, a man had better lie than hunger; had better thieve than suffer. It is the estimate they make for themselves, in politer ways; no wonder if they make it for the poor, and

« PreviousContinue »