« PreviousContinue »
offence cometh ;” yet we must“ beware of offences,” because by them we are engaged in a sin: and he that prays for a revenge hath a revengeful spirit, however it be restrained by laws and exterior tendernesses, from acting such dire purposes. And he that prays for revenge may indeed procure a justice to be done upon the injurious person ; but oftentimes it happens then to fall on him when we least wish it, when we also have a conjunct interest in the other's preservation and escape: God so punishing the first wrong, that we also may smart for our uncharitable wishes. For the ground of all this discourse is, that it is part of Christian charity to forgive injuries :: which forgiveness of the injury, although it may reasonably enough stand with my fair and innocent requiring of my own, which goes no farther than a fair repetition; yet in no case can it stand with the acting and desiring revenge, which also, in the formality of revenge, can have no pretence of charity, because it is ineffective to my restitution. This discourse concerns private persons ; whether it concern the question of war, and how far, is not proper for this consideration.
1. But Christian charity hath its effect also in benefits as well as gentleness and innocence: “ Give to him that asketh, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away. But when thou doest thine alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth a.” These are the precepts of the Lord, for the substance and the manner of alms, for the quantity and freeness of the donative, and the simplicity of him that gives; to which add those other words of his, “ Sell your possessions, and give almsb.” This precept, with its circumstances, was intended as a defensative against covetousness and prodigality, and a suppletory to make up the wants, and to make even the breaches of mankind : in which we shall best understand our obligation, if we consider in what proportion we must give alms, and to what persons, and in what manner.
• Injuriam qui tulit, oblivisci potest; qui fecit, nunquam. - Tacit.
Luke, xii. 33.
2. First: For the quantity, we shall best take an estimate of it, if we remember the portion which God allows to Christians : “ having food and raiment, let us be content with itc:" and our blessed Saviour, at the latter end of this sermon, stirs us up to confidence in God, and not to doubt our provisions, by telling that God “ feeds the ravens, and clothes the lilies, and he will much rather do it to us,” he will clothe us and feed us; no more is in the promise, no more is in our need : and, therefore, whatsoever is, beside our needs, natural and personal, that is, proportioning our needs to the condition of our life, and exigence of our calling, and quality of our person, all that can be spared from what we modestly and temperately spend in our support, and the supply of our families, and other necessary incidents, all that is to be spent in charity or religion. He defrauds the poor of their right, who detains from them beyond his own necessary, prudent, and convenient supplies“, saith St. Hierom : and this is intended to be a retrenchment of all vain expenses, costly feasts, rich clothes, pompous retinue, and such excrescences of expense which, of themselves, serve no end of piety or just policy, but, by wise and temperate persons, are esteemed unnecessary, and without which the dignity and just value of the person may still be retained. Whatsoever is vainly spent was the portion of the poor ®; whatsoever we lose in idle gaming, revelling, and wantonness of prodigality, was designed, by Christ, to refresh his own bowels, to fill the bellies of the poor; whatsoever lies in our repository useless and superfluous, all that is the poor man's inheritance : and certainly there is not any greater baseness than to suffer a man to perish, or be in extreme want of that which God gave me for him, and beyond my own needs. It is unthankfulness to God, it is unmercifulness to the poor, it is improvidence to ourselves, it is unfaithfulness in the dispensation of the money of which God made him but the steward, and his chest the bank for
c 1 Tim. vi. 8.
i Callidus effractâ pummos fur auferat arca:
the exchange and issuing it to the indigent. And he that is unmerciful and unjust is extremely unlike God. But in taking this estimate concerning our excrescences, we are to proceed according to the rules of prudence, not making determinations in grains and scruples, but in the greater actions and accountable proportions of our estates. And if any man, seeing great necessities of indigent and calamitous persons, shall give beyond his ability , he had the Philippians for his precedent, and he hath God engaged for his payment, and a greater share in heaven for his reward. Only this; as we are to provide for ourselves, so also for our family, and the relatives of our charge and nearer endearments, not only with a provision of the present day's entertainment, but also for all nearer, probable, foreseen, and expected events, such as are portions for our children, dowries for our daughters : but this must not be extended to care and reservations for all possible and far distant events; but so much is to be permitted to the Divine providence as our present duty gives leave. In which, although a prudent guide and a sober reason are to make application to practice, yet the rule in general is, that by so much we are to relieve the poor, as we can deduct from such a portion of good things as God permits us to use for our own support, and reasonable and temporal conveniences of our person and condition ; ever remembering, that if we increase in our estate, we also should increase in charity, that in this also may be verified what is written, “ He that had much had nothing over, and he that had little had no lack.” There is, in the quantity of these donatives, some latitude; but if we “ sow sparingly,” or if we scatter plentifully, so we shall reap: only we must be careful that no extreme necessity or biting want lies upon any poor man, whom we can relieve, without bringing such a want upon ourselves, which is less than the permissions of fortune which the mercies of God have permitted to us, that is, “ food and raiment proper for us. Under “ food and raiment” all the necessaries of our life are to be understood : whatsoever is more than this is
Hoc nam est maximam incentivum misericordiæ, ut compatiamur alienis calamitatibus quantum possumus, imò interdum plus quàm possumus. S. Ambr. lib. ii. de offic. VOL. II.
counsel and perfection ; for which a proportionable reward is deposited in the treasures of eternity.
3. Secondly: If question be made concerning the persons who are to be the object of our alms, our rule is plain and easy; for nothing is required in the person suscipient and capable of alms, but that he be in misery and want, and unable to relieve himself. This last clause I insert in pursuance of that caution given to the church of Thessalonica by St. Paul, “ If any one will not work, neither let him eat ";" for we must be careful that our charity, which is intended to minister to poor men's needs, do not minister to idleness and the love of beggary, and a wandering, useless, and unprofitable life. But, abating this, there is no other consideration that can exempt any needy person from participation of your charity; not, though he be your enemyi; (for that is it which our blessed Saviour means in the
appendix of this precept, “ Love your enemies,” that is, according to the exposition of the apostle, “ if thine enemy hunger, feed him, if he thirst, give him drink,”) not, though he be an unbeliever; not, though he be a vicious person k; provided only that the vice be such to which your relief ministers no fuel, and adds no flame; and if the mere necessities of his nature be supplied, it will be a fair security against the danger; but if the vice be in the scene of the body, all freer comforts are to be denied him, because they are but incentives of sin, and angels of darkness. This I the rather insert, that the pride and supercilious austerities of some persons become not to them an instrument of excuse from ministering to needy persons, upon pretence their own sins brought them into that condition. For though the causes of our calamities are many times great secrets of Providence, yet suppose the poverty of the man was the effect of his prodigality, or other baseness, it matters not, as to our duty, how he came into it, but where he is ; lest we also be denied а visit in our sicknesses, and a comfort in our sorrow, or a
h 2 Thess. iii. 10.
και γάς ο Πύθιος εξέβαλε του ναού τον ου βοηθήσαντα αναιρουμένω τα φίλω. – Epict. c. 39.
* Herodes Atticus, vir Consularis, qunun palliatus quidam specie philosophi stipem emendicâsset, respondit, Demus huic aliquid æris cujusmodi est, tanquam homines, non tanquam homini. - A. Gell, lib. ix. c. 2.
counsel in our doubts, or aid in any distress, upon pretence that such sadness was procured by our sins : and ten to one but it was so.
“ Do good to all,” saith the apostle,“ but especially to the family of faith ;” for to them our charity is most proper and proportioned: to all, viz. who are in need, and cannot relieve themselves; in which number persons that can work are not to be accounted. So that if it be necessary to observe an order in our charity, that is, when we cannot supply and suffice for all our opportunities of mercy, then “ let not the brethren of our Lord go away ashamed;" and in other things observe the order and propriety of your own relations, and where there is otherwise no difference, the degree of the necessity is first to be considered'. This also, if the necessity be final and extreme, whatever the man be, he is first to be relieved, before the lesser necessities of the best persons or most holy poor. But the proper objects of our charity are old persons, sick or impotent, laborious and poor housekeepers, widows and orphans, people oppressed or persecuted for the cause of righteousness, distressed strangers, captives and abused slaves, prisoners of debt. To these we must be liberal, whether they be holy or unholy, remembering that we are sons of that Father who makes the dew of heaven to drop upon the dwellings of the righteous, and the fields of sinners.
4. Thirdly: The manner of giving alms is an office of Christian prudence; for in what instances we are to exemplify our charity, we must be determined by our own powers, and others' needs. The Scripture reckons entertaining strangers, visiting the sick, going to prisons, feeding and clothing the hungry and naked : to which, by the exigence of the poor, and the analogy of charity, many other are to be added. The holy Jesus, in the very precept, instanced in lending money to them that need to borrow; and he adds,
looking for nothing again,” that is, if they be unable to
nunc sportula primo