Page images

very strictly warns them against it, that they should not be the more backward to supply the wants of the needy for that, but should be willing to give him : “ Thou shalt be willing to lend, expecting nothing again."

Men are exceedingly apt to make objections against such duties, which God speaks of here as a manifestation of the wickedness of their hearts : “ Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart," &c. The warning is very strict. God doth not only say, Beware that thou do not actually refuse to give him: but, Beware that thou have not one objecting thought against it, arising from a backwardness to liberality. God warns against the beginnings of uncharitableness in the heart, and against whatever tends to a forbearance to give: “ And thou give him nought, and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee.” God warns them, from the guilt which they would be liable to bring upon themselves hereby.

We may observe here several enforcements of this duty. There is a reason of this duty implied in God's calling him that is needy, our brother: “ Thou shalt not shut thine hand from thy poor brother;" and verse 9. “ Beware that thine eye be not evil against thy poor brother,” and verse 11, “ Thou shalt open thine hand wide to thy brother.” We are to look upon ourselves as related to all mankind, but especially to those who are of the visible people of God. We are to look upon them as brethren, and to treat them accordingly. We shall be base indeed, if we be not willing to help a brother in want.--Another enforcement of this duty is the promise of God, that for this thing he will bless us in all our works, and in all that we put our hands unto; a promise that we shall not lose, but gain by it, (verse 10.)- Another is, that we shall nevet want proper objects of our charity and bounty: verse 11. For the poor shall never cease out of thy land.” This God saith to the Jewish church ; and the like Christ saith to the Christian church, Matt. xxvi. 11. “ The poor ye have always with you." This is to cut off an excuse that uncharitable persons would be ready to make for not giving, that they could find no body to give to, that they saw none who needed. God cuts off such an excuse, by telling us, that he would so order it in his providence, that his people every where, and in all ages, shall have occasion for the exercise of that virtue.

From this account the doctrine is obvious, that it is the absolute and indispensable duty of the people of God, to give bountifully and willingly for supplying the wants of the needy.—But more particularly,

1. It is the duty of the people of God, to give bountifully for the aforesaid purpose. It is commanded once and again in the text, “ Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy poor brother.” Merely to give something is not sufficient ; it answers not the rule, nor comes up to the holy command of God; but we must open our hand wide. What we give, considering our neighbour's wants, and our ability, should be such as may be called a liberal gift. What is meant in the text by opening the band wide, with respect to those that are able, is explained in ver. 8. “ Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his want, in that which he needeth." By lending here, as is evi. dent by the two following verses, and as we have just now shewn, is not only meant lending to receive again; the word lend in scripture is sometimes used for giving; as in Luke vi. 35. “ Do good and lend, hoping for nothing again.”

We are commanded, therefore, to give our poor neighbour what is sufficient for his need. There ought to be none suffered to live in pinching want, among a visible people of God, who are able; unless in case of idleness, or prodigality, or some such case which the word of God excepts. It is said that the children of Israel should lend to the poor, and in the year of release should release what they had lent, save when there should be no poor among them. It is rendered in the margin, to the end there be no poor among you ; i. e. you should so supply the wants of the needy, that there may be none among you in pinching want. This translation seems the more likely to be the true one, because God says, ver. 11, that there sball be no such time when there shall be no poor, who shall be proper objects of charity.-- When persons give very sparingly, it is no manifestation of charity, but of a contrary spirit : 2 Cor. ix. 5. “ Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren, that they would go before unto you, and make up beforehand your bounty, whereof ye had notice before, that the same might be ready, as a matter of bounty, and not as of covetousness. The apostle here calls a very sparing contribution, matter of covetousness.

[ocr errors]

2. It is the duty of the visible people of God, to give for the supply of the needy, freely, and without grudging. It doth not at all answer the rule in the sight of God, if it be done with an inward grudging, or if the heart be grieved, and it inwardly burt the man to give what he gives : “ Thou shalt surely give,” says God," and thine heart shall not be grieved." God looks at the heart, and the hand is not accepted without it: 2 Cor. ix. 7.Every man according as he hath purposed in his heart, so let him give, not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver.”

3. This is a duty to which God's people are under very strict obligations. It is not merely a commendable thing for

a man to be kind and bountiful to the poor, but our bounden duty, as much a duty as it is to pray, or to attend public worship, or any thing else whatever ; and the neglect of it brings great guilt upon any person,


Of the Obligation of Christians to perform the Duty of Charity

to the Poor.

[ocr errors]

This duty is absolutely commanded, and much insisted on in the word of God. Where have we any command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms, and in a more peremptory urgent manner, than the command of giving to the poor? We have the same law in a positive manner laid down in Levit. xxv. 35, &c. “ And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee, then thou shalt relieve him; yea, though he be a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with thee. And at the conclusion of ver. 38, God enforces it with

' saying, I am the Lord thy God.

It is mentioned in scripture, not only as a duty, but a great duty. Indeed it is generally acknowledged to be a duty to be kind to the needy ; but by many it seems not to be looked upon as a duty of great importance. However, it is mentioned in scripture as one of the greater and more essential duties of religion : Micah vi. 8. “ He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Here to love mercy is mentioned as one of the three great things that are the sum of all religion. So it is mentioned by the apostle James, as one of the two things wherein pure and undefiled religion consists: James i. 27. “ Pure religion, and undefiled, before God and the Father, is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."

So Christ tells us, it is one of the weightier matters of the law: Matth. xxii. 23. “ Ye have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” The scriptures again and again teach us, that it is a more weighty and essential thing than the attendance on the outward ordinances of worship: Hos. vi. 6. "I desired mercy, and not sacrifice;"

, Matth. ix. 13, and xii. 7. I know of scarce any duty which is so much insisted on, so pressed and urged upon us, both in the Old Testament and New, as this duty of charity to the poor.

The reason of the thing strongly obliges to it. It is not only very positively and frequently insisted on by God, but it

is most reasonable in itself; and so, on this account, there is reason why God should much insist upon it.

1. It is most reasonable, considering the general state and nature of mankind. This is such as renders it most reasonable that we should love our neighbour as ourselves; for men are made in the image of our God, and on this account are worthy of our love. Besides, we are all nearly allied one to another by nature. We have all the same nature, like faculties, like dispositions, like desires of good, like needs, like aversion to misery, and are made of one blood; and we are made to subsist by society and union one with another. God hath made us with such a nature, that we cannot subsist without the help of one another. Mankind in this respect are as the memo bers of the natural body; one cannot subsist alone, without an union with, and the help of the rest.

Now, this state of mankind shews how reasonable and suitable it is, that men should love their neighbours; and that we should not look every one at his own things, but every man also at the things of others, Phil. ii. 4. A selfish spirit is very unsuitable to the nature and state of mankind. He who is all for himself, and none for his neighbours, deserves to be cut off from the benefit of human society, and to be turned out among wild beasts, to subsist by himself as well as he can. A private niggardly spirit is more suitable for wolves, and other beasts of prey, than for human beings.

To love our neighbours as ourselves, is the sum of the moral law respecting our fellow-creatures, and to belp them, and to contribute to their relief, is the most natural expression of this love. It is vain to pretend to a spirit of love to our neighbours, when it is grievous to us to part with any thing for their help, when under calamity. They who love only in word, and in tongue, and not in deed, have no love in truth. Any profession without it is a vain pretence. To refuse to give to the needy, is unreasonable, because we therein do to others contrary to what we would bave others to do to us in like circumstances. We are very sensible of our own calamities; and when we suffer, are ready enough to think that our state requires the compassion and help of others; and are ready enough to think it hard, if others will not deny themselves in order to help us when in straits.

2. It is especially reasonable, considering our circumstances, under such a dispensation of grace as that of the gospel. Consider how much God hath done for us, how greatly he hath loved us, what he hath given us, when we were so unworthy, and when he could have no addition to his bappiness by us. Consider that silver and gold, and earthly crowns, were in his esteem but mean things to give us, and he hath therefore given us his own Son. Christ loved and pitied us, when we were poor, and he laid out himself to help, and even did shed his own blood for us without grudging. He did not think much to deny himself, and to be at great cost for us vile wretches, in order to make us rich, and to clothe us with kingly robes, when we were naked; to feast us at his own table with dainties infinitely costly, when we were starving; to advance us from the dungbill, and set us among princes, and make us to inherit the throne of his glory, and so to give us the enjoyment of the greatest wealth and plenty to all eternity; agrecably to 2 Cor. viii. 9. “ For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich."

. Considering all these things, what a poor business will it be, that those who hope to share these benefits, yet cannot give something for the relief of a poor neighbour without grudging! that it should grieve them to part with a small matter, to help a fellow-servant in calamity, when Christ did not grudge to sbed his own blood for them!

How upsuitable is it for us, who live only by kindness, to be unkind! What would have become of us, if Christ had been so saying of his blood, and loth to bestow it, as many men are of their money or goods? or if he had been as ready to excuse himself from dying for us, as men commonly are to excuse themselves from charity to their neighbour? If Christ would have made objections of such things, as men commonly object to performing deeds of charity to their neighbour, he would have found enough of them.

Besides, Christ, by bis redemption, has brought us into a more near relation one to another, hath made us children of God, children in the same family. We are all brethren, having God for our common Father; which is much more than to be brethren in any other family. He hath made us all one body; therefore we ought to be united, and subserve one another's good, and bear one another's burdens, as is the case with the members of the same natural body. If one of the members suffer, all the other members bear the burden with it, 1 Cor. xii. 26. If one member be diseased or wounded, the other members of the body will minister to it, and help it. So surely it should be in the body of Christ: Gal. vi. 2. “ Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."

Apply these things to yourselves; and inquire, whether you do not lie under guilt on account of the neglect of this duty, in withholding that charity which God requires of you towards the needy? You haye often been put upon examining yourselves, whether you do not live in some way displeasing to God. Perhaps at such times it never came into your minds, whether you did not lie under guilt on this account. But

« PreviousContinue »