Page images
PDF
EPUB

means deserve the name. If faith, without works, be dead; love, without works, must, beyond a doubt, be equally so: and, however we might pretend to love our neighbours in our hearts, to wish them well, and to desire their happiness ; yet no one would be so simple as to think us charitable, on this account alone: nor would any body believe, that we had any such feeling in our hearts; unless our actions, and outward behaviour, afforded some proof, that it was there. Nor is it man only, who is thus accustomed to judge concerning us. The Searcher of hearts has Himself declared, that the judgement thus formed is true, when He has taught us, that, if a man see his brother want, and do not relieve him, the love of God cannot dwell within him.

But though neither God, nor our neighbour, are deceived by such a pretence; our own souls are, unhappily, too often thus imposed upon. We are apt to lay great stress on our general good will, our harmlessness, our kind words, our charitable wishes; while we, in reality, take no trouble, and go to as little expence as possible, for the advantage of those, towards whom we profess to feel so tenderly. And is this enough to cover the multitude of sins? Is this a claim to Heaven? Does not, on the contrary, this . very tenderness of ours, supposing it real, condemn, [our ownselves being judges,] our own

ܪ

idleness, or neglect, or covetousness ; since it is clear, that we feel not the extent of the distress, which we take no steps to relieve: and that our hatred to trouble, or our love of money, are so strong, as to overpower in our hearts a naturally affectionate temper. We hate the man, in the parable, who passed by on the other side ; when he saw afar off the wounded and naked passenger: we hate him worse, who came, and looked on him ; who felt the extent of his pitiable condition; who saw his wounds, his tears, and wretchedness; and who then went on, and left him. But what should we say, if this man had been the sufferer's friend, or brother? What, if he really were sorry for his misfortune, and loved him; and yet forsook him ? Should we not then cry out, still more loudly, against that hateful idleness, or covetousness, which could lead him to prefer his ease, or his money, to the life of him, who was most dear to him ? And is not, in like manner, our neglect, of such as want our help, rendered more criminal, in exact proportion to the natural gentleness of our nature, and to the degree, in which we are affected by the consideration of their distress, or danger ? Let all such as boast of their own tenderness in acts of mercy and kindness, remember, that it is not by what men have felt, but by what they have done, for their brethren, that our Lord, at His second coming, will pronounce them blessed, or cursed I

But what is to become of those who have no means or opportunity, to shew forth their inward feeling? I answer, none can be found, who are thus completely debarred from means, or opportunity. They, who cannot give money, food, or physic, to a suffering neighbour, may yet give them their attendance in sickness, their comfort in distress, their advice under temptation, their prayers in all calamity. They, who cannot relieve all who apply, may still do their best to discover the real sufferers : they, who have themselves nothing to give, may recommend such to the bounty of others : and God only knows how much of that good which is done in the world, is done by those who have, to all appearance, least in their power.

Our charity, then, must be shewn, in our actions; as well as felt, in our hearts.

But, secondly, it is not enough that we are outwardly bountiful, and useful; unless these actions proceed from a right principle. There are too many, who suppose, that, when the outward action is good, it is unnecessary to examine further : and that he, who does good to others, is certainly charitable, be his motives what they may. Now, as a general rule in judging of other men, this method is, to a certain extent, a proper one: or, to speak more correctly, as we cannot know the secret motives of our neighbours, we are bound, in love for him, to hope, that his good deeds proceed from the right principle. But, as applied to ourselves, or whereever the motive can be known, this

way

of judging is, plainly, always insufficient; and as plainly, often untrue ; because there are many actions, of which the character entirely differs, according to circumstances, and to the reason, for which they are done. Thus, to pay money for the use of the poor, is, beyond all doubt, an action which is, in many cases extremely charitable : but to pay money for the same purpose, when compelled by a parish rate, is very necessary, and very proper ; but we none of us pretend to call it charity. It must, in fact, to make it charitable, be done with a good will ; it must be our own free act; and it must proceed from love to the sufferers, and from a desire to do them good. Again, to nurse the sick, and comfort the dying, is most kind and charitable: but to do this, in expectation of a legacy, is no charity at all ; inasmuch as our attentions are, in such a case, not given, but sold. In like manner, if a man give alms to a beggar, not from pity, but because the beggar cries after him, and he is anxious to get rid of his importunity : if he put down his name to a subscription, not from a desire to do good, but because he is ashamed to give less than others, or in order to magnify his own riches, or goodness, it is plain, that, though the poor may be benefited by his money, his

own sins are not covered ; and he can lay no claim whatever to the inward grace of charity.

And this will explain, how St. Paul, when reckoning up almost all the outward actions of bounty, and of self-denial, by which charity is usually shewn, declares, at the same time, that “without charity, these profit us nothing:” because, though charity which, as we have seen, is nothing else than love, must necessarily bring forth these fruits,- yet these fruits, or something like them, may grow on another stem. And nothing could have greater power to lower our own opinion of ourselves, than a careful examination of what were our real desires, and intentions, in those actions, which pass with the world for good works; and a consideration, how few of these can really be said to arise from faith in Christ, or from real affection for our fellow creatures. We should thus find our claim of merit reduced at once to something less than nothingness : and that many of our fairest actions have need, not of reward, but of pardon.

Thirdly, however, our charity must be also consistent and uniform ; there are many, who are content to shew their charity in one way only, and no more; who are willing to give money to the poor, but will not give up any time, or attention, to their distress; who are kind to the bodies, but not to the souls, of those

« PreviousContinue »