« PreviousContinue »
men generally take shelter, is that of inability. “ Their circumstances will not permit them to “ become benefactors; the public weight of taxes, “ the general decay of traffic, and some particu“ lar lofses they have felt, lie heavy upon them ; “ their families and their creditors do of right “ lay claim to all they pofsefs; and it would be
an injury to both, should they otherwise dispose “ of it. The care of the poor is not committed “ to them, but to the rich, and profperous, and “ childless.” Now it is true, that from these the most bountiful supplies are expected ; These are the great springs, that chiefly feed the general current of charity ; for “to whom much is given, “ of them shall be much required,” Luke xii 48. However, there is still a proportion due even from those, who are not blessed with their affluence; and, before we can excuse ourselves from paying it, it will behove us to consider-Whether there be no unnecessary expences, that we support ; such as are unsuitable to our circumstances, and the duties of our rank and station do not require ; whether we are too magnificent and sumptuous in our table and attendance ; in our attire and furniture; in our houses and gardens of pleasure: Whether we do not squander away some part of our fortune at play, or indulge some costly vice, which cats up all we have to spare from the rea. fonable conveniences of life, and the just demands of our family. For, if any of these be the case, we have no right to plead inability, in respect of works of mercy, which our faults and our follies only hinder us from promoting; but ought immediately to retrench those superfluous expences,
in order to qualify ourselves for the exercise of charity.
The public burthens, though they may be a good reafon for our not expending fo much in charity as perhaps we might otherwise do, yet will not justify us in giving nothing ; especially if, as those burthens increafe, we take care to improve in our frugality and diligence ; virtues, which always become us, but more particularly in tines of war and public expence ; however a diffolute people, whom God (in spight of all their vanities and vices) has blefled with fuccess, may at present disregard them.
Our private losses and misfortunes may indeed unqualify us for charity : But it were worth our while ferioufly to reflect, whether they might not originally be, in some measure, owing to the want of it; I mean, whether such loffes may not have been inflicted by God, as a just punithinent of our former avarice and unmercifulnefs, when we had it more in our power than now (and yet had it as little in our will) to be charitable. And if so, can we take a furer or nearer way towards repairing those losses, than by betaking ourselves to the practice of that duty, the omillion of which occafioned them? For the lips of truth have faid; "He that giveth unto the poor, thail not lack.
The liberal foul shall be made fat; « and he that watereth, shall be watered allo " himself,” Prov. xxviii. 27.
Our children and families have, indeed, a right to inherit our fortunes ; but not altogether in exclusion to the poor, who have also a right (even God's right) to partake of them. As therefore VOL. II.
we ought not to defraud our children, for the fake of the poor ; fo neither ought we to rob the poor of their share, for the sake of our children: For this is a kind of facrilege, and may prove an eating canker and a confuming moth in the estate that we leave them. Have thy children a due sense of religion they will be pleased, that thuu haft made a pious disposal of such a part of thy fortunes, as will fanctify and secure the rest to them : Are they ungracious and diffolute ? thou haft the less reason in thy charitable distributions to regard them; who, perhaps, when thou art gone, will be the most forward to tax thy needless parcimony, and will spend in riot what was saved by uncharitableness.
Out of a tender concern, therefore, for the welfare of thy family, that very concern which makes thee shut thy hand to the poor, open it, and scatter among them a proper portion of the good things of life; “and be not faithless, but « believing," that thou, and they “ shall be “ blessed in thy deed: for there is that scattereth, “ and yet increafeth; and there is that withhold " eth more than is meet, but it tendeth lo “ poverty," Prov. xi. 24.
As to the excufe drawn from the demand of ereditors, if it be real, it is unanswerable : For no alms can be given, but out of what is properly our own; and nothing is our own, but what remains to us after all our just debts are satisfied. However, there is one fort of debt, which, to whomsoever it is owing, can only be paid to the poor; I mean, when, in the course of our dealing, we have either done wrong ignorantly, or have afterwards forgotten the wrong, which we at first knowingly did ; or have not within our mcmory, or reach, the persons to whom we did it. In such cases, all the reparation we are capable of making, is, to bestow what was thus gotten by injustice, on proper objects of charity. Which is agreeable to the good pattera set by Zaccheus ; * Behold, Lord," says he, “the half of my “goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken " any thing from any man-I restore him four“ fold," Luke xix. 8. He resolves to make perfonal reftitution, where the wrong can be disco. vered, and the wronged person reached ; and where they cannot, to make the best amends in his power, by substituting the poor in the room of the injured party. An example, worthy to be imitated by all those who are conscious, or jealous, that some unlawful gain may (like the “ Nail bea 6 twixt the joinings of the stones”) have “ stuck “ faft” to them, between buying and selling." The best way of satisfying that debt (which deserves to be considered as well as other debts) is, by casting a fin-offering (as it were) into some of these public funds and receptacles of charity ; which are not more useful to the poor, than to the rich of this great city : For if they afford the one relief, they give the other also (what they sometimes may, in order to the quiet of their consciences, equally want) an happy opportuni
of bestowing it.
Hitherto of the firft excuse foruncharitableness, drawn from pretended inability; which I have considered the more largely, in its several branches, because it is, of all others, the most general and
prevailing illusion : I proceed now to reckon up other pleas and pretences, which, not being of equal weight, fhall be handled more briefly. For,
II. There are those that plead unsettled times, and an ill prospect of affairs (whether wrongly or rightly, is not the case; but there are those that plead these things) as impediments to the exercise of charity. For in such an uncertain world, who knows, but that he may want to-morrow what le gives to-day? Who knows, what the fate of theie public charities may be, which are now lo fair and flourithing?
But, if this be a good objeâion, it will at all times equally hinder us from abounding in the offices of clarity; since there is no time when we may not entertain such conjectures as these, and alarm ourselves with such fears and forebodings. “He that obferveth the wind, shall “not fow; and he that regardeth the clouds, “ Thall not reap,” Eccl. xi. 4 says the wise man, in this very cate, and of these very pretences: He that too curiously observes the face of the heavens, and the signs of the times, will be often withheld from doing what is absolutely neceffary to be done in the prefent moment; and, by milsing his fecd-time, will lose the hopes of his harveft. And therefore the counsel there given by the fame pen is, “ In the morning fow thy feed, " and in the ecning withhold not thy hand : for “ thou knowest not whether thall prosper, either “this or that; or whether they both shall be a“ like good,” ver. 6. Neglect no opportunity of doing good, nor check thy defire of doing it,