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which ought to be the principle of it. In the second part we will make some particular observations on alms-giving itself.
I. An eulogium of benevolence shall be our first part. We consider this virtue in several different views. 1. As it regards society. 2. As it respects religion. 3. As it influences death. 4. As it regards judgment. 5. As it respects heaven. And, lastly, as it regards God himself. Benevolence is the happiness of society, and the essence of religion. It triumphs over the horrors of death, and pleads for us
for us before that terrible tribunal, at which we must be judged. Benevolence is the bond of celestial intelligences, the brightest ray of their glory, and the chief article of their felicity. Benevolence is the image of God himself, and the expression of his essence. So that to practise the duty of charity, to give alms from this principle is to be a worthy citizen, a good christian, chearful in death, absolved from guilt, and a member of the church triumphant. To give alms is to return to our centre, to resemble God, from whom our souls derived their existence. Let us examine each of these articles.
1. Benevolence constitutes the happiness of society; to give alms is to perform the duty of a good citizen. In order to comprehend this, it will be only necessary to examine the principle of action in him, who refuses to assist the poor according to his ability, and the miseries to which society would be reduced, were each member of it to act on the same principle. The principle of a man, who does not contribute to assist the poor according to his power, is, that he, who possesses temporal benefits, ought to hold them only for himself, and that he ought never to impart them to others
except when his own interest requires him to do so, and that when his own interest is unconnected with the condition of his neighbor, he ought not to be affected with his misfortunes. Now it is certain, no principle can be more contrary to public good. What would become of society, were all the members of it to reason in this manner? Should the statesman say, I will make use of my knowledge and experience to arrive at the pinnacle of honor, and to conduct my family thither ; but, when the interest of my country is unconnected with mine, I will abandon the helm, and give myself no concern to procure advantages for other people! What if a general should say, I will employ all my courage and strength to surmount every obstacle in the way of my fortune: but, should the enemy offer me advantages greater than I can procure of my country, I will turn my hand, and destroy the country which I now defend! What if the minister should say, I will endeavor only to save myself
, or I will study only to display my talents: but when this end cannot be obtained, I will harden my heart against perplexed minds, distressed consciences, people dying in despair, and I will neglect every duty, which has only God and a miserable wretch for spectators!
Extend this principle of self-interest. Apply it to different conditions of life, and you will perceive it leads from absurdity to absurdity, and from crime to crime. You will see, that he, who makes it the rule of his actions, violates all the laws, which mankind made for one another, when they built cities, and formed states. In such establishments men make tacit conditions, that they will succor one another, that they will reward some services by other services, and that when any are rendered incapable of serving others, or of maintaining themselves, they should not be left to perish, but that each should furnish such relief as he himself would wish to receive in the same case.
If a rich man, therefore refuse to assist the poor, he violates this primitive law, and consequently saps the foundation of society. As good politicians, we ought to proceed rigorously against a miser, he should be lodged among animals of another species, and such pleasures as arise from a society of men should be refused to him, because he refuses to contribute to them, and lives only for himself. For want of human laws, there is I know not what malediction affixed to those, who are destitute of charity. They are considered with horror. Their insensibility is a subject of public conversation. People give one another notice to be upon their guard with such men, and to use caution in dealing with people of principles so odious. For do not deceive yourselves; do not think to impose long on the public; do not imagine your turpitude can be long hid, there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, Matt. X. 26. We know well enough how to distinguish a charitable man from a miser. A note of infamy is set upon the last, and people say to one another, See, observe that old man, who alone possesses a fortune sufficient for ten families, see how avariciously he accumulates money, and how cruelly he refuses to assist the poor with the least particle of what death is just going to take from him! See that proud ambitious woman who displays her vanity with so much parade in the sight of the whole world, see how she makes the poor expiate the guilt of her pride, by feeding her vanity with what ought to buy them bread. Thus people talk. They do more, they reckon, they calculate, they talk the matter over at large in public company, one relates the history of the miser, and another makes quaint remarks, and altogether form an odious portrait, which every man abhors.
2. Consider benevolence in regard to religion, and particularly in regard to the christian religion, of which we affirmed it was the essence. In what light soever you view Jesus Christ, the teacher of the gospel, you will find him displaying this virtue. Consider him as appointed to save you, observe his birth, bis preaching, his actions, his preparation for death, his death itself, in all these different views he recommends charity to you.
Consider Jesús as appointed for salvation. What inclined God to form the design of saving the world? Was it any eminent quality in man? Were we not children of wrath, execrable objects in the eyes
of the Lord? Was it any service rendered to God? Alas! we were enemies in our minds by wicked works, Col. i. 21. Was it any prospect of retribution ? But our goodness extendeth not unto him, Psal. xvi. 2. Is not all-sufficiency one of his attributes ? What then inclined God to form a plan of redemption? Ask Jesus Christ. He will inform you, God so loved the world that he
gave his Son, John ii. 16. Ask the apostle Paul. He will tell you, It was for his great love wherewith he loved us, Eph. ií. 4.
The birth of Jesus Christ preacheth love to us; for why this flesh, why this blood, why this incarnation? In general it was for our salvation. My brethren, have you ever weighed these words of St. Paul ? As the children are partakers of flesh and blood (the scripture contains elevated sentiments, which can never be enough studied. Divines distinguish senses of scripture into literal and mystical; we add a third, a sublime, sense, and this passage
is an example.) As the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself took
part of the same: that he might be a merciful and faithful high-priest. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted, Heb. ii. 14, &c. Observe these words, he took part of flesh and blood that he might be merciful. What! could he not be merciful without flesh and blood! In that he hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted. How! Is not Jesus Christ, as Lord of the universe, able to deliver us from temptations ? True, he is Almighty. His compassion inclines him to succor us. Yet, it should seem according to St. Paul, that something was wanting to his omnipotence. It seems as if universal knowledge was not sufficient to inform him fully of the excess of our miseries. What was wanting was to know our ills by experimental feeling. This knowledge is incompatible with deity, deity is impassible, and it was to supply this, and to acquire knowledge, that God made known to the world the unheard-of mystery of God manifest in the flesh, so that the Saviour might be inclined to relieve miseries, which he himself had felt. He also himself took part of flesh and blood, that he might be merciful. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted.
Jesus Christ in his doctrine, hath taught us benevolence ; for to what but love does all his doccrine tend? What is the new commandment he gave us ? That we should love one another, John xi. 24. What is pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father ? Is it not to visit the fatherless and the widows ? James i. 27. What one thing was lacking to the young man, who had not committed adultery, had not killed, had not defrauded ? Was it not to sell his goods, and give to