Page images
PDF
EPUB

zeal, and joining in one voice to celebrate the author of their existence; there, then, benevolence is a heavenly virtue ; it constitutes the felicity of the place. Love is the most perfect of all pleasures. The more the Deity approacheth his saints by an effusion of this love, and the more he communicates the delights of it to them, the more the saints approach God by a return of love, and the nearer they draw to the source of happiness the happier they render themselves and one another by such communications..

Let us not lightly pass over this reflection. It is good to be here. He that hath ears to hear.let him hear, Matt. xi. 15. He that hath the most refined sense, the quickest invention, the most noble imagination, let him conceive a society united by the purest principles, and cemented by the firm-est virtue. This is paradise, this is love. This is charity, charity that gives no alms, because none in heaven are indigent, but charity which goes so far as to give all, to give us happiness, to give self, to sacrifice self for other objects of love; witness the presents which came from heaven; witness the descriptions of this holy place; witness God, who gave us his Son, his only Son, the tenderest, object of his love; witness the Son, who gave himself; witness the blessed angels, who encamp round about us to protect and defend us; witness the triumphs of glorified saints, who rejoice over one sinner that repenteth, as if more interested in his, happiness than in their own; witness the crowns, which the saints cast before the throne of the Lamb, resigning, as it were, in his favor, their felicity and glory; witness these expressions of love, which we shall one day understand by an experimental enjoyment of them, his banner over me is love. Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have over

come me.

Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave, the coals thereof are coals of fire, which have a most vehement fame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it, Cant. i. 4. and vi. 5.

After having elevated our meditation to heaven, we return to you, my brethren. We blush at what we are doing to-day. We are ashamed to preach, complain, and exhort. Why? Are we endeavoring to engage you to sacrifice your fortunes, to renounce your lives, to become accursed for your brethren ? Are we trying to induce you to perform some heroical and uncominon act of love? No. Alas! Alas! We are obliged to exhort, and complain, and preach to obtain of you a little bit of bread, a few tattered clothes, a little small share of what you give with great profusion to the world. Good God! What Christians are you ! Is this the church! Are you the household of faith? Are we preaching to citizens of heaven? Are we knocking at the doors of hearts that believe a life eternal? But how will you enter that abode with such unfeeling souls ? Would you go to interrupt the communion of saints ? Would you go to disorder heaven, and to disconcert angels ? And do you not perceive, that if you do not put on bowels of mercies, you banish yourselves from an abode, in which all breathe charity and love?

In fine, We consider charity in regard to God himself. Love is the essence of Deity. God is love. So an apostle hath defined it. Here reflections rise from every part to establish our principle. Nature, providence, society, the church, heaven, earth, elements, all preach to us the love of God, all preach to us the excellence of charity, which makes us resemble God in the most lovely of his attributes. It would give us pleasure to enlarge on each of these articles, were it not necessary, after having made some general reflections on benevolence, which is the principle of alms-giving, to make some particular reflections on alms-deeds thcmselves.

mon.

II. My brethren, were it only necessary in this discourse to give you high ideas of benevolence, and to convince you in general of the necessity of giving alms, we would here put a period to our ser

But can we be ignorant of what passes on these occasions ? Each satisfies himself with a vague approbation of such truths.

Each is convinced that we ought to be charitable, and that the poor should be relieved : but each is content with himself, and, examining less what he gives than whether he gives, persuades himself that he does enough, and that nobody ought to complain of him. It is then necessary, before we finish this discourse, to enter into some detail, and to prescribe some rules, by which we may pretty well know what each is obliged to give in alms. We will not determine with exact precision on this article. We are fully convinced, that, were we to conduct you from principle to principle to an exact demonstration of what the gospel requires of you in this case, we should speak things, which would make you suspect, that we took pains to advance unheard of inaxims, and to preach paradoxes.

We will then content ourselves with proposing five considerations to you; or, to speak more plainly, we will produce five calculations, to which we beg your attention, and, after we have spoken of them, we will leave every man's conscience at liberty to draw consequences. The first calculation is that of the charities, which God prescribed

to the Jews under the law. The second is that of the charities of the primitive christian church. The third is that of our superfluous expences. The fourth is that of the number of our poor. The last is that of the funds appropriated to their support.

I. The first calculation is that of the alms, which God prescribed to the Jews, and in this we include all that they were indispensibly obliged to furnish for religion. This calculation may well make christians blush, as it convinces us of this melancholy truth, that, though our religion excels all religions in the world, yet its excellence lies in the gospel, and not in the lives of those who profess it.

1. The Jews were obliged to abstain from all the fruits, that growed on trees new planted, the first three years. These first fruits were accounted uncircumcision. It was a crime for the planters to appropriate them, Lev. xix. 23.

2. The fruits of the fourth year were devoted to the Lord. They were called holy to praise the Lord withal. Either they were sent to Jerusalem, or being valued they were redeemed by a sum equivalent paid to the priest ; so that these people did not begin to receive the profits of their fruit trees till the fifth year.

3. The Jews were obliged every year to offer to God the first of all the fruits of the earth, Deut. xxvi. 2. When the head of a family walked in his garden, and perceived which tree first bore fruit, he distinguished it by tying on a thread, that he might know it when the fruits were ripe. At that time each father of a family put that fruit into a basket. At length, all the heads of families, who had gathered such fruit in one town, were assembled, and deputies were chosen by them to carry them to Jerusalem. These offerings were put upon an ox crowned with flowers, and the commissioners of the convoy went in pomp to Jerusalem, singing these words of the hundred and twenty-second psalm, I was glad, when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. When they arrived at the city, they sung these words, Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem. At length, they went to the temple, each carrying his offering on his shoulders, the king himself not excepted, again singing, Lift up your heads, 0 ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors. Lift up your heads, Oye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, Psal. xxiv. 7.

4. The Jews were obliged to leave the corn on their lands ends for the use of the poor, and, in order to avoid the frauds, which might be practised in this case, it was determined to leave the sixtieth part of the land as a just proportion for the poor, Lev. xix. 9.

5. The ears of corn, which fell from the hand in harvest time, were devoted to the same purpose; and if you consult Josephus, he will tell you, that the Jews held themselves obliged by this command of God, not only to leave the poor such ears of corn as fell by chance, but to let fall some freely and on purpose for them to glean.

6. The Jews were obliged to give the fortieth part of their produce to the priest, at least it is thus the Sanhedrim explained the law written in the eighteenth chapter of Deuteronomy.

7. They were obliged to pay a tenth to maintain the Levites, Numb. xvii. 16.

8. The produce of the earth every seventh year belonged to the poor, at least the owner had no

« PreviousContinue »