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more right than people who had no property, Lev. xxv. 23. This command is express, and the Jews have such an idea of this precept, that they pretend the captivity in Babylon was a punishment for the violation of it. To this belong these words, The land shall enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemy's land ; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths, chap. xxxvi. 34.
9. All debts contracted among this people were released at the end of every seven years ; so that a debtor, who could not discharge his debt within seven years, was at the end of that time released from all obligation to discharge it, 2 Chron. xxxvi. 21. Deut. xv. 2.
To all these expences add extraordinaries for sacrifices, oblations, journies to Jerusalem, half shekels to the sanctuary, and so on, and you will find, that God imposed upon his people a tribute amounting to nearly half their income. What is worthy of consideration is, that the modern Jews, as you may convince yourselves by conversing with them, not being able literally to discharge a great number of precepts, which originally related to their ancestors, are far from being lax in relieving their poor ; so that if there are as many Jews in a place as form what they call a congregation (and ten they say are sufficient) they appoint treasurers to collect charities for the poor. Lest avarice prevailing over principle should prevent the discharge of this duty, they have judges. who examine their ability, and who tax them at about a tenth of their income, so that one of the greatest offences, which we give them, and which prejudices them against christianity, is the little charity christians have for the poor : A scandal, by the way, and to your confusion let it be spoken, which would undoubtedly increase, if they were better acquainted with you, and if they saw that affected dissipation, which prevents many of you from seeing the hands held out to receive alms for the poor at the doors of our churches,
This is the first calculation we have to propose to you. Having proposed it to your examination we will determine nothing. One reflection, however, must not be comitted, that is, that the gospel is an economy infinitely more noble, and more excellent than the law. The gospel, by abolishing the levitical ceremonies, hath enforced the morality of Judaism much more effectually, and particularly what regards charity. Jesus Christ hath fixed nothing on this article. He hath contented himself by enjoining us in general to love our neighbor as ourselves, not being willing to set any other bounds to our love for him than those, which we set to our love for ourselves. If then under an ceconomy so gross, if under an economy in which differences were made between Jews and Gentiles, nation and nation, people and people (which always restrain charity) God required his people to give, to say the least, a third part of their income, what, what are the obligations of christians ? I repeat it again, were I to pursue these reflections, I should certainly be taxed with advancing unheard of maxims, and preaching paradoxes.
II. The second calculation we have to propose to you is that of the charities of the primitive christians. The great master had so fülly imparted his own charitable disposition to his disciples, that, according to St. Luke, all that believed had all things common, and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need, Acts ü. 44, 45. In the time of Ter
tullian christian charity was proverbial, and it was said of them, See how they love one another ; insomuch that the heathens, surprised to see an union so affectionate, ascribed it to supernatural causes. They said, christians had some unknown characters imprinted on their bodies, and these characters had the virtues of inspiring them with love for one another, Lucian, that satyrical writer, who died in the reign of Marcus Aurelius, in a discourse on the death of the Philosopher Peregrinus, who burnt himself at the Olympick games, Lucian, I say, by attempting to satirize christians passed a bigh encomium on them.
« It is incredible, says he, what pains and diligence they use by all means to succor one another. Their legislator made them believe that they are all brethren, and since they have renounced our religion, and worshipped their crucified leader, they live according to his laws, and all their riches are common.” We have also an undoubted testimony of Julian the apostate on this article. He was one of the greatest persecutors of the primitive christians, and he was a better politician in the art of persecution than either his predecessors or successors. Julian did not attack religion with open violence; he knew, what we have seen with our own eyes, that is, violence inflames zeal, and that the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church. He attacked religion in another manner, and, as the charity of the primitive christians rendered christianity venerable, this tyrant attempted to clothe paganism with christian charity. Thus he wrote to a pagan priest. “Let us consider, saith he, that nothing hath so much contributed to the progress of the superstition of christians as their charity to strangers. I think, we ought to discharge this obligation ourselves. Establish hospitals in every place, for it would be a
shame for us to abandon our poor, while the Jews have none, and while the impious Galileans (thus he calls christians) provide not only for their own poor, but also for ours."
If you wish for observations more particular concerning primitive christian charity, we answer,
1. The primitive christians expended large sums in propagating the faith, and in preaching the gospel. They thought, that the principal care of a christian, after bringing into captivity his own thoughts to the obedience of Christ, was to convert others. Ecclesiastical history gives us many examples, and particularly that of St. Chrysostom, mentioned by Theodoret. « He assembled monks full of zeal, and sent them to preach the gospel in Phenicia; and, having understood that there were people dispersed along the banks of the Danube, who thirsted for the waters of grace, he sought out men of ardent zeal, whom he sent to labor like apostles in the propagation of the faith.” I blush to mention this example, because it recals that reproach, which we just now mentioned, that is, that we have no zeal for the salvation of infidels, and that the fleets, which we send to the new world, are much more animated with a desire of accumulating wealth than of conveying the gospel to the natives.
2. The primitive christians paid a wonderful attention to the sick. They kept people on purpose for this pious office. In the city of Alexandria alone the number was so great, that Theodosius was obliged to diminish it, and to fix it at five hundred, and when it was afterwards represented to him that the number was unequal to the task, he increased it to six hundred, as a law in the Theodosian code informs us. I cannot help repeating on this occasion a beautiful passage of Eusebius.
Speaking of a plague which ravaged Egypt, after he had described it, he adds, “Many of our brethren, neglecting their own wealth, through an excess of charity have brought upon themselves the misfortunes and maladies of others. After they had held in their arms the dying saints, after they had closed their mouths and their eyes, after they had embraced, kissed, washed, and adorned them with their best habits, and carried them on their shoulders to the grave, they have been glad themselves to receive the same kind offices from others, who have imitated their zeal and charity.”
3. The primitive christians were very charitable in redeeming captives.
Witness St. Ambro-e, who was inclined to sell the sacred utensils for that purpose. Witness St. Cyprian, who, in a letter to the bishops of Numidia concerning some christians taken captive by Barbarians, implores their charity for the deliverance of these miserable people, and contributed towards it inore than a thousand pounds. Witness a history related by Socrates. The Romans had taken seven thousand persons prisoners, many of whom perished with hunger in their captivity. A christian bishop named Acacius assembled his church, and addressed them in this sensible and pious language; “ God needeth not, said he, either dishes or cups, as he neither eats nor drinks; I think it right therefore to make a sale of a great part of the church plate, and to apply the money to the support and redemption of captives.' Socrates adds, “ that he caused the holy utensils to be melted down, and paid the soldiers for the ransom of the prisoners, maintained them all winter, and sent them home in the spring with money to pay the expence of their journey.”
În fine, the charity of the primitive christians appears, by the pious foundations which they made,