« السابقةمتابعة »
THE COMMENDATION AND REWARD OF THE BENEVOLENT MAN.
REV. EDWArd steane,
SALTERS' HALL, CANNON STREET, APRIL 1, 1835*.
"He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever; his horn shall be exalted with honour."-PSALM, cxii. 9.
THE author of this Psalm seems to have intended a description of the most remarkable properties of a good man, together with the happiness consequent upon the exercise of his virtues. He lays the basis of his entire character in religious principle, associated with religious practice: "He feareth the Lord, and delighteth greatly in his commandments." Such terms, agreeably with the genius and spirit of the ancient dispensation, describe a man who, under the new economy, would be distinguished as an eminent Christian. It is perfectly consistent, therefore, to consider the several attributes of character ascribed to him, and the effects resulting from them, in an evangelical sense. The fear of God, and the love of God, if they are not precisely the same affection of the mind, are essentially connected with each other, and in the heart of a good man are never separated. The former was the regulating influence in the conduct of ancient believers, as the latter is in the deportment of Christians; and however they may be distinguished in their metaphysical nature, they are identified in their practical results. The fear of God led the one to delight greatly in his commandments, and his love constrains the other to every instance of Christian obedience.
Nor do they conduct to a different issue, in regard to the happy consequences which flow from their exercise. In blessings more congenial with the mode of the divine government as administered under the law, than under the spiritual constitution of the Gospel, the reward is indeed described by the Psalmist, as it is natural that it should be; but the spirit and intention of them all is expressed by the Apostle when he says, "Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come."
The passage immediately before us is in exact coincidence with the entire Psalm, commending the benevolence which is so considerable a property in the character of the pious man, and declaring its reward. His commendation is expressed in the former part of the text: "He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor." His reward in the latter: "His righteousness endureth for ever his horn shall be exalted with honour."
THE CONDUCT OF THE BENEVOLENT MAN 18 in my text not simply * At the 103d Anniversary of the Widows' Fund.
described, but COMMENDED. It is mentioned to his honour that he is liberal .n the use of his property, and bountiful in its distribution to the poor.
The sovereignty of God, which has place in every thing, is especially to be recognized in the communication of wealth. “ The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich; he bringeth low, and raiseth up.” By whatever secondary means riches may be acquired, the pious man will consider them as bestowed from above. The inquiry, therefore, will naturally arise in his mind, for what purpose they are given to him? His possession of them he knows to be precarious and short. They belonged to others before they were possessed by him, and after he has enjoyed them for a little while, they will pass away to his successors. He will consequently be solicitous to employ them in such a manner as to make the reflection pleasant, should he be deprived of them, or to enable him to render a satisfactory account to Him by whom they were committed to his hands. That such account must be given, is the uniform doctrine of the inspired writers; for of the property which every man holds, ho is not the absolute proprietor, but simply the steward. It is committed to him in trust; and obligations of a solemn nature are connected with it. His responsibility lies in part to society, but in an infinitely greater degree it passes over to God.
He who possesses wealth is entrusted with the means, to a very important extent, of alleviating the distresses and trials of human life. The rich and the poor are, in many respects, alike incident to the calamities of our common nature. They are equally participants of the frailty and feebleness, the passions and susceptibilities of fallen humanity. Disasters and afflictions overtake theni both. They are alike born to sorrow, and fall a prey, without distinction, to diseases and death. But when any of the innumerable woes which beset our path fall upon the poor, they are less provided with the means of mitigating their severity, or of sustaining their pressure. The poor man has no resources laid up against the hour of adversity. His daily wants consume the daily produce of his toil. He labours hard, and lives meanly, and learns, in its full import, the primitive malediction, “ In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground." For the purpose then of meeting such exigencies as these, the rich are endowed with their wealth. It is in their power to administer materially to the comfort of their fellow-crcatures, to mitigate their distresses, to bind up the broken heart, to wipe away the tear of the sorrowful, and to snatch the miserable and the wretched from lingering affliction, or untimely death. That society is so constituted as to bring the rich and the poor into continual intercourse, is among the wise arrangements of Divine Providence. Opportunities are thus afforded for the growth of some of the best affections of our nature, and scope is given for the exercise of those generous sympathies and benevolent actions, which are at once the redeeming virtues, and the chief embellishments of our apostate world,
The possessors of wealth, it may be added, have it in their power to render efficient aid in that higher department of philanthropy which contemplates man not in the frailty of his mortal existence, but as the capable and destined inhabitant of an eternal world. In this point of view, riches acquire a worth incomparably beyond what intrinsically belongs to them. Without them it is difficult to perceive how the various enterprises of the Church for the conversion of the world could be carried on. By what means, in the absence of pecuniary
contributions, could our sanctuaries be reared, our ministers be supported, our Bibles circulate in all languages, and our missionary institutions send forth the heralds of redemption to the ends of the world ? Accordingly, among the predictions of the future prosperity of the Church, it is foretold, that the riches of all nations shall be brought to her. “ Then shalt thou see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee. The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister unto thee : they shall come up with acceptance on mine altar, and I will glorify the house of my glory.” Sanctified by its appropriation to such a purpose, wealth acquires an inestimable value, and becomes a powerful auxiliary to the faith and prayers of the servants of Christ. To consecrate your possessions to the purposes of Christian benevolence is the highest style of charity, and riches thus expended is precious seed, cast into the fruitful soil, which will bear a hundred-fold harvest, not only in this world, but in that also which is to come.
Such, then, being some of the purposes to which riches were inte ded to be applied, it is the commendation of the benevolent man that he puts them to their legitimate use. “He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor." He neither accumulates nor wastes his wealth. His conduct stands at an equal distance from parsimony and prodigality. Unlike the man who worships mammon, he sees no scintillations of divinity in hoarded gold. His coffers never groan under the useless and guilty accumulation of wealth. He never deposits in an iron chest that which might be infinitely better laid up in heaven. With a wise discrimination, and a liberal hand, he bestows his abundance upon the indigent, and looks for no recompense except such as he will receive from God. In imitation of his. Heavenly Father, he is diffusive in his bounty, dispersing, or scattering abroad his gifts as far as his ability and opportunity extend ; or, like the man who is casting seed into the earth, he throws with a full hand, and a vigorous arm, as far as his strength can carry.
Equally remote also from the foolish, and not less criminal, exiri var nce of the profligate, he does not expend his riches in wasteful profusion. They are not dissipated in riotous excesses, in vain amusements, in expensive curiosities, in sensual gratifications, in costly magnificence of external pageants, but providently and with good consideration, they are laid out in necessary or benevolent uses, under the guidance of discretion and piety.
Four qualities in particular distinguish the generosity of the benevolent man.
First: In the distribution of his bounty he is disinterested. It is a very questionable sort of benevolence which communicates only to those who are not in circumstances to need your courtesy. If ye do good to them that do good to you, what thank have ye? and if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again." The motive in such a case vitiates the deed. Yet it is the very summit of this world's prudence, to bestow your favours in such a way, upon such persons, and in such circumstances, as may best secure their profitable
return to your own advantage. But the prudence of this world is incompatible with Christian charity. That divine virtue is of nobler extraction, and carries herself with a loftier mien. She never stoops to the meanness of a selfish action, nor consults with an interested purpose her own advancement. She seeks out, as the objects of her beneficence, the helpless, the miserable, and the destitute, and leaves her gifts where she can hope for no return.
Secondly: The generosity of the benevolent man is bestowed, not indiscriminately, but with a judicious distinction of the recipients, and their circumstances. It is a mistaken benevolence which gives in charity what might be acquired by honest industry. A profuse, and, at the same time, ill-directed almsgiving, is productive of more evil than good. It never was the intention of that great Being from whose appointment the ranks and subordinations of society take their rise, that any portion of the community, except the imbecile, and such as labour under distressing and incurable maladies, should be entirely dependent upon eleemosynary support. Abilities for physical toil, or mental occupation, are (with these melancholy exceptions) communicated to all mankind, and it is evidently the ordination of God, that cach should provide for his own wants, and contribute to the general prosperity.
But when the largest deductions are made upon this ground, opportunities will still be left in sufficient number to afford occasion for the constant exercise of benevolence. The words of our divine Lord will continue to be literally verified : “ Ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good." The widow and the orphan, the blind, the aged, and the destitute will still be left to press their claims upon the sympathy of Christian hearts. In addition to which, the spiritual necessities of our fellow-creatures at all times open a wide field, over which the lover of human souls may ex patiate, and discharge the noblest offices of Christian love. It is not, therefore, to every applicant, without discretion and without inquiry, that you
will exhibit your charity, lest it should lose in its want of discrimination the value it acquires by its liberality. You will rather aim to be distinguished, not less by the sound judgment you exercise in giving, than by the cheerfulness and generosity with which your gifts are bestowed. As the almoners of divine bounty, your benevolence will be at once ample and prudent; remembering that it is a part of your obligation in that noble character, to communicate in such modes and on such occasions as will secure the greatest alleviation of individual suffering, or the largest amount of public good.
Thirdly: An act of benevolence is indescribably augmented in value by its modesty, and the benignity of manner in which it is performed. Hence the directions of our Lord, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them :" “ Let not your left hand know what your right hand doeth.” Ostentation and a vain-glorious spirit, as they are the bane of all excellence, are especially inimical to the virtue of benevolence. They despoil it of its chief value, by degrading it from the rank of Christian graces. When it ceases to be the companion of humility, its sweetest attributes are lost. They to whose hands a bountiful and gracious Providence has committed more of the good things of this life, than to their fellow-men, occupy, if they knew and judged of it aright, an enviable station. To them the capacity is imparted, of becoming the benefactors of their species, and the successful imitators of Him who went
about doing good. But in the communication of their abundance, they will best exemplify his temper, if their charity be unaccompanied with whatever would demonstrate a consciousness of superiority in themselves, or impress a sense of obligation upon others. In the only posthumous sentence which is recorded as having fallen from his lips, he has taugnt us, that
it is more blessed to give than to receive;" and never is the exercise of benevolence so laudable in itself, or so acceptable to its recipient, as when the force and spirit of this beautiful sentiment are embodied in the act. The charity of some men loses half its worth, and all its grace, by the haughty and repulsive manner in which it is bestowed. On no occasion is a fitter opportunity afforded for the exercise of an ingenuous, humble, and unassuining disposition, than in adminis. tering to the temporal necessities of the poor, but honoured disciples of our blessed Lord. The party obliged is not so much the individual who receives as he who bestows the gift. He is most indebted to the divine bounty, since upon him the principal distinction and the greatest happiness have been conferred. So let your beneficence be distinguished by its unobtrusiveness and meekness. Like the gentle stream which flows through the valleys, concealed in its lowly channel, and detected only by the luxuriance which it sheds upon its banks; let it court not the applause, nor win the observation of men, but retiring in its congenial modesty, be
“ Never seen, but in its bless'd effects."
Fourthly: Benevolence is then only acceptable to God, when it proceeds from an evangelical motive, and is distinguished by its single aim. If it is to take rank among the graces of the Spirit, it must spring from love to Christ; and if it aspires to an eternal reward, it must aim at the glory of God. The mere act of charity, apart from the principle by which it is induced, and from the ultimate object of its exercise, possesses none of those qualities which will commend it to the divine approbation. Unless its origin be found in a deep sense of obligation to the mercy of God, through the mediatorial humiliation and sacrifice of his beloved Son, and unless its designed tendency be to glorify him, as the Fountain of all goodness, and the God of all grace, it will never secure his commendation. The cross of Christ must supply the motive, the example of the Redeemer the pattern, and the glory of God the end of Christian charity. Imperfect as our motives always are, it requires that they be examined with more than ordinary severity in cases where principles of an inferior kind are so likely to influence our conduct. Indigence and distress make an affecting appeal to our humanity, our pity, and the instinctive sensibility of our nature ; and though it would be criminal to stifle the voice of sympathy thus awakened in the bosom, and pleading for the necessities of the poor, yet it must not be concealed that these feelings may exist in the absence of piety, and many a deed of benevolence may be done under their influence, which at length will be disowned by the Searcher of hearts. “He is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed." In the estimation he forms of them the motive is never forgotten; and every action will be found deficient, when put into his just balance, from which a holy motive is dissevered. The love of man is always a questionable sentimeut when separated from the love of God. Unless it grow on this stock, little value can be attached to the fruit it produces. But where