Transcribed from the 1824 Kingsbury, Parbury, and Allen edition by David Price, email firstname.lastname@example.org
[Picture: Cover of pamphlet]
THE PROPORTIONS OF CHRISTIAN LIBERALITY.
PREACHED BEFORE A MONTHLY ASSOCIATION
TREVOR CHAPEL, BROMPTON,
APRIL 8, 1824.
* * * * *
BY WILLIAM BENGO’ COLLYER, D.D. LL.D. F.A.S.
MEMBER OF THE ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, ARTS, AND BELLES-LETTRES, OF DIJON, AND OF THE AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY OF PHILADELPHIA;
PASTOR OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCHES ASSEMBLING AT HANOVER CHAPEL, PECKHAM,
AND AT SALTERS’ HALL, LONDON.
* * * * *
SOLD BY KINGSBURY, PARBURY, AND ALLEN, LEADENHALL STREET; AND BY B. COX, ST. THOMAS’S STREET, SOUTHWARK.
A SERMON, &c. &c.
GAL. vi. 10.
AS WE HAVE THEREFORE OPPORTUNITY, LET US DO GOOD UNTO ALL MEN, ESPECIALLY UNTO THEM WHO ARE OF THE HOUSEHOLD OF FAITH.
THE subject proposed for discussion to-day is thus worded on the printed list: _The proportions of Christian liberality_. I have had some difficulty in determining, whether the inquiry intended to be instituted, regarded disposition or distribution—whether it should relate to our temper of mind towards those who differ from us? or the application of our property to the various claims which are made upon us? If the first be intended, then the question will be—how far may we advance in kindliness of heart, and in the exercise of charity, without yielding our convictions, sacrificing principle, and countenancing error? A difficult and delicate point to be settled—in which the dangers of concession and of separation seem to balance; where the one may sink into laxity and indifference, the other lead to intolerance and bigotry.—If the last be principally designed, as I apprehend it is, then the inquiry will be—as the numerous and multiplying appeals to religion and humanity cannot all be alike answered, how shall we best distinguish their respective merits, and in what proportions should we apply our means, which must be necessarily limited, to their respective claims? The text seems applicable to every possible view of the subject. It unites, what Christian liberality can never separate—benevolence and beneficence: the heart is to guide the hand, and Christian prudence is to superintend the whole. We are to “_do good_”—We are to “do good to _all_ men”—We are to pay particular regard to some—“_especially_ unto them who are of _the household of faith_”—We are to do it “_as we have opportunity_”—seizing circumstances, seeking occasions, estimating our means.—Are not these “_the proportions of Christian liberality_?” “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” Having thus inspired authority for our guide, we shall, perhaps, best understand the subject, by discussing the terms in which it is expressed, and submitting them to the test of the text and it’s connexion.
First, What are we to understand by LIBERALITY?
It’s seat must be in the _heart_. It is goodwill to man as a principle, exhibiting itself by corresponding exertions. This expansion of soul distinguishes the liberal from the illiberal:—compulsion or interest may lead to a distribution of property—but “the liberal mind deviseth liberal things”—it’s bounty flows spontaneously—the streams are diffused all abroad, but the spring rises in the bosom—and the largeness of the supply demonstrates that the fountain is inexhaustible. The heart of the liberal man is a heart of flesh—it is sensitive, and can feel—it is soft, and can yield to the touch—it is tender, and requires not to be pressed. The heart of the miser is a rock—it may be calcined, but not softened—it may be consumed, but not melted—the sunbeam of mercy, and the fire of judgment, fall upon it alike in vain. His chest, although made of iron, may be broken, it’s bars and bolts forced, it’s locks opened—but his heart, never! Every moral malady proceeds from the heart—and every Christian grace is enthroned there. Charity is love—and without love, there is no liberality.
Liberality, when the heart is it’s centre, has the world for it’s circumference. It’s ample circle embraces all mankind. The _denomination_ is overlooked to make room for the species. “Am I not a man, and a brother?” is the irresistible appeal; and whether it come from the east or the west, the north or the south, it finds it’s way to the secret recesses of the soul, and calls into action all it’s mighty energies. Forgetful of the lines of political demarcation assigned by princes, and recognised by nations—regardless of the narrow limits into which a sectarian spirit has distributed the Christian world—as indifferent to the colour of the skin, and to diversity of tongues, as to the shibboleth of a party—unfettered even “by the bounds of the people,” which “the Most High set, when he separated the sons of Adam, and divided to the nations their inheritance”—Christian liberality, on the wings of love, swift as those of the morning, and strong as those of the seraph, sweeps over seas and mountains, the depths of the forest, and the sands of the desert—un-scorched at the torrid zone, and unfrozen at the poles—to scatter her blessings over the great Family of Man. “Have we not all one Father? Hath not one God created us?” “As we have, therefore, opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto those who are of the household of faith.”
Liberality of heart will extend to the _purse_. “If a brother or sister be naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be you warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” I am not surprised that some religionists should quarrel with the doctrine of James, and scarcely allow him to be orthodox. What a melancholy consideration it is, that the purse should prove so fatal a test, as it frequently does, to professors, otherwise of good report. They can speak fluently on spiritual topics—they can distinguish accurately between things that differ—they settle down firmly upon a sound system, and resolutely defend it—but when you touch their property, you discover their idolatry. See that young man retiring, sad and dissatisfied, from Jesus Christ;—he was moral, just, amiable, good—what qualities must he not have possessed to have excited the admiration of the Redeemer! for it is said, “Jesus, beholding him, loved him.”—Why does he turn his back upon his Lord, and refuse to follow in his train? Ah! this touchstone was applied, which his worldly spirit could not endure! He could pass through all the forms of external religion—and maintain the beautiful symmetry of moral character—but he could not part with his money.
Liberality is evinced in no small degree in _manner_. There are delicate touches in the movements of a feeling heart, which cannot be described. Sorrow renders the sufferer sensitive; and harshness of deportment destroys all the value of the gift. The sigh of sympathy, even where there is nothing more to bestow, is, to him who suffers, like the alabaster-box of precious ointment which Mary broke over the head of Jesus—an odour is diffused on every side—and he is “anointed for his burial”—he is soothed into resignation, and wafted in spirit to the world of love, where poverty and tears shall be unknown. But the proud imperious spirit cannot confer a benefit—it’s very bounty inflicts an injury—and its roughness tears open a wound, which it lacks the skill to heal. Misery is insulted rather than alleviated—and the reed bruised by adversity, is broken by unkindness. Yet—
—“Such is the pitiless part Some act, by the delicate mind— Regardless of wringing, or breaking, a heart Already to sorrow resigned!”
The absence of feeling demonstrates the want of affection; and we repeat, where this is lacking, there cannot be liberality. “Be pitiful, be courteous”—“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”—and we know what tenderness we exercise towards ourselves, and what sympathy we expect from others: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”
Secondly, CHRISTIAN LIBERALITY ranks higher than the mere emotions of humanity; it is a spiritual grace stamping the very image of the Deity upon the benignities of our nature; while it softens whatever is harsh, enlarges whatever is contracted, extinguishes whatever is unkind, refines, sublimates, and perfects whatever is amiable—and this is the subject upon which your attention is engaged. How beautifully and with what pathos is this principle described, in itself, and in its active operation, by the Apostle, in the context!
It springs from _a right source_. It is all referable to a Divine Agent. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law”—no sentence of condemnation. This is Christian liberty—a deliverance from the curse; but it is not licentiousness—it releases from no moral obligation, and it requires the active exercise of Christian liberality. “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” If “every good gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, and cometh down from the Father of Lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning,” how distinctly may we trace all our kind affections, under the regulation of religious principle, to that greatest and best of Beings, of whom it is emphatically said, “God is love.”
The liberality which springs from a right source will be always governed by _a right motive_. We seldom err so entirely as on this great point. Hypocrisy is a wilful deceiving of others; an unblushing pretension to qualities which the individual is conscious he does not possess; and regarding which he is careless—excepting that the assumption of them subserves some supposed interest. But it is very possible for a man to deceive himself, who intends to practise no deceit upon others; and to give himself credit for qualities which he does not really possess. Christian exertion may meet with opposition and hostility; but it will also, in the present day, be encircled with distinction and applauses. Ah! who can be certain of his motives, when so much intermixture of interest, influence, and approbation, is found in connexion with the consecration of our time, our talents, and our property, to God? It is a solemn inquiry, which we ought closely to put to our own consciences—Should we be the same persons, if attachment to the cause of religion (for the subject is _Christian_ liberality,) subjected us to privations and persecutions, fines and imprisonments, disgrace and death, as we now are, when a superiority of exertion in the cause of God and humanity, commands the esteem of a large proportion of society, and thus confers a present reward of the most flattering description? What man can trust his heart on such a point without incurring the censure of the wisest of men—“He that trusts his own heart is a fool?” On what point are we so liable to be deceived as upon one so intimately associated with our self-love? Singleness of heart is essential to simplicity of operation. The Apostle, therefore, fastened upon one motive—he touched it as the main-spring of whatsoever things are “true, and honest, and just, and pure, and lovely, and of good report”—of whatsoever things declared “virtue,” deserved “praise,” and were worthy of Christian consideration—of all the sacrifices which he himself made—of all the labours which his colleagues achieved—of all the privations which primitive Christians cheerfully endured—of all the mighty and unparalleled characteristics of that matchless age—the “first-born,” the “beginning of the strength” of Christianity—every motive, every power, every feeling, reposed in one commanding and irresistible principle—“The love of Christ constraineth us”—all human hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, pleasures and pains, were borne along the bosom of this irresistible tide of attachment to the Redeemer—and all earthly considerations were rendered subservient to his cause.
Liberality springing from a right source, regulated by a right motive, could not fail to exhibit a corresponding _operation_. The principle is accordingly seen in all it’s beautiful influence—those who feel it’s power have not “the grace of God in vain”—nor “the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.” They value men according to their qualities, and not according to their rank; and they are prepared to produce that “charity which is the bond of perfectness,” on every occasion which requires it’s exercise. They will know how to shew candour and brotherly tenderness—“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” They will know how to manifest Christian sympathy—“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” They will know how to apply their property and their influence—“And let us not be weary in well-doing; for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.” I have chosen to borrow the illustration of this principle, in it’s diversified operation, from the context—that we may discern the union between the cause and the effect, and the connexion of both with the passage which I have selected, as bearing upon the subject of discussion, and as demanding, and exhibiting, active Christianity.
Christian liberality distinguishes itself by it’s _perpetuity_. Man is a capricious being; his views, his emotions, his affections are perpetually changing. Persons of quick feelings, and extraordinary sensibility, are especially fluctuating. Those who have power, and property, put the question of human instability beyond dispute, by movements as unpremeditated on their own part, as unexpected by others. Hence have arisen the melancholy details of changes connected with humanity—the emptiness of human trust—the uncertainties of human friendships—all of which have become common-place topics, that excite but little attention from their recurrence—or are considered as ornamental only to moral disquisition—as appropriate to point a verse or to round a period—until some stroke of calamity brings the conviction home to the individual—and then this worn-out truism strikes him with all the force of novelty—and he complains, as though he had sustained personally some unexpected and unprecedented injury. “A double-minded man”—a man of mixed motives, and of unfixed principles, “is unstable in all his ways”—but the operation of Christian liberality, because of it’s source, and it’s motives, cannot fail.
“This holy fire for ever burneth— From heaven it came, to heaven returneth.”
Independent of human considerations, it survives them all—and let us place our generous principles out of the reach of accident, and out of the controul of our own caprice, by subordinating them to the unchanging law of our Eternal Lord—“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”
Thirdly, There are MANY CLAIMS upon Christian liberality—This is supposed by the requisition that we should (attempt at least to) adjust their _proportions_.
There are _religious_ claims—and these occupy, and deserve to occupy, the first rank. The Christian world is at length awakening to some perception of the wants and the miseries of man—to the purposes of the divine mercy, and the freeness of the divine promises—to the fulness of time, the lapse of ages, and the great crisis so long foretold, and so rapidly approaching. The voice of more than six hundred millions of the human race, rises at last above the collision of human passions, and rouses professors of religion from their criminal slumbers. The obligations which we owe to that scattered and despised people, from whom we derive the oracles of truth, and all the hopes of immortality, begin to be better understood, and more powerfully felt. The moral wastes spreading around us, even in this highly-favoured country, this Eden of the world, have attracted the eye, and moved the heart, of Christian benevolence; corresponding instrumentality is employed—and exertions, not indeed commensurate with the work, but proportionate to our ability, are called into complete and effective operation. Bible Societies are multiplying throughout Europe and America, having lighted the torch of scriptural knowledge, from the fire which burns on the altar of Great Britain—and the divine blessing upon human industry, applied to a cause so sacred, has almost supplied the absence of the miraculous gift of tongues. Men of God have been found, fired with apostolic zeal, who, after having prepared themselves so far as human effort could extend, have given themselves wholly to the sublime work, of “preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ,” to unenlightened nations, and heathen countries. They have sacrificed country, home, family, personal ease and distinction, every thing that men most esteem, for this arduous, this laborious undertaking. Some of them have fallen martyrs in the cause—they have fallen under the effects of an unhealthy climate, or the oppression of wicked men—but their graves are watered with the tears of strangers, and their memory is cherished in the hearts of their countrymen—foreign eyes have wept their departure—foreign hands have prepared their sepulchre—and an unknown tongue has recorded their disinterested and successful labours. At home, the education of the poor has occupied the public attention, throughout all classes of society, and all denominations of Christians—it has called forth the most astonishing exertions—and been crowned with the most unexampled success. Corresponding efforts have been made, in preaching the gospel—_that_ scriptural and divinely authorized mode of diffusing religious truth—and the increasing spirit of hearing, and the multiplication of our sanctuaries of every description and denomination, prove that these things have not been in vain.
The claims of _humanity_ have kept pace with those of religion—necessarily so—for the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, has identified itself with whatever can contribute to the alleviation of human wretchedness here, while it has eternally secured human salvation hereafter. Philosophy erected no asylums for the afflicted—and made no provision for misery. As the Roman empire waned, and the influence of the gospel began to be felt—some efforts were made to wipe the tear from the cheek of wretchedness—but nothing of a fixed and national character established itself, until the religious reign of Jesus obtained in society. Then arose the structures of mercy—then, all the powers of the human mind were bent to the alleviation of distress—then, encouragements to industry were proposed—and it was attempted to repel affliction so far as it was possible—and to ameliorate it, where it could not be excluded. Then female virtues were elicited and cherished—woman was advanced to her proper rank in society—released from the chains, physical, mental, and moral, in which an unnatural bondage had held her; and her ministering graces, her tender sympathies, her soothing powers, were called into exercise. Now it is only necessary to name the wrong which requires to be redressed—to state the woe which can be alleviated—to present to Christian compassion a new picture of human misery—or to open before Christian philanthropy a new channel in which its exhaustless streams may flow—in order to command attention and secure success. Men are no longer willing to settle down upon a barren creed: but have learned from inspired oracles—that “pure religion from God even the Father is this—to visit the fatherless and the widow in their afflictions, and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world.”
Fourthly, ALL these things are to be met in their variety of claims, and in due proportion.
In _general_ we may remark, that they can only be met in part—all things are not within our power—and all things have not equal claims upon our attention. It is the diversity of such objects that often produces distraction—and their multiplication, rendering an attention to all impracticable, furnishes an apology to the indolent or the avaricious, for not supporting any.—But the question is not left to our decision. Man is himself the property of God—and all that he possesses he holds in trust for his Maker. Every thing that relates to him is a stewardship for which he is accountable upon the peril of his immortal spirit. The interests of society are involved in the result, and it is not abandoned to individual caprice. The law is positive as to the right of man upon human ministry, the question only relates to the proportions of its distribution—and rules are assigned even to this—It is required of stewards that they be found faithful—and he who ministers to man, should at the same moment remember his obligations and his responsibility to God.
In _particular_, local claims demand to be first satisfied. The man has a duty which he owes to himself—and it is not demanded that he should lose sight of this, in pursuit of the interest of others. How delicately the Apostle states this: “And herein I give my advice”—no authoritative command—no usurpation over the right of private judgment—and with what consideration! “For I mean not that other men be eased and you burdened: but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want—that there may be an equality. As it is written, he that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little, had no lack.”—What an argument!—The giver may hereafter stand in need of the gift—and he shall meet with reciprocal liberality.—The divine Providence furnishes all the supply; and sheds a correspondent blessing upon enlargement of heart—It equalizes human affairs now, above our present perception—and strikes the eternal balance at last. The man has a duty which he owes to his neighbourhood. On the plea of sending the gospel abroad, he has no right to neglect it at home—and to see British heathens perishing at his feet, unmoved. On pretence of spreading it over the dark villages of his country, he has no authority for abandoning his own church, and his own minister. He who is “higher than the highest”—the Judge of hearts—and the Lord of property—will another day say to the man who has speculated upon general interests and overlooked such as are personal—“These things ye ought to have done—and not to have left the other undone.” The bounds of our habitation are assigned by the divine Providence; and they clearly mark out the first and most pressing sphere of operation; while they are sufficiently wide to afford ample scope for beneficence, without restraining a benevolent regard to objects more remote, but not less interesting. It is evident that the man must decide for himself, amidst this variety of claims—that he is bound to decide promptly, for immortal spirits are perishing while he is hesitating—equitably, for the tribunal stands at the end of his course—and that only general rules can be laid down for his guidance. To these we now proceed—What is our duty in respect of these different claims individually? in other words:
Fifthly, What are THE PROPORTIONS of Christian liberality? The principles already established will go far to decide this important inquiry; and have therefore been broadly stated, and have occupied so much of your time. But specific directions will be expected, and may be necessary. They must be plain, in order to be understood; short, in order to be remembered; and scriptural, in order to possess due weight.—It is of little consequence what human opinion is upon a point so important—We are expressly bound by the law of that Being at whose bar we are to be finally judged. If I produce his requisitions—I presume no man will dare to question their authority—The rules laid down in the word of God, are these—
1. _Ability_—really and honestly estimated by a man’s own conscience. Thus Jesus applauded Mary!—“She hath done what she could.” The question—What can I afford?—is answered differently, under different circumstances. If a man is disposed to build a house—to enlarge his establishment—to extend his connexions—to increase his business—he feels no difficulty in answering this inquiry. He is apt to calculate even beyond his means; and he is certain not to fall short of them. But if the same question be put relative to any cause of religion, or humanity, his perplexities instantly commence. Then, he is doubtful of his resources—then, his calculations become contracted—then, he measures his duties by the standard of others, rather than by his own capacities—then, he is anxious to ascertain how little he may do, and yet preserve his character.—Nothing can more decidedly settle this point, than the indisputable fact—that of all the great societies formed for the furtherance of religious knowledge, and moral improvement, there is not one whose funds are not more dependent upon the contributions of the lower classes of life than upon the rich and the noble. Look at the proportions of those contributions—and decide for yourselves. The poor have but little to give—they are therefore under the full force of the principle of doing what they can—the rich are content to shake the superfluities of their prosperity over a Christian cause—and sometimes reluctantly grant even these.—But the final estimate will be made according to a man’s ability: he will be judged not merely by what he has done, but by what he might have done; and he must abide all the consequences.
2. _Prosperity_—ought to determine the measure of benevolence. So said the Apostle when he wrote to the Corinthians—“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, _as God hath prospered him_, that there be no gathering when I come. And when I come, whomsoever you shall approve by your letters, him will I send to bring your _liberality_ into Jerusalem.” The personal question is—Has this plain and imperative rule been observed by you individually? Have you rendered unto the Lord, according to the benefits received? Changes have occurred in your circumstances. Some can say, like Jacob, “With my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now I am become two bands.”—The table is spread for them—their “head is anointed with oil”—their “cup runneth over”—Have their grants to the cause of religion corresponded with the bounties of Providence? Oh, if this were the case, it would not be necessary to press the subject of Christian benevolence and of humane consideration so far and so earnestly as we are now compelled to do! There would be a spontaneity of heart springing up with the claim—and the inquiry would be, “What can I do for him, who has done so much for me?”—Let every one within this sanctuary examine his personal deportment, and answer it to his conscience—whether his liberality has kept pace with his prosperity.
3. _Adversity is no absolute bar to generosity_—When that all-seeing eye, to which motives are as discernible as actions, was fixed upon those who brought their gifts to the treasury—a poor widow approached, and cast in two mites, the value of which amounted to one farthing—and the offering received the commendation of Him who is the Lord of property—to whom the silver and the gold belong of right—and when they are consecrated to his service, it is of his own that we take to present to him. “And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: for all those have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.” “Many that were rich, cast in much:” but she _indeed did_ “_what she could_.” What high and deserved praise was that which the Apostle Paul pronounced upon “the churches of Macedonia”!—“that, in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.” “For,” said he, “to their power (I bear record) yea, and beyond their power, they were willing of themselves: praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their ownselves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” When penury and poverty lend their aid to the cause of humanity and religion, the heart is indeed engaged in the good work. Some would shut these sluices of benevolence on the part of the poor, and deprive them of the highest gratification of which a generous mind is susceptible, under the pretext of compassion for their circumstances. But the Apostle produced this liberality of the Macedonians amidst the contractedness of their means, as an evidence of the power “of the grace of God,” upon their hearts; and such persons as would restrain the hand of the indigent, would, if they preserved any measure of consistency, have condemned the widow whom the Lord commended—and have censured the act which he approved.
4. _Domestic wants and claims must be first regarded_.—“If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” These natural claims are allowed to act with all their power upon the heart of the Christian; and he is charged to pay homage to them in all the extent of their commanding influence. He cannot resist, or neglect, them, without renouncing his character and his religion. This furnished the great and palpable distinction between Christianity and the infidelity, which in modern times borrowed the venerable name of philosophy. The philosophy, “falsely so called,” was always boasting of universal philanthropy, applying the telescope to the vision, to bring near distant objects, in the mean while neglecting those which were at home, and branding the respect due to the ties of nature, with the epithets of weakness, or of crime; teaching that while speculation upon abstract principles is virtue,—gratitude, love, natural affection, are vices. Such monstrous propositions, however plausible in theory, were in practice destructive of human happiness, and ruinous to society. The beneficence of Christianity, on the other hand, resembles the pebble dropped into the centre of the lake; circle expands beyond circle, until they wash the distant shore. She first implants in the heart the seed of Christian benevolence, whose diffusive influence extends to the most remote claims; but the operation is progressive—it passes through all the nearest relations of life to the great family of man. She teaches the man to set first an infinite value upon his own soul, then to feel the most lively interest for his family, for his neighbours, for his countrymen, for the whole human race. The characteristics of the parent, the patriot, the true citizen of the world, the universal philanthropist, are successively developed; and they all centre in the Christian. Neither is this a theory of speculation; but a system of active and unwearied benevolence.
5. _Justice must be always observed_.—“Defraud not,” “owe no man any thing,” are imperative rules. The last rule cannot, from the nature of our general pursuits, and the constitution of society, be always rigidly interpreted; but it should be as closely observed as circumstances will permit; and invariably associated with the former,—to the utter exclusion of every species of fraud. He who risks the property of others in speculation, except with their full concurrence, and perfect understanding of the contingent character of the scheme, can scarcely be called honest; and he who expends on any pretence what is not his own, is guilty of injustice. But we must be just, before we are generous—we cannot be generous, except we are just—for no service can be good, which is not strictly righteous. Reverse the proposition, and it holds equally true—when the claims of justice are met, it becomes instantly an act of justice that we should be liberal. No man, for the sake of appearance, has a right to give beyond his means—and no man can be justified, on the contrary, in withholding so much of assistance from the cause of religion and humanity, as his circumstances will really allow. Justice in principle will decide the duty—and justice in operation will regulate the distribution. As all means are limited, it is alike prudent rightly to measure them, and equitable to select such causes as are most extensively useful in their nature and operations—and such characters as are most deserving of assistance, as the first, although not exclusive, objects of our attention—“For we are to do good unto all men, as we have opportunity—but especially to them who are of the household of faith.”
6. _Personal sacrifices will be certainly required_, _and must be made_.—He who will tread in the Saviour’s steps, and in those of apostles and primitive Christians, must learn to “deny himself.” This rule is necessary to enable us to judge of our actual power of liberality. We should carefully examine what indulgences we can resign, and what superfluities we can retrench, for the advantage of others, without an unreasonable sacrifice of our own comforts. To yield something personal for general good, imparts a zest to liberality which rewards the generous surrender. This is a rule which we should connect with the earliest instructions of our children. Let that which their hearts prompt them to give be really their own—they will then learn to spare in order to gratify the kindly impulses of their nature—and this submission to a partial privation, will impart to them the consciousness of acting from principle. It will further teach them early to estimate property aright, for it’s use, and not for it’s own sake—and shew them (for they are most correct reasoners, from the simplicity of their ideas, and the undivided attention which they pay to the single object which at any one time occupies their reflections) that the way to be truly blessed in themselves, is by becoming blessings to others. This is a lesson needed all through life—we cannot begin to learn it too soon, nor put it in practice too early. “There is that withholdeth more than is meet, and it tendeth to poverty.” The curse of God is upon unsanctified wealth—it is unsanctified when it is unemployed—and the selfish can never be liberal.
Lastly. _The general rule_ which should be honestly applied, is this—“If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.” And the spirit which should sanctify all your distributions, is drawn by St. Paul with a masterly hand.
“But this I say, he which soweth sparingly, shall reap sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully, shall reap bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” That is the suitable temper; and what an encouragement follows! “And God is able to make all grace abound towards you; that ye having always all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” It is also guaranteed by express precepts, promises, and examples all combined—“As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad: he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever.” Then the fervour of ministerial affection breaks forth!—“Now he that ministereth seed to the sower, both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness; being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God.” He next directs their attention to the beneficial result, both to others and to themselves, of the right exercise of this Christian beneficence. “For the administration of this service, not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God: while by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your processed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your _liberal distribution_ unto them and unto all men; and by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you.”
He could add nothing more, or greater, except in referring to the divine Fountain of all benevolence, and it’s matchless result. “Now thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!”
We must now appeal to the final judgment, as suggesting a perfect rule for the exercise of Christian affection, (did we accustom ourselves to realize the awful scenes of that day)—and as casting up the whole sum of Christian duty. Have I been defective in discussing this important subject—and in discriminating the just _proportions of Christian liberality_? (and I am deeply sensible of my own deficiency,) I will now apply a test which cannot be mistaken—which needs no metaphysical disquisitions to settle moral claims—which is universally intelligible—which approves itself to every conscience. The doubts which appear to distract the mind now, as to what is required at our hand, will all vanish in the day, when “the sound of the cherubim wings,” shall be “as the voice of Almighty God, when he speaketh.”—Now we may be blinded by our supposed interest—hardened by our avarice—seduced by our self-love—confirmed in all these by the conduct, and countenanced by the negligence and indifference, the coldness and the covetousness of others—but then the law will be proclaimed to the assembled universe by the “shout from heaven,” which shall announce the descent of “the Lord himself,”—by “the voice of the archangel and the trump of God,”—then the transcript of that law of love written upon the heart of the Judge—“Good will to man,”—and recorded in the neglected volume of revelation, shall be read by the light of those fires which shall catch world after world, until above, beneath, around, the universe shall present one boundless ocean of rushing and devouring flame; while “clouds and darkness shall be round about the Lord;” “righteousness and judgment shall be the habitation of his throne;” when he “cometh to judge the earth;” and into this awful pavilion men and angels shall be gathered, and in passing sentence, the legislator will establish it upon his own written law.—Connect then the claims of duty, and the testimony of conscience, with the responsibility of that great and dreadful day—Think, that you hear the voice of the Son of God himself saying—(and you _must_ all hear it)—“Inasmuch as ye have done it”—or “have not done it”—“unto one of the least of these,—ye have done it,” or “have not done it, unto me,”—and remember that there are none who will then think that they have done too much—and but few, who will not regret that they have done so little!
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J. G. BARNARD, SKINNER STREET, LONDON.