« ZurückWeiter »
which show the weight, worth, and excellence of this duty. And first it is shown, with what advantage the holy Scripture represents it, and presses it on us.
1. We may consider that there is no sort of duties which God hath more expressly commanded, or more earnestly inculcated, than those of bounty and mercy towards our brethren; whence evidently the great moment of them, and their high value in the sight of God, may be inferred: this instanced by many examples in the ancient law: also in the more perfect dispensation of Christian grace.
2. It is indeed observable that, as in every kind that which is most excellent doth commonly assume to itself the name of the whole kind, so among the parts of righteousness (which word is used to comprehend all virtue and goodness) this of exercising bounty and mercy is peculiarly called righteousness; and works of this nature are by way of excellency termed good works.
3. We may consequently remark that in those places of Scripture where the divine law is abridged, and religion summed up into a few particulars of main importance, these duties constantly make a part: this fully shown.
4. Also in general descriptions of piety and goodness, the practice of these duties is specified as a grand ingredient of them : this pointed out.
5. So in the particular histories of good men this sort of practice is specially taken notice of, and expressed in their characters. Instanced in Abraham, (Heb. xiii. 2.) Job, &c.
6. So near to the heart of piety doth the holy Scripture lay the practice of these duties : and no wonder; for it often expressly declares charity to be the fulfilling of God's law, as the best expression of all our duty towards him, of faith in him, of love and reverence of him ; and as either formally containing, or naturally producing all our duty towards our neighbor : this subject enlarged on.
7. But that we may be farther certified about the weight and worth of these duties, we may consider that to the observance of them most ample and excellent rewards are assigned; that in return for what we bestow on our poor brethren, God hath promised all sorts of the best blessings and mercies to us : this point fully illustrated.
8. And correspondently, grievous punishments are designed and denounced against the transgressors of these duties; the worst of miseries is their doom and portion : they by their conduct do forfeit God's love and favor; they lose his blessing and protection; they can have no sure possession, nor any comfortable enjoyment of their estate : this point enlarged on.
9. It is specially to be considered that at the final reckoning, when all men's actions shall be strictly scanned and justly sentenced, a particular regard will be had to the discharge or neglect of these duties : so great a stress therefore does God lay on them : and if we look up to him, or down on our poor neighbor, or reflect on ourselves, or on our wealth, we may every where discern reasons obliging us, and motives inducing us, to this practice. In regard to God,
1. We may consider that by exercising bounty and mercy, we are, as it were, kind and courteous unto God himself; by neglecting them we are unkind and rude to him ; for whatever of good or ill is done by us unto the poor, God interprets and accepts as done unto himself.
2. By practising these duties we are just, by omitting them we are unjust, towards God; for our goods, our wealth, and our estates are none of them simply and properly our own; but God is necessarily the true and absolute proprietor of them. They are called the gifts of God; but we must not by that expression understand that God has parted with his own right to them; for they are deposited with us in trust, not alienated from him ; committed to us as stewards, not transferred to us as masters: this topic enlarged on.
3. The showing of mercy and bounty is the principal and most proper expression of our gratitude to God; so that in omitting this, we are not only very unjust, but highly ungrateful. We may seem in words and expressions to thank him ; but a sparing hand gives the lie to the fullest mouth.
4. Indeed all our devotion, severed from a disposition to practise these duties, is no less than hypocrisy ; cannot have any true worth in it; will not yield any good effect. Our prayers, if we are uncharitably disposed, are but demonstrations of egregious impudence and folly : this point enlarged on.
5. The conscientious practice of these duties plainly springs from those good dispositions of mind regarding God, which are the original grounds of all true piety; and the neglect of them issues from those vicious dispositions which have a peculiar inconsistency with piety; being destructive of its very foundation and root: this fully shown; and the impossibility of serving God and Mammon proved.
6. Farther we may consider that nothing is more conformable to God's nature, or renders us more like to him, than beneficence and mercy; that consequently nothing can be more grateful to him; that nothing is more contrary to the essential disposition of God than illiberality and unmercifulness; and therefore that nothing can be more distasteful to him: this subject enlarged on.
But before we deny relief to our poor neighbor, let us with the eyes
of our mind look on him, and consider who he is; what he is in himself; and what he is in relation to us.
1. He whose need craves our bounty, whose misery demands our mercy; what is he? He is not truly so mean and sorry a thing, as the disguise of misfortune represents him. He who looks so pitifully accoutred, hath latent in him much of admirable beauty and glory : he within himself contains a nature very excellent, an intelligent mind, and an immortal soul, by which he in some degree resembles God himself, and is comparable with angels : this subject enlarged on.
2. That distinction which thou standest on, and which seems so vast between thee and thy poor neighbor, what is it? whence did it come? whither tends it? It is not anywise natural, or according to primitive design ; for as all men are in natural fa
; culties and endowments equal, so were they all originally equal in condition. Sin introduced these degrees and distances; and God for promoting some good ends, and preventing certain mischiefs of strife and disorder, suffers them in a manner to continue, and enjoins our submission to them : but we mistake, if we think that natural equality and community are in effect quite taken away. No; every man hath still a competent patrimony due to him, and a sufficient provision for his tolerable subsistence: this point enlarged on.
3. It was also one main end of this difference among us, permitted and ordered by God's providence, that as some men's industry and patience might be exercised by their poverty, so other men by their wealth should have the ability of practising justice and charity; that so both poor and rich might thence become capable of recompenses, suitable to such performances.
We should also consider that a poor man, even as such, is not to be disregarded, and that poverty itself is no such contemptible thing as we are apt to imagine. If the world commonly call the rich man blessed, a better author hath pronounced the poor inan such : moreover by poverty, the nurse of virtues, we conform to the state of the Son of God himself,
5. Thus a due reflexion on the poor man, his nature and state, will induce us to succor him. But let us also consider him as related to ourselves : every such person is our kinsman,
our brother, by indissoluble bands of blood, and agreement of nature, knit and united to us : this point enlarged on.
6. Farther, as the poor man is so nearly allied to us by the society of a common nature, so is he more strictly joined to us by the bands of spiritual consanguinity; all Christians, high and low, being children of the same heavenly Father, &c.
Moreover, if we reflect on ourselves, we cannot but observe many strong engagements to the same practice.
1. The very constitution, frame, and temper of our nature directs and inclines us thereto; whence by observing these duties, we observe our own nature, we improve it, we advance it to the best perfection it is capable of: by neglecting them, we thwart, impair, and debase the same.
2. And if the sensitive part within us suggests so much, the rational dictates more to us : that heavenly faculty, having such vast capacities and energies, was surely not created to serve mean or narrow designs, to scrape eternally in earth, or to amass heaps of clay for private enjoyment, &c.
3. Farther, examining ourselves, we may also observe that we are, in reality, what our poor neighbor appears to be, in many respects no less indigent and impotent than him: we no less depend for our subsistence on the arbitrary power of another, than he seems to rely on ours.
4. The great uncertainty and instability of our condition also requires our consideration. We that now flourish in so fair and full an estate, may soon be in the case of that poor creature who solicits our relief: this subject enlarged on.
5. And as wisdom advises, so does equity exact these duties from us : for were any of us in the needy man's plight, we should believe that our case deserved commiseration; should with importunity demand relief; and complain of cruelty, if succor were denied us.
We should also remember concerning ourselves, that we are mortal and frail: this subject dilated on at length.