CHARITY TO THE POOR. BY REV. W. THISTLETHWAITE, M.A.
Deut. XV. 7. If there be among you a poor man of one of ihy brethren nnihin any of thy gates tti ihy land which the Lord thy God giveth ihee, ihou shált not hearden thy heart, nor shut thy handfrom ihy poor brother, A VERY necessaiy aiid iinpoFtaiit subject is here brought bef(»re jou, necessaiy to be considered in onr expositions as a part of the Jewish law, important in its application to both rich and poor in all ages and onder all govemments. Man's selfish nature hath need of such a direct command as this, for the unrenewed heart is ever wont to overlook or harden itself against the wants and woes of its fellow-creatures. Even when that selfishness is overcome by the grace of divine
CHARITY TO THE POOR. 359 love poured into the soul, yet this infectíon of nature in some degree remaineth ; and tliere are few wamings to which religious persons should give more attention than such as these, " Take heed and beware of covetousness." " Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." There are also few exhortations more necessaiy for them than the foUowing, " Give ahns of thy goods, and never tum thy face away fix)m any poor man ;" " To do good and to distribute forget not ;" ^^ Remember the poor." Moses is hereby ^ving directions as to what should be the conduct of the Israelites in this particular, when they should be estab-
lished in Canaan ; and I wish to consider with you on this subject I. The care which God took for the poor. II. The care which he took for the rich. I. In considering the first point, the care which God took for the poor we must notice, 1. The settlement which he thought fit to make of the property of tfae land, and his laws respecting debts and slavery.
360 CHARITY TO THE POOR. I have already considered these in a former sermon, and therefore shall only gire a brief recapitulation of them. The whole land of Canaan was held hy the Israelites subject to a singular regulation. o part of it conld pass, except for a short time, from one possessor to another. It was to be umformly kept in the tribe and family to which it was originally allotted. Besides this regulatioii respecting the land, every seventh year was to give a release from all debts which one Israelite owed to another. The same year gave them liberty from slavery when one Israelite had been sold to another for a debt which he could not pay, or a crime which he had committed, he regained his freedom in the year of release. And although this law did not apply to slaves that were not of their own nation, yet even in their case there were many veiy merciful enactments respecting them, widely differing from the cruelties exercised over them by other nations, and even by the Greeks and Romans aílerwards in their highest state of civilization.
CHARITY TO THE POOR* 361 • 2. ext let us notice the relief which the Israelites were required to afford when their hrethren obtained their release frora debt or from slavery. The law respecting debts migbt seem to operate to the disadvantage of the poor. The rich might be unwiUÍBg, especially if -the year of release was near, to lend any thing to a distressed brother, as thinking that it would never be repaid. Therefore the Lord says in the ninth verse, "Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; ^nd thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought, and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee. Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him." The same liberality was to be shewn to the bondman, when he again jeturned to his personal freedom. Thus we read in the thirteenth and foUowing verse- '^ And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty : thou shalt fumish him VOL. IV. R
362 CHARITY TO THE POOR. liberally out of thj flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy wine-press : of tbat wherewith the Lord thj God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him." They were taught to ^o thus out of gratitude for God's mercy to them in deliveríng them from their bondage in Egypt, -as we tead in the next vetse, ^^ And thou shsdt remember that thoQ wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, ancl the Lord th j God redeemed thee ; therefore I command thee this thing to-day." More-
over, we find the general principle of giving relief to the poor laid down in Leviticus, the twentj-fifth chapter, and thirty-fifth verse, " If thy brother be waxen poor, aud fallen into decay with thee, then thou shalt relieve him : yea, though he be a stranger or a so^ joumer; tbat he may live witfa thee." AU these things shew what care God had over tlfê po< r of his people, and how he provided ÚaA they should never be reduced to the low^t depths of extreme poverty. Before I pioceed to the next diviáon of my sermon» lat me here shew you that the same caie is taken for the poor under the
CHARITY TO THE POOR. 363 gospel; and in the same way, namely, by liberalitj to them on the part of the rích. Was it litely, think ye, that God would take less care for the poor linder the gospel than nnder the law? or that less kindness and mc^cy is to be shewn by a Cluistían than by a Jew ? Beware lest there be any such thought in thy wicked heart. F(»* a Chrístian, a noininal Christian, may be as hard and churlish, aud covetous, as ever was any Jew or Pagan. True we have no such arrangement respecting property in land, Do such laws respecting debts, no year of release. But the spirít of Christiamty is totally opposed to personal slavery, and the laws of our own country stríetly prohibit it^ and the precepts of the gospd are numerous and strong, which inculcate liberality to the poor. Hear the fiíth chapter oí St. Matthew and the forty-second verse. ^^Give to him that asketh of thee, and from him that would borrow of thee tum not thou away." Again» in St. Luke^ the sixth chapter and thirtythird verse. ** If ye do good to them which
364 CHARITY TO THE POOR. do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. 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. But love ye your enemies^ and do good and lend hoping for nothing again." Listeu to yet more such precepts, I need not quote the places in which thëy are found« '^ Give alms of thy goodsy aud never tum thy face away írom any poor man." "To do good and to communicate, foi^t not." Timothy is directed by St. Paul to ^^charge them who are rich in this world, that they be. not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, bat in the living God, who giveth us all things richly to enjoy ; that they do good^ that they be rích in good works^ ready to distríbute, willing to communicate." othing cau be plaíner or stronger than these texts. They shew the care which God has for the poor.
They state the duty of liberality to them under the gospel with the greatest cleamess, and enforce it with the utmost authoríty. II. I now proceed in my second division
CHARITY TO THE POOR. 365 of tliis subject, to consider the care which God took for the rich. In the text it is said, " Thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand 'from thy poor brother." But in the seventh and eighth verses we read more fuUy. "Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee. Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest him ; because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto." In these verses we see both a warning and a promise. 1. A waming. "Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, the seventh year, the year of release, is at hand, and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother." Again, " Thine heart shall not be grievedy when thou givest him." And so in the text, *** Thou shalt not harden
366 OHAJIITT TO THE POOR. thine heart/' ow all Úáa looks somewliat like a tbreat^ bat it is ín realitj a m^rej, and shewa tbe eare which God took that the
ridi should <»iltiyate those dispositioiis wládi hecame their sitaaUon, whieh wonld make them resemble him, and giye them a meetnefls f(»r heaven. Bicfaes» throngh onr natnnd depravity, have a tendencj to make their possessors indifferent to the wants of theír fellow-creatures, to hajfden their hearts^ and fiU them with pride and contempt of those below th^, as if thej were scarcety of the same species» Hierefmse God took this care to preserve the wealthj among kis pec^le from these sins. He woold not have them to be selfish persons, who k)oked onlj on their own things, and not on the things of others; nor unfeeling persons, who had no sympathy with their distressed brethren; nor ungrateful persons, who had no sense of hÍH own kindness towards themselves. Bnt he would have them to be merciiul, as thdr Father ín heaven is merciful. And what is more pleasing and delightful to the hnman heart than to be enabled bj his grace to
CHARITY TO THE POOR. 367 feel the emotions of beneYQlence, kindness^ and loYe^ and to be áUo enabled by his proYÍdence to gratifj these emotions by the exercise of a bounteous liberality ? Or what Í8 30 soitable a preparation of the haman soul for dwelling in the presence of God^ for '' God is LoYe?" Again, ou thís warning we read, beware lest thy poor brother *^cry unto the Lord a^nst tbee, and it be sín unto thee." God ia a God that ^* heareth prayer ;" and happy aro they who may truly say as Job, " When the ear heard me, then it blessed me, and wben the eye saw me, it gave witness to me. Because I delÍYered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him. The blessíng of him that was ready to perish came upon me; and I caused the widow's heart to sing for
joy. I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. I was a father to the poor." But there are other críes which enter into the ears of the Lord, besides the prayers and blessings of the poor on their benefactors. There is the cry of murdered blood, as we
368 CHARITY TO THE POOR. bave already seen iu the case of Cain and Abel^ and as we also read in tbe book of Revelation. There is the cry of defrauded labourers, as St. James warns the rich in his daj. Oh ! it is a fearful thing that God should hear the complaints of the poor against the injustice of those who oppress them, or the hard-heartedness of those who refuse to relieve them. Surely either of these will be sin uuto them, and whát can he expect but to have judgment without mercy, who shews no mercy. Alas, there are numbers who never think that this is a sin. They tbink that their wealth is tbeir own, and may be wholly appropriated to their own selfish and sensual índulgencies. But it Í5^ a sin, as this scripture declareth, '* Beware lest he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee." Yes, it is a sin against the poor, who have even natural claims upon the help of their fellowmen ; and it is a sin against God, who has given the wealth, and who has made the poor his representatives in this case, and recipients of some of those gifts which
CHARiry TO THE POOR. 369 are due to him. Oli ! let every richer Christian fear lest he bring so great a sin npou himself. 2. Here is also a Promise. " Because for this thing the Lord shall bless thee in all
thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto." I have often observed to you that the sanctions of the Jewish law consisted principally of earthly and temporal rewards and punishments, while those of the gospel have their chief respect to spiritual and etemal blessings. But even uuder the gospel there are numbers of texts to the same eíFect as the one just quoted. Listen to some of these. "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom." '*This I say, he which soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly ; and he which soweth bountifuUy, shall reap also bountifully. And God is able to make all grace aboand toward you, that ye always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to eveiy good work, being enriched in every R5
370 CHARITY TO THE POOKthing to all boautifulness/' And althougb we must not suppose that heaven caii be purchased by our alms-deeds, or that our charities can compound for our sins, yet are there manj promises of eternal blessings also connected with the kind regards and liberal relief which his people shew unto the poor for his sáke; all however on the supposition that they proceed out of right principles, and are the fruit of faith in Christ and love to God. Listen to some of these. " Sell that ye have, and give ahns ; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not." When thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, aud blind: and thou shalt be blessed, for they caunot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.'' "Charge them that arerich in this world
that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, laying up in store for themselves a good reward against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.'* Thus charity to the
CHARITY TO THE POOR. 371 poor Í8 like godliness^ (of which indeed^ if it be true charíty, it is a part, as having its main regard to God^) and has the promise of the life which uow is, and of that wfaich Í8 to come. And in all these promises jon maj most fuUj trust the truth and fidelitj of God ; and whether jou look at the temporal or the etemal blessing jou maj assure jourselves that '^ God is not unríghteous to forget jour work and labour of love, which je have showed toward his name» in that je have ministered to the Saints, and do minister.'* Thus we have seen the care which God took for the poor and the rích in the land of Ganaan ; for the poor^ that thej should never be reduced to abject and hopeless want; and for the rích, that thej should acquire heavenlj dispositions, escape sin^ and receive blessings. And we have seen that the same care is taken under the gospel. And truly under every dispensatíon of God's govemment of the world there wiU alwajs be these inequalities. Even under the laws bj which propertj was held bj
372 CHARITY TO THE POOR. tlie Jews, there would necessarily be mach dÍBproportion in diiferent families and individuals^ and manj would always be found, who through misfortune, mismanagement, or misconduQt, would fall into poverty. A perfect equality cannot bj anj possible ar-
rangement be preserved among men. If it were made on any one given day, alter-* ations would occur on the next; Differences in station and wealth are the necessary attendants on the present condition of haman life> and these call forth the exercise óf various christian graces in all classes* Rich and poor hence derive special and appropri* ate duties and obligations^ by which each is to serve and glorify God in his own particular state. Men thus become bound to each other by the ties of protection and dependance; and their welfare and hapfi* ness are not impaired by these inequalities, while a larger scope is afforded for the exercise of different ríght sympathies, affections^ and actions. Such difietenees must arise in the natural order of God's providetice, and were contemplated by him as occurrii^
CHARITY TO THE POOR. 373 even under tbat peculiar settlement of propertj wUch was made by his own will and law among the Jews; for he sajs, in the eleventh verBe of this chapter^ ''The poor shall never cease out of the land.'' He madeat the same time, as we have seen, a proTÍsion against it, by inculcating kindness and beneficence on the part of the rich. Oh ! then let the rich among us manifest a bountiful and cheerful liberality. Let them eTer open their hand wide unto their poor brethren^ and let not their heart be grieTed when they give unto them. Let them be ready to distríbute^ iviUin^, naj even fflad, to communicate. Let them '^show mercy with cheerfulness.'* Let them give^ ^'not grudginglj; or of necessitj, for God loveth a cheerful giver.'' So shall they obtain the blessings and prajers of the poor ; so shall their gifts be acceptable to God through Christ, '^ for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
And let the poor among us be contented with the condition in which it has pleased God to place them, and diligently cultivate
374 CHARITY TO THE POOK. tlie dispoátions and fulfil the daties wfaich belong to it. Bat above all things let tfaem seek a portion of the unsearchable ríches of Christ. These are free for them as for any, and maj be possessed by them in the greatest abundance. Let tfaem seek to be '^rích in faith, and heirs of the kingdom/' for God hatfa cfaosen manj of tfaeir class to sucfa wealtfa and dignity. O my poor bretfaren, seek spirítual rícfaes for your souls at tfae faands of faim wfao in these blessings at least is no respecter of persons, and then you wiU indeed haye a goodlj herítage.
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