E-text prepared by Jared Fuller
THE FAITHFUL STEWARD;
Or, Systematic Beneficence an Essential of Christian Character
REV. SERENO D. CLARK.
The following is from the Circular of the Committee of Award, signed THOMAS S. WILLIAMS, WILLIAM R. WILLIAMS, R. T. HAINES.
"The committee selected to award a premium of $250 for 'the best approved treatise on the importance of Systematic Beneficence, and of statedly appropriating certain portions of income for benevolent objects,' report, that they have examined one hundred and seventy-two manuscripts submitted to them, several of which are large treatises, and a number marked by distinguished merit. They selected four, as in their judgment superior to the rest. Of these four, each was found to have its peculiar excellencies and adaptation to usefulness—this in one walk, and that in another. Literary merit, thoroughness of discussion, and a spiritual and practical character, each and all necessary, in their measure, to render a composition 'THE BEST' in the sense of the original offer of the donor, are to be found blended, in various proportions, in these several treatises, and rendered the task of decision the more embarrassing. The committee were thus unable to select any one, two, or three, as on the whole preferable to the remainder of these four. They therefore awarded the premium, which the benevolent donor has increased to $400, to be divided equally among these four manuscripts;" one of which is here offered to the public.
Introduction.—Systematic Beneficence argued.—Nature of such a System,
Distinction between a General and Particular System. —Two Questions discussed. 1. What is the proportional amount of property or income to be given individually in charitable contributions; together with the principle on which the amount is to be ascertained? 2. How frequently should stated contributions be made? —The method of previous appropriations discussed, and the duty enforced,
The General System given in detail.—1. It must consist of intellectual views, their inculcation, and harmonizing affections and desires. 2. Of general purposes and resolutions. 3. Of correspondent actions.—The adoption of the Individual System urged.—Systematic Beneficence an essential of Christian character,
An Address to professed Christians.—An Address to the Rich.—An Address to the Young,
THE FAITHFUL STEWARD.
"GOD IS LOVE." Perfectly blessed in Himself, he desired that other intelligences should participate in his own holy felicity. This was his primary motive in creating moral beings. They were made in his own image—framed to resemble him in their intellectual and moral capacities, and to imitate him in the spirit of their deportment. Whatever good they enjoyed, like him, they were to desire that others might enjoy it with them; and thus all were to be bound together by mutual sympathy,—linked to Himself, and to one another; otherwise, they would not resemble their Great Original, either in feeling or conduct. But intelligent beings, unlike Himself, Jehovah, in consistency with his holy character, could never purpose to create. He thus must eternally abhor the covetous; and hence, with all the strength of his infinite nature, threaten them with everlasting death.
How glorious this idea of creation, and how beautiful the universe produced!—the whole mantled in the effulgence of the eternal throne; the Sovereign Creator upholding all ranks of intelligences in the hollow of his hand, and pouring into their bosoms the fullness of his own fruition; while their hearts, in turn, rise to the Source of their being in sweetest incense of joy and praise; each burning with a seraph's love to communicate his own overflowing enjoyments to those around him. Well might the morning stars have sung together when such a universe awoke to being.
The greatest good, the richest possession, then, of an intelligent being, is a soul in harmony with this original design of creation—a oneness of principle, of feeling, and interest, with God; in other words, disinterested benevolence. Truly, "It is more blessed to give than to receive;" for without the good will the generous deed implies, whatever else we have, we must have sorrow.
But how little of this spirit is evinced by man in his fallen state. Those ties of love, that bound us to our Creator and to one another, are sundered; as a race, severed from the governing Centre of all, each has chosen a centre for himself, and is moving on in darkness and ruin; selfishness the rule, self-interest the end.
Benevolence is not, therefore, natural to man. To practise it requires the greatest effort; it is reascending to that lofty height whence we have fallen. Hence the importance of System in the great work of beneficence.
System in action implies a principle from which it proceeds. Fluctuating opinions and feelings produce fickleness of conduct; while settled convictions, stability of affections, and fixedness of purpose, give birth to persevering and methodical action. A system of beneficence must be founded on abiding principles and dispositions.
I proceed to show in the first place, the Duty of Systematic Beneficence thus founded.
I. I argue the duty of systematic beneficence from the analogy of nature. The Author of nature is the perfection of order. Whatever he does, he does systematically. He proceeded in the great work of creation with regularity. Order moulded the planets, and every star that gems the evening sky; it launched them forth in their orbits, and guides their glorious way, producing "the music of the spheres." Order stretched the very layers of the everlasting rocks like ribs around the earth, and shaped the crystals of the cavern. There is order in the structure of every spire of grass, of every flower and shrub, of every tree and trembling leaf; in the mechanism of every animal, from man in his godlike attitude, to the smallest microscopic tribes. All organic existences are preserved in being, nurtured, grow and mature, according to certain laws. Even the winds, that stir the petals of the flowers, breathing fragrance and health, and the tornado, that bows the forest and dashes navies, obey established principles. Now, shall there be order all around me, and in my physical frame, in the flowing blood, in the heaving lungs, and chiseled limbs, while the accountable actions of this finely-knit and symmetrical form, especially the loftiest actions for which it was made, the diffusion of good, are exempted from this universal law? Such an exception, how incongruous! It would be an excrescence on the very vitals of nature.
II. From the characteristic of Divine beneficence. The supply of our physical necessities and comforts comes in the order of those natural laws already referred to. Social and civil blessings result from certain principles of mental, moral, and political science. Method is equally characteristic of our spiritual blessings. No sooner had man fallen, than God began to unfold the remedial scheme. But he is influenced by no impulses in accomplishing the wondrous plan. He rushes not to the result with an impetuosity indicative of a zeal that flames along its course uncontrolled by reason. But there is a steadiness of onward movement, showing that unwavering principles of order preside over all his proceedings. The world, the intelligent universe, must be prepared for such a stupendous event as the incarnation and death of the Son of God; prophecies, promises, types, and ritual institutions must gradually open the scheme, ere the final development could be suitably made. After forty centuries of preparation, Christ came; and yet years must pass away, before, in that order of events which God had established, the crowning event of all could occur,—the propitiatory sacrifice be offered up. In extending the kingdom thus founded, the same order, the same adaptation of means to ends, is observable. The word of God, the Sabbath, the sanctuary, the workings of the Holy Spirit, and the co-operation of the individual reason and conscience, are all linked consecutively to each other, or work in beautiful harmony together. Thus, throughout the entire scheme of spiritual blessings, reaching from the opening promise of a Saviour to the incarnation; and from the incarnation to the judgment; and onward to eternity, everything is done systematically.
This is the result of the unchanging principles of the Divine Mind. They grow with a steady heat, equally prompting him to activity at every moment. Hence, like the sun shining in its strength, God sends down unweariedly the rays of his love, both on the evil and on the good, crowning their days with "loving-kindness and tender mercies." Indeed, should the ardor of his love cool, or the hand of his power or grace be withdrawn but for a single moment, all our hopes would be dashed, our very existence cease.
From this characteristic of the Divine beneficence, the inference is irresistible. If man is bound by the condition of his being, to imitate God in his moral character and conduct, he must cherish the same abiding principles of benevolence, and carry the same steady hand in diffusing good. The ardor of his love may never cool; his hand of charity never weary. He must be god-like. With permanency and uniformity of conduct, imitative of his own, our Holy Sovereign will be well pleased. But with him who is wavering in his principles; vacillating and impulsive in his purposes of good; at one time toiling for others with the utmost earnestness, and then, forgetful of their wants and woes for months together, he must be displeased. How unlike our Great Exemplar. He was always doing good. "The labor of his life was love." Reader, would you please your compassionate Savior? Go, and do likewise.
III. From the necessity of system to success in any kind of business. One cannot accumulate wealth, acquire learning, rise to distinction in any of the professions or trades without system. Even the pleasures of life depend much on regularity; otherwise they cloy and become insipid. He, who is unsteady in his habits, now indulging in ease, and now straining every muscle; who, as some excitement arouses him,—such perhaps as the fresh inculcation of economy and industry, flares up and bustles about, resolves that his business shall henceforth be prosecuted with vigor and managed with precision, and in a few days relapses into his old, careless, inefficient habits, heedless alike of prudence and precept, gives little promise of success in any department of life. Or should one be perseveringly industrious, but suffer his affairs to lie in confusion, like the material world at its birth, he would be deemed at best but a busy-body. If he intends to succeed, he must have some established principles and a fixedness of purpose, which will prompt to accuracy and method, would be the universal decision of the wise. This is reasoning correctly. But must men practise on system in providing the means of personal supply and gratification; while in the Divine work of relieving the sorrows and wants of others, all system is matter of indifference? Is order so important in the accumulation of property; while the diffusion of it, in obedience to God's commands, may be safely left to the spontaneous impulses of feeling? The more important any business becomes, the more essential is precision in its management. This is a universal maxim. Now, as beneficence, in its comprehensive import, rises superior to all other employments, so, if it ever reaches its highest possible results, it must be carried on systematically. How often does benevolence to the poor fail of accomplishing all that it otherwise might, were it not exerted irregularly; whereas, when proceeding in equable flow, by encouraging frugality and economy, it fills even the dwellings of poverty with comfort. How much more efficient would our great benevolent societies become, were the contributions of the churches uniform, or uniformly rising like the waters from the sanctuary in Ezekiel's vision; so that those who conduct them might have sufficient data on which to erect their schemes for the future. It would infuse new life into all their operations; elevate them to a loftier position, from which they might stretch their arms around the world, and kindle joys reaching to heaven. Besides, is it not matter of personal experience, that when order enters into, and pervades our worldly business, we accomplish far more than when it is left to the driftings of fortune, or to the mere suggestions of the mind? And can any reason be assigned why the same practice should not be equally productive in carrying out the noblest work of our being?
Thus personal experience in other matters observation, and theory, alike teach us that the work of benevolence may not be left to the impulses of natural feeling—to the influence of lectures and appeals, or casual stimulants. It must be planted in principle, and issue in regular contributions, like the tree of life yielding her fruit every month, if we would have the blessing of many ready to perish come upon us. Those who depend on intermittent springs are liable to suffer thirst.
IV. From the deep-seated depravity of the human heart. Depravity is supreme selfishness. This, in unregenerate men, is the governing principle. Quick-sighted, ever on the alert, and lying, as it does, at the foundation of the active powers, it becomes the propeller of the mind. It leads to a series, and thus substantially to a system, of actions. They may not always be rational; yet, as they spring from a fixed principle, and proceed in an uninterrupted current, they may properly be termed systematic. Hence the natural man feels a constant pressure of motives to conduct pleasing to himself; and is thereby borne away on the maddening torrent of self-gratification. There must be a counter-current; billow must battle with billow. The antagonist principle demanded is benevolence; and antagonist principles, coming in collision, must press with equal force, or one gradually gaining upon the other, will eventually secure the victory. The combatant, who is for a moment off his guard, or ceases to struggle, falls. As selfishness is always awake, benevolence must never slumber. The latter must be as spirited and persevering as the former. Hence, benevolence must be systematic in its operations, or it will be overborne by the ever-stirring energies of its opponent. Its series of acts must be as continuous and energetic as that of selfishness, in order simply to arrest the course of the latter; and to make advances against its headlong current, a strong additional force is requisite. A system, therefore, one founded in the depths of the soul, and bringing to its aid all the resources of reason and conscience, is indispensable to efficiency in the angelic work of doing good. System must be emblazoned on the banner of every benevolent society; and inscribed on the brow of every man by nature selfish, would he bless the world by his munificence.
Especially is system necessary to encounter emergencies. Men of business not unfrequently meet with crises when their affairs are in a critical state. Numerous calls for money may come thronging in upon them almost simultaneously. Their nerves may become depressed, and things may appear darker than they really are. Besides, Christians even may become worldly-minded, and their religious affections low. At such times benevolence will almost surely be submerged by the whelming tide of selfishness, unless buoyed up by well-established system.
V. From experience, which shows the inefficiency of impulsive benevolence. That liberality is sometimes the offspring of the kindly tendencies of our natures, is readily admitted. God, in making us social beings and helpers of each other's joy, gave us susceptibilities to sympathetic emotions. When objects of suffering are presented before us, our sensibilities are moved, tears flow, and the hand is extended in relief. But these emotions are short-lived. The exciting object being removed, they soon expire. And though thousands have flowed into the treasuries of charity from this source, when an accomplished agent, with a soul heated to a glow with his theme, has stirred the sensibilities of his hearers as the trees of the forest are rocked by the tempest, or some other influence has violently swept the chords of the heart; yet it is a source of too little depth and durability to give vitality to the persevering work of beneficence, in a world cankered to its center with corruption. Selfishness soon leads off the mind to other subjects; so that contributions can be drawn from the natural sympathies only by the repeated and almost continued presentation of the suffering object. But this course will ultimately defeat its own end; tending, as it does, to harden the heart, and thereby to seal up the very fountains intended to be opened. Accordingly, we find that those who have no plan of munificent effort, but give merely as their sensibilities are moved, usually contribute less and less as they advance in age; their susceptibilities to sympathetic emotion becoming hardened like the road over which the crushing wheel has rolled for years. Hence, though the product of impulsive benevolence may sometimes be bountiful, yet when we contemplate its workings for any lengthened period, its fruits are found neither uniform nor abundant. The soil is too thin for enduring fertility.
We find this exemplified in our churches where no system of charity is adopted. For want of stated times for contributions to the different objects, they are apt to be forgotten or neglected. They whose duty it is to make the appointments, are engaged in other cares; time whirls on; the year passes away, and no collection is made. Or if a few objects receive occasional attention, others are passed over for years altogether; proving to a moral demonstration, that what is done irregularly in the work of beneficence, is ill done. To this, the agents of our benevolent societies passing through our churches, can bear sorrowful testimony.—The same is true of the individual. Every one knows that what falls not into his regular routine of duties, is apt to slide from the memory. This is peculiarly true of benevolence, for selfishness helps us to forget; and it the contribution come to our recollection, we are not ready to give just then; some debt must be first paid, some convenience purchased, or some other urgent call attended to. Thus he, who has no system in the bestowment of his bounties, is always finding excuses to turn off the edge of arguments and the force of appeals; though perhaps with the resolution of giving liberally at some future period. Here lies his greatest danger. The resolution satisfies his conscience; and while resting upon it, the opportunity to contribute passes away, and souls are lost; whereas, had he acted on principle, the donation, though inconvenient would have been made, and souls saved.
Such is not unfrequently the mournful termination of impulsive benevolence. Tears may be shed over the anguish wrought; but tears cannot remedy the evil; this must flow on in wailing and woe forever. But it may be prevented by the timely admonitions of experience. For that selfishness can be suppressed, and benevolence sustained, only by the strong hand of principle and systematic effort, is the voice of ages.
VI. From Scripture. All duties enjoined in the Scriptures, if contemplated in their principles, will be found subjected to the control of reason; and, if they lie under the control of reason, they must be conducted methodically. All acts of worship, from the first requisition of Divine homage given in Eden, onward through the successive generations of the patriarchs, were to be performed with decency and in order. The Mosaic economy was one of the most rigid exactness. The ritual prescribed to the Jews required the utmost method. The same law held in regard to the payment of tithes and their multiplied gifts to the Lord. This precision, with which every one must be struck in reading the Old Testament, is doubtless designed for the instruction of all succeeding times. But what is its peculiar lesson to us? It, at least, shows us that God is pleased with regularity in the conduct of his people; and not less in their beneficent transactions than in the discharge of their other duties. The same principle of order is transferred to Gospel times. Here, there may be liberty, but there must be regularity. This is taught in that general commendation of Paul to the Colossian christians for the order and steadfastness that rejoiced him. (Col. ii. 5.) But if regularity in other things is pleasing to God under the New Dispensation, why is it not in this divinest work of an intelligent being? This is specifically shown in the injunction of Paul to the Corinthians,*[1 Cor. Xvi. 2.] for each one to lay by him in store on the first day of the week, as God had prospered him. Now, without pushing this text to extremes, and affirming that the Holy Ghost intended to require of all christians in all circumstances and in all ages, to contribute a portion of their substance in charity every Sabbath, the passage most distinctly shows that God is pleased with systematic benevolence—with stated appropriations of income to objects of munificence. As order is nature's first law, so it is of the Scriptures.
System in our benefactions is thus clearly a duty devolving on all. It is alike the voice within and the voice from heaven. It cannot be neglected without imminent peril. It is a subject of vital interest. It must be deeply pondered. It must be earnestly prayed over. The great idea must enter, like a consuming fire, into the very heart's core, and inflaming it with zeal, bring forth fruit an hundred fold to the Lord.
One thing more. Every man is bound to make the most of his being. All his powers, both of body and of mind, are to be taxed to the utmost, and exerted in the most effective manner. Each duty, without intrenching on others, should be performed in such a way, as best to secure the end aimed at in the obligation. Manner may not be disregarded. If there is reason to believe that the end contemplated in the obligation to beneficence may be best reached by a course of systematic effort, the very fact should lead to its immediate adoption. At the close of the preceding arguments, without reasoning in a circle, this may be adduced as a consideration of no small force, inducing every one to cast about him, and solemnly consider whether he is conducting his charities in the most efficient method; manner and spirit being as binding as the generous deed itself. And on this principle, every precept, promise, and example of revelation, enforcing benevolence, is really a precept, promise, and example, arousing to systematic benevolence. The same is true of the various incentives to this glorious work, offered in the ensuing pages; and in this light let the reader regard them.
In the second place, what is the Nature of a Scriptural System of Beneficence? This is an important inquiry. Every system, as we have seen, must be founded in principle—a principle rooted in the active powers, resting down upon the main-springs of the soul, so as to be moved forward by all the mental energies combined. But it must not only rest on principle; it must rest on right principle. The moral character of a system depends on the character of the moral feelings from which it rises; and it is the moral character of any scheme of action, which, under the government of God, gives it permanent efficiency; for to succeed, it must have his co-operation and aid. Besides, a system of benevolence is designed to combat the selfishness of the heart; a principle, strong, subtle, insidious, and developing itself in ten thousand different ways. Diametrical opposition to this, therefore, must be its leading characteristic. The natural sympathies, and conscience, and reason, must, indeed, be enlisted in its service; but all these united are insufficient to support enduringly a system of munificence against this formidable antagonist. For selfishness may entirely submerge the sympathies, so that he who can weep with his bereaved neighbor at the grave of his child, may, with the malignity of a fiend, be inwardly pleased at the death of an enemy. Selfishness may so control the conscience, that it will utter no upbraiding accents; and so bewilder the keen-sightedness of reason, that one may put darkness for light, and bitter for sweet, and sin for holiness, while complacently feeling that he is standing on the everlasting hills of truth. Neither the natural sympathies, nor conscience, nor reason, then, can form the substantial basis of a system of action which is to battle with the selfishness of the human heart. It must be informed with a higher and nobler principle. Holy love is such a principle. This, in its very nature, is superior to all other affections of the soul. The object on which it is fastened is the Great Supreme, and all other objects disappear before it, as the stars before the morning sun. A system, then, inwrought with this heaven-born principle, controlling, quickening, inspiring all the moral energies of the soul, may resist this mighty foe of the heart; and it forms the only insuperable bulwark to his malignant inroads. This position accords with the Scriptures. They approve of no external act, only as it proceeds from a holy heart; otherwise, they stamp it as self-righteousness or superstition. A system of benevolent action, resting on any other foundation, falls under the same condemnation; it contains no element of life, nothing truly pleasing to God. Men may endeavor to find other bases on which to rear schemes of charity; they may bring to the task the most penetrating sagacity, and traverse again and again the secret windings of the mind, to find some other lurking principle which can resist and subdue the batteries of covetousness; but all their efforts will be vain. Whatever they may erect will be built upon the sand; the winds and floods will sweep it away. There is no foundation which can withstand the underminings of the depraved heart, and the shocks of a depraved world, but the rock of holy love.
Systematic beneficence is capable of a twofold division. There is a general or universal system, binding indiscriminately and equally on all of every rank and condition; and a particular system adapted alone to the circumstances of each individual. The latter stands related to the former, as the edifice to the foundation on which it rests. This distinction must be kept clearly before mind, if we would have definite views of our obligations relative to this important subject. In the ensuing discussion, I shall confine myself mainly to the general system; believing that if God's people are correct in sentiment, rooted and grounded in moral and christian principles, they will be substantially correct in practise. And as the particular or individual system grows, by a moral necessity, out of the other when fully embraced, being, in fact, involved in the practical part of it, I propose to give but occasional hints concerning it.
Practically considered, a system of beneficence consists in two things: the amount of property bestowed, and the frequency of stated gifts to the Lord.
Before detailing in full, therefore, the general system of beneficence, these two questions must be thoroughly discussed—1. What is the proportional amount of property or income to be given in charitable contributions? 2. How frequently should stated contributions be made?
The first of these is a point the most difficult for the depraved heart to reach. Self-interest clamors most loudly for the smallest sum possible. Her whole strength must here be encountered. But selfishness, properly so called, has nothing to do with the question. The rule determining the amount must be fixed upon, not only entirely without her aid, but in direct opposition to her insidious suggestions. It must also be a rule growing out of those principles which take hold of, and bind the conscience; and therefore clearly taught in the Bible. This is a consideration which may not be overlooked. If we endeavor to deduce a rule from principles not found nor recognized in the Scriptures, the influence will be disastrous; we shall rather strengthen, than weaken, the covetous tendencies of the heart.
It has appeared to some of vast importance to fix upon a definite amount of income as each one's yearly contribution. A tenth has been named as the proportion divinely approved, in imitation of Jacob's vow to give a tenth to God of all that he should receive at his hand; and because the Jews were required to pay a tithe of their yearly increase for the support of the Levites. Arguments have been adduced to show that this ratio in charity is obligatory on all; at the same time, it has been acknowledged not to be enjoined in the New Testament. We think, however, the ground untenable; and all efforts to designate this or any other fixed proportion as universally binding, both inexpedient and unscriptural.
In the first place, it would not be equal. An alleged requisition, not pressing equally upon all in its ordinary operations, cannot rise out of the necessary relations of the spiritual universe, and therefore is not essential to a moral government. It can be made obligatory on the conscience only by a positive precept from the Great Lawgiver himself. But no ratio of income, universally applicable can be assigned, pressing equally upon all. While one's income may be large, his debts may likewise be large. Another's health may be feeble, his family numerous, and his expenses great; while his neighbor's constitution may be vigorous, his family small, and his necessary expenditures few. Thus circumstances may render it a greater sacrifice for some to give a twentieth, a fiftieth, or even an hundredth of their income, than for others to bestow one half, or indeed, the whole of it, and thousands besides.
One's entire possessions must be taken into the calculation. Take a simple case. Two men start in business together; both plan and toil for ten years. One has an expensive family, parents to maintain, children to support and educate; he has been withal unfortunate, and has laid up scarcely a thousand dollars. The other has no family, has prospered and accumulated ten thousand. The eleventh year Providence smiles upon both alike; the income of each is a thousand dollars. Now, would it be equal to require of both respectively a hundred in charity?
Nor can any ratio of standing property and income combined be designated, ensuring equality. Though this might approximate towards equalizing the burden, still the same or similar causes would prevent a uniform pressure. Besides, calls on our benevolence are not always equally loud or imperious; and therefore, with the same means, more is demanded on some occasions than others.
Undoubtedly there is a certain amount of property, which, taking into view the whole circle of one's relations, he ought to contribute in charity. It is by no means contended that one cannot fix upon a definite amount for himself. This he may and should do. All that we aver is, that no general rule can be made, assigning that amount, because no general rule can meet the ten thousand circumstances that modify individual cases; and, therefore, obligations to comply with it would not be universally felt. Besides, no one thinks of specifying certain proportions of labor and attention which all are equally bound to bestow on others; and yet, these are sometimes far more beneficial to the suffering than gifts of money. To assign a certain number of external acts employed in charitably distributing property, while we fix upon no definite amount of labor to be expended in beneficence, is making a difference without a reason; this being seen, the conscience will not be holden, unless some scripture precept can be found demanding the discrimination.
But could a ratio be found pressing equally upon all, it would not be desirable. Man, while under the influence of the natural heart, if he tries to please his Maker at all, endeavors to do it by external acts merely; when driven from this ground, he seeks to please him by acting out some principle of natural sympathy, conscience, or reason; when shown the fallacy of this, he endeavors still to discharge his duties in some way without the entire consecration of the soul. Now, does not the advocacy of a general ratio obviously fall in with this depraved inclination, tend to flatter this pride of heart, and to encourage this aversion to entire self-immolation? Indeed, founded on this principle, the work of benevolence is extremely liable to degenerate into sheer superstition. The payment of the stipulated sum is soon thought to render one worthy of Divine acceptance; and thus, instead of gushing from the heart, charity becomes a mere mercenary business, scarcely rising to the dignity of a virtue. This the experience of the religious world proves, as is evidenced by the views and conduct of the Jews respecting tithes in the time of Christ; and at the present period, by the payment of periodical contributions in the Romish church.
Besides, as a general rule must apply to all classes and conditions indiscriminately, the bestowment of the designated sum would satisfy the consciences, not only of the poor, but also of the rich, who ought, unquestionably, to contribute oftentimes far more than one tenth of their annual increase, or any other proportion which the most generous philanthropy might appoint; thus both rendering them deaf to extraordinary calls, and, when the truth, so agonizing to the carnal heart, that our all belongs to God, is pressed with vital intensity on the mind, affording a secure retreat to the tortured conscience.
Such an arrangement also would often fail to meet the yearnings of the Christian heart. The sympathy of the true Christian is as deep and far-reaching as human suffering. Neither one, nor two, nor three tenths, would be regarded as sufficient on particular emergencies. Such was the case with the Macedonians of whom Paul says, "That in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy, and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, 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." The Christian king of the Friendly Islands felt the same burstings of a Christian heart. The missionary says of him: "He had not often gold or silver to give. But one time he had obtained ten pounds from the ship for food he had sold. How much do you think he gave to the missionary society? One pound? Five pounds? This would have been a great deal. But he did more; he gave the whole!"
It would not meet the requisitions of the command, "Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself." Would an Irish lord, amidst the scenes recently experienced in his unhappy country, surrounded by hundreds and thousands of miserable beings, starving, sick, and dying, be justified in view of this law, by contributing to their relief a bare tenth of his income? Every noble heart will answer in the negative. These times of agony demanded far greater sacrifices.
Thus all efforts to fix upon a definite ratio of income or property of universal obligation, will give constant ground for questions of casuistry inevitably tending rather to screen the conscience, than to stimulate to generous activity.
But what does the Gospel teach us on the subject? The religion of the Gospel begins in the heart. "Son, give me the heart," is its fundamental precept. In the Gospel scheme, every individual stands by himself, on his own responsibility; he is bound by a personal tie to his Maker. The conduct it prescribes is entirely spiritual. It requires a burning heart, shedding its light and heat on all around. According to its code, every act must gush from holy love. It does not prescribe just the amount of action to be put forth, in any one direction; but the heart and conscience of each, guided by wisdom from above, are to direct him. It is thus with Angels and the redeemed about the throne. A holy heart, bathed in the truth of heaven, is all the general rule they need to enable them to discharge their duties, and to adapt themselves to the various circumstances in which they may be placed to eternity. Such is their moral state, that the least intimation of Jehovah's will sends them speeding on wings of fire to do his pleasure. The Gospel places man on earth in the same relation to him, and intends that he shall act on the same general principles. It teaches us that all we have belongs to God, and that all we do must be done to his glory. A soul, permeated by this heavenly spirit, would find a knowledge of the destitution and woes of others, and an ability to relieve them, a sufficient stimulant and guide. Angel-like, it would send forth spontaneously the felicitating streams which the Gospel appoints.
This is the source and spirit of all Gospel benevolence. Says Paul, "Every man according as he purposeth" (desireth or chooseth) "in his heart, so let him give." There is to be no constraint. The working of individual good-will is to be the measure of individual bounty; for "God loveth a cheerful giver."*[This principle does not apply to the support of a pastor. Paul does not put charity and the support of the pastor on the same ground. Compare 2 Cor. Viii. and ix. With 1 Cor. ix. Other elements come in, modifying the result in the latter case. 1. The idea of wages. 2. The idea of copartnership. Each member of the church, on principles of common honesty, is bound to bear his share of the common expenses.] But though no given proportion of property is definitely enjoined, there are certain general principles laid down, by which we may make approximations towards a proportionate amount, and never be at a loss respecting individual gifts in specific instances when the heart is right. The following are such.
The great truth that God has a supreme and inalienable right in us and in all that we possess. "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of Hosts." "For every beast of the field is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills." "Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine."—The injunction to dedicate ourselves to God. "I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."—The requirement to love God and his cause and interest more devotedly than the dearest worldly possession. "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." "Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath cannot be my disciple."—The command to love our neighbor as ourselves; that we are to supply his necessities, and relieve his sufferings, so far as lies in our power, with the same willingness that we do our own.—The intimation that our gifts should be such as to call into exercise our faith and self-denial. The poor widow cast into the treasury of the Lord "all that she had, even all her living;" with which generous sacrifice Christ was well pleased; and Paul commends the Macedonian Christians, because they gave not only according to their power, but beyond their power.— The promises to the benevolent. "The liberal soul shall be made fat." "He that watereth shall be watered himself." "It is more blessed to give than to receive."—The duty of imitating Christ, who "suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in his steps;" that we should "walk even as he also walked."
Also, the very large amount of their income, (which has been estimated at not less than one fifth) required of the Jews to be given for the support of religion, and in charity, was intended to convey to us similar instruction. For though the law of tithes or double tithes is not binding upon us, the great sacrifices which they were required to make, are designed to have a moral influence on succeeding generations. It is not the idle record of a bygone race, or of a dispensation that has vanished away; it utters a voice to us; it is the living exemplification of a principle which we are bound to adopt. If even the poor among the Jews could give so much, the poor can still give bountifully in proportion to their means,—and, were they disposed, how profusely might the rich lavish their munificence. With the fact before us of the great sacrifices the Jews were commanded to make for the support of religion in their own narrow bounds; when we consider the breadth of the field we are called to cultivate,—the spiritual necessities of the perishing millions of our race, the opportunities to reach them, the worth of the undying soul, the revenue of glory its salvation will yield the Saviour, what sacrifices ought the poor, at the present day, to make in their penury, and the rich in their abundance, to promote the glory of Christ in the salvation of souls; and how terrible the doom of those who refuse.
These principles, requisitions, promises, and examples, show us that our sacrifices should be great, and the amount of our contributions large, when either the worldly or spiritual necessities of others demand our aid; while they leave the treasuries of benevolence to be filled by the spontaneous flow of each individual soul.
The desire, therefore, to fasten on the consciences of men the obligation to contribute periodically a certain portion of their income or property, as universally binding, is not to be gratified by arguments drawn either from reason or revelation. We may resort to no artificial means. We may trust in no machinery which does not work and glow with the living fires of the heart. Love, conscience, and reason, must be the originating and guiding forces. We must fall back upon, and confide in, these vital principles of holy conduct. First the heart, and then the act, is the Gospel scheme, and we may not reverse the process. To attempt it, and to say, "What we seek in a system of beneficence, is not a benevolent heart, but benevolent actions;" is to come in open collision with the spirit of the Gospel. It is apparently a lurking disposition to induce men to discharge the duties of beneficence, without laying their hearts on the altar of God, and keeping them perpetually burning there; whereas Christ requires the heart, and the heart always; and then that conduct which inevitably bursts from a consecrated soul. As Paul says of the Macedonian Christians, "They first gave their own selves to the Lord;" and then their wealth, to be used as he should direct.
Indeed, the process necessarily gone through in determining, from general principles, the particular amount it becomes our duty individually to bestow in charity, Christ evidently intended should be a means of moral discipline, which we cannot safely dispense with. Its influence, though not generally realized, is far-reaching, almost magical. It strengthens the intellect, elevates to a noble independence and disinterestedness of feeling, gives stability to character and energy to purpose, leading on to thoroughness of self-inspection, earnestness of investigation as to the personal claims of God, and childlike simplicity in submitting to their authority. Just glance at its workings in the present instance. As Christ has told us, in order to know his doctrine we must do his will, so in order to ascertain the exact sum we are to contribute in benevolence, we must cherish a heart in sympathy with his own. Holy love must perpetually glow in our bosoms; otherwise, we shall sometimes fail in the correctness of our conclusions. Thus the first impulse of benevolent feelings puts us in the way to increase them; for every desire to give must be attended with a scrutinizing estimate of our motives, and a constant struggle with selfishness, lest the latter gain the ascendency, and mar the beauty of the deed. The legitimate result of the process, therefore, is a deep and watchful piety; while the works of beneficence, thus determined, never degenerate into superstition or self-righteousness; and its obligations will seize at once and unrelaxingly the conscience of all.
The conclusion, therefore, at which we arrive touching the amount of our charities is this: it should be such as our means, a distinct knowledge of the wants of others, and a heart of overflowing love, shall prescribe; leaving each one to his own solemn convictions of duty, amenable to the bar of God.
But it may be objected, if beneficence is thus left without the specification of some stated amount, selfish, or but partially sanctified men, will not give as liberally as they ought. Perhaps they will not. But all we can so is to press on their attention the commands of Jehovah, and the claims of a dying world—claims, as strong and affecting as those which brought the Saviour from the throne to the cross; and telling them what the Apostle, enforcing also sparingly; "and he who soweth bountifully, shall reap also bountifully," leave them to settle the matter of their covetousness with their Final Judge. We may pray and weep over them; but we may use no efforts to move a single individual from that moral basis—his own conscience—on which God has placed him. Here he must stand; and here we must be willing he should stand; while he himself is under infinite obligation to lay bare his bosom to the energizing influences of truth, and cheerfully yield to its sway.
2. How frequently should stated contributions be made?
System implies order, regularity. Systematic beneficence implies regularity of contributions, or of stated periods for appropriating property to the Lord. In regard to the frequency of these statedly recurring periods, there are different opinions. Owing to the variety, extent, and complexity of men's avocations, some find it convenient to make consecrations accurately proportionate to prosperity, much more frequently than others. Hence some advocate the weekly period, some the monthly, while others plead for still longer intervals. Indeed, to fix upon a definite rule of universal application determining the frequency of periodical contributions, will be found nearly as difficult as to ascertain the precise ratio of property to be bestowed. There are, however, certain leading principles, which, if contemplated with rectitude of heart, will enable us to please God by the wisdom of our benefactions, no less in this respect than the last.
1st. As a stepping-stone to a series of more important considerations, showing that these periods of consecrations should very frequently recur, I remark that most may set apart some portion of income without inconvenience as often at least as capital or labor makes returns. These are the occasions when Providence pours his treasures into our bosoms; when alone we can determine precisely how the Lord has prospered us, and consequently how much we are able to bestow. Hence if no designations of income to charity have been previously made, or if they have not been sufficiently large, these opportunities of coming to some definite decision with reference to the proportion of the bounties of Providence we shall devote to purposes of beneficence, may not be passed over; and the consecration, not to say the disbursement, should be made immediately, while the idea that our possession are from God is fresh in our minds, and before selfishness shall seize them as her own. Procrastination is often but giving heed to her treacherous voice, and ere we are aware, she carries us captive. As we receive our increase from the hand of God, like faithful stewards, we should set apart the portion belonging to others without delay. To indulge ourselves by holding them up before us, and doating upon them as our own, will but inflame our covetousness; and we shall be tempted to rob the needy of their portion. This is not hypothesis; facts prove that money is contributed far more cheerfully when in a loose state than after it becomes fixed property. This rule, directing frequency of consecrations, conforming itself to individual circumstances, is oppressive to none.
But the capital of some makes returns only once a year; of others, only once in a series of years. To such this rule can be by no means applicable; for the wants and sufferings of those whom God has made it our duty to relieve, often demand far more frequent distributions; while, in a variety of instances, it calls into exercise our benevolence too rarely to suppress the selfish tendencies of the heart,—a point, which, in rearing a system of beneficence, may never be overlooked. Other principles must therefore be noticed.
2d. Our contributions should be so frequent as will tend to repress the selfish, and keep alive the benevolent affections. We should give so frequently as to impress and nurture the conviction that we were made not only for ourselves, but for others; and that the noblest use of property is its distribution to the needy. This conviction it is difficult to engender, and harder to keep alive, but it is best produced and quickened to energy by frequently engaging in the duties of charity. Benevolence, to become strong, must be cultivated; and it is so much of an exotic in the human breast, that it needs the most earnest and assiduous care; while selfishness, such is its strength and tenacity of life, can be deadened and kept in abeyance only by repeated and vigorous assaults. As a general rule, that system, as to frequency, should be chosen, which comes most strongly in collision, and wrestles most powerfully with the selfishness of the heart. Some, I know, would deal gently with this obnoxious principle; rather humor than goad it; and on this ground urge the importance of frequent, and, of course, small contributions, which will scarcely be felt; maintaining that on the whole a larger amount will be collected. But I would not urge frequency of donations on this account. I would advocate benevolence only on those principles which will give it life and vigor for eternity. The Bible says nothing about humoring the selfishness of the heart, of adopting plans of beneficence that will be scarcely felt. Its language is, "Crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts." It directs us to die unto sin or self. It makes no compromise with covetousness. It bids us not rock it to sleep, but slay it. Let every one then stand up in the lofty sternness of his spirit, and adopt that system as to frequency in giving, which, other things being equal, is most crucifying to the carnal heart.
But a system of almost continued contributions will not be peculiarly crossing to our avaricious desires, if trifling sums are given, or those greatly disproportionate to property. In this case, selfishness, instead of being disturbed, may be rather cajoled into a species of benevolence; though a species as sickly and unsubstantial as the vine that grows amid the damps of a vault, never aspiring to heaven as the place of its nativity. But when the sums are so large as to demand personal sacrifice, the self-appropriating principle feels it keenly. The uninterrupted repetition of such gifts is a continued draught on its life-blood. Its remains even in the Christian's breast are galled and lacerated by the repeated attacks, and sometimes writhe as in "the dying strife." Especially is this the case with one who has amassed his property by almost daily additions;—by sums, perhaps, smaller in amount than those which the calls of humanity now claim almost as frequently at his hand. He sees his wealth going nearly the same way in which he acquired it, and he feels that its very pillars are giving way. Thus frequency in contributions, if sufficiently large, is usually most crossing to selfishness, and most destructive to avarice; and as a system of beneficence is instituted mainly to combat these evil principles, we should allow but short intervals between our deeds of charity.
3d. We should give so frequently as to form a habit of giving. Jeremiah says, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil." This shows the susceptibility of our natures to the formation of habits; and their controlling power over us. The injunction of Solomon, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it," is founded on the same mental tendency. Habit, indeed, governs half the world; it is like a self-moving machine, when once started, continuing, of its own accord, in the same direction and with the same velocity. Let one accustom himself to harden his heart in view of genuine objects of sympathy, and it will be exceedingly difficult to unlock his bosom to the loudest calls of benevolence. On the contrary, he, who accustoms himself to spend his money as fast as he acquires it, will never be likely to hoard for future supplies. A habit of giving would follow the same law, and greatly assist us in the duties of charity. But infrequency of beneficence, giving only once in six months or a year, or at irregular intervals, will never form an efficient habit of giving. It must be a regular and oft-repeated act; for it is a frequency of the same acts in succession alone, which creates habit. Our benevolence, therefore, should go forth in reiterated acts, like the monthly, flowering and shedding its fragrance as regularly as its seasons recur. The spirit of benevolence must thus be wrought into the very texture of our being; so that we shall move forward, scattering our alms about us as naturally as we perform the common duties of life. This thought is of immense importance to the young, and to those engaged in the pursuits of wealth. For the latter, especially, from the very nature of their employments, and their necessary trains of thought, are inevitably acquiring habits of accumulation; and, unless counteracting habits of benevolence are also acquired, their desires of gain will assume the tyrant, and the Divine curse, threatened against the covetous, will rest upon them forever. They are hanging over an abyss, and their only safety, under God, is in winding around their hearts the iron cords of habit in beneficence, and, therefore, in giving frequently.
4th. The Scriptures favor the idea of frequency in giving. Christ says, "Give to him that asketh of thee." The duty of charity is here clearly founded on our calls and ability. But in this world, where we have the poor always with us, calls on our benevolence cannot be otherwise than frequent. Again Christ says, "Freely ye have received, freely give." We frequently receive, we should therefore frequently give. Paul directs the Corinthian Christians, "Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store as God has prospered him." This suggestion of the Apostle may probably be adopted a general rule by a majority of Christians at the present day; and every one should make it a matter of solemn consideration and earnest prayer whether it is not his individual duty; for all must conform to it in spirit. But without maintaining that every one, under whatever circumstances, is required to lay by something weekly for charitable purposes, the principle here taught us most unequivocally binds us to great frequency of stated contributions. From this decision of the Holy Spirit, according, as it does, with the teachings of reason, there can be no appeal.
5th. The experience of practical men, as to the best means of acquiring property, evinces the same principle. The experience of the world on this point has been embodied in maxims such as these: "Take care of your cents, and dollars will take care of themselves;" "Save your ninepences," &c. Men of wealth have often remarked that they acquired their property by frequently storing away small sums as they could spare them. I knew a man lay up several dollars by making it a rule to put into a bag kept for the purpose, every fifty cent piece that came into his possession. We have here the development of a principle in accumulating a fund to meet the contingencies of life. We may apply it to benevolence, and take men of business and opulence on their own ground. If this principle will fill one's own treasuries, it will fill the treasuries of the Lord. Let it then be regarded. I would sound it in the ears of the million who are delving the earth for gold, and startle them from their delusive dreams. I would that it might echo and re-echo till its solemn utterances should make every votary of Mammon tremble. Hear, ye rich men; give ear, ye who are pursuing the bubbles of wealth! is it christian, is it right, to adopt principles of prudence and self-denial in filling your own coffers, while you refuse to act upon the same principles in replenishing the streams of mercy? No. Conscience and God answer, No. The perishing heathen, the dying pillow, the judgment-seat, the wailings of hell, all answer, No.
Then let every one, whether indigent or affluent, frequently lay by in store sums for charity as God shall prosper him, though they are but small; and let him do it with the same whole-heartedness, earnestness, and perseverance, as he would to increase his own wealth; and rarely will he be unable to relieve the cries of misery. He will have no occasion to offer the excuse, "I have no change." He will have dollars in store. The history of benevolence proves this. I have know a sabbath-school class, by each member's giving 10, 15, or 25 cents a month, contribute an amount during the year, which previously they would have thought impossible to raise. This is only one instance among a thousand. Let the principle be acted upon; a trial is easy. Scriptures and reason cannot both be wrong.
But how shall these frequent contributions be made by those whose capital yields returns only at long intervals? According to the proverb, "Where there's a will, there's a way"—it can be either actually or virtually done.
1st. By saving expenses. Water, running into a vessel no faster at a given orifice than it flows out at another, will retain a constant level; and if with the same influx we would have it issue at a higher orifice, we have only to stop or lessen the lower one. Thus, if we would have our possessions rise to the giving point, we have only to stop the leakage—check expenses. This hint may be of service to the poor, and not inappropriate to the rich. Many expend their ready money as rapidly as they receive it; making their calculations to do so; and thus, during the interval between one return of capital and another, plead their inability to meet the frequent calls of benevolence. But is this a valid excuse? Could they not be met by sacrificing some social pleasure, some luxury in drink, in food, in dress, in furniture, in display? or by foregoing some convenience, the expense of which is equivalent to the pledged sum? Vast multitudes are deprived of these luxuries, and even of what we deem necessaries, during their whole lives; and cannot we forego the gratification of them occasionally, that we may thereby relieve the suffering, or save the deathless soul? True, this will require self-denial; but has not God demanded of us self-denial? Dare any one offer this as an excuse?
2. Every on engaged in regular business knows, or ought to know, what, taking one year with another, have been the annual proceeds of his labor or investment. Now, on the supposition that the Lord will prosper him as heretofore, he can form some reasonable estimate of the amount, (extraordinaries excepted) which he ought to contribute to charitable purposes weekly or monthly during the period his capital is making another revolution. This amount may be appropriated in actual donations by most business men, as they usually have more or less loose money on hand. By those who cannot do this, it may be charged in a book kept for the purpose at the close of each week or specified period for appropriation—"one, five, ten, or fifty dollars due to charity,"—and on the return of their capital, pay this debt as conscientiously as they pay any other. Then, if on the reception of their entire product, they find they have not given as much as the claims of the destitute demand, they can easily make up the deficit. This scheme will of course call into exercise our faith; for it is acting on the belief that the Wise Disposer of events will be as merciful to us in the future, as he has been in the past. But ought not his past goodness to strengthen our confidence in his willingness to continue that goodness? Christ requires us to live by faith on him, and ought we not to give by faith on him? To refuse to exercise this faith in the circumstances, partakes of ingratitude. Besides, to decline making any, or but such appropriations as are exceedingly disproportionate to our property, until we have actually received the return of our investments, is to act on the principle, that we will not give to others until we are certain how much God will bestow upon us; in other words, that we will not trust him,—whose loving-kindness, as the brightest star of our destiny, has shone upon us in darkness and storm,—for a single blessing which is not actually in our hands. Must not such conduct be exceedingly provoking to Unwearied Love?
Or this process of previous consecrations may be varied thus. The proportion consecrated may be a certain ratio of income fixed on a sliding scale, on the principle that the greater the profits, the greater the proportion which me be spared. For instance, on the first day of each week, or month, or quarter, or year, one may consecrate a certain proportion of his profits of that week, month, quarter, or year to the Lord, say five, eight, or ten per cent., in case they rise to a specified amount; and if they rise to a certain sum beyond this, he may fix upon a still greater proportion, say twelve or fifteen per cent.; if they rise to an amount still higher, the proportion appropriated may be still larger, say eighteen or twenty per cent., so that his benefactions to the destitute shall be in some degree commensurate to the goodness of the Lord to him.
In these last suggestions, a vital principle in systematic beneficence is developed, which challenges our special attention. It is, the duty of making provision for the dissemination of charity previous to the reception of our income. This is a point of immense importance, and may by no means be overlooked; though it is a point which Christians have too much lost sight of. They have been awake neither to the enjoyment nor obligations growing out of it. It is time that its solemn utterances should pierce the heart, and arouse the conscience of every follower of the Lamb, and startle him from his slumbers. They should reverberate through every dwelling in Zion. It is a principle of universal application. All, whether rich or poor, should make it an abiding rule of conduct. There is no difficulty in the way. While, of course, the rich should fix upon a higher proportion of income than the indigent, each one can decide upon some percentage adapted to his peculiar circumstances, and at stated periods lay up in store as the Lord prospers him. Every one, as St. Paul clearly taught the Corinthians, should have "a savings-bank" for charity.
The results of this principle would indeed be most happy, on whatever ground the previous arrangements should be made. In the first place, it would greatly increase the sum total of our contributions to the Lord. It would be acting on an acknowledged maxim in the acquisition of wealth. We know if we have a debt of ten dollars, an hundred dollars, or any sum within our possible ability to pay, the money will be by some means obtained; whereas, otherwise it will be extremely liable to be consumed in the ordinary flow of expenses. Thriving men, sometimes on this principle, keep constantly a little debt by the purchase of valuable property, knowing that it will stimulate their industry and frugality to meet the anticipated payment. Here men are not afraid to trust the past goodness of the Lord; why will they not be equally wise and confiding in the godlike work of benevolence?
It would also deepen our sense of personal devotement to Christ; leading us constantly to feel that our minds employed in planning, and our hands engaged in labor, are the Lord's, and must be used in his service. It would likewise promote the ease and cheerfulness with which our appropriations would be made, and materially enhance our enjoyment, in a work which, though self-denying, brings us into intimate fellowship and cooperation with our blessed Lord. Even when engaged in our most ordinary avocations, it would induce the impression that we are laboring for Christ as well as for ourselves; and thus procuring the means of extending the glorious gospel, whose precious promises are our daily support and joy, and which opens to our view, beyond the skies, the crown and the harp, with which we hope to bow before the throne, when our bodies are crumbling in the grave. What greater happiness can the Christian experience on earth than the continued consciousness of co-working with his Saviour in diffusing through the world these richest enjoyments of our being, and kindling anthems whose enrapturing notes shall never falter?
Thus, if we would make antecedent provisions for charity; if we would exercise suitable self-denial, forethought, and confidence in God; if we would contrive as earnestly to save something for munificence, as we do to hoard, our sources of charity would be replenished; we should seldom be unable to make, at frequently recurring periods, either actual or pledged appropriations, and be happy in our work.
An Inference.—If that degree of frequency should be adopted which is best calculated to curb the selfish inclinations, then the more deeply we are engaged in worldly pursuits,—the stronger and more riotous the avaricious desires become, the oftener should the appointed period of our benefactions recur; and not only so, but the greater the necessity that our gifts be commensurate with our means; for otherwise, although we may give frequently, and perhaps congratulate ourselves on our generous liberality, the curse of God may be hanging over us for our parsimony.
We are now prepared to present in detail that general system of beneficence, demanded alike by Scripture and reason, and best fitted to secure permanent and ever-growing results.
While universal, it must be a system in its nature adapted to each individual, and binding on the individual conscience; one founded on, and embracing, the entire man,—his reason, his heart and will, including views and principles, feelings and affections, with their inculcation, general purposes and resolutions, with corresponding action. The tree must be symmetrical from its roots to its topmost bough. Beneficence may not stand alone; it must spring out of a consistent character, must be a branch of activity, harmonizing with other shoots from the common stock. Else, it will be like a verdant twig on a rotten trunk, growing up amid broken and withered limbs, the sighing monitors of its own decay.
Some, I know, would advocate a system of beneficent actions without the heart; others would direct it merely to one or a few favorite objects. But these are views neither broad nor deep enough. It is grafting consistency on inconsistency. True benevolence is a spirit of universality, and hence, of harmony, gushing forth in streams numerous as our relations. No reason can be assigned why one should contribute of his property to save the souls of others, while he neglects his own; or spend his substance for the spiritual benefit of those at a distance, while he neither puts forth personal efforts, nor manifests a holy example, to rescue perishing immortals immediately around him. A system thus partial has a worm at the root; its protecting shadow will be as transient as Jonah's gourd.
I. There must be a system of intellectual views, and a harmonizing train of desires and affections flowing naturally from them.
I will, therefore, present a series of principles, sentiments, and obligations, which, by being lodged in the intellect, and quickened by the Spirit, warm the heart, and awaken appropriate feelings; thus forming not only the basis, but a constituent part, of an efficient system of benevolence.
I would premise, however, that these intellectual views may also be regarded as inducements to munificence, and thus to the adoption of an individual system, fitted to each one's peculiar relations; for they will thus operate from the nature of the case; the very object of fastening them systematically in the understanding being, that penetrating to the heart, and binding themselves on the conscience, they may lead on to rational activity.
1. We should bear in mind that we were not made for ourselves, but for the service of God. Let the truth, "Thou art God's," be written with fire on the heart, as well as its legitimate consequence, that all that appertains to our being is his;—our strength, our health, our powers of reason and love, our capacities of acquisition, our property, our time, our all, so that its thrilling accents, "All that thou hast is God's," will ring in our ears at every turn. As Jehovah created us for himself, has preserved us for himself, and redeemed us for himself, we ought at once to acknowledge his claim and devote ourselves to his service. This self-surrender is the true foundation of all giving to the Lord. Any system of beneficence not built on this must crumble. Giving one's self is an earnest and pledge that everything else will be given; on the contrary, while self is withheld, there is no warrant that our possessions will be yielded, much less that God will accept the offering. But self being surrendered, all is virtually conveyed over to the Lord and sealed forever his.
2. That all right feeling is feeling as God does in the same circumstances, and in respect to the same objects. There must be a holy sympathy of soul with him,—a oneness of affection, of desire, of will, of purpose. We must feel concerning ourselves as God does, who desires to see our hearts burning with the same hallowed love that fills his own. We must feel concerning sinners as the Father does, "who so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life;"—as the Son, who exchanged the abodes of peace for the abasement of flesh and the agonies of the cross;—as the Holy Ghost, who is willing to dwell in our polluted hearts, consuming the dross with his own vital energies. We must imitate the angels, who, sympathizing with the Triune Jehovah, strike their lyres with new and more rapturous hallelujahs at the repentance of the returning sinner. No other feelings in kind or strength, in proportion to our capacities, are right feelings. The sacrifices of Christ were, indeed, stupendous; but we must be willing to make as disinterested sacrifices for a perishing world; else we are not in sympathy with our crucified Lord. Let us often visit the scenes of his sufferings, hear the groans of Gethsemane, and witness the blood and agony of the cross, and there learn what it means to have the same mind "which was also in Christ Jesus." Let us make this love the great standard of feeling and action, and cultivate the habit of trying ourselves by this, and this alone; inquiring daily, "Oh, am I benevolent as Christ?" "Do I sympathize with him over a ruined world?"
3. That God created us to occupy a position near himself. As all our springs are in him, communion with him was to be our life and joy. We were to be full of God; to see him everywhere and in everything, and to value nothing only as the work of his power, the fruit of his love, or as showing forth his praise. We were to dwell so far up the mount, that earthly objects would appear insignificant; approach continually its lofty summit, till our views of the world and the glory of it should harmonize with God's views of them; for not only were our feelings to accord with Jehovah's; but also our sentiments concerning sublunary things were to be in unison with his own. So familiar were we to be with the glories of our spiritual existence; our tastes and moral sensibilities were designed, by intercourse with Infinite Purity, to become so elevated and refined, that the glitterings of gold, and the fascinations of wealth, would fail to charm. Our home was to be so near the throne, that its light would perpetually shine in upon our souls; its spirit always bathe our spirits; so that seraph-like, possessing the benevolence of heaven, we should breathe the love of heaven on all around.
4. That merely becoming rich is not the great object for which we were sent into the world. Man's being aims at a higher goal. This is a point which should be distinctly understood; and to bring out the thought clearly, I will make two distinctions. 1. The very obvious difference between benevolence and indifference to property or its acquisition. Benevolence means "wishing well," and beneficence "doing well," to others. Benevolence, then, bears no resemblance to undervaluing money. I know that the gentleman who used to skip his silver dollars on the fair bosom of the Connecticut for the amusement of his friends, and he who freely tosses around the social glass to his boon companions, may be pronounced generous fellows. But such may be as entirely destitute of all true benevolence as the most determined miser, and, what is more deplorable, as offensive to Infinite Love. Property is God's gift, and he does not require us to undervalue his gifts, but to use them with his own good-will to men. To be willing that our labor or capital should be unproductive is no indication of a faithful steward. 2. There is a difference between the design of becoming rich, and that of acquiring property. The latter, under certain restrictions, is a duty incumbent on all. One may have a peculiar talent in this direction;—a turn for business, a sagacity to lay plans, to foresee the favorable changes in the commercial world, and all that shrewdness so essential to success in the career of opulence. It is an endowment of heaven, and should be used in such a way as heaven will approve. While regulated strictly by the principles of Revelation, it should be employed in the acquisition of property, as a means of usefulness. But it is a common opinion, that money may be made solely for the sake of accumulation. Parents instil the idea into the minds of children, so that they grow up with the conviction, that the great end of life is the procuring of wealth. Implanted in the tender mind, and nurtured with its strength, it assumes the tenacity of a first principle. But it is altogether erroneous. It is the product of the selfish heart. No sentiment is more fertile in covetousness, or more blighting to that generous humanity, which it is the first object of the Christian to cherish. It is a sentiment grovelling in its tendency, bowing multitudes, it is feared, even of professedly good men, to a species of slavery, over which devils smile, and angels weep; knowing that it obstructs the flow of thousands into the treasury of the Lord. A sentiment so hurtful should be eradicated from the public mind. It should be discarded from the individual breast. The toils of pecuniary gain must be pervaded by a loftier motive. It should be sought, not as a gratification to avarice; but, in the fear of the Lord, by industry, by economy, by frugality, by forecast, by the most profitable investments of capital, and with a heart full of mercy, as an instrument to enlighten the ignorant, and relieve the sorrows of human-kind. This idea has not taken so firm a hold of the christian public as its importance deserves. How useful might some, who have little talent either for learning or public speaking, become, would they disinterestedly devote their lives to the acquisition of money for purposes of beneficence. Wealth, pursued with this spirit, will never beget avaricious desires, and thus acquired, will be a treasury of blessings to multitudes here, and a source of enjoyment to the pious owner forever. Its worth will survive the grave. Let it be an abiding thought—money may be invested where it will yield an eternally increasing revenue.
5. That in laying our pecuniary plans, we should be governed by a single view to the glory of God. The plans we adopt must be chosen because, in our deliberate judgment, we can do more to advance Christ's interests by prosecuting them than in any other way. Every act sustains relations of moral influence. Every kind of business or method of carrying it on, has certain relations which will modify its results, and, perhaps, its moral bearings, either on own usefulness, or the spiritual well-being of the community at large. Now we are bound to engage in that business, and adopt those schemes, whose results, considering these wide-spreading relations, will be most favorable to the kingdom of Christ. If we lay our plans recklessly, without regard to their moral tendencies, or shrink from these moral discriminations respecting them, we evince anything but a will in harmony with the Divine will. I know some fondly cherish the opinion, that their sagacity or peculiar tact for money-making at least is their own; and that they may employ it in devising such pecuniary schemes as they please, provided they are strictly honest, and do not interfere with the privileges of others. But this is not true. This reference to the Divine glory sheds the sunshine of heaven over all our employments, and must be the guiding principle of all our enterprises. It is also indispensable to any sustained system of munificence. If our schemes have ultimate reference to self, we shall be likely to use their proceeds as selfishness shall dictate; whereas, if our plans are laid with a view to the honor of God, we shall be disposed to use their results for the promotion of the same great end. This is a truth of incalculable importance to our present subject. It should be bound to the conscience of every Christian, and burn there with such intensity that it can never be forgotten.
6. That God made us to be almoners of his bounty to others. Reciprocity is the pillar of every social system; it is of the human family. This principle was practically developed in Eden. On this ground, Paul argued that there should be equality between those who are in want and those who have abundance. (3 Cor. viii. 14.) Every man was designed to stand like a conductor of the electric fluid, to convey the influences of heaven to those around him. Our Creator has made the duty of benevolence as obligatory as that of justice. One is as much bound to help other, and thus, unless in very extreme cases, to contribute of his substance for the benefit of the needy, as to be honest. When, therefore, we pass a portion of the good things of life to others as they are conveyed to us, we are fulfilling the great end of our social being; when we grudgingly retain it, we are defeating that end. This sentiment must be riveted in our minds. It is a hard lesson for selfish men to receive; yet it must be learnt. It is indeed the noblest idea of our natures; the link that unites us to purer intelligences.
7. A lively remembrance of the Source of our blessings; realizing that they are all streams from the Father of mercies. Had he been other than Jehovah, they would long ere this have been stayed. For how have we sinned, and forfeited every claim to good; and yet he has continued to uphold and refresh us. We have repeated the sin, and under aggravated form,—abused his bounties, despised his Son, grieved his Spirit, disregarded his warnings, and slighted his entreaties; and still his blessings have continued to flow as if nothing could provoke him to withhold them. What unutterable goodness! What exhaustless mercy! Surely the gifts of such mercy should be devoted to the works of mercy; and how more appropriately than in aid of that wondrous scheme which the agonized Jesus died to accomplish? While we enjoy our blessings, let us turn our eyes upward to the overflowing Source, and while we gaze, let the streams of gratitude gush forth. As we have freely received, freely let us give.
8. The importance of praying over the gifts of Providence, and the varied calls of charity. As the reception of our income should be one of the special occasions of consecrating a portion to the Lord, so in the gladness of the moment of its reception, we should make it our rule to decide as to the amount to be thus consecrated on our knees before God. Also, when the claims of the destitute are presented, let the amount of our contributions be fixed upon so far as practicable in the same way; determining, at whatever sacrifice to our own feelings, to give just what God requires. Prayer, while a privilege at all times of doubt and perplexity, is a special duty on such occasions;—first, because, when alone with the Searcher of hearts, brought up, as it were, into the full blaze of his presence, our consciences will be quickened, and speak truthfully; while the humble attitude of the suppliant is peculiarly fitted to inspire gratitude, and render it effective;— secondly, because such are hours of special temptations; the adversary of all good and our wicked hearts combining their efforts to prevent a generous liberality; and there is great danger that selfishness, rather than mercy, will gain the ascendency, and, under artful guises, control our determinations;—thirdly, because our decisions on such occasions are some of the most influential in their consequences, both upon ourselves and others, which we are ever called to make in the common routine of duties. Take a simple instance. The question whether we give to the Bible Society one dollar or ten, fifteen dollars or twenty-five, is virtually whether we will send forth for the enlightening and felicitating of this dark and wretched world, four or forty, sixty or a hundred, volumes of the Word of Life. And when, aside from all the distorting and hardening influences exerted on our own moral natures by a grudging refusal to meet the calls of benevolence, we consider the civil and social melioration which has attended the pathway of this heavenly light, together with its refining and sanctifying influences of the individual soul; when we stretch our thoughts into the eternal world, and catch the songs of joy, unuttered and unutterable by mortal tongues, which will thrill forever the souls of the redeemed, what acts of life can the thoughtful mind contemplate, demanding more solemn consideration, more fervent prayer, than such decisions?
Thus the practice of coming to our determinations of charity with prayer, a practice involving, as it does, both mental and moral principles of the first importance, and even leading on to interminable consequences, may not be neglected. We should cultivate, therefore, a docile temper, a simple, child-like spirit towards Christ. We should cherish such vital nearness to our Lord, that we may commune as freely with him as friend communes with friend; feeling that we can and would do nothing, even in the common affairs of life, without his aid and guidance. It is said of a lady in one of our cities, whom an intimate acquaintance urged to spend a few days with her in the country, that she replied, "I should like to, but I don't know, it may not be best;" and added with great simplicity, and in agreement with the spirit of her life, "I will go and ask my Saviour." Thus, on the reception of worldly treasures, or in determining beforehand what proportion of our expected increase we shall appropriate to the Lord, we should go to Jesus with the same sweet simplicity and earnestness, crying, "Lord, what proportion of these thy bounties shall I share with the destitute?" failing not to devote that portion which our consciences, enlightened by scripture, shall dictate when kneeling before the mercy-seat.
9. The responsibility of maintaining a healthful and enlightened conscience in respect to benevolence. The Bible is the great teacher and rectifier of the conscience. We must in the first place, then, take fair, impartial, disinterested views of all the precepts, examples, promises, and teachings of the Scriptures on this point. We must investigate them thoroughly, and be sure that we obtain precisely the mind of the Spirit. Dim or distorted views either cripple the springs of action, or give them wrong direction. True, the scriptural standard towers high, and shines brightly. Some would obscure its brightness; would wrest those passages most vividly presenting it; would convince themselves that so great sacrifices as some, in their zeal, have prescribed, are not required; that we are permitted to enjoy our own interests, and, to a great extent, seek our own happiness; and if we barely obey the suggestions of natural sympathy, and manifest common generosity, it is enough. They would bring down this exalted standard to our own diminutive stature, so that we can measure ourselves by it without inconvenience. But all such efforts are high-handed rebellion, and will prove utterly vain. God has placed it on a pedestal high as the eternal throne, and there it will stand and burn forever. We must bind our consciences to this standard; they must rise to its height, and shine with its radiance. If to our selfish hearts it appear a blood-stained cross, we must nail them to it, and let them bleed and agonize there. To gratify our selfish desires, God will never lower his claims. We must come up to them. If unwilling to do it in time, we shall meet them in all their solemn realities at the final bar; if we have been obedient, there receiving the smile of our Judge; if not, his everlasting frown.
Secondly, we should keep ourselves informed of the spiritual wants of our race. Every one is bound to be in earnest in this work. He should strive to enstamp on his heart a full-drawn image of the world scathed by sin. We should realize how great a portion of our globe is yet untouched by the vivifying light of the Cross; that the desolating systems of idolatry, of Mohammedism, of Romanism, and other false religions, are now overshadowing and blasting the nations. We should search for distinct knowledge of the intellectual degradation, of the moral corruption, of the oppression, wretchedness, and woe, of the groans uttered, and the tears shed, by the millions now subject to their galling sway, "as for hid treasures." Ignorance on these topics, at the present day, cannot be excusable. The organs of the various benevolent societies come weekly or monthly to our doors, detailing scenes of sottish ignorance, of pollutions and misery, which cause philanthropy to weep. They are indeed distressing to the feeling heart; and I have sometimes thought there were those, who shrink from the affecting view of a world ravaged, enslaved, and tortured by sin, lest it should work too strongly on their sympathies, and thus forcing the guards of covetousness, open their treasures against their more settled purposes; while others have been too heartless in their investigations. But this is treason to the Divine government; it is an unwillingness to know exactly our relations, and thus the claims of the human family on our regards. Such treachery and indifference cannot go unpunished. Did Christ shrink from contemplating the loathsomeness and woe of our outcast race? He not only contemplated, he shared our sorrows. Let every one then survey the world as it is, and let its appalling scenes glare on his conscience.
In the third place, we should hold up before our minds striking examples of benevolence. God has raised up some with great hearts, who have given bountifully in proportion to their means, to promote his cause. Such were the poor widow, who gave "all that she had," the Macedonian Christians, whose liberality exceeded their means, and the King of the Friendly Islands already mentioned. Such was the late Mr. Goodell of Vermont, who, with a house and farm not estimated at over $1,000, contrived by labor, frugality, and self-denial, to pour his hundreds and tens of hundreds into the treasury of the Lord. Such were the late Mr. Smith of Hartford and Mr. Cobb of Boston, "the sweet savor" of whose names awakens the kindliest associations, and whom God sustained, made cheerful and happy in all their sacrifices for him. Such was the aged African of Jamaica. He had earned, while a slave, ninety-six dollars. Being afterward emancipated, he came to the missionary, and offered the whole for the service of Christ; and when told it was too much, replied, with the most generous devotion, "No, I want to give it all." Such was the poor colored woman, who, while she had no dependence for support but the labor of her hands, gave $60 at one time to educate pious young men for the Gospel ministry. "When she offered the above sum, the agent refused to receive it all, until pressed by the humble donor, who said that she had reserved five dollars; and that she hoped to earn enough to provide for her wants in her last sickness, and for her funeral." This is said to be but a specimen of her liberality; and her hopes in regard to her earthly wants were not disappointed.
Perhaps in the small circle of our personal acquaintance, we can number some few, who, with souls more elevated and spiritually refined by grace, have bestowed in benefactions all their income; peradventure, even common farmers and mechanics—such as have fallen under the notice of the writer—who, after frugally supplying the wants of their families, have generously given the remaining proceeds of their labor to the Lord.
On these, and such as these, we should fix our eyes; they are stars of the first magnitude which God has fixed in the dark canopy of time as guides. We may not be able to give as they did; but the sacrifices they made, we can and ought to make. If we seek to ward off the force of their example by arguing that they gave too much, or by referring at once to professedly good men who have given far less, we may reasonably conclude that covetousness is still grasping and palsying our christian sympathies. Such efforts are clearly but the struggles of selfishness, to ease the conscience of the dart. For, from such generous deeds, the voice does, and will come inevitably, "Go, and do likewise."
10. The felicity of beneficence. That "it is more blessed to give than to receive," is the voice of inspiration. Jehovah's felicity flows mainly from that fundamental element of his being, disinterested or holy love, and its infinitely diversified and glorious workings. He created us in his own image; and when this love has possession of our hearts, and our conduct is in obedience to its laws, the mental machine works in harmony, and the result is enjoyment; but when the opposite principle controls, its movements are obstructed, and the result is sorrow. It is a law of our being, as fixed as the ordinances of heaven, that we drink the richest draughts when holding the cup of enjoyment to another's lips. Happiness eludes the grasp of the pursuer; while like a flower that sheds its sweetest fragrance when crushed, only tread it under foot in the eager pursuit of another's good, and its subtle influence vibrates through all our frame. The blessedness of self-denying efforts for the salvation of souls cannot be estimated. It is god-like; it is harmonizing with our dying Lord; co-working with him in carrying out the redemptive scheme; wakening a joy which the harps of eternity alone can utter. "They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars forever and ever." What a revenue of glory will forever flow into the enraptured souls of such men as Baxter and Doddridge, and Swartz and Martyn, and Goodell and Norman Smith, as they cast their crowns at the feet of the Saviour; for it is the highest fruition of the redeemed that all their glory is ultimately Christ's. Who, as he contemplates the perpetually increasing joy and brightening exaltation of a soul restored to the image of God, becoming through unnumbered years more and more assimilated to its glorious Head, would not participate in a work so transporting in its results? Perhaps you have had some feeble conception of its blessedness, some half-waking desires to become a standard-bearer in the hottest of the fight with the foes of God,—a minister or missionary of the Cross, so as to labor more efficiently in saving souls. But in your circumstances you find it an idle wish. Do you hence smother these kindling emotions and fold your hands in despair? The Gospel may be preached by your alms. There are many links in the chain of influences which God employs in rescuing sinners from death; and one of the most effectual at the present period, is the bestowment of funds to send forth the heralds of salvation. These desires, therefore, that feebly burn in your breast, may be gratified. In an important sense, you may preach the unsearchable riches of Christ to the nations, thereby becoming a coadjutor in a work, the sublimest of heaven and the most felicitating to man. This is an interesting truth. Let it blaze quenchlessly before the mind, warming the heart to mercy.
11. The sin and danger of covetousness. Covetousness is unlikeness to God, to our compassionate Saviour, to the blessed spirits before the throne, whose only symphonies are love. When indulged, the frown of the holy universe is fastened upon us. It is violating the laws of our mental frame,—an instrument so exquisitely attuned that the slightest vibration of its delicate chords awakens notes of joy or wailings of sorrow; and it thus becomes the source of irritation and remorse here, and of disquieting premonitions of the most appalling woes in the world to come. Hear what God hath spoken: "But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not be once named among you. For no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you; for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience." This is terrible language, and explicit as terrible. According to the plainest principles of interpretation, covetousness is here put in the same category with some of the worst vices that degrade man and provoke the wrath of heaven. Indeed, if benevolence is required equally with justice, then covetousness is as distinctly a violation of the divine law as injustice; and he who hoards as the expense of the suffering poor, is as guilty in the sight of God as he who rifles another's goods. And is it strange that he who nurtures a principle thus pernicious in its tendencies, should be excluded from heaven? No. Let us not flatter ourselves; we cannot indulge in covetousness without imminent peril. Who will dare thus offend his gracious Sovereign, and incur his wrath? Let this bright, but awful truth, flash in our faces, deterring us from the fearful sin, and inducing a sleepless vigilance over our selfish propensities, lest they grow with our growth, and strengthen with our increasing wealth.