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But it may bc questioned, whether they are capable of so universal an application. Some of these persons, and the number is not small, are unable to labour; and are yet without friends or home. To wander, seems necessary for the preservation of their health, and even of their lives. It is not true of all of them, that they are vicious, nor that vice has been the means of reducing them to their present sufferings. I know of no evangelical principle, which warrants us to leave them to perish, or to refuse the proper means of alleviating their distresses.
We commanded you, says St. Paul to the Thessalonians, that if any would not work neither should he eut. But it will not be supposed, that the Apostle intended to include in this prohibition those who are unable to work, many of whom are found in this class of the indigent. To these, subsistence, comforts, medicines, and whatever kind offices are necessary, cannot be denied. Were no person suffered to wander in this manner, but such as I have described, probably objections never would have been started against admitting them within the pale of charity.
As to the really idle and vicious members, of which almost the whole of this class is apparently composed, it is in my opinion the duty of every government to force them, by every vindicable and necessary measure, to labour for their own subsistence.
Individuals are often unable to distinguish among the wandering applicants for charity, which are proper objects of their bounty. In this uncertainty, it seems to be a good rule to relieve the distresses occasioned by hunger and nakedness, wherever we cannot satisfactorily prove imposition on the part of the applicant. Money is given to such persons, when given at all, without answering any valuable end.
Concerning the administration of charity to sufferers of every other description, there will be no dispute.
Among these, those whom Providence has stationed in our own neighbourhood scem, in ordinary cases, to have superior claims for relief upon us for three reasons; viz. that it is in our power to do them more good than we can do to others, because they are within our reach; that the poor who are at a distance from us will find other benefactors in their vicinity; and that, if we do not take a charitable care of those who surround us, they will ordinarily be without relief. It may be generally said, that Providence has placed them under our eye for the very purpose of awakening our beneficence towards them; and has thus, in a manner which may be called express, required this service at our hands.
A distinction ought to be made among these, on the score of that modesty which prevents some of them from soliciting benefactions, and even from making known their sufferings; on account of the industry and faithfulness, with which some of them labour, amid many discouragements, to supply their own wants; as well as with regard to the uprightness of their dispositions and the blamelessness of their lives. All these are obvious recommendations to evangelical charity. We are to do good unto all men as we have opportunity, but especially to them who are of the household of faith. The poor and suffering, who belong to this household, have the first of all claims to the good which we are able to do. To relieve the distresses of these men, when the relief springs from the spirit of the Gospel, is conduct so excellent, that, as Christ has expressly informed us, he will remember and distinguish it at the final day, and will regard the charity as being administered to Himself.
Universally, the better the character of the sufferer, the higher will be his claims upon us for our beneficence.
III. I will now endeavour to point out the Manner in which this duly should be performed.
Concerning this subject I observe,
1. Our beneficence should obviously be such as lo answer the end which is proposed.
The sufferings of this world are almost endlessly diversified. The modes of administering charity ought plainly to be varied, so as to suit the varieties of distress. A large proportion of the cvils of life arise from want. The communication of property, in some degree, and form, or other, is the proper means of removing those which belong to this class. Others are derived from sickness, pain, lisgrace, the loss of friends, the want of friends, the want of encouragement in the business of life; osten from the fact that we are strangers ; often from unkindness, contempt, and contumely, often from ignorance, want of advice; and from very many other sources. There are also distresses merely of a moral
nature, such as spring from unhappy errors concerning the doctrines and duties of religion, from ignorance of the way of salvation, from spiritual prejudices, from stupidity, from temptations, and universally from sin in all its forms and degrees. Now it is evident, that very different modes of relief must be applied to these numerous and diversified cases of suffering. That mode only is of any value, which is fitted to accomplish the end. To employ ourselves in giving grave advice to a person famishing with hunger, would be not merely idle but ludicrous; and to offer food to a person labouring under the pangs of a broken heart, would be a specimen of folly equally contemptible.
2. Our charity should be administered in such a degree as actually to accomplish the end.
It is not enough to mitigate a calamity, when it is in our power to remove it; to assuage a disease, when we are able to complete the cure; to give advice or consolation to a youth whose spirits are sinking for want of employment, when it is in our power to put him into useful business ; to pity a backsliding Chris. tian, when we are able to restore him to his duty, to pray for the conversion of the heathen, when we can send them the Word of God and missionaries to preach it. Particularly, it is never enough to expend our benevolence to the distressed in talking, however wisely, however affectionately, however evangelically, concerning their sufferings and the proper means of relieving them; or in breathing sighs, or shedding tears, or uttering good wishes over their distresses. If a brother or sister be naked, or destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding, ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Nothing is more absurd, nothing is more contemptible, than the charity which evaporates in words and wishes.
3. It is our duly, so far as it is in our power, to relieve greater distresses in preference to those which are small.
The smaller sufferings of those around us, are by no means to be neglected; and they have this recommendation to our particular attention, that we can almost always relieve them, when such as are greater may demand efforts beyond the limits of our ability. When this is not the case, a greater suffering prefers a proportionally stronger claim to our charitable exertions.
4. When we have objects of charity in our neighbourhood for whose relief we propose to contribute with regularity, it is ordinarily better to furnish them with a Considerable Sum at once, than to communicate to them the same aid in a number of smaller sums.
Small sums are not only of little value in reality; but are usually regarded, especially by persons of this class, as being still less valuable. Improvidence is almost always a prominent feature in the character of those, who permanently need charity. They neither have a just sense of the value of property, nor just apprehensions of the modes in which it may be laid out in the best manner. Little sums will in their view be incapable of answering any important purpose; and they rarely think of hoard. ing them, until the accumulation shall become considerable. They will therefore, usually expend them on objects of small consequence even to themselves. On the contrary, if the bestower will become their treasurer and accumulate for them, and thus convert the shillings, which he might otherwise distribute, into a single benefaction of a guinea ; they would rarely, probably never, break so considerable a sum for any of those trifling objects upon which the shillings separately given would all have been expended.
It will commonly add much to the benefit of such a distribution, if it should also be made at stated and expected times, so that the object of the beneficence might calculate beforehand. In this case, he would on the one hand, endeavour to supply his intermediate wants, and on the other, would regularly fix upon an important purpose for which the expected benefaction would be laid out. In this manner they will learn to overcome their own want of economy, and acquire a degree of prudence in the management of their pecuniary concerns, to which otherwise they would be strangers through life.
5. The best mode of communicating pecuniary assistance lo such sufferers, as have sufficient health and capacity, is to Employ them.
By this I intend, that we should furnish them with such means and such directions, as may be necessary to enable them to earn so much of their subsistence, as can be brought within their reach
by their own industry. Most of the poor'would choose to support themselves, if it were in their power. He, who puts it in their power, delivers them from the painful consciousness of being burdensome to others ; places them in a degree of independence, which is rationally pleasant; and in many instances, enables them ultimately to earn more than a mere subsistence; and thus teaches them in the only effectual manner how to provide for themselves. In addition to all this, he brings them within the pale of character and reputation, and renders them useful to themselves and to mankind. In this particular, men of active and extensive business, are furnished by Providence with peculiar advantages for becoming important benefactors to mankind as well as to individuals.
6. Our beneficence is often rendered to others much more usefully by Personal Exertions in their behalf, than by mere contribution of money.
There are innumerable cases of suffering, of which property cannot become the relief. Of this nature, are those of sickness, pain, sorrow, disgrace, decrepitude, friendlessness, the necessity of countenance, a broken heart, and all that variety of anguish of spirit which respects our salvation. In all these, and in many other cases, the kindness needed is not pecuniary bounty, but those good offices which are suited to the nature of the suffering. Very many persons, perhaps almost all those who are in easy circumstances, much more willingly contribute their property than their personal services. To give a small sum of money, is often considered as an easy piece of self-denial ; when a personal effort is regarded as a serious sacrifice.
But it is to no purpose to contribute money for the relief of distress, where we know that it will not produce the relief. The duty demanded by our circumstances, the benefit needed by those whom we profess to befriend, is always that, of course, which will effectuate relief for the calamity actually endured. Every thing else, here, is comparatively of no value.
Let it also be remembered, that the benefit communicated in these cases, by our good offices, is real, while that intended, by our bounty, is imaginary; and that, in proportion to the selfdenial which our kindness may demand, will be the amiableness Vol. IV.