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FIRST, Because it is best to give, while we have opportunity and ability fo to do, both which may fail us afterwards, although we have them at present. We may be surprized by sudden death, and so deprived of the opportunity of doing the good we had designed; and likewise of the reward thereof, if our delay in so doing proceed from any unwillingness to the duty, as probably enough it did. And then again, we know not how our eltates may vary, what changes may possibly come upon us, and therefore 'tis prudent to do good, while it is in the power of our hand to do it.
But, secondly, Another reason that may press the quick and speedy relief of those who want, is, that the delay of so doing, continues them under their fears and griefs, their wants and miseries; and it must be a mighty cause, which can excuse the delay of relief in this case, and much more justify it. And therefore, the longer we needlesly delay to relieve them, after we are convinced; or may be so, if we please, of their necessity, the more we shall expose our felves, to be answerable for what they suffer in the mean time; and let it be remembred, that God who will be the Judge both of their necessities and our charity, knows the hearts of men, and all the several shifts and fallacies, whereby they are wont to deceive themselves in the delays of doing good.
II. I am now to explain the true meaning of this particular caution, of not doing our alms before men, to be seen of them. And this will best be done, by considering; (1.) How, or in what manner, we must give our alms. (2.) With what designs or ends.
(1.) I shall begin with the first; how, or in what manner, we must give our alms. Sometimes it must be done with all the privacy that is pofli
ble, and that both for their fakes to whom we give, and for our own likewise. For their fakes, in compliance with their modesty and reputation (especially, when they are such, whose quality and education has been above the common rank) left we do a prejudice to their credit, while we do a charity to their persons, and spoil the comfort which our gift would afford them, by mingling a disgrace with it, and make our bounty a reproach, and upbraid the poverty we relieved: So also, we must give with as much secrecy as we can, for our own Jakes, as well as theirs ; 'left we do, or feem to do as the Pharisees did, found a trumpet before our alms, and give to serve our own glory, not the necessities of our neighbour ;' give to feed our own vanity, and not the hunger of those that want ; for while men labour thus to magnify their liberality in the eyes of men, they lessen it in the eyes of God; not but that sometimes it must be done publickly, as when the example may have great influence upon others in drawing them in, to give more largely, to the greater benefit and advantage of the poor; as is the case of subscriptions to charitable uses, money given at the facrament, collections for briefs, and the like. Befide, publick charities are, generally speaking, of greater use than private, as extending farther, and may be done without offence against our Saviour's caution. For it is not the doing them openly, but doing them with a vain-glorious purpose to be seen of men, that renders our alms defective in God's esteem. And therefore, those who excuse themfelves from publick almf-giving, under a pretence that they should not do it openly, are guilty either of a great prevarication, or mighty weakness ; either perverting or mistaking the true delign of this paragraph of our Saviour's fermon, which brings me to the
(2.) SE(2.) Second point; with what designs, or for what ends, we must bestow our alms; and these are in short to honour God, to do good unto our neighbour, and to lay up treasure for our selves in heaven.
The first thing to be propounded to our selves in this duty, is, the glory and honour of God, who takes that as given to himself, which we give to the poor, with regard to him, and in obedience to his laws. This is evident, by the whole tenour of our Saviour's discourse in the twenty fifth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel. I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye
cloathed me, &c. Verily I say unto you, in as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. He looks upon himself, as * honoured with our substance, and with the first-fruits of our encrease ; when tho we cannot now, as the Jews did of old, express that honour, in facrificing the best of our herds, and flocks before his altar, as free-will offerings, in acknowledgment of his goodness to us, we freely and generously relieve the poor, out of our estates, and make the same acknowledgments to him, by honouring them as his receivers. For even, while those very rites were both accepted and required, this duty of honouring God by almf-giving was so much more acceptable, that it was preferred before them. Mercy was always esteem'd by God, as better than facrifice. He needs not any thing from his creatures, the world is his, and the cattle upon a thousand hills, and therefore what he requires from us in honour of him, is to communicate of the plenty he has given us to those that want. To do good and to communicate, forget not; for with such facrifices God is well pleased. accidental, and for want of an honest principle, the reward is loft. So says our Saviour, Ye have your reward; that is, ye have the praise of men indeed, (which is all ye aim at) but it is in vain for you to hope for any reward hereafter.
* Prov. iii. 9.
| Heb. xiii. 16.
The next design or end we ought to have in alms-giving, is, to do good to the receiver, a thing moft necessary in this duty, to render it pleasing either to God or men; for even men are not pleased with what we give, unless it apparently proceed from kindness to them: be the gift it self never so beneficial to them, they cannot think themselves obliged to the giver, if therein he aimed at his own credit and reputation, or other private interests, and gave not out of any prevailing tenderness for them. And in God's esteem, who eyes and values the hearts of men in all their actions, and never accepts of any thing as good, which flows not from a good disposition; mercy and compassion are altogether necessary in all our alms-giving. St. Paul, when he says, * Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing; implies, that it is poslible for a man to give all his goods away to charitable uses, and yet to have nothing in him of the principle, or grace of charity: For as he may perform the outward act of humility out of pride and ambition, to gain the applause of men ; so doubtless, he may the outward acts of beneficence to the poor, out of a principle of oftentation, and vain-glory, so get
the credit, without either the desire or care of doing good, though it may also have this effect, and be a real advantage to those to whom he gives. Now fuch a charity, as well as such an humility, springing only from pride and oftentation, is merely mechanical and material; but has nothing of the subftance of true virtue in it. Self-love, and not compassion to others, is at the bottom of it; and therefore, whatsoever good it does, that good is
But yet, notwithstanding all the kindness and compassion that is required, to purify our intention in the charities we bestow, thus far it is lawful to mind our selves, and to consider our own advantage, as well as others, in this duty. We may justly hope to be rewarded by God for it, and very lawfully do the duty, with an eye, or respect to this reward. God hath promised to reward it, * He that seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. Charge them who are rich in this world, says St. Paul, that they be ready to give, and glad to distribute, laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may attain eternal life. And certainly it is very lawful to act in hope of God's promises, and use the rewards therein promised, as a motive to discharge the duty, elle were these promises not only useless, but even a snare and temptation to us.
From these points well considered, we may have fufficient knowledge of what our Saviour would have us to avoid, or do, design, or not design, in the performance of this first great duty of almfgiving