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That none are to be considered as real saints, except those who have a disposition to pity and relieve their afflicted fellow-creatures, the Scriptures are extremely plain. For thus it is written, " The righteous sheweth mercy and giveth—He is ever merciful and lendeth-He hath dispersed abroad and given to the poor-He that honoureth God, bath mercy on the poor—The righteous giveth and spareth not-He judgeth the cause of the poor and needy: then it was well with him. Was not this to know me, saith the Lord ?-Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy-He shall bave judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy-What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and 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-Whoso hath this world's goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?'
In that anticipated and august description which our Lord gives of the judicial process at the day of universal audit-a description of that approaching event, more particular than any other in the volume of revelation-he informs us, that the final sentence will then pass, according as his professed followers have been of a merciful spirit and practice, or the reverse ;-consequently, that all pretences to faith in him, and love to his cause, are entirely vain, if not connected with such a temper and conduct.
None, however, will suppose me to maintain, that real Christians have no tiņcture of a contrary disposition; or that they never act inconsistently with a merciful turn of heart. But we may safely affirm, notwithstanding, that every thing in us which belongs to genuine Christianity has this tendency, and operates in this way. Nor is there a true believer upon earth, who is not so far under the influence of such a spirit, that he may be denominated from it, as being his just character. We have, therefore, no authority from our Lord to encourage persons of a contrary character to consider themselves as converted, because they can give a plausible narrative of their illuminations and comforts. For, in so doing, they would oppose their own wisdom to the revealed will of Christ; and form a conclusion against that very rule, by which Jesus has declared all men should know his disciples.
Some professors of evangelical truth place vital religion so much in transient illuminations and impressions, especially if they occur in such or such a particular order, and so little in the habitual temper and spirit of which persons are; that they greatly deform the religion of Jesus, and represent Christianity in a very different light from that in which it is exhibited by the inspired writers. The New Testament knows nothing of real Christians, that are habitually of a selfish, envious, and contentious temper. Scarcely any character can be invented, the leading ideas in which are more heterogeneous, discordant, and unsociable, than those of a covetous, hard-hearted, high-spirited, or spiteful, true Christian. The character of professors must be appreciated by rules ; not rules diluted to suit professors : otherwise we shall make the word of God of no effect. Allowances, indeed, must be made for natural tempers; but not such allowances as would imply, that persons who, in their native dispositions, were wolves and serpents, are now real believers, though there be no evidence of a great and remarkable alteration having taken place in the spirit of their minds. For the alteration produced by real conversion, is commonly the most evident with reference to that very evil, on account of which the convert was previously the most notorious. Nor is divine grace less adapted to subdue such evil tempers, than it is to deliver from profligate sensuality.*
To manifest a conscientious and merciful regard to the poor, in their affictions and sorrows, is indeed of present advantage to him that shows it. Because it is hardly possible for a Christian, in easy circumstances, and in the enjoyment of health, to visit the afflicted poor, without being impressively reminded of his own dependance upon Providence, and of the uncertainty attending all temporal enjoyments; of his approaching dissolution, and of his obligations to 'gratitude for the various blessings with which he is indulged, but of which the indigent patient is destitute. Now these are edifying thoughts, which may do him good, and richly repay his trilling labour of love. Besides, it should never be forgotten, that beneficence of this kind to a brother in the faith, is considered by Jesus, the final Judge, as
* See President Edwards's Treatise on Relig. Affect. part iïi.
exercised toward himself; and will be regarded by him, as before observed, in the great day of account. I was hungry, and ye gave me meat--I was sick, and ye visited me.
The tables of wealthy professors are frequently furnished with plenty of delicate and costly food for the entertainment of those who can make a return in kind; but how seldom do they make a feast for the poor?' How few are disposed to imitate the example of Sir Matthew Hale? of whom his biographer says, “As he never went to public feasts, so he gave no entertainments but to the poor. He followed our Saviour's direction of feasting none but these, literally.*_An eminent theological author, when adverting to this particular duty, says, 'Most men, in their feasting and entertainments, walk in direct conteinpt of the rules which our Saviour gives in that case, and yet approve themselves therein.'' Yes, the command of Christ is reversed ; and his order is treated, either as if he never meant any thing by the precept, relating to this affair; or as if it had long ago spent all its force, and were become entirely obsolete.
Though I do not consider the divine mandate under our notice, as absolutely forbidding a professed follower of the lowly Jesus entertaining any of his rich relatives, or wealthy neighbours, who are able to return the favour; yet it evidently prohibits those frequent and expensive entertainments with which the affluent mutually treat one another, to the
* New and General Biographical Dictionary, Vol. vii. Article HALE.
+ Luke xiv. 12, 13, 14. Dr. Owen on Spiritual-Mindedness, chap. xi. P. 192.
entire exclusion of the poor, the wasting of their substance, and the hindering of their liberality where it is really wanted: in doing of which, they principally gratify their own pride and luxury. Such have their honour and reward one from another: and it is all they shall receive for the sumptuous elegance, and the diversified expense of their tables. -In opposition to this, our Lord requires, when we make a feast, that the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind, be invited; not merely to partake of the offals, but that as guests they may sit at the table, and share of the entertainment. As, from persons of this description, we can expect no returns of worldly honour, or of reward, so Jesus assures us, that we shall be fully recompensed at the resurrection of the righteous. But alas, how few there are whose costly entertainments have the least connexion with a gracious and everlasting reward!
There is another article of christian duty, and of a kind, that ought not here to be overlooked. It respects that familiarity of intercourse which, on many occasions, the wealthy disciple of our condescending Lord should have with his poor brother. • Those of high degree,' says a worthy author, 'are usually encompassed with so many circumstances of distance, that they know not how to break through them unto that familiarity of love, that ought to be among believers. But--we all serve the same common Lord and Master; who, when he was rich, for our sakes became poor: and if we, for his sake, lay not aside the consideration of all our riches, with that distance of mind and conversation from the poorest saints, (we do not act agreeably to the character of] his disciples. I speak not now of the