The Parochial System (Wilberforce, 1838)/Section 3
THE MEASURE OF LIBERALITY AND SELF-DENIAL, DEMANDED BY THE PRINCIPLES OF THE GOSPEL.
So great are the blessings which may reasonably be expected from the complete restoration of our parochial system, that we must prepare ourselves to hear men stigmatize the project itself as visionary and utopian. It is thus that we often reconcile ourselves to leave a great and good work unattempted. We acknowledge its greatness, not that we may gather to it all our force, but that we may discharge ourselves from the necessity of making an effort. And we must expect accordingly that men will reply to the proposals contained in the last section, that great blessings indeed might be expected if our whole land were divided into parishes of a moderate size, and if every such parish were provided with its church and its resident minister, and with the necessary institutions for the education of the young, the instruction of the ignorant, and the relief of the poor; but that, as it is hopeless that such provision should ever be made, we must content ourselves with other expedients. They will admit that some new churches ought to be built, that some enormous parishes ought to be divided, but they will denounce it as visionary, to propose operations so vast as are requisite for the full of the parochial system; and therefore they have recourse to other measures more or less beneficial and expedient, but which must ever be wholly insufficient to remedy the evil.
And is this really the case? Is it hopeless that we should carry out a series of measures which would secure a blessing, and must we content ourselves to abandon the mass of our city population to the powers of darkness, and seek only to snatch from them one here and another there? God forbid! It were indeed visionary to imagine that by any measures we could provide that all men should with a true and sincere zeal discharge their several duties. No system will make every Christian or every Clergyman a man of faith and prayer, of self-denial and patient obedience; for the evil ever were and ever will be "mingled with the good," until the coming of the Lord to judgment. But although men will ever remain fallen and inconsistent, and in every branch of the Church there will be many unworthy members, it is possible that systems may be ever approximating towards perfection; and the attempt to bring them continually nearer to it, instead of being visionary or utopian, results from a wise practical sense of human frailty and imperfection. If men were such as they should be, we might take less pains in regulating things by the best systems. Were every man endued with those wonderful powers of calculation which have occasionally existed, systems of arithmetic would be almost superseded; and so too were every minister of the Gospel a Paul or an Apollos, rules and superintendence might perhaps be dispensed with; or, were all supplied with prodigious animal strength and energy, we might leave our parishes much larger than has been proposed, and trust that they would receive all necessary care and attention. But it is because men are what they are; because the spirit itself is bowed down with infirmity, and liable to the temptations of humanity, to remissness and weariness and faintings; and because even where the spirit is willing the flesh is weak; that we are of necessity compelled so to order matters as no longer to impose upon them an amount of labour, which their moral and physical powers are alike unable to support.
And why should we despair of effecting so necessary a work? Is it that men will not labour for the good of their brethren? No; for in every quarter of our land energy is displayed in abundance, whenever a work of charity calls it forth. Is it that they are unwilling to conform their labours to the rules of the Church, and to carry out and realize the parochial system? Rather, when fairly appealed to, the laity have been found eager to take their proper place, as assistants to the ministers of God's word, in their blessed work. What then is the hopeless obstacle? It is the expense. And yet it is not that we want wealth amply sufficient; for herein God has blessed us beyond the example of any former age. It is, that (in the opinion of the objectors) men will not give what is required, though they have it. It is admitted that thousands, yea hundreds of thousands of our countrymen are perishing around us—men united to us by every tie, who speak the same language, are sprung from the same ancestors, many of whom have actually fought with us and for us against our common enemy—who live under the same laws with ourselves, and are liable to punishment if they invade our security or property, whose labour we are daily using for our necessities, our comforts, our luxuries, "without whom our cities could not be inhabited." These men are perishing for ever on every side; we acknowledge that the evil admits of a remedy, that the remedy is in our own power: and shall we indeed think it visionary to hope that it will be applied? The question is (in a few words) whether or not we will be a Christian land—whether we will give up part of our money for the cause of Christ, or will give up Christ for our money. God and Mammon we cannot serve. Long ago we were warned of the impossibility; and now the choice is offered to us whom we will serve; whether we will make our nation an excellency upon the earth, a joy of many generations; by taking God at His word, receiving in faith what He has spoken, and giving liberally to Him of our worldly substance; or whether we will cast His words behind us, and trust to our silver and gold for our private and national prosperity.
And is it visionary to expect that men will awake to a sense of such responsibility, of interests so enormous? Surely although man's corruption be strong, and although the world has mighty power, yet the commands, and the promise, and the grace of God, are mightier, and must prevail. When He gave the word, the barren rock opened and sent forth streams for the thirst of His people; and the power of that word is not diminished, that it should not work marvels now as of old. For moral miracles the time is never past. Neither is it a new or unexampled work of grace for which we ask: we have but to pray with the prophet, "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of old;" for our faith and hope have the encouragement of experience, the experience of ages, to the power of the grace of God. Let us look through our own favoured land, and where does the eye not meet the parish church, and all the blessed associations which float around it? And once these were not. Even if it should be thought that we still need as many churches as already exist; the demand is only, that in an age of unexampled wealth and luxury, men should give to God as their fathers did out of their poverty. Let us then take courage by the past, and address ourselves to our own portion of the work; thankful that God has accounted us, as well as them, worthy to be partakers of its blessedness.
But when we find men hesitating, and doubting what ought to be done, it can hardly be questioned that they have estimated their actual duties and responsibilities by a defective rule. We have not, indeed, laid aside the Christian name; nay, we have hundreds and thousands among us to whom that name is dearer than "father or mother, brother or sister, wife or children, houses or lands;" (God forbid that it should be otherwise; or what would save our guilty land from the fate of Sodom?) and yet can we believe that even they have sufficiently considered their actual position and its duties; that they have devoted to this great work such a measure of their substance, their time, their talents, and their influence; as the exigency of the case requires, and the commands of God, and the love of Christ, and the rewards of heaven, ought to have engrossed?
The amount of liberality which satisfies the conscience of the mass of worthy and respectable men, may easily be estimated. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. We need not inquire how great a man's private and secret alms may be, when he tells us the standard at which he aims. Men too often fall short of their acknowledged principles, but seldom habitually live above them. And we cannot mingle extensively in the society even of religious men, without perceiving that it is their principle that men should give to God and the poor, as much as they can afford. It is held to be a sufficient reason for withholding our hand, that we have already given according to this measure. In one sense, of course, the rule is both rational and Christian. No man should give that which is not in equity his own—that which belongs to his creditors, or is necessary for the due support of his dependants or family; and if the words were commonly used in this sense, all would be well; but the fact is in general far otherwise. Men mean not, they cannot give more without encroaching upon other duties, and disregarding the claims of justice and equity, but that if they did, they would themselves feel the want of that with which they parted. Their pleasures, their appearance and equipage, their amusements, must undergo some diminution; if they devoted more to God. In other words, it is their avowed principle, that the measure of a man's charity ought to be, that which he can give without self-denial, without any sensible curtailment of his own personal ease and comfort and pleasure. The majority of men accordingly proportion their establishment and expenditure to their income; and when any urgent call is made for some contribution either to the bodily or spiritual wants of their brethren, they measure their bounty by the surplus which happens to remain. Or if, with greater forethought, they apportion beforehand a certain sum to meet these calls, yet the proportion is determined on the same principle—it is that which remains when other things have been provided for. It is one of the contingencies which swell their yearly expenditure, rather than an integral and considerable part of the whole.
That this is no unjust account of the standard of duty recognized by the majority of orderly, respectable, and even religious men, is (as has been observed) but too certainly proved by their ordinary conversation; there are however other indications which confirm the judgment. How often, for instance, when some reduction of expenditure appears to be necessary, does that reduction begin in an abridgment of accustomed charities. The saving is in general extremely small, but the principle betrayed is momentous. For in these cases a man's attention is first directed to his least necessary expenses, to those which have hitherto been continued, chiefly because there was no great reason against them, to the mere ornaments and superfluities in which wealth has naturally tempted him to indulge. If then his economy begins with a diminution of his offerings to God and to the poor, it is because he refers them to this head.
It is another unhealthy symptom, that so few considerable works of piety or charity are undertaken among us, except by some numerous society. Innumerable small contributions unite to swell the income of these associations to a mighty tide which seems to carry all before it: and this is well; may their funds increase fourfold, how great soever they be. Yet even here is an indication of the same mistaken principle. It has become a common argument, in behalf of our religious societies, that they ask of each a sum so small that he will never miss it. And accordingly, men whose income is counted by thousands, content both themselves and those who solicit their aid, when they give one or two or five guineas yearly to an association, which contemplates objects no less affecting and important than the momentous interests of eternity. They give professedly that which costs them nothing; and then account themselves charitable. While then we rejoice in the prosperity of these institutions, while we acknowledge with gratitude to God the blessing which has often attended their labours, and while we see their use in calling the poorest to take a part in great and glorious deeds; (for the poor would otherwise be excluded; and to them there is no danger, for their least contribution, if it be "two mites," must be the fruit of sacrifice and self denial,) we must not shut our eyes to the fact, that the subscription lists of our societies both indicate and encourage the opinion, that a man does enough when he gives that of which he does not feel the want. Because a mighty river results from the union of innumerable drops, therefore is it deemed enough that each should afford but a drop out of the abundance wherewith God has caused his cup to overflow. Far nobler and more Christian was the temper of those ages, when these societies indeed, of which we boast so loudly, were unknown; but when innumerable and most costly works arose, each as the spontaneous offspring of some high mind, the fruit of individual love, and gratitude, and self-denial.
A more miserable developement of the same vicious principle, is presented by our charity sales, and charity amusements. These are devices to effect the great results which are the natural fruit of genuine self-denying Christian beneficence, by means of our meagre and niggard rule of giving that which we shall never miss. As if to ensure the absence of self-denial, and to poison more thoroughly the very fountains of charity, we must be bribed to give to God even that which we do not want. We have ceased to give for the love of Christ, that we may learn, even in devoting our substance to His Church and to the poor, to be influenced by the love of worldly pleasure.
And yet one step farther have we gone. Having established the principle that charity consists in giving without self-denial, without sparing anything which we want; and finding after all our expedients, that such a principle will not supply all that is wanted; we have now set ourselves to devise methods of serving God without any expense on our part at all. No sooner are the urgent needs of their poor neighbours pleaded, than men meet them, not with liberal, large-hearted, self-denying donations of that which is their own; but with sordid, grovelling, debasing calculations, how the evil may be remedied by new-modelling one fund, and creating a surplus in another, and appropriating a third. Insomuch that now it is scarcely proposed or even treated as conceivable, that existing evils should be remedied at our cost; but when they have become intolerable, they are to be met by laying our hands on the gifts devoted by our ancestors to some other work of piety or charity. Such is the result of giving only what we can afford; such is the fruit of our maxims; they end in sacrilege. We must overthrow the foundations made by our fathers at their own cost, for which they toiled and laboured and denied themselves; because there are other good works to be done now, and we do not choose to sacrifice anything for their accomplishment. We have suffered a half-heathen population to arise among us, for want of churches and parochial endowments, and we hope to remedy the evil, by violating the sanctity of those other endowments whereby men who had carefully provided churches and ministers for every portion of the existing population, went on to secure the perpetual daily intercessions of the cathedrals, and the maintenance of a learned clergy, who, secluded from the cares of a parish might be, and have often been, the defenders of sound doctrine and the champions of the Church. And again because numbers of our parochial endowments are miserably small, there are not wanting men, honest and respectable in other parts of their conduct, men too of whom we cannot but hope that they fear God, and desire his favour; who (having abundant wealth and opportunities of setting the example by augmenting one or more of these endowments, and securing at their own cost an adequate hire to one labourer or more,) have deliberately proposed plans for rectifying the abuse, by seizing, without colour of justice or equity, the funds solemnly devoted of old, not to the general purposes of the Church, but to the benefit of the other specified parishes, with which the donors were connected. They have thought it a sufficient defence of such schemes, that the funds on which they purpose to lay hands, are more liberal than appears necessary to the economists of our day. Nay, to crown the whole, such projects have often found favour with the very men who are actually holding and "nourishing their hearts" day by day upon the spoils of those parishes which they propose to indemnify at the expense of others.
Such have been the results of our measure of charity. By its fruits let it be known. Tried by this rule; can we think that we have even been desiring to reach the mark proposed to us by our Lord? What our aim ought to have been, must be determined by a more particular appeal to Holy Scripture.
And first:—What is the true nature of property? Let us hear the words of our Lord. "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return; and he called his ten servants, and delivered unto them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come.—And it came to pass that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be brought unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading." It need not be said, that although worldly property is not exclusively represented here, it is certainly one of those talents which we are thus to hold for a while, not as our own or given to us by God, as we are wont to say, but as His still, and only entrusted to our care and stewardship for a while, as part of our moral trial and discipline, to show whether we will be faithful to our trust or not. So that property ought not to be accounted a gift of God in the common sense of the word, but rather a species of office, with which some of His servants are put in charge, as others are entrusted with the ministry of the word, and others with political or sovereign power. And yet so it is, that while we see how awful it is for a bishop or a priest to regard his sacred office as given him for his own sake, and to employ it wholly or chiefly for his own advancement; and while we justly maintain that kings and rulers are but God's "ministers," and knowing that they are so, are bound "above all things to seek his honour and glory;" we have come to regard property as in some respect different, as something belonging of right to its owner, and with which he has a right to do what he will, without forfeiting his Christian character. And so long as a man gives some little portion to God, like a quit-rent in acknowledgment of an obsolete claim, we regard the remainder as fairly his own. Who would not be shocked to hear a bishop speak of his office, in the tone adopted, even by religious men, in speaking of their property, their money, their houses, and their lands?
One of the parables of our blessed Master has been cited; a like lesson is taught even more directly in that of the unjust steward. For in this instance, our Lord Himself specifically makes the application, and marks that it is worldly property which forms the subject of our stewardship. "I say unto you, make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye fail they may receive you into everlasting habitations. He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least, is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another's, who shall give you that which is your own." Can words more plainly describe the nature of worldly property in the sight of God. "The trust committed" to our "stewardship;" in the management of which "fidelity" is required, (not merely prudence or gratitude to the donor, as if it had become our own now that it is given,) which is still "another's, not our own;" and which we are to use "faithfully," in the hope of receiving hereafter "the true riches which shall be our own," even "an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away." Let us, then, carry with us this notion of a stewardship, to assist us in our inquiry as to the true measure of Christian bounty.
If property be a trust, then before we determine how it can be used faithfully, we must inquire, what are the terms of the trust-deed—for what purposes and objects we are trustees? The first question of a scrupulous mind, when it grasps the full magnitude of this thought, is, whether we are justified in using any property for ourselves, in having greater comforts than the poor around us, better houses, better clothing, better food, than the poor members of Christ's body who are the objects of our charity. For if we hold all that we have in trust, for our Lord, for them, and for ourselves, are we at liberty to spend more in providing for our own wants than for those of any other individual? Scripture enables us to answer the question. For if this were not allowable, there would no longer be any distinction of rich and poor among Christians, and property itself would be practically at an end. But our Lord has declared, that the poor shall be always with us, and so allows of such distinctions: and the practice alike of apostolic and of primitive times forms a comment upon his words. St. Paul certainly considered it no part of the Christian duty of Philemon to abandon the superiority of worldly position which he enjoyed; and when directing with the authority of inspiration, that every man should "abide in the same calling wherein he was called," he seems to sanction the gradations of society which have ever existed. The terms of our trust, then, as collected from God's word, (and the New Testament is no code of rules, but a law of liberty to be carefully studied, and sincerely loved and followed,) seems to be well summed up in the counsel of a great divine. "Whatsoever is superfluous in thy estate, is to be dispensed in alms. He that hath two coats must give to him that hath none; that is, he that hath beyond his need, must give that which is beyond it. Only among needs, we are to reckon not only what will support our life, but also what will maintain the decency of our estate and person; not only in present needs, but in all future necessities, and very probable contingencies, but no farther. We are not obliged beyond this." Thus then we must hold our property. But surely there is nothing in all this which authorizes us to spend it as we please; and it is the plain duty and wisdom of every man to whom any measure of it is intrusted, to sit down and count the cost; to estimate deliberately, after much consideration and earnest prayer, the proportions into which it ought to be divided; not to provide first for every thing else, and then to offer the remainder to his God and Saviour.
And that the measure thus devoted to God should be very much greater than we are ready to suppose, is no less certain. Let us hear the words of our Master. We are the disciples of the same Lord who said, to an innumerable multitude that followed Him, "If any man will come after 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. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after Me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it; lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." And again, to the rich man who came unto Him, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come take up the cross and follow Me." Can we call Him Master and Lord, who spake thus, and yet live as we do? How do His words reprove us, "Why call ye Me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" For although He does not require of every disciple the exact sacrifice which He demanded of the young ruler, yet beyond all question, as He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, He requires of all who will follow Him, now as then, some sacrifice of the world and worldly goods. We are too ready to limit to the days of our Lord's personal ministry, such parts of His teaching as bear hard on our self-indulgence, and luxury, and worldliness. We have discovered that in time of persecution, riches were a continual snare and temptation to apostasy, and that with the danger from Jews and heathens, the danger of riches too is gone by, and the need of forsaking them:—as if riches were less likely to produce worldliness of heart in a time of peace, than open apostasy in days of danger; as if at this very hour there were not thousands among us, who worship gold with an idolatry as gross as that of the most wretched apostate that ever bowed down to the gods of the nations; only the modern idolater is in danger far more imminent; because he knows it not, and calls himself Christian, and frequents the Church, and draws near to the Holy Communion, and is respected by his neighbours, and accounts himself a religious man, until he sinks at once and for ever into the pit of destruction. And then we proceed to show, that in the beginning of the Gospel there was need of greater sacrifices; that the mass of the converts was poor, and that a greater burden was in consequence thrown upon the rich few; as if there had ever been a time when sacrifice was so much demanded as it is now, if it be indeed true, as we have seen, that there are hundreds of thousands of our countrymen, perishing in sin and ignorance of Christ and His Gospel; and that the cost alone forbids us to give to each his parish Church, and to appoint for each a minister to watch for his soul. Men acknowledge that for every piece of gold expended we may hope, by God's blessing, to know hereafter of some soul snatched from the very jaws of death; and they tell us that it is hopeless that we should obtain the necessary funds; and yet they go on to say, that self-denial and the abandonment of this world's goods for Christ, is less necessary now than of old! But, in truth, we are wrong in principle when we attempt to estimate thus the necessity of abandoning the world for Christ. It was not for the sake of his riches, but for his own that He bade the young ruler to go and sell that he had. He sought not his but him. He required of him to forsake his property, that He might be able to give him treasure in heaven. Surely it were impious to deem otherwise. For if He had so willed, all the treasures of the world might in a moment have been before Him, to whom they appertained as their Creator. But He would save the soul of His creature whom "He loved," and for whom He had come down from heaven, and for whom He was about to die; and therefore He commanded him to sell all, because He knew "how hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God," and that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." And for the same cause He accepts and demands our worldly goods from us. We have too long accustomed ourselves to think of money, given for Christ's sake, as a benefit only to those on whom it is bestowed. When, indeed, men give only that which they do not want, such no doubt is the case; but in giving freely, bountifully, largely, for Christ's sake, it is far otherwise. Then the blessing to the receiver is but a faint image and reflection of that which is poured out an hundredfold upon the giver; secured to him by the promise of Him who cannot lie, and who said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." He measures the gifts which we offer for His sake, not by their magnitude in man's sight, but by the cost to ourselves, and the self-denial which they require; for when He stood of old by His Father's home, and "saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury, and saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. He said: Of a truth I say unto you that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all. For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offering of God, but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had." A small thing, given with much difficulty, is certainly more to the giver, and being more highly esteemed by Christ, it may probably do more in His cause, than large sums given carelessly out of a great abundance. For He, without whose blessing our gold and silver is but dross, may (if He please) command the most abundant blessing upon that offering which He most highly approves, and which hereafter He will most abundantly repay.
Such are the demands of our Lord. He warns us that if we will come after Him we must take up the cross, must hate all that we have; and, as a proof that we do so, must give thereof liberally and cheerfully for His sake; and as He demands all this for our sake not His own. He measures by the cost and sacrifice to ourselves the value and greatness of our offerings. And He tells us in mercy why He does so,—because riches are so great a snare that it is only by a miracle of grace that any man who has them can be saved. Saved, indeed, he may be, because God can do all things, but otherwise it were impossible. Solemn thought, to all who have any measure of good things in this present world. Surely we do not lay it to heart as we should. We know that He said: "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven;" but this does not alarm us, because He said again: "how hard it is for those that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of heaven." As if by the second declaration He intended to retract the first; as if His words were yea and nay, who is Truth itself, "and who came into the world to bear witness to the truth." Rather He purposed to teach us wherein consists the hardness of a rich man's salvation; that if he trust in his riches he cannot be saved, and that nothing in the world is so hard as to have them without trusting in them. We may take comfort assuredly from His explanation of His own words if we do not trust in riches, but that very explanation should teach us most jealously to watch and suspect ourselves lest we should do so. For "he that trusteth to his own heart is a fool;" and who can trust it more implicitly, than the man who readily receives its testimony that he has attained a grace which our Blessed Master describes as so difficult and so rare?
But surely, on the ordinary principles even of religious men, the danger of riches cannot be so great and imminent. From all grosser temptations they rather exempt us. We can understand one part of the prayer of Agur, "give me not poverty, lest I be poor and steal, and take the name of my God in vain;" but where is the corresponding danger of abundance? Do not the rich throng our churches and our public meetings? Are they not amiable, kindhearted, and liberal? Is not a profession of religion very widely spread among them? and do we not generally find among them such a knowledge of the Gospel of Christ, that when we speak in common language of "the religious world," we mean almost exclusively certain portions of the middle and higher classes? All this is unquestionable, and, yet our Lord's words cannot be made void. "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." And it is because a certain measure of religion is so easy to the rich, and yet it is so difficult for them to be Christians indeed; it is, in other words, because there is so much room for self-deceit, that whoever has any measure of this world's goods should be doubly jealous, lest by any means he should lose himself. And surely, if he is not conscious that his riches have ever been any great temptation to him—if he can remember no struggle and contest, in which Satan strove to beguile him by means of them—if he does not distinctly know and feel what the danger of riches is; as one who has recovered from some dreadful malady can realize the true nature and misery of sickness;—he has but too much reason to conclude, that "a deceived heart hath turned him aside," that "the deceitfulness of riches" has beguiled him, that he knows not the contest because he is an unresisting captive. For if the danger be so great, the temptation so overpowering, how shall a man flatter himself that he has encountered and overcome it without being aware that he has done so? "When a strong man armed keepeth his house his goods are at peace;" such is the peace of him who has never felt the power of this world's riches, because he never resisted it.
If we examine the nature of that special temptation which accompanies wealth, we shall less wonder at its insinuating and treacherous power. Agur prays, "give me not riches, lest I be full and deny Thee, and say, Who is the Lord?" This open impiety is but the full developement of the mental habit of "trusting in riches;" and it is a temptation under the power of which hundreds have fallen who continue to call Christ their Master and Lord. A man trusts in riches, when they are more or less the ground and foundation of his hope and security. We cannot but see that the majority of amiable domestic religious persons, in the middle and higher classes of society, are without fear and anxiety concerning their daily support. This is right; a Christian should not be careful for such things. But now why are they secure? Is it because Christ has promised, "seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you;" and, "your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things;" because they know, that "He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all," will "with Him also freely give us all things;" that to Him who died for them, all power is given in heaven and earth, so that neither earth nor hell can hurt them but by His permission? If so, happy are they, for they trust in God, not in riches. Or, on the other hand, is it because they have much goods laid up in store for many years? because they have houses and lands, gold and silver; and they know that although the value of these things may be diminished, yet, according to the course of nature and the order of society, they can hardly be so much reduced as to bring them within the reach of want? If so, they "trust in riches," their wealth is the real reason of their security and contentment: it does that for them which a filial confidence in God, and a prevailing love for Christ ought to do, and will do where they exist.
Here is a test which each may apply to his own heart: yet while we may not judge individuals among our brethren, there are indications which give us much cause to fear that a worldly confidence in riches is too prevalent, even among those who believe that all their trust is in God. For if their substance is liable to be affected by the vicissitudes of commerce, and if some untoward position of affairs throws their all into sudden danger; if revolutions and wars, and distress of nations with perplexity should arise to shake the foundations of all property, however secured by houses and lands, and the stability of law and the sacredness of deeds; then do we not see the same persons too often without confidence, almost without hope, and not knowing whither to betake themselves? And why?—except because their former trust has been in the multitude of their riches. For if their hope had been founded upon the Rock of ages, it could not have been shaken by the storms and agitations of the world.
It is difficult for any man to understand the reality and power of trust in God, and the great obstacle which the possession of worldly riches opposes to it; except he be in the habit of holding intercourse and society with the pious poor. This is one part of the blessing which attends the "visiting of the fatherless and widows in their affliction;" and finding out for ourselves, in lanes and alleys and cottages, yea in poorhouses and prisons, the sick and afflicted members of our Lord's body. "If we converse in hospitals and almshouses, and minister with our own hand what our heart hath first decreed, we shall find our hearts endeared and made familiar with the needs and with the persons of the poor, those excellent images of Christ." And assuredly there is no one who habitually practises this duty, without finding in it its own reward. He will find "the poor rich in faith," living from day to day, without store of this world's goods, on what may seem the casual chance of obtaining employment, not knowing literally how the necessities of the next week are to be supplied, nay sometimes almost finishing their last loaf, and not able to tell whence the next is to come; and yet with all this, calm and contented, happy and cheerful, knowing that theirs is an inexhaustible store, even the store of His possessions whose are all things in heaven and in earth and under the earth; living upon His promise, which they trust, because He has spoken it, and because they have long ago by experience proved its truth, and know that all needful things have ever been added unto them, and are confident that they ever will. Such is the faith of many a widow and orphan among the poor. And where else is it to be found? Even among those who trace all their worldly comforts to God's bountiful hand, and acknowledge them continually as His gift, is not the gift too often the object of that trust which ought to rest upon the Giver? and both in the confidence of their prosperity, and the anxiety of their adversity, do they not fulfil the words of the Psalmist, "In my prosperity, I said I shall never be removed. Thou, Lord, of thy goodness hast made my hill so strong. Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled?" Their faith and hope are not ready to wait upon "a God that hideth Himself," because they have never understood and realized the full meaning of that prayer, Give us this day our daily bread.
And be it observed, that this danger from the deceitfulness of riches is by no means confined to the case of those who are lords of sea and land, and whose yearly revenues are counted by thousands or tens of thousands. That it cannot be so is evident enough from the condition of those to whom our Lord addressed Himself: they were poor fishermen, who would naturally regard as rich any man who had a fixed and certain income, which placed him above the necessity of daily labour, and the uncertainty which attends poverty. It is plain again, from the very nature of the danger; for the man who has thousands yearly differs from him who has hundreds, rather in the magnitude of his establishments and the number of his dependants, than in the security with which he holds his possessions as his own. The temptation to trust in riches accordingly, and to lean on the world, not on God, applies, almost in equal measure, to each.
Such being the snares and temptations of this world's wealth, and our insensibility with regard to them, it is of His great mercy that our Heavenly Father teaches us from time to time our upon Him, by the heavy chastisement of His hand. Sometimes by loss of property, and yet more frequently by bodily sickness and pain, or by anxiety and care for those whom we love, or by bitter sorrow over their graves, He teaches us that riches are a broken reed, on which if we lean we shall assuredly be pierced through with many sorrows. And hereby He shows the abundance of His long-suffering towards us; and His love, "which will not let the sinner lose his soul at ease." For this cause it may probably be, that when He permits that we should be tried by some great accession of this world's goods, He so often sends with them some deeply piercing sorrow, the messenger of His mercy, to humble us and to prove us, that He may do us good at the latter end. But if we would render such loving correction needless (and "He doth not willingly afflict"), or if we would secure that which is perhaps a still greater blessing, the full fruit and benefit of the wounds left by His pruning hands; then must we betake ourselves to that which is the appropriate remedy, the appointed antidote against the deceitfulness of riches; and this is abundant, liberal, self-denying devotion of our worldly substance to Christ's service and the benefit of the poor. This is the appointed antidote; because it is the only act by which we can practise the blessed habit of dependance upon God, and such habits grow up and are strengthened and matured by acts, and not merely by feelings or by wishes. When by His grace we accustom ourselves to act as if His favour was our only sure and solid happiness, and all worldly things vain and treacherous, as indeed they are, then we cultivate the habit of trusting in Him, and not in them, for our happiness and our treasure. This it was that the young ruler lacked. He trusted in riches, and therefore could not follow Christ. In love then, not in severity, He bade him "Go sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." He desired to lighten him of a load which was pressing him to hell; and knowing all hearts, He saw doubtless that no smaller sacrifice would suffice to wean him from the love of riches, to destroy his trust in them, and to teach him to trust in God—in His providence and His bounty, "who giveth to the beast his food, and feedeth the young ravens that call upon Him." And whoever there be who knows the effect of riches in hardening the heart, and how often they become our hope, and usurp the place of our God; and who, knowing this, has a holy fear and jealousy for himself, lest he too come short of the glory of God, let him thank God that the remedy proposed by Christ to this man is in his own power. Now as then, a man may, if he will, give up his worldly substance for his Lord. Whoever then sees reason to fear that he has suffered, or is likely to suffer, by the deceitfulness of riches, let him try the power of this remedy, let him give largely, profusely, to the utmost limits of prudence, beyond those limits, to his own impoverishment if need be, rather than be contented to trust in riches, and so lose his portion in Christ. Yea, if he should even give all that he hath (although this would very frequently be attended with some neglect of duty, and therefore not being according to God's will, would not be salutary to our own souls), yet if he should have reason to think even this sacrifice necessary, how much more wisely and prudently would he act, than do those who take this young ruler for their example, who are amiable, affectionate, kind-hearted, exemplary in social duties, and who come running and kneeling to Christ, but who fail in the one point of trial, who trust in their riches, who cannot bring themselves to give them up for Him, and so, alas! are not worthy of Him.
Herein, then, the rule of charity proposed by our Lord is opposed to that commonly adopted; it regards the giver, and demands of him something, whether great or small, which shall be to him a real sacrifice and self-denial; and this it demands for the love of Christ, and for the benefit of our own souls, and that we may not deceive ourselves with idle professions, and trust in our worldly goods, while we say and think that we trust in God through Christ. But we, on the other hand, have learned to think, that if works of piety or charity be done, it is enough; and therefore we would allure men to give, by contrivances which shall make it easy; by dividing the work between so many, that it shall cost nothing to each; by beguiling them of their money through charity sales and charity balls and concerts; and above all we would lay our hands even on that which is not our own, and give to God that which we have sacrilegiously wrested from its sworn defenders.
Surely when both are presented to our view, there is something in the charity of the world so poor and mean and contemptible, and something in the law of Christ so noble and pure and exalted, that our hearts cannot but burn within us, with an earnest longing to cast in our lot with Him, to be partakers with Him in His sorrow and His joy, in His poverty and in His glory. But here is the obstacle; the cross must be taken up, our own wishes denied, the world cast behind us. And shall we (like the young ruler) leave Him and go away sorrowful, to try whether our possessions can comfort us? Shall we be of those, who "seek excuses to withhold themselves from the favour of God, and choose with pinching covetousness rather to lean unto the devil, than by charitable mercifulness either to come unto Christ, or to suffer Christ to come unto them?" God forbid! Let us rather lift up our hearts and eyes to Him who has gone before us, and as "our forerunner is entered in for us within the veil;" and then surely we shall have neither thought nor sight for the paltry treasures of this fleeting world. For when He calls us to deny ourselves for our brethren, when He bids us take up the cross, and forsake the world, He but bids us follow in His own steps, and go where He has gone before us. "It is reported in the Bohemian story, that St. Winceslaus, their king, one winter night going to his devotions in a remote church, barefooted in the snow, and sharpness of unequal and pointed ice, his servant, who waited upon his master's piety, and endeavoured to imitate his affections, began to faint through the violence of the snow and cold; till the king commanded him to follow him, and set his feet in the same footsteps which his feet should mark for him. The servant did so, and either fancied a cure or found one, for he followed his prince; helped forward, with shame and zeal to his imitation, and by the forming footsteps for him in the snow. In the same manner does the blessed Jesus; for since our way is troublesome, obscure, full of objection and danger, apt to be mistaken, and to affright our industry; He commands us to mark His footsteps, to tread where His feet have stood; and not only invites us forward by the argument of His example, but He hath trodden down much of the difficulty, and made the way easier and fit for our feet. For He knows our infirmities, and Himself hath felt their experience in all things but in the neighbourhoods of sin. And therefore He hath proportioned a way and a path to our strengths and capacities." "He hath left us a pattern that we should tread in His steps," for "he that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk even as He walked." The path wherein we must walk has been pressed by His sacred feet; we are called thither for our own sake; "that we may be partakers of his holiness:" that we may hereafter reign with Him in glory: but He trod it not for Himself, but for us; because He loved us, and had compassion on us in our low estate, and chose rather to leave His Father's throne, and live, and suffer, and die for us, than that we should perish in our sins. And now He bids us follow for the sake of His love who has thus loved us. He sends to us our poor brethren in His own name, and engages that whatever we lay out on them He will repay, "to whom we owe even our ownselves also:" that He will account it to be given, not to them, but to Himself. Let the love of Christ then constrain us to deny ourselves for the benefit of our brethren. "If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." Let us measure our charity by this rule, and then, by His grace, we shall never be weary in well doing. He who, for our salvation, came down from heaven to earth, from the throne of the universe to the cross and the sepulchre—He it is who now demands that we should give up something, to be fellow workers with Him in the salvation of our brethren. And can we hesitate;—when we see in the ignorant and thoughtless ones around us; in those who have never even been told how they ought to walk and to please God, and so cannot so much as desire or endeavour "to walk worthy of the Lord," "worthy of their high calling in Him;" when we see in them the purchase of Christ's blood, and when He calls us as we love Him, and as we remember His bitter cross and passion, which are our only hope against the great and dreadful day, to give up something for their sake—can we hesitate to obey the call?
Such is the great and overwhelming motive to Christian beneficence. It is summed up in the words of the beloved Apostle, "We love Him because He first loved us." And because we love Him, therefore we would not, if we could, make an offering to Him of that which cost us nothing. When He, whose are all things, condescends to demand an offering at our hands—not that He needs anything, (for in a moment, by a word of His mouth, He could raise houses of prayer from the dust, as He called this world out of nothing to be the theatre of His glory) but because He loves us and desires for us the blessed opportunity of giving up something to Him: and when He makes our bounty to our brethren the measure of our love towards Himself: and when He says to us "freely ye have received, freely give"—"For I have set you an example that ye should do as I have done unto you"—what answer shall we make to Him? Shall we say, we must first take care of ourselves and our families, our comforts, and luxuries, and pleasures, our appearance before the world, our settled tastes and passing fancies; provision must first be made for all these, and then from the remainder, if any thing is left, I will spare something to my Saviour? Is it thus that we deal with those whom we do really and earnestly love? A father, whose son requires a costly education—how does he make his calculations? Does he thus shift off the burden, and provide first for every thing else, and give to the education of his child only that which he does not want? Rather does he enquire in the first place how much is requisite for the object; and then sets himself, with an affectionate severity, to contrive what he can by any means retrench from his superfluities, his pleasures, his comforts, in order to effect it. And he judges well. These are the wholesome fruits of parental love. And now He who died for us, and who tells us, "He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he that doth not take up his cross and come after Me is not worthy of Me:" He requires like proofs of our love. Shall we do less for Him? And if we are ready to say that we do these things for our children because they are our own, our immediate concern; but that the service of our Lord belongs to all of us alike: let us consider how great joy it will be one day to have Him for our own Saviour, and that He should acknowledge us before His Father and the holy angels as His own people and His own friends; and then let us act as if we are His and He ours now.
And whatever be our means and whatever our opportunities of giving, if we are filled with an holy desire of kindling in our hearts, and putting in action true love towards Him, we cannot be without the opportunity. For we have seen that He estimates offerings, not as they appear in man's sight, but according to the principle from which they spring, and the love towards Him, of which self denial that we may have to give is the fruit and sign. The small gifts of the poor are great in His eyes, if they spring from love; the great gifts of the rich too are multiplied in like manner, when they flow from that fountain. "If thou doest what thou art able, be it little or great, corporeal or spiritual, the charity of alms or the charity of prayers, a cup of wine or a cup of water; if it be but love to the brethren, and a desire to help all or any of Christ's poor, it shall be accepted according to what a man hath, not according to what he hath not. For love is all this and all other commandments, and it will express itself where it can; and where it cannot, yet it is love still, and is also sorry that it cannot."
Lastly, whether we can give little or much, giving from the love of Christ our Lord, we shall give joyfully and with overflowing hearts. For love delights to offer something of her own; knowing that for love's sake it will be accepted. A dutiful child will carefully and joyfully watch the opening of the earliest flower, for the pleasure of offering it to a beloved parent; not for the value of the gift, but because where love is it cannot but show itself. Such will be our delight in ministering to our Lord. And here again we see how unchristian are our schemes when we would provide for the service of God now by overthrowing that which our fathers have built up for His glory—we deprive ourselves of the opportunity of showing love to Christ. One Church built or endowed at our own cost will rejoice our hearts far more than fifty provided by the plunder of our Cathedrals; for the one is a monument of love, the other of niggard selfishness. When Solomon and all the people had dedicated the house of the Lord, "he sent the people away, and they blessed the king and went unto their tents joyful and glad of heart for all the goodness that the Lord had done for David His servant, and for Israel His people:" and why did they thus rejoice? Let us hear the man after God's own heart. "The work is great, for the palace is not for man but for the Lord God. Now I have prepared with all my might for the house of my God, the gold for things to be made of gold, and the silver for things of silver, and wood for things of wood; onyx stones and stones to be set, glistering stones, and of divers colours, and all manner of precious stones, and marble stones in abundance. Moreover, because I have set my affection to the house of my God, i have of mine own proper good, of gold and silver which I have given to the house of my God, over and above all that I have prepared for the holy house, even three thousand talents of gold of Ophir, and seven thousand talents of silver, to overlay the walls of the house withal.… And who then is willing to consecrate his service this day unto the Lord? Then the chief of the fathers and princes of the tribes of Israel, and the captains of thousands and of hundreds, with the rulers of the king's work, offered willingly; and gave for the service of the house of God, of gold five thousand talents and ten thousand drachms, and of silver ten thousand talents, and of brass eighteen thousand talents, and one hundred thousand talents of iron; and they with whom precious stones were found gave them.… Then the people rejoiced for that they offered willingly, because with perfect heart they offered willingly to the Lord, and David the king also rejoiced with great joy. Wherefore David blessed the Lord before all the congregation, and David said, Blessed art thou Lord God of Israel, our Father, for ever and ever—as for me, in the uprightness of my heart, I have willingly offered all these things, and now I have seen with joy thy people which are present here to offer willingly unto Thee." Such were the fruits of love, and such the joy with which it filled the hearts of those who offered willingly of their own, both from the public and the private stores. But although they should have built the house of God of beaten gold, from the foundation to the roof, they could not have rejoiced thus, if, instead of giving liberally of their own out of the abundance wherewith God had blessed them, (for at that only period of their history the Jews were like us a mart of nations, flourishing by trade and commerce) they had obtained the requisite means by appropriating the Levitical lands and taxing the tithes. Then surely their free and noble rejoicing before the "Lord God of Israel, their Father," would have been ill exchanged for the spirit of an Italian bandit sorrowfully disgorging the spoils of some outrage to purchase absolution. And do we owe less of gratitude and love than they did? or do love and gratitude produce fruit only under the Law, and not under the Gospel?
But, that we may serve Him yet more joyfully, our heavenly Father has not only given us the love of Christ for our motive; but has promised moreover, of His abundant mercy, that whatever for love's sake we give up, He will return it to us an hundred fold, both in this world and in the next. The words of our Lord and Master on this subject are so strong, that it is difficult to imagine how a Christian can so much as hear them read, without earnestly longing for the opportunity of giving up something, that he may have his share in so wonderful a promise.
"Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all and followed thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily, I say unto you; there is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake and the Gospel's; but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecution, and in the world to come, eternal life."
The language of part of these verses is of course figurative; but thus much is clearly promised, that what thing soever any Christian shall give up for Christ, he shall receive for the same a reward in this world, proportioned to the sacrifice, but exceeding it an hundredfold; and having enjoyed this reward here, shall moreover inherit everlasting life. Let us not fear, lest the words of Christ, received in their plain and obvious sense, should excite in us a false and self-righteous estimate of the merit of our own works and obedience; nor set ourselves with an unfaithful and irreverent caution to extenuate their force. For He knew best what it is well for us to be told; and every Christian knows, that could he fulfil all the law he would still be an unprofitable servant, and that instead of fulfilling it, his best deeds are stained with sin, and require to be washed in the blood of Christ. But still He who has taught him this, has taught him moreover, that being washed in that blood, the service and offering of his love is acceptable unto God, through Jesus Christ; and that being thus accepted, every act of cheerful self-denial for Christ's sake, every sacrifice of Christian liberality, every instance of love and pity towards his brethren, shall also be rewarded both here and hereafter; rewarded not according to its own desert, but according to the love from which it springs, and to the faith which it shows in Christ's promise.
How should this doctrine teach us to trust in ourselves, when we are but seeking for a reward of grace; ours by promise, not by merit? But moreover, we know, that neither these works of love, nor yet the principle of love whence they spring, are our own. We "are God's workmanship," we "are God's husbandry;" every good thing in us. He first gives, and then He rewards that which He has given. Both grace and recompence are His gift, but He will reward us in proportion as He hath first wrought in us. We are in no danger of being lifted up so long as we remember, that whatever good we are enabled to do, is done not by us, but by "Him, who worketh in us to will and to do of His good pleasure." St. Paul might safely say, "I laboured more abundantly than they all," because he knew how to add "yet not I but the grace of God which was in me."
Let us not fear then to dwell on the promises of our Lord, to excite by them our hopes, and kindle our desires, still less to risk on their truth our worldly substance and comfort. The traders of the earth, if they have news of a rich market opened to them, where they may reap an abundant profit, are not slow to send thither their goods, at much risk of loss should their information mislead them. Let us risk our earthly treasures on the credit of Christ's word, secure that whatever betide, and however the nations of the world may be shaken, and all property here may be lost in the general crash; that portion of our wealth will be secure which we have grace to "lend unto the Lord." Certain that we shall receive for it "an hundredfold here in this present time, and hereafter eternal life."
Every natural fear, which might deter us from trusting these gracious promises of our Lord, seems to be severally met by some rich and bountiful provision, made as it were expressly for our more abundant satisfaction. Thus the great difficulty which men feel, when the thought burns within them, how blessed a thing it is to risk something on Christ's word, and to trust Him with their worldly goods, is that they have children for whom they must provide. But God has condescended to answer this doubt also. His promises (reversing the short-sighted calculations of men,) have pledged Him to restore to them as well as to ourselves whatever we give up for His sake, and from confidence in His truth. "I have been young and now am old," says the Psalmist, "and yet saw I never the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. He is ever merciful and lendeth, and his seed is blessed." The blessedness of a righteous man's family is here specially annexed to the liberality of the father; nor is this really wonderful, considering that a little with God's blessing, is better than great riches without it, and that the promises of God's care and providence over the children of holy and faithful men, abound throughout Scripture. Accordingly, that which we lay up for our children on earth, they may lose; times may change; civil commotions and revolutions may overthrow our wisest precautions for the comfort and security of our offspring; but there is one thing of which they cannot be deprived. That which we have given for Christ's sake they will have still, and one way or other, they shall abundantly enjoy it. And surely even the experience of the world will confirm the promise of God; if our faith be too weak to receive it on His word. When were the children of a bountiful man the worse for his bounty? He may leave them less of this world's good; but is it not seen that God's hand waits to prosper them, and watches over them for good? They are advanced, no man can tell why. An invisible charm works for them, and men in their blindness wonder at their good fortune. But, of all this the secret reason is, that God will fulfil His promise: "them that honour Me, I will honour." Let us then take Him at His word; without fear that it will ever be the worse for us or for ours. Let us honour Him, and He will provide for and honour us and them. And who is there that fears God, and knows the blessedness of His favour and the certainty of His truth, that would not rather choose that his father, by abundant bounty for Christ's sake, should leave him poor in this world, and rich in the promises and blessings of the Most High, than to inherit a mighty estate, won in the ways of this world, without the fear of God, and on which he could hardly hope for His blessing?
But it is not here, after all, that the Christian has his best hope or his richest reward. If the promise went no farther than this world, it would but offer us one hundredfold for what we give to God; but let us lift up our eyes and our hearts, and strive to take in something of the infinite and eternal reward in heaven, of which the earthly promise is but the type and shadow. And this is pledged to us in the word of God not once or twice, but repeatedly, and with an overflowing variety of language and figure. It is not one hundredfold, but as far beyond all earthly proportion, as the ages of eternity exceed the span of our mortal life. Therefore in the text which has already been cited, our blessed Lord after having enlarged on the temporal promise, makes no measure of this, but says only, "and in the world to come eternal life." Again let us hear more of His comfortable words. "Fear not little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old; a treasure in the heavens that faileth not." To the young ruler, lest His command might seem too stern, "Sell that thou hast," He added instantly "and thou shalt have treasure in heaven." And He bids us "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal." It is observable in these blessed words of the Son of God how He repeats not only the same promise of a reward hereafter, but the same specific words treasure in heaven; as if He delighted to dwell upon the words which represent the glory which He had with His Father before the world was; and as if, knowing our frailty, He would engrave them upon our very hearts; that they may go with us into the world, as a talisman against its distractions and temptations. And what earthly language, what mortal eloquence, can add anything to these words of the only begotten of the Father? ye shall have treasure in heaven. What imagination can picture their meaning? The heirs of an earthly inheritance love to look forward to the time when all shall be theirs. For a while indeed, they are under tutors and governors, but they cannot forget that they are lords of all. After their example let us too exalt our thoughts and hopes; let us labour and meditate and pray that we may have some glimpse beforehand, of the glory of that treasure which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor heart of man conceived. And then let us remember, that this treasure is increased by every act of self-denial which we willingly choose that we may have more to give to Christ and to our brethren. Such is His unspeakable mercy who "waits to be gracious unto us," and desires and seeks occasions to reward and bless us. For so it is written; "He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly, and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully; and God is able to make all grace abound towards you, that ye having always all sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work (as it is written he hath dispersed abroad, he hath given to the poor, his righteousness remaineth for ever). Now He that ministereth seed to the sower, both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness." The seed sown is that which the faithful bounty of a Christian trusts liberally to God on the assurance of an abundant harvest; the fruits of righteousness, the reward of grace here, and of glory hereafter, to be plentifully returned for it. Again, Timothy is directed, "Charge them that are rich in this world that they … do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life." And of all works of bounty, that to which we are now called has the greatest promises; for it is not only a mercy to the poor for Christ's sake, but also a direct enlargement of His kingdom, and a furtherance of His glory; so that when we are laid in our graves, and our spirits are at rest in Christ, we may not only still speak, but in a manner still labour and serve here upon earth, being partakers in the labours of every faithful minister in every church which has been planted at our cost for the glory of God's holy name. Thus may we be classed among those, who having "turned many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever and ever." How great then is our privilege, who are called to take part in a work so blessed; to be imitators of Christ, and conformed to His image, in giving of our own for our brethren; actuated by His love as our motive, by His promises as our encouragement, by His glory as our reward. And shall we grudge anything that we can give or do? surely one might rather expect, that the office of the Christian minister would be to restrain the eagerness of those who would press in to claim a share in the work: that men would come as of old, "every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, to bring the Lord's offering," that they would come both men and women, as many as were willing-hearted, and bring bracelets, and earrings, and jewels of gold, and "every thing which is needed for the service of the Lord," until more were offered than can be received, and until the bounty of the people were of necessity restrained. It might be expected that our nobles would be jealous even of the splendour which is one of the duties of their station, and would gladly abate something from their personal enjoyments, and part with their yachts and their racing studs, rather than miss this opportunity; that our women would choose to go unadorned here, that so they might shine the brighter in glory hereafter; that our merchants would diminish their capital and be content to leave less to their heirs; that our tradesmen would give up something of their gains and their comforts; our very labourers something "of their necessities;" that so each and all might have treasure in heaven, and secure to themselves a portion of that inheritance, which is stable and firm as the word of the Most High. So be it, by God's grace! May we give up much for Him, may we venture much on His word; and then assuredly we shall receive much, and shall reap an abundant return for every risk and every sacrifice.
It may not be useless in closing the present section, to offer some suggestions on the mode in which those who desire to exceed the scanty measure of modern liberality, may most advantageously apply their bounty.
And first, let every man, instead of giving one large sum merely, and then suffering himself to remain contented, deliberately dedicate to God a certain measure of each year's income, to be set apart as soon as he receives it, and no longer accounted as his own. The exact proportion to be thus consecrated, each must determine for himself, after a solemn consideration of his own circumstances and duties, in the sight of God Almighty. "Let every man do as he is disposed in his own heart." There are some kinds of property which entail on their owners many expensive duties, and surround them with many dependants; from these less of course can be spared for any other object. Our Heavenly Father knoweth all these things; and if there be first a willing mind, He will accept it, "according to that a man hath, not according to that he hath not." Again there are those whose income is almost unburdened with such calls. These things each man should weigh and consider for himself. Only let him resolve, that, whether he gives more or less, it shall be something which he will miss, which implies some self-denial; otherwise he does but deceive himself, and lays up no treasure in heaven. If we diligently labour to do so, we shall probably find ourselves able to set apart more the second year, than seemed possible at the beginning of the first. We are told that Bishop Wilson in this manner, gradually augmented the consecrated part of his income; until from one tenth it became five-tenths of his episcopal This he gave "over and above a decent hospitality." And moreover we find an entry in his journal, in the following remarkable words. "To the glory of God, I dedicate the interest of all my moneys to pious uses, so long as I have wherewithal to live on besides. Blessed be God for giving me a heart and will to do so." Surely there are many among us who might do as much; and almost every one may begin by a tenth part, a measure recommended to us by a divine precedent. Let us do what we are able: "And if we do extend beyond our measures, and give more than we are able; we have the Philippians and many holy persons for our precedent, we have St. Paul for our encouragement, we have Christ for our counsellor, we have God for our rewarder, and a great treasure in heaven for our recompense and restitution."
When we have set apart our offering to God, we should determine what measure of it is due to the temporal wants of those to whom circumstances give the first claim upon our bounty. And after them, we can hardly have any call on our charity more urgent than the spiritual destitution of so many thousands of our own countrymen, which, as we have seen, can be fully supplied only by the complete developement of the parochial system. For this purpose, let us give largely and wisely. One most obvious method is that of supporting those societies which are already labouring in the work. This is the special duty of those who not having much to give, should be thankful to unite their own to the offerings of many of their brethren. Societies, as we have seen, are to the poor a great blessing: they afford to them the same opportunities of self-denial which are furnished to the rich by great and splendid works. They have moreover an important function of their own, in that they encourage great undertakings, by preventing that sense of hopelessness which often withholds men's hands. Thus, church-building societies occasion the erection of many churches, to which they often contribute no large proportion. They amply deserve the support of all: but those to whom God has given the means and the heart to give great sums, may commonly dispose of them to better advantage than by multiplying their contributions to these associations. It is their privilege to imitate holy persons of old, by undertaking at their own expense some great and good work.
That this is no unimportant suggestion will be plain to any one who compares the ecclesiastical edifices of our own day with those of our forefathers. Our modern churches are generally the work of societies and committees; and we need no inscription to tell us that they are so; they bear it on their front. A society can as little cultivate architectural taste and magnificence, as it can call forth gratitude in those who benefit by its bounty. Its operations are of necessity conducted on cold dry rules of economy; every thing is done by weight and measure; and nothing is spent but that which can in no way be saved. And while those who execute the work are thus minded, the donors whose bounty they administer, only hear of course general statements of the number of sittings provided, and they cannot but want all that particular and personal interest in the work to which they contribute, which would turn their duty into a pleasure. Thus do we build churches by calculation, as a matter of necessity; but of old church building was a delight, a luxury, a passion. Then men of wealth would build some glorious fane from foundation to turret, and those whose means were less abundant would furnish a pillar, a transept, or a choir: each man felt a paternal interest in his work; while he lived he delighted to visit it, and watch its progress; when he died, his mortal remains were laid beneath the roof which he had raised, in hope of His coming, whose promise had called forth his bounty. Thus did church architecture arise, and thus was it perfected. Men knew that they were building, not for man, but for the glory of His name, who had furnished for them this spacious earth in its beauty and abundance, and who was gone to prepare for them mansions in heaven; and therefore none could endure that their work should yield in magnificence to that of another. Nation vied with nation, city with city; the news of an improvement was borne from one shore to another; and if some new beauty was introduced in one country, it was so quickly imitated in others and spread over the whole of Christendom, that the place of its origin became doubtful; and as the stars break out at once in every quarter of the sky, it seemed to have arisen everywhere by one simultaneous impulse.
And let us not say that these were ages of superstition, and that our churches are for use, not for ornament. For we too may well desire, with holy David, to "worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness;" nor can we forget that He whom we worship, when of old He deigned to give the design of one house for the glory of His name, claimed for it gold and silver, and precious stones, and cedar, and whatever man could give of majesty and beauty; and that, in imitation thereof, God's saints have ever delighted to accumulate whatever of His gifts is most noble, for the stability and ornament of His temples. So was it in the days of the Church's first love. Even while the sword of persecution hung over the heads of Christians, and when personal luxury was unknown, their churches were wide and spacious and rich; as we read of those which were cast down by the persecutor Diocletian, and as was more abundantly seen in the first peaceful breathing time afforded by Constantine. When shall modern England follow the glorious example? When shall we wipe off the reproach too justly cast upon us by a distinguished member of the French Church? "The Catholic religion," says Chateaubriand, "has covered the world with its monuments. Protestantism has now lasted three centuries; it is powerful in England, in Germany, in America. What has it raised? It will show you the ruins which it has made; amidst which it has planted some gardens, and established some manufactories." What shall England answer to the taunt?
Nor let any man fear that he may do amiss in spending large sums on the beauty of one church, while so many are wanted. Experience refutes the niggard argument, that we should build cheap churches because we have need of many. Our numberless parish churches were built in the same age with our cathedrals; and if any man of great wealth would provide others for our new towns and villages, he will do more by spending ten, twenty, even fifty thousand pounds or more, in building and endowing one church in a worthy manner, than he could by giving the same sum to be spent by a society in raising many such buildings as are now called churches, and providing thirty pounds for the yearly endowment of each of them. For his deed will not be lost or forgotten; it will be imitated, rivalled, surpassed; and then, too, men who have only hundreds to spend instead of thousands, will find a pleasure in doing the like in their measure, and will furnish our villages with fabrics like those of old. These things may we hope to see once again, whenever men shall be made to feel, with holy David, that it is decorous to be more sumptuous in erecting a church than a mansion, that splendour and magnificence befit the house of God, rather than the dwellings of men. For at this moment the evil is not, that they do not build stately piles, and adorn them with much cost, but that they have learned to esteem a great expenditure useful when lavished on their own habitations, and never wasted but on His whose "is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty; from whom both riches and honour come, and who reigneth over all."
And while it belongs to those whom God has made liberal on a large scale, to rival the glories of our ancient churches, even they whose means are more limited will commonly do better in building a humbler fabric either by themselves or with the aid of one or two of their brethren, than in giving to the most deserving society the means of erecting it. Their example will have greater effect on others; and the claims of justice and equity will more certainly be remembered. There are few probably who are not more or less connected, by property, residence, or other circumstances, with some mass of immortal beings, which is now in a great measure neglected; and wherever this is the case, it seems the most obvious duty to provide for them. It is, as has been already suggested, very desirable that a statement should be published in every diocese, enumerating, on the authority of the Bishop, every parish and hamlet which requires a new church. Were this done, every man could readily determine for himself the work to which he is specially invited by the providence of God. Meanwhile, there are some general rules, which approve themselves to our minds. A village of three or four hundred souls, for example, may accidentally have a greater claim on us, than a city of many thousands, if it be inhabited by those whose labour we daily employ, who minister to our wealth and comforts, and who naturally look to us for help. For the same reason, a town whence our comforts and luxuries are supplied, demands more of us than another, although of greater population, with which we are unconnected. We employ the shopkeepers and labourers of the place; we induce them to augment the scale of their business, to take apprentices and journeymen, many of whom probably are gathered from villages where they had the means of grace in abundance: is it nothing to us, that for our service they should be deprived of them? Nor need we be very rich to do something effectual. Whoever has an income of one thousand pounds, would be able, in many parts of the country, by saving only the tenth of it for seven or eight years, to build a church for five or six hundred worshippers, on a most respectable scale, and without any aid, beyond that which our societies are always ready to give wherever it is needed. Let him ask himself whether in those last gone by, he has enjoyed as much happiness (to leave the promised blessing for a moment out of our view) as the tenth thus expended would have procured for him?
But there are many who have far greater cause to think seriously upon this subject. There are hundreds among us who have made fortunes as manufacturers. How does the case stand with them? They have set up a factory, it may be, in some sequestered spot, where a village has immediately arisen. The population has increased from year to year; the capital of the manufacturer has increased with it; his works been extended; new labourers have arrived; and in the evening of his days he retires with a handsome property honourably gained, and it is his joy that he owes nothing to any man. But is this indeed the case? He has paid his labourers for their time and their strength; but how has he remunerated them for their souls? He invited them from their country villages, from the homes and the church of their fathers; he allured their children from school to his factory; and what has he given them instead? Has he not too often left them, in a situation of peculiar danger and temptation, without a church, without a pastor, without a school? Can he acquit himself of having grown rich upon the ruin of immortal souls? "Woe unto him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity:"—and is the destruction of men's souls a less evil and sin, in the sight of God, than the oppression of their bodies?
In our metropolis, again, and every town which has been very rapidly extending, there are landholders whose property has been augmenting in value fourfold, twentyfold, in some cases an hundredfold, by the influx of population, which has caused land to be measured, and let, and sold by the inch instead of the acre. They are making their profit by means of those whose spiritual care, as we have seen, is so frightfully neglected. They are eager to build new streets and lanes; they have good houses for the rich in front, and behind them cellars and garrets for the poor: but the house of God is not seen among them; or at best it is appropriated to the use of those who can pay for admission, and the mass of the poor are of course excluded. In all these cases justice and equity require that men should first of all set themselves seriously to provide for the souls of those whom they have collected around them, and who are the sources of their wealth.
And where these duties have been forgotten, and men have passed out of the world having done nothing to discharge them, the obligation descends with undiminished weight to their children and heirs: they have inherited their father's gains; they would not refuse to pay his just and equitable debts, even when they are not legally responsible for them. Here is a debt of the most urgent nature, by paying which they may perhaps make happy for ever many of the instruments of their own prosperity. Surely it is their bounden duty, even if they have no longer any share in the business by which their fathers were enriched, to repair, so far as they are able, some of the evil which it has produced.
In such works the large offerings of the rich will be even better spent than in swelling the funds of our societies. Happy that man, who shall set the example (so much needed) of providing a church and a pastor wherever he erects a factory, a street, or a village: happy two or three or more, who shall combine to do so! besides discharging themselves of a plain moral obligation, such men will be, by the influence of their example, among the greatest benefactors of their country.
And blessed be God for His grace given unto us, we are not wholly without such examples already. Of our new churches, some have been the fruit of individual exertion and self-denial. How should it be otherwise? God's word shall never return unto Him void; and that word has of late been more and more spoken among us. Still we must not yet be content: we must look for greater things. Such examples, although now less rare, have never been wanting, and the time shall come (we may not doubt it) when they shall yet be multiplied tenfold. The few big drops which are falling here and there are the harbingers surely of an abundant shower. Let us unite our prayers that it may be so; and to our prayers let us add our endeavours to engage others in the work. Let us not be content to give our money alone, but in our several measures let us do what we can, with our influence, our time, our talents; for all are God's, and all to be employed in His cause.
- The writer is aware that this is a strong term; but he does not know how to qualify it without suppressing the truth. It is often urged that there is no sacrilege in confiscating the gifts of our forefathers, if we apply them to other religious purposes. He is unable however to perceive the distinction between confiscation to enrich ourselves, and confiscation that we may not be obliged to spend. There is a vulgar proverb which shows that English common sense has long ago decided, that a saving however small is the same as so much gain. The only reason for the confiscation of the cathedral property, for instance, is that we may gain about 120,000l. per annum, to extend the parochial system, i. e. that we may save the necessity of spending so much. This measure therefore is wholly different in principle from the suppression of the monasteries and other similar acts; the cathedrals are to be suppressed, not because they are deemed injurious or useless, but solely that we may seize their property. In discussing a principle, the author of course does not presume to censure those venerable prelates who form the minority of the ecclesiastical commission; who are but instruments in the execution of a scheme, of which the most distinguished among them has publicly expressed his disapprobation; (see the primary charge of the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury,) and for which another has declared that they do not consider themselves responsible; as they were appointed, not to consider whether it should take place, but only to put it in execution. (See Letter of the Lord Bishop of Lincoln to his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury.)
- St. James v. 5.
- St. Luke xix. 12.
- ἐν τῷ ἀλλοτρίῳ.
- St. Luke xvi. 9.
- Jer. Taylor, Holy Living, ch. iv. sect. 8.
- Homily of Alms-Deeds. Part III.
- J. Taylor.—"Exhortation to the Imitation of the Life of Christ." Great Exemplar. Part I. sec. i.
- Jeremy Taylor, "Holy Living," chap. iv. sec. 8.
- 1 Kings viii. 66.
- 1 Chron. xxix. 1—10, 17.
- St. Mark x. 28—30.
- See Philippians, ch. iv. 18. Scott remarks, "The language used concerning the conduct of the Philippians being in the most emphatical terms, the same which is used con- concerning the atonement of Christ, (Eph. v. 2.) is wonderful. And it shows how pleasing real good works, the fruits of the Spirit, are to God through Jesus Christ."
- The following is the prayer and answer, in the 21st chapter of the third Book, De Imitatione Christi:—
Prayer.—Non reticebo donec gratia tua revertatur, mihique Tu intus loquaris.
Answer.—Ecce adsum. Ecce Ego ad te quia invocasti Me. Lacrymæ tuæ et desiderium animæ tuæ, humiliatio tua et contritio cordis, inclinaverunt Me et adduxerunt ad te.
Et dixi: Domine, vocavi Te et desideravi frui Te, paratus omnia respuere propter Te. Tu enim prior excitasti me ut quærerem Te. Sis ergo benedictus, Domine, qui fecisti hanc bonitatem servo tuo secundum multitudinem misericordiæ tuæ.
- 2 Cor. ix. 6.
- Exodus xxxv. 21, 22.
- Jer. Taylor, Holy Living, ch. iv. 8.
- Quoted by the Author of the "Mores Catholici." Book iii. chap. 2.
- 1 Chron. xxix. 11.
- Wherever a railroad is opened, this process either has al- already commenced, or must be expected to follow. Let those who, for their own profit or that of their town, have promoted these works, look to it that they do not neglect the spiritual wants of the population they are thus calling together; as they shall give account to Almighty God.