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that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh. Though this necessary reprehension was given against a wicked, sordid, and uncharitable temper and conduct in the Jews.; God, nevertheless, encouraged their hope on their reformation. If, saith the Lord, thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul ; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon-day.* Thus, we may conclude, that this salutary provision, in favour of the poor and needy, was founded upon the original law of nature; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. And, it is 'equally obvious, that our attachments to the public worship of God, without expressions of benevolence to the distressed, are totally unavailable.
The influence of this ancient benevolent statute upon the heart and conduct of individuals, is worthy our attention. JoB_He was a man of opulence, feared his God above many, and
* Isaiah 58th chapter.
stretched forth his friendly hand to relieve the necessitous. In his history we are informed that he delivered the poor that cried, the fatherless, and him that had no helper. Therefore the blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon him, and he made the widow's heart to sing for joy. (Chap. 29.) David- This eminent character was not only a man after God's own heart to accomplish his purposes in the kingdom of Israel: but he expressed the most tender compassion to the poor and the miserable. For this reason, we read in so many of his psalms, that he characterizes the various classes of the sick, the needy, the unfortunate; celebrates the providence of God, who has laid up the greatness of his goodness for their relief; and pronounces a benediction upon him that considereth the poor.
Closing the Old Testament, we will open the New, to obtain further proof of the goodness of God in fulfilling the promise in our text.
Here we behold Jesus, the Son of God, who came from the bosom of his Father, not only to redeem sinners by the atoning blood of his cross, and to open a way of access to the throne of offended Majesty for penitent transgressors; but to express, in every possible degree, the purest charms of
benevolence to his friends and to his enemies.
The coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh was, indeed, the confirmation of the truth of our text. No! the poor sinner, and the needy sufferer, cannot be forgotten, since God so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son; and who, with him, will also freely give us all things. One important design of Christ in coming into the world was, to preach the Gospel of instruction and salvation to the poor; and for the advantage of which multitudes attended his private and public ministry. In the discourses of Jesus, he never failed to explain and enforce the great duty of charity; and this is most charmingly inculcated in his sermon on the mount, and enforced by his interesting parable of the good Samaritan. He, himself, went about all the cities and villages, healing every sickness, and every disease among the people, of every age and class. And, how often did he perform miracles, not from ostentation, but to evince the truth of his character, and the kindness of his heart in feeding the hungry and relieving the distressed. To his more immediate disciples Jesus gave the most pointed charge to cultivate the same humane disposition. Ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will, ye may do them good. (Mark xiv. 7.) Nay more, in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew,
which you heard read before sermon, Jesus, describing the grandeur of the general judgment, when the Son of man shall appear upon the throne of his glory with his holy angels, he will then acknowledge those who have fed the hungry, refreshed the thirsty, fostered the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and the prisoner, as acts of kindness conferred upon himself. We must, therefore, confess, that the benevolence of Jesus was of the most pure and active kind, and demands our admiration and our gratitude; for, though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, that we, through his poverty, might be rich.
Let us now see how far the Apostles and followers of Jesus caught this heavenly flame of benevolence from their Lord and Master. In their writings they have strongly marked the nature and fruit of grace, by acts of charity and kindness. James assures us, that pure religion, and undefiled, before God and the Father, is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world. Whatever pretensions any may have to an interest in God, as their Father in Christ, JOHN assures them that, Whoso hath this world's good, and seeth that his brother hath need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion against him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
- Indeed, it is impossible that such a claim could be just. The practice of the disciples perfectly corresponded with their benevolent principles. In the first primitive age, when persecution and affliction abounded, all that believed sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And it was then the constant practice of the Christian Church, that, on the first day of the week, every one was required to lay by him, in store, as God had prospered him, in favour of the poor. When others wished to remember the poor, the benevolent heart of Paul dictated him to say, The same which I also was forward to do. These few instances are sufficient to convince you how far the disciples of Jesus trod in the benevolent steps of their Master. Every Epistle breathes tenderness and compassion to afflicted humanity, while the Acts of the Apostles realizes the practice of these amiable virtues.
We will now make an inquiry into the history of Providence, since the close of the Scriptures, further to evince the fulfilment of our cheering promise in favour of the poor. The position I shall take is this:
· IN PROPORTION TO THE CIVILIZATION OF COUNTRIES, ESPECIALLY WHERE THE RAYS OF THE