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claim on your bounty; whom you not only relieved, but supported, and supported in affluence; being not only attentive to his pecessities, but meeting all his wishes—what would you think of such a dependant, if he should never call upon you, never send to you, never speak of you favourably to others, never think of you—but should take all this goodness as a matter of right, rather than of kindness, and act as if he would have all around him to believe that it was of his own producing or purchasing? How soon, would you discontinue your unacknowledged favours; and how hateful would his conduct appear, not only to yourself, but to every one who witnessed it!
Yet how little is God owned. We sacrifice to our own net, and burn incense to our own drag. We ascribe our success to the wisdom of our own understanding; or the power of our own arm; or the interest we have in the favour of our fellow-mortals; or we take it, as the effect of chance, while God is not in all our thoughts. « Therefore,” says God, “ I will return and take away my corn in the time thereof; and my wine in the season thereof; for she did not know I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal.” This is a trying method to bring us to reflection ; but it is often necessary. Continued enjoyment seems to give a kind of prescription; at least, it makes us forget our reliance and obligation. We are struck with what is new and out of course ; while we overlook what is regular and habitual. Whereas this should be the grand reason for your praise ; for the claim arises not from our benefits being occasional, but frequent and constant; new every morning and every moment. How soon could the Great Ruler and Benefactor convince you that he is not obliged to continue what you deem your own; and that he can, as easily as justly, recall what he has given. That this may not be the case, sanctify the Lord God in your thoughts. Think of your desert. Compare your condition with that of others. And while you see that the lines have fallen to you in pleasant places, and that you have a goodly heritage, say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” The beginning of some of you was small. You remember a time when you had no inheritance, no not so much as to set your foot on ; and had your subsequent enlargement been foretold, you would have exclaimed, with the doubting nobleman, “If the Lord should make windows in heaven, might such a thing be.” Surely you will follow the example of Jacob, who said, “Lord, I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant: for with my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now I am become two bands.” Surely you will retire with David before the Lord, and say, “O Lord God, what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto? And this was yet a small thing in thy sight, O Lord God; but thou hast spoken also of thy servant's house for a great while to come; and is this the manner of man, O Lord God?” Secondly, You are to improve your Prosperity in a way of beneficence. In this respect you are favoured above many of your brethren. Their ear is not heavy that it cannot hear; but their hand is shortened that it cannot save. They see wants and miseries which only distress them; for they have only the disposition to relieve. But you can indulge its you have the power. Value the substance you possess on this account.--And remember also, that you have it for this very purpose. In the bestowment, God looked beyond yourselves; and designed to make you not only the subjects of his goodness, but the instruments ; not only the recipients, but the diffusers. And how can you neglect to impart relief and comfort to others, while God is perpetually communicating to you? and your condition, as well as your religion, cries, “ Freely ye have received, freely give.” This is the way to have your possessions blessed. This is the way also to have them increased. “Give alms of such things as you have, and behold all things are clean unto you.” “ The liberal soul deviseth liberal things, and by liberal things shall he stand.” “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.”
The objects of your charity are numberless. Some of these have preferable claims; but none of them are to be excluded. " As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them that are of the household of faith.” There are the fatherless and the widow's to visit ; and the sick to heal ; and the naked to clothe ; and the hungry to feed. “The poor you have always with you :" and if you have the ability to succour, and withhold relief, your religion would perplex an inspired Apostle. “Whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutceth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him ? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed, and in truth."
But there are also the cáreless to awaken; the ignorant to instruct; the vicious to reclaim; and the backsliding to restore. The soul is of supreme importance; and it becomes us peculiarly to aid in supporting those institutions, and exertions, which have in view the spiritual and eternal welfare of men. Even these require much pecuniary assistance; and it is the highest honour that can be conferred upon money, that it is employed in carrying on the concerns of the Gospel. These have nobly multiplied in our day; and they occasion frequent applications to your liberality.
But surely you cannot complain of this frequency. It shows the improved state of your beloved country, religiously considered ; and Christians should deem those the best times in which the best cause flourishes most. Surely you would not wish to bring back the state of things a century ago, when, for a year together, avarice and selfishness might have escaped these evangelical vexations. Have you not yourselves been accessory to this improvement ? Have you not been praying that God's kingdom may come, and that his word may have free course and be glorified ? And will you complain or rejoice when those prayers are answered ? When you offered them, did you suppose that what you implored was to be carried on by miracles or by means ? If by means, did you stipulate in these prayers that God should employ the instrumentality of others, and not require your own? Or, did you not mean to place yourselves at his disposal, and to ask, as the work was going on, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do ?” This must have been your meaning if you prayed sincerely and earn
estly; and consistency requires, if you would not be condemned out of your own mouth, every sacrifice in your power. And how much is in the power of some of you! And how would your efficiency be increased, if you would be satisfied with a decent distinction above the vulgar, instead of being splendid; if you would avoid every extravagance and superfluousness in your mode of living; if you would exercise a little of that self-denial, which, after all, is the principal test of real benevolence.
Many rules have been laid down, as to the proportion of your estate or income which should be dedicated to beneficence. If conscience was not so often asleep, or if when awake it had any chance of being heard in the same hour with the love of money, the degree might safely be left to every man's own mind. Nothing however can be more just and reasonable than the injunction of the Apostle, “Let every one of you lay by him in store as God hath prospered him.” This rule is, we fear, seldom observed. Yea some, by a perverse process, feel the disposition diminishing as the ability increases. They give not only less in proportion, but less in reality than they once did. In their contributions, as well as in their qualities, there is a gradation from gold to silver, and from silver to copper. Once they hardly thought it worth while to be covetous. They had little to set up in that character with. But wealth increased, and they soon began to hoard. Nor is it to be supposed that their eagerness to accumulate is declining with age. The less time they have to keep, the harder they are determined to hold; for, as Young says, “there is a dying grasp as well as a dying gasp.”