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SAINTS, AS I HAVE GIVEN ORDER TO
UPON THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK, LET EVERY
ONE OF YOU LAY BY HIM IN STORE, AS GOD HATH PROSPERED HIM. I COR. XVI. 1, 2.
we learn, that the custom of providing for the wants of necessitous Christians by a voluntary contribution, is as ancient as Christianity itself. The method ordained by the apostle in the churches of Galatia, and, by this precept of the text, in the church of Corinth also, was to lay by something in store weekly, according to the abilities of each, and the blessing of God upon their affairs; and at stated times, what was so raised, was collected by the governors of the church, and distribution was made as every man had need; so that in the tirst ages, though there would of course be many poor in the church, because there were people of all orders converted to the faith, yet there were none without relief. If they were sick, or under persecution, or any other misfortune, they were the pensioners of the church, and their wants were supplied, as the charity and prudence of their rulers directed.
The text seems to call upon me to take a review of the modes of making collections for the poor, which have prevailed among Christians in different ages of the church. The subject is edifying in itself, and very interesting at the time when the poor are supported at so enormous an expence; which shews that they are strangely multiplied, and the causes of this deserve to be enquired into.
So great was the zeal of those who first embraced the Gospel, that if they were wealthy they sold their possessions, and a common fund was raised, out of which the ministers of the church were maintained, and the poor relieved at their discretion. .
Though this practice of selling all was really and readily observed by many, we do not find it was absolutely commanded. But this other custom of laying apart something every week was established by a standing order of the church, which extended to every member of it, according to their several abilities : let ercry one of you, says the apostle, lay by him in store.
When the church was farther spread, and better established, then the ancient rule took place amongst the Christians, of giving the tenth part of all their increase; which rule had been observed long before the law of Moses, and lasted, though with many abuses and interruptions, till the times of the Gospel, when we hear the Pharisee boasting that he gave tithes of all he possessed. When Christianity was admitted into this country, the same practice came with it, which prevailed, as we learn from the writings of the first ages, in all other nations of the world. Christians gave a tenth part of the increase
of their lands and chattels, and every article from which any gain or profit was derived. In process of time, the first hereditary Saxon monarch that governed the whole nation of England in peace, repeated what had been done in another form about an hundred years before ; he gave to the church, by a solemn charter, with the presence and consent of the Lords and Commons, the tithes of the whole kingdom for ever, in the year of our Lord 855, and offered his charter upon the altar of the great church at Westminster, the bishops receiving it from his hands on the part of God. The piety of succeeding benefactors. added many lands to the support of the church and religious monasteries; and out of these, churches and colleges were built: strangers and travellers were entertained ; the poor were all fed, or set to work, and the sick received into infirmaries, and almonries (or amberies) as they were then called. I do not pretend to say that there was no mixture of superstition in these things ; that charity was not carried to excess; and that there were not many abuses in religious societies. It could not be otherwise ; because there never was any good in this world, nor ever will be, without a mixture of evil. In this, however, as a fact, all writers agree, that it belonged to the church for many hundred years to take care of the poor out of their own revenues : and it was computed, in former times, that in all the parishes of England, taking them one with another, one-fourth part of the tithes of the parish-would, and actually did, maintain
. Till the latter end of the reign of Elizabeth, there never was any tax laid upon England as a poor's ratc. Before the Reformation, the poor were kept by the clergy, with the voluntary contributions of well dis
posed people; but there was no such thing as a poor's rate. The bishops and clergy of different kinds, kept open hospitality for the benefit of strangers and travellers, and the poor of the neighbourhood; and were obliged so to do by their foundations : and it pleased God to bless these means to such a degree, that the poor were' no burthen to the nation : not a penny was imposed upon any lay-man for maintaining them. But when the sacrilegious encroachments of Popery were confirined at the Reformation, by the alienation of church lands, and the clergy were thereby impoverished; the laity who took them did not comply with the conditions of the tenure.
Reason and law suggest to us, that they, who got the lands of the church, took them with the encumbrance that was upon them. Out of those lands the poor had been maintained; therefore, they that took the lands should have taken the poor with them; and they made a great shew of doing it for a time, because that was the pretence with which they took them from the clergy: but when the fish was taken, the net was laid aside.
I need not inform you what state we are in at present, when the poor's rates are come to such an enormous height throughout the kingdom, that about the year 1700 they were computed at a million yearly: and from that time to this they have been more than doubled ; so that there is more than twice as much paid to the poor, as is now paid to all the clergy in the kingdom. And in all this expence, there is no charity; no devotion as formerly; it is an involuntary payment, forced from us by law, and squeezed out of many, who are filter to receive something for their own wants, than to contribute to the wants of others.
If there was a time, when one-fourth of the tithes was found sufficient to maintain the parish-poor, and the revenues of the national poor are now twice as great as the revenues of the church; thence it follows, that where they had one poor man we have eight throughout the kingdom, that is, 1000 poor instead of 125. It may please God still to increase the poor, till they swallow up the rich who devoured them: for I think it requires no degree
no degree of superstition or credulity to see the hand of God in this whole matter.
Even heathens were persuaded that their gods were the avengers of sacrilege ; and if it is a certain fact that the poor have increased as the church hath gone down, they who lessened the patrimony of the church brought upon us such an evil as might be expected ; indeed, such as seems to follow naturally and necessarily; for what a man soweth; that shall he also reap; therefore, he that soweth in sacrilege must expect to reap in poverty. Even in this parish, there is a singular concurrence of circumstances : and if I speak of them, you all know me too well to suspect I have any design in it, but that of following the order of my subject; wbich has required me to give you a brief and impartial history of collections for the poor, and the nature of them in different ages. It is a fact known to us all, that in this place, no part of the property of the parish is' settled upon the service of the church. The rectorial tithes are in the possession of a lay impropriator who is a papist; the vicarial are taken by the minister of another parish ; and the only certain dependence of a minister is upon benefactions of a modern date from other quarters.
So stands the case with the church. Now look at the you will find such a charge as occurs but