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restrained by his own excessive indigence, he employed the most effectual means to procure for them the generous benefactions of their wealthier companions in the faith of the Gospel. The following passages, extracted from his epistles, may serve as sufficient proofs of this: "Brethren," I cannot but inform you "of the grace of God bestowed on the Churches of Macedonia; how that, in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power, they were willing of themselves; praying us, with much entreaty, that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. Therefore, as ye abound in faith, in utterance, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also. I speak by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love. For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye, through his poverty, might be rich. Wherefore, show ye, before the Churches, the proof of your love, and of our boasting on your behalf," 2 Cor. viii, 1-24.
Not yet content with these earnest solicitations in behalf of the poor, the apostle thus proceeds to enforce his importunities: "I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren that they should go before unto you, and make up beforehand your bounty, that the same might be ready, as a matter of bounty, and not as of covetousness. But this I say, he that soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully, shall reap also bountifully. God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to 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; that ye may be enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causes through us thanksgiving to God. For the administration of this service not only supplieth the wants of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God: while, by the experiment of this ministration, they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the Gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men," 2 Cor. ix, 5-13. Who could possibly refuse any thing to a godly minister pleading the cause of the poor, with all this apostolic dignity, simplicity, and zeal?
After having obtained alms for the poor, the Apostle Paul cautiously avoided all suspicion of appropriating any part of them to the relief of his own necessities; and was equally careful that they were never misemployed through the unfaithfulness of those who were appointed to distribute them. One of our brethren, adds the apostle, "chosen of the Churches, accompanies" us in our journey "with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind: avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance, which is administered by us: providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men," 2 Cor. viii, 9-21. Mentioning again his favourite employment, he writes to a distant Church, "Now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints, which are at Jerusalem. When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain. Now I beseech you, brethren, that ye strive together in your prayers for me, that I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea; and that the service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints," Rom. xv, 25-31.
Thus to wait upon the Churches, and particularly thus to attend upon the poor, is to merit the name of a faithful minister.
TRAIT XXI. His charity toward sinners in offering them every spiritual assistance.
To solicit alms for those who are destitute of food and raiment, and at the same time to withhold the word of God from those "who hunger and thirst after righteousness," is to manifest an unhappy inconsistency of character. Such inconsistencies, however, are frequently discoverable even among pastors, who pique themselves upon their disposition to works of benevolence and charity.
Man has an immortal soul. This soul, which is properly himself, is rendered, by disobedience, so totally ignorant and completely miserable, that she seeks to enrich herself with the vanities of the world, and to gratify her inclinations with the pollutions of sin. In pity to the soul in this state of wretchedness, the truths of the Gospel are proposed by a compassionate God, as a sacred remedy, adapted to the nature of her innumerable wants: they illumine the blind with spiritual light and knowledge; they clothe the naked with the robe of righteousness; they feed the hungry; they heal the sick; they burst the captive's bands; they give eternal life to those who are dead in trespasses and sin: in a word, they make us partakers of the great salvation of God. To publish this Gospel, then, or to procure the preaching of it to sinners, is undoubtedly to give them an important proof of the most excellent charity; while, on the other hand, to refuse them the word of God, or to avoid any occasion of administering it, is absolutely or occasionally to deny them those spiritual alms and assistances which the Saviour of the world has appointed for their daily relief. The pastor who acts in this unbecoming manner resembles a physician, or an almoner, who, having received a charge from his prince to supply the poor with food, or the sick with medicine, not only refuses to acquit himself with his acknowledged duty with diligence and impartiality, but strenuously opposes those who endeavour to supply his lack of service. Such a minister seems to maintain a system as absurd and cruel as would be that of either of those characters just alluded to, who should pretend that no one had authority to administer alms to the poor, or medicine to the sick, except such as received pensions from the prince for that purpose; and that even these would act in a disorderly manner, if they should dare to distribute alms or remedies except on the Sabbath day, and then only during particular hours.
So long as any pastor seeks his own glory, so long he will be subject to some degree of that contemptible jealousy, which will not suffer him to behold with pleasure the more abundant and successful labours of his brethren. But the faithful minister of Christ, whose chief desire is the prosperity of the Church, is actuated by a totally different spirit. Though he has a peculiar satisfaction in beholding the success of his own spiritual labours; yet when he hears the Gospel published by others, and even by such as are apparently influenced by unworthy motives, he greatly rejoices in their success. His charity, which neither envies another's prosperity, nor seeks his own particular advantage, expresses itself, upon so delicate a subject, in the language of St. Paul: "Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife, supposing to add affliction to my bonds. What then? notwithstanding every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and I will rejoice," Phil, i, 15-18.
Influenced by envy, or rendered insensible by their lukewarmness, worldly ministers are absolute strangers to the generous pleasure here mentioned by the apostle; nor have they the least idea of acting in a criminal manner, when they will not permit the truths of the Gospel to be freely declared by all who are disposed to announce them.
The good pastor, by whatever name he may be distinguished, lives only to publish the Gospel, and to convert the souls committed to his charge: to restrain him then from attending to these important labours, is to force him aside from the true end of his calling, and must appear to every enlightened mind a greater act of cruelty, than to withhold the rich from giving alms,-or to detain an expert swimmer from saving his drowning brethren. If such a pastor, in any period of his life, has acted like a monopolist of the Gospel, and, by denying to the "poor in spirit," what was freely given for their support, has caused in any place a "famine of the word;" he believes himself abundantly more culpable than those avaricious merchants, who, by forming a monopoly of grain in the East Indies, caused a grievous famine in that country, by which an innumerable multitude of its inhabitants perished. Those covetous men denied to the bodies of their neighbours a perishable nourishment; but he has withheld from the souls of his brethren that precious manna, which might have preserved them to everlasting life. Such was the crime of those whom our Lord addressed in the following words: "Wo unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them, that are entering, to go in," Matt, xxiii, 13. Observe St. Paul's sentiments of such characters. With respect to those Jews, "who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; they please not God, and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles, that they might be saved," filling up by this means the measure of their sin: "for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost," 1 Thess. ii, 15, 16.
If the character which the apostle here describes was odious in a Jew, without doubt it is more so in a Christian, and still doubly detestable in a minister of the Gospel, whose heart should continually be animated with a fervent desire for the conversion of sinners, and the salvation of all mankind. Were it possible for those who are distinguished by this trait of the character of Antichrist to discover the turpitude of their own conduct, they would acknowledge themselves abundantly more guilty than the robber, who should force away from a famished pauper the morsel of bread he had begged in his distress. They would pronounce, without hesitation, that the foster-mother who neglects the infant she has undertaken to cherish, and prevents her charitable neighbours from affording it any nourishment, is still more excusable than the pastor, who, not content with refusing to feed the flock of Christ, endeavours to scatter his sheep wherever they are found feeding, seeking out accusations against those who have led them to a refreshing pasture, and studying, by every mean, to withdraw the Gospel from those penitent sinners, who, "as new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that they may grow thereby," 1 Pet. ii, 2.
Happy will be the age in which Christian pastors shall no longer be found, like the scribes in the days of Si. Paul, labouring to fill up the measure of their iniquities! Then truth and piety shall no longer be restrained by the fetters of prejudice and bigotry! Then the faithful shall worship God, and publish the Gospel, with as much freedom as the dissipated indulge themselves in the sports of the age, or the malevolent in slandering their neighbours!
Charity avoids all appearance of haughtiness, and is never seen to act in an unbecoming manner. On the contrary, full of courtesy, she fears lest she should give offence to any; and, full of benevolence, she labours for the edification of all. Here the charitable pastor cannot act otherwise than with a holy condescension toward all men, and especially toward the ignorant and poor, with whom the ministers of the present age will scarcely deign to converse: and, without ever slipping his foot into the pit of error, he sometimes approaches it with a happy mixture of compassion and prudence, for the relief of those who are unable to extricate themselves from it. "Though I am free from all men," writes St . Paul, "yet I have made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews: to them that are without law, as without law, that I might gain them that are without a written law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the Gospel's sake," 1 Cor. ix, 19-23. "All things are lawful for me," continues he, "but all things are not expedient: all tiiings are lawful for me, but all things edify not," 1 Cor. x, 23. "When ye sin against the brethren by wounding their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, 1 will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend," 1 Cor. viii, 12, 13. "Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking . mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved," 1 Cor. x, 32, 33.
Behold that sweet prudence of charity which our Lord recommended to his disciple*), when he pointed out the folly of putting new wine into such bottles as were unable to resist the force of the fermenting liquor.
And of this aflectionate discretion he himself gave them a striking example, when he said, "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now." If this condescending carriage was lovely in the blessed Jesus, it will ever appear amiable in his humble imitators, who can say, with the Apostle Paul, to the weaker members of the Church, "We have fed you with milk, and not with meat; for hitherto ye were not able to bear it," 1 Cor. iii, 2.
Special care is, however, to be taken that this charitable condescension may never betray the interests of truth and virtue. "Abstain," saith St. Paul, "from all appearance of evil," 1 Thess. v, 22. "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ," 1 Cor. xi, 1. For " herein do I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men," Acts xxiv, 16. And "our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward," among whom we have laboured in the Gospel, 2 Cor. i, 12.
If there exist pastors who lack this condescension toward the poor, or who are destitute of that humble charity which can familiarize itself with the most ignorant for their edification and comfort: if there are ministers to be found who are ever meanly complaisant to the rich, and who are void of holy resolution in the presence of the great, instead of conducting themselves with that mingled humility and dignity which are suitable to the character they sustain,—may the one and the other be convinced of the grievous error into which they are fallen, while they contemplate this opposite trait in the character of St. Paul.
Upon what consideration is founded the humiliating distinction which is generally made between the rich and the poor? Was Christ manifested in a state of earthly grandeur? Did he not chiefly associate with the poor? Far from flattering the rich, did he not insinuate that they would, with the utmost difliculty, enter into the kingdom of God? Did he not affirm it were better for a man to be cast into the sea with a millstone about his neck, than to offend the poorest believer? Did he not declare that he would consider the regard shown to the meanest of his followers as though he himself had been the immediate object of it? When St. James assures us that "he who converteth a sinner from the error of his way," performs the best of all possible good works, because, by preventing a multitude of sins, he places the soul in the road to every virtue,—can this declaration be supposed to lose any of its force when applied to the soul of a poor man? Are not the lowest of men immortal as the most elevated? Did not Christ humble himself to the death of the cross for the poor as well as the rich? "Hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom?" And, finally, were the angels less ready to convey the soul of perishing Lazarus to paradise than that of wealthy Abraham? Perish then for ever that unchristian prejudice which dishonours the poor, nourishes the pride of the rich, and leads us to the violation of that great command, by which we become as guilty as though we had transgressed the whole law, the spirit of which is love. And let us remember it is only out of the ruins of so despicable a partiality, that the engaging condescension, of which St. Paul has left us so lovely an example, can possibly be produced.
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