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YE OUGHT TO SUPPORT THE WEAK, AND TO REMEMBER
THE WORDS OF THE LORD JESUS, HOW HE SAID, IT IS MORE BLESSED TO GIVE THAN TO RECEIVE. ACTS xx. 35.
CHILDREN of this world, and children of light, are phrases of the Scripture, by which two opposite parties of men are distinguished; and it is a considerable step toward the Christian life, to understand rightly their different principles and rules of action. A general character of each, so far as our present subject is concerned with them, may be given in few words. The children of this world are they who study how to turn men's labours and passions and prejudices to their own advantage; and their chief wisdom consists in making other men useful to themselves. The children of light, having higher objects in view, think it their wisdom as well as their happiness to make themselves useful to all mankind. It never could be expected that the former would pay much regard to the memorable saying in the text; therefore it is addressed to the latter; to Christians, who are glad to hear, and ready to follow, the words of the Lord Jesus. He, whose first object it is, to get as much as he can, by any means whatsoever, will find little inclination to give; especially on a religious motive; for the sake of a prospect which he could never see: but he, whose faith has taught him that he may be a gainer by his losses, will readily admit that he may be blessed for his gifts. From this great difference in their opinions, the man of the world despises the Christian ; while the Christian pities the man of the world, and understands him much better than he understands himself.
Our blessed Saviour was the great example of his own sublime doctrine. He came into the world, not to receive, but to give. He refused its wealth, its honour, and its power: he gave bread to the hungry, comfort to the afflicted, health to the sick, life to the dead : he gave himself for our redemption, and ascended up on high, that he might send down · his gifts upon earth : he is now daily giving to those that ask, and has promised to assist his church with his gifts to the end of the world.
We have another eminent example of this doctrine in the person of St. Paul : “ I have coveted (said he) “ no man's silver, or gold, or apparel ; yea, you your“ selves know, that these hands have ministered unto “ my necessities, and to them that were with me."
This duty of ministering to the necessities of them that are with us, our fellow-christians, friends, relations and associates in the work of the Gospel, is the subject we have before us on the present occasion : you will therefore permit me to recommend it to your attention from the words of the text; which teach us,
First, that we ought to support the weak.
Secondly, that we are encouraged so to do, from the consideration, that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
That the strong ought to support the weak, is in a manner self-evident from the state of mankind ; who
being by nature endued with unequal powers, are formed into societies for their mutual assistance and protection, as the superior and the subordinate members are set together in the same body. And if God has made all men for one another, as the constitution of things plainly indicates, the world, wicked as it is, can present us with no vice more unnatural and detestable than selfishness. For what could any one amongst us have done, unless the Creator in his mercy had provided those, whose duty and pleasure it was to support us when we had no help in ourselves? We bring into life no faculty but that of signifying our wants; and the cries of an infant find a ready way to the heart of a parent. In our first years, the attendance of the mother is necessary; without which the tender plant must fade and perish : and the father is called upon for support and education till the years of manhood. Every child comes forward in the world under an obligation to repay the debt of gratitude upon other objects with some of that same kindness, without which he himself must have been lost: and the sordid wretch, who can gratify and indulge himself without any sense of this obligation, should have been left upon a common, there to cry to the winds and the elements, which have no sense of human weakness. “ Be kind to “ strangers,” said the Law, "for ye were once strangers “ in Egypt * ;" so may the moralist say, with parity of reason, support the weak, for ye were once weak as they are.
In virtue of this argument, the first debt is due to parents and all relations; but it extends to all mankind. Want and weakness, wherever they are found, carry their own recommendation to a benevo
lent mind. And we must not be too strict in enquiring after the causes of them. They may be the effects of vice and folly; yet sinners have a claim upon sinners; and if they stand in need of admonition, no man has so just a title to reprove and amend
If God were extreme to examine into the claims of all those who apply to his mercy, how few would be fit to say their prayers ! The most proper objects for the exercise of true benevolence are those who have it not in their power to make any return: perhaps they will never have it in their inclination; yet the Father of mercy, who is to be our pattern, extends his goodness to the unthankful and to the evil, and sends his rain upon the just and upon the unjust.
When we consider ourselves as Christians, every page of the New Testament will suggest some additional obligation to the practice of this duty. There we are instructed, that no man liveth to himself; that neither our effects nor our persons are at our own disposal ; that we have nothing but what we receive; that we are all related in Christ Jesus, as members of the same mystical body, animated by the same Spirit, and called to the same faith and hope : that we have the same friends and the same enemies. On which considerations, the Christian Society, in the purest ages of the Church, subsisted as one family upon a common stock. No man said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own, but they, who had . houses or lands, sold them, and a fund was raised, out of which distribution was made unto every man according as he had need *. This charitable mode of allotting
* Acts iv. 32, &c.
to him that lacked the superfluities of him that abounded, was suggested to the people of God by the distribution of the manna in the wilderness : of which he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; every man had a supply according to his wants. We are not to suppose that Christians are to surrender their whole substance now as at first : our present circumstances seem to render that impracticable: but this we are never to forget, that God permits, we may say, ordains, inequality of possession, that the piety of his servants may correct it by an equality of distribution. And the opportunity will never be wanting. Poverty shall never cease; distress shall never have an end ; and tears shall flow for the merciful to wipe them away, till God shall take that office upon himself: and when there shall be no more sin, there will be no more sorrow.
Hence we infer, that the abundance of one man above another is no effect of chance, nor of any partial intention in Divine Providence; it must be so ; and he who wishes to see men in a state of equality, wishes to see them more like the beasts, who are incapable of considering each other's wants, and are rather taught by their instinct to chace away every poor stranger as an intruder: but by man, superior property is held in trust; whence every rich man will have an account to render as an overseer of the poor upon his own stock; and if any should be found to have perished for want of the relief which he might and ought to have bestowed, but did not, justice will one day have a claim upon him, which no money can satisfy: and many a poor man will have reason to thank God he was not that rich man.
If possession were absolute, it would follow, that