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THE DUTY OF DOING GOOD AND
I. TIMOTHY vi. 17–19.
CHARGE THEM THAT ARE RICH IN THIS WORLD THAT
THEY BE NOT HIGH-MINDED, NOR TRUST IN UNCERTAIN RICHES, BUT IN THE LIVING GOD, WHO GIVETH US RICHLY ALL THINGS TO ENJOY; 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 zealous advocates for doctrinal truth are very apt to overlook the preceptive part of the Gospel. Many such persons suppose that they are released from the law of God as a rule of duty, by the dispensation of Divine grace. They consider the preaching of moral and religious duties as legal, and that the design of such preaching is to establish justification by the works of the law, and to subvert the doctrine of justification by faith. Now this is a great and manifest error; for if it were
true, it would prove that our Lord himself was a legal preacher in his sermon on the Mount, and his Apostles also in various passages of their Acts and Epistles, especially the Apostle St. Paul, in the words of the text.
That some persons may insist too often and too much on the precepts of the moral law, to the exclusion of the doctrines of the Gospel, cannot be denied ; and the true system of the Christian religion is to unite both these considerations together. The end of all useful speculation is practice. The use of all religious truth is to regulate the actions of rational and intelligent beings, and to teach us upon what principles we ought to act. When we find the Apostle Paul maintaining the permanent duty of Christian charity, we must be right in maintaining the same doctrine. Now abideth faith, hope, charity—these three ; but the greatest of these is charity.* So likewise in the words of the text addressed to Timothy, we should form a very wrong opinion of this duty, and act in a very wrong manner, if we either thought or acted as Christians in a different way. Charge them that are rich in this world that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy ; 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.
* I Cor. xiii, 13.
We may see clearly, that in this exhortation or command there is contained much important doctrine, as well as moral and religious instruction ; and the words of the text lead us to consider,
I. The nature of the duty here enjoined;
III. The manner in which this duty ought to be performed;
IV. The motives to the performance of it.
The nature of the duty here enjoined is charity; and the meaning of charity is a disposition of mind to relieve the wants and distresses of the poor, as far as our ability extends, and as far as their wants and necessities require. I am aware that this is contrary to the received opinion now, that the poor have no right to relief, or even to employment; but I hold an opinion myself, founded upon the authority of God, that they are lawfully entitled to both; and I argue no less from Scripture than from the law of the land, as it existed before the new law.
If it be objected to this opinion, that the new law supersedes the Scriptures and the law of the land, as it before stood, I say that no new law can supersede or abolish either the law of God or the law of the land, as founded upon the law of God. If any man opposes, as I well know and lament that many do oppose, this opinion, I can only say that I leave him to the judgment of God. But I readily admit that we are not to run away with wild and fanciful ideas of charity. We are
not to suppose that every man is to interpret the meaning of charity in every sense. Some persons are what the world calls charitable from ostentation; others from self-interest ; others from natural feeling; and others from the love of admiration and applause. Finally, not a small number of persons, and those the most estimable among mankind in general, exercise charity, because they think the performance of this duty the sum and substance of religion, and expect from it the blessing and favour of God, and the enjoyment of eternal life.
These persons erroneously suppose that they can purchase heaven at the price set upon it in the Gospel. But they are grievously mistaken; for no man can possibly merit the reward of eternal life by his own good works. However desirable and commendable they may be when performed from right motives and principles, they are not meritorious in the judgment of infinite and perfect Justice. Charity, in the true sense and meaning of the word, denotes both PIETY and BENEVOLENCE. It consists in kind offices done to the afflicted and distressed, from a principle of love to God and love to our neighbour. All acts of real charity are therefore performed from a sense of duty, as well as from sympathy for the poor and distressed, and from a principle of religion which teaches us to obey the law of God, and to follow the example of him who went about doing good,* both to the souls and bodies of
* Acts x. 38.
men. Having thus defined and explained the meaning of the duty, we will proceed to consider,
II. The proper objects of this charity.
In some sense it may be said that charity is due to all persons in need of it, when we have the means of affording it. But it is plain and obvious, that if charity be universal in its nature, it cannot be unlimited in its extent. It is strictly confined, in all cases, to doing good and doing what is right. Indiscriminate charity is, in this sense, no charity at all; for it may do more harm than good, by encouraging the worthless and the profligate, the drunken and disorderly, the idle and improvident. It is an invariable rule to be observed in the exercise of charity, that the better the character, the higher is the claim. The Apostle has therefore taught Christians to do good unto all men, but especially to them who are of the household of faith.* To relieve the distresses and wants of the religious poor, is a duty of so much importance, that our Lord assures us, that forasmuch as we have done it unto the least of these his brethren, we have done it unto him ; and he will accordingly remember it at the final judgment.
Among those in general to whom we ought to perform the good offices of kindness, are the poor within our own knowledge, and in our own neighbourhood, because it is in our power to do them more good than those who live at a distance, and are comparatively strangers; because those who live in other parishes, or
* Gal. vi. 10.