« AnteriorContinuar »
Our duty towards our neighbour is founded upon our duty to God. We are commanded by the Law of God, and we are taught by the Gospel of Christ, in the clearest and strongest language, to exercise charity towards those who stand in need of it, and are the proper objects. This is a subject on which all men seem to have agreed in a very remarkable manner. The Jews are commanded to obey the precepts of Moses; and Christians are commanded to observe the same moral precepts, which are plain and positive. But not only are both Jews and Christians bound to practise charity to the poor and needy by the respective principles of their religion, we find even Heathens agree with them in adopting the same principles by the Law of Nature. It was required by the Athenian code, that relief should be afforded to strangers in distress. The Temple of the Eumenides, and that of Minerva, as well as the Temple of Theseus, were the appointed places of refuge for the distressed strangers; and in the marketplace at Athens, was erected an altar to Mercy.
Aflteustf ii h nf aytgei—Mm Exmv fitffuti ■ ■i PAP8ANIA8. This altar is said to have been founded by the famous descendants of Hercules, and is beautifully described by Statius, Thebais, lib. xii.
<' Urbe fuit media, nulli concessa potentura
Ara Deum; mitis posuit dementia sedem,
Et miseri fecere sacram."
Here the distressed poor of every description assembled, and sacrifice was offered at the public expense. Doubtless this charity was abused by many unworthy applicants; but their want and distress afforded sufficient pleas for relief.
Homer has inculcated the duty of humanity from a principle of religion, and has referred the claims of the poor to the will of Jove:
Buw'rt, vrm^ttn.—Od. xiv. 56.
The same sentiment is repeated, Od. vi. 205—208. Menander also agrees with It, and confirms it:
"An Mfu^nSt it fwrm rm Btii.—In Stobeeo, Serm. 93.
"The poor are always considered to be under the special protection of Heaven."
These are Christian sentiments, although they proceed from the minds of Heathens; and shall Christians be worse than Heathens? If we refer to the regulations and opinions of the ancient Romans, we shall find that poverty and distress were regarded with the same religious sympathy as in Greece. The Ztut giwof of the one, was the Jupiter Hospitalis of the other:
"Jupiter, hospitibus nam te dare jura loquuntur."
Virgil, -*£n. L 781.
"Ante fores horum stabat Jovis hospitis ara."
Ov. Met. x. 224.
And Cicero, in his Epistle to his brother Quintius, write* feelingly:—" Non ilium offendat ne imploret fidem Jovis Hospitalis." He expresses the same benevolent and humane feeling for the poor in several parts of his ' Offices.' But no expreilion of such feeling can surpass the pathetic sentiments of Juvenal:
Humano generi, dare se natura fatetur,
Quae, lachrymal dedit: hnc nostri pars optima sensus."
Sat. xv. 131—133.
Juvenal seems here to have adopted the exquisite sentiment of Virgil, JEn. i. 462:
"Sunt lachrymae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt."
Cicero has well observed, amidst many other just and humane remarks,—" In hominum genere nulla melior est natura, quam eorum, qui se natos ad homines juvandos, tutandos, conservandos arbitrantur."—1 Offic. n. 20, n. 42; 2 Tusc. n. 82.
From this cursory view of humanity and benevolence in former ages, it appears sufficiently evident that the ancient Greeks and Romans had a great regard for the wants and distresses of the poor, and an anxious desire to relieve them. Whatever their policy or bounty devised for the purpose of affording relief, the influence of Christianity reduced to a regular system ; and it may be truly said, that some of the best moral principles of the Christian religion have been engrafted into the Statute Law. The 43rd Elizabeth was as wise as it was humane, and the repeal of it is much to be lamented. Charity, in its truest and most extensive signification, formed so essential a part of the religion of the Gospel, that its principle was adopted by the Christian Church established at the Reformation. As the Church of England was founded upon the Divine authority of the sacred Scriptures, it would have been most inconsistent to overlook the numerous passages which relate to this subject. Without referring to the Law of Moses, we need only direct our attention to the doctrines of Jesus Christ and his Apostles, particularly the parables of the Good Samaritan, and of Dives and Lazarus (if the last be a parable and not a true history), the solemn and sublime account of the day of judgment, as given by the future Judge himself, and the expressive description of charity given by the Apostle St. Paul. We have therefore abundant Heathen and Christian testimonies in favour of this duty, which is in truth the fulfilment of the moral law, as it relates to our neighbour. And we may surely conclude from these observations, that if we violate that law, by not performing the duty which is required of us, we are condemned by it.