12. The dignity and responsibilities growing out of the fundamental truth before partially unfolded, that God, under the gospel, having given us general principles and laws touching benevolence, has left the amount and frequency or our contributions to our own decision. The position we occupy under the new dispensation is full of interest and solemnity. As it is one of peculiar dignity, it is one of peculiar peril. God has now raised us to the true platform of intelligent and moral beings; given our reason and consciences free scope to exercise their own energetic and controlling powers. He has, indeed, always given man this prerogative, but in a higher sense under the Gospel than before; in other words, placed him in a position better fitted for the development of his whole being. He has thrown him more entirely on his personal responsibility and the decisions of individual judgment, by laying down general principles from which he is to ascertain his every-day duties. All the noble powers of the soul, directed by the Spirit's influences, are to be brought into full operation and work in concert; the heart, without impediment, concurring with the reason; the purposes, with the affections. This is "the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free."
Paul has beautifully illustrated this subject by comparing the condition of a son before and after becoming of age.*[Gal. iv.] While a minor, he is kept in subordination to his father; "under tutors and governors," his judgment in the management of affairs is under the control of another. While a minor, he is kept in subordination to his father; "under tutors and governors," his judgment in the management of affairs is under the control of another. But when he comes of age, he is elevated to a new position, assumes new interests and new responsibilities. He must then reason, judge, and act for himself. So under the Jewish dispensation, God dealt with our race as minors; left them not to the direction of their own individual wisdom—to form specific rules from general principles; but led them by definite precepts; not such always as rise out of the nature of things; but such as he saw best fitted, by a sort of foreshadowing, to prepare them for the more glorious state to which they were approaching. Hence all those positive laws, rites, and solemn festivals—appointed "days, and months, and times, and years," tithes and double tithes to which they were in bondage. But when Christ came, this bondage was broken. We were emancipated from this system of tutelage; henceforth, breathing the spirit of adoption and enjoying the freedom of sons, we were to act according to the dictates of our sanctified hearts and enlightened judgments, like beatified spirits, who, swayed alone by reason, conscience, and love, in the highest sense free and intelligent, speed on their course in harmony with Jehovah. So, under the dispensation of grace, every act must spring voluntarily from the mind, enlightened by comprehensive views of Scripture principles. Charged with obligations inalienable as our very being, we are sent forth on the career of probationary existence, amenable alone to our own consciences and the bar of final awards. God, so to speak, has reposed confidence in us, and it may not be abused. This is true in relation to charity, as well as to other duties. For the free discharge of this duty is one of our most solemn trusts. Each one, enlightened by the great principles of disinterested benevolence, is left to the decisions of his own mind in shaping his conduct and alms to its requisitions. To be permitted to judge for ourselves in matters of such high and solemn import is an exalted dignity. But to every degree of dignity and privilege, there is attached an increase of responsibility.
Such is our present attitude in relation to the work of benevolence. Now shall we abuse this confidence, despise our privileges, and show ourselves unworthy of our almost angelic exaltation? Shall we make this liberation from the specific requisition of tithes "an occasion to the flesh," an excuse for less pecuniary sacrifices than the Jews were subjected to? What ingratitude! How displeasing to our Heavenly Father who has raised us thus high!
Hence, exemption from tithes, instead of relaxing our obligations to beneficence, rather strengthens them. As charity is purely a matter of voluntariness, the whole soul must be enlisted in it. We must not only guard against a betrayal of our trust, but against dispositions in the least at variance with its duties. We must keep our hearts in sympathy with Christ; lest, failing in sympathy with him, we fail to imitate him.
Let these responsibilities, together with the ingratitude and contempt of God's favor implied in the non-fulfilment, be earnestly contemplated. Let us tremble lest we make the privilege of a more spiritual beneficence, and excuse "for withholding more than is meet," and turn the blessing into a curse.
13. That benevolence is the measure of personal piety. Personal piety is personal resemblance to Christ. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." Christ's character is essentially love. This induced him to die for lost man. Now just so far as we resemble Christ we shall imitate him, and, therefore, feel for those on whom the wrath of God is still abiding. And just so far as we feel for them, we shall be willing to do for them; and just so far as we are willing to do for them, we shall contribute of our substance in proportion to our means to relieve their spiritual necessities. So that our beneficence or sacrifices for the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom, will be the just measure of our love to him. This truth we should wear in our hearts. We should make it a principle to give that amount which we shall be satisfied to recognize as the exponent of our piety, and be content that others should thus regard it; such as we shall be willing to pen down and hang up in our bed-chambers, so that we can contemplate it every evening and morning as our full estimation of Christ's dying love;—such that after counting our herds and flocks, examining our barns and granaries, surveying our merchandise, and reckoning up our dues, we can enter our closets and pray for the conversion of the world without blushing before God. Does any one shrink from this criterion of his piety? I fear he will shrink away from the presence of his final Judge, and bury himself in the darkness of hell; his works and conscience alike testifying his unfitness for the world of light.
14. That the true mission of the church in the present age is beneficence. Though the gospel has been preached nearly 2000 years, yet a deep night of spiritual darkness is still brooding over the greatest portion of the world. Millions on millions have no knowledge of the Saviour, and other millions have no right appreciation of his truth and grace; while, blinded by sin and fascinated by its treacherous charms, they are treading their way, rank after rank, to woes everlasting. God's providence seems now to be moving upon the spiritual chaos, preparing it for the reception of light. Obstacles to the introduction of the gospel into benighted regions are fast giving way. The kingdoms spread beneath the sun, from north to south, from China to the farthest verge of the west, are seemingly in the posture of waiting for evangelical instruction. The Macedonian cry is coming up from the four winds. It is made to the church, the sacramental host of God's elect; and they must answer it.
God appoints, in some respects, special duties to different ages and nations. It was the peculiar mission of European Christians in the sixteenth century to break the yoke of papal supremacy; of England in the time of Cromwell to waken those notes of ecclesiastical and civil freedom which are still reverberating among the mountains of Europe, and shakings dynasties; of our fathers to achieve the political independence of the United States,—to plant the genial tree of liberty, and water it with their blood. Now what does the providence of God indicate as the special ministry of the church in the present age? It is written all over the face of the world. We learn it in the awakened condition of heathen, barbarous, and half-civilized countries; in the stir of intellectual energy which is sweeping over the kingdoms, jostling thrones and alarming monarchs; in the tottering pillars of corrupt religions, and of long-established institutions of iniquity; in the progress of governmental science in connection with political liberty, and the extension of the arts of civilization; in augmented facilities for traveling, together with increased efforts for education, and the consequent quickening of mind; in the degradation of those "who know not God," the wants of seamen, of the oppressed, of the spiritually destitute both in our own and other lands, and in the charitable movements of the times. All these seem to declare unequivocally that the special work of the church in this age is benevolence—to toil, to endure privations, to make sacrifices of ease and of property to evangelize the nations. God has opened channels flowing past almost every man's door, ready to convey his donations to distant regions of the globe, carrying light and salvation wherever they go. The appalling condition of the heathen in bygone ages has been as great and pitiable as now; but never have there been so many available opportunities to reach them. These opportunities impose new obligations.
We have seen in a preceding part of this essay, that our bounties should be in a compound proportion to calls and ability. This is a principle which the present generation would do well to consider; letting it penetrate the very heart's core. To meet such emergencies as are now transpiring on the moral stage, perhaps, was one reason why Christ designated no specific ratio of income for charity. He foresaw there would be crises when no proportion would be adequate, and when the christian heart would yearn to give more than his income, even all his living. And may not the present be such a crisis?
Indeed, the multiplied opportunities afforded us of invading the dominions of the prince of darkness plainly intimate that the present is a crisis demanding the most generous sacrifices for God. The sigh of every breeze that sweeps over the blood-stained regions of idolatry declares it. The cries and outstretched arms of millions sinking into the everlasting gulf declare it. Then let it be laid up in the mind as a settled truth, that it is our peculiar ministry to break the chains of ignorance and superstition, to demolish the habitations of cruelty, to crush the thrones of intellectual and moral enthralment, to overthrow the temples of idolatry, and bring up man from his long degradation to reunion with God through the blood of the Lamb. There has probably been no age since the foundation of the world, which has demanded so great contributions as this, and, perhaps, no subsequent age will, till the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. At least in a few generations we trust the Gospel light shall illumine every shore. Then there will be no such urgent calls on our charities; certainly none pressing with such undying interests. This, therefore, is emphatically the age of giving; for the bulk of the church can aid effectually in bringing about the happy consummation of millennial glory in no other way. Would that Christians of the present generation could be induced to look at this truth in its intense application to themselves individually. Would that its accents could be made to ring over every hill top, and echo through every valley in Christendom; startling the soldiers of the cross to deeds of love, as the voice of Peter the hermit once bristled with arms the plains of Europe to shed the blood of infidels.
Not long since, thousands were starving and dying in Ireland. A cry of anguish came up, and thousands of generous American hearts responded to the call. This was noble. It was thought to be an especial occasion for benevolence. Who did not feel that every Irish landholder should have shared his abundance with the suffering and dying poor around him? But what is the death of the body to the death of the soul! What is the temporal destruction of a few thousands to the eternal damnation of hundreds of millions! Was it the duty of the wealthy Irish to feed their starving neighbors? And since the providence of God has made the remotest of earth's dwellers who are perishing for lack of vision our neighbors, should we not supply them with the bread of heaven, and thus prevent untold agonies? I ask every candid reader, is not the present a special occasion for benevolence? and if the church is to be the instrument by which God has determined to work in restoring the kingdoms to his Son, will it not be such an occasion till that blessed period arrives, when there shall be nothing to hurt or destroy in all God's holy mountain?
15. The duties growing out of the possession of property in view of death, judgment, and eternity. The obligations imposed upon us by the possession of wealth may be irksome, but we cannot escape them; we must bear them to the judgment. In our pride we may resolve that we will use our money as we please; but God commands us to use it as he pleases. A vivid sense, then, of the tremendous scenes before us should be ever associated in our minds with ideas of property. We should realize how our wealth will appear in the final hour, as its pleasures and enchanting illusions begin to fade from the dying eye, and as we reflect how short and unsatisfactory, like "a dream when one awaketh," all these enjoyments have been. Rioting amid the luxuries of affluence, and giddy with its bewildering joys, these may be unpleasant thoughts. But why regard thoughts of that which we cannot avoid, unpleasant? We must not only think of these dread realities, we must meet them, and experience all their joy or woe. Then let us realize, now and always, how all our uses of property will appear at the bar of God, where the thought of every misimprovement will be sharper than a serpent's fang; how, in eternity, as we contemplate those who might have been saved by our liberality in undying misery; how, if we are lifting up our eyes with them in torments; how, if, while we ourselves shall be saved as by fire, we behold them excluded from those blissful seats by our covetousness. Let each one put these searching questions to his own conscience; and let him take heed that his gifts be such, that their remembrance will not only sweeten his dying moments, but diffuse a fragrance over all his future being.
16. The worth of money hoarded or spent unnecessarily, contrasted with the worth of souls as gems in the Saviour's crown. The true value of wealth as a worldly good we fully appreciate. It contains no hidden excellence which the circumstances of life conceal. But the true glory of a soul redeemed the mists of time obscure. Our attachment to the world and the hallucinations growing out of it, prevent its full appreciation. But soon all this illusion will vanish. Both will stand before us in their true light. One will be seen to be vanity as it is; the other to possess a worth which no language can express:—a worth consisting not merely of the endless blessedness and glory it is itself capable of enjoying, but also of the glory that will redound to the adorable Trinity through its redemption. Take a position most favorable for its true estimation. Transplant yourself into the heavenly state; contemplate a blood-washed soul in all its peace, its joy, it ravishment, as it circulates about the throne of love, approaching nearer and nearer to its blissful centre, constantly increasing in capacities, and more and more joyful in its high hallelujahs, till it shall enjoy more blessedness in a single hour, than Gabriel has enjoyed since the moment of his creation. Behold it, as it shines, a star, in the Saviour's diadem; gaze upon it purifying and brightening there as revolutions of eternity's time move on, till it shall attract the admiration of the heavenly throngs, and call forth from their wondering harps symphonies louder and more rapturous than have yet been heard in that world of sweetest hosannahs. The comparative worth of money hoarded or wasted, and the of the ransomed soul to itself, to the Saviour who redeemed it, to the adoring hosts whose fruitions are enhanced by the displays of grace evinced in its redemption, will be then clearly seen. Oh, how trifling will that money which has been squandered or grudgingly withheld from charity then appear, contrasted with the results in glorified souls of what was cheerfully and prayerfully bestowed. The condition of the churl and the liberal, how different then! He who hoarded most will then be found the poorest; and he who gave most with the greatest sacrifices, the richest.
17. The brevity of the period allotted us to labor and to make sacrifices for the salvation of men. "A point of time, a moment's space," is all we have. What we do in charity, the labors we perform, the privations we suffer, must all be accomplished or endured soon. The distress we relieve, the souls we save, the joys we inspire, must feel the quickening hand of mercy without delay. Time is on his rapid wing. Thousands who need our help are perishing daily; the entire generation now occupying this stage of toil and probation, the great Destroyer will speedily sweep from the scene. Almost "in the twinkling of an eye" we shall stand together before the judgment throne. He who died to save the poor as well as the rich, the heathen as well as the evangelized, is now speaking from heaven; "whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might."
These are some of the intellectual views and obligations which should be systematized in the mind, forming both inducements to, and a constituent part of, systematic beneficence. They should lie like blazing fuel on the heart, kindling their appropriate feelings and affections. I have briefly unfolded them, as a specimen of that process of reasoning and personal application, which, according to our mental laws, when attended by the Holy Spirit, is fitted to soften and harmonize the mind preparatory to benevolent action; a process which all, as rational beings, are bound to engage in and carry out. I know this part of the system requires unpleasant work. Most are willing to feel, but they would feel without principle; and if they act, they would act only from the impulse of the moment. They shrink from introspection; from working on their own hearts through the laborious operations of the intellect, so that the affections may be at once both right and rational. But if we would see the gorgeous palace towering in symmetry and grandeur, unpleasant work must be done; the rubbish must be removed, the soil excavated, the marble chiselled into form, and the unsightly timbers erected. Without these, though it might glitter in the sunbeams, it would be but a gossamer tissue. So this mental part is the bone and sinew, the life, of a system of beneficence. Confined to resolutions and conduct, its movements would be like the effects of galvanism on the muscles of the dead—unnatural and spasmodic. The truth is, there can be no system of action without some system both of intellectual views and of the moral sensibilities. All inconsistency among Christians arises from defects in one or other of these respects. The fountain is not invariably at the same height, and therefore the stream alternately swells and sinks.
Resolutions are proverbially frail; and they are so, because they rest not on a mind consolidated by principles, and a heart glowing like a furnace with corresponding feelings. When resting on such a mind and heart, resolutions are not frail; but invincible as adamant.
Our purposes of charity, therefore, must rest on an unshaken foundation; and in order to this, the principles and considerations fitted to promote benevolent sentiments and feelings must be pressed on the mind, till in view of them the bosom warms, and throbs, and swells, and bursts forth in high and determined resolves. It is not enough that they pass like a burning ray across the mind, producing a single flash of benevolence. What is needed is a continuation of the same effect; and for this, the same cause must continue to operate. It is important, therefore, that these truths be systematically applied. Seasons should be set apart for daily meditating and reasoning upon them, attended by earnest supplication for the impressing influences of the Holy Spirit. The mind must thus be drilled to reflection upon them till they become principles of action, so vital and permanent, that a shape and inflexibility shall be given to the moral sensibilities, which no wear of time or circumstances shall change or efface.
This is the only process by which the soul can be brought into, and kept in, that state of unity implied in volition; especially of that abiding unity implied in a general purpose, without which no scheme of action can be long sustained. This, too, is the only method by which unhappy influences exerted on the heart by the pursuits of gain can be counteracted. As one engages in active business, and his property accumulates, his thoughts usually become more engrossed, and his love of money increases. Why is it? Precisely on the principle recognized by the Psalmist, "While I was musing, the fire burned." It is a law of our mental nature, that the more we think of any subject naturally pleasing, the greater interest we feel respecting it. Now the management, the proper investment, and safe keeping of property, must engage, more or less, the attention; and owing to the extreme selfishness of the heart, are very liable to awaken a lively interest. Hence, the more people are employed in the acquisition of affluence or competence, the more covetous they usually become. This influence, so chilling to the generous affections, can be resisted only by a counter process of reflection. The truth that ourselves and all we have belong to God; the extreme selfishness of the natural man; the insufficiency of worldly good to satisfy the cravings of the soul; the dangers attending acquisition; the obligations and privilege of giving; the benevolent mission of the age; the spiritual wants of the world; the worth of a soul redeemed; and all those great and solemn considerations fitted to incite to munificence, must be presented before the mind as frequently at least as ideas of property, in order to counterbalance the influence of the latter; and, indeed, more frequently, so as to repress the strong tendencies of the selfish heart, which the avocations of gain are so well calculated to invigorate. This can be done by no merely external system of benevolent action, any farther than such a system has a reflex influence on the moral feelings. Farther than this, the effort would be like attempting to stop the floods of the Amazon with a bulrush.
The great work, therefore, in erecting a system of beneficence, must be wrought in the soul,—in impressing views and regulating affections. For this there can be no substitute. This deep and steady current of truth and thought, is to the mind in connection with the Spirit's operations, what showers are to the earth. If there are none, it soon becomes parched, and verdure withers; if they descend frequently and copiously, the ground is filled with moisture, vegetation blooms, and fruits ripen; springs burst forth, the streams dash along the valleys, sweep through the meadows, and pouring into the ocean, roll their mountain waves around the world.
II. Standing on this high ground of established principles and correspondent affections, we are prepared to take the second step in a universal system of beneficence; consisting in the exercises of the will in the formation of general purposes and resolutions. These should be made with a solemn sense of the responsibilities of our being; of our relations to the world and to the judgment-seat; and with a full conviction of our own weakness and entire dependence on the grace of God to assist us in their fulfilment.
Reader, with this humble reliance on Divine aid, will you now make the following resolutions your own?
1. As a foundation to all others, I solemnly consecrate myself, soul and body, to God in an everlasting covenant.
2. I will prayerfully endeavor to keep my heart in sympathy with the great principles and duties above unfolded.
3. I will make the benevolence of Jesus Christ, in its spirit and design, the pattern of my own, constantly carrying about the conviction, that I must practise great self-denial, and make continued sacrifices in imitation of my dying Lord.
4. I will make unremitting war on the selfishness of my heart, knowing it to be the worst of evils; and fully purposing that it shall never influence my decision, either in regard to a general scheme, or a particular act, of beneficence.
5. I will thoroughly and candidly consider the spiritual destitutions of our country and the world; the peculiar mission of the church in the present age; and manfully, and with a whole heart, make the renunciations thereby demanded.
6. I will regard my health, strength, life, and property, as valuable only as instruments of advancing the kingdom of Christ; and therefore hold them all without reserve at the call of God.
7. I will seize every opportunity for doing good by example, by conversation, by labor, and by contribution.
8. I will daily and prayerfully consider whether the circumstances of the age in which I live do not require of me as great sacrifices in alms-giving as were made by the Jews in contributing two tenths of their income to the service of the Lord.
9. In laying all my pecuniary plans, and in all my labors to carry them into effect, I will have the glory of God uppermost in view, and therefore make it one of my leading objects to acquire property for distribution; being thus, according to the injunction of Paul, "not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord."
10. To give to charitable purposes such portion of my property as God, by his Word and providences, seems to demand, I will deem as sacredly incumbent upon me as to make an economical expenditure of it in the support of myself and family.
11. For the sake of strengthening the benevolent tendencies of the soul, I will perseveringly cherish all its generous impulses by doing or giving as they shall dictate, so far as scripture and ability prescribe.
12. I will fix upon a system of giving which shall be made solemnly and prayerfully in view of my circumstances and calls; in the clear light of God's Word and of the awful retributions of the last tribunal. As to amount and frequency of donations, I will endeavor to make them such as I shall wish they had been, when, bowing before the great white throne, I shall gaze into the face of my crucified and exalted Saviour; actually participating in the fruits of his unutterable sacrifices for me.
13. Cherishing, amid the toils of gain, an abiding sense of the strength of the selfishness of the human heart, and the consequent dangers of acquisition, I will daily pray and strive for disinterested benevolence as the greatest good; also for direction as to the amount of sacrifices I ought to make; and then agreeably to my prayers, act according to the dictates of conscience uttered in the presence of God.
14. I will frequently and at stated periods solemnly renew these or similar resolutions.
Now, if you refuse to make these solemn resolutions your own, can you assign any reason for such refusal, which you will be willing to utter in self-justification when facing your Final Judge?
Whatever theories we may adopt concerning volition, or the governing determinations of the mind, all will agree in the fact, that the energies of the human soul, when aroused, may be strung like fibres of steel, giving and adamantine firmness and indomitable force to the will. We have seen this exemplified in the fortitude with which one sometimes endures surgical operation; in the heated courage of the soldier, rushing with the loud huzza into the very face of the engulphing battery; in the cool, calculating resolution which carries the unflinching column with steady tread into the very centre of bristling squares. All this is but the strength of will when the energies of the soul are stirred. Now one's resolution may and should become thus iron-like in the war with his own covetousness. He should determine in the strength of grace to break it down, however much it may cost. God has given us this power of will, and to him we are responsible for its proper exercise; ever remembering that it is strengthened by cultivation of reiterated effort. The raw recruit cannot be trusted at the post of danger like the veteran, who has repeatedly nerved up his spirit, till by habit it has become as unyielding as a rock. The latter has learnt to be brave. So we should learn to be soldiers in the war with selfishness, by perseveringly girding our minds to the deadly conflict.—Has depraved man such energy of will in spreading devastation and death; and shall not Christians exhibit as great force of resolution in diffusing the blessings of salvation? Who dare say, I cannot, or will not, exercise it? Let us be mindful of our obligations. If our minds may be wrought up to such invincible firmness and energy of resolution to do evil; surely, God assisting, they may not only be inspired with a lofty enthusiasm to resist the solicitations of selfishness, but also roused to a sublimity of generous emotions, to engage, like a Mills or a Howard, in disinterested and self-denying efforts for the good of others.
III. We are now ready to take the last step in erecting a general system of beneficence, viz.: the carrying into effect right principles and well-directed resolutions. While, on the one hand, the intellectual and emotional qualities of the mind give character and vitality to action; on the other hand our conduct exerts a powerful reflex influence on the affections and purposes. Nothing tends more to give strength and spirit to a mental principle than accordant action; and nothing tends more to obliterate an emotion from the breast, or to paralyze a resolution, than the neglect of its appropriate manifestations. However deeply the one may be engraven on the soul, or however solid the texture or vigorous the life of the other, a few instances of neglect or violation will strike them with the chills of death.
Principles and resolutions, then, are of little avail without corresponding efforts. The "well of water" must not only spring up in the soul, it must flow out in the life. We must act as well as think and resolve; and act, as if we felt that ourselves and all that we have belong to God by the twofold right of creation and redemption; act, as if selfishness were our deadliest foe, and as if it were our great business to attain its mortification and overthrow; act, as if disinterested love, a soul like angels, like God, were the greatest good to be possessed by an intelligent being; act, as if we were prayerfully watching the calls of Christ on our generosity, and were ready and determined manfully to meet them; act, in laying our pecuniary plans, as if the highest object of acquisition were the means of diffusing good; act, as if self-denial were the main condition of our being on earth, and as if the circumstances of the age were requiring of us peculiar sacrifices in order to rescue millions, perishing in mental thraldom, whose souls are as precious as our own; act, as if we were in earnest, as if the whole soul were kindled to a blaze of zeal, and bent on the most determined efforts for the exaltation of Christ in the salvation of men; knowing that the time allotted for the accomplishment of a task eternal in its consequences, is but a hand-breadth.
Act with forecast. This is a point of unspeakable importance. I would reiterate and enforce the thought, till it shall be wrought into the very web of all our benevolent purposes. There must be contrivance to give. Worldly men make previous arrangements to increase their stores. Lovers of pleasure contrive to support their follies. Why should not lovers of Christ be equally wise to fill the world with light, and heaven with anthems?
Act systematically. With a mind illumined with knowledge, a conscience impressed with obligation, and a heart glowing with love of God and man, form an individual system of beneficence; and let it be one you will not blush to review in heaven. Be particularly careful, therefore, that it be such as will come most strongly in collision with the selfishness of the heart, and yield the richest revenue to the Lord; requiring as generous and frequent contributions as circumstances will allow, agreeably to the Divine injunction: "Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God, which he hath given thee;" in a word, let it be such as system as you will be willing to hand in at the judgment-seat, as decisive testimony that you have loved your neighbor as yourself. And when it is formed, never violate its rules by giving less, except impelled by imperative necessity; though ever stand ready to deviate from it, when Providence commands, by giving more.
Let benevolence be ever operative, like the sun ever shining. Wait not for the modest poor, or heedlessly perishing, to ask for aid; but go forth in search of objects appropriate for philanthropy to relieve, to enlighten, to cheer. Obey the voice from heaven: "Open thy hand wide unto thy brother;" "Sow beside all waters;" scattering a little here and a little there, and thus, to the extent of ability, aid in bringing back "the state of Eden's bloom," and planting trees of righteousness all over the world.
Let deeds of charity be consistent one with another, and harmonize with a general deportment, elevated to the true Gospel standard of self-consecration; so that they may exert an influence, not only in relieving the wants of the needy and forlorn, but as examples of heartfelt beneficence, inciting others to the glorious work. Let Christ, therefore, be the pattern of all charitable efforts. Let the love that moved him to endure a life of privation and a death of agony, take full possession of the soul, prompting to the same unwearied and self-denying activity in doing good. With a constancy and vigor based on this life-giving principle, let each one endeavor to make his influence felt throughout the world; becoming, in his sphere, like one of those fixed stars that sparkle in the midnight sky—a blazing sun to those that are near, a gem of sweetest ray to those afar.
Such is the system, and, as we believe, substantially the only universal system of beneficence, with which God will be well pleased. It grows out of our relations to him as intellectual and moral beings. Its life-spring is in the heart. It is purely spiritual or moral in its character. It rejects all machinery, and can be permanently helped forward by no scheme of merely external actions. It occupies the whole soul; with its roots winding round every intellectual and virtuous principle, it shoots up its stately trunk, sending forth its far-reaching branches, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.
It is a system forming an essential part of Christian character. It requires that the great themes of our meditation be spiritual and eternal, that the mind be so imbued with thoughts of God, his government and law, of Christ, his love, his sufferings and death, of the restorative scheme thereby wrought out, of its relation to this apostate world, of our responsibilities as co-workers with Christ in spreading the knowledge of his name, and of the consequences both to ourselves and others of fidelity to our trust—it requires that these thoughts be so thoroughly impressed, and the heart so permeated, warmed, and animated by their influence, that they shall become, as it were, inherent elements of moral action, involuntarily suggesting themselves as often as occasions for their operation arise. But all this is but another process of thought and emotion descriptive of the spiritually minded. It also requires the same intellectual and moral discipline which is essential to the formation of the benevolent character. This does not consist in a single act, a single out-gushing of generous activity, but in a series of generous actions, flowing from an established principle; a principle pervading the whole soul, never wavering, never succumbing to the biddings of selfishness. But the benevolent character thus deeply laid is the Christian character. The scheme further requires consistency of moral and religious conduct. While it no more demands regular and persevering beneficent action than it demands other Christian duties, it imperiously demands regular and persevering beneficent action as an essential branch of Christian conduct, inevitably resulting from those immutable principles which form the basis of the Christ-like character. Thus the particular or individual system grows, by a moral necessity, out of the general system of thoughts, affections, and volitions, here unfolded; it being a moral impossibility for one cordially to adopt the latter, in all its length and breadth, without determining upon such a private system of beneficence as his means, his relations to God and to the wants and woes of our species, demand. To refuse this system of benevolent principles and correspondent actions, therefore, is to refuse to be spiritually minded; is to refuse to exhibit consistency of holy conduct; is to refuse to exert all our powers and embrace all opportunities to do good; in a word, it is to wear a blot on our Christian name which many waters can never wash out.
Hence the beauty of the system,—general and particular—here presented, is that, resting down on the eternal and changeless foundations of the spiritual universe, and consequently harmonizing with the spirit of Revelation and with the laws of mind, it rises up and expands into a beautiful exhibition of the fruits of the Gospel, the legitimate product of its holy precepts. It gives no encouragement to the idea that God's favor may be secured, or duty done, by any mere external system of munificence, any farther than the external system proceeds from right affections and sound principles. It must originate in the renewed heart, be nourished by the life of grace, and increase its productiveness as light and holiness increase in the soul. In its perfect development, it is the full and symmetrical development of the Christian character.
Thus it is a system equal in its pressure, and therefore adapted to fasten on the conscience of every one, whatever his age or circumstances. No one can justly plead exemption from its claims. None can reasonably propose questions of casuistry to shield his bosom from its shafts. None can shake off the convictions of duty it impresses, but by shutting its principles from the mind, or by rousing the heart to resistance. In short, it leaves every man to himself, facing his God, his conscience laid bare to the quenchless rays of truth.
Who will refuse thus systematically to reflect, to feel, to resolve, to give? Will you, professed follower of the self-denying Jesus? Can you, "bought with blood divine," when looking around on the possessions God has bestowed, have a heart to deny that aid which undying millions demand? Is it not beyond expression inconsistent to profess to give yourself to Christ, and then withhold your property from him?—But what are your relations to him as implied in this profession? and what are his claims upon you, as growing out of it? With the last tribunal and the sorrows of Calvary in view, will you give these a moment's prayerful reflection?
Go back with me to those delightful scenes so full of gentle joy, of ineffable sweetness, and hallowed peace, when first you cast your all on Jesus, and felt
"The Saviour's pard'ning blood, Applied to cleanse your soul from guilt And bring you home to God."
Then, calm and trustful in spirit, transported in the freshness of a new-born life, you could sing with a ravished heart,
"I am my Lord's, and he is mine: He drew me—and I followed on— Charm'd to confess the voice divine."
These were precious seasons. "How sweet their mem'ry still!" Then came an hour of tender, impressive, and almost awful interest. You entered the sanctuary of God, and in the presence of men, of angels, and your adored Saviour, avouched the Lord Jehovah, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, to be your God, consecrating yourself and all your possessions, unreservedly, to his service. Was this an unmeaning ceremony? No. You remember the occasion, the hopes and fears of your trembling faith, those sweet experiences, those glimpses of your Redeemer's smiles, which forced the tear to your eye; the solemn and faltering accents of your beloved pastor; and the weeping sympathy of a dear father and mother— now, perhaps, gone to their rest—who had long yearned over a thoughtless child. Or you may remember your soul's peaceful trust in God, as you stood alone, with no sympathizing kindred; and felt, as you tasted the cup,—the emblem of your Saviour's blood, and the pledge of the eternal sacrifice of yourself to him,—that you could cheerfully forsake brother and sister, father and mother, all, for Christ. It was a touching scene; and you thought you should never forget it. And, ah! it never has been forgotten in heaven. The eternal Judge, and those blest spirits who affectionately stooped to sustain and strengthen you for the irrevocable vow, remember it.
Now have you acted up to this surrender of your all to Christ, especially in relation to the duty of beneficence? In that impressive hour, did you make a mental reservation, withholding certain sources of private gratification,—the privilege of using your property as you pleased, of seeing yourself and family supplied with the conveniences, the comforts, and even the luxuries of life, ere you attended to the cries of the myriads sinking to woes unutterable for the want of Gospel light? Were you thus unfeeling? Did you think to deceive the heart-searching Jesus? Oh, no! I cannot believe it; and you are appalled at the suspicion. But what did you mean by those all-surrendering vows? What do you mean, often as you renew them at the sacramental board? Let the question come home to your conscience; what do you mean? If they lead you not to hold your property at the call of God, ought you not to tremble lest you never gave yourself away, and are, therefore, with all your professions an heir of hell? Did Christ once weep over covenant-breaking Jerusalem? Does he not now weep over you, as he thinks of all his agonies to rescue you from unquenchable fire; of your voluntary vows; your unfaithfulness; and your mockery, as perhaps you have prayed that the kingdoms of the world might speedily become his; while amid your numerous comforts, you have refused to deny yourself scarce a convenience, or even superfluity, for the salvation of those whom he died to redeem? How inconsistent! Well might tears still bathe the Saviour's cheeks. Oh think, are these the kind returns you owe for pardoning love? It is unreasonable that you spend your worldly goods for him, who shed his blood for you? Go, I beseech you, to your closet, and there plead, till from the heart you can say: "Lord, here I am and all I have. Take the worthless sacrifice, now and forever."
Will the rich, they who have enough and abound, reject this rational scheme of principles, feelings, actions? What treatment is this of the compassionate Giver of your abundance? Do you not owe to him alike your being and possessions? Perhaps you refuse to give even yourselves to him; and employ to private ends those bodily and mental powers with which you are endowed for his service. Is not this robbing God? And how is it with the favors of his hand? Have not the crucibles of your selfish hearts melted and moulded them into household gods? As the streams of Providence have poured in upon you to overflowing, instead of dispersing abroad as God intended, have you not carefully enlarged your own reservoirs so as to retain the whole? Thus grasping all that lies within your reach of that wealth which God has created for the advancement of his kingdom, have you not withheld it from its appropriate channel, and thus become doubly guilty of robbing God?
What a spectacle do you present to holy intelligences! They behold you rational and accountable beings like themselves; upheld in existence by Jehovah's mercy, partaking freely of his bounties, and treasuring up future supplies; but resolutely refusing to share your abundance with the perishing, even when the generosity required would but enhance your personal enjoyment. And yet, perchance, you are the professed followers of the compassionate Jesus. Dare you compare your spirit and conduct with his?
Truly, you, who have redundant stores, sustain tremendous responsibilities; would that you might realize them. You enjoy glorious privileges; will you slight them? With the power, under God, of relieving the sorrowful, enlightening the ignorant, elevating the degraded, and diffusing a vital energy through every pore of this suffering world, will you stand like some bleak Alpine cliff, breathing perpetual frost, merely an object for the curious to gaze upon? so live that your selfish heirs shall rejoice at your death, and the judgment-day clothe you with eternal shame?
Do you say, "My money is my own; I may use it as I please?" Hark! God thunders, "Thy gold and thy silver is mine." Will you trifle with Jehovah's voice, and incur his righteous wrath? Hear the terrible denunciations of James: "Go to, now, ye rich men, weep, and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire." Absorbed in the pursuits of gain, or whirling on your glittering rounds of pleasure, you may heedlessly disregard the appeals of distressed humanity, and proudly congratulate yourselves on your exalted positions, your honors and flatteries; but, rely upon it, you are only heaping "treasure together for the last day." Every call of charity from which you turn coldly away will be a drop of anguish to your undying soul. How trifling your gifts to the Lord, compared with the vastly greater sacrifices of many far poorer than yourself, and whom, perhaps, you now despise. When these shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father, where, O, where will you be found? O, how will all that affluence in which you have garnered up your hopes appear, when hearing the voice of your Final Judge, "Inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it not to me;" and bereft of your treasures and your hopes together, you find the prison of despair a dread reality, where covetousness will eternally work without restraint, and unrelieved; a fire shut up in the soul, agonizing it evermore?
Will the young refuse to enter upon this systematic course of doing good?—You who are in the warm glow of youthful affections and sympathies, I presume are not prepared to answer in the negative. You feel that it would be delightful, the highest grade of human excellence, to go about scattering charities—feeding the hungry, relieving distress, smoothing the dying pillow, and sending the light of salvation to those on whom the dayspring of the Saviour's mercy has never dawned. This, perhaps, you intend to do at some future time; but you cannot now; you have not the ability; you must first amass the means. But let me warn you; here lies the treacherous pitfall. You have within a subtle and malignant principle, whose maturity is utterly destructive of benevolence. This the very employment of acquiring the means of charity will fan to a flame, unless, in all your plans and avocations, you carry along with you the spirit of Christ's good-will to men. The work of charity must be begun in the infancy of the selfish tendencies. A small blaze among the withered leaves of autumn a child may extinguish; but when the winds have hurled it, and the wild fire is running and leaping from point to point, streaming up trees and wrapping the forest in sheets of flame, it will take the energies of thousands to quench it. So it is with the principle of avarice. It must be repressed early, before its giant coils wind around the entire heart, crushing its better purposes. Hence, as the morning of life is peculiarly favorable to the formation and fixing of habits, the importance of inuring yourself to battle with this inward foe, in this flexible season. Put on the armor at once, and learn to wield it; for victory is as much dependent on skill as on strength.
Let the spirit of benevolence be the warmest aspiration of the youthful breast. Let it be the early, the earnest, the daily inquiry, "What can I do for my race?" Good to others should be your aim when means are small. True, its light at first may be no more than the feeble glimmerings of the glow-warm by the pathway of the benighted traveller; yet it will be genial, soothing many a sad and torn heart. In the very commencement of business, then, cherish a Christ-like spirit; and, adopting a system of accordant action, maintain it all along the path of life; so that when you arrive at its close, it will be seen, a line of light stretching around the world, with many a flower of Paradise blooming on its borders. But wait till you obtain the means before you begin to seek in earnest the benefit of others, and, unless Divine Grace powerfully interpose, by the time, in your own judgments, the means are procured, your hearts will have become like the nether millstone.
Be persuaded, then, to lay your youth a victim on the altar of charity. Let your whole being burn there till life is extinct; and when you enter upon the peaceful rest of heaven, you will find multitudes there, aided thither by your timely munificence, with whom you may unite in transporting hallelujahs forever.
Finally, let me entreat readers of every class deeply to ponder the subject here unfolded. No rational being, with any sense of his responsibilities, can treat it with indifference. I beseech you, pass not over these pages with a hasty glance, and then throw them aside. Meditate upon them till your hearts burn within you. Pray over them till you feel a harmony of soul with Christ; and, in this spirit, come to a solemn determination whether you will adopt or reject this system of views, of affections, of resolutions, and of accordant actions. Do one or the other. No other course is either rational or christian. And while you deliberately decide, realize that the eye of the Triune Jehovah is fixed upon you, and that that dread Judge, before "whose face the earth and the heavens" shall flee away, will review the transaction. How solemn your position! What amazing consequences are depending on your present determination! It will affect your usefulness here, and your relations in eternity. You are striking a chord of the mighty harp of the universe, which will tremble with the songs of the redeemed, or the moanings of the damned. Can you touch it heedlessly?