Master Sermon List
Christian Charity Enforced
by Jonathan Edwards
SECTION 3 An exhortation to the duty of charity to the poor. WE are professors of Christianity, we pretend to be the followers of Jesus, and to make the gospel our rule. We have the Bible in our houses. Let us not behave ourselves in this particular, as if we had never seen the Bible, as if we were ignorant of Christianity, and knew not what kind of religion it is. What will it signify to pretend to be Christians, and at the same time to live in the neglect of those rules of Christianity which are mainly insisted on in it? But there are several things which I would here propose to your consideration.
I. Consider that what you have is not your own; i.e. you have only a subordinate right. Your goods are only lent to you of God, to be improved by you in such ways as he directs. You yourselves are not your own; "Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price; your body and your spirit are God's." (1 Corinthians 6:20.) And if you yourselves are not your own, so then neither are your possessions your own. Many of you have by covenant given up yourselves and all you have to God. You have disowned and renounced any right in yourselves or in any thing that you have, and have given to God all the absolute right; and if you be true Christians, you have done it from the heart. Your money and your goods are not your own; they are only committed to you as stewards, to be used for him who committed them to you; 1 Peter 4:9, 10. "Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."
A steward has no business with his master's goods, to use them any otherwise than for the benefit of his master and his family, or according to his master's direction. He hath no business to use them, as if he were the proprietor of them; he hath nothing to do with them, only as he is to use them for his master. He is to give every one of his master's family their portion of meat in due season. But if instead of that, he hoards up his master's goods for himself, and withholds them from those of the household, so that some of the family are pinched for want of food and clothing, he is therein guilty of robbing his master and embezzling his substance. And would any householder endure such a steward?
If he discovered him in such a practice, would he not take his goods out of his hands, and commit them to the care of some other steward, who should give every one of his family his portion of meat in due season? Remember that all of us must give account of our stewardship, and how we have disposed of those goods, which our Master has put into our hands. And if when our Master comes to reckon with us, it be found that we have denied some of his family their proper provision, while we have hoarded up for ourselves, as if we had been the proprietors of our Master's goods, what account shall we give of this?
II. God tells us, that he shall look upon what is done in charity to our neighbours in want, as done unto him and what is denied unto them, as denied unto him. "He that hath pity on the poor lendeth to the Lord." (Proverbs 19:17.) God hath been pleased to make our needy neighbours his receivers. He in his infinite mercy hath so interested himself in their case, that he looks upon what is given in charity to them, as given to himself and when we deny them what their circumstances requite of us, he looks upon it that we therein rob him of his right.
Christ teaches us, that we are to look upon our fellow-Christians in this case as himself, and that our giving or withholding from them, shall be taken, as if we so behaved ourselves towards him; see Matthew 25:40. There Christ says to the righteous on his right hand, who had supplied the wants of the needy, "In that ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." In like manner he says to the wicked who had not shown mercy to the poor, verse 45. "Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of the least of these, ye did it not to me." Now what stronger enforcement of this duty can be conceived, or is possible, than this, that Jesus Christ looks upon our kind and bountiful, or unkind and uncharitable, treatment of our needy neighbours, as such a treatment of himself?
If Christ himself were upon earth, and dwelt among us in a frail body, as he once did, and were in calamitous and needy circumstances, should we not be willing to supply him? Should we be apt to excuse ourselves from helping him! Should we not be willing to supply him so, that he might live free from distressing poverty? And if we did otherwise, should we not bring great guilt upon ourselves? And might not our conduct justly be very highly resented by God? Christ was once here in a frail body, stood in need of the charity, and was maintained by it; Luke 8:2, 3. "And certain women which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalen, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance. So he still, in many of his members, needs the charity of others.
III. Consider that there is an absolute necessity of our complying with the difficult duties of religion. To give to the poor in the manner and measure that the gospel prescribes, is a difficult duty, i.e. it is very contrary to corrupt nature, to that covetousness and selfishness of which there is so much in the wicked heart of man. Man is naturally governed only by a principle of self-love, and it is a difficult thing to corrupt nature, for men to deny themselves of their present interest, trusting in God to make it up to them hereafter. But how often hath Christ told us the necessity of doing difficult duties of religion, if we will be his disciples, that we must sell all, take up our cross daily, deny ourselves, renounce our worldly profits and interests, etc. And if this duty seem hard and difficult to you, let not that be an objection with you against doing it, for you have taken up quite a wrong notion of things, if you expect to go to heaven without performing difficult duties, if you expect any other than to find the way to life a narrow way.
IV. The Scripture teaches us, that this very particular duty is necessary. Particularly,
1. The Scripture teaches, that God will deal with us as we deal with our fellow-creatures in this particular, and that with what measure we mete to others in this respect, God will measure to us again. This the Scripture asserts both ways; it asserts that if we be of a merciful spirit, God will be merciful to us: Matthew 5:7. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." Psalm 18:25. "With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful." On the other hand it tells us, that if we be not merciful, God will not be merciful to us; and that all our presence's to faith and a work of conversion will not avail us, to obtain mercy, unless we be merciful to them that are in want. James 2:13-16. "For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy. What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food; and one of You say unto them, Depart in peace, be you warmed, and filled, notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit?"
2. This very thing is often mentioned in Scripture, as an essential part of the character of a godly man, Psalm 37:21. "The righteous showeth 1138 mercy, and giveth," and again, verse 26. "He is ever merciful, and lendeth." Psalm cxii. 5. "A good man showeth favour, and lendeth:" and verse 9. "He hath dispersed, and given to the poor." So Proverbs 14:31. "He that honoureth God, hath mercy on the poor." Again, Proverbs 21:26. and Isaiah Ivii. 1. A righteous man and a merciful man are used as synonymous terms: "The righteous perisheth, and merciful men are taken away," etc. It is mentioned in the New Testament as a thing so essential, that the contrary cannot consist with a sincere love to God. John 3:17 19. "But whoso hath this world's goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him! My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him." So the apostle Paul, when he writes to the Corinthians, and proposes their contributing for the supply of the poor saints, tells them what he doth it for, viz. a trial of their sincerity: see 2 Corinthians 8:8. "I speak to prove the sincerity of your love."
3. Christ teaches, that judgment will be past at the great day according to men's works in this respect. This is taught us by Christ in the most particular account of the proceedings of that day, that we have in the whole Bible, see Matthew 25:34, etc. It is evident that Christ thus represented the proceedings and determinations of this great day, as turning upon this one point, on purpose, and on design to lead us into this notion, and to fix it in us, that a charitable spirit and practice towards our brethren is necessary to salvation.
V. Consider what abundant encouragement the word of God gives, that you shall be no losers by your charity and bounty to them who are in want. As there is scarce any duty prescribed in the word of God, which is so much insisted on as this; so there is scarce any to which there are so many promises of reward made. This virtue especially hath the promises of this life and that which is to come. If we believe the Scriptures, when a man charitably gives to his neighbour in want, the giver has the greatest advantage by it, even greater than the receiver: "I have showed you all things, how that so labouring 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 20:35.) He that gives bountifully is a happier man than he that receives bountifully; Proverbs 14:21. "He that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he."
Many persons are ready to look upon what is bestowed for charitable uses as lost. But we ought not to look upon it as lost, because it benefits those whom we ought to love as ourselves. And not only so, but it is not lost to us, if we give any credit to the Scriptures. See the advice that Solomon gives in Ecclesiastes 11:1. "Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days." By casting our bread upon the waters, Solomon meant giving it to the poor, as appears by the next words, "Give a portion to seven, and also to eight." Waters are sometimes put for people and multitudes. What strange advice would this seem to many, to cast their bread upon the waters, which would seem to them like throwing it away! What more direct method to lose our bread, than to go and throw it into the sea? But the wise man tells us, no, it is not lost; you shall find it again after many days. It is not sunk, but you commit it to Providence; you commit it to the moods and waves: however it will come about to you, and you shall find it again after many days. Though it should be many days first, yet you shall find it at last, at a time when you most, need it.
He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord: and God is not one of those who will not pay again what is lent to him. If you lend any thing to God, you commit it into faithful hands. "He that hath pity on the poor lendeth to the Lord, and that which he hath given will he pay him ague." (Proverbs 19:17.) God will not only pay you again, but he will pay you with great increase, Luke 6:38. "Give, and it shall be given you," that is, in "good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running overse" Men do not account that lost, that is let out to use: but what is bestowed in charity is lent to the Lord, and he repays with great increase. Isaiah 1140 32:8. "The liberal deviseth liberal things, and by liberal things shall he stand."
Jonathan Edwards, Works, Volume 4, Christian Charity Or The Duty Of Charity To The Poor, Explained And Enforced.