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The words explained.
The duty here enjoined, is giving to the poor: “If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:—Thou shalt surely give him.” Here by thy poor brother is to be understood the same as in other places is meant by neighbour. It is explained in Levit. 25: 35. to mean not only those of their own nation, but even strangers and sojourners: “And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner.“ The Pharisees indeed interpreted it to signify only one of their own nation; but Christ condemns this interpretation, Luke x 29,. &c. and teaches, in contradiction to their opinion, that the rules of charity, in the law of Moses, are to be extended to the Samaritans, who were not of their nation, and between whom and the Jews there was the most bitter enmity, and who were a people very troublesome to the Jews.
God gives us direction how we are to give in such a case, viz. bountifully, and willingly. We should give bountifully and sufficiently for the supply of the poor’s need: ver. 7, 8. “Thou shalt not shut up thine hand from thy poor brother; but thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.” And again, in ver. 11. “Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.” Again, we should give willingly and without grudging: ver. 7. “Thou shalt not harden thine heart from thy poor brother;” and ver. 10. “And thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest him.”
We may also observe how peremptorily this duty is here enjoined, and how much it is insisted on. It is repeated over and over again, and enjoined in the strongest terms; ver. 7. “Thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother;” ver. 8. “But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him;” ver. 10. “Thou shalt surely give him;” ver. 11. “I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy.”
Moreover, God strictly warns against objections, ver. 9. “Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought, and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee.” The matter concerning the seventh year, or year of release, was thus: God had given Israel a law, that every seventh year should be a year of release; that if any man had lent any thing to any of his poor neighbours, if the latter had not been able to repay it before that year, the former should release it, and should not exact it of his neighbour, but give it to him. Therefore God warns the children of Israel against making of this an objection to helping their poor neighbours, that the year of release was near at hand; and it was not likely that they would be able to refund it again before that time, and then they should lose it wholly, because then they would be obliged to release it. God foresaw that the wickedness of their hearts would be very ready to make such an objection; but very strictly warns them against it, that they should not be the more backward to supply the wants of the needy for that, but should be willing to give him: “Thou shalt be willing to lend, expecting nothing again.”
Men are exceedingly apt to make objections against such duties, which God speaks of here as a manifestation of the wickedness of their hearts: “Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, 163163 Deut. xv. 9. ” &c. The warning is very strict. God doth not only say, Beware that thou do not actually refuse to give him, but, Beware that thou have not one objecting thought against it, arising from a backwardness to liberality. God warns against the beginnings of uncharitableness in the heart, and against whatever tends to a forbearance to give: “And thou give him nought, and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee. 164164 Deut. xv. 9. ” God warns them, from the guilt which they would be liable to bring upon themselves hereby.
We may observe here several enforcements of this duty. There is a reason of this duty implied in God’s calling him that is needy, our brother: “Thou shalt not shut thine hand from thy poor brother;” and ver. 9. “Beware that thine eye be not evil against thy poor brother;” and ver. 11. “Thou shalt open thine hand wide to thy brother.” We are to look upon ourselves as related to all mankind, but especially to those who are of the visible people of God. We are to look upon them as brethren, and to treat them accordingly. We shall be base indeed, if we be not willing to help a brother in want.—Another enforcement of this duty is the promise of God, that for this thing he will bless us in all our works, and in all that we put our hands unto; a promise that we shall not lose, but gain by it, (ver. 10.)—Another is, that we shall never want proper objects of our charity and bounty: ver. 11. “For the poor shall never cease out of thy land.” This God saith to the Jewish church; and the like Christ saith to the Christian church, Matt. xxvi. 11. “The poor ye have always with you.” This is to cut off an excuse that uncharitable persons would be ready to make for not giving, that they could find nobody to give to, that they saw none who needed. God cuts off such an excuse, by telling us, that he would so order it in his providence, that his people every where, and in all ages, shall have occasion for the exercise of that virtue.
From this account the doctrine is obvious, that it is the absolute and indispensable duty of the people of God, to give bountifully and willingly for supplying the wants of the needy.—But more particularly,
1. It is the duty of the people of God, to give bountifully for the aforesaid purpose. It is commanded once and again in the text, “Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy poor brother. 165165 Deut. xv. 8. ” Merely to give something is not sufficient; it answers not the rule, nor comes up to the holy command of God; but we must open our hand wide. What we give, considering our neighbour’s wants, and our ability, should be such as may be called a liberal gift. What is meant in the text by opening the hand wide, with respect to those that are able, is explained in ver. 8. “Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his want, in that which he needeth.” By lending here, as is evident by the two following verses, and as we have just now shown, is not only meant lending to receive again; the word lend in Scripture is sometimes used for giving; as in Luke vi. 35. “Do good and lend, hoping for nothing again.”
We are commanded, therefore, to give our poor neighbour what is sufficient for his need. There ought to be none suffered to live in pinching want, among a visible people of God, who are able: unless in case of idleness, or prodigality, or some such case which the word of God excepts.—It is said that the children of Israel should lend to the poor, and in the year of release should release what they had lent, save when there should be no poor among them. It is rendered in the margin, to the end there be no poor among you; i. e. you should so supply the wants of the needy, that there may be none among you in pinching want. This translation seems the more likely to be the true one, because God says, ver. 11. that there shall be no such time when there shall be no poor, who shall be proper objects of charity.—When persons give very sparingly, it is no manifestation of charity, but of a contrary spirit: 2 Cor. ix. 5. “Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren, that they would go before unto you, and make up beforehand your bounty, whereof ye had notice before, that the same might be ready, as a matter of bounty, and not as of covetousness.” The apostle here calls a very sparing contribution, matter of covetousness.
2. It is the duty of the visible people of God, to give for the supply of the needy, freely, and without grudging. It doth not at all answer the rule in the sight of God, if it be done with an inward grudging, or if the heart be grieved, and it inwardly hurt the man to give what he gives: “Thou shalt surely give,” says God, “and thine heart shall not be grieved. 166166 Deut. xv. 10. ” God looks at the heart, and the hand is not accepted without it: 2 Cor. ix. 7. “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give, not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver.
3. This is a duty to which God’s people are under very strict obligations. It is not merely a commendable thing for a man to be kind and bountiful to the poor, but our bounden duty, as much a duty as it is to pray, or to attend public worship, or any thing else whatever; and the neglect of it brings great guilt upon any person.
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