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SECTION III.

Of exercising Charity during our whole Life.

He that would die well and happily must in his lifetime, according to all his capacities, exercise charity;5656Respice quid prodest praesentis temporis aevum; Omne quod est, nihil est, praeter amare Deum. and because religion is the life of the soul, and charity is the life of religion, the same which gives life to the better part of man, which never dies, may obtain of God a mercy to the inferior part of man in the day of its dissolution.

1. Charity is the great channel through which God passes all his mercy upon mankind. For we receive absolution of our sins in proportion to our forgiving our brother. This is the rule of our hopes, and the measure of our desire in this world; and in the day of death and judgment the great sentence upon mankind shall to transacted according to our alms, which is the other part of charity. Certain it is, that God cannot, will not, never did, reject a charitable man in his greatest needs and in his most passionate prayers;5757Quod expendi habui, Quod donavi habeo: Quod negavi punior, Quod servavi perdidi. for God himself is love, and every degree of charity that dwells in us is the participation of the divine nature; and therefore, when upon our death-bed a cloud covers our head, and we are enwrapped with sorrow; when we feel the weight of a sickness, and do not feel the refreshing visitations of God's loving-kindness; when we have many things to trouble us, and looking round about us we see no comforter; then call to mind what injuries you have forgiven, how apt you were to pardon all affronts and real persecutions, how you embraced peace when it was offered you, how you followed after peace when it ran from you; and when you are weary of one side, turn upon the other, and remember the alms that, by the grace of God and his assistances, you have done, and look up to God, and with the eye of faith behold him coming in the cloud, and pronouncing the sentence of doom's day according to his mercies and they charity.

2. Charity with his twin-daughters, alms and forgiveness, is especially effectual for the procuring God's mercies in the day and manner of our death. ‘Alms deliver from death,' said old Tobias;5858Tob. iv. 10; xii 9. and ‘alms make an atonement for sins,5959Ecclus. iii. 30. and the son of Sirach:6060Dan. iv. 27. and so said Daniel, and so say all the wise men of the world. And in this sense, also, is that of St. Peter, ‘Love covers a multitude of sins; and St. Clement in his Constitutions gives this counsel, “If you have anything in your hands, give it, that it may work to the remission of thy sins; for by faith and alms sins are purged. The same also is the counsel of Salvian, who wonders that men, who are guilty of great and many sins, will not work out their pardon by alms and mercy. But this also must be added out of the words of Lactanius, who makes this rule complete and useful; “But think not, because sins are taken away by alms, that by thy money thou mayest purchase a license to sin; for sins are abolished if because thou hast sinned thou givest to God,” that is, to God's poor servants, and his indigent necessitous creatures; but if thou sinnest upon confidence of giving, thy sins are not abolished. For God desires infinitely that men should be purged from their sins, and therefore commands us to repent; but to repent is nothing else but to profess and affirm (that is, to purpose, and to make good that purpose) that they will sin no more.6161Agere autem paeniterntiam nihil aliud est quam profiteri et affirmare se non ulterius peccaturum.

Now alms are therefore effective to the abolition and pardon of our sins, because they are preparatory to, and impetratory of, the grace of repentance, and are fruits of repentance; and therefore St. Chrysostom affirms, that repentance without alms is dead, and without wings, and can never soar upwards to the element of love. But because they are a part of repentance, and hugely pleasing to Almighty God, therefore they deliver us from the evils of an unhappy and accursed death; for so Christ delivered his disciples from the sea when he appeased the storm, though they still sailed in the channel: and this St. Jerome verifies with all his reading and experience, saying, “I do not remember to have read that ever any charitable person died an evil death.” And although a long experience hath observed God's mercies to descend upon charitable people, like the dew upon Gideon's fleece, when all the world was dry; yet for this also we have a promise, which is not only an argument of a certain number of years (as experience is,) but a security for eternal ages. ‘Make ye friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye fail they may receive you into everlasting habitations. When faith fails, and chastity is useless, and temperance shall be no more, then charity shall bear you upon wings of cherubim to the eternal mountain of the Lord. “I have been a lover of mankind, and a friend, and merciful' and now I expect to communicate in that great kindness which he shows that is the great God and Father of men and mercies,” said Cyrus the Persian on his death-bed.

I do not mean this should only be a death-bed charity, any more than a death-bed repentance; but it ought to be the charity of our life and healthful years, a parting with portions of our goods then, when we can keep them: we must not first kindle our lights when we are to descend into our houses of darkness, or bring a glaring torch suddenly to a dark room that will amaze the eye, and not delight it or instruct the body; but if our tapers have, in their constant course, descended into their grave, crowned all the way with light, then let the death-bed charity be doubled, and the light burn brightest when it is to deck our hearse. But concerning this I shall afterwards give account.


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