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Rules for giving Alms.
1. Let no man do alms of that which is none of his own;245245S. Greg. vii. 1. 110. Epist. for of that he is to make restitution that is due to the owners, not to the poor; for every man hath need of his own, and that is first to be provided for; and then you must think of the needs of the poor. He that gives the poor what is not his own, makes himself a thief, and the poor to be the receivers. This is not to be understood as if it were unlawful for a man that is not able to pay his debts to give smaller alms to the poor. He may not give such portions as can in any sense more disable him to do justice;246246Praebeant misericordia ut conservetur justitia.—St. Aug. Prov. iii. 9. but such which, if they were saved, could not advance the other duty may retire to this, and do here what they may, since, in the other duty, they cannot do what they should. But, generally, cheaters and robbers cannot give alms of what they have cheated and robbed, unless they cannot tell the persons whom they have injured, or the proportions; and, in such cases, they are to give those unknown portions to the poor by way of restitution, for it is no alms; only God is the supreme Lord to whom those escheats devolve, and the poor are his receivers.
2. Of money unjustly taken, and yet voluntarily parted with, we may, and are bound to give alms; such as is money given and taken for false witness, bribes, and simoniacal contracts; because the receiver hath no right to keep it, nor the giver any right to recall it; it is unjust money, and yet payable to none but the supreme Lord, (who is the person injured,) and to his delegates, that is, the poor. To which I insert these cautions: 1. If the person injured by the unjust sentence of a bribed judge, or by false witness, be poor, he is the proper object and bosom to whom the restitution is to be made; 2. In the case of simony247247Decret. ep. tit. de Simonia. the church, to whom the simony was injurious, is the lap into which the restitution is to be poured; and if it be poor and out of repair, the alms or restitution (shall I call it?) are to be paid to it.
3. There is some sort of gain that hath in it no injustice, properly so called; but it is unlawful and filthy lucre; such as is money taken for work done unlawfully upon the Lord’s day; hire taken for disfiguring one’s-self, and for being professed jesters; the wages of such as make unjust bargains, and of harlots. Of this money there is some preparation to be made before it be given in alms, the money is infected with the plague, and must pass through the fire or the water before it be fit for alms; the person must repent and leave the crime, and then minister to the poor.
4. He that gives alms must do it in mercy; that is, out of a true sense of the calamity of his brother, first feeling it in himself in some proportion, and then endeavouring to ease himself and the other of their common calamity.248248Donum nudum est, nisi consensu vestiatur, 1. iii. C. de Pactis. Against this rule they offend who give alms out of custom, or to upbraid the poverty of the other, or to make him mercenary and obliged, or with any unhandsome circumstances.
5. He that gives alms must do it with a single eye and heart;249249Qui dedit beneficium, taceat; narret, qui accepti—Sinec. that is, without designs to get the praise of men; and if he secures that, he may either give them publicly or privately; for Christ intended only to provide against pride and hypocrisy when he bade arms to be given in secret, it being otherwise one of his commandments, ‘that our light should shine before men:’ this is more excellent; that is more safe.
6. To this also appertains that he who hath done a good turn should so forget it as not to speak of it; but he that boasts it, or upbraids it, hath paid himself and lost the nobleness of the charity.
7. Give alms with a cheerful heart and countenance; ‘not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loveth a cheerful giver;’2502502 Cor. ix. 7. and therefore give quickly when the power is in thy hand, and the need is in thy neighbour, and thy neighbour at the door. He gives twice that relieves speedily.
8. According to thy ability give to all men that need;251251Luke, vi. 30; Gal. vi. 10. and, in equal needs, give first to good men rather than to bad men; and if the needs be unequal, do so too, provided that the need of the poorest be not violent or extreme; but, if an evil man be in extreme necessity he is to be relieved rather than a good man who can tarry longer, and may subsist without it; and if he be a good man he will desire it should be so, because himself is bound to save the life of his brother with doing some inconvenience to himself; and no differences of virtue or vice can make the ease of one beggar equal with the life of another.
9. Give no alms to vicious persons if such alms will support their sin, as if they will continue in idleness; ‘if they will not work neither let them eat;’2522522 Thess. iii. 10. A cavallo, chi non porta sella, biada non si crivella. or if they will spend it in drunkenness,253253De mendico male meretur, qui ei dat quod edat aut quod bibat: Nam et illud quod dat perdit, et illi prodcit vitam ad miseriam.—Trin. or wantonness, such persons, when they are reduced to very great want, must be relieved in such proportions as may not relieve their dying lust, but may refresh their faint or dying bodies.
10. The best objects of charity are poor housekeepers that labour hard, and are burdened with many children; or gentlemen fallen into poverty, especially if by innocent misfortune, (and if their crimes brought them into it, yet they are to be relieved according to the former rule,) persecuted persons, widows and fatherless children, putting them to honest trades or school of learning. And search into the needs of numerous and meaner families,254254Beatus qui intelligt super egenum et pauperem.-Psal. A donare e tenere ingegno bisogna avere. for there are many persons that have nothing left them but misery and modesty; and towards such we must add two circumstances of charity: 1. To inquire them out; 2. To convey our relief unto them so as we do not make them ashamed.
11. Give, looking for nothing again, that is, without consideration of future advantages; give to children, to old men, to the unthankful, and the dying, and to those you shall never see again; for else your alms or courtesy is not charity, but traffic and merchandise; and be sure that you omit not to relieve the needs of your enemy and the injurious; for so, possibly, you may win him to yourself; but do you intend the winning him to God.
12. Trust not your alms to intermedial, uncertain, and under-dispensers; by which rule is not only intended the securing your alms in the right channel, but the humility of your person, and that which the apostle calls ‘the labour of love.’ And if you converse in hospitals and alms-houses, and minister with your own hand what your heart hath first decreed, you will find your heart endeared and made familiar with the needs and with the persons of the poor, those excellent images of Christ.
13. Whatsoever is superfluous in thy estate is to be dispensed in alms.255255Praemonstro tibi Ut ita te aliorum miserescat, ne tui alios misereat.—Tri nummus. He that hath two coats must give to him that hath none;’ that is, he that hath beyond his need must give that which is beyond it. Only among needs, we are to reckon not only what will support our life, but also what will maintain the decency of our estate and person, not only in present needs, but in all future necessities, and very probable contingencies, but no further: we are not obliged beyond this, unless we see very great, public, and calamitous necessities. But yet if we do extend beyond our measures, and give more than we are able, we have he Philippians and many holy persons for our precedent; we have St. Paul for our encouragement; we have Christ for our counsellor; we have God for our rewarder; and a great treasure in heaven for our recompense and restitution. But I propound it to the consideration of all Christian people that they be not nice and curious, fond and indulgent to themselves in taking accounts of their personal conveniences; and that they make their proportions moderate and easy, according to the order and manner of Christianity; and the consequent will be this, that the poor will more plentifully be relieved, themselves will be more able to do it, and the duty will be less chargeable, and the owners of estates charged with fewer accounts in the spending them. It cannot be denied but, in the expenses of all liberal and great personages, many things might be spared; some superfluous servants, some idle meetings, some unnecessary and imprudent feasts, some garments too costly, some unnecessary lawsuits, some vain journeys; and when we are tempted to such needless expenses, if we shall descend to moderation, and lay aside the surplusage, we shall find it with more profit to be laid out upon the poor members of Christ than upon our own with vanity. But this is only intended to be an advice in the matter of doing alms; for I am not ignorant that great variety of clothes always have been permitted to princes and nobility and others in their proportion; and they usually give those clothes as rewards to servants, and other persons needful enough, and then they may serve their own fancy and their duty too; but it is but reason and religion to be careful that they be given to such only where duty, or prudent liberality, or alms, determine them; but in no sense let them do it so as to minister to vanity, to luxury, to prodigality. The like also is to be observed in other instances; and if we once give our minds to the study and arts of alms, we shall find ways enough to make this duty easy, profitable, and useful.
1. He that plays at any game must resolve beforehand to be indifferent to win or lose; but if he gives to the poor all that he wins, it is better than to keep it to himself; but it were better yet that he lay by so much as he is willing to lose, and let the game alone, and, by giving so much alms, traffic for eternity. That is one way.
2. Another is keeping the fasting-days of the church, which if our condition be such as to be able to cast our accounts, and make abatements for our wanting so many meals in the whole year, (which by the old appointment did amount to one hundred and fifty-three, and since most of them are fallen into desuetude, we may make up as many of them as we please by voluntary fasts,) we may, from hence, find a considerable relief for the poor. But if we be not willing sometimes to fast, that our brother may eat, we should ill die for him. St. Martin had given all that he had in the world to the poor save one coat; and that also he divided between two beggars. A father in the mount of Mitria was reduced at last to the inventory of one Testament, and that book also was tempted from him by the needs of one whom he thought poorer than himself. Greater yet: St. Paulinus sold himself to slavery to redeem a young man for whose captivity his mother wept sadly; and it is said that St. Katherine sucked the envenomed wounds of a villain who had injured her most impudently. And I shall tell you of a greater charity than all these put together; Christ gave himself to shame and death to redeem his enemies from bondage and death and hell.
3. Learn of the frugal man, and only avoid sordid actions, and turn good husband, and change your arts of getting, into providence for the poor, and we shall soon become rich in good works; and why should we not do as much for charity as for covetousness; for heaven as for the fading world; for God and the holy Jesus as for the needless superfluities of back and belly?
14. In giving alms to beggars and persons of that low rank it is better to give little to each, that we may give to the more, so extending our alms to many persons; but in charities of religion, as building hospitals, colleges, and houses for devotion, and supplying the accidental wants of decayed persons, fallen from great plenty to great necessity, it is better to unite our aims than to disperse them; to make a noble relief or maintenance to one, and to restore him to comfort, than to support only his natural needs, and keep him alive only, unrescued from sad discomforts.
15. The precept of alms or charity binds not indefinitely to all the instances and kinds of charity; for he that delights to feed the poor, and spends all his portion that way, is not bound to enter into prisons and redeem captives; but we are obliged by the presence of circumstances, and the special disposition of Providence, and the pitiableness of an object, to this or that particular act of charity. The eye is the sense of mercy, and the bowels are its organ; and that enkindles pity, and pity produces alms: when the eye sees what it never say, the heart will think what it never thought; but when we have an object present to our eye, then we must pity; for there the providence of God hath fitted our charity with circumstances. He that is in thy sight or in thy neighbourhood is fallen into the lot of thy charity.
16. If thou hast no money,256256Luke, xii. 2; Acts, iii. 6. Chi ti da un ossa, non ti verrebbe morto. yet thou must have mercy, and art bound to pity the poor, and pray for them, and throw thy holy desires and devotions into the treasure of the church; and if thou dost what thou art able, be it little or great, corporal or spiritual, the charity of alms or the charity of prayers, a cup of wine or a cup of water, if it be but love to the brethren,2572571Pet. i. 22. or a desire to help all or any of Christ’s poor, it shall be accepted according to that a man hath, not according to that he hath not.2582582 Cor. viii. 12. For love is all this, and all the other commandments; and where it cannot, yet it is love still; and it is also sorrow that it cannot.
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