THE ESTABLISHED CHRISTIAN URGED TO EXERT HIMSELF FOR PURPOSES OF USEFULNESS.
1, 2. A sincere love to God will express itself not only in devotion, but in benevolence to men.--3. This is the command of God.--4. The true Christian feels his soul wrought to a holy conformity to it.--5. And therefore will desire instruction on this head.--6. Accordingly, directions are given for the improvement of various talents: particularly genius and learning.--7. Power.--8. Domestic authority.--9. Esteem.--10. Riches.--11. Several good ways of employing them hinted at.--12, 13. Prudence in expense urged, for the support of charity.--14. Divine direction in this respect to be sought. The Christian breathing after more extensive usefulness.
1. SUCH as I have described in the former chapter, I trust, are and will be
the frequent exercises or your soul before God. Thus will your love and
gratitude breathe itself forth in the divine presence and will, through Jesus
the great Mediator, come up before it as incense, and yield an acceptable
savor. But then, you must remember, this will not be the only effect of that
love to God which I have supposed so warm in your heart. If it be sincere, it
will not spend itself in words alone, but will discover itself in actions, and
wilt produce, as its genuine fruit, an unfeigned love to your fellow-creatures,
and an unwearied desire and labor to do them good continually.
2. "Has the great Father of mercies," will you say, "looked upon me with so gracious an eye? has he not only forgiven me ten thousand offences, but enriched me with such a variety of benefits? O what shall render to him for them all? Instruct me, O ye oracles of eternal truth! Instruct me, ye elder brethren in the family of my heavenly Father! Instruct me, above all, O thou Spirit of wisdom and love! what I may be able to do, to express my love to the great eternal fountain of love, and to approve my fidelity to him who has already done so much to engage it, and who will take so much pleasure in owning and rewarding it!"
3. This, O Christian! is the command which we have heard from the beginning, and it will ever continue in unimpaired force, "that he who loveth God," should "love his brother also," (I John, 4:21) and should express that love, "not in word and profession alone, but in deed and in truth." (1 John 3: 18) You are to love your neighbor as yourself; to love the whole creation of God; and, so far as your influence can extend, must endeavor to make it happy.
4. "Yes," will you not say, and "I do love it. I feel the golden chain of divine love encircling us all, and binding us close to each other, joining us in one body, and diffusing as it were, one soul through all. May happiness, true and sublime, perpetual and ever-growing happiness, reign through the whole world of God's rational and obedient creatures in heaven and on earth! And may every revolted creature, that is capable of being recovered and restored, be made obedient! Yea, may the necessary punishment of those who are irrecoverable, be overruled by infinite wisdom and love to the good of the whole!"
5. These are right sentiments, and if they are indeed the sentiments of your heart, O reader! and not an empty form of vain words, they will be attended with a serious concern to act in subordination to this great scheme of divine Providence, according to your abilities in their utmost extent. And to this purpose, they will put you on surveying the peculiar circumstances of your life and being, that you may discover what opportunities of usefulness they now afford, and how those opportunities and capacities may be improved. Enter therefore into such a survey, not that you may pride yourself in the distinctions of divine Providence or grace towards you, or, "having received, may glory as if you had not received;" (I Cor. 4:7) but that you may deal faithfully with the great Proprietor, whose steward you are, and by whom you are entrusted with every talent, which, with respect to any claim from your fellow-creatures, you may call your own. And here, "having gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us," (Rom. 12:6) let us hold the balance with an impartial hand, that so we may determine what it is that God requires of us; which is nothing less than doing the most we can invent, contrive, and effect, for the general good. But, oh! how seldom is this estimate faithfully made! And how much does the world around us, and how much do our own souls suffer for want of that fidelity!
6. Hath God given you genius and learning? It was not that you might amuse or deck yourself with it, and kindle a blaze which should only serve to attract and dazzle the eyes of men. It was intended to be the means of heading both yourself and them to the Father of lights. And it will be your duty, according to the peculiar turn of that genius and capacity, either to endeavor to improve and adorn human life, or, by a more direct application of it to divine subjects, to plead the cause of religion, to defend its truths, to enforce and recommend its practicer to deter men from courses which would be dishonorable to God and fatal to themselves, and to try the utmost efforts of all the solemnity and tenderness with which you can clothe your addresses, to lead them into the paths of virtue and happiness.
7. Has God invested you with power, whether it be in a larger or smaller society? Remember that this power was given you that God might be honored, and those placed under your government, whether domestic or public, might be made happy. Be concerned, therefore, that, whether you be entrusted with the rod, or the sword, it may "not be" borne in vain. (Rom. 13:4) Are you a magistrate? Have you any share in the great and tremendous charge of enacting laws? Reverence the authority of the supreme Legislator, the great Guardian of society: promote none, consent to none, which you do not in your own conscience esteem, in present circumstances, an intimation of his will, and in the establishment of which you do not firmly believe you shalt be "his minister for good." (Rom. 13:4) Have you the charge of executing laws? Put life into them by a vigorous and strenuous execution, according to the nature of the particular office you bear. Retain not an empty name of authority. Permit not yourself, as it were, to fall asleep on the tribunal. Be active, be wakeful, be observant of what passes around you. Protect the upright and the innocent. Break in pieces the power of the oppressor. Unveil every dishonest heart. Disgrace as well as defeat the wretch that makes his distinguished abilities the disguise or protection of the wickedness which he ought rather to endeavor to expose, and to drive out of the world with abhorrence.
8. Are you placed only at the head of a private family? Rule it for God. Administer the concerns of that little kingdom with the same views, and on the same principles, which I have been inculcating oil the powerful and the great, if, by any unexpected accident, any of them should suffer their eyes to glance upon the passage above. Your children and servants are your natural subjects. Let good order be established among them, and keep them under a regular discipline. Let them be instructed in the principles of religion, that they may know how reasonable such a discipline is; and let them be accustomed to act accordingly. You cannot indeed change their hearts, but you may very much influence their conduct, and by that means may preserve them from many snares, may do a great deal to make them good members of society, and may set them, as it were, "in the way of God's steps," (Psa. 85:13) if peradventure passing by be may bless them with the riches of his grace. And fail not to do your utmost to convince them of their need of those blessings; labor to engage them to a high esteem of them, and to an earnest desire of them, as incomparably more valuable than any thing else.
9. Again, has God been pleased to raise you to esteem among your fellow-creatures, which is not always in proportion to a man's rank or possession in human life? Are your counsels heard with attention? Is your company sought? Does God give you good acceptance in the eyes of men, so that they do not only put the fairest constructions on your words, but overlook faults of which you are conscious to yourself, and consider your actions and performances in the most indulgent and favorable light? You ought to regard this, not only as a favor of Providence, and as an encouragement to you cheerfully to pursue your duty, in the several branches of it, for the time to come, but also, as giving you much greater opportunities of usefulness than in your present station you could otherwise have had. If your character has any weight in the world, throw it into the right scale. Endeavor to keep virtue and goodness in countenance. Affectionately give your hand to modest worth, where it seems to be depressed or overlooked; though shining, when viewed in its proper light, with a lustre which you may think much superior to your own. Be an advocate for truth; be a counsellor for peace; be an example of candor; and do all you can to reconcile the hearts of men, especially of good men, to each other, however they may differ in their opinions about matters which it is impossible for good men to dispute. And let the caution and humility of your behavior, in circumstances of such superior eminence, and amidst so many tokens of general esteem, silently reprove the rashness and haughtiness of those who perhaps are remarkable for little else; or who, if their abilities were indeed considerable, must be despised, and whose talents must be in a great measure lost to the public, till that rashness and haughtiness of spirit be subdued. Nor suffer yourself to he interrupted in this generous and worthy course, by the little attacks or envy and calumny which you may meet. Be still attentive to the general good, and steadily resolute in your efforts to promote it; and leave it to Providence to guard or to rescue your character from the base assaults of malice and falsehood, which will often, without your labor, confute themselves, and heap upon the authors greater shame, or (if they are inaccessible to that} greater infamy, than your humanity will allow you to wish them.
10. Once more, Has God blessed you with riches? Has he placed you in such circumstances that you have more than you absolutely need for the subsistence of yourself and your family? Remember your approaching account. Remember what an incumbrance these things often prove to men in the way of their salvation, and how often, according to our Lord's express declaration, they render it "as difficult to enter into the kingdom of God, as it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle." (Matt. 19:24) Let it therefore be your immediate, your earnest, and your daily prayer, that riches may not be a snare and a shame to you, as they are to by far the greater part of their possessors. Appropriate, I beseech you, some certain part and proportion of your estate and revenue to charitable uses; with a provisional increase, as God shall prosper you in any extraordinary instance. By this means you will always have a fund of charity at hand; and you will probably be more ready to communicate, when you look upon what is so deposited as not in any sense your own, but as already actually given away to those uses, though not yet affixed to particular objects. It is not for me to say what that proportion ought to be. To those who have large revenues, and no children, perhaps a third or one half may be too little; to those whose incomes are small, and their charge considerable, though they have something more than is absolutely necessary, it is possible a tenth may be too much. But pray that God would guide your mind; make a trial for one year, on such terms as in your conscience you think will be most pleasing to him; and let your observations on that teach you to fix your proportion for the next always remembering, that he requires justice in the first place, and alms-deeds only so far as may consist with that. Yet, at the same time, take heed of that treacherous, delusive, and, in many instances, destructive imagination, "that justice to your own family requires that yon should leave your children very rich; which has perhaps cost some parsimonious parents the lives of those darlings for whom they laid up the portion of the poor; and what fatal consequences of divine displeasure may attend it to those that yet survive, God Only knows; and I heartily pray that you or yours may never learn by experience.
11. And that your heart may be yet more opened, and that your charity may be directed to the best purposes, let me briefly mention a variety of good uses which may call for the consideration of those whom God has in this respect distinguished by an ability to do good. To assist the hints I am to offer, look round on the neighborhood in which you live. Thank how many honest and industrious, perhaps too, I might add, religious people, are making very hard shifts to struggle through life. Think what a comfort that would be to them, which you might without any inconvenience spare from that abundance which God hath given you. Hearken also to any extraordinary calls of charity which may happen, especially those of a public nature, and help them forward with your example, and your interest in them, which perhaps may be of much greater importance than the sum which you contribute, considered in itself. Have a tongue to plead for the necessitous, as well as a hand to relieve them; and endeavor to discountenance those poor, shameful excuses, which covetousness often dictates to those whose art may indeed set some varnish on what they suggest, but so slight a one, that the coarse ground will appear through it. See how many poor children are wandering naked and ignorant about the streets, and in the way to all kinds of vice and misery; and consider what can be done toward clothing some of them at least, and instructing them in the principles of religion. Would every thriving family in a town, who are able to afford help on such occasions, cast a pitying eye on one poor family in its neighborhood, and take it under their patronage, to assist in feeding, and clothing, and teaching the children, in supporting it in affliction, in defending it from wrongs, and in advising those that have the management of it, as circumstances might require, how great a difference would soon be produced in the character and circumstances of the community! Observe who are sick, that, if there be no public infirmary at hand to which you can introduce them, (where your contribution will yield the largest increase) you may do something towards relieving them at home, and supplying them with advice and medicines, as well as with proper diet and attendance. Consider also the spiritual necessities of men: in providing for which, I would particularly recommend to you the very important and noble charity of assisting young persons of genius and piety with what is necessary to support the expense of their education for the ministry, in the proper course of grammatical or academical studies. And grudge not some proportion of what God hath given you, to those who, resigning all temporal views to minister to you the Gospel of Christ, have surely an equitable claim to be supported by you, in a capacity of rendering you those services, however laborious, to which, for your sakes, and that of our common Lord, they have devoted their lives. And while you are so abundantly "satisfied with the goodness of Gal's house, even of his own temple," (Psa. 65:4) have compassion on those who dwell in a desert land; and rejoice to do something toward sending among the distant nations of the heathen world, that glorious Gospel which bath so long continued unknown to multitudes, though the knowledge of it, with becoming regard, be life everlasting. These are a few important charities which I would point out to those whom Providence has enriched with its peculiar bounties; and it renders gold more precious than it could appear in any other light, that it is capable of being employed for such purposes. But if you should not have gold to spare for them, contribute your silver; or, as a farthing or a mite is not overlooked by God, when it is given from a truly generous and charitable heart, (Mark 12:42,43) let that be cheerfully dropped into the treasury, where richer offerings cannot be afforded.
12. And that, amidst so many pressing demands for charity, you may be better furnished to answer them, seriously reflect on your manner of living. I say not that God requires you should become one of the many poor relieved out of your income. The support of society, as at present established, will not only permit, but require, that some persons should allow themselves in the elegancies and delights of life; by furnishing which, multitudes of poor families are much more creditably and comfortably subsisted, with greater advantage to themselves and safety to the public, than they could be, if the price of their labors, or of the commodities in which they deal, were to be given them as alms; nor can I imagine it grateful to God, that his gifts should be refused, as if they were meant for snares and curses rather than benefits. This were to frustrate the benevolent purposes of the gracious Father of mankind, and if carried to its rigor, would be a sort of conspiracy against the whole system of nature. Let the bounties of Providence be used; but let us carefully see to it, that it be in a moderate and prudent manner, lest, by our own folly, "that which should have been for our welfare become a trap." (Psa. 69:22) Let conscience say, my dear reader, with regard to yourself, what proportion of the good things you possess your Heavenly Father intends for yourself, and what for your brethren; and live not as if you had no brethren--as if pleasing yourself in all the magnificence and luxury you can devise, were the end for which you were sent into the world. I fear this is the excess of the present age, and not an excess of rigor and mortification. Examine, therefore, your expenses, and compare them with your income. That may be shamefully extravagant in you, which may not only be pardonable, but commendable in another of superior estate. Nor can you be sure that you do not exceed, merely because you do not plunge your-self into debt, nor render yourself incapable of laying up any thing for your family. If you be disabled from doing any thing for the poor, or any thing proportionable to your rank in life, by that genteel and elegant way of living which you affect, God must disapprove of such a conduct; and you ought, as you will answer to him, to retrench it. And though the divine indulgence will undoubtedly be exercised to those in whom there is a sincere principle of faith in Christ, and undissembled love to God and man, though it act not to that height of beneficence and usefulness which might have been attained; yet be assured of this, that he, who rendereth to every one according to his works, will have a strict regard to the degrees of the goodness in the distribution of final rewards: so that every neglected opportunity draws after it an irreparable loss, which will go into eternity along with you. And let me add, too, that every instance of negligence indulged, renders the mind still more and more indolent and weak, and consequently more indisposed to recover the ground which has been lost, or even to maintain that which has been hitherto kept.
18. Complain not that this is imposing hard things upon you. I am only directing your pleasures into a nobler channel; and indeed that frugality, which is the source of such a generosity, far from being at all injurious to your reputation, will rather, among wise and good men, greatly promote it. But you have far nobler motives before you than those which arise from their regards. I speak to you as to a child of God, and a member of Christ; as joined, therefore, by the most intimate union, to all the poorest of those that believe in him. I speak to you as to an heir of eternal glory, who ought therefore to have sentiments great and sublime, in some proportion to that expected inheritance.
14. Cast about therefore in your thoughts what good is to be done, and what you can do, either in your own person or by your interest with others; and go about it with resolution, as in the name and presence of the Lord. And as "the Lord giveth wisdom, and out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding," (Prov. 2:6) go to the footstool of his throne, and there seek that guidance and that grace which may suit your present circumstances, and may be effectual to produce the fruits of holiness and usefulness, to his more abundant glory, and to the honor of your Christian profession.
The established Christian breathing after more extensive Usefulness.