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“ the earth.” As to other inferior rules for preserving cheerfulness and vivacity of spirit, such as agreeable company, good books, employment in an honest calling, innocent diversions, and the like; as they are none of them comparable to what I have before named, it may be sufficient barely to have hinted them. I have not mentioned the drinking away cares, as some call it, among the proper expedients ; because indeed it is highly improper, and tends to enfeeble both the body and the mind, by vitiating the blood, wasting the spirits, and disordering the nerves: not to mention, that it is expensive and vain, and is an offence against God; and so, in all views, is more likely to wound and break the spirit, than to fortify or strengthen it. Seek not therefore to any of those vain and deceitful expedients, which will by no means answer : but rely upon the true and solid ones before intimated; such as faith, a good life, and a good conscience consequent thereupon, together with fixed and constant meditations upon the joys of a life to come: if ye do these things, ye can never fail.
c Col. iii. 2.
The true Nature of Charity; its Value, Measures, and
Proportions stated, from the Gospel Account of the poor Widow's Offering.
A Charity Sermon,
MARK xii. 43, 44.
And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you,
That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance ; but she of her want
did cast in all that she had, even all her living. THE story of the poor widow, who threw in her two mitos as
an offering to God's temple, and was applauded for it by our blessed Lord, is related by two of the Evangelists, St. Mark and St. Luke; and it is a thing so well known, that the widow's mite is noted even to a proverb. It was at the time of the Passover, the fourth and last Passover our Lord was at, that he was present at the temple, in one of its courts, called the court of the people, and in that apartment of it which belonged to the women, and for that reason called the court of the women. Here it was that the chest, or the almsbox, stood; and hither the people brought their offerings, either for the use of the temple, or for the relief of the poor : and here it was that the poor widow made her humble offering of two mites, to the value of a farthing, while richer persons gave very considerable sums. • Many that were “ rich cast in much,” but it was out “ of their abundance,” and what they could very well spare : while she threw in a very small gratuity, but it was what she even wanted to subsist upon; for it was all that she had, even all her living." Our blessed Lord, standing by, and well knowing her hard circumstances, (as he knew all things,) was pleased to observe thereupon, much to the honour of the poor widow, that she had really shewn herself more bountiful and generous than any of the rest: for she had given more, in proportion to her circumstances, than any one else had done: for they had contributed only what they had to spare, and but a part even of that: whereas she had generously quitted what she could not so well spare, wanting it for herself ; and not a part only of that, but all; not a single mite, which was half her substance, but both; which was all she had.
By this account of the poor widow, we may reasonably judge, that she was one who lived by her labour, or by the kind assistance of friends. She had no estate, no certain fund to subsist upon, no money beforehand above the value of a single farthing ; which was barely sufficient for one day's sustenance; and that she gave away in charity. This so memorable act of hers, and which our Lord himself has been pleased to set so high a value upon, will deserve our close inspection and most attentive consideration. It will be of excellent use, for shewing wherein the true nature and value of charity consists; as also for pointing out to us the proper rules whereby to fix its measures and settle its proportions. My design then is,
1. To make some general observations upon the instance now before us, for the clearer understanding the duty of charity, or almsgiving. And,
II. To apply those general rules or remarks to the particular purposes of the present occasion.
I. First, I propose to make some general observations upon the instance now before us, for the clearer understanding of the duty of charity, or almsgiving.
I have before hinted, that it may be in some measure doubtful whether the widow's quota was given for the service of the temple or for the relief of the poor : but whichsoever it was, the difference is not material. It was a religious offering to God, as is plainly intimated by St. Luke, chap. xxi. ver. 4. And whether it was intended for the use of the temple of Jerusalem,
(which was God's house,) or for the use of the poor, who, in another sense, are God's temple likewise, it comes to the same thing. But this I observe by the way only, and proceed now to what I intend.
1. One of the first and most obvious remarks upon the case now in hand is, that the real value of any charitable gift is to be estimated, not by the quantity or the price of the thing given, but by the affection of the mind and generosity of heart that is seen in it.
The widow's mites added but little to the treasury, and were but of small account in the poor's box: but notwithstanding that, they were of great esteem in God's sight, and more acceptable to him than the largest and richest presents. under what circumstances the poor widow was, what difficulties she was pressed with, how hard she laboured, and with what warmth of zeal, ardency of affection, and strength of faith. she had made her offering. These were the things which recommended it to God's acceptance; and made it more valuable in his eyes than much larger contributions, where there was not the same temper of mind: and this indeed was most highly just and equitable ; for we may observe,
2. Secondly, that there may be more of real charity and true generosity in a poor man's offering a mite, than in a rich man's contributing a talent; and that upon several accounts. A rich man gives, in such a case, no more than he can spare, nor indeed quite so much : the poor man gives more than he can well spare, or (like the widow) leaves himself nothing. One spends out of his superfluities, the other parts with his necessaries. It is very easy to observe, that there is much more of hard struggle, much more of self-denial, and consequently much more of true charity and generosity, in one case than in the other.
3. From hence then, thirdly, I remark, that the generosity, or liberality, of any person, in his charitable contributions, is to be measured chiefly by the proportion it bears to his circumstances, justly considered. He who gives most in proportion, and not he who gives absolutely the most, is the most charitable and generous man. And the principal thing to be considered in such cases is, what every man has to spare, upon a fair computation, and a just balancing of his accounts: after comparing his present incomes with his present necessary expenses, his future provisions likewise with his future occasions; then what is the
overplus, to expend in charities? This, I say, is the material question ; what can a man conveniently spare? He that gives more than he can spare, in some cases, is not prudent, or perhaps not just to his creditors: though if he does it in such a way as to pinch himself only, abridging himself in some measure to relieve others, it may be an excellent instance of generosity and charity; as seems indeed to have been the case of the poor widow in the text. She parted with all she had, and that all was no more than the value of one day's sustenance. Perhaps she had just so much beforehand, and no more; or she denied herself for one day, and trusted to God's providence and to the labour of her hands for the morrow. This she could do, and it was the utmost she could do; and the most generous person living could not have done more. She had a willing mind, which carried her through, and made her strive to her power, yea, and beyond her power ; that is, beyond what she could well spare : and though the gift was small, the generosity of it was great; and as such it was accepted according to what she had, and not according to what she had not.
4. From hence I must observe, fourthly, and particular notice should be taken of it, that e the
and low are not totally eccused from the duty of almsgiving : for if God accepted the widow's mite, who is there so poor from whom he will not accept it? And if he accepts of such small offerings, nay, and applauds them too as the most valuable charities; no doubt but he expects them also, yea, and strictly requires them.
We are used indeed to address ourselves chiefly to the rich, when we are raising contributions, because they are the men most able to assist in such cases: and I know not whether many of the inferior sort may not have taken up a false notion, that they have no concern in, nothing to do with things of that kind : and perhaps the negligence of collectors, or even the silence of preachers, may have contributed too much towards the leading them into that persuasion. But a mistake it is, and a dangerous one too. Rich and poor are all equally concerned in the duty, but in proportion to their circumstances : and he that has little is as strictly bound to give something, however small, out of that little, as he that has more is obliged to give more. It is excellently well said in the book of Tobit: “ If thou hast abundance, “ give alms accordingly: if thou have but little, be not afraid to