Practically considered, a system of beneficence consists in two things: the amount of property bestowed, and the frequency of stated gifts to the Lord.
Before detailing in full, therefore, the general system of beneficence, these two questions must be thoroughly discussed -- 1. What is the proportional amount of property or income to be given in charitable contributions? 2. How frequently should stated contributions be made?
The first of these is a point the most difficult for the depraved heart to reach. Self-interest clamors most loudly for the smallest sum possible. Her whole strength must here be encountered. But selfishness, properly so called, has nothing to do with the question. The rule determining the amount must be fixed upon, not only entirely without her aid, but in direct opposition to her insidious suggestions. It must also be a rule growing out of those principles which take hold of, and bind the conscience; and therefore clearly taught in the Bible. This is a consideration which may not be overlooked. If we endeavor to deduce a rule from principles not found nor recognized in the Scriptures, the influence will be disastrous; we shall rather strengthen, than weaken, the covetous tendencies of the heart.
It has appeared to some of vast importance to fix upon a definite amount of income as each one's yearly contribution. A tenth has been named as the proportion divinely approved, in imitation of Jacob's vow to give a tenth to God of all that he should receive at his hand; and because the Jews were required to pay a tithe of their yearly increase for the support of the Levites. Arguments have been adduced to show that this ratio in charity is obligatory on all; at the same time, it has been acknowledged not to be enjoined in the New Testament. We think, however, the ground untenable; and all efforts to designate this or any other fixed proportion as universally binding, both inexpedient and unscriptural.
In the first place, it would not be equal. An alleged requisition, not pressing equally upon all in its ordinary operations, cannot rise out of the necessary relations of the spiritual universe, and therefore is not essential to a moral government. It can be made obligatory on the conscience only by a positive precept from the Great Lawgiver himself. But no ratio of income, universally applicable can be assigned, pressing equally upon all. While one's income may be large, his debts may likewise be large. Another's health may be feeble, his family numerous, and his expenses great; while his neighbor's constitution may be vigorous, his family small, and his necessary expenditures few. Thus circumstances may render it a greater sacrifice for some to give a twentieth, a fiftieth, or even an hundredth of their income, than for others to bestow one half, or indeed, the whole of it, and thousands besides.
One's entire possessions must be taken into the calculation. Take a simple case. Two men start in business together; both plan and toil for ten years. One has an expensive family, parents to maintain, children to support and educate; he has been withal unfortunate, and has laid up scarcely a thousand dollars. The other has no family, has prospered and accumulated ten thousand. The eleventh year Providence smiles upon both alike; the income of each is a thousand dollars. Now, would it be equal to require of both respectively a hundred in charity?
Nor can any ratio of standing property and income combined be designated, ensuring equality. Though this might approximate towards equalizing the burden, still the same or similar causes would prevent a uniform pressure. Besides, calls on our benevolence are not always equally loud or imperious; and therefore, with the same means, more is demanded on some occasions than others.
Undoubtedly there is a certain amount of property, which, taking into view the whole circle of one's relations, he ought to contribute in charity. It is by no means contended that one cannot fix upon a definite amount for himself. This he may and should do. All that we aver is, that no general rule can be made, assigning that amount, because no general rule can meet the ten thousand circumstances that modify individual cases; and, therefore, obligations to comply with it would not be universally felt. Besides, no one thinks of specifying certain proportions of labor and attention which all are equally bound to bestow on others; and yet, these are sometimes far more beneficial to the suffering than gifts of money. To assign a certain number of external acts employed in charitably distributing property, while we fix upon no definite amount of labor to be expended in beneficence, is making a difference without a reason; this being seen, the conscience will not be holden, unless some scripture precept can be found demanding the discrimination.
But could a ratio be found pressing equally upon all, it would not be desirable. Man, while under the influence of the natural heart, if he tries to please his Maker at all, endeavors to do it by external acts merely; when driven from this ground, he seeks to please him by acting out some principle of natural sympathy, conscience, or reason; when shown the fallacy of this, he endeavors still to discharge his duties in some way without the entire consecration of the soul. Now, does not the advocacy of a general ratio obviously fall in with this depraved inclination, tend to flatter this pride of heart, and to encourage this aversion to entire self-immolation? Indeed, founded on this principle, the work of benevolence is extremely liable to degenerate into sheer superstition. The payment of the stipulated sum is soon thought to render one worthy of Divine acceptance; and thus, instead of gushing from the heart, charity becomes a mere mercenary business, scarcely rising to the dignity of a virtue. This the experience of the religious world proves, as is evidenced by the views and conduct of the Jews respecting tithes in the time of Christ; and at the present period, by the payment of periodical contributions in the Romish church.
Besides, as a general rule must apply to all classes and conditions indiscriminately, the bestowment of the designated sum would satisfy the consciences, not only of the poor, but also of the rich, who ought, unquestionably, to contribute oftentimes far more than one tenth of their annual increase, or any other proportion which the most generous philanthropy might appoint; thus both rendering them deaf to extraordinary calls, and, when the truth, so agonizing to the carnal heart, that our all belongs to God, is pressed with vital intensity on the mind, affording a secure retreat to the tortured conscience.
Such an arrangement also would often fail to meet the yearnings of the Christian heart. The sympathy of the true Christian is as deep and far-reaching as human suffering. Neither one, nor two, nor three tenths, would be regarded as sufficient on particular emergencies. Such was the case with the Macedonians of whom Paul says, "That in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy, and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, yea, and beyond their power, they were willing of themselves; praying us with much entreaty, that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints." The Christian king of the Friendly Islands felt the same burstings of a Christian heart. The missionary says of him: "He had not often gold or silver to give. But one time he had obtained ten pounds from the ship for food he had sold. How much do you think he gave to the missionary society? One pound? Five pounds? This would have been a great deal. But he did more; he gave the whole!"
It would not meet the requisitions of the command, "Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself." Would an Irish lord, amidst the scenes recently experienced in his unhappy country, surrounded by hundreds and thousands of miserable beings, starving, sick, and dying, be justified in view of this law, by contributing to their relief a bare tenth of his income? Every noble heart will answer in the negative. These times of agony demanded far greater sacrifices.
Thus all efforts to fix upon a definite ratio of income or property of universal obligation, will give constant ground for questions of casuistry inevitably tending rather to screen the conscience, than to stimulate to generous activity.
But what does the Gospel teach us on the subject? The religion of the Gospel begins in the heart. "Son, give me the heart," is its fundamental precept. In the Gospel scheme, every individual stands by himself, on his own responsibility; he is bound by a personal tie to his Maker. The conduct it prescribes is entirely spiritual. It requires a burning heart, shedding its light and heat on all around. According to its code, every act must gush from holy love. It does not prescribe just the amount of action to be put forth, in any one direction; but the heart and conscience of each, guided by wisdom from above, are to direct him. It is thus with Angels and the redeemed about the throne. A holy heart, bathed in the truth of heaven, is all the general rule they need to enable them to discharge their duties, and to adapt themselves to the various circumstances in which they may be placed to eternity. Such is their moral state, that the least intimation of Jehovah's will sends them speeding on wings of fire to do his pleasure. The Gospel places man on earth in the same relation to him, and intends that he shall act on the same general principles. It teaches us that all we have belongs to God, and that all we do must be done to his glory. A soul, permeated by this heavenly spirit, would find a knowledge of the destitution and woes of others, and an ability to relieve them, a sufficient stimulant and guide. Angel-like, it would send forth spontaneously the felicitating streams which the Gospel appoints.
This is the source and spirit of all Gospel benevolence. Says Paul, "Every man according as he purposeth" (desireth or chooseth) "in his heart, so let him give." There is to be no constraint. The working of individual good-will is to be the measure of individual bounty; for "God loveth a cheerful giver."*[This principle does not apply to the support of a pastor. Paul does not put charity and the support of the pastor on the same ground. Compare 2 Cor. Viii. and ix. With 1 Cor. ix. Other elements come in, modifying the result in the latter case. 1. The idea of wages. 2. The idea of copartnership. Each member of the church, on principles of common honesty, is bound to bear his share of the common expenses.] But though no given proportion of property is definitely enjoined, there are certain general principles laid down, by which we may make approximations towards a proportionate amount, and never be at a loss respecting individual gifts in specific instances when the heart is right. The following are such.
The great truth that God has a supreme and inalienable right in us and in all that we possess. "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of Hosts." "For every beast of the field is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills." "Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine." -- The injunction to dedicate ourselves to God. "I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." -- The requirement to love God and his cause and interest more devotedly than the dearest worldly possession. "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." "Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath cannot be my disciple." -- The command to love our neighbor as ourselves; that we are to supply his necessities, and relieve his sufferings, so far as lies in our power, with the same willingness that we do our own. -- The intimation that our gifts should be such as to call into exercise our faith and self-denial. The poor widow cast into the treasury of the Lord "all that she had, even all her living;" with which generous sacrifice Christ was well pleased; and Paul commends the Macedonian Christians, because they gave not only according to their power, but beyond their power. -- The promises to the benevolent. "The liberal soul shall be made fat." "He that watereth shall be watered himself." "It is more blessed to give than to receive." -- The duty of imitating Christ, who "suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in his steps;" that we should "walk even as he also walked."
Also, the very large amount of their income, (which has been estimated at not less than one fifth) required of the Jews to be given for the support of religion, and in charity, was intended to convey to us similar instruction. For though the law of tithes or double tithes is not binding upon us, the great sacrifices which they were required to make, are designed to have a moral influence on succeeding generations. It is not the idle record of a bygone race, or of a dispensation that has vanished away; it utters a voice to us; it is the living exemplification of a principle which we are bound to adopt. If even the poor among the Jews could give so much, the poor can still give bountifully in proportion to their means, -- and, were they disposed, how profusely might the rich lavish their munificence. With the fact before us of the great sacrifices the Jews were commanded to make for the support of religion in their own narrow bounds; when we consider the breadth of the field we are called to cultivate, -- the spiritual necessities of the perishing millions of our race, the opportunities to reach them, the worth of the undying soul, the revenue of glory its salvation will yield the Saviour, what sacrifices ought the poor, at the present day, to make in their penury, and the rich in their abundance, to promote the glory of Christ in the salvation of souls; and how terrible the doom of those who refuse.
These principles, requisitions, promises, and examples, show us that our sacrifices should be great, and the amount of our contributions large, when either the worldly or spiritual necessities of others demand our aid; while they leave the treasuries of benevolence to be filled by the spontaneous flow of each individual soul.
The desire, therefore, to fasten on the consciences of men the obligation to contribute periodically a certain portion of their income or property, as universally binding, is not to be gratified by arguments drawn either from reason or revelation. We may resort to no artificial means. We may trust in no machinery which does not work and glow with the living fires of the heart. Love, conscience, and reason, must be the originating and guiding forces. We must fall back upon, and confide in, these vital principles of holy conduct. First the heart, and then the act, is the Gospel scheme, and we may not reverse the process. To attempt it, and to say, "What we seek in a system of beneficence, is not a benevolent heart, but benevolent actions;" is to come in open collision with the spirit of the Gospel. It is apparently a lurking disposition to induce men to discharge the duties of beneficence, without laying their hearts on the altar of God, and keeping them perpetually burning there; whereas Christ requires the heart, and the heart always; and then that conduct which inevitably bursts from a consecrated soul. As Paul says of the Macedonian Christians, "They first gave their own selves to the Lord;" and then their wealth, to be used as he should direct.
Indeed, the process necessarily gone through in determining, from general principles, the particular amount it becomes our duty individually to bestow in charity, Christ evidently intended should be a means of moral discipline, which we cannot safely dispense with. Its influence, though not generally realized, is far-reaching, almost magical. It strengthens the intellect, elevates to a noble independence and disinterestedness of feeling, gives stability to character and energy to purpose, leading on to thoroughness of self-inspection, earnestness of investigation as to the personal claims of God, and childlike simplicity in submitting to their authority. Just glance at its workings in the present instance. As Christ has told us, in order to know his doctrine we must do his will, so in order to ascertain the exact sum we are to contribute in benevolence, we must cherish a heart in sympathy with his own. Holy love must perpetually glow in our bosoms; otherwise, we shall sometimes fail in the correctness of our conclusions. Thus the first impulse of benevolent feelings puts us in the way to increase them; for every desire to give must be attended with a scrutinizing estimate of our motives, and a constant struggle with selfishness, lest the latter gain the ascendency, and mar the beauty of the deed. The legitimate result of the process, therefore, is a deep and watchful piety; while the works of beneficence, thus determined, never degenerate into superstition or self-righteousness; and its obligations will seize at once and unrelaxingly the conscience of all.
The conclusion, therefore, at which we arrive touching the amount of our charities is this: it should be such as our means, a distinct knowledge of the wants of others, and a heart of overflowing love, shall prescribe; leaving each one to his own solemn convictions of duty, amenable to the bar of God.
But it may be objected, if beneficence is thus left without the specification of some stated amount, selfish, or but partially sanctified men, will not give as liberally as they ought. Perhaps they will not. But all we can so is to press on their attention the commands of Jehovah, and the claims of a dying world -- claims, as strong and affecting as those which brought the Saviour from the throne to the cross; and telling them what the Apostle, enforcing also sparingly; "and he who soweth bountifully, shall reap also bountifully," leave them to settle the matter of their covetousness with their Final Judge. We may pray and weep over them; but we may use no efforts to move a single individual from that moral basis -- his own conscience -- on which God has placed him. Here he must stand; and here we must be willing he should stand; while he himself is under infinite obligation to lay bare his bosom to the energizing influences of truth, and cheerfully yield to its sway.
2. How frequently should stated contributions be made?
System implies order, regularity. Systematic beneficence implies regularity of contributions, or of stated periods for appropriating property to the Lord. In regard to the frequency of these statedly recurring periods, there are different opinions. Owing to the variety, extent, and complexity of men's avocations, some find it convenient to make consecrations accurately proportionate to prosperity, much more frequently than others. Hence some advocate the weekly period, some the monthly, while others plead for still longer intervals. Indeed, to fix upon a definite rule of universal application determining the frequency of periodical contributions, will be found nearly as difficult as to ascertain the precise ratio of property to be bestowed. There are, however, certain leading principles, which, if contemplated with rectitude of heart, will enable us to please God by the wisdom of our benefactions, no less in this respect than the last.
1st. As a stepping-stone to a series of more important considerations, showing that these periods of consecrations should very frequently recur, I remark that most may set apart some portion of income without inconvenience as often at least as capital or labor makes returns. These are the occasions when Providence pours his treasures into our bosoms; when alone we can determine precisely how the Lord has prospered us, and consequently how much we are able to bestow. Hence if no designations of income to charity have been previously made, or if they have not been sufficiently large, these opportunities of coming to some definite decision with reference to the proportion of the bounties of Providence we shall devote to purposes of beneficence, may not be passed over; and the consecration, not to say the disbursement, should be made immediately, while the idea that our possession are from God is fresh in our minds, and before selfishness shall seize them as her own. Procrastination is often but giving heed to her treacherous voice, and ere we are aware, she carries us captive. As we receive our increase from the hand of God, like faithful stewards, we should set apart the portion belonging to others without delay. To indulge ourselves by holding them up before us, and doating upon them as our own, will but inflame our covetousness; and we shall be tempted to rob the needy of their portion. This is not hypothesis; facts prove that money is contributed far more cheerfully when in a loose state than after it becomes fixed property. This rule, directing frequency of consecrations, conforming itself to individual circumstances, is oppressive to none.
But the capital of some makes returns only once a year; of others, only once in a series of years. To such this rule can be by no means applicable; for the wants and sufferings of those whom God has made it our duty to relieve, often demand far more frequent distributions; while, in a variety of instances, it calls into exercise our benevolence too rarely to suppress the selfish tendencies of the heart, -- a point, which, in rearing a system of beneficence, may never be overlooked. Other principles must therefore be noticed.
2d. Our contributions should be so frequent as will tend to repress the selfish, and keep alive the benevolent affections. We should give so frequently as to impress and nurture the conviction that we were made not only for ourselves, but for others; and that the noblest use of property is its distribution to the needy. This conviction it is difficult to engender, and harder to keep alive, but it is best produced and quickened to energy by frequently engaging in the duties of charity. Benevolence, to become strong, must be cultivated; and it is so much of an exotic in the human breast, that it needs the most earnest and assiduous care; while selfishness, such is its strength and tenacity of life, can be deadened and kept in abeyance only by repeated and vigorous assaults. As a general rule, that system, as to frequency, should be chosen, which comes most strongly in collision, and wrestles most powerfully with the selfishness of the heart. Some, I know, would deal gently with this obnoxious principle; rather humor than goad it; and on this ground urge the importance of frequent, and, of course, small contributions, which will scarcely be felt; maintaining that on the whole a larger amount will be collected. But I would not urge frequency of donations on this account. I would advocate benevolence only on those principles which will give it life and vigor for eternity. The Bible says nothing about humoring the selfishness of the heart, of adopting plans of beneficence that will be scarcely felt. Its language is, "Crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts." It directs us to die unto sin or self. It makes no compromise with covetousness. It bids us not rock it to sleep, but slay it. Let every one then stand up in the lofty sternness of his spirit, and adopt that system as to frequency in giving, which, other things being equal, is most crucifying to the carnal heart.
But a system of almost continued contributions will not be peculiarly crossing to our avaricious desires, if trifling sums are given, or those greatly disproportionate to property. In this case, selfishness, instead of being disturbed, may be rather cajoled into a species of benevolence; though a species as sickly and unsubstantial as the vine that grows amid the damps of a vault, never aspiring to heaven as the place of its nativity. But when the sums are so large as to demand personal sacrifice, the self-appropriating principle feels it keenly. The uninterrupted repetition of such gifts is a continued draught on its life-blood. Its remains even in the Christian's breast are galled and lacerated by the repeated attacks, and sometimes writhe as in "the dying strife." Especially is this the case with one who has amassed his property by almost daily additions; -- by sums, perhaps, smaller in amount than those which the calls of humanity now claim almost as frequently at his hand. He sees his wealth going nearly the same way in which he acquired it, and he feels that its very pillars are giving way. Thus frequency in contributions, if sufficiently large, is usually most crossing to selfishness, and most destructive to avarice; and as a system of beneficence is instituted mainly to combat these evil principles, we should allow but short intervals between our deeds of charity.
3d. We should give so frequently as to form a habit of giving. Jeremiah says, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil." This shows the susceptibility of our natures to the formation of habits; and their controlling power over us. The injunction of Solomon, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it," is founded on the same mental tendency. Habit, indeed, governs half the world; it is like a self-moving machine, when once started, continuing, of its own accord, in the same direction and with the same velocity. Let one accustom himself to harden his heart in view of genuine objects of sympathy, and it will be exceedingly difficult to unlock his bosom to the loudest calls of benevolence. On the contrary, he, who accustoms himself to spend his money as fast as he acquires it, will never be likely to hoard for future supplies. A habit of giving would follow the same law, and greatly assist us in the duties of charity. But infrequency of beneficence, giving only once in six months or a year, or at irregular intervals, will never form an efficient habit of giving. It must be a regular and oft-repeated act; for it is a frequency of the same acts in succession alone, which creates habit. Our benevolence, therefore, should go forth in reiterated acts, like the monthly, flowering and shedding its fragrance as regularly as its seasons recur. The spirit of benevolence must thus be wrought into the very texture of our being; so that we shall move forward, scattering our alms about us as naturally as we perform the common duties of life. This thought is of immense importance to the young, and to those engaged in the pursuits of wealth. For the latter, especially, from the very nature of their employments, and their necessary trains of thought, are inevitably acquiring habits of accumulation; and, unless counteracting habits of benevolence are also acquired, their desires of gain will assume the tyrant, and the Divine curse, threatened against the covetous, will rest upon them forever. They are hanging over an abyss, and their only safety, under God, is in winding around their hearts the iron cords of habit in beneficence, and, therefore, in giving frequently.
4th. The Scriptures favor the idea of frequency in giving. Christ says, "Give to him that asketh of thee." The duty of charity is here clearly founded on our calls and ability. But in this world, where we have the poor always with us, calls on our benevolence cannot be otherwise than frequent. Again Christ says, "Freely ye have received, freely give." We frequently receive, we should therefore frequently give. Paul directs the Corinthian Christians, "Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store as God has prospered him." This suggestion of the Apostle may probably be adopted a general rule by a majority of Christians at the present day; and every one should make it a matter of solemn consideration and earnest prayer whether it is not his individual duty; for all must conform to it in spirit. But without maintaining that every one, under whatever circumstances, is required to lay by something weekly for charitable purposes, the principle here taught us most unequivocally binds us to great frequency of stated contributions. From this decision of the Holy Spirit, according, as it does, with the teachings of reason, there can be no appeal.
5th. The experience of practical men, as to the best means of acquiring property, evinces the same principle. The experience of the world on this point has been embodied in maxims such as these: "Take care of your cents, and dollars will take care of themselves;" "Save your ninepences," &c. Men of wealth have often remarked that they acquired their property by frequently storing away small sums as they could spare them. I knew a man lay up several dollars by making it a rule to put into a bag kept for the purpose, every fifty cent piece that came into his possession. We have here the development of a principle in accumulating a fund to meet the contingencies of life. We may apply it to benevolence, and take men of business and opulence on their own ground. If this principle will fill one's own treasuries, it will fill the treasuries of the Lord. Let it then be regarded. I would sound it in the ears of the million who are delving the earth for gold, and startle them from their delusive dreams. I would that it might echo and re-echo till its solemn utterances should make every votary of Mammon tremble. Hear, ye rich men; give ear, ye who are pursuing the bubbles of wealth! is it christian, is it right, to adopt principles of prudence and self-denial in filling your own coffers, while you refuse to act upon the same principles in replenishing the streams of mercy? No. Conscience and God answer, No. The perishing heathen, the dying pillow, the judgment-seat, the wailings of hell, all answer, No.
Then let every one, whether indigent or affluent, frequently lay by in store sums for charity as God shall prosper him, though they are but small; and let him do it with the same whole-heartedness, earnestness, and perseverance, as he would to increase his own wealth; and rarely will he be unable to relieve the cries of misery. He will have no occasion to offer the excuse, "I have no change." He will have dollars in store. The history of benevolence proves this. I have know a sabbath-school class, by each member's giving 10, 15, or 25 cents a month, contribute an amount during the year, which previously they would have thought impossible to raise. This is only one instance among a thousand. Let the principle be acted upon; a trial is easy. Scriptures and reason cannot both be wrong.
But how shall these frequent contributions be made by those whose capital yields returns only at long intervals? According to the proverb, "Where there's a will, there's a way" -- it can be either actually or virtually done.
1st. By saving expenses. Water, running into a vessel no faster at a given orifice than it flows out at another, will retain a constant level; and if with the same influx we would have it issue at a higher orifice, we have only to stop or lessen the lower one. Thus, if we would have our possessions rise to the giving point, we have only to stop the leakage -- check expenses. This hint may be of service to the poor, and not inappropriate to the rich. Many expend their ready money as rapidly as they receive it; making their calculations to do so; and thus, during the interval between one return of capital and another, plead their inability to meet the frequent calls of benevolence. But is this a valid excuse? Could they not be met by sacrificing some social pleasure, some luxury in drink, in food, in dress, in furniture, in display? or by foregoing some convenience, the expense of which is equivalent to the pledged sum? Vast multitudes are deprived of these luxuries, and even of what we deem necessaries, during their whole lives; and cannot we forego the gratification of them occasionally, that we may thereby relieve the suffering, or save the deathless soul? True, this will require self-denial; but has not God demanded of us self-denial? Dare any one offer this as an excuse?
2. Every on engaged in regular business knows, or ought to know, what, taking one year with another, have been the annual proceeds of his labor or investment. Now, on the supposition that the Lord will prosper him as heretofore, he can form some reasonable estimate of the amount, (extraordinaries excepted) which he ought to contribute to charitable purposes weekly or monthly during the period his capital is making another revolution. This amount may be appropriated in actual donations by most business men, as they usually have more or less loose money on hand. By those who cannot do this, it may be charged in a book kept for the purpose at the close of each week or specified period for appropriation -- "one, five, ten, or fifty dollars due to charity," -- and on the return of their capital, pay this debt as conscientiously as they pay any other. Then, if on the reception of their entire product, they find they have not given as much as the claims of the destitute demand, they can easily make up the deficit. This scheme will of course call into exercise our faith; for it is acting on the belief that the Wise Disposer of events will be as merciful to us in the future, as he has been in the past. But ought not his past goodness to strengthen our confidence in his willingness to continue that goodness? Christ requires us to live by faith on him, and ought we not to give by faith on him? To refuse to exercise this faith in the circumstances, partakes of ingratitude. Besides, to decline making any, or but such appropriations as are exceedingly disproportionate to our property, until we have actually received the return of our investments, is to act on the principle, that we will not give to others until we are certain how much God will bestow upon us; in other words, that we will not trust him, -- whose loving-kindness, as the brightest star of our destiny, has shone upon us in darkness and storm, -- for a single blessing which is not actually in our hands. Must not such conduct be exceedingly provoking to Unwearied Love?
Or this process of previous consecrations may be varied thus. The proportion consecrated may be a certain ratio of income fixed on a sliding scale, on the principle that the greater the profits, the greater the proportion which me be spared. For instance, on the first day of each week, or month, or quarter, or year, one may consecrate a certain proportion of his profits of that week, month, quarter, or year to the Lord, say five, eight, or ten per cent., in case they rise to a specified amount; and if they rise to a certain sum beyond this, he may fix upon a still greater proportion, say twelve or fifteen per cent.; if they rise to an amount still higher, the proportion appropriated may be still larger, say eighteen or twenty per cent., so that his benefactions to the destitute shall be in some degree commensurate to the goodness of the Lord to him.
In these last suggestions, a vital principle in systematic beneficence is developed, which challenges our special attention. It is, the duty of making provision for the dissemination of charity previous to the reception of our income. This is a point of immense importance, and may by no means be overlooked; though it is a point which Christians have too much lost sight of. They have been awake neither to the enjoyment nor obligations growing out of it. It is time that its solemn utterances should pierce the heart, and arouse the conscience of every follower of the Lamb, and startle him from his slumbers. They should reverberate through every dwelling in Zion. It is a principle of universal application. All, whether rich or poor, should make it an abiding rule of conduct. There is no difficulty in the way. While, of course, the rich should fix upon a higher proportion of income than the indigent, each one can decide upon some percentage adapted to his peculiar circumstances, and at stated periods lay up in store as the Lord prospers him. Every one, as St. Paul clearly taught the Corinthians, should have "a savings-bank" for charity.
The results of this principle would indeed be most happy, on whatever ground the previous arrangements should be made. In the first place, it would greatly increase the sum total of our contributions to the Lord. It would be acting on an acknowledged maxim in the acquisition of wealth. We know if we have a debt of ten dollars, an hundred dollars, or any sum within our possible ability to pay, the money will be by some means obtained; whereas, otherwise it will be extremely liable to be consumed in the ordinary flow of expenses. Thriving men, sometimes on this principle, keep constantly a little debt by the purchase of valuable property, knowing that it will stimulate their industry and frugality to meet the anticipated payment. Here men are not afraid to trust the past goodness of the Lord; why will they not be equally wise and confiding in the godlike work of benevolence?
It would also deepen our sense of personal devotement to Christ; leading us constantly to feel that our minds employed in planning, and our hands engaged in labor, are the Lord's, and must be used in his service. It would likewise promote the ease and cheerfulness with which our appropriations would be made, and materially enhance our enjoyment, in a work which, though self-denying, brings us into intimate fellowship and cooperation with our blessed Lord. Even when engaged in our most ordinary avocations, it would induce the impression that we are laboring for Christ as well as for ourselves; and thus procuring the means of extending the glorious gospel, whose precious promises are our daily support and joy, and which opens to our view, beyond the skies, the crown and the harp, with which we hope to bow before the throne, when our bodies are crumbling in the grave. What greater happiness can the Christian experience on earth than the continued consciousness of co-working with his Saviour in diffusing through the world these richest enjoyments of our being, and kindling anthems whose enrapturing notes shall never falter?
Thus, if we would make antecedent provisions for charity; if we would exercise suitable self-denial, forethought, and confidence in God; if we would contrive as earnestly to save something for munificence, as we do to hoard, our sources of charity would be replenished; we should seldom be unable to make, at frequently recurring periods, either actual or pledged appropriations, and be happy in our work.
An Inference. -- If that degree of frequency should be adopted which is best calculated to curb the selfish inclinations, then the more deeply we are engaged in worldly pursuits, -- the stronger and more riotous the avaricious desires become, the oftener should the appointed period of our benefactions recur; and not only so, but the greater the necessity that our gifts be commensurate with our means; for otherwise, although we may give frequently, and perhaps congratulate ourselves on our generous liberality, the curse of God may be hanging over us for our parsimony.