While universal, it must be a system in its nature adapted to each individual, and binding on the individual conscience; one founded on, and embracing, the entire man, -- his reason, his heart and will, including views and principles, feelings and affections, with their inculcation, general purposes and resolutions, with corresponding action. The tree must be symmetrical from its roots to its topmost bough. Beneficence may not stand alone; it must spring out of a consistent character, must be a branch of activity, harmonizing with other shoots from the common stock. Else, it will be like a verdant twig on a rotten trunk, growing up amid broken and withered limbs, the sighing monitors of its own decay.
Some, I know, would advocate a system of beneficent actions without the heart; others would direct it merely to one or a few favorite objects. But these are views neither broad nor deep enough. It is grafting consistency on inconsistency. True benevolence is a spirit of universality, and hence, of harmony, gushing forth in streams numerous as our relations. No reason can be assigned why one should contribute of his property to save the souls of others, while he neglects his own; or spend his substance for the spiritual benefit of those at a distance, while he neither puts forth personal efforts, nor manifests a holy example, to rescue perishing immortals immediately around him. A system thus partial has a worm at the root; its protecting shadow will be as transient as Jonah's gourd.
I. There must be a system of intellectual views, and a harmonizing train of desires and affections flowing naturally from them.
I will, therefore, present a series of principles, sentiments, and obligations, which, by being lodged in the intellect, and quickened by the Spirit, warm the heart, and awaken appropriate feelings; thus forming not only the basis, but a constituent part, of an efficient system of benevolence.
I would premise, however, that these intellectual views may also be regarded as inducements to munificence, and thus to the adoption of an individual system, fitted to each one's peculiar relations; for they will thus operate from the nature of the case; the very object of fastening them systematically in the understanding being, that penetrating to the heart, and binding themselves on the conscience, they may lead on to rational activity.
1. We should bear in mind that we were not made for ourselves, but for the service of God. Let the truth, "Thou art God's," be written with fire on the heart, as well as its legitimate consequence, that all that appertains to our being is his; -- our strength, our health, our powers of reason and love, our capacities of acquisition, our property, our time, our all, so that its thrilling accents, "All that thou hast is God's," will ring in our ears at every turn. As Jehovah created us for himself, has preserved us for himself, and redeemed us for himself, we ought at once to acknowledge his claim and devote ourselves to his service. This self-surrender is the true foundation of all giving to the Lord. Any system of beneficence not built on this must crumble. Giving one's self is an earnest and pledge that everything else will be given; on the contrary, while self is withheld, there is no warrant that our possessions will be yielded, much less that God will accept the offering. But self being surrendered, all is virtually conveyed over to the Lord and sealed forever his.
2. That all right feeling is feeling as God does in the same circumstances, and in respect to the same objects. There must be a holy sympathy of soul with him, -- a oneness of affection, of desire, of will, of purpose. We must feel concerning ourselves as God does, who desires to see our hearts burning with the same hallowed love that fills his own. We must feel concerning sinners as the Father does, "who so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life;" -- as the Son, who exchanged the abodes of peace for the abasement of flesh and the agonies of the cross; -- as the Holy Ghost, who is willing to dwell in our polluted hearts, consuming the dross with his own vital energies. We must imitate the angels, who, sympathizing with the Triune Jehovah, strike their lyres with new and more rapturous hallelujahs at the repentance of the returning sinner. No other feelings in kind or strength, in proportion to our capacities, are right feelings. The sacrifices of Christ were, indeed, stupendous; but we must be willing to make as disinterested sacrifices for a perishing world; else we are not in sympathy with our crucified Lord. Let us often visit the scenes of his sufferings, hear the groans of Gethsemane, and witness the blood and agony of the cross, and there learn what it means to have the same mind "which was also in Christ Jesus." Let us make this love the great standard of feeling and action, and cultivate the habit of trying ourselves by this, and this alone; inquiring daily, "Oh, am I benevolent as Christ?" "Do I sympathize with him over a ruined world?"
3. That God created us to occupy a position near himself. As all our springs are in him, communion with him was to be our life and joy. We were to be full of God; to see him everywhere and in everything, and to value nothing only as the work of his power, the fruit of his love, or as showing forth his praise. We were to dwell so far up the mount, that earthly objects would appear insignificant; approach continually its lofty summit, till our views of the world and the glory of it should harmonize with God's views of them; for not only were our feelings to accord with Jehovah's; but also our sentiments concerning sublunary things were to be in unison with his own. So familiar were we to be with the glories of our spiritual existence; our tastes and moral sensibilities were designed, by intercourse with Infinite Purity, to become so elevated and refined, that the glitterings of gold, and the fascinations of wealth, would fail to charm. Our home was to be so near the throne, that its light would perpetually shine in upon our souls; its spirit always bathe our spirits; so that seraph-like, possessing the benevolence of heaven, we should breathe the love of heaven on all around.
4. That merely becoming rich is not the great object for which we were sent into the world. Man's being aims at a higher goal. This is a point which should be distinctly understood; and to bring out the thought clearly, I will make two distinctions. 1. The very obvious difference between benevolence and indifference to property or its acquisition. Benevolence means "wishing well," and beneficence "doing well," to others. Benevolence, then, bears no resemblance to undervaluing money. I know that the gentleman who used to skip his silver dollars on the fair bosom of the Connecticut for the amusement of his friends, and he who freely tosses around the social glass to his boon companions, may be pronounced generous fellows. But such may be as entirely destitute of all true benevolence as the most determined miser, and, what is more deplorable, as offensive to Infinite Love. Property is God's gift, and he does not require us to undervalue his gifts, but to use them with his own good-will to men. To be willing that our labor or capital should be unproductive is no indication of a faithful steward. 2. There is a difference between the design of becoming rich, and that of acquiring property. The latter, under certain restrictions, is a duty incumbent on all. One may have a peculiar talent in this direction; -- a turn for business, a sagacity to lay plans, to foresee the favorable changes in the commercial world, and all that shrewdness so essential to success in the career of opulence. It is an endowment of heaven, and should be used in such a way as heaven will approve. While regulated strictly by the principles of Revelation, it should be employed in the acquisition of property, as a means of usefulness. But it is a common opinion, that money may be made solely for the sake of accumulation. Parents instil the idea into the minds of children, so that they grow up with the conviction, that the great end of life is the procuring of wealth. Implanted in the tender mind, and nurtured with its strength, it assumes the tenacity of a first principle. But it is altogether erroneous. It is the product of the selfish heart. No sentiment is more fertile in covetousness, or more blighting to that generous humanity, which it is the first object of the Christian to cherish. It is a sentiment grovelling in its tendency, bowing multitudes, it is feared, even of professedly good men, to a species of slavery, over which devils smile, and angels weep; knowing that it obstructs the flow of thousands into the treasury of the Lord. A sentiment so hurtful should be eradicated from the public mind. It should be discarded from the individual breast. The toils of pecuniary gain must be pervaded by a loftier motive. It should be sought, not as a gratification to avarice; but, in the fear of the Lord, by industry, by economy, by frugality, by forecast, by the most profitable investments of capital, and with a heart full of mercy, as an instrument to enlighten the ignorant, and relieve the sorrows of human-kind. This idea has not taken so firm a hold of the christian public as its importance deserves. How useful might some, who have little talent either for learning or public speaking, become, would they disinterestedly devote their lives to the acquisition of money for purposes of beneficence. Wealth, pursued with this spirit, will never beget avaricious desires, and thus acquired, will be a treasury of blessings to multitudes here, and a source of enjoyment to the pious owner forever. Its worth will survive the grave. Let it be an abiding thought -- money may be invested where it will yield an eternally increasing revenue.
5. That in laying our pecuniary plans, we should be governed by a single view to the glory of God. The plans we adopt must be chosen because, in our deliberate judgment, we can do more to advance Christ's interests by prosecuting them than in any other way. Every act sustains relations of moral influence. Every kind of business or method of carrying it on, has certain relations which will modify its results, and, perhaps, its moral bearings, either on own usefulness, or the spiritual well-being of the community at large. Now we are bound to engage in that business, and adopt those schemes, whose results, considering these wide-spreading relations, will be most favorable to the kingdom of Christ. If we lay our plans recklessly, without regard to their moral tendencies, or shrink from these moral discriminations respecting them, we evince anything but a will in harmony with the Divine will. I know some fondly cherish the opinion, that their sagacity or peculiar tact for money-making at least is their own; and that they may employ it in devising such pecuniary schemes as they please, provided they are strictly honest, and do not interfere with the privileges of others. But this is not true. This reference to the Divine glory sheds the sunshine of heaven over all our employments, and must be the guiding principle of all our enterprises. It is also indispensable to any sustained system of munificence. If our schemes have ultimate reference to self, we shall be likely to use their proceeds as selfishness shall dictate; whereas, if our plans are laid with a view to the honor of God, we shall be disposed to use their results for the promotion of the same great end. This is a truth of incalculable importance to our present subject. It should be bound to the conscience of every Christian, and burn there with such intensity that it can never be forgotten.
6. That God made us to be almoners of his bounty to others. Reciprocity is the pillar of every social system; it is of the human family. This principle was practically developed in Eden. On this ground, Paul argued that there should be equality between those who are in want and those who have abundance. (3 Cor. viii.14.) Every man was designed to stand like a conductor of the electric fluid, to convey the influences of heaven to those around him. Our Creator has made the duty of benevolence as obligatory as that of justice. One is as much bound to help other, and thus, unless in very extreme cases, to contribute of his substance for the benefit of the needy, as to be honest. When, therefore, we pass a portion of the good things of life to others as they are conveyed to us, we are fulfilling the great end of our social being; when we grudgingly retain it, we are defeating that end. This sentiment must be riveted in our minds. It is a hard lesson for selfish men to receive; yet it must be learnt. It is indeed the noblest idea of our natures; the link that unites us to purer intelligences.
7. A lively remembrance of the Source of our blessings; realizing that they are all streams from the Father of mercies. Had he been other than Jehovah, they would long ere this have been stayed. For how have we sinned, and forfeited every claim to good; and yet he has continued to uphold and refresh us. We have repeated the sin, and under aggravated form, -- abused his bounties, despised his Son, grieved his Spirit, disregarded his warnings, and slighted his entreaties; and still his blessings have continued to flow as if nothing could provoke him to withhold them. What unutterable goodness! What exhaustless mercy! Surely the gifts of such mercy should be devoted to the works of mercy; and how more appropriately than in aid of that wondrous scheme which the agonized Jesus died to accomplish? While we enjoy our blessings, let us turn our eyes upward to the overflowing Source, and while we gaze, let the streams of gratitude gush forth. As we have freely received, freely let us give.
8. The importance of praying over the gifts of Providence, and the varied calls of charity. As the reception of our income should be one of the special occasions of consecrating a portion to the Lord, so in the gladness of the moment of its reception, we should make it our rule to decide as to the amount to be thus consecrated on our knees before God. Also, when the claims of the destitute are presented, let the amount of our contributions be fixed upon so far as practicable in the same way; determining, at whatever sacrifice to our own feelings, to give just what God requires. Prayer, while a privilege at all times of doubt and perplexity, is a special duty on such occasions; -- first, because, when alone with the Searcher of hearts, brought up, as it were, into the full blaze of his presence, our consciences will be quickened, and speak truthfully; while the humble attitude of the suppliant is peculiarly fitted to inspire gratitude, and render it effective; -- secondly, because such are hours of special temptations; the adversary of all good and our wicked hearts combining their efforts to prevent a generous liberality; and there is great danger that selfishness, rather than mercy, will gain the ascendency, and, under artful guises, control our determinations; -- thirdly, because our decisions on such occasions are some of the most influential in their consequences, both upon ourselves and others, which we are ever called to make in the common routine of duties. Take a simple instance. The question whether we give to the Bible Society one dollar or ten, fifteen dollars or twenty-five, is virtually whether we will send forth for the enlightening and felicitating of this dark and wretched world, four or forty, sixty or a hundred, volumes of the Word of Life. And when, aside from all the distorting and hardening influences exerted on our own moral natures by a grudging refusal to meet the calls of benevolence, we consider the civil and social melioration which has attended the pathway of this heavenly light, together with its refining and sanctifying influences of the individual soul; when we stretch our thoughts into the eternal world, and catch the songs of joy, unuttered and unutterable by mortal tongues, which will thrill forever the souls of the redeemed, what acts of life can the thoughtful mind contemplate, demanding more solemn consideration, more fervent prayer, than such decisions?
Thus the practice of coming to our determinations of charity with prayer, a practice involving, as it does, both mental and moral principles of the first importance, and even leading on to interminable consequences, may not be neglected. We should cultivate, therefore, a docile temper, a simple, child-like spirit towards Christ. We should cherish such vital nearness to our Lord, that we may commune as freely with him as friend communes with friend; feeling that we can and would do nothing, even in the common affairs of life, without his aid and guidance. It is said of a lady in one of our cities, whom an intimate acquaintance urged to spend a few days with her in the country, that she replied, "I should like to, but I don't know, it may not be best;" and added with great simplicity, and in agreement with the spirit of her life, "I will go and ask my Saviour." Thus, on the reception of worldly treasures, or in determining beforehand what proportion of our expected increase we shall appropriate to the Lord, we should go to Jesus with the same sweet simplicity and earnestness, crying, "Lord, what proportion of these thy bounties shall I share with the destitute?" failing not to devote that portion which our consciences, enlightened by scripture, shall dictate when kneeling before the mercy-seat.
9. The responsibility of maintaining a healthful and enlightened conscience in respect to benevolence. The Bible is the great teacher and rectifier of the conscience. We must in the first place, then, take fair, impartial, disinterested views of all the precepts, examples, promises, and teachings of the Scriptures on this point. We must investigate them thoroughly, and be sure that we obtain precisely the mind of the Spirit. Dim or distorted views either cripple the springs of action, or give them wrong direction. True, the scriptural standard towers high, and shines brightly. Some would obscure its brightness; would wrest those passages most vividly presenting it; would convince themselves that so great sacrifices as some, in their zeal, have prescribed, are not required; that we are permitted to enjoy our own interests, and, to a great extent, seek our own happiness; and if we barely obey the suggestions of natural sympathy, and manifest common generosity, it is enough. They would bring down this exalted standard to our own diminutive stature, so that we can measure ourselves by it without inconvenience. But all such efforts are high-handed rebellion, and will prove utterly vain. God has placed it on a pedestal high as the eternal throne, and there it will stand and burn forever. We must bind our consciences to this standard; they must rise to its height, and shine with its radiance. If to our selfish hearts it appear a blood-stained cross, we must nail them to it, and let them bleed and agonize there. To gratify our selfish desires, God will never lower his claims. We must come up to them. If unwilling to do it in time, we shall meet them in all their solemn realities at the final bar; if we have been obedient, there receiving the smile of our Judge; if not, his everlasting frown.
Secondly, we should keep ourselves informed of the spiritual wants of our race. Every one is bound to be in earnest in this work. He should strive to enstamp on his heart a full-drawn image of the world scathed by sin. We should realize how great a portion of our globe is yet untouched by the vivifying light of the Cross; that the desolating systems of idolatry, of Mohammedism, of Romanism, and other false religions, are now overshadowing and blasting the nations. We should search for distinct knowledge of the intellectual degradation, of the moral corruption, of the oppression, wretchedness, and woe, of the groans uttered, and the tears shed, by the millions now subject to their galling sway, "as for hid treasures." Ignorance on these topics, at the present day, cannot be excusable. The organs of the various benevolent societies come weekly or monthly to our doors, detailing scenes of sottish ignorance, of pollutions and misery, which cause philanthropy to weep. They are indeed distressing to the feeling heart; and I have sometimes thought there were those, who shrink from the affecting view of a world ravaged, enslaved, and tortured by sin, lest it should work too strongly on their sympathies, and thus forcing the guards of covetousness, open their treasures against their more settled purposes; while others have been too heartless in their investigations. But this is treason to the Divine government; it is an unwillingness to know exactly our relations, and thus the claims of the human family on our regards. Such treachery and indifference cannot go unpunished. Did Christ shrink from contemplating the loathsomeness and woe of our outcast race? He not only contemplated, he shared our sorrows. Let every one then survey the world as it is, and let its appalling scenes glare on his conscience.
In the third place, we should hold up before our minds striking examples of benevolence. God has raised up some with great hearts, who have given bountifully in proportion to their means, to promote his cause. Such were the poor widow, who gave "all that she had," the Macedonian Christians, whose liberality exceeded their means, and the King of the Friendly Islands already mentioned. Such was the late Mr. Goodell of Vermont, who, with a house and farm not estimated at over [USD]1,000, contrived by labor, frugality, and self-denial, to pour his hundreds and tens of hundreds into the treasury of the Lord. Such were the late Mr. Smith of Hartford and Mr. Cobb of Boston, "the sweet savor" of whose names awakens the kindliest associations, and whom God sustained, made cheerful and happy in all their sacrifices for him. Such was the aged African of Jamaica. He had earned, while a slave, ninety-six dollars. Being afterward emancipated, he came to the missionary, and offered the whole for the service of Christ; and when told it was too much, replied, with the most generous devotion, "No, I want to give it all." Such was the poor colored woman, who, while she had no dependence for support but the labor of her hands, gave [USD]60 at one time to educate pious young men for the Gospel ministry. "When she offered the above sum, the agent refused to receive it all, until pressed by the humble donor, who said that she had reserved five dollars; and that she hoped to earn enough to provide for her wants in her last sickness, and for her funeral." This is said to be but a specimen of her liberality; and her hopes in regard to her earthly wants were not disappointed.
Perhaps in the small circle of our personal acquaintance, we can number some few, who, with souls more elevated and spiritually refined by grace, have bestowed in benefactions all their income; peradventure, even common farmers and mechanics -- such as have fallen under the notice of the writer -- who, after frugally supplying the wants of their families, have generously given the remaining proceeds of their labor to the Lord.
On these, and such as these, we should fix our eyes; they are stars of the first magnitude which God has fixed in the dark canopy of time as guides. We may not be able to give as they did; but the sacrifices they made, we can and ought to make. If we seek to ward off the force of their example by arguing that they gave too much, or by referring at once to professedly good men who have given far less, we may reasonably conclude that covetousness is still grasping and palsying our christian sympathies. Such efforts are clearly but the struggles of selfishness, to ease the conscience of the dart. For, from such generous deeds, the voice does, and will come inevitably, "Go, and do likewise."
10. The felicity of beneficence. That "it is more blessed to give than to receive," is the voice of inspiration. Jehovah's felicity flows mainly from that fundamental element of his being, disinterested or holy love, and its infinitely diversified and glorious workings. He created us in his own image; and when this love has possession of our hearts, and our conduct is in obedience to its laws, the mental machine works in harmony, and the result is enjoyment; but when the opposite principle controls, its movements are obstructed, and the result is sorrow. It is a law of our being, as fixed as the ordinances of heaven, that we drink the richest draughts when holding the cup of enjoyment to another's lips. Happiness eludes the grasp of the pursuer; while like a flower that sheds its sweetest fragrance when crushed, only tread it under foot in the eager pursuit of another's good, and its subtle influence vibrates through all our frame. The blessedness of self-denying efforts for the salvation of souls cannot be estimated. It is god-like; it is harmonizing with our dying Lord; co-working with him in carrying out the redemptive scheme; wakening a joy which the harps of eternity alone can utter. "They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars forever and ever." What a revenue of glory will forever flow into the enraptured souls of such men as Baxter and Doddridge, and Swartz and Martyn, and Goodell and Norman Smith, as they cast their crowns at the feet of the Saviour; for it is the highest fruition of the redeemed that all their glory is ultimately Christ's. Who, as he contemplates the perpetually increasing joy and brightening exaltation of a soul restored to the image of God, becoming through unnumbered years more and more assimilated to its glorious Head, would not participate in a work so transporting in its results? Perhaps you have had some feeble conception of its blessedness, some half-waking desires to become a standard-bearer in the hottest of the fight with the foes of God, -- a minister or missionary of the Cross, so as to labor more efficiently in saving souls. But in your circumstances you find it an idle wish. Do you hence smother these kindling emotions and fold your hands in despair? The Gospel may be preached by your alms. There are many links in the chain of influences which God employs in rescuing sinners from death; and one of the most effectual at the present period, is the bestowment of funds to send forth the heralds of salvation. These desires, therefore, that feebly burn in your breast, may be gratified. In an important sense, you may preach the unsearchable riches of Christ to the nations, thereby becoming a coadjutor in a work, the sublimest of heaven and the most felicitating to man. This is an interesting truth. Let it blaze quenchlessly before the mind, warming the heart to mercy.
11. The sin and danger of covetousness. Covetousness is unlikeness to God, to our compassionate Saviour, to the blessed spirits before the throne, whose only symphonies are love. When indulged, the frown of the holy universe is fastened upon us. It is violating the laws of our mental frame, -- an instrument so exquisitely attuned that the slightest vibration of its delicate chords awakens notes of joy or wailings of sorrow; and it thus becomes the source of irritation and remorse here, and of disquieting premonitions of the most appalling woes in the world to come. Hear what God hath spoken: "But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not be once named among you. For no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you; for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience." This is terrible language, and explicit as terrible. According to the plainest principles of interpretation, covetousness is here put in the same category with some of the worst vices that degrade man and provoke the wrath of heaven. Indeed, if benevolence is required equally with justice, then covetousness is as distinctly a violation of the divine law as injustice; and he who hoards as the expense of the suffering poor, is as guilty in the sight of God as he who rifles another's goods. And is it strange that he who nurtures a principle thus pernicious in its tendencies, should be excluded from heaven? No. Let us not flatter ourselves; we cannot indulge in covetousness without imminent peril. Who will dare thus offend his gracious Sovereign, and incur his wrath? Let this bright, but awful truth, flash in our faces, deterring us from the fearful sin, and inducing a sleepless vigilance over our selfish propensities, lest they grow with our growth, and strengthen with our increasing wealth.
12. The dignity and responsibilities growing out of the fundamental truth before partially unfolded, that God, under the gospel, having given us general principles and laws touching benevolence, has left the amount and frequency or our contributions to our own decision. The position we occupy under the new dispensation is full of interest and solemnity. As it is one of peculiar dignity, it is one of peculiar peril. God has now raised us to the true platform of intelligent and moral beings; given our reason and consciences free scope to exercise their own energetic and controlling powers. He has, indeed, always given man this prerogative, but in a higher sense under the Gospel than before; in other words, placed him in a position better fitted for the development of his whole being. He has thrown him more entirely on his personal responsibility and the decisions of individual judgment, by laying down general principles from which he is to ascertain his every-day duties. All the noble powers of the soul, directed by the Spirit's influences, are to be brought into full operation and work in concert; the heart, without impediment, concurring with the reason; the purposes, with the affections. This is "the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free."
Paul has beautifully illustrated this subject by comparing the condition of a son before and after becoming of age.*[Gal. iv.] While a minor, he is kept in subordination to his father; "under tutors and governors," his judgment in the management of affairs is under the control of another. While a minor, he is kept in subordination to his father; "under tutors and governors," his judgment in the management of affairs is under the control of another. But when he comes of age, he is elevated to a new position, assumes new interests and new responsibilities. He must then reason, judge, and act for himself. So under the Jewish dispensation, God dealt with our race as minors; left them not to the direction of their own individual wisdom -- to form specific rules from general principles; but led them by definite precepts; not such always as rise out of the nature of things; but such as he saw best fitted, by a sort of foreshadowing, to prepare them for the more glorious state to which they were approaching. Hence all those positive laws, rites, and solemn festivals -- appointed "days, and months, and times, and years," tithes and double tithes to which they were in bondage. But when Christ came, this bondage was broken. We were emancipated from this system of tutelage; henceforth, breathing the spirit of adoption and enjoying the freedom of sons, we were to act according to the dictates of our sanctified hearts and enlightened judgments, like beatified spirits, who, swayed alone by reason, conscience, and love, in the highest sense free and intelligent, speed on their course in harmony with Jehovah. So, under the dispensation of grace, every act must spring voluntarily from the mind, enlightened by comprehensive views of Scripture principles. Charged with obligations inalienable as our very being, we are sent forth on the career of probationary existence, amenable alone to our own consciences and the bar of final awards. God, so to speak, has reposed confidence in us, and it may not be abused. This is true in relation to charity, as well as to other duties. For the free discharge of this duty is one of our most solemn trusts. Each one, enlightened by the great principles of disinterested benevolence, is left to the decisions of his own mind in shaping his conduct and alms to its requisitions. To be permitted to judge for ourselves in matters of such high and solemn import is an exalted dignity. But to every degree of dignity and privilege, there is attached an increase of responsibility.
Such is our present attitude in relation to the work of benevolence. Now shall we abuse this confidence, despise our privileges, and show ourselves unworthy of our almost angelic exaltation? Shall we make this liberation from the specific requisition of tithes "an occasion to the flesh," an excuse for less pecuniary sacrifices than the Jews were subjected to? What ingratitude! How displeasing to our Heavenly Father who has raised us thus high!
Hence, exemption from tithes, instead of relaxing our obligations to beneficence, rather strengthens them. As charity is purely a matter of voluntariness, the whole soul must be enlisted in it. We must not only guard against a betrayal of our trust, but against dispositions in the least at variance with its duties. We must keep our hearts in sympathy with Christ; lest, failing in sympathy with him, we fail to imitate him.
Let these responsibilities, together with the ingratitude and contempt of God's favor implied in the non-fulfilment, be earnestly contemplated. Let us tremble lest we make the privilege of a more spiritual beneficence, and excuse "for withholding more than is meet," and turn the blessing into a curse.
13. That benevolence is the measure of personal piety. Personal piety is personal resemblance to Christ. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." Christ's character is essentially love. This induced him to die for lost man. Now just so far as we resemble Christ we shall imitate him, and, therefore, feel for those on whom the wrath of God is still abiding. And just so far as we feel for them, we shall be willing to do for them; and just so far as we are willing to do for them, we shall contribute of our substance in proportion to our means to relieve their spiritual necessities. So that our beneficence or sacrifices for the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom, will be the just measure of our love to him. This truth we should wear in our hearts. We should make it a principle to give that amount which we shall be satisfied to recognize as the exponent of our piety, and be content that others should thus regard it; such as we shall be willing to pen down and hang up in our bed-chambers, so that we can contemplate it every evening and morning as our full estimation of Christ's dying love; -- such that after counting our herds and flocks, examining our barns and granaries, surveying our merchandise, and reckoning up our dues, we can enter our closets and pray for the conversion of the world without blushing before God. Does any one shrink from this criterion of his piety? I fear he will shrink away from the presence of his final Judge, and bury himself in the darkness of hell; his works and conscience alike testifying his unfitness for the world of light.
14. That the true mission of the church in the present age is beneficence. Though the gospel has been preached nearly 2000 years, yet a deep night of spiritual darkness is still brooding over the greatest portion of the world. Millions on millions have no knowledge of the Saviour, and other millions have no right appreciation of his truth and grace; while, blinded by sin and fascinated by its treacherous charms, they are treading their way, rank after rank, to woes everlasting. God's providence seems now to be moving upon the spiritual chaos, preparing it for the reception of light. Obstacles to the introduction of the gospel into benighted regions are fast giving way. The kingdoms spread beneath the sun, from north to south, from China to the farthest verge of the west, are seemingly in the posture of waiting for evangelical instruction. The Macedonian cry is coming up from the four winds. It is made to the church, the sacramental host of God's elect; and they must answer it.
God appoints, in some respects, special duties to different ages and nations. It was the peculiar mission of European Christians in the sixteenth century to break the yoke of papal supremacy; of England in the time of Cromwell to waken those notes of ecclesiastical and civil freedom which are still reverberating among the mountains of Europe, and shakings dynasties; of our fathers to achieve the political independence of the United States, -- to plant the genial tree of liberty, and water it with their blood. Now what does the providence of God indicate as the special ministry of the church in the present age? It is written all over the face of the world. We learn it in the awakened condition of heathen, barbarous, and half-civilized countries; in the stir of intellectual energy which is sweeping over the kingdoms, jostling thrones and alarming monarchs; in the tottering pillars of corrupt religions, and of long-established institutions of iniquity; in the progress of governmental science in connection with political liberty, and the extension of the arts of civilization; in augmented facilities for traveling, together with increased efforts for education, and the consequent quickening of mind; in the degradation of those "who know not God," the wants of seamen, of the oppressed, of the spiritually destitute both in our own and other lands, and in the charitable movements of the times. All these seem to declare unequivocally that the special work of the church in this age is benevolence -- to toil, to endure privations, to make sacrifices of ease and of property to evangelize the nations. God has opened channels flowing past almost every man's door, ready to convey his donations to distant regions of the globe, carrying light and salvation wherever they go. The appalling condition of the heathen in bygone ages has been as great and pitiable as now; but never have there been so many available opportunities to reach them. These opportunities impose new obligations.
We have seen in a preceding part of this essay, that our bounties should be in a compound proportion to calls and ability. This is a principle which the present generation would do well to consider; letting it penetrate the very heart's core. To meet such emergencies as are now transpiring on the moral stage, perhaps, was one reason why Christ designated no specific ratio of income for charity. He foresaw there would be crises when no proportion would be adequate, and when the christian heart would yearn to give more than his income, even all his living. And may not the present be such a crisis?
Indeed, the multiplied opportunities afforded us of invading the dominions of the prince of darkness plainly intimate that the present is a crisis demanding the most generous sacrifices for God. The sigh of every breeze that sweeps over the blood-stained regions of idolatry declares it. The cries and outstretched arms of millions sinking into the everlasting gulf declare it. Then let it be laid up in the mind as a settled truth, that it is our peculiar ministry to break the chains of ignorance and superstition, to demolish the habitations of cruelty, to crush the thrones of intellectual and moral enthralment, to overthrow the temples of idolatry, and bring up man from his long degradation to reunion with God through the blood of the Lamb. There has probably been no age since the foundation of the world, which has demanded so great contributions as this, and, perhaps, no subsequent age will, till the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. At least in a few generations we trust the Gospel light shall illumine every shore. Then there will be no such urgent calls on our charities; certainly none pressing with such undying interests. This, therefore, is emphatically the age of giving; for the bulk of the church can aid effectually in bringing about the happy consummation of millennial glory in no other way. Would that Christians of the present generation could be induced to look at this truth in its intense application to themselves individually. Would that its accents could be made to ring over every hill top, and echo through every valley in Christendom; startling the soldiers of the cross to deeds of love, as the voice of Peter the hermit once bristled with arms the plains of Europe to shed the blood of infidels.
Not long since, thousands were starving and dying in Ireland. A cry of anguish came up, and thousands of generous American hearts responded to the call. This was noble. It was thought to be an especial occasion for benevolence. Who did not feel that every Irish landholder should have shared his abundance with the suffering and dying poor around him? But what is the death of the body to the death of the soul! What is the temporal destruction of a few thousands to the eternal damnation of hundreds of millions! Was it the duty of the wealthy Irish to feed their starving neighbors? And since the providence of God has made the remotest of earth's dwellers who are perishing for lack of vision our neighbors, should we not supply them with the bread of heaven, and thus prevent untold agonies? I ask every candid reader, is not the present a special occasion for benevolence? and if the church is to be the instrument by which God has determined to work in restoring the kingdoms to his Son, will it not be such an occasion till that blessed period arrives, when there shall be nothing to hurt or destroy in all God's holy mountain?
15. The duties growing out of the possession of property in view of death, judgment, and eternity. The obligations imposed upon us by the possession of wealth may be irksome, but we cannot escape them; we must bear them to the judgment. In our pride we may resolve that we will use our money as we please; but God commands us to use it as he pleases. A vivid sense, then, of the tremendous scenes before us should be ever associated in our minds with ideas of property. We should realize how our wealth will appear in the final hour, as its pleasures and enchanting illusions begin to fade from the dying eye, and as we reflect how short and unsatisfactory, like "a dream when one awaketh," all these enjoyments have been. Rioting amid the luxuries of affluence, and giddy with its bewildering joys, these may be unpleasant thoughts. But why regard thoughts of that which we cannot avoid, unpleasant? We must not only think of these dread realities, we must meet them, and experience all their joy or woe. Then let us realize, now and always, how all our uses of property will appear at the bar of God, where the thought of every misimprovement will be sharper than a serpent's fang; how, in eternity, as we contemplate those who might have been saved by our liberality in undying misery; how, if we are lifting up our eyes with them in torments; how, if, while we ourselves shall be saved as by fire, we behold them excluded from those blissful seats by our covetousness. Let each one put these searching questions to his own conscience; and let him take heed that his gifts be such, that their remembrance will not only sweeten his dying moments, but diffuse a fragrance over all his future being.
16. The worth of money hoarded or spent unnecessarily, contrasted with the worth of souls as gems in the Saviour's crown. The true value of wealth as a worldly good we fully appreciate. It contains no hidden excellence which the circumstances of life conceal. But the true glory of a soul redeemed the mists of time obscure. Our attachment to the world and the hallucinations growing out of it, prevent its full appreciation. But soon all this illusion will vanish. Both will stand before us in their true light. One will be seen to be vanity as it is; the other to possess a worth which no language can express: -- a worth consisting not merely of the endless blessedness and glory it is itself capable of enjoying, but also of the glory that will redound to the adorable Trinity through its redemption. Take a position most favorable for its true estimation. Transplant yourself into the heavenly state; contemplate a blood-washed soul in all its peace, its joy, it ravishment, as it circulates about the throne of love, approaching nearer and nearer to its blissful centre, constantly increasing in capacities, and more and more joyful in its high hallelujahs, till it shall enjoy more blessedness in a single hour, than Gabriel has enjoyed since the moment of his creation. Behold it, as it shines, a star, in the Saviour's diadem; gaze upon it purifying and brightening there as revolutions of eternity's time move on, till it shall attract the admiration of the heavenly throngs, and call forth from their wondering harps symphonies louder and more rapturous than have yet been heard in that world of sweetest hosannahs. The comparative worth of money hoarded or wasted, and the of the ransomed soul to itself, to the Saviour who redeemed it, to the adoring hosts whose fruitions are enhanced by the displays of grace evinced in its redemption, will be then clearly seen. Oh, how trifling will that money which has been squandered or grudgingly withheld from charity then appear, contrasted with the results in glorified souls of what was cheerfully and prayerfully bestowed. The condition of the churl and the liberal, how different then! He who hoarded most will then be found the poorest; and he who gave most with the greatest sacrifices, the richest.
17. The brevity of the period allotted us to labor and to make sacrifices for the salvation of men. "A point of time, a moment's space," is all we have. What we do in charity, the labors we perform, the privations we suffer, must all be accomplished or endured soon. The distress we relieve, the souls we save, the joys we inspire, must feel the quickening hand of mercy without delay. Time is on his rapid wing. Thousands who need our help are perishing daily; the entire generation now occupying this stage of toil and probation, the great Destroyer will speedily sweep from the scene. Almost "in the twinkling of an eye" we shall stand together before the judgment throne. He who died to save the poor as well as the rich, the heathen as well as the evangelized, is now speaking from heaven; "whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might."
These are some of the intellectual views and obligations which should be systematized in the mind, forming both inducements to, and a constituent part of, systematic beneficence. They should lie like blazing fuel on the heart, kindling their appropriate feelings and affections. I have briefly unfolded them, as a specimen of that process of reasoning and personal application, which, according to our mental laws, when attended by the Holy Spirit, is fitted to soften and harmonize the mind preparatory to benevolent action; a process which all, as rational beings, are bound to engage in and carry out. I know this part of the system requires unpleasant work. Most are willing to feel, but they would feel without principle; and if they act, they would act only from the impulse of the moment. They shrink from introspection; from working on their own hearts through the laborious operations of the intellect, so that the affections may be at once both right and rational. But if we would see the gorgeous palace towering in symmetry and grandeur, unpleasant work must be done; the rubbish must be removed, the soil excavated, the marble chiselled into form, and the unsightly timbers erected. Without these, though it might glitter in the sunbeams, it would be but a gossamer tissue. So this mental part is the bone and sinew, the life, of a system of beneficence. Confined to resolutions and conduct, its movements would be like the effects of galvanism on the muscles of the dead -- unnatural and spasmodic. The truth is, there can be no system of action without some system both of intellectual views and of the moral sensibilities. All inconsistency among Christians arises from defects in one or other of these respects. The fountain is not invariably at the same height, and therefore the stream alternately swells and sinks.
Resolutions are proverbially frail; and they are so, because they rest not on a mind consolidated by principles, and a heart glowing like a furnace with corresponding feelings. When resting on such a mind and heart, resolutions are not frail; but invincible as adamant.
Our purposes of charity, therefore, must rest on an unshaken foundation; and in order to this, the principles and considerations fitted to promote benevolent sentiments and feelings must be pressed on the mind, till in view of them the bosom warms, and throbs, and swells, and bursts forth in high and determined resolves. It is not enough that they pass like a burning ray across the mind, producing a single flash of benevolence. What is needed is a continuation of the same effect; and for this, the same cause must continue to operate. It is important, therefore, that these truths be systematically applied. Seasons should be set apart for daily meditating and reasoning upon them, attended by earnest supplication for the impressing influences of the Holy Spirit. The mind must thus be drilled to reflection upon them till they become principles of action, so vital and permanent, that a shape and inflexibility shall be given to the moral sensibilities, which no wear of time or circumstances shall change or efface.
This is the only process by which the soul can be brought into, and kept in, that state of unity implied in volition; especially of that abiding unity implied in a general purpose, without which no scheme of action can be long sustained. This, too, is the only method by which unhappy influences exerted on the heart by the pursuits of gain can be counteracted. As one engages in active business, and his property accumulates, his thoughts usually become more engrossed, and his love of money increases. Why is it? Precisely on the principle recognized by the Psalmist, "While I was musing, the fire burned." It is a law of our mental nature, that the more we think of any subject naturally pleasing, the greater interest we feel respecting it. Now the management, the proper investment, and safe keeping of property, must engage, more or less, the attention; and owing to the extreme selfishness of the heart, are very liable to awaken a lively interest. Hence, the more people are employed in the acquisition of affluence or competence, the more covetous they usually become. This influence, so chilling to the generous affections, can be resisted only by a counter process of reflection. The truth that ourselves and all we have belong to God; the extreme selfishness of the natural man; the insufficiency of worldly good to satisfy the cravings of the soul; the dangers attending acquisition; the obligations and privilege of giving; the benevolent mission of the age; the spiritual wants of the world; the worth of a soul redeemed; and all those great and solemn considerations fitted to incite to munificence, must be presented before the mind as frequently at least as ideas of property, in order to counterbalance the influence of the latter; and, indeed, more frequently, so as to repress the strong tendencies of the selfish heart, which the avocations of gain are so well calculated to invigorate. This can be done by no merely external system of benevolent action, any farther than such a system has a reflex influence on the moral feelings. Farther than this, the effort would be like attempting to stop the floods of the Amazon with a bulrush.
The great work, therefore, in erecting a system of beneficence, must be wrought in the soul, -- in impressing views and regulating affections. For this there can be no substitute. This deep and steady current of truth and thought, is to the mind in connection with the Spirit's operations, what showers are to the earth. If there are none, it soon becomes parched, and verdure withers; if they descend frequently and copiously, the ground is filled with moisture, vegetation blooms, and fruits ripen; springs burst forth, the streams dash along the valleys, sweep through the meadows, and pouring into the ocean, roll their mountain waves around the world.
II. Standing on this high ground of established principles and correspondent affections, we are prepared to take the second step in a universal system of beneficence; consisting in the exercises of the will in the formation of general purposes and resolutions. These should be made with a solemn sense of the responsibilities of our being; of our relations to the world and to the judgment-seat; and with a full conviction of our own weakness and entire dependence on the grace of God to assist us in their fulfilment.
Reader, with this humble reliance on Divine aid, will you now make the following resolutions your own?
1. As a foundation to all others, I solemnly consecrate myself, soul and body, to God in an everlasting covenant.
2. I will prayerfully endeavor to keep my heart in sympathy with the great principles and duties above unfolded.
3. I will make the benevolence of Jesus Christ, in its spirit and design, the pattern of my own, constantly carrying about the conviction, that I must practise great self-denial, and make continued sacrifices in imitation of my dying Lord.
4. I will make unremitting war on the selfishness of my heart, knowing it to be the worst of evils; and fully purposing that it shall never influence my decision, either in regard to a general scheme, or a particular act, of beneficence.
5. I will thoroughly and candidly consider the spiritual destitutions of our country and the world; the peculiar mission of the church in the present age; and manfully, and with a whole heart, make the renunciations thereby demanded.
6. I will regard my health, strength, life, and property, as valuable only as instruments of advancing the kingdom of Christ; and therefore hold them all without reserve at the call of God.
7. I will seize every opportunity for doing good by example, by conversation, by labor, and by contribution.
8. I will daily and prayerfully consider whether the circumstances of the age in which I live do not require of me as great sacrifices in alms-giving as were made by the Jews in contributing two tenths of their income to the service of the Lord.
9. In laying all my pecuniary plans, and in all my labors to carry them into effect, I will have the glory of God uppermost in view, and therefore make it one of my leading objects to acquire property for distribution; being thus, according to the injunction of Paul, "not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord."
10. To give to charitable purposes such portion of my property as God, by his Word and providences, seems to demand, I will deem as sacredly incumbent upon me as to make an economical expenditure of it in the support of myself and family.
11. For the sake of strengthening the benevolent tendencies of the soul, I will perseveringly cherish all its generous impulses by doing or giving as they shall dictate, so far as scripture and ability prescribe.
12. I will fix upon a system of giving which shall be made solemnly and prayerfully in view of my circumstances and calls; in the clear light of God's Word and of the awful retributions of the last tribunal. As to amount and frequency of donations, I will endeavor to make them such as I shall wish they had been, when, bowing before the great white throne, I shall gaze into the face of my crucified and exalted Saviour; actually participating in the fruits of his unutterable sacrifices for me.
13. Cherishing, amid the toils of gain, an abiding sense of the strength of the selfishness of the human heart, and the consequent dangers of acquisition, I will daily pray and strive for disinterested benevolence as the greatest good; also for direction as to the amount of sacrifices I ought to make; and then agreeably to my prayers, act according to the dictates of conscience uttered in the presence of God.
14. I will frequently and at stated periods solemnly renew these or similar resolutions.
Now, if you refuse to make these solemn resolutions your own, can you assign any reason for such refusal, which you will be willing to utter in self-justification when facing your Final Judge?
Whatever theories we may adopt concerning volition, or the governing determinations of the mind, all will agree in the fact, that the energies of the human soul, when aroused, may be strung like fibres of steel, giving and adamantine firmness and indomitable force to the will. We have seen this exemplified in the fortitude with which one sometimes endures surgical operation; in the heated courage of the soldier, rushing with the loud huzza into the very face of the engulphing battery; in the cool, calculating resolution which carries the unflinching column with steady tread into the very centre of bristling squares. All this is but the strength of will when the energies of the soul are stirred. Now one's resolution may and should become thus iron-like in the war with his own covetousness. He should determine in the strength of grace to break it down, however much it may cost. God has given us this power of will, and to him we are responsible for its proper exercise; ever remembering that it is strengthened by cultivation of reiterated effort. The raw recruit cannot be trusted at the post of danger like the veteran, who has repeatedly nerved up his spirit, till by habit it has become as unyielding as a rock. The latter has learnt to be brave. So we should learn to be soldiers in the war with selfishness, by perseveringly girding our minds to the deadly conflict. -- Has depraved man such energy of will in spreading devastation and death; and shall not Christians exhibit as great force of resolution in diffusing the blessings of salvation? Who dare say, I cannot, or will not, exercise it? Let us be mindful of our obligations. If our minds may be wrought up to such invincible firmness and energy of resolution to do evil; surely, God assisting, they may not only be inspired with a lofty enthusiasm to resist the solicitations of selfishness, but also roused to a sublimity of generous emotions, to engage, like a Mills or a Howard, in disinterested and self-denying efforts for the good of others.
III. We are now ready to take the last step in erecting a general system of beneficence, viz.: the carrying into effect right principles and well-directed resolutions. While, on the one hand, the intellectual and emotional qualities of the mind give character and vitality to action; on the other hand our conduct exerts a powerful reflex influence on the affections and purposes. Nothing tends more to give strength and spirit to a mental principle than accordant action; and nothing tends more to obliterate an emotion from the breast, or to paralyze a resolution, than the neglect of its appropriate manifestations. However deeply the one may be engraven on the soul, or however solid the texture or vigorous the life of the other, a few instances of neglect or violation will strike them with the chills of death.
Principles and resolutions, then, are of little avail without corresponding efforts. The "well of water" must not only spring up in the soul, it must flow out in the life. We must act as well as think and resolve; and act, as if we felt that ourselves and all that we have belong to God by the twofold right of creation and redemption; act, as if selfishness were our deadliest foe, and as if it were our great business to attain its mortification and overthrow; act, as if disinterested love, a soul like angels, like God, were the greatest good to be possessed by an intelligent being; act, as if we were prayerfully watching the calls of Christ on our generosity, and were ready and determined manfully to meet them; act, in laying our pecuniary plans, as if the highest object of acquisition were the means of diffusing good; act, as if self-denial were the main condition of our being on earth, and as if the circumstances of the age were requiring of us peculiar sacrifices in order to rescue millions, perishing in mental thraldom, whose souls are as precious as our own; act, as if we were in earnest, as if the whole soul were kindled to a blaze of zeal, and bent on the most determined efforts for the exaltation of Christ in the salvation of men; knowing that the time allotted for the accomplishment of a task eternal in its consequences, is but a hand-breadth.
Act with forecast. This is a point of unspeakable importance. I would reiterate and enforce the thought, till it shall be wrought into the very web of all our benevolent purposes. There must be contrivance to give. Worldly men make previous arrangements to increase their stores. Lovers of pleasure contrive to support their follies. Why should not lovers of Christ be equally wise to fill the world with light, and heaven with anthems?
Act systematically. With a mind illumined with knowledge, a conscience impressed with obligation, and a heart glowing with love of God and man, form an individual system of beneficence; and let it be one you will not blush to review in heaven. Be particularly careful, therefore, that it be such as will come most strongly in collision with the selfishness of the heart, and yield the richest revenue to the Lord; requiring as generous and frequent contributions as circumstances will allow, agreeably to the Divine injunction: "Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God, which he hath given thee;" in a word, let it be such as system as you will be willing to hand in at the judgment-seat, as decisive testimony that you have loved your neighbor as yourself. And when it is formed, never violate its rules by giving less, except impelled by imperative necessity; though ever stand ready to deviate from it, when Providence commands, by giving more.
Let benevolence be ever operative, like the sun ever shining. Wait not for the modest poor, or heedlessly perishing, to ask for aid; but go forth in search of objects appropriate for philanthropy to relieve, to enlighten, to cheer. Obey the voice from heaven: "Open thy hand wide unto thy brother;" "Sow beside all waters;" scattering a little here and a little there, and thus, to the extent of ability, aid in bringing back "the state of Eden's bloom," and planting trees of righteousness all over the world.
Let deeds of charity be consistent one with another, and harmonize with a general deportment, elevated to the true Gospel standard of self-consecration; so that they may exert an influence, not only in relieving the wants of the needy and forlorn, but as examples of heartfelt beneficence, inciting others to the glorious work. Let Christ, therefore, be the pattern of all charitable efforts. Let the love that moved him to endure a life of privation and a death of agony, take full possession of the soul, prompting to the same unwearied and self-denying activity in doing good. With a constancy and vigor based on this life-giving principle, let each one endeavor to make his influence felt throughout the world; becoming, in his sphere, like one of those fixed stars that sparkle in the midnight sky -- a blazing sun to those that are near, a gem of sweetest ray to those afar.
Such is the system, and, as we believe, substantially the only universal system of beneficence, with which God will be well pleased. It grows out of our relations to him as intellectual and moral beings. Its life-spring is in the heart. It is purely spiritual or moral in its character. It rejects all machinery, and can be permanently helped forward by no scheme of merely external actions. It occupies the whole soul; with its roots winding round every intellectual and virtuous principle, it shoots up its stately trunk, sending forth its far-reaching branches, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.
It is a system forming an essential part of Christian character. It requires that the great themes of our meditation be spiritual and eternal, that the mind be so imbued with thoughts of God, his government and law, of Christ, his love, his sufferings and death, of the restorative scheme thereby wrought out, of its relation to this apostate world, of our responsibilities as co-workers with Christ in spreading the knowledge of his name, and of the consequences both to ourselves and others of fidelity to our trust -- it requires that these thoughts be so thoroughly impressed, and the heart so permeated, warmed, and animated by their influence, that they shall become, as it were, inherent elements of moral action, involuntarily suggesting themselves as often as occasions for their operation arise. But all this is but another process of thought and emotion descriptive of the spiritually minded. It also requires the same intellectual and moral discipline which is essential to the formation of the benevolent character. This does not consist in a single act, a single out-gushing of generous activity, but in a series of generous actions, flowing from an established principle; a principle pervading the whole soul, never wavering, never succumbing to the biddings of selfishness. But the benevolent character thus deeply laid is the Christian character. The scheme further requires consistency of moral and religious conduct. While it no more demands regular and persevering beneficent action than it demands other Christian duties, it imperiously demands regular and persevering beneficent action as an essential branch of Christian conduct, inevitably resulting from those immutable principles which form the basis of the Christ-like character. Thus the particular or individual system grows, by a moral necessity, out of the general system of thoughts, affections, and volitions, here unfolded; it being a moral impossibility for one cordially to adopt the latter, in all its length and breadth, without determining upon such a private system of beneficence as his means, his relations to God and to the wants and woes of our species, demand. To refuse this system of benevolent principles and correspondent actions, therefore, is to refuse to be spiritually minded; is to refuse to exhibit consistency of holy conduct; is to refuse to exert all our powers and embrace all opportunities to do good; in a word, it is to wear a blot on our Christian name which many waters can never wash out.
Hence the beauty of the system, -- general and particular -- here presented, is that, resting down on the eternal and changeless foundations of the spiritual universe, and consequently harmonizing with the spirit of Revelation and with the laws of mind, it rises up and expands into a beautiful exhibition of the fruits of the Gospel, the legitimate product of its holy precepts. It gives no encouragement to the idea that God's favor may be secured, or duty done, by any mere external system of munificence, any farther than the external system proceeds from right affections and sound principles. It must originate in the renewed heart, be nourished by the life of grace, and increase its productiveness as light and holiness increase in the soul. In its perfect development, it is the full and symmetrical development of the Christian character.
Thus it is a system equal in its pressure, and therefore adapted to fasten on the conscience of every one, whatever his age or circumstances. No one can justly plead exemption from its claims. None can reasonably propose questions of casuistry to shield his bosom from its shafts. None can shake off the convictions of duty it impresses, but by shutting its principles from the mind, or by rousing the heart to resistance. In short, it leaves every man to himself, facing his God, his conscience laid bare to the quenchless rays of truth.