Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do it.
That charity in general is a duty nobody will deny. But many, on account of particular circumstances, think themselves entirely discharged from the performance of it. Many, though they own the obligation, yet disown it in its due degrees.
I. WHO ARE THE PERSONS OBLIGED TO GIVE TO CHARITABLE USES, AND IN WHAT PROPORTION? By charitable uses is meant the relief of the helpless, the sick, the needy, etc. The great, the opulent, and the able should undertake the principal share in this duty. They are stewards, and must give an account. Their good deeds ought to bear proportion to their abilities. Everybody looks with abhorrence upon a man who is ever amassing riches without laying anything out in charitable uses; as greedy as the sea and as barren as the shore. Those whose circumstances are but just easy, who can only just meet the demands of their families, claim to be totally exempted from the performance of this duty. But often such persons have secret indulgences, which form their real excuse. Those in straitened circumstances think they have nothing to do in the works of charity. Rich and poor are equally concerned in the duty, but in proportion to their circumstances. He that has little is as strictly bound to give something out of that little as he that has more is obliged to give more. Charity consists in doing the best we can and doing it with a willing mind. The smallest present imaginable may be the greatest bounty. The only persons who have a fair right of pleading an entire exemption from this duty are those whose circumstances are deeply involved; for until we can satisfy our creditors we ought not to relieve the poor. It would be unjust to give away what is not our own. There is much difficulty in pitching upon any fixed and stated proportion short of which our charity ought not to fall. Where the determinate measure of duty is not or cannot be assigned, there men's interests or covetousness will be ever suggesting excuses for the non-performance of it. In this we ought to follow the rule laid down in all doubtful cases, i.e., to choose the part which is least dangerous. In the exercise of charity we should rather exceed than fall short, for fear of incurring the guilt of uncharitableness. The Jews had to appropriate the tenth part of their revenue every three years to charitable uses. This was a thirtieth part of their yearly revenue. We should not at any time fall short of this measure.
II. WHO ARE THE PERSONS QUALIFIED TO RECEIVE OUR CHARITY?
1. We ought rather to succour the distressed than increase the happiness of the easy, because we are to do the most good we can. Even the bad are to be relieved in cases of extreme necessity.
2. The best charity we can give to the poor that have ability and strength is to employ them in work, that they may not contract an habit of idleness.
3. Those suffering reverse of fortune are proper objects of charity.
4. Fatherless children demand our care. Charity is misplaced upon vagrants and common beggars, who may be counterfeits.
5. The sick have claim upon our charity.
III. THE MANNER IN WHICH WE ARE TO DISPENSE OUR CHARITY. Acts of mercy should be both public and private. If charity were entirely secret, removed from the eye of the world, it would decay and dwindle into nothing. If charity were always done in public, it would degenerate into mere hypocrisy, formality, and outward show. Care is necessary not to be influenced by ostentation or any sinister motive. An action good in itself is greatly recommended by an agreeable manner of doing it, an agreeable manner being to actions what a lively manner of expression is to our sense — it beautifies and adorns it, and gives it all the advantage whereof it is capable. It is our duty not only to have virtue, but to make our virtue truly amiable. A delicacy of this kind is most chiefly to be observed with those who have not been used to receive charity.
IV. THE MOTIVES TO CHARITY.
1. Compassion. As ingrafted in us this is mere instinct; as cultured and cherished it becomes a virtue.
2. The pleasure of benevolence. He that centres all his regard upon himself, exclusively of others, has placed his affections very oddly; he has placed them on the most worthless object in the world — himself.
V. THE RECOMPENSE OF THE REWARD. At the last day the question will not be whether you have been negatively good, whether you have done no harm, but what good have you done? Our Saviour has made the poor His representatives. The riches that we have given away will remain with us for ever. When we have shown mercy to our fellow-creatures we may safely expect it from our Creator.
(J. Seed, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.