Charity is more extensive than either of the two other graces, which centre ultimately in ourselves: for we believe and we hope for our own sakes; but love, which is a more disinterested principle, carries us out of ourselves into desires and endeavours of promoting the interests of other beings.
Goodness answers to the theological virtue charity, and admits no excess but error: the desire of power in excess caused the angels to fall; the desire of knowledge in excess caused man to fall; but in charity there is no excess: neither can angel or man come into danger by it.
Nothing seems much clearer than the natural direction of charity. Would we all but relieve, according to the measure of our means, those objects immediately within the range of our personal knowledge, how much of the worst evil of poverty might be alleviated! Very poor people, who are known to us to have been decent, honest, and industrious, when industry was in their power, have a claim on us, founded on our knowledge, and on vicinity and neighbourhood, which have in themselves something sacred and endearing to every good heart. One cannot, surely, always pass by, in his walks for health, restoration, or delight, the lone wayside beggar without occasionally giving him an alms. Old, care-worn, pale, drooping, and emaciated creatures, who pass us by without looking beseechingly at us, or even lifting up their eyes from the ground, cannot often be met with without exciting an interest in us for their silent and unobtrusive sufferings or privations. A hovel, here and there, round and about our own comfortable dwelling, attracts our eyes by some peculiar appearance of penury, and we look in, now and then, upon its inmates, cheering their cold gloom with some small benefaction. These are duties all men owe to distress: they are easily discharged; and even such tender mercies are twice blessed.
Poplicolas doors were opened on the outside, to save the people even the common civility of asking entrance; where misfortune was a powerful recommendation, and where want itself was a powerful mediator.
If we can return to that charity and peaceable-mindedness which Christ so vehemently recommended to us, we have his own promise that the whole body will be full of light, Matth. vi.; that all other Christian virtues will, by way of recommittance or annexation, attend them.
Here is another magistrate propounding from the seat of justice the stupendous nonsense that it is desirable that every person who gives alms in the streets should be fined for that offence. This to a Christian people, and with the New Testament lying before himas a sort of dummy, I suppose, to swear witnesses on. Why does my so-easily-frightened nationality not take offence at such things? My hobby shies at shadows; why does it amble so quietly past these advertising-vans of Blockheads seeking notoriety?
Charity is an universal duty, which it is in every mans power sometimes to practise; since every degree of assistance given to another, upon proper motives, is an act of charity; and there is scarcely any man in such a state of imbecility as that he may not, on some occasions, benefit his neighbour. He that cannot relieve the poor may instruct the ignorant; and he that cannot attend the sick may reclaim the vicious. He that can give little assistance himself may yet perform the duty of charity by inflaming the ardour of others, and recommending the petitions which he cannot grant, to those who have more to bestow. The widow that shall give her mite to the treasury, the poor man who shall bring to the thirsty a cup of cold water, shall not lose their reward.
The little I have seen of the world and know of the history of mankind teaches me to look upon the errors of others in sorrow, not in anger. When I take the history of one poor heart that has sinned and suffered, and represent to myself the struggles and temptations it has passedthe brief pulsations of joythe feverish inquietude of hope and fearthe tears of regretthe feebleness of purposethe pressure of wantthe desertion of friendsthe scorn of the world, that has little charitythe desolation of the souls sanctuary, and threatening voices from withinhealth gonehappiness goneeven hope, that stays longest with us, gone,I have little heart for aught else than thankfulness that it is not so with me, and would fain leave the erring soul of my fellow-man with Him from whose hands it came.
That charity alone endures which flows from a sense of duty and a hope in God. This is the charity that treads in secret those paths of misery from which all but the lowest of human wretches have fled: this is that charity which no labour can weary, no ingratitude detach, no horror disgust; that toils, that pardons, that suffers; that is seen by no man, and honoured by no man, but, like the great laws of nature, does the work of God in silence, and looks to a future and better world for its reward.
When thy brother has lost all that he ever had, and lies languishing, and even gasping under the utmost extremities of poverty and distress, dost thou think to lick him whole again only with thy tongue?
The measures that God marks out to thy charity are these: thy superfluities must give place to thy neighbours great convenience; thy convenience must yield to thy neighbours necessity; and, lastly, thy very necessities must yield to thy neighbours extremity.
What can be a greater honour than to be chosen one of the stewards and dispensers of Gods bounty to mankind? What can give a generous spirit more complacency than to consider that great numbers owe to him, under God, their subsistence, and the good conduct of their lives?
God is pleased with no music below so much as in the thanksgiving songs of relieved widows, of supported orphans, of rejoicing, and comforted, and thankful persons. This part of our communication does the work of God and of our neighbours, and bears us to heaven in streams made by the overflowing of our brothers comfort.