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DEUTERONOMY XV. VERSE XI.
For the poor shall never cease out of the land: Therefore, I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy in the land.
I Do not propose to myself so very comprehensive a subject as that of a general exhortation to charity; but presupposinga due disposition in the minds of my congregation to relieve the wants of their fellow-creatures, I shall take the liberty of suggesting a few remarks upon the proper direction, and just government of this amiable virtue.
It is of importance, not only that we should do good, but that we should do it in the best manner. A little judgment, and a little reflection added to the gift, does not merely enhance the value, but often gives to it the only value which it possesses; and even prevents that mischief of which thoughtless benevolence is sometimes the
Mankind can never be too strongly, or too frequently cautioned against self-deception. If a state of vice be a state of misery, a state of vice of which we are ignorant is doubly so, from the increased probability of its duration. It is surprising how many men are cheated by flighty sentiments of humanity into a belief that they are humane; how frequently charitable words are mistaken for charitable deeds, and a beautiful picture of misery for an effectual relief of it. There are many who have tears for the chaste, and classical sorrow of the stage, who have never submitted to go into the poor man's cottage, to hear his tedious narrative, and to come close at hand with poverty, and its dismal, and disgusting
attendants: Pure moral misery wrought up into an artful tale, is a luxurious banquet for the refined mind, which would turn away from the gross unhappiness of real life, where the low, and the ludicrous are mingled with the sad, where our delicacy is offended, while our feelings are roused, and we are reminded, not only of the misfortunes, but of the infirmities of man. A state of delicate sensibility in the moral feelings is commendable, or blame-worthy, according to the consequences to which it leads If strong impressions of human misery rouse us to the relief of it, they are faithful monitors to virtue, and cannot be too effectually preserved; but if feelings are mere feelings, and do not stimulate us to action, they can answer no other purpose than to display ostentatious softness, or inflict useless suffering; if men indulge in speculations, far above the level of real life, the danger is, that they become unfit for action: Who can bear the muddy pool, and the barren sand of the desert, after he has gazed on the beautiful prodigies of a fancy landscape? If we have drawn romantic notions of misfortune, and annexed to it,
the ideas of venerable, simple, docile, and grateful, we shall soon become disgusted with the practice of charity, and fly back to the reveries of speculative benevolence, as an asylum from the disappointments we meet with in the world, as it is really constituted.
Another important point in the administration of charity, is a proper choice of the object we relieve. To give promiscuously is better, perhaps, than not to give at all: But instead of risquing the chance of encouraging imposture, discover some worthy family struggling up against the world, a widow with her helpless children, old people incapable of labour, or orphans destitute of protection, and advice; suppose you were gradually to attach yourselves to such real objects of compassion, to learn their wants, to stimulate their industry, and to correct their vices; surely these two species of charity are not to be compared together in the utility, or in the extent of their effects; in the benevolence they evince, or in the merits they confer. If you wish to gratify the feelings, or avoid the