« AnteriorContinuar »
and seasons, "as we have opportunity;" and to particular persons," especially unto them who are of the household "of faith."
The words as xaιpòv Exoμey are sometimes rendered, while we have time; that is, while by the mercy of Almighty God our frail and uncertain lives are continued to us, And this is evident, that we ought always to be
doing the work of him that sent us, while our day lasts, "and before our night cometh, when no man can work.” And so our season for doing good, taken at large, is the whole time of our sojourning here in this world. But then as to some particular acts and kinds of it, there are some special seasons and opportunities proper for them; the well-observing of which will be the best means to direct us as well what good to do, as in what manner, so as to answer the ends and designs of it. And in this sense it is, that I would here understand the words of my text, "as we have opportunity."
Now these proper seasons or opportunities of doing good may be conceived to respect either the persons who are to do a kindness, or those it should be done to. In regard to the former, every advantage which accrues to them, every increase of their substance, power, or ability in any kind, affords a fresh occasion; and is, as it were, a new opportunity given them for doing good. Does any man abound in wealth, and riches flow in upon him? This is the season, the opportunity which God hath put into his hands, that he may do good by his liberality and bounty towards his poorer brethren. Is he withal advanced to great honours, power, and authority? This must be looked upon as an opportunity given him of doing good, by protecting and encouraging virtue and piety, by discountenancing and restraining vice and immorality. Hath any man, by the blessing of God and his own industry, attained to a good degree of learning, or by years, thought, and experience, to more than ordinary measures of wisdom? This then is the season and opportunity for his doing good, by instructing the ignorant and unlearn
ed, or by advising and admonishing the unwise and unthinking. Or is he by God's grace, prayer, and endeavour, arrived to a better sense of religion, and a more exalted piety, than his neighbours? This likewise is another opportunity of doing good, that "being himself converted "he may then strengthen his brethren." And, that it may not be thought, that only the rich, great, wise, learned, or eminently good, are blessed with opportunities, it must be observed, that all others, in different proportions, or in different ways, have their opportunities too, and are obliged in their respective capacities to do what they can. The offices of humanity, civility, and courtesy, lie open and common to all; and the very meanest and lowest may do good by their honest industry in time of health, and at all times by humility, modesty, and peaceable carriage, by good advice, by prayer, or by example. Hitherto I have considered how a man may be said to have opportunity with respect to his own power and abilities of doing good.
Next we may observe the like with respect to the wants and occasions of others whom we ought to do good to. These indeed are innumerable, and we can never want opportunities in this sense of any sort or kind. "The poor we have always with us, and when we will "we may do them good." There will be always ignorance, weakness, folly, sin, and misery enough in the world, to furnish us with matter for our compassion and charity, and to exhaust all our services. But because our time is short, our talents few, and our abilities at the highest finite and limited; our business must be, out of so great variety to choose such instances of doing good as we are best qualified for; and of those such as are most wanted, or by some peculiar circumstances come more particularly recommended to us. Some special times and occasions may require our service more than others; and some opportunities may be offered, which, if not presently laid hold on, may be lost for ever. On this account the offices of love and charity may reasonably be distinguish
ed into two sorts, constant and occasional, from the matter or the objects of them. We are constantly obliged to be doing good, of some kind or other, in proportion to our abilities; and the ordinary standing necessities of mankind afford constant matter for it. But besides this, we are also occasionally obliged to exert ourselves with greater zeal, vigour, and activity upon some special emergencies, and very urgent and pressing engagements. As if a church and nation be in present danger of sinking into heresy and schism, profaneness, irreligion, or atheism; this is a special opportunity, calling for as special assistance; and at such a time all, who are capable of doing any good service, are obliged forthwith to employ their wits, tongues, pens, interest, and authority for the prevention and cure of such a threatening mischief. In cases of inferior and private concern, for instance, if any person or persons are nearly reduced to extremities, labouring under some heavy and severe pressures, and not being able to subsist, if not speedily relieved by kind neighbours ; such opportunities as these are what no good Christian, who has any bowels of compassion, no good heathen, would let slip from him. In this sense therefore, "as "we have opportunity" offered, "let us do good unto all "men," after the example of the good Samaritan, laid down for a rule of practice by our blessed Saviour in all cases of this nature.
There is another limitation of this duty, taken notice of in my text, and that is, to particular persons, as well as to times. Not that any persons, whom it may be in our power to serve, are to be excluded from our charity; only it may admit of different degrees, and is principally to be applied to some more than others: we may be allowed both in our constant and occasional charities to make a difference in regard to the quality and circumstances of the persons, and when all cannot be equally served, to prefer the most deserving. We are to "do good unto all "men, but especially unto the household of faith;" that is, to Christ's church or family, and those particularly whose
labours and services most eminently deserve and require it; to them especially, in whose support and welfare the interest of religion, the honour of God, and the good of souls is so deeply concerned. Where other circumstances are equal, or but nearly equal, the value and character of the person, or the relation to us, ought to give them the preference in our charitable offices, and to entitle them to our first and best services. Indeed a stranger, or even an enemy in extremities, is to be relieved before a friend or a brother who is in no such want of us; for the offices of humanity seem equally due to them as men, and a bare convenience of one may reasonably be postponed, and give way to the extremities of the other. But where this is not the case, or where both seem to lie under almost equal necessities, there certainly a man may be allowed and even obliged more especially to assist his friends before his enemies, brethren before aliens, Christians before heathens, kindred before acquaintance, good and welldeserving before those who have less pretensions; and though we may be willing to assist all or any of them as we are able, and as we see proper occasions, yet towards some more especially we may give a loose to our affections, and be enlarged in our bowels of compassion; may open both our hearts and hands to receive and embrace them, and even overflow in our kindness and bounty towards them. To feed the hungry, and clothe the naked, is kind and Christian, though the persons so relieved be strangers and aliens, and even useless or ill-deserving. But if such offices be done to Christians, and good Christians, and such as have deserved well by their pious and painful endeavours, then the charity is the greater, as the design of it is nobler, and the good effect of it more diffusive, lasting, and beneficial than the other. The rule then which the voice of nature and reason, as well as the laws of God, have marked out for our charities, is this, that if at any time we can serve the honour of God and the interests of the public more by one sort of charity than another, or by relieving some persons before others, and in
one particular manner beyond any else, we are always to choose that which may probably do most good, may spread the widest and last the longest. Thus to relieve any persons in necessity is an act of humanity and Christian charity; but more so, if they are persons of uncommon merit, or undeserved sufferings; and relieving them in such a way as shall promote the welfare of their souls, makes it yet more excellent than if it concerned only their bodily wants; and if it be at the same time useful and beneficial to many more besides, it is then better than if it were confined to them only; and if the influence of it may reach to after ages, it is a nobler height of charity than if it should conclude with the present.
Having thus shown the nature and measures of the duty, and what sort of management is requisite to make it the most excellent and valuable in the sight of God and man, it may now be proper to come to the application of all to the particular instance of it now before us, which calls for our returns of gratitude, our joyful praises and thanksgivings at this day.
III. Of all the methods and contrivances of doing good, there is none more excellent and praiseworthy than that of founding schools and universities for the propagation of religion and sound learning. This seems to imply and contain under it all other instances of doing good, is a large and complicated charity, reaching both to the bodies and souls of men; to private persons and the public weal, to present and to future ages.
The first, but least thing to be considered in it, is the provision thereby made for a set number of persons successively to live creditably and comfortably in their generation. This is in itself a nobler height of Christian charity than dealing our bread to the hungry, or clothes to the naked. For the provision herein made is large and generous; it is a remedy not only against present but future wants; and hinders such evils from being ever felt, as the other only are designed to remove; and is therefore as much better, as it would be to have prevented a stroke