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PREACHED ON THE ANNIVERSARY
BOSTON FEMALE ASYLUM
SEPTEMBER 25, 1835.
PUBLISHED BY REQUEST OF THE BOARD OF MANAGERS.
BY JONATHAN M. WAINWRIGHT, D. D.
Rector of Trinity Church, Boston.
DUTTON AND WENTWORTH, PRINTERS,
Nos. 10 & 12, Exchange Street,
TO THE BOARD OF MANAGERS.
Upon your first application to me for a copy of this sermon to be printed, I respectfully declined giving it, because it was not prepared with the slightest reference to such a result, and more especially because it has been my uniform practice to abstain from appearing in this way before the public, when I could with propriety do so. To your renewed request, and the reasons you state for making it, I feel myself constrained to yield, although my own conviction in regard both to the character of the discourse itself, and to the inexpediency of such publications, except in very special cases, remains the same. If, however, its possession, as you imply, can afford gratification to any one interested in your most excellent institution, I ought not perhaps to be longer influenced by a consideration which relates merely to myself in withholding it. I therefore commit it to you, and am,
With the greatest respect,
Your friend and servant,
JONA. M. WAINWRIGHT.
BOSTON, OCTOBER 6, 1835.
PROVERBS, XXII. 9.
“He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor.”
How merciful and gracious is our Heavenly Father in presenting to us his commandments, united with the promise of ample rewards to those who will obey them. As the author of our being, the creator and preserver of our means of existence, and our sources of happiness, he has an unqualified right to our constant obedience and our best services. Yet he treats us as if we were in a measure independent of him, and as if our faculties and possessions were an underived property, for he demands of us no duty or sacrifice for which he does not offer an abundant remuneration. And even to the performance of those duties which are in themselves a source of gratification to the well regulated mind, the inducements are greatly increased by appendant promises. We might not think it remarkable that labor and sacrifices, and self-denial, should be encouraged by the hope of reward; but even the delightful offices of mercy and charity will be remunerated, and heavenly blessings will hereafter be showered upon the heads of those who may now be enjoying the luxury of doing good. Surely I address myself to those who know that there is a pleasure in deeds of beneficence,—a pleasure the noblest and most delightful of which our nature is susceptible. And you my brethren, must have had experience of this sentiment, or vain will be my efforts to unfold to you the subject that is before me. I appear in behalf of the destitute orphan, and if I thought I had need to convince you that there is a sweet and abiding satisfaction in relieving those who are truly objects of charity, I should be utterly discouraged at the outset. But such is not to be my ungrateful task; for I see around me those who I doubt not have often realized the pleasures of beneficence, and have often bestowed their charities upon the simple impulse of generous feeling. I would now, however, present to you a more exalted motive to beneficence than its secret pleasures. I would show you that it is not simply a gratification you can enjoy, but a solemn duty which you must perform; and therefore that your charities are not to be governed by momentary impulses, but by settled principles, and that you are to do good not merely because you take delight in it, but that you may secure the favor of God who has commanded this service. And as I have observed that where our Heavenly Father has put forth a commandment, he has also annexed a reward to induce us to obey it, so in our text the duty of beneficence is presented in the form of a beatitude, like the introductory precepts of our blessed Lord’s sermon on the mount. “He that hath a bountiful eye shall be BLESSED.”
I propose, first, briefly to explain this duty, then to state its obligation, and lastly to allude to the blessing promised in connexion with it.
1. The expression of my text is peculiar. We hear in common speech of a liberal or open hand as the characteristic of a benevolent man; but the phrase, a bountiful eye, belongs alone to the sacred scriptures. There also the opposite character of avarice and cruelty is represented by a figure drawn from the same source. In the book from which my text is selected, we are warned not to partake of the offered banquet of him who spreads his table by constraint, and with ostentatious or mercenary views, and not from the impulse of an hospitable spirit. Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats: For as he thinketh in his heart so is he: Eat and drink saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee. And again the character and punishment of the man who is so anxious to acquire wealth as to disregard the principles of honesty and the claims of charity is thus described. He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him. In the book of Deuteronomy too where the law of conduct towards the poor is laid down, and the rich are commanded not to take advantage of their necessities we read—If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren, within any of thy gates, in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand, from thy poor brother. But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, the seventh year, the year of release is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought, and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee. Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him. As the evil eye was descriptive of a selfish, hard hearted, avaricious temper, so the bountiful eye was meant to represent the virtues of a humane and generous man. A phrase more expressive, could not be selected to describe an ardent and enlightened beneficence. A liberal hand, signifies merely generosity in giving, but a bountiful eye implies not simply this, but also industry in looking about for objects of distress, and discrimination in the mode of relieving them, and tenderness and kind expressions accompanying our charities. All these are essential features of true christian beneficence.
1. To give of our money, is perhaps, the very least praise-worthy part, and certainly the part of easiest performance in the way of charity. Many there are who yield to the solicitation of an object of distress, or to an application from the agent of some charitable society merely that they may escape from painful importunity. Others again, who feel and acknowledge the obligation of sharing a portion of their wealth with the poor, are yet glad to appease the monitions of conscience at the least expense of time and thought. They therefore give freely, but with too little attention to securing a proper channel for their bounty. The consequence is that it often runs in waste places, and feeds intemperance and dishonesty when it might be made to revive and nourish the hapless victims of an unmerited poverty. He then, who hath a bountiful eye, will not only be ready to distribute and willing to communicate, but will also industriously look about for proper objects. He will cheerfully yield a portion of his time as well as of his wealth to the work of charity. Remembering who hath set him the example of going about doing good, he will not remain inactive upon his station, and give only to him that asketh, he will in person seek out the habitations of distress, or will at least aid with his counsels and labors some of those benevolent societies, which are now established in every christian land. I know that the avocations of business in a mercantile community are oftentimes urgent, and that time is more valuable than the small contribution by which exemption from actual labor in the cause of charity may be procured. Still however, the truly benevolent man will not refuse his personal exertions when he is convinced they can be serviceable, and the sacrifices he makes and the interest he feels in the work in which he is engaged, will afford him pleasures that the passively generous can never comprehend.
2. But the bountiful eye will not only industriously search for occupation, it will also exercise a discriminating watchfulness. How essential is this to a profitable exercise of charitable distribution. He who is not aware of the deceptions which are constantly practised by many of the poor, and of the injudicious modes which are often adopted for relieving their wants, must have had but small experience in this duty. Sound judgment is required, and without it a liberal and active charity may produce evil rather than good. Evil to the community, not to the benevolent individual. If our alms are given with proper motives, we shall not fail of our reward from our Heavenly Father, though we fail of doing the good we intended. We are often deceived; but this should not be made an argument, as is frequently the case, for contracting our bounties. It should only excite us to greater caution. The common applicants at our doors and in our streets, are in general, undeserving of the alms which they entreat. This however, is by no means uniformly their character, for I have known the most worthy objects, those whom modesty and a laudable pride had restrained, until acute distress had fairly driven them forth to seek needful comforts for the destitute sick, or perhaps, bread for their famishing children. We must not, with cruel indifference, drive such away in the common herd of undeserving beggars. We must consider the cause of the poor, as respects their characters and their condition.
Perhaps the most discriminating mode of exercising charity, and one which, if generally adopted, would almost preclude the necessity for giving to unknown objects would be this. Let all persons desirous of performing works of mercy from christian principle, make an estimate of what they ought to contribute from the stores with which God has favored them. Let them duly consider the various claims that are presented to them, and from amongst the many charitable societies with which we are surrounded, let them select the depositaries of their bounty. Let each family also, according to their means, select one or more of the poor whom they can know, and to a certain extent, follow through their good or ill conduct. These let them regard as a charge peculiarly committed to them. Let them become acquainted with the wants, the infirmities, the troubles, the sorrows of these the poorer members of their families, united to them by the bonds of christian relationship. The intercourse will be mutually salutary. It will produce a fuller and healthier developement of the christian character than can be brought out where the ranks in life are kept in a state of separation by the stern despotism of artificial distinctions, where there are no opportunities of passing from one to the other the softening influence of sympathizing feelings, and where on the one side pride, luxury and selfishness are nurtured, and on the other, envy, hatred and discontent. Were the custom I recommend universally adopted amongst a christian people, would not extreme distress from poverty be almost banished from amongst us? Should we ever be called to endure the pain of beholding destitute and miserable persons, except where incurable vice had made them such?
3. Would not this custom also bring into more general practice the other characteristic I mentioned of him who hath a bountiful eye,—giving his charities with benevolent feelings and kind looks? We should ever remember, my brethren, that poverty, though it may clothe a person with rags, does not always kill the sensibilities of the heart. The poor are of like passions with ourselves, they like ourselves, can feel the sting of unkind words, and the cruel piercings of an evil eye. If we are satisfied upon any occasion that duty to the general interests of society requires of us to reject their petitions, let it never be with a scornful countenance or angry words. Let our rebukes, if they are needed, be tempered with mild expressions—they will be felt with tenfold power. And when we feel called upon to relieve one who asks for charity, let us not do it as though our alms were extorted. There are those who in performing an act of kindness, yet do it so ungraciously, that it is felt to be no kindness. And there are on the other hand those, who in giving a refusal, yet give it without causing pain—sometimes even they communicate pleasure by showing sympathy where they cannot administer relief. The phrase in my text expresses admirably the influence of such amiable conduct. It is the eye that speaks cruel sentiments more powerfully than the tongue, and it is the eye also that reveals the movements of a noble and generous sympathy. The bountiful eye then, is the evidence of a humane and benevolent heart, prompting its possessor to thoughts and deeds of charity.
2. Need I state to a christian assembly the necessity laid upon us all to cultivate the character I have thus attempted briefly to describe? To feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit and comfort the sick and the afflicted, is incumbent upon every man endowed with moral perception, but the obligations of the christian to pursue this course of conduct, are most weighty and inalienable. He cannot shut out from his attention the sufferings and misfortunes of his brethren of the human family without renouncing his name, and without forfeiting his rights to the hopes and promises of the gospel. Our religion is emphatically the religion of love. Love is the end of the commandment, the perfection of the christian character, and the most acceptable offering we can present to Almighty God. Upon this principle the poor have a claim,—a claim stronger than human law could establish upon their fellow men. We are all the stewards and almoners of Providence, and a rigid account will be demanded of those means which were given to us in trust for the purposes of beneficence. Let the rich man ask himself by what means he has been prospered in life, and inhabits the splendid or the commodious habitation, while another has been condemned to eat the bitter bread of poverty. He may reply that he has been industrious and provident, that he has passed a life of anxious labor to amass the wealth or the competency he enjoys. But can he forget that all his success must at last be referred to the great disposer of events? Can he be ignorant that it is God who has filled his basket and his store, who has given the genial heat and refreshing showers to his harvest, and guarded them from blasting and mildew, who has commanded the favoring winds to blow upon his richly freighted vessels, and has saved them from rocks and tempests, who has bestowed upon him his powers of mind, and afforded him health and opportunity to employ them? Can he be unmindful of all this when he beholds the fluctuations of prosperity, and the sudden and unexpected manner in which it is both given and again taken away? Surely then the thoughtful and conscientious man will esteem his possessions, not so much a right which he has obtained as a trust committed to him, and he will acknowledge that the strictest justice approves what religion emphatically demands, that with a bountiful eye we should look upon the poor and destitute.
Such is our solemn duty; and it is important that it should be regarded in this light. Beneficence should not be merely the overflowing of a generous heart. This would be an unsafe and uncertain ground on which to place the principle of charitable distribution. Interesting objects indeed might not suffer from it, the orphan, the afflicted widow, decayed and broken age. Cold and insensible must be the heart that could shut up its sympathies from such petitioners. True beneficence however, cannot always be a delight. “It is not,” says a powerful writer, “an indulgence to the finer sensibilities of the mind, but according to the sober declarations of scripture, a work and a labor, a business in which you must encounter vexation, opposition, and fatigue, where you are not always to meet with that elegance which allures the fancy, or with that humble and retired adversity which interests the more tender propensities of the heart, but as a business, where reluctance must often be overcome by a sense of duty, and where, though opposed at every step by envy, disgust and disappointment, you are bound to persevere in obedience to the law of God, and the sober instigation of principle.” Is it not well then, my brethren, to establish beneficence upon the broad ground of christian obligation, rather than commend it to you by the high gratifications which it sometimes affords? Are not the interests of the poor in this manner more effectually secured? If the grand principle can be established in your breasts, that you are to do good not simply because you delight in this work, but because the dictates of justice and the laws of God require you to be charitable, will you not be preserved from the indiscretions of a heated benevolence on the one hand, and from the cruelty and consequent punishment of selfishness and avarice on the other?
3. But are there then any demands made upon our charity, which when answered can yield us no reward or blessing? Surely not. Has it not already been declared that God demands of us no duty or sacrifice for which he does not offer us an abundant remuneration? And does he not emphatically pronounce his blessing upon the virtue I am now attempting to explain and enforce? “He that hath a bountiful eye shall be BLESSED.” The scriptures are filled with motives, inducements, promises, encouragements, addressed to every generous, nay to every interested feeling. The merciful man doeth good to his own soul. He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him again. If thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul, then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day. And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones; and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters fail not. Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy. Are there not then abundant rewards promised to deeds of beneficence?—rewards, how far transcending our best services, how more, infinitely more than adequate to our most painful labors, our greatest sacrifices. God has a right to all we have, for he only lends us all, yet he condescends to receive a portion from us again, as if a favor were conferred upon himself, and he has put in his stead the sick, the naked, the hungry and the afflicted, and says, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. And not only does he condescend thus to accept our charitable deeds, but gives them his blessing and reward. Blessed is he that considereth the poor; the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.
While then, my brethren, we have every encouragement to persevere in works of beneficence, though they may be accompanied with labor, and be repaid with human ingratitude, let us be duly thankful that there are other occasions on which we can discharge duty, and at the same time open a source of the purest and noblest gratification. Yes—painful as may be some of those walks of charity which the christian must pursue, and revolting as are some of those objects which he must encounter, we know that there are paths for the benevolent where their footsteps fall pleasantly, and a refreshing fragrance surrounds them, and smiling objects meet them, and satisfactions the most delightful, urge them forward. We can sometimes give, and pleasure shall accompany the act, and unmingled good shall follow it, and gratitude shall reward it, and God himself shall crown it with the brightest wreath. Say I not true when I speak of giving to the destitute orphan? Is not this a deed of unalloyed satisfaction, is it not one upon which the bountiful eye may look to fill the soul with an unrestrained generosity? Here is required no cold calculation of the amount of good to be effected, here is no room for anxious doubt concerning the result of the benevolent act.
Asylums for the destitute orphan are among those institutions which even the severe, and in some respects, the cold and selfish principles of Political Economy cannot justly disapprove of. To the truly benevolent, and to the pious christian, they have always been, and must ever be, objects of deep interest. Other charities may be perverted in some degree to evil purposes. Their effect may be to encourage idle and dissolute conduct, and to increase the evil they would remedy, by operating as a bounty upon pauperism. To some extent this has been the effect of alms-houses, and of many of those societies which, with the best intentions, have been administered to adult persons. We acknowledge, indeed, that protection, shelter, and subsistence for the aged and decrepit, who are past the ability to labor for their own daily food, medicine and medical advice, and in cases of absolute poverty, the retreat of the hospital, are real charities, such as suffering humanity requires, and pure benevolence will provide for. But in other cases, it is questionable whether relief can be given without ill effects, except it be accompanied with the opportunity and the necessity for bodily labor. I am not, however, upon the present occasion to discuss the general question of charitable societies. It is one of great importance, and one which we think is not yet generally understood. Much light has recently been thrown upon it, especially in this city, by the active and intelligent exertions and experiments of some of our fellow citizens,—and it should continue to occupy the serious attention of our civil authorities, and of every benevolent and public spirited person.
But who can doubt about the expediency, as well as the mercy and christian obligation, of fostering the poor and helpless orphan, whose natural protectors have been removed by the Providence of God? Naked, we must clothe them, for their helplessness cannot provide for their own covering; hungry, we must feed them, for they appeal to us with the moaning cry and innocent tears of childhood; strangers in this world, but just entered upon it, and left without a home to receive, or a parent’s fostering care to protect them, we must take them in. We cannot resist or evade such an appeal, we know that it comes from a guileless petitioner, whose distresses no vice of its own has produced, and no exertions of its own can relieve. Should any one of you in your walks through our city during its inclement winter behold a child almost naked, shivering with cold and fainting with hunger, and did you learn that it had wandered unprotected from the home where its only surviving parent had just expired in all the wretchedness of poverty and disease, and finding its mother’s voice silent, her hands that had cherished it cold, and her eyes closed, the little one had gone forth weeping and alone, would any of you refuse it a home, and food and protection?—It is this sacred duty which our Institution has performed for many such suffering and innocent beings. Where, if not to such an object, can the heart send forth its sympathies without restraint, and give itself to all the delights of a glowing generosity?