Thus, if we would make antecedent provisions for charity; if we would exercise suitable self-denial, forethought, and confidence in God; if we would contrive as earnestly to save something for munificence, as we do to hoard, our sources of charity would be replenished; we should seldom be unable to make, at frequently recurring periods, either actual or pledged appropriations, and be happy in our work.
An Inference.—If that degree of frequency should be adopted which is best calculated to curb the selfish inclinations, then the more deeply we are engaged in worldly pursuits,—the stronger and more riotous the avaricious desires become, the oftener should the appointed period of our benefactions recur; and not only so, but the greater the necessity that our gifts be commensurate with our means; for otherwise, although we may give frequently, and perhaps congratulate ourselves on our generous liberality, the curse of God may be hanging over us for our parsimony.
We are now prepared to present in detail that general system of beneficence, demanded alike by Scripture and reason, and best fitted to secure permanent and ever-growing results.
While universal, it must be a system in its nature adapted to each individual, and binding on the individual conscience; one founded on, and embracing, the entire man,—his reason, his heart and will, including views and principles, feelings and affections, with their inculcation, general purposes and resolutions, with corresponding action. The tree must be symmetrical from its roots to its topmost bough. Beneficence may not stand alone; it must spring out of a consistent character, must be a branch of activity, harmonizing with other shoots from the common stock. Else, it will be like a verdant twig on a rotten trunk, growing up amid broken and withered limbs, the sighing monitors of its own decay.
Some, I know, would advocate a system of beneficent actions without the heart; others would direct it merely to one or a few favorite objects. But these are views neither broad nor deep enough. It is grafting consistency on inconsistency. True benevolence is a spirit of universality, and hence, of harmony, gushing forth in streams numerous as our relations. No reason can be assigned why one should contribute of his property to save the souls of others, while he neglects his own; or spend his substance for the spiritual benefit of those at a distance, while he neither puts forth personal efforts, nor manifests a holy example, to rescue perishing immortals immediately around him. A system thus partial has a worm at the root; its protecting shadow will be as transient as Jonah’s gourd.
I. There must be a system of intellectual views, and a harmonizing train of desires and affections flowing naturally from them.
I will, therefore, present a series of principles, sentiments, and obligations, which, by being lodged in the intellect, and quickened by the Spirit, warm the heart, and awaken appropriate feelings; thus forming not only the basis, but a constituent part, of an efficient system of benevolence.