Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

ness, or accident, have introduced into their public establishments. In this way the Greek and Roman slavery, and since these, the feudal tyranny, has declined before it. And we trust that, as the knowledge and authority of the same religion advance in the world, they will banish what remains of this odious institution.

CHAP. IV.

1

CHARITY

Professional assistance. This kind of beneficence is chiefly to be expected from members the legislature, magistrates, medical, legal, and sacerdotal professions.

1. The care of the poor ought to be the principal object of all laws; for this plain reason, that the rich are able to take care of themselves.

Much has been, and more might be, done by the laws of this country, towards the relief of the impotent, and the protection and encouragement of the industrious poor. Whoever applies himself to collect observations upon the state and operation of the poor-laws, and to contrive remedies for the imperfections and abuses which he observes, and digests these remedies into acts of parliament; and conducts them, by argument or influence, through the two branches of the Legislature, com: municates his ideas to those who are more likely to carry them into effect; deserves well of a class of the community so numerous, that their happiness forms a principal part of the whole. The study and activity thus employed, is, charity in the most meritorious sense of the word.

2. The application of parochial relief is intrusted, in the first instance, to overseers and contractors, who have an interest in opposition to that of

inasmuch as whatever they allow them comes in part qut of their own pocket. For this reason, the law has deposited with justices of the peace a power of superintendence and control : and the judicious interposition of this power is a most

the poor,

i useful exertion of charity, and ofttimes within the

ability of those who have no other way of serving their generation. A country gentleman of very moderate education, and who has little to spare from his fortune, by learning so much of the poorlaw as is to be found in Dr. Burn's Justice, and by furnishing himself with a knowledge of the prices of labour and provision, so as to be able to estimate the exigencies of a family, and what is to be expected from their industry, may in this way, place out the one talent committed to him, to great account.

3. Of all private professions, that of medicine puts it in a man's power to do the most good at tho least expense. Health, which is precious to all, is to the poor invaluable : and their complaints, as agues, rheumatisms, &c. are often such as yield to medicine. And, with respect to the expense, drugs at first hand cost little, and advice costs nothing, where it is only bestowed upon those who could not afford to pay for it.

4. The rights of the poor are not so important or intricate, as their contentions are violent and ruinous. A lawyer or attorney, of tolerable knowledge in his profession, has commonly judgment enougl, to adjust these disputes, with all the effect, and without the

expense,

of a lawsuit; and he may be said to give a poor man twenty pounds, who prevents his throwing it away upon law. Alegal man, whether of the profession or not, who, together with a spirit of conciliation, possesses the confidence of his neighbourhood, will be much resorted to for this purpose, especially since the great increase of costs has produced a general dread of going to law.

Nor is this line of beneficence confined to arbitration. Seasonable counsel, coming with the weight which the reputation of the adviser gives it, will often keep or extricate the rash and uninformed out of great difficulties.

Lastly, I know not a more exalted charity than that which presents a shield against the rapacity or persecution of a tyrant.

5. Betwixt argument and authority (I mean that Quthority which flows from voluntary respect, and

1

[ocr errors]

1

[ocr errors]

1

attends upon sanctity and disinterestedness of che. racter) something may be done, amongst the lower orders of mankind, towards the regulation of their conduct, and the satisfaction of their thoughts. This office belongs to the ministers of religion; or rather, whoever undertakes it, becomes a minister of religion. The inferior clergy, who are nearly upon a level with the common sort of their parishioners, and who on that account gain an easier admission to their society and confidence, have in this respect more in their power than their superiors : the discreet use of this power constitutes one of the most respectable functions of human nature.

CHAP. V.

CHARITY.

Pecuniary bounty. 1. The obligation to bestow relief upon the poor, II. The manner of bestowing it. III. The pretences by which men excuse themselves

from it.

I. The obligation to bestow relief upon the poor.

They who rank pity amongst the original im. pulses of our nature, rightly contend, that, when this principle prompts us to the relief of human misery, it indicates the Divine intention, and our duty. Indeed, the same conclusion is deducible from the existence of the passion, whatever account be given of its origin. Whether it be an instinct or a habit, it is in fact a property of our nature, which God appointed; and the final cause for which it was appointed, is to afford to the miserable, in the compassion of their fellow-creatures, a remedy for those inequalities and distresses which God foresaw that many must be exposed to, under every general rule for the distribution of property.

Beside this, the poor have a claim founded in the law of nature, which may be thys explained :- All

1

things were originally common. No one being able to produce a charter from Heaven, had any better title to a particular possession than his next neighbour. There were reasons for mankind's agreeing upon a separation of this common fund; and God for these reasons is presumed to have ratified it. But this separation was made and consented to, upon the expectation and condition that every one should have left a sufficiency for his subsistence, or the means of procuring it: and as no fixed laws for the regulation of property can be so contrived, as to provide for the relief of every case and distress which may arise, these cases and distresses, when their right and share in the common stock were given up or taken from them, were supposed to be left to the voluntary bounty of those who might be acquainted with the exigencies of their situ. ation, and in the way of affording assistance. And, therefore, when the partition of property is rigidly maintained against the claims of indigence and distress, it is maintained in opposition to the intention of those who made it, and to his, who is the Supreme Proprietor of every thing, and who has filled the world with plenteousness, for the sustentation and comfort of all whom he sends into it.

The Christian Scriptures are more copious and explicit upon this duty than upon almost any other The description which Christ' nath left us of the proceedings of the last day, establishes the obligation of bounty beyond controversy :-“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory, and before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another.— Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherii the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world : for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty and ye gave me drink : I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me. And inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."* It is not necessary to under

[ocr errors]

* Matthew xxv. 31.

stand this passage as a literal account of what will actually pass on that day. . Supposing it only a scenical description of the rules and principles, by which the Supreme Arbiter of our destiny will regulate his decisions, it conveys the same lesson to uls; it equally demonstrates of how great value and importance these duties in the sight of God are, and what stress will be laid upon them. The apos. tles also describe this virtue as propitiating the Divine favour in an eminent degree. And these recommendations have produced their effect. It does pot appear, that, before the times of Christianity, an infirmary, hospital, or public charity of any kind, existed in the world ; whereas, most coun. tries in Christendom have long abounded with these institutions. To which may be added, that a spirit of private liberality seems to flourish amidst the decay of many other virtues, not to mention the legal provision for the poor, which obtains in this country, and which was unknown and unthought of by the most humanized nations of antiquity.

St. Paul adds upon the subject an excellent direction, and which is practicable by all who have any thing to give :-" Upon the first day of the week (or any other stated time) let every one of you lay by in store, as God hath prospered him." By which I understand St. Paul to recommend what is the very thing wanting with most men, the being charitable upon a plan ; that is, upon a deliberate comparison of our fortunes with the reasonable expenses and expectations of our families, to compute what we can spare, and to lay by so much for charitable purposes in some mode or other. The mode will be a consideration afterward.

The effect which Christianity produced upon some of its first converts, was such as might be looked for from a divine religion, coming with full force and miraculous evidence upon the consciences of mankind. It overwhelmed all worldly considerations in the expectation of a more important ex. istence :-“ And the multitude of them that believed, were of one heart and of one soul ; neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own ; but they had all things in

« VorigeDoorgaan »