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none poorer than themselves, or who have no more than what is absolutely necessary to support their families, or such as are labouring hard, to spare out of their necessary expenses, what will but just serve to pay their debts; or they who are reduced to such straits as to depend upon others, so that they can call nothing they have their own.
Nevertheless, this duty is incumbent ;
[1.] On the rich, out of their abundance.
[2.] On those who are in middle circumstances in the world, who have a sufficiency to lay out in superfluous expenses: And,
[3.] Even the poor ought to give a small testimony of their gratitude to God, by sparing a little, if they can, out of what they get in the world, for those who are poorer than themselves; which, if it be but a few mites, it may be an acceptable sacrifice to God, Luke xxi. 2, 4. and, if persons have nothing before hand in the world, they ought to work for this end, as well as to maintain themselves and families, Eph. iv. 28.
(2.) We are now to consider, who are to be reckoned objects of our charity. To which it may be answered; Not the rich, who stand in no need of it, from whom we may expect a sufficient requital, Luke xiv. 12, 13, 14. nor those who are strong and healthy, but yet make a trade of begging, because it is an idle and sometimes a profitable way of living, 2 Thess. iii. 10-12. But such are to be relieved, who are not able to work; especially if they were not reduced to poverty by their own sloth and negligence, but by the providence of God not succeeding their endeavours; and if, while they were able, they were ready to all works of charity themselves, 1 Tim. v. 10. and to these we may add, such who are related to us, either in the bonds of nature, or in a spiritual sense, Gal. vi. 10. This leads us to enquire,
(3.) What part, or proportion of our substance, we are to apply to charitable uses? In answer to this, let it be consider. ed, that the circumstances of persons in the world being so various, as well as their necessary occasions for extraordinary expenses, it is impossible to give a general rule, to be observed by all. However, it must be premised,
[1.] That our present contributions, ought not to preclude all thoughts, about laying up for ourselves or families, for time
[2.] Whatever proportion we give of our gain in the world, some abatements may reasonably be made for losses in trade; especially if what we give was not determined, or laid aside, for that use before the loss happened. As to what may farther be observed concerning this matter, it ought to be left to the impartial determination of every one, who is to act, as be
ing sensible that he is accountable to God herein. The apostle lays down one general rule; Every man, according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver, 2 Cor. ix. 7, But though we pretend not to determine the exact proportion which ought to be given, viz. whether it be a tenth part of their profits, or more, or less; yet it is highly reasonable, that every one should contribute as much in works of charity, as he lays out in mere superfluities; or, at least, spare a part out of his superfluous expenses, for charitable uses. And there are some occasions which may call for large contributions. Thus the churches in Macedonia are commended, not only for their giving according to, but beyond their power, chap. viii. 1, 2, 3. Three things may be here considered,
1st, The extreme necessities of those whom we are bound to take care of; and, sometimes, the distressed circumstances of the church of God, in general, require larger contributions than ordinary; which was the occasion of the Command mentioned by our Saviour, of selling all, and giving to the poor, which was put in practice in the infancy of the church, or the first planting of the gospel, at Jerusalem.
2dly, Extraordinary instances of the kindness of God, in. prospering us, either in worldly or spiritual concerns, beyond our expectation, call for extraordinary expressions of gratitude to God, in laying by for the poor, 1 Cor. xvi. 2.
3dly, When we have committed great sins, or are under very humbling providences, whether personal or national, as being exposed to, or fearing the judgments of God, which seem to be approaching; this calls for deep humiliation, and, together therewith, proportionable acts of charity.
(4.) We are now to consider, with what frame of spirit works of charity are to be performed? To which, it may be answered, that they are to be performed prudently, as our own circumstances will permit, and the necessity of the object requires; also seasonably, not putting this duty off till another time, when the necessities of those, whom we are bound to re- ́ lieve, call for present assistance, Prov. ii. 28. It is also to be done secretly, as not desiring to be seen of men, or commended by them for it, Matt. vi. 3, 4, and cheerfully, 2 Cor. ix. 7. also with tenderness and compassion to those whose necessi ties call for relief, as considering how soon God can reduce us to the same extremity which they are exposed to, who are the objects of our charity. It ought to be done likewise with thankfulness to God, that has made us givers, rather than receivers, Acts x. 35. and, as a testimony of our love to Christ, especially when we contribute to the necessities of his members, Matt. x. 42.
QUEST. CXLII. What are the sins forbidden in the eighth Commandment?
ANSW. The sins forbidden in the eighth Commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, theft, robbery, man-stealing, and receiving any thing that is stolen, fraudulent dealing, false weights and measures, removing land..marks, injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man, or in matters of trust; oppression, extortion, usury, bribery, vexatious law-suits, unjust inclosures, and depopulations; ingrossing commodities to enhance the price, unlawful callings, and all other unjust, or sinful ways of taking, or withholding from our neighbour what belongs to him, or of enriching ourselves. Covetousness, inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods; distrustful and distracting cares and studies in getting, keeping, and using them, envying at the prosperity of others. As likewise idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming, and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate; and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God hath given us.
HIS Commandment forbids, in general all kind of theft; and may include in it that which is very seldom called by this name, to wit, the robbing of ourselves and families; which we may be said to do, by neglecting our worldly calling, or by the imprudent management thereof. Also, by lending larger sums of money than our circumstances will well bear, to those who are never like to pay it again; or, which is in effect the same, by being surety for such. Moreover we rob ourselves and families, by being profuse and excessive in our expenses; and by consuming what we have, while pursuing our pleasures more than business; or by gaming, whereby we run the risque of losing part of our substance, and thereby reducing ourselves, or others, to poverty. On the other hand, we rob ourselves and families, when, out of a design to lay up a great deal for the time to come, we deprive ourselves and them, of the common necessaries of life, which is, in effect, to starve for the present, to prevent our starving for the future. But, passing this by, we shall consider this Commandment more especially, as it respects our defrauding others; and this is done,
I. By taking away any part of their wealth, or worldly substance. This is generally known by the name of theft, and that, with the greatest severity, in proportion to its aggravations; and they who are guilty of it, are, without repentance, excluded from the kingdom of God, 1 Cor. vi. 9, 10. How
ever, let it be considered, that every kind of theft does not deserve an equal degree of punishment from men; for sometimes hereby the owner of what was stolen, receives but little damage; though in this case, some punishment, short of death, ought to be inflicted, to reform the wicked person, and deter him from going on in the breach of this Commandment, from less to greater sins.
By the law of God, a simple theft was punished with restitution of double, and sometimes, four times as much as the damage amounted to, which was sustained thereby, Exod. xxii. 1, 4, 7. Yet, in other cases, the theft was punished with death, when it had in it some circumstances that aggravated it in an uncommon degree; as if an house, which ought to be reckoned a man's castle, be broke open, and that, in the night-time, when he is in no condition of defending himself, or his worldly substance. In this case the law is not unjust, that punishes the thief with death; and this is supposed in that law which says, that he that kills such an one who breaks up his neighbour's house by night, shall have no blood shed for him, ver. 2. But, in other instances, confinement, and hard labour, may be as effectual a way to put a stop to this sin; and is rather to be chosen than punishment with death. Thus concerning this Commandment, as broken by theft.
II. It is farther broken, by unfaithfulness, or breach of trust; whether the trust he devolved on us by nature, as that of parents towards their children; or by contract, as that of servants, who are entrusted with the goods and secrets of their masters; or, that which is founded in the desire and request of those who constitute persons executors to their wills, or guardians to orphans, under age, provided they accept of this trust; I say, if these violate their trust, by embezzling or squandering away the substance of others, defrauding them, to enrich themselves. This is not only theft, but perfidiousness, and highly provoking to God; and deserves a more severe punishment from men, than is usually inflicted.
III. This Commandment may be said to be broken, by borrowing, and not paying just debts; as the Psalmist says, The wicked borroweth and payeth not again, Psal. xxxvii. 21. Nevertheless, there are some cases in which a man is not guilty hereof, though he borrows and does not pay, viz. If, when he borrowed, there was a probability of his being able to repay it; or otherwise, if he discovered his circumstances fully to him, of whom he borrowed, to whom it would hereby appear, whether there was any likelihood of paying him or not; or if he gave full conviction, when he borrowed, that he was able to pay, but the providence of God, without his own default, has rendered him unable; in this case mercy is to be shewn him.
and he is not to be reckoned a breaker of this Commandment. However, a person is guilty of the breach hereof, in borrowing, and not paying debts.
1. If the borrower pretends his circumstances to be better than they are, and so makes the lender believe, that, in a limited time, he shall be able to repay him; when, in his own conscience, He apprehends that there is no probability hereof.
2. When a person was in such circumstances at the time of his borrowing, that by industry in his calling, he might be able to pay the creditor; but, by neglect of business, or embezzling his substance, he renders himself unable to pay, such an one is chargeable with the breach of this Commandment.
3. If pity be shewn, by compounding for a part, instead of the whole debt, in cas. of present insolvency; though the debtor, in form of law, be discharged, with the creditor's consent; yet the law of God and nature, obliges him to pay the whole debt, if providence makes him able hereafter; or else he can hardly be excused from the breach of this Command
This leads us to enquire, what judgment we may pass on the Israelites borrowing of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold; which we read of in Exod. xii. 35. whether they were herein guilty of the breach of this Commandment.
Answ. The word which we render borrowed, might as well be rendered asked, or demanded. And so we must suppose, that the Egyptians were so desirous that the Israelites should be gone, apprehending, that if they continued, they were all dead men, that they might have of them whatever they demanded, as necessary for this expedition; and, if they came back again, as they supposed they should, they would be obliged to return them. If this be the sense of the Hebrew word, there is no difficulty in the text, nor any appearance of the breach of this Commandment.
But since the sense of the word is indeterminate, signifying to demand, as well as to borrow, as was before observed, God's order imports the former; though they might understand it in the latter, as denoting a borrowing with a design to restore. Therefore, let it be considered,
(1.) That they did this by God's command, who has a right to take away the goods that one possesses, if he pleases, and give them to another; for he takes away nothing but his own.
The Hebrew word, which is here used, does not only signify commoda. vit, or usai dedit, or accepit, but petiit, or postulavit; in the last of which senses it is to be understood, in Deut. x. 12. What doth the Lord require or demand of thee, &c. And in Judges v. 25. where the same word is used, it is said, that Sisera asked water of Jael; not as one that was borrowing it of her, but as a gratuity for former kindness which he had shewn to her.