HOMILY ON ALMS DEEDS
AN HOMILIE OF
Almes deedes, and mercifulnesse toward
the poore and needy.
AMongst the manifold dueties that Almighty GOD requireth of his faithfull seruants the true Christians, by the which hee would that both his name should bee glorified, and the certaintie of their vocation declared, there is none that is either more acceptable vnto him, or more profitable for them, then are the workes of mercy and pity shewed vpon the poore, which bee afflicted with any kinde of misery. And yet this notwithstanding (such is the slothfull sluggishnesse of our dull nature, to that which is good and godly) that wee are almost in nothing more negligent and lesse carefull then we are therein. It is therefore a very necessary thing, that GODS people should awake their sleepie mindes, and consider their duty on this behalfe. And meet it is, that all true Christians should desirously seeke and learne what GOD by his holy word doeth heerein require of them: that first knowing their duty (whereof many by their slackenesse seeme to be very ignorant) they may afterwards diligently endeuour to performe the same. By the which both the godly charitable persons may be encouraged to goe forwards and continue in their mercifull deedes of almes giuing to the poore, and also such as hitherto haue either neglected, or contemned it, may yet now at length (when they shall heare how much it appertayneth to them) aduisedly consider it, and vertuously apply themselues thereunto.
And to the intent that euery one of you may the better vnderstand that which is taught, and also easilier beare away, and so take more fruite of that shall be sayd, when seuerall matters are seuerally handled: I minde particularly, and in this order, to speake and intreat of these points.
First I will shew how earnestly Almighty GOD in his holy word, doth exact the doing of almes deeds of vs, and how acceptable they bee vnto him.
Secondly, of almes deeds. Secondly how profitable it is for vs to vse them, and what commodity and fruite they will bring vnto vs.
Thirdly and lastly, I will shew out of GODS word, that who so is liberall to the poore, and relieueth them plenteously, shall notwithstanding haue sufficient for himselfe and euermore bee without danger of penury and scarcitie.
Concerning the first, which is the acceptation and dignity, or price of almes deedes before GOD: Know this, that to helpe and succour the poore in their neede and misery, pleaseth GOD so much, that as the holy Scripture in sundry places recordeth, nothing can bee more thankefully taken or accepted of GOD. For first wee reade, that Almighty GOD doth account that to be giuen and to bee bestowed vpon himselfe, that is bestowed vpon the poore: For so doeth the holy Ghost testifie vnto vs by the wise man, saying, Hee that hath pitie vpon the poore, lendeth vnto the Lord himselfe (Proverbs 19.17). And Christ in the Gospel auoucheth, and as a most certaine trueth, bindeth it with an oath, that the almes bestowed vpon the poore, was bestowed vpon him, and so shall be reckoned at the last day. For thus he saith to the charitable almes giuers, when he sitteth as iudge in the doome, to giue sentence of euery man according to his deserts: Verily I say vnto you, whatsoeuer good and mercifull deede you did vpon any of the least of these my brethren, ye did the same vnto me (Matthew 25.40). In releeuing their hunger, yee releeued mine, in quenching their thirst, yee quenched mine, in clothing them, yee clothed mee, and when yee harboured them, yee lodged me also, when yee visited them being sicke in prison, yee visited mee. For as hee that hath receiued a Princes embassadours, and entertaineth them well, doth honour the prince from whom those embassadours doe come: So he that receiueth the poore and needy, and helpeth them in their affliction and distresse, doeth thereby receiue & honour Christ their Master, who as he was poore and needie himselfe whilest hee liued here amongst vs, to worke the mysterie of our saluation, at his departure hence he promised in his steed to send vnto vs those that were poore, by whose meanes his absence should bee supplied: and therefore that we would doe vnto him, wee must doe vnto them. And for this cause doth the Almighty GOD say vnto Moses, The land wherein you dwell, shall neuer bee without poore men: because he would haue continuall triall of his people (Deuteronomy 15.11), whether they loued him or no, that in shewing themselues obedient vnto his will, they might certainely assure themselues of his loue and fauour towards them, and nothing doubt, but that as his lawe and ordinance (wherein hee commanded them that they should open their hand vnto their brethren that were poore and needy in the land) were accepted of them and willingly performed: So hee would on his part louingly accept them, and truely performe his promises that he had made vnto them.
The holy Apostles and Disciples of Christ, who by reason of his dayly conuersation, saw by his deedes, and heard in his doctrine how much he tendered the poore: the godly Fathers also, that were both before and since Christ, indued without doubt with the holy Ghost, and most certainly certified of GODS holy will: they both do most earnestly exhort vs, and in all their writings almost continually admonish vs, that wee would remember the poore, and bestow our charitable almes vpon them.
Saint Paul crieth vnto vs after this sort, Comfort the feeble minded, lift vp the weake, and be charitable towards all men (1 Thessalonians 5.14). And againe, To doe good to the poore, and to distribute almes gladly, see that thou doe not forget, for with such sacrifices GOD is pleased (Hebrews 13.16). Esay the Prophet teacheth on this wise, Deale thy bread to the hungrie, and bring the poore wandering, home to thy house. When thou seest the naked, see thou cloth him, and hide not thy face from thy poore neighbour, neither despise thou thine owne flesh (Isaiah 58.7). And the holy Father Tobie giueth this counsell, Giue almes (sayth hee) of thine owne goodes, and turne neuer thy face from the poore, eat thy bread with the hungry, and couer the naked with thy clothes (Tobit 4.7, 16). And the learned and godly Doctour Chrysostome giueth this admonition, Let mercifull almes be alwayes with vs as a garment, that is, as mindefull as we will be to put our garments vpon vs, to couer our nakednesse, to defend vs from the cold, and to shew our selues comely (Chrysostome, `Ad Pop. Antio. hom.'): So mindefull let vs be at all times and seasons, that wee giue almes to the poore, and shew our selues mercifull towards them. But what meane these often admonitions and earnest exhortations of the Prophets. Apostles, Fathers, and holy Doctours? Surely, as they were faythfull to Godward, and therefore discharged their duty truly, in telling vs what was GODS will: so of a singular loue to vs: ward, they laboured not only to informe vs, but also to perswade with vs, that to giue almes, and to succour the poore and needy, was a very acceptable thing, and an high sacrifice to GOD, wherein he greatly delighted, and had a singular pleasure. For so doeth the Wise man the sonne of Sirach teach vs, saying, Who so is mercifull and giueth almes, hee offereth the right thanke-offering (Wisdom of Sirach 35.1, 4, 6-7). And he addeth thereunto: The right thanke-offering, maketh the Altar fat, & a sweet smell it is before the Highest, it is acceptable before GOD, and shall neuer be forgotten.
And the truth of this doctrine is verified by the example of those holy and charitable Fathers, of whom wee reade in the Scriptures, that they were giuen to mercifull compassion towardes the poore, and charitable releeuing of their necessities. Such a one was Abraham, in whom GOD had so great pleasure, that he vouchsafed to come vnto him in forme of an Angel, and to be intertayned of him at his house. Such was his kinseman Lot, whom GOD so fauoured for receiuing his messengers into his house, which otherwise should haue lien in the street, that hee saued him, with his whole family, from the destruction of Sodome and Gomorrha. Such were the holy Fathers, Iob and Tobie, with many others, who felt most sensible proofes of GODS speciall loue towards them. And as all these by their mercifulnesse and tender compassion which they shewed to the miserable afflicted members of Christ, in the relieuing, helping and succouring them with their temporall goodes in this life, obtayned GODS fauour, and were deare, acceptable and pleasant in his sight: so now they themselues take pleasure in the fruition of GOD, in the pleasant ioyes of heauen, and are also in GODS eternall word set before vs, as perfect examples euer before our eyes, both how wee shall please GOD in this mortall life, and also how wee may come to liue in ioy with them in euerlasting pleasure and felicitie. For most true is that saying which Augustine hath, that the giuing of almes and releeuing of the poore, is the right way to heauen, Via c_li pauper, The poore man (sayth hee) is the way to heauen, . They vsed in times past, to set in hye wayes sides the picture of Mercurie, poynting with his finger which was the right way to the Towne. And we vse in crosse wayes to set vp a wodden or stone crosse, to admonish the trauayling man which way he must turne when hee commeth thither, to directe his iourney aright. But GODS word (as Saint Augustine sayth) hath set in the way to heauen the poore man and his house, so that whoso will goe aright thither, and not turne out of the way, must goe by the poore. The poore man is that Mercurie that shall set vs the ready way: and if wee looke well to this marke, we shall not wander much out of the right path. The maner of wise worldly men amongst vs is, that if they know a man of a meaner estate then themselues to be in fauour with the Prince, or any other noble man, whom they either feare or loue, such a one they will be glad to benefite and pleasure, that when they haue neede they may become their spokes man, either to obteine a commoditie, or to escape a displeasure. Now surely it ought to be a shame to vs, that worldly men for temporall things that last but for a season, should be more wise and prouident in procuring them, then wee in heauenly. Our sauiour Christ testifieth of poore men, that they are deare vnto him, and that hee loueth them especially: For hee calleth them his little ones, by a name of tender loue, he sayth they be his brethren. And Saint Iames saith, that GOD hath chosen them to be the heyres of his kingdome. Hath not GOD (sayth he) chosen the poore of this world to himselfe, to make them hereafter the rich heires of that kingdome which hee hath promised to them that loue him (James 2.5)? And wee know that the prayer which they make for vs, shalbe acceptable and regarded of GOD, their complaint shalbe heard also. Thereof doeth Iesus the sonne of Syrach certainely assure vs, saying: If the poore complaine of thee in the bitternesse of his soule, his prayer shalbe heard, euen hee that made him shall heare him (Ecclesiasticus [Wisdom of Sirach] 4.5-6). Bee courteous therefore vnto the poore. We know also, that hee who acknowledgeth himselfe to bee their master and patrone, and refuseth not to take them for his seruants, is both able to pleasure and displeasure vs, and that we stand euery houre in neede of his helpe. Why should wee then bee either negligent or vnwilling to procure their friendship and fauour, by the which also we may bee assured to get his fauour that is both able and willing to doe vs all pleasures that are for our commoditie and wealth? Christ doth declare by this, how much he accepteth our charitable affection toward the poore, in that he promiseth a reward vnto them that giue but a cup of cold water in his name to them that haue neede thereof, and that reward is the kingdome of heauen. No doubt is it therefore that GOD regardeth highly, that which he rewardeth so liberally. For he that promiseth a Princely recompence, for a beggarly beneuolence, declareth that he is more delighted with the giuing, then with the gift, and that he as much esteemeth the doing of the thing, as the fruit and commodity that commeth of it. Whoso therefore hath hitherto neglected to giue Almes, let him know that GOD now requireth it of him, and he that hath beene liberall to the poore, let him know that his godly doings are accepted, and thankefully taken at GODS hands, which he will requite with double and treble. For so sayth the Wise man: Hee which sheweth mercy to the poore, doeth lay his money in banke to the Lord, for a large interest and gaine: the gaine being chiefly the possession of the life euerlasting, through the merits of our Sauiour Iesus Christ, to whom with the Father and the Holy Ghost, bee all honour and glory for euer, AMEN.
The second part of the Sermon of Almes deedes.
YE haue heard before (dearely beloued) that to giue almes vnto the poore, and to helpe them in time of necessity, is so acceptable vnto our Sauiour Christ, that he counteth that to bee done to himselfe, that we doe for his sake vnto them. Yee haue heard also how earnestly both the Apostles, Prophets, holy Fathers, and Doctours, doe exhort vs vnto the same. And ye see how welbeloued and deare vnto GOD they were, whom the Scriptures report vnto vs to haue bin good almes men. Wherfore if either their good examples, or the wholsome counsell of godly Fathers, or the loue of Christ, whose especiall fauour wee may be assured by this meanes to obtaine may mooue vs, or doe any thing at all with vs: let vs prouide vs that from hencefoorth wee shew vnto GODward this thankefull seruice, to bee mindfull and ready to helpe them that bee poore and in misery.
Now will I this second time that I entreat of almes deedes, shew vnto you how profitable it is for vs to exercise them, and what fruit therby shall arise vnto vs, if we doe them faithfully, Our Sauiour Christ in the Gospel teacheth vs, that it profiteth a man nothing to haue in possession all the riches of the whole world, and the wealth or glory thereof, if in the meane season hee lose his soule, or doe that thing whereby it should become captiue vnto death, sin, and hell fire. By the which saying, hee not onely instructeth vs how much the soules health is to bee preferred before worldly c&omacron;modities: but it also serueth to stirre vp our minds, and to pricke vs forwards to seeke diligently, and learne by what meanes we may preserue and keepe our soules euer in safety: that is, how we may recouer our health, if it bee lost or impaired, and how it may be defended and maintained, if once we haue it. Yea, he teacheth vs also thereby to esteeme that as a precious medicine and an inestimable iewell, that hath such strength and vertue in it, that can either procure or preserue so incomparable a treasure. For if we greatly regard that medicine or salue that is able to heale sundry and grieuous diseases of the body: much more will wee esteeme that which hath like power ouer the soule. And because wee might be better assured both to know and to haue in readines that so profitable a remedy: he, as a most faithfull & louing teacher, sheweth himselfe both what it is, and where we may finde it, and how we may vse and apply it. For when both he & his disciples were grieuously accused of the Pharisees, to haue defiled their soules in breaking the constitutions of the Elders, because they went to meate, & washed not their hands before, according to the custome of the Iewes: Christ answering their superstitious complaint, teacheth them an especiall remedy how to keepe cleane their soules, notwithstanding the breach of such superstitious orders: Giue almes (saith hee) and behold all things are cleane vnto you (Luke 11.41). He teacheth them, that to bee mercifull and charitable in helping the poore, is the meanes to keepe the soule pure and cleane in the sight of GOD. Wee are taught therefore by this, that mercifull almes dealing, is profitable to purge the soule from the infection and filthie spottes or sinne. The same lesson doeth the holy Ghost also teach in sundry places of the Scripture, saying, Mercifulnesse and almes giuing purgeth from all sinnes, and deliuereth from death, and suffereth not the soule to come into darkenes (Tobit 4.10). A great confidence may they haue before the high GOD, that shewe mercie and compassion to them that are afflicted. The wise preacher the sonne of Sirach confirmeth the same, when hee saith, That as water quencheth burning fire, euen so mercie and almes resisteth and reconcileth sinnes (Ecclesiasticus 3.30). And sure it is, that mercifulnesse quaileth the heate of sinne so much, that they shall not take holde vpon man to hurte him, or if yee haue by any infirmitie or weakenesse beene touched and annoyed with them, straightwayes shall mercifulnesse wipe and wash away, as salues and remedies to heale their sores and grieuous diseases. And thereupon that holy father Cyprian taketh good occasion to exhort earnestly to the mercifull worke of giuing almes and helping the poore, and there he admonisheth to consider how wholsome and profitable it is to releeue the needy, and helpe the afflicted, by the which wee may purge our sinnes, and heale our wounded soules.
But yet some will say vnto mee, If almes giuing, and our charitable workes towards the poore, be able to wash away sinnes, to reconcile vs to GOD, to deliuer vs from the perill of damnation, and make vs the sonnes and heires of GODS kingdome: then are Christes merits defaced, and his blood shed in vaine, then are we iustified by workes and by our deeds may we merite heauen, then do we in vaine beleeue that Christ dyed for to put away our sinnes, and that he rose for our iustification, as Saint Paul teacheth. But yee shall vnderstand (dearely beloued) that neither those places of the Scripture before alledged, neither the doctrine of the blessed martyr Cyprian, neither any other godly and learned man, when they, in extolling the dignity, profite, fruit, and effect of vertuous and liberall almes, doe say that it washeth away sinnes, and bringeth vs to the fauour of GOD, doe meane, that our worke and charitable deede, is the originall cause of our acception before GOD, or that for the dignity or worthines therof, our sinnes may be washed away, and we purged and cleansed of all the spottes of our iniquitie: for that were indeede to deface Christ, and to defraude him of his glory. But they meane this, and this is the vnderstanding of those and such like sayinges: that GOD of his mercy and speciall fauour towards them whom he hath appointed to euerlasting saluation, hath so offered his grace especially, and they haue so receiued it fruitfully, that although by reason of their sinfull liuing outwardly, they seemed before to haue beene the children of wrath and perdition, yet now the Spirit of GOD mightily working in them, vnto obedience to GODS will and commandements, they declare by their outward deeds and life, in the shewing of mercy, and charity (which cannot come but of the spirit of GOD, and his especiall grace) that they are the vndoubted children of GOD, appointed to euerlasting life. And so, as by their wickednesse and vngodly liuing, they shewed themselues according to the iudgement of men, which follow the outward appearance, to be reprobates and castawayes: So now by their obedience vnto GODS holy will, and by their mercifulnesse and tender pity (wherin they shew themselues to be like vnto GOD, who is the fountaine and spring of all mercy) they declare openly and manifestly vnto the sight of men, that they are the sonnes of GOD, and elect of him vnto saluation. For as the good fruit is not the cause that the tree is good, but the tree must first be good before it can bring foorth good fruite: so the good deeds of man are not the cause that maketh men good, but he is first made good, by the spirit and grace of GOD that effectually worketh in him, and afterward he bringeth foorth good fruites. And then as the good fruite doeth argue the goodnesse of the tree, so doeth the good and mercifull deed of the man, argue and certainely prooue the goodnesse of him that doeth it, according to Christes sayings: Yee shall know them by their fruites. And if any man will obiect, that euill and noughty men doe sometimes by their deeds appeare to bee verie godly and vertuous: I will answere, so doeth the crab and choke peare seeme outwardly to haue sometime as faire a redde, and as mellowe a colour, as the fruite that is good indeede. But hee that will bite and take a taste, shall easily iudge betwixt the sower bitternesse of the one, and the sweete sauorinesse of the other. And as the true Christian man, in thankefulnesse of his heart, for the redemption of his soule purchased by Christes death, sheweth kindly by the fruite of his faith, his obedience to GOD: so the other as a merchant with GOD, doth all for his owne gaine, thinking to win heauen by the merite of his workes, and so defaceth and obscureth the price of Christs blood, who onely wrought our purgation. The meaning then of these sayings in the Scriptures and other holy writings: "Almes deedes doe washe away our sinnes," and, "mercie to the poore doth blot out our offences", is, that we doing these things according to GODS will and our duetie, haue our sinnes indeede washed away, and our offences blotted out: not for the worthinesse of them, but by the grace of GOD which worketh all in all, and that for the promise that GOD hath made to them that are obedient vnto his commandement, that hee which is the trueth, might be iustified in performing the trueth, due to his true promise. Almes deedes do wash away our sinnes, because GOD doeth vouchsafe then to repute vs as cleane and pure, when we doe them for his sake, and not because they deserue or merit our purging, or for that they haue any such strength and vertue in themselues. I know that some men, too much addict to the aduancing of their workes, will not be contented with this answere, and no maruaile, for such men can no answere content or suffice. Wherefore leauing them to their owne wilfull sense, we will rather haue regarde to the reasonable and godly, who as they most certainely know and perswade themselues, that all goodnesse, all bountie, all mercie, all benefites, all forgiuenesse of sinnes, and whatsoeuer can bee named good and profitable, either for the body or for the soule, do come onely of GODS mercie and meere fauoure, and not of themselues: So though they doe neuer so many and so excellent good deedes, yet are they neuer puft vp with the vaine confidence of them. And though they heare and read in GODS word, and other where in godly mens works, that almes deedes, mercie, and charitablenesse doth wash away sinne, and blot out iniquitie: yet doe they not arrogantly and proudly sticke and trust vnto them, or brag themselues of them, as the proud Pharisee did, lest with the Pharisee they should bee condemned: but rather, with the humble and poore Publicane confesse themselues sinfull wretches, vnworthy to looke vp to heauen, calling and crauing for mercie, that with the Publicane they may bee pronounced of Christ to bee iustified. The godly doe learne that when the Scriptures say, that by good and mercifull works, wee are reconciled to GODS fauour: wee are taught then to know what Christ by his intercession and mediation obtaineth for vs of his Father, when we be obedient to his will, yea, they learne in such maner of speaking a comfortable argument of GODS singular fauour and loue, that attributeth that vnto vs and to our doings, that hee by his spirit worketh in vs, and through his grace procureth for vs. And yet this notwithstanding, they cry out with Saint Paul, Oh wretches that wee are: and acknowledge (as Christ teacheth) that when they haue all done, they are but vnprofitable seruants: and with the blessed king Dauid, in respect of the iust iudgements of GOD, they doe tremble, and say: Who shall be able to abide it, Lord, if thou wilt giue sentence according to our deserts? Thus they humble themselues, and are exalted of GOD: they count themselues vile, and of GOD are counted pure and cleane: they condemne themselues, and are iustified of GOD: they thinke themselues, vnworthy of the earth, and of GOD are thought worthy of heauen. Thus by GODS word are they truely taught how to thinke rightly of mercifull dealing of almes, and of GODS especiall mercy and goodnesse are made pertakers of those fruites that his word hath promised. Let vs then follow their examples, and both shew obediently in our life those workes of mercy that wee are commanded, and haue that right opinion and iudgement of them that we are taught, and we shall in like maner, as they, be made partakers, and feele the fruites and rewards that follow such godly liuing, so shall we know by proofe what profit and commodity doth come of giuing of almes, & succouring of the poore.
The third part of the Homily of Almes deedes.
YEe haue already heard two parts of this treatise of almes deedes. The first, how pleasant and acceptable before GOD the doing of them is, the second, how much it behooueth vs, and how profitable it is to apply our selues vnto them. Now in the third part will I take away that let that hindereth many from doing them. There be many that when they heare how acceptable a thing in the sight of GOD the giuing of almes is, and how much GOD extendeth his fauour towards them that are mercifull, and what fruites and commodities doeth come to them by it, they wish very gladly with themselues that they also might obteine these benefites, and be counted such of GOD as whom he would loue or doe for. But yet these men are with greedie couetousnesse so puld backe, that they will not bestow one halfepeny or one peece of bread, that they might be thought worthy of GODS benefites, and so to come into his fauour. For they are euermore fearefull, and doubting, lest by often giuing, although it were but a little at a time, they should consume their goods, and so impouerish themselues, that euen themselues at the length should not be able to liue, but should be driuen to begge, and liue of other mens almes. And thus they seeke excuses to withhold themselues from the fauour of GOD, and chuse with pinching couetousnesse, rather to leane vnto the deuill, then by charitable mercifulnesse, either to come vnto Christ, or to suffer Christ to come vnto them. Oh that wee had some cunning and skilfull Physition that were able to purge them of this so pestilent an humour, that so sore infecteth, not their bodies, but their mindes, and so by corrupting their soules, bringeth their bodies and soules into danger of hell fire. Now lest there bee any such among vs (dearely beloued) let vs diligently search for that Physition, which is Iesus Christ, and earnestly labour that of his mercy hee will truely instruct vs, and giue vs a present remedy against so perillous a disease. Hearken then, whosoeuer thou art that fearest lest by giuing to the poore thou shouldest bring thy selfe to beggery. That which thou takest from thy selfe to bestow vpon Christ, can neuer be consumed and wasted away. Wherein thou shalt not beleeue me, but if thou haue faith, and be a true Christian, beleeue the holy Ghost, giue credite to the authoritie of GODS word that thus teacheth. For thus sayth the holy Ghost by Salomon: He that giueth vnto the poore, shall neuer want. Men suppose that by hoording and laying vp still, they shall at length be rich, and that by distributing and laying out, although it be for most necessary and godly vses, they shalbe brought to pouerty. But the holy Ghost, which knoweth all trueth, teacheth vs another lesson, contrary to this. Hee teacheth vs that there is a kinde of dispending that shall neuer diminish the stocke, and a kinde of sauing that shall bring a man to extreme pouertie. For where he sayth, that the good almes-man shall neuer haue scarsitie, hee addeth: But he that turneth away his eyes from such as be in necessity, shall suffer great pouerty himselfe. How farre different then is the iudgement of man, from the iudgement of the holy Ghost? The holy Apostle Paul, a man full of the holy Ghost, and made priuie euen of the secret will of GOD teacheth: that the liberall almes-giuer shall not thereby bee impouerished. He that ministreth (saith he) seede vnto the sower, will minister also bread vnto you for foode, yea, he will multiply your seede, and encrease the fruits of your righteousnesse (2 Corinthians 9.10). He is not content to aduertise them that they shall not lacke, but he sheweth them also in what sort GOD wil prouide for them. Euen as he prouided seed for the sower in multiplying it, and giuing great increase: so he wil multiply their goods, and increase them, that there shall be great abundance. And lest we should thinke his sayings to be but words and not trueth, we haue an example thereof in the third booke of Kings, which doth confirme and seale it vp as a most certaine trueth. The poore widow that receiued the banished Prophet of GOD, Elias, when as she had but a handfull of meale in a vessel, and a little oyle in a cruse, whereof she would make a cake for her selfe and her sonne, that after they had eaten that, they might die, because in that great famine there was no more foode to bee gotten: yet when she gaue part thereof to Elias, and defrauded her owne hungry belly mercifully to relieue him, she was so blessed of GOD, that neither the meale nor the oyle was consumed all the time while that famine did last, but thereof both the Prophet Elias, shee, and her sonne, were sufficiently nourished and had enough.
Oh consider this example yee vnbeleeuing and faithlesse couetous persons, who discredite GODS worde, and thinke his power diminished! This poore woman, in the time of an extreme and long dearth had but one handefull of meale and a little cruse of oyle, her onely sonne was readie to perish before her face for hunger, and shee her selfe like to pine away: and yet when the poore Prophet came and asked part, she was so mindefull of mercifulnesse, that she forgate her owne miserie, and rather then shee would omit the occasion giuen to giue almes, and worke a worke of righteousnesse, shee was content presently to hazard her owne and her sonnes life. And you, who haue great plenty of meates and drinkes, great store of motheaten apparel, yea, many of you great heapes of gold and siluer, and he that hath least, hath more then sufficient, now in this time, when (thankes bee to GOD) no great famine doeth oppresse you, your children being well clothed and well fed, and no danger of death for famine to bee feared, will rather cast doubts and perils of vnlikely penury, then you will part with any peece of your superfluities, to helpe and succour the poore, hungry, and naked Christ, that commeth to your doores a begging. This poore & seely widow neuer cast doubts in all her miserie what wants she her selfe should haue, shee neuer distrusted the promise that GOD made to her by the Prophet, but straightway went about to relieue the hungry Prophet of GOD, yea, preferring his necessity before her owne. But we, like vnbeleeuing wretches, before we will giue one mite, wee will cast a thousand doubtes of danger, whether that will stand vs in any stead, that we giue to the poore, whether we should not haue need of it at any other time, & whether heere it would not haue been more profitably bestowed. So that it is more hard to wrench a strong nayle (as the prouerbe sayth) out of a poste, then to wring a farthing out of our fingers. There is neither the feare nor the loue of GOD before our eyes, we will more esteeme a mite, then we either desire GODS kingdome, or feare the Diuels dungeon. Hearken therefore ye mercilesse misers, what will bee the end of this your vnmercifull dealing. As certainely as GOD nourished this poore widow in the time of famine, and increased her little store, so that shee had enough, and felt no penury when other pined away: so certainely shall GOD plague you with pouerty in the middest of plenty. Then when other haue abundance and be fed at full, you shall vtterly waste and consume away your selues, your store shall bee destroyed, your goods pluckt from you, all your glory and wealth shall perish: and that which when you had, you might haue enioyed your selfe in peace, and might haue bestowed vpon other most godly, yee shall seeke with sorrow and sighes, and no where shall finde it. For your vnmercifulnesse towards other, ye shall finde no man that will shew mercy towards you. You that had stony hearts towards other, shall finde all the creatures of GOD, to youward as hard as brasse and yron. Alas, what fury and madnesse doth possesse our mindes, that in a matter of trueth and certainety, wee will not giue credit to the trueth, testifying vnto that which is most certaine. Christ sayth, that if wee will first seeke the kingdome of GOD, and doe the workes of righteousnesse thereof, we shall not be left destitute, all other things shalbe giuen to vs plenteously. Nay say we, I will first looke that I be able to liue my selfe, and bee sure that I haue enough for mee and mine, and if I haue any thing ouer, I will bestow it to get GODS fauour, and the poore shall then haue part with me.
See I pray you the peruerse iudgement of men, we haue more care to nourish the carcasse, then wee haue feare to see our soule perish. And as Cyprian sayth, whilest we stand in doubt lest our goods fayle, in being ouer liberall, we put it out of doubt, that our life and health fayleth, in not being liberall at all (Cyprian, `Sermon. de Eleemosina'">Sermon.). Whilest wee are carefull for diminishing of our stocke, we are altogether carelesse to diminish our selues. We loue Mammon, and loose our soules. Wee feare least our patrimony should perish from vs, but we feare not lest we should perish for it. Thus doe wee peruersly loue that, which we should hate, and hate that we should loue, we be negligent where we should bee carefull, and carefull where wee neede not. Thus vaine feare to lacke our selues if we giue to the poore, is much like the feare of children and fooles, which when they see the bright glimmering of a glasse, they doe imagine straightway that it is the lightning and yet the brightnesse of a glasse neuer was the lightning. Euen so, when we imagine that by spending vpon the poore, a man may come to pouerty, we are cast into a vaine feare, for we neuer heard or knew, that by that meanes any man came to misery, and was left destitute, and not considered of GOD. Nay we read to the contrary in the Scripture (as I haue before shewed, and as by infinite testimonies and examples may bee prooued) that whosoeuer serueth GOD faithfully and vnfeinedly in any vocation, GOD will not suffer him to decay, much lesse to perish. The holy Ghost teacheth vs by Salomon, that the Lord will not suffer the soule of the righteous to perish for hunger (Proverbs 10.3). And therefore Dauid sayth vnto all them that are mercifull: O feare the Lord yee that bee his Saints, for they that feare him lacke nothing (Psalms 34.1). The Lions doe lack and suffer hunger, but they which seeke the Lord shall want no manner of thing that is good. When Elias was in the desert, GOD fed him by the ministery of a Rauen, that euening and morning brought him sufficient victualles (1 Kings 17.4-6). When Daniel was shut vp in the Lions denne, GOD prepared meat for him, and sent it thither to him: And there was the saying of Dauid fulfilled, The Lions doe lacke and suffer hunger, but they which seeke the Lord, shall want no good thing (Psalms 34.10). For while the Lions, which should haue beene fed with his flesh, roared for hunger and desire of their pray, whereof they had no power, although it were present before them, he in the meane time was fresh fed from GOD, that should with his flesh haue filled the Lions. So mightily doth GOD worke to preserue and maintaine those whom he loueth, so carefull is hee also to feede them who in any state or vocation doe vnfeinedly serue him. And shall we now thinke that he will be vnmindfull of vs, if wee bee obedient to his word, and according to his will haue pity on the poore? He giueth vs all wealth before we doe any seruice for it: and will he see vs lacke necessaries when we doe him true seruice? Can a man thinke that he that feedeth Christ, can be forsaken of Christ, and left without food? Or will Christ denie earthly things vnto them whom he promiseth heauenly things for his true seruice? It cannot be therefore (deare brethren) that by giuing of almes, we should at any time want our selues, or that we which releeue other mens need, should our selues bee oppressed with penury. It is contrary to GODS word, it repugneth with his promise, it is against Christs property and nature to suffer it, it is the crafty surmise of the Diuell to perswade vs it. Wherefore sticke not to giue almes freely, and trust notwithstanding, that GODS goodnesse will minister vnto vs sufficiency and plenty, so long as we shall liue in this transitory life, and after our dayes heere well spent in his seruice, and the loue of our brethren, we shalbe crowned with euerlasting glory, to raigne with Christ our Sauiour in heauen, to whom with the Father and the holy Ghost, be all honour and glory for euer. Amen.
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