The Duty of Almsgiving

Duty of Almsgiving

William Perkins
Exposition of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount
3rd Branch, 5th Example, Point 2, Matthew 5:42.

Give to him that asketh; and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not away” (Mat. 5:42). Christ, having forbidden private revenge, does here command the requital of good for evil in two particular examples of well-doing, taken from giving and lending, by both which, though not expressly, yet in sense and meaning Christ would teach His hearers thus much: let the man be what he will, do you good unto him for evil.

Example 1

For the first, “Give to him that asketh, etc.” These words must not be taken simply, but in this sense: give to him that asks on a just cause being poor, though he cannot requite you again, nay, though he had done you wrong, and were your enemy. This exposition is plain, for having set down His commandment for giving (Luke 6:30), He renders this reason thereof in effect: “because they cannot requite thee again” (v. 33), which plainly imports that it must be to the poor.

Almsgiving a duty.

Here now, first, observe the form of Christ’s words. They are commanding, “Give to him, etc.,” whence I gather that a man is bound in conscience upon the pain of death to give alms and relief (Matt. 25:41–42). Christ adjudges some to hell for the neglect of this duty. Now there could be no such curse, if there were no commandment that did bind their conscience to do that for want whereof they are condemned. Again, in the sixth commandment, we are bound to do all duties that may preserve our neighbor’s life, of which sort is giving relief unto the poor, without which they cannot live. If it be said that Daniel made alms-deeds no commandment, but a matter of counsel unto Nebuchadnezzar [Dan. 4:24], I answer that things commanded may be propounded by way of counsel. So does Christ to the church of Laodicea, “I counsel thee to buy of me gold, etc.” [Rev. 3:18]. Again, Daniel used this form of speech to the king, “Let my counsel be precious unto thee,” not because it was no commandment, but because he would so temper his speech that it might better take place in the stout heart of this proud king. And when as Paul speaking of alms says, “he speaketh not by commandment” (2 Cor. 8:8), it is to be understood not simply of almsgiving, but of the measure thereof, as the former verse does plainly show.

We may not do with our own what we will.

The Use. Here then we see those men confuted which say they may do with their own what they will. This is not so, for men’s goods are not their own simply, but God’s also; and they indeed are but the Lord’s stewards to dispose of them as He commands. Now His will is that part thereof should be given to them which want.

Secondly, we see here also that those men sin grievously who are so covetous that they will give nothing to the poor. Sell they will, and lend also upon a good pawn for their own advantage, but by free gift they will part with nothing. These are miserable persons, who do what they can to condemn themselves, for God’s commandment binds men in conscience to give unto the poor, and that freely. Yet here we must know that not only they who give freely do a work of mercy, but also they who lend and sell, when as their lending and selling will as much profit the poor as giving. This in effect is alms-deeds here also commanded; and therefore Joseph is commended, not only for giving, but for selling some to the Egyptians and others in the time of dearth.

Thirdly, this being a commandment binding conscience, must stir us up to do all good duties of relief with cheerfulness, so that meet and decent provision for the poor may not only be begun, but also continued, for it is acceptable unto God.

A second point here to be observed is what kind of commandment this is: “Give to him that asketh.” God’s commandments be of two sorts: affirmative and negative. And in the moral law the one is always comprehended in the other. Now this commandment is affirmative, which must be noted, because negative precepts lay a straiter bond upon the conscience than the affirmative; and therefore are the precepts of the moral law for the most part propounded negatively. For the negative precept binds a man to obedience always and to all and every time; as when God says, “Thou shalt not kill,” a man is never exempted from obedience hereunto. But an affirmative commandment, though it bind always, yet not to all times, as this of Christ for giving alms. It binds not all men, but only those that are enabled to give; nor yet the rich to all times, but then only when just occasion of giving is offered. And the same may be said of every affirmative commandment, as of keeping a holy rest unto the Lord, it binds a man forever, but not at all times, only for the seventh day, and such like.

Yet further to lay open this commandment touching alms, we will herein handle eight points: first, who is to give; second, what is to be given; third, to whom we must give; fourth, in what order; fifth, how much; sixth, in what place; seventh, at what time; eighth, in what manner we must give.

Who must give?

Point 1. For the first, the person that is to give is not everyone, but such as God has set apart for this duty, for some are there made to receive, as the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, etc., and others are made fit to give clothing, food, comfort, and such like (Matt. 25:42–43). And Saint John tells us who is made fit to give, namely, “he that hath the goods of this world” [1 John 3:17]; not only he that has abundance, but even he that has but a small portion of worldly goods. And therefore the thief that stole for want is “forbidden to steal, and commanded to labor, that he may have to give to him that wanteth” [Eph. 4:28]; and the poor widow is commended of Christ, that “of her penury [i.e. extreme poverty] gave to the treasury but two mites” [Luke 21:2–3]. Now in a giver there must be two things: first, a right unto the goods he gives, for a man may not give that which is not his own; secondly, a present full propriety in the things he gives (unless it be in the case of necessity), and by this are children and servants excluded from giving, unless they have some things of their own, or do it by command.

Question. Whether may the wife give relief unto the poor without her husband’s consent? An ancient answer is this: that many wives in giving are Abigails in regard of their husbands, who are like unto Nabal, and therefore may give. And yet some other ancient divines add this: that the wife cannot give, where all consent of her husband is wanting, because both she and all her possessions belong unto him principally. Yet here we are to know that there is a double consent of the husband: expressed in open words, whereupon there is no question but the wife may lawfully give; and secret, which is threefold: first, when the husband does not dissent; secondly, when he gives consent generally, as when he allows her to give, but names not any particular; thirdly, when the wife has a probable conjecture and presumption that if her husband did know he would allow of her giving. And in these cases of secret consent, the wife may also give; but if she has not his consent any of these ways, she may not lawfully give, unless in these cases: first, that she has something private of her own, either by exception before or by grant after marriage; second, that her giving serves to preserve the life or good estate of her husband and family, as Abigail’s did when she gave to David; third, that the necessity of the receiver requires present relief for extreme necessity dispenses with propriety.

Alms described.

Point 2. What is to be given? Namely, alms. Here two questions are to be scanned: first, what is alms; second, whereof alms are to be raised. For the first, alms is a free gift, tending to preserve the temporal life of our neighbor. First, I call it a gift, understanding it largely, because for giving to them that are not able to pay, is an alms-deed. Secondly, I say free, to distinguish it from subsidies to princes, and tenths-giving for the stipend of the minister, and such like. These are gifts, but not free gifts, for the people receive protection from the magistrate for their subsidies, and instruction from the minister for their tenths. Thirdly, I say the end of alms is to preserve temporal life, to distinguish it from spiritual gifts, which concern the soul. The papists make all works of mercy whether they concern the body or soul to be alms, but alms properly are gifts that tend to preserve this natural temporal life.

Whereof must alms be raised.

Question. Whereof are alms to be raised? Answer. First, of our own goods, for a man ought not to give that which is another man’s; and therefore those that owe more than they are worth cannot give alms, but are rather fit to receive, for all that they have in right and conscience belongs to some others.

Secondly, our alms must be our first-fruits [Prov. 3:9]: things wholesome and good, and such as are fit for the person relieved. They must not be the refuse of our goods, which we know not else what to do with: “Part of the fat, and of the sweet must be sent to them, for whom none is provided” (Neh. 8:10).

Thirdly, alms must be of goods lawfully gotten, for evil gotten goods must be restored, either to the owner (if he be known) or to some of his kindred, or to the magistrate, which shows that the usurer ought rather to restore than to give alms of his gain for usury.

Temporal goods distinguished.

Fourthly, our alms must be given of our own with difference and discretion. Every man’s goods for the most part may be distinguished into four degrees: first, some are necessary to preserve life, without which a man and his family cannot live; secondly, some are necessary to man’s estate, as those goods by which a man puts in practice the duties of his calling, such are books unto the student, and tools unto the tradesman; a third sort are such as are requisite for the decency of a man’s estate, and such are those that make a man walk in his calling with comfort, ease, profit, and delight; the fourth sort of things are superfluous, that is, all that portion which a man may want, and yet have things necessary for this life and estate, and for the decency thereof.

Two degrees of poverty.

These last two degrees are in Scripture called abundance. And answerably, there are two degrees of poverty: the first is common want, when a man can live without receiving alms, but yet very hardly; the second is extreme want, when a man without relief cannot possibly maintain life. Now in common want we must give of our abundance; that is, both of our superfluity, as also of our riches that serve for decency: “He which hath two coats, let him part with him that has none” (Luke 3:11). Now he that has two coats is not he that has a coat and a cloak, for so had Paul, and yet retained them both lawfully for his use [2 Tim. 4:13]. But Christ’s meaning is that he which has things necessary, and besides something over, serving for decency and superfluity, must give thereof to him that lacks. And in extreme necessity, he must give of those goods which pertain necessarily to his life and estate, for our neighbor’s life must be preferred before our own temporal goods, and outward estate. Paul testifies of the Macedonians, “that in the extreme necessity of the saints, they gave to their power, yea and beyond their power” [2 Cor. 8:3]. Upon this ground the Christians in the primitive church, “sold their possessions for the relieving of the poor brethren in extreme want” [Acts 4:34], rather diminishing their own temporal estate than suffering the poor to want that were in extreme necessity. This rule ought always to be regarded and practiced, especially in times of want.

As for those that make advantage of a dearth, and enrich themselves by God’s judgment on the poor, they are most miserable and wretched people, quite void of every spark of that gracious disposition which was in Christ, who being “rich,” even King of heaven and earth, “made himself poor that through his poverty he might make others rich” [2 Cor. 8:9]. It is the will of God that we should bear one another’s burdens, and help to lift up the poor that are pressed down with the judgment of God, which we shall do, when we give not only of our abundance in common want, but even of our necessaries in the extreme want of the poor.

Point 3. To whom must we give? Answer. To the poor; this needs no proof, yet in these poor two things are required. First, they must be truly poor; that is, such as are indeed either in common or extreme want; and of such poor Saint John says, “If any have this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, if he shut up his compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” [1 John 3:17]. Secondly, they must be such as cannot help themselves: “If thy brother be impoverished, and have a trembling hand, thou shalt relieve him” (Lev. 25:35). The man of “a trembling hand” is one that is not able to maintain himself; of this sort are orphans, widows, the aged, sick, blind, lame, maimed in service, and such like, all these must be relieved. But the case stands otherwise with that kind of poor, which we call “lusty beggars,” who are able to provide for themselves, if they would take pains. Saint Paul’s rule belongs to them, “If they will not work, they must not eat” [2 Thess. 3:10]; that is, they must not be maintained on the alms of the church.

Of giving to lusty beggars.

Question 1. What must such lusty poor do? Answer. They must be employed in some lawful calling, wherein they may labor to get their own bread, and not eat the common food of those that are poor indeed. For the church and commonwealth are as a man’s body, wherein every member has his several office for the good of the whole body; and indeed every man should have not only a general calling of a Christian, but a particular calling also, wherein he must employ himself for the common good. It is against the Word of God, and the light of nature, that any should live having nothing to do. Adam in his innocence was enjoined to work in the garden; and our Savior Christ before His baptism, lived under His father in a particular calling, till He was thirty years old [Luke 2:51 with Mark 6:3], whose examples we must follow.

Question 2. What is our duty towards these lusty beggars? Answer. From Paul’s rule we may gather that we must not ordinarily and of custom relieve them [2 Thess. 3:10]. Indeed upon present necessity they are to be relieved, but yet with this advertisement: that they look not for it again, but that they provide for themselves by laboring in some lawful calling. For this common relieving at men’s doors makes so many idle vagabonds and rogues as there are.

The order of giving alms.

Point 4. In what order must we give our alms for distinction of persons? Answer. Touching order in relieving, the Holy Ghost has laid down three rules: first, by Saint Paul, “He that provideth not for his own, and namely for them of his household, is worse than an infidel” [1 Tim. 5:8], whence this order may be observed, that first, a man must give to them that be of his own household and family; second, to his own blood, kindred, and alliance; third, unto strangers. The second rule is this: “Do good unto all, but especially to the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10): first, believers must be relieved, and then all others, good or bad. The third rule is given by Moses, “We must first relieve our own poor” (Deut. 15:10), that is, such as live among us, “and then give unto strangers,” if our ability will afford, and their necessity does require.

Of the quantity of our alms.

Point 5. How much must we give? Touching the measure of our alms, there is no particular commandment in Scripture, but yet these general rules may thence be gathered. Rule 1. A man is not bound to give all that he has: “Drink the waters of thine own cistern, and flowing streams out of the midst of thine own well; let thy fountains disperse themselves abroad” (Prov. 5:15–16). Where under an allegory borrowed from waters, the Holy Ghost directs a man for the disposing of his riches, as namely, comfortably to enjoy his own goods, and yet to bestow some part thereof on them that want. And “Let him that hath two coats give (not both) but one to him that wanteth” (Luke 3:11). Where we see them justly rebuked that in prodigality do riotously lavish and spend all that they have, for if a man may not give all, much less may he spend all willfully. Rule 2. A man must not so give to others that he himself be grieved, and they be eased altogether (2 Cor. 8:13). Rule 3. Alms must be according to the giver’s ability, and withal answerable to the necessity of the poor, whether in food, raiment, or harbor. So Paul says, speaking of common relief, “The ministration of this service, supplieth the necessity of the saints” [2 Cor. 9:12]; and Saint James requires that in relief such things be given “as be needful to the body” [James 2:16]; and “If thy brother be poor, thou shalt open thy hand unto him, and lend him sufficient for his need which he hath” (Deut. 15:8).

Relieving wandering beggars a great disorder.

Point 6. In what place must alms be given? Touching the place, we must know this: that it is a disorder not beseeming God’s church to give relief to wandering beggars at our doors. This may appear by these reasons: first, it is God’s commandment, “that among his people there should be no such beggars” [Deut. 15:4]. If any man asks how the poor were then relieved, I answer, God took sufficient order for their provision, for first, the husbandman “must not gather his grapes clean, nor yet his cornfield, but leave the after-gathering and gleaning for the poor” [Lev. 19:9]. Secondly, besides the “yearly tenths for the priests and Levites” [Num. 18:26], every “three years tenths were to be gathered and kept for the poor, and for strangers” [Deut. 14:28–29]. Thirdly, every seventh year the land was to rest, and all that it brought forth that year, with the fruit of vineyards and olives was for the poor (Ex. 23:11). Again, in the New Testament the “apostles ordained” [Acts 6:3] that in every church there should be deacons; that is, men of wisdom and discretion, who were to gather for the poor, and likewise to dispose of that which was given, according as every man had need; in which every order of provision for the poor, the Lord forbids all wandering begging.

Second, these wandering beggars are the shame and reproach of the people where they are suffered, for it argues want of care of good order in governors and want of mercy in the rich that they gather all to themselves without regard how the poor should live.

Third, in relieving these wandering beggars, there is this double want in the giver: he cannot tell what to give nor how much, because he knows not the state of the party that begs. Now in alms-deeds there ought to be a double discretion: the giver ought to know both his own ability, and also the necessity of the receivers.

Fourth, common relieving at men’s doors makes many beggars, and maintains a wicked generation, for these wandering beggars are for the most part flat atheists, regarding nothing but their belly, separating themselves from all congregations; and from begging many fall to stealing; or else they take such pleasure therein that they will never leave it, no not for a yearly rent. This is known to be true by experience. All which things duly considered must move the magistrates, and every other in their place, to see that better order be observed for the poor than door-relieving to all that come. And since good laws are made in this behalf, men ought in conscience to see the same observed and kept; neither can any man without sin transgress the same. Indeed if good order were not provided for the poor, it were better to relieve them in their wandering course than to suffer them to starve. For so dealt Christ and His disciples with the poor, when good order failed among the Jews, they relieved them in the highways and streets.

Point 7. At what time must alms be given? Answer. Hereof the Scripture speaks little, yet this may be gathered thence: first, that relief must be given when present occasion requires. Therefore Solomon says, “Say not to thy neighbor, Go and come again tomorrow, if thou now have it” [Prov. 3:28]. Secondly, that the Sabbath day is a fit time for the giving of relief for the poor, for the apostle “commanded the Corinthians” [1 Cor. 16:1–2], that each one should lay aside upon that day, according as God had prospered him the week before, that which he would give for the poor; where by the way, it may be observed that daily giving at men’s doors was not allowed by the apostles. Also touching tradesmen this may be added: from this, that the apostle makes contribution for the poor a Sabbath day’s work; that whereas they used to employ part of the Lord’s day, both morning and evening in serving their customers for their own private benefit, this cannot be warranted. Only this they may do: upon the Sabbath they should sell unto none, but to such as buy of necessity, and then they may not make a private gain of their sale, but must turn that work to a work of mercy for the poor, either selling without gain if it be a poor body that buys, or giving the gain of that which they sell to the rich for the relief of the poor. This indeed will hardly be obtained at tradesmen’s hands, but yet they must know that the whole Sabbath day is the Lord’s, wherein He will be worshipped with delight, neither ought men to do therein their own works, nor seek their own wills, nor speak their own words (Isa. 58:13).

Point 8. In what manner must alms be given? Answer. Hereof more is to be spoken in the chapter following, yet from this text these things may be observed: first, that alms-giving must be free; the giver must neither look for recompense at the hands of man nor think to merit anything thereby at the hands of God. That popish conceit deprives a man of the true comfort of the Spirit in this work of mercy; none but Christ by His obedience could ever merit at God’s hands. Secondly, our hearts in giving must be touched with charity, and the bowels of compassion; we must give with cheerfulness, for “without love all that we give is nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3), and “the Lord loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Now if we consider the poor as our own flesh, and see God’s image in them, this will move us to pity. Thirdly, in the person of the poor we must consider Christ Jesus, and give unto them as we would give unto Christ. This will move us to give, and that cheerfully, for in the day of judgment Christ will make it known that He comes for relief to the rich in the person of the poor. To the merciless He will say, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to them, ye did it not to me” [Matt. 25:45]; but to the merciful thus, “Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” [Matt. 25:40]. Fourthly, our alms must be given as a pledge of our thankfulness unto God for the blessings we enjoy, for all we have comes from God, “and of his hands it is, whatsoever we give” [1 Chron. 29:14]. Now He professes that when men “do good, and distribute to the poor, he is well pleased with such sacrifices” [Heb. 13:16].

Motives to alms-giving.

Having seen what this duty of alms-giving is, and how it must be performed, we must now stir up ourselves to put the same in practice. And to move us hereunto consider the reasons following: first, we all desire to be counted righteous. Now if we would be such indeed, we must “visit the fatherless and widows,” we must “do good, and give alms to the poor,” for “this is pure religion and undefiled before God,” as Saint James says [1:27]. To come to the church and hear the Word and to receive the sacraments are good things, but without mercy to the poor they are not regarded, but hated of God (Isa. 1:13–15).

Secondly, if a man should offer unto us a piece of ground to manure and till for our own reaping, we would take it kindly and bestow both pains and seed upon it; behold, the poor are sent of God to the rich as a piece of ground to be tilled, and when they give to the poor, they sow upon the ground. Now as Paul says in this case, “look as a man soweth so shall he reap” [2 Cor. 3:6]; we therefore must sow liberally that we may also reap liberally.

Thirdly, “He that hath mercy upon the poor, lendeth unto the Lord” (Prov. 19:17). We would easily be moved to lend, if we had an honest man to be surety unto us, for returning of our own with advantage. Well, the Lord offers Himself to the rich to be surety for the poor. Who then will fear to lend having so good a debtor?

Fourthly, if these promises will not move us, let us consider the fearful curses threatened against the merciless and hard-hearted, for as “he that giveth to the poor shall not lack, so he that hideth his eyes from them shall have many curses” (Prov. 28:27), “and he that stoppeth his ears at the crying of the poor, he shall cry and not be heard” (Prov. 21:13), and the woeful sentence of condemnation shall be pronounced upon the wicked for the neglect of this duty (Matt. 25:41–42).

Further, from the words, “Give to him that asketh,” we may learn that it is the will of God that among His people there should be a propriety of goods, and that all things should not be common in that behalf. For the Lord would have some to have to give, and some to want that they might receive, which would not be if all things should be common both for use and propriety, as some have fondly imagined. If any man thinks it was so in the primitive church because it is said, “they had all things common” [Acts 4:32], he is to know that that community was in such things only, as men had then freely given for the common good. And yet even then, none was compelled or bound in conscience to give all his substance in that sort, for there Peter tells Ananias “that his possession, while it remained unsold, appertained to him, and after it was sold, the price thereof was in his own power to dispose of as he would” [Acts 5:4].

Objection. All things belong to believers, as Paul says, “All things are yours” (l Cor. 3:21), and therefore they ought to be common. Answer. The apostle means that they had right in Christ to all things, and did enjoy them by hope, but yet the fruition of them in actual propriety is not had before the day of judgment.

Vowed poverty unlawful.

Again, if giving to the poor be a duty of everyone whom God enables hereunto, then no man may voluntarily disable himself from it. Whereupon the popish practice of undergoing voluntary poverty falls to the ground as unlawful, for thereby they disable themselves unto this duty. Indeed the papists make this a state of perfection, but David judged begging to be a curse (Ps. 109:10), else he would not have spoken of freedom from beggary as of a blessing, which he does, “I never saw the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging” (Ps. 37:25).

Lastly, in this commandment, see the error of those men that give themselves wholly to gather riches to themselves, being like to the mole which is always digging in the earth. For God requires that a man should give as well as get, nay, he must get to give, and not to keep, for God is more glorified by giving than by keeping; and herein His children resemble their heavenly Father, who receives nothing of any man, and yet “giveth liberally to everyone that asketh, without reproaching any” (James 1:5).

Example 2.

And from him that would borrow of thee, turn not away.” These words contain Christ’s second precept, touching requiting good for evil, taken from lending and borrowing. To know the meaning of this rule, three points are to be handled: first, what it is to lend; second, to whom men must lend; third, in what manner.

Point 1. What lending is, is well known by common experience. It is a civil contract or bargain in which money, corn, or like goods, pass from man to man both in regard of use and title, yet so as the borrower is bound in conscience to return the thing lent unto him, or else that which in value is equal unto it.

Point 2. To whom men must lend. This circumstance is not here expressed by Matthew, but must be supplied out of Luke 6:34–35, where Christ forbids them to lend, as “sinners do, to receive the like again; but (says He) love your enemies, and do good, and lend looking for nothing again.” Where it is plain that lending must be to such as are truly poor, and not able to lend again like for like.

Three sorts of men in politic bodies.

For the better understanding whereof we are to know that in human societies there be three sorts of men: first, such poor as are unable to provide for themselves things necessary by reason of some impotency, as sickness, age, lameness, or such like, and these are commonly called beggars. A second sort are those, which being poor have yet a trade, wherein they can provide for themselves some part of their maintenance, and yet by reason of their poverty, still want some things necessary, which of themselves they cannot procure. The third sort are rich men, such as have worldly goods in abundance, not only sufficient for their necessaries, but much over-plus. Now to each of these belongs his peculiar due. To the first sort of poor that have the “shaking hand” (as Moses speaks [Lev. 25:35]) alms are due, and they must be relieved by giving freely, as we have shown in the former precept. To the second sort of poor, belongs lending properly, especially then, when their necessity requires. To the rich, neither gift nor loan is due; but on the contrary, they ought to give and lend to the poor, maintaining themselves by the honest labor and industry of their lawful callings.

Point 3. In what manner must men lend? Answer. With a willing mind, without any show of grudging, either in speech, or by turning away the head or body; as it is here said, “From him that would borrow of thee turn not away.” Which property in the lender is yet further expressed by Luke, saying, “Lend, looking for nothing again,” where Christ does not simply forbid men to look for that which they lent, but His meaning is: to show with what affection and disposition of heart men ought to lend, namely, having respect only to the good of the party borrowing, and not to the restitution of the thing lent. As when a poor man comes to borrow, we must not reason thus with ourselves: this man is poor, and it may be will not pay me again, therefore I will not lend; nor thus, this man is painful though he be poor, and is like to pay me again, and therefore I will lend. This (says Christ) is the practice of sinners, who lend, because they look to receive the like. Be you therefore moved to lend upon a good desire to help the poor, and let not your mind be running upon the loss, or safe return of the thing lent. Thus is that clause of Christ, “looking for nothing again,” to be understood, and not to be applied to the gain of usury, whereat Christ aims not in this place.

The Use. First, here observe that to lend unto the poor is a commandment of God, binding the conscience of the rich. It is not left free to the rich man’s choice, whether he will lend or not, but if the poor man’s case requires, he sins against God if he does not lend, for he breaks this commandment. David therefore makes it the property of a “good man to be merciful and to lend” (Ps. 112:5). Where we see that wretched practice of many rich men condemned to the pit of hell, who are so far from lending to the poor that they hoard up their store till a time of dearth, that then they may enrich themselves by poor men’s want; and thus they increase God’s judgment upon the poor, and as it were, “grind their faces” [Isa. 3:15], and “tread upon them” [Amos 5:11], as the Holy Ghost speaks. But they shall one day find that they ought to have lent unto the poor in their necessities; yea, and when the hand of God in common want lies more heavy upon the poor, they ought then to open their hands more liberally towards them. It is an usual and common practice, that when a man begins to decay in his estate, no man will lend him anything; but because he begins to decay, therefore they withdraw their help, lest he should not pay them again. But this ought not to be so. It is Christ’s commandment that the rich by lending should sustain such a one as by reason of want is ready to fall into decay.

Free lending.

Secondly, this command of Christ binds the rich not only to lend, but to lend freely without taking any increase. For they must lend, not looking for any again, yea, the Lord expressly forbids to take increase of the poor (Ex. 22:25), where we see the common practice of usurers condemned to the bottom of hell, who lend unto the poor upon bonds for increase. These are they that live on the blood and life of the poor, whose sin is everywhere condemned, and ought to be hated as bloodshed itself. But the rich will say they are entreated so to do, and are greatly thanked for so lending. Answer. This excuse will not serve the turn, for Saul’s armor-bearer was a murderer for killing his master, though Saul earnestly besought him so to do (2 Sam. 1:9, 16).

Forgiving of what is lent.

Thirdly, here further learn that a man must lend, and yet not always take again the principal. Indeed he may require and receive his own, else there should be no lending but all giving, which two are here distinct; but yet when the poor that borrowed is fallen into further poverty, the rich must turn his lending into giving, and forgive the principal or part thereof, as their several estates shall require (Deut. 20:10–12). A man may take a pledge for his debt of the poor, but yet if the pawn be a thing necessary to the poor man’s life, he must not take it, or at least not retain it till the sun setting.

Of receiving increase for lending.

Fourthly, some may here ask (seeing Christ “bids us lend looking for nothing again” [Luke 6:35]) whether may a man at no time with good conscience receive increase for his lending? Answer. Lending is twofold: of due or of courtesy. Lending of due is the loan of the rich unto the poor, when his necessity compels him to borrow; and for this a man cannot with good conscience take any increase. Lending of courtesy is when one rich friend lends unto another; this is not forbidden in the Word of God, but is left to a man’s own liberty and discretion, neither has it any promise of reward.

Cases wherein a man may receive increase for lending.

Now in this case of courtesy, I do not find in Scripture that all taking of increase is simply condemned; nay, in some cases, both the law of nature and the laws of all countries do allow it: as first, when the increase is given only in way of thankfulness, as a blessing to requite in kindness a good turn received, for ingratitude is abhorred of all, and the law of nature requires to do good for good; and all divines almost both Protestants and papists do allow this kind of increase. Secondly, when a man sustains damage by his lending, he may receive increase by way of satisfaction for his loss. Thirdly, when a man is content to adventure his principal in the hand of him that borrows, then also may he take increase; like as a man may receive hire for his horse, or for the use of any other goods, standing to their loss (Ex. 22:14).

Duties of the poor.

Thus we see what the will of God is for giving and lending unto the poor. Now hence the poor may receive instruction. First, hereby all may learn that God will have some poor among His people to receive and borrow of the rich, which may serve to persuade the poor to be content with their mean estate, esteeming it to be the best for them because God in His wisdom and providence has ordained it. Secondly, the poor must take occasion from their outward poverty to seek to be rich in God through grace: “Hath not God chosen the poor of this world, that they should be rich in faith?” (James 2:5). Herein they may match, and go beyond the richer sort, which is a matter of great joy: “Let the brother of low degree, rejoice in that he is exalted” (James 1:9), that is, with God, who counts them rich (Rev. 2:9). Thirdly, hence the poor must learn to carry themselves submissively towards the rich, of whom they receive great help and comfort by their giving and lending: “The poor (says Solomon) uttereth supplications” (Prov. 18:23), noting their humility, which reproves many poor, who are so proud-hearted and ungrateful that they will not afford the rich a good word. But this beseems none, much less those that are to live by the rich: “Him that hath a proud look and high heart, I cannot suffer” (Ps. 101:5).


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