AN HOMILY OF ALMSDEEDS AND MERCIFULNESS PART I

AMONGST the manifold duties that Almighty God requireth of his faithful servants the true Christians, by the which he should that both his Name should be glorified, and the certainty of their vocation declared, there is none that is either more acceptable unto him or more profitable for them, than are the works of mercy and pity showed upon the poor which be afflicted with any kind of misery. And yet, this notwithstanding, such is the slothful sluggishness of our dull nature to that which is good and godly, that we are almost in nothing more negligent and less careful than we are therein. It is therefore a very necessary thing, that God’s people should awake their sleepy minds, and consider their duty on this behalf. And meet it is that all true Christians should desirously seek and learn what God by his holy word doth herein require of them; that, first knowing their duty, whereof many by their slackness seem to be very ignorant, they may afterwards diligently endeavor to perform the same. By the which both the godly charitable persons may be encouraged to go forwards and continue in their merciful deeds of giving alms to the poor, and also such as hitherto have either neglected or contemned it may yet now at the length when they shall hear how much it appertaineth to them, advisedly consider it, and virtuously apply themselves thereunto.

And, to the intent that every one of you may the better understand that which is taught, and also easilier bear away, and so take more fruit of, that shall be said, when several matters are severally handled; I mind particularly, and in this order, to speak and entreat of these points.

First, I will show how earnestly Almighty God in his holy word doth exact the doing of almsdeeds of us, and how acceptable they be unto him.

Secondly, how profitable it is for us to use them, and what commodity and fruit they will bring unto us.

Thirdly and last, I will show out of God’s word, that whoso is liberal to the poor, and relieveth them plenteously, shall not withstanding have sufficient for himself, and evermore be without danger of penury and scarcity.

Concerning the first, which is the acceptation and dignity or price of almsdeeds before God, know this that to help and succor the poor in their need and misery pleaseth God so much, that, as the holy Scripture in sundry places recordeth, nothing can be more thankfully taken or accepted of God. For first we read, that Almighty God doth account that to be given and to be bestowed upon himself that is bestowed upon the poor. For so doth the Holy Ghost testify unto us by the Wise Man, saying, He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord himself.[1] And Christ in the Gospel avoucheth, and as a most certain truth, bindeth it with an oath, that the almes bestowed upon the poor, was bestowed upon him, and so shall be reckoned at the last day. For thus he saith to the charitable almsgivers, when he sitteth as Judge in the doom to give sentence of every man according to his deserts: Verily I say unto you, whatsoever good and merciful deed you did upon any of the least of these my brethren, ye did the same unto me.[2] In relieving their hunger, ye relieved mine; in quenching their thirst, ye quenched mine; in clothing them, ye clothed me; and, when ye harbored them, ye lodged me also; when ye visited them, being sick or in prison, ye visited me. For, as he that receiveth a prince’s ambassadors, and entertaineth them well, doth honor the prince from whom those ambassadors do come, so he that receiveth the poor and needy, and helpeth them in their affliction and distress, doth thereby receive and honor Christ heir Master: who, as he was poor and needy himself whilst he lived here amongst us to work the mystery of our salvation, so at his departure hence he promised in his stead to send unto us those that were poor[3], by whose means his absence should be supplied; and therefore that we would do unto him we must do unto them. And for this cause doth Almighty God say unto Moses, The land wherein you dwell shall never be without poor men, because he would have continual trial of his people whether they loved him or no; that, in showing themselves obedient unto his will, they might certainly assure themselves of his love and favor towards them, and nothing doubt but that, as his law and ordinances, wherein he commanded them that they should open their hand unto their brethren that were poor and needy in the land, were accepted of them and willingly performed, so he would on his* part lovingly accept them, and truly perform his promises that he had made unto them[4]

The holy Apostles and disciples of Christ, who, by reason of his daily conversation, saw by his deeds, and heard in his doctrine, how much he tendered the poor; the godly fathers also that were both before and since Christ, indued without doubt with the Holy Ghost, and most certainly certified of God’s holy will; they both do most earnestly exhort us, and in all their writings almost continually admonish us, that we would remember the poor, and bestow our charitable alms upon them. St. Paul crieth unto us after this sort: comfort the feeble-minded, lift up the weak, and be charitable toward all men.[5] And again: To do good to the poor and to distribute alms gladly, see that thou do not forget; for with such sacrifices is God pleased.[6] Isaiah, the Prophet teacheth on this wise: Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the poor wandering home to thy house. When thou seest the naked, see thou clothe him, and hide not thy face from thy poor neighbor, neither despise thou thine own flesh.[7] And the holy father Tobit giveth this counsel. Give alms, saith he, of thine own goods, and turn never thy face away from the poor. Eat thy bread with the hungry and cover the naked with thy clothes[8] And the learned and godly doctor Chrysostom giveth this admonition: Let merciful alms be always with us as a garment, that is, as mindful as we will be to put our garments upon us, to cover our nakedness, to defend us from the cold, and to show ourselves comely, so mindful let us be at all times and seasons, that we give alms to the poor, and show ourselves merciful towards them. But what mean these often admonitions and earnest exhortations of the Prophets, Apostles, Fathers, and holy Doctors? Surely, as they were faithful to Godward, and therefore discharged their duty truly in telling us what was God’s will, so, of a singular love to usward, they labored not only to inform us, but also to persuade with us, that to give alms, and to succor the poor and needy, was a very acceptable thing, and an high sacrifice to God, wherein he greatly delighted and had a singular pleasure. For so doth the wise man the son of Sirach teach us, saying Who is merciful and giveth alms, he offereth the right thank offering.[9] And he addeth thereunto The right thank-offering maketh the altar fat, and a sweet smell it is before the Highest; it is acceptable before God, and shall never be forgotten.

And the truth of this doctrine is verified by the examples of those holy and charitable Fathers of whom we read in the Scriptures, that they were given to merciful compassion towards the poor, and charitable relieving of their necessities. Such a one was Abraham, in whom God had so great pleasure, that he vouchsafed to come unto him in form of an angel[10] and to be entertained of him at his house. Such was his kinsman Lot, whom God so favored for receiving his messengers into his house, which otherwise should have lain in the street, that he saved him with his whole family from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra. Such were the holy Fathers Job and Tobit, with many others, who felt most sensible proofs of God’s special love towards them. And, as all these by their mercifulness and tender compassion, which they showed to the miserable afflicted members of Christ, in the relieving, helping, and succoring them with their temporal goods in this life, obtained God’s favor, and were dear, acceptable, and pleasant in his sight; so now they themselves take pleasure in the fruition of God, in the pleasant joys of heaven, and are also in God’s eternal word set before us, as perfect examples ever before our eyes, both how we shall please God in this our mortal life, and also how we may come to live in joy with them in everlasting pleasure and felicity. For most true is that saying which St. Augustine hath, that the giving of alms and relieving of the poor is the right way to heaven. (Via coeli pauper est) The poor man, saith he, is the way to heaven. They used in times past to set in highways’ sides the picture of Mercury, pointing with his finger which was the right way to the town. And we use in crossways to set up a wooden or stone cross, to admonish the traveling man which way he must turn when he cometh thither, to direct his journey aright. But God’s word, as St. Augustine saith, hath set in the way to heaven the poor man and his house; so that whoso will go aright thither, and not turn out of the way, must go by the poor. The poor man is that Mercury that shall set us the ready way; and, if we look well to this mark, we shall not wander much out of the right path.

The manner of wise worldly men among us is, that, if they know a man of meaner estate than themselves to be in favor with the prince or any other nobleman, whom they either fear or love, such a one they will be glad to benefit and pleasure, that when they have need he may become their spokesman, either to help with his good word to obtain a commodity or to escape a displeasure. Now surely it ought to be a shame to us, that worldly men for temporal things, that last but for a season, should be more wise and provident in procuring them, than we in heavenly. Our Saviour Christ testifieth of poor men, that they are dear unto him, and that he loveth them especially: for he calleth them his little ones.[11] by a name of tender love he saith they be his bretheren. And St. James saith, that God hath chosen them to be heirs of his kingdom. Hath not God, saith he, chosen the poor of this world to himself, to make them hereafter the rich heirs of that kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?[12] And we know that the prayer which they make for us shall be acceptable and regarded of God. Their complaint shall be heard also. Thereof doth Jesus the son of Sirach certainly assure us, saying: If the poor complain of thee in the bitterness of his soul, his prayer shall be heard; even he that made him shall hear him. Be courteous therefore unto the poor. We know also, that he who acknowledgeth himself to be their Master and Patron, and refuseth not to take them for his servants, is both able to pleasure and displeasure us, and that we stand every hour in need of his help. Why should we then be either negligent or unwilling to procure their friendship and favor, by the which also we may be assured to get his favor, that is both able and willing to do us all pleasures that are for our commodity and wealth? Christ doth declare by this, how much he accepteth our charitable affection toward the poor, in that he promiseth a reward unto[13] them that give but a cup of cold water in his name to them that have need thereof; and that reward is the kingdom of heaven. No doubt is it therefore but that God regardeth highly that which he rewardeth so liberally. For he that promiseth a princely recompence for a beggarly benevolence, declareth that he is more delighted with the giving than with the gift, and that he as much esteemeth the doing of the thing as the fruit and commodity that cometh of it.

Whoso therefore hath hitherto neglected to give alms, let him know that God now requireth it of him ; and he that hath been liberal to the poor, let him know that his godly doings are accepted and thankfully taken at God’s hands, which he will requite with double and treble. For so saith the Wise Man : He which sheweth mercy to the poor doth lay his money in bank to the Lord, for a large interest and gain: the gain being chiefly the possession of the life everlasting through the merits of our Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom with the Father and the Holy Ghost be all honor and glory forever Amen.

  1. Prov xix, 17
  2. Matt xxv, 35-40
  3. Matt xxvi, 11
  4. Deut xv, 11
  5. Tess v, 14
  6. Heb xiii, 16
  7. Is lviii ,7
  8. Tob iv, 7-16
  9. Eccles xxxv, 3-7
  10. Gen xviii
  11. Matt x, 42
  12. James ii, 5
  13. Matt x, 42; Mark ix, 41

 



The Editors


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