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The more excellent any duties of religion are, the more useful unto the glory of God, with the good of mankind; the more diligent and industrious is the common enemy of such things, either to corrupt the minds of men about them, or to divert their hearts and affections from them. Of this nature is charity and bounty towards God’s people the poor, and such others as are declared and proposed as meet objects of them in Scripture; and such entertainments hath it met withal. Whoever readeth the word of God with any attention or understanding, and withal considers the various disposal of the conditions of mankind, of Christians, of believers in this world, according to the sovereign pleasure of his holy wise Providence, cannot but judge, that among all the external duties which are required of us in this world, there is none more necessary, none more useful, none wherein the glory of God is more concerned, than the due and abundant exercise of the fruits of
charity towards its proper objects. The commands for it are so multiplied, the motives unto it are so excellent, the rules and directions for its exercise so plain and express, that it cannot be wholly neglected, without an open contempt of the authority, love and wisdom of God: whence the Scripture pronounces plainly all religion to be vain, where this grace and its fruits are separated from it. Whereas therefore it was a design beneath the craft of the old serpent, to seduce the minds of men unto an open rejection or condemnation of it, unless he could at the same time have wrought them into a general renunciation of all religion; he made it his business in the days of superstition and darkness, to corrupt them with false notions about it, and to divert its exercise from its proper objects, that under an apprehension of its necessity, the real use and benefit of it, unto the glory of God, and advantage of the souls of men, might be utterly lost. And the success he had herein, through the foresight, which the subtilty of his nature, and long experience have furnished him withal, hath been of no small use unto him, after the first design of it was in a great measure defeated. Hence it is, that whilst the true nature of charity, its proper use, fruits, objects and ends; with that respect which it hath unto God and our own souls, were lost, obscured, depraved or corrupted, and all made subservient unto a proud imagination of merit, and other various superstitions, none more promoted the outward works of it than he, and they abounded amongst men. But when the false ends, rules and motives unto it, which ignorance and superstition had imposed upon its exercise were discovered and decried, he made use of pretences from former abuses, to alienate the minds of men from a due apprehension of the absolute necessity of the constant and diligent exercise of this grace in such outward duties as whereby others might be relieved. So he became a gainer by his loss. All things in point of doctrine, as to the nature and work of Charity unto the defeatment of superstition being rightly stated among us, men grew cold and regardless of their duty in it; as though they were resolved they would not do well, unless they might do it on evil motives and for ill ends. And because too much formerly hath been ascribed unto it, unto the corruption of all religion, some think it reason enough quite to neglect it. But these methods of Satan have been sufficiently detected; and I suppose most men are and may be easily convinced, that there is a wide distance between performing works of charity to merit the salvation of our souls, and the neglect of them unto their damnation, and a safe plain path to walk between them.But the truth is, the most forcible objections against the due exercise of charity, and abounding in the fruit of it, are those which arose from that influence which unbelief and corrupt affections have upon the minds of men. And amongst those the chiefest, and that which men judge to have the evidence of demonstration in it is this, that what they part withal for the relief of others, doth in proportion decrease their own enjoyments. And whereas the minds of many do greatly extend their desires beyond their present possession of earthly things, and the necessary occasions, as they suppose, of the most, at present and for the future with respect unto their families, being proportioned in a scanty measure unto what they enjoy, the force of this objection is great, and worketh effectually on all occasions of the due exercise of charity. Neither can it be otherwise conceived, if respect be had unto the present instance only. For he that maketh the best and most advantageous bargain or purchase, is sure enough to be a loser by it, if there be not a time of making a return in his way of trade. But the common assurance hereof, is sufficient to satisfy the minds of men, in parting with their money on such occasions. Wherefore against this last strong hold of Satan in the imaginations of men, against the due exercise of charity and bounty, the reverend Author of the following discourse hath planted that battery from Scripture, reason and experience whereby what seemeth of real strength in it, is utterly demolished. His design is not to prove, nor will he undertake that he who is bountiful unto others, shall surely thrive in this world, if he hath no other end of his charity and bounty, but only that he may so thrive. But on a right and due performance of this duty, in obedience to the command of God, out of love to Christ, according unto the rules, and for all its proper ends, he undertakes to demonstrate, that no man shall be a loser thereby. Yea he goeth farther, and proves from plain testimonies of Scripture, (against whose evidence there is no rising up, but by express unbelief) confirmed with signal instances of experience, that in the ordinary way of God’s dealing with professors of the gospel, their charity, liberality and bounty shall certainly conduce unto their advantage in this world, especially where they are eminent in their exercise; so as that the truth lies absolutely on the other side of this objection. And no more is required for the satisfaction of the minds of men herein, but that they exercise faith in the promises of God, in proportion unto that trust which they have unto the advantages of trade from common prudence and experience. For in neither way men ordinarily expect present sensible returns; nor will an industrious person be discouraged, if he find no great present gain in his trade, or meet with some losses, whilst he is in the way that rationally and probably leads to advantage. Nor ought we to prescribe other measures unto ourselves, nor expect immediate visible advantage, as to the concerns of this world in what we trade withal for immortality and glory, especially having the security of God’s promise to rely upon, which so far exceeds what the minds of men may fancy to themselves, from the ordinary course of things here below. Allow therefore the determination of times, seasons, ways and manner of things unto the sovereign pleasure of God, and there is no more certain truth than what is here proposed; namely, that abounding in works of Charity is “the best and safest way of thriving” in this world. And an eminent truth is, which the reverend Author hath rescued from general inadvertency or oblivion, the effects whereof have been little discerned, because the faith of it hath been so much lost. And I must add, that Divine Providence hath cast the discovery and defence of this great and useful truth upon a person eminently suited unto the work he is called unto. For whereas he is deprived of all outward advantages (as well as many others) not only of increasing his wealth in the world, but of ordinary supplies for himself and family, beyond his own peculiar patrimony, he abundantly manifests himself
to live in the faith of that truth, which he endeavours to implant on the minds and consciences of others; and doth but invite men into the same belief and practice with himself. And the truth which
he pleadeth for, is so fully confirmed and illustrated by himself, that there remains no more for me or others to do unto that end, but to give our testimony unto it, and to recommend the adoption of it with all professors of the Gospel, which I hereby do, and shall do, as God shall administer opportunity. [John Owen's reccomendation from Thomas Gouge 'Riches Increased"]