Chapter 38

  1. Charity

“The primal duties shine aloft like stars,

The charities that soothe and heal and bless

Lie scattered at the feet of man like flowers.”

— Wordsworth.

Charity, like the dew from heaven, falls gently on the drooping flowers in the stillness of night. Its refreshing and revivifying effects are felt, seen, and admired. It flows from a good heart and looks beyond the skies for approval and reward. It never opens, but seeks to heal, the wounds inflicted by misfortune. It never harrows up, but strives to calm, the troubled mind.

Charity is another name for disinterested love—the humane, sympathetic feeling—that which seeks the good of others; that which would pour out from the treasures of its munificence gifts of good things upon all. It is that feeling that gave the world a Howard, a Fenelon, a Fry. It is that feeling that leads on the reformer, which inspires the philanthropists, which blesses, and curses not. It is the good Samaritan of the heart. It is that which thinketh no evil, and is kind, which hopeth all things, believeth all things, endureth all things. It is the angel of mercy, which forgives seventy and seven times, and still is rich in the treasures of pardon. It visits the sick, soothes the pillow of the dying, drops a tear with the mourner, buries the dead, cares for the orphan. It delights to do offices of good to those cast down, to relieve the suffering of the oppressed and distressed, to proclaim the Gospel to the poor. Its words are more precious than rubies; its voice is sweeter than honey; its hand is softer than down; its step as gentle as love.

Whoever would be respected and beloved; whoever would be useful and remembered with pleasure when life is over, must cherish this virtue. Whoever would be truly happy and feel the real charms of goodness must cultivate this affection. It becomes, if possible, more glorious when we consider the number and extent of its objects. It is as wide as the world of suffering, deep as the heart of sorrow, extensive as the wants of creation, and boundless as the kingdom of need. Its spirit is the messenger of peace, holding out to quarreling humanity the flag of truce. It is needed every-where, in all times and places, in all trades, professions, and callings of profit or honor which men can pursue. In the home life there is too often a lack of charity; it should be considered as a sacred duty to long and well cultivate it, to exercise it daily, and to guard well its growth. The peace and happiness of the world depends greatly upon it. Nothing gives a sweeter charm to youth than an active charity, a disposition kind to all. Who can properly estimate the powers and sweetness of an active charity?

He who carries ever with him the spirit of boundless charity to man often does good when he knows not of it. An influence seems to go forth from him which soothes the distressed, encourages the drooping, stimulates afresh the love of virtue, and begets its own image and likeness in all beholders. Without the exercise of this grace it is impossible to make domestic and social life delightful. Deeds and words of conventional courtesy grown familiar are comparatively empty forms. The charitable soul carries with it a charmed atmosphere of peace and love, breathing which all who come within its benign influence unfold their noblest qualities, and develop their most amiable traits. Inharmonious influences are neutralized, the harsh discipline of life is changed to wholesome training, the crooked places are made straight, and the rough smooth.

The uncharitable and censorious are generally found among the narrow and bigoted, and those who have never read the full page of their own heart or been subject to various and crucial tests. How can a man whose temper is phlegmatic judge justly of him whose blood is fiery, whose nature is tropical, and whose passions mount in an instant, and as quickly subside? How can one in the seclusion of private life accurately measure the, force of the influence those are subjected to who live and act in the center of vast and powerful civil and social circles? The more you mix with men the less you will be disposed to quarrel, and the more charitable and liberal will you become. The fact that you do not understand another is quite as likely to be your fault as his. There are many chances in favor of the conclusion that when you feel a lack of charitable feeling it is through your own ignorance and illiberality. This will disappear as your knowledge of men grows more and more complete. Hence keep your heart open for every body, and be sure that you shall have your reward. You will find a jewel under the most uncouth exterior, and associated with comeliest manners and the oddest ways and the ugliest faces you will find rare virtues, fragrant little humanities, and inspiring heroisms.

How glorious the thought of the universal triumph of charity! How grand and comprehensive the theme! The subject commands the profound attention of good men and of angels. Under the direful influence of its antagonistic principle man has trampled upon the rights of fellow-man, and waded through rivers of human blood, to satisfy his thirst for vengeance. Its footsteps have been marked with the blood of slaughtered millions. Its power has shivered kingdoms and destroyed empires. When men shall be brought into subjection to the law of charity the angel of peace will take up its abode with the children of men. Wars and rumors of wars will cease. Envy and revenge will hide their diminished heads. Falsehood and slander will be unknown. Sectarian walls will crumble to dust. Then this world will be transformed into a paradise, in which every thing that is beautiful and lovely shall grow and bloom. Disinterested and benevolent acts will abound. Sorrow and disappointments will flee away, and peace, sunshine, and joy will beautify and adorn life.

Death always makes a beautiful appeal to charity. When we look upon the dead form, so composed and still, the kindness and the love that are in us all come forth. The grave covers every error, buries every defect, extinguishes every resentment. From its peaceful bosom spring none but fond regrets and tender recollections. Who can look upon the grave even of an enemy and not feel a compunctious throb that he should ever have warred with the poor handful of dust that lies moldering before him?

Charity stowed away in the heart, like rose leaves in a drawer, sweetens all the daily acts of life. Little drops of rain brighten the meadow; acts of charity brighten the world. We can conceive of nothing more attractive than the heart when filled with the spirit of charity. Certainly nothing so embellishes human nature as the practice of this virtue; a sentiment so genial and so excellent ought to be emblazoned upon every thought and act of our life. This principle underlies the whole theory of Christianity, and in no other person do we find it more happily exemplified than in the life of our Savior who, while on earth, “went about doing good.”

, In, pager

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