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Yestore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth.” The prophet Samuel when he asserted his integrity before the people, said, 1 Sam. xii. 3 ; “Behold, here I am, witness against me before the Lord, and before his anointed; whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded ? whom have I oppressed ? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith ? and I will restore it you.” And Zacheus the publican, when he received Christ joyfully into his house, and embraced his religion, “ stood and said unto the Lord, Behold Lord--if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold ;" Luk. xix. 8. This determination was approved by Christ. From these passages the duty of restitution is plain.
There are many ways in which a person may come into the possession of his neighbour's property. It is sometimes obtained by theft ; sometimes by deceit or fraud ; sometimes by a breach of trust, sometimes by finding that which was lost, and knowing the owner ; and sometimes by a course of law, when for want of due evidence, property has been wrested from the real owner, when the person who received it, knew in his own mind that he had no right to it; in all these cases, and in every other case, where a person has obtained the property of another, it is his duty to make restitution. And the least restitution which ought to be made, is the whole of the principal, together with a reasonable compensation for its use. Until this is done, our neighbour has not his right ; we detain from him that which is his ; and guilt must lie upon our consciences, unless the rightful owner voluntarily declines receiving his own. Then the property becomes ours by gift.
And here I would observe, that in cases of failure for ; debt, we have reason to believe much fraud is frequently practised. No doubt honest men have sometimes failed. When they contracted their debts, they had a fair prospect of paying them ; but by adverse providences and unforseen events, they were disappointed. But we have reason to believe, many contract debts, far beyond what they have any prospect of paying; and even when they $now that they must fail ; and when they have no inten
tion of paying. Such conduct is certainly, in the sight of God, highly unjust and criminal; and the more so as deceit has been added to injustice. But whatever may have been a person's conduct previous to his failure, there can be no doubt, that he is bound in equity, and by the laws of religion, however he may be cleared by human laws, if he ever becomes able, to make restitution, and pay all his debts, with a reasonable allowance for the loss which his creditors may have sustained. This, and nothing short of this is strict honesty; and until this is done, guilt must lie on the conscience of the man who once has failed, and who has since acquired sufficient property to discharge his debts, unless his creditors voluntarily release him from bis obligation, and refuse to receive restitution. Alas! but few, we have reason to fear, do their duty in this business. Many who once failed become affluent and live in luxury ,while their creditors are straitened and poor, for want of that which they have taken and withhold from them. Surely such conduct must be very offensive to a righteous God.
Be exhorted, my hearers to attend to this subject of restitution. Have you in any way come into the possession of property, which you know belongs to another and not to you? Go and make restitution. This is your duty ; and
you have no right to hope that you are in favour with God while you refuse to do it.
II. We proceed to the second class of duties contained in our text, and belonging to the eighth commandment, in relation to our neighbour's wealth and outward estate; viz. mercy. It is our duty not only “ to do justly;" but also “ to love mercy.” It is our duty to assist others, who may stand in need of our aid.
This we may do by our counsels, pointing out to them wherein they are conducting disadvantageously, or injuriously, and instructing them in the best modes of doing business; by lending them aid, when we have a reasonable prospect of being repaid ; and by using our influence, when we have opportunity, to get them into business. In this way many have furthered the prosperity of others.
It is also our duty to endeavour to save the property of others when we see it taking injury. This duty is taught in the following passage, Deut. xxii. 1–3; “ Thou shalt not see thy brother's ox or his sheep go astray, and
hide thyself from them; thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother. And if thy brother be not nigh unto thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it, and thou shalt restore it to him again. In like manner shalt thou do with his ass, and so shalt thou do with his raiment; and with all lost things of thy brother's which he hath lost, and thou hast found, shalt thou do likewise; thou mayest not hide thyself.” And even if the owner be our enemy, it is our duty to endeavour to save his property from injury, as we learn from the following passage; Ex. xxiii. 4. 5; "If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him; thou shalt surely help with him.”
Another way in which it is our duty to assist others, is by contributing of the substance which God has given us, for their relief and support, when they are distressed and poor. The duty of liberality to the poor is very frequently enjoined in the Scriptures, and even declared to be essential to the christian character. We shall quote some of the many texts on this subject. In the Mosaic law we read, “ If thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee;"> Lev. xxv. 35.“ If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren, within any of thy gates, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother; But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto. For the poor shall never cease out of the land : therefore I command thee, saying, thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land ;" Deut. xv. 7-11. The Psalmist describing the godly man saith, “ He is ever merciful and lendeth ; and his seed is blessed;" Ps. xxxvii. 26. “ A good man showeth fovour and lendeth.-He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor ; Ps. cxii. 5, 9. And he declares, “ Blessed is he that considereth the poor; the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. . He shall be blessed upon the earth :" Ps. xli. 1, 2. The wise man saith“ he that hath mercy on the poor happy is he. He that oppresseth the poor, reproacheth his Maker : but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor ;" Prov. xiv. 21, 31. “ He that. hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord ; and that which he hath given will he pay him again ;" Prov. xix. 17. The New Testament abounds with similar instructions. Our Saviour taught, “it is more blessed to give than to receive ;" Acts xx. 35. Paul exhorted the Romans,“ if thine enemy hunger, feed him ; if he thirst, give him drink :" Rom. xii. 20. He wrote to the Corinthians, “ God loveth a cheerful giver ;" 2 Cor. ix. 7. And he charged the Hebrews, " To do good, and to communicate forget not" and added, “ for with such sacrifices, God is well pleased ;" Heb. xiii. 16. And the apostle John was very pointed on this subject.“ Whoso hath this world's good and seeth his brother need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him ;" 1 John in. 17.
From these passages we learn that liberality to the poor is a duty incumbent on all those who have the means; that a blessing is connected with the right performance of this duty : and that the habitual neglecters of it, have not the love of God in them.
Liberality, to be acceptable must flow from right principles, such as compassion to the poor, a sense of duty, and a regard to God's authority and glory. There is such a thing as giving all our goods to feed the poor,
and yet continuing destitute of the favour of God, because the principle of action is wrong. The principle being good, our liberality ought to be perforined promptly or without delay, when our neighbour is in distress. As saith Solomon, “Say not unto thy neighbour, go, and come again, and to-morrow I will give thee, when thou hast it by thee;" Prov. iii. 28.
It ought to be done as secretly as may be, without a desire to be seen of men, or commended by them. As our Saviour directed ;“ When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth ; that thine
be in secret : and thy Father, which seeth in
secret, himself shall reward thee openly;" Mat. vi. 3, 4. It ought to be done cheerfully, as saith Paul, “Not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver;" Prov. ix. 7. In determining what proportion of our substance we ought to give to the poor, we must be governed in some measure by the circumstances of our estate and family, and the necessities of the poor. Taking these in, to consideration, and attending to the word and provi dences of God to direct us, we must be left to our own consciences to determine, as stewards of God, and accountable to him.
As to the proper objects of charity we may observe, that it is not our duty, to encourage idleness, and sloth, and support those who, while they are able, are too indolent to labour. It is true many families are brought into distress through the idleness or intemperance of one or both the heads thereof. In this case, when they are actually suffering, it is our duty to endeavour to relieve them ; but at the same time we ought to endeavour to do them still more good, by labouring to bring them into industrious, temperate, and frugal habits.
We have also many strolling poor, who at our doors ask our charity. I believe it is very seldom indeed, our duty to give such. In our country, provision is made for the poor, and they seldom if ever have reason to travel about in this manner. Besides many of them take this method to support themselves because they are too indolent to gain a livelihood by honest labour. And many of them are impostors, who come to us with lies in their mouths, and expend our charity to procure the means of intemperance. Such persons ought to be discouraged and frowned upon ; and we ought to have good evidence indeed that a strolling person is a proper object of charity, before we bestow any thing upon him, which he can expend in this way.
The industrious poor among us, and especially the poor of the household of faith, who have been reduced or kept poor, by adverse providences, most of all claim our assistance.
To conclude ; let us be influenced by strict justice in all our dealings with the world ; and let us 'love mercy and ever be ready, according as the Lord has prospered us, to do good unto others, and administer to the necessities of the destitute.--AMEN.