George Whitefield Sermon 47
The great Duty of Charity Recommended.
1 Corinthians 13:8, "Charity never faileth."
Nothing is more valuable and commendable, and yet, not one duty is
less practiced, than that of charity. We often pretend concern and pity for
the misery and distress of our fellow-creatures, but yet we seldom
commiserate their condition so much as to relieve them according to our
abilities; but unless we assist them with what they may stand in need of,
for the body, as well as for the soul, all our wishes are no more than
words of no value or regard, and are not to be esteemed or regarded: for
when we hear of any deplorable circumstance, in which our fellow-creatures
are involved, be they friends or enemies; it is our duty, as Christians, to
assist them to the utmost of our power.
Indeed, we are not, my brethren, to hurt ourselves or our families;
this is not that charity which is so much recommended by St. Paul; no, but
if we are any ways capable of relieving them without injuring either
ourselves, or families, then it is our duty to do it; and this never
faileth, where it proceeds from a right end, and with a right view.
St. Paul had been showing, in the preceding chapter, that spiritual
gifts were divers; that God had disposed of one blessing to one, and
another to another; and though there was a diversity of blessings, God did
not bestow them to one person, but gave to one a blessing which he denied
to another, and gave a blessing, or a gift to the other which might make
him as eminent in one way, as the other's gift made him so in another: but
though there are these divers spiritual gifts, they are all given for some
wise end, even to profit withal, and to that end they are thus diversely
bestowed. We are not, on the one hand, to hide those gifts which God has
given us: neither are we, on the other, to be so lavish of them, as to
spend them upon our lusts and pleasures, to satisfy our sensual appetites,
but they are to be used for the glory of God, and the good of immortal
souls. After he had particularly illustrated this, he comes to show, that
all gifts, however great they may be in themselves, are of no value unless
we have charity, as you may see particularly, by considering from the
beginning of this chapter.
But before I go any further, I shall inform you what the apostle means
by charity; and that it, Love; if there is true love, there will be
charity; there will be an endeavor to assist, help, and relieve according
to that ability wherewith God has blessed us: and, since this is so much
recommended by the apostle, let us see how valuable this charity is, and
how commendable in all those who pursue it. I shall,
I. Consider this blessing as relation to the bodies of men.
II. I shall show how much more valuable it is, when relating to the
souls of men.
III. Shall show you when your charity is of the right kind.
IV. Why this charity, or the grace of love, never faileth.
V. Shall conclude all, with an exhortation to high and low, rich and
poor, one with another, to be found in the constant practice of this
valuable and commendable duty.
FIRST, I shall consider this duty, as relating to the bodies of men.
1. O that the rich would consider how praise-worthy this duty is, in
helping their fellow-creatures! We were created to be a help to each other;
God has made no one so independent as not to need the assistance of
another; the richest and most powerful man upon the face of this earth,
needs the help and assistance of those who are around him; and though he
may be great today, a thousand accidents may make him as low tomorrow; he
that is rolling in plenty today, may be in as much scarcity tomorrow. If
our rich men would be more charitable to their poor friends and neighbors,
it would be a means of recommending them to the savor of others, if
Providence should frown upon them; but alas, our great men had much rather
spend their money in a playhouse, at a ball, an assembly, or a masquerade,
than relieve a poor distressed servant of Jesus Christ. They had rather
spend their estates on their hawks and hounds, on their whores, and
earthly, sensual, devilish pleasures, than comfort , nourish, or relieve
one of their distressed fellow-creatures. What difference is there between
the king on the throne, and the beggar on the dunghill, when God demands
their breaths? There is no difference, my brethren, in the grave, nor will
there be any at the day of judgment. You will not be excused because you
have had a great estate, a fine house, and lived in all the pleasures that
earth could afford you; no, these things will be one means of your
condemnation; neither will you be judged according to the largeness of your
estate, but according to the use you have made of it.
Now, you may think nothing but of your pleasures and delights, of
living in ease and plenty, and never consider how many thousands of your
fellow-creatures would rejoice at what you are making waste of, and setting
no account by. Let me beseech you, my rich brethren, to consider the poor
of the world, and how commendable and praise-worthy it is to relieve those
who are distressed. Consider, how pleasing this is to God, how delightful
it is to man, and how many prayers you will have put up for your welfare,
by those persons whom you relieve; and let this be a consideration to spare
a little out of the abundance wherewith God has blessed you, or the relief
of his poor. He could have placed you in their low condition, and they in
your high state; it is only his good pleasure that has thus made the
difference, and shall not this make you remember your distressed fellow-
Let me beseech you to consider, which will stand you best at the day
of judgment, so much money expended at a horse-race, or a cockpit, at a
play or masquerade, or so much given for the relief of your fellow-
creatures, and for the distressed members of Jesus Christ.
I beseech you, that you would consider how valuable and commendable
this duty is: do not be angry at my thus exhorting you to that duty, which
is so much recommended by Jesus Christ himself, and by all his apostles: I
speak particularly to you, my rich brethren, to entreat you to consider
those that are poor in this world, and help them from time to time, as
their necessity calls for it. Consider, that there is a curse denounced
against the riches of those, who do not thus do good with them; namely, "Go
to now you rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon
you; your riches are corrupted, your garments are moth-eaten, your gold and
silver is cankered, and the rust of them shall be a witness against you,
and shall eat your flesh, as it were fire; ye have heaped your treasure
together for the last day." You see the dreadful woe pronounced against all
those who hoard up the abundance of the things of this life, without
relieving the distresses of those who are in want thereof: and the apostle
James goes on also to speak against those who have acquired estates by
fraud, as too many have in these days. "Behold the hire of the laborers,
which have reaped down your fields, which is by you kept back by fraud,
crieth; and the cries of them who have reaped, are entered into the ears of
the Lord God of Sabbaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been
wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in the day of slaughter." Thus,
if you go on to live after the lust of the flesh, to pamper your bellies,
and make them a God, while the poor all around you are starving, God will
make these things a witness against you, which shall be as a worm to your
souls, and gnaw your consciences to all eternity; therefore, let me once
more recommend charity unto the bodies of men, and beseech you to remember
what a blessed Lord Jesus Christ has promised unto those who thus love his
members, that "as they have done it to the least of his members, they have
done it unto him."
I am not now speaking for myself; I am not recommending my little
flock in Georgia to you; then you might say, as many wantonly do, that I
wanted the money for myself; no, my brethren, I am now recommending the
poor of this land to you, your poor neighbors, poor friends, yea, your poor
enemies; they are whom I am now speaking for; and when I see so many
starving in the streets, and almost naked, my bowels are moved with pity
and concern, to consider, that many in whose power it is, to lend their
assisting hand, should shut up their bowels of compassion, and will not
relieve their fellow-creatures, though in the most deplorable condition for
the want thereof.
As I have thus recommended charity particularly to the rich among you;
so now I would,
2. SECONDLY, Recommend this to another set of people among us, who,
instead of being the most forward in acts of charity, are commonly the most
backward; I mean the clergy of this land.
Good God! How amazing is the consideration, that those, whom God has
called out to labor in spiritual things, should be so backward in this
duty, as fatal experience teacheth. Our clergy (that is the generality
thereof) are only seeking after preferment, running up and down, to obtain
one benefice after another; and to heap up an estate, either to spend on
the pleasures of life, or to gratify their sensual appetites, while the
poor of their flock are forgotten; nay, worse, they are scorned, hated, and
I am not now, my brethren, speaking of all the clergy; no, blessed be
God, there are some among them, who abhor such proceedings, and are willing
to relieve the necessitous; but God knows, these are but very few, while
many take no thought of the poor among them.
They can visit the rich and the great, but the poor they cannot bear
in their sight; they are forgetful, willfully forgetful of the poor members
of Jesus Christ.
They have gone out of the old paths, and turned into a new polite way,
but which is not warranted in the word of God: they are sunk into a fine
way of acting; but as fine as it is, it was not the practice of the
apostles, or of the Christians in any age of the church: for they visited
and relieved the poor among them; but how rare is this among us, how seldom
do we find charity in a clergyman?
It is with grief I speak these things, but woeful experience is a
witness to the truth thereof: and if all the clergy of this land were here,
I would tell them boldly, that they did not keep in the ways of charity,
but were remiss in their duty; instead of "selling all and giving to the
poor," they will not sell any thing, nor give at all to the poor.
3. THIRDLY, I would exhort you who are poor, to be charitable to one
Though you may not have money, or the things of this life, to bestow
upon one another; yet you may assist them, by comforting, and advising them
not to be discouraged though they are low in the world; or in sickness you
may help them according as you have time or ability: do not be unkind to
one another: do not grieve, or vex, or be angry with each other; for this
is giving the world an advantage over you.
And if God stirs up any to relieve you, do not make an ill use of what
his providence, by the hands of some Christian, hath bestowed upon you: be
always humble and wait on God; do not murmur or repine, if you see any
relieved and you are not; still wait on the Lord, and help one another,
according to your abilities, from time to time.
Having showed you how valuable this is to the bodies of men, I now
SECONDLY, To show you how much more valuable this charity is, when it
extends to the souls of men.
And is not the soul more valuable than the body? It would be of no
advantage, but an infinite disadvantage, to obtain all the world, if we
were to lose our souls. The soul is of infinite value, and of infinite
concern, and, therefore, we should extend our charity whenever we see it
needful, and likewise should reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all godliness
We should, my dear brethren, use all means and opportunities for the
salvation of our own souls, and of the souls of others. We may have a great
deal of charity and concern for the bodies of our fellow-creatures, when we
have no thought, or concern, for their immortal souls: But O how sad is it,
to have thought for a mortal, but not for the immortal part; to have
charity for the body of our fellow-creatures, while we have no concern for
their immortal souls; it may be, we help them to ruin them, but have no
concern in the saving of them.
You may love to spend a merry evening, to go to a play, or a horse-
race, with them; but on the other hand, you cannot bear the thoughts of
going to a sermon, or a religious society, with them; no, you would sing
the songs of the drunkard, but you will not sing hymns, with them; this is
not polite enough, this is unbecoming a gentleman of taste, unfashionable,
and only practiced among a parcel of enthusiasts and madmen.
Thus, you will be so uncharitable as to join hand in hand with those
who are hastening to their own damnation, while you will not be so
charitable as to assist them in being brought from darkness t light, and
from the power of Satan unto God. But this, this, my dear brethren, is the
greatest charity, as can be, to save a soul from death: this is of far
greater advantage, than relieving the body of a fellow-creature: for the
most miserable object as could be, death would deliver it from all. But
death, to those who are not born again, would be so far from being a
release from all misery, that it would be an inlet to all torment, and that
to all eternity. Therefore, we should assist, as much as possible, to keep
a soul from falling into the hands of Satan: for he is the grand enemy of
souls. How should this excite you to watch over your own and others souls?
For unless you are earnest with God, Satan will be too hard for you.
Surely, it is the greatest charity to watch over one another's words and
actions, that we may forewarn each other when danger is nigh, or when the
enemy of souls approaches.
And if you have once known the value of your own souls, and know what
it is to be snatched as brands out of the burning fire, you will be
solicitous that others may be brought out of the same state. It is not the
leading of a moral life, being honest, and paying every man his just due;
this is not a proof of your being in a state of grace, or of being born
again, and renewed in the spirit of your minds: No, you may die honest,
just , charitable, and yet not be in a state of salvation.
It is not the preaching of that morality, which most of our pulpits
now bring forth, that is sufficient to bring you from sin unto God. I saw
you willing to learn, and yet were ignorant of the necessity of being born
again, regenerated, of having all old things done away, and all things
becoming new in your souls: I could not bear, my brethren, to see you in
the highway to destruction, and none to bring you back. It was love to your
souls, it was a desire to see Christ formed in you, which brought me into
the fields, the highways, and hedges, to preach unto you Jesus, a crucified
Jesus as dying for you. It was charity, indeed it was charity to your
souls, which has exposed me to the present ill treatment of my letter-
Therefore, let me advise you to be charitable to the souls of one
another; that is, by advising them with all love and tenderness, to follow
after Christ, and the things which belong to their immortal peace, before
they be forever hid from their eyes.
I now proceed, in the
THIRD place, to show when your charity is of the right kind.
And here, my brethren, I shall show, FIRST, When it is not; and ,
SECONDLY, When it is of the right kind.
1. FIRST, Your charity is not of the right kind, when it proceeds from
worldly views or ends.
If it is to be seen of men, to receive any advantage from them, to be
esteemed, or to gain a reputation in the world; or if you have any pride in
it, and expect to reap benefit from God merely for it; if all, or each of
these is the end of your charity, then it is all in vain; your charity does
not proceed from a right end, but you are hereby deceiving your own souls.
If you give an alms purely to be observed by man, or as expecting favor
from God, merely on the account thereof, then you have not the glory of
God, or the benefit of your fellow-creatures at heart, but merely yourself:
this, this is not charity. Nor,
SECONDLY, Is that true charity, when we give any thing to our fellow-
creatures purely to indulge them in vice: this is so far from being
charity, that it is a sin, both against God, and against our fellow-
creatures. And yet, this is a common, as it is sinful, to carry our
friends, under a specious pretense of charity, to one or the other
entertainment, with no other view, but to make them guilty of excess.
Hereby you are guilty of a double sin: we are not to sin ourselves, much
less should we endeavor to make another sin likewise. But,
THIRDLY, Our charity comes from a right end, when it proceeds from
love to God, and for the welfare both of the body and soul of our fellow-
When this is the sole end of relieving our distressed fellow-
creatures, then our charity comes from a right end, and we may expect to
reap advantage by it: this is the charity which is pleasing to God. God is
well pleased, when all our actions proceed from love, love to himself, and
love to immortal souls.
Consider, my dear brethren, that it was love for souls, that brought
the blessed Jesus down from the bosom of his Father; that made him, who was
equal in power and glory, to come and take upon him our nature; that caused
the Lord of life to die the painful, ignominious, and accursed death of the
cross. It was love to immortal souls, that brought this blessed Jesus among
us. And O that we might hence consider how great the value of souls was and
is: it was that which made Jesus to bled, pant, and die. And surely souls
must be of infinite worth, which made the Lamb of God to die so shameful a
And shall not this make you have a true value for souls? It is of the
greatest worth: and this, this is the greatest charity, when it comes from
love to God, and from love to souls. This will be a charity, the
satisfaction of which will last to all eternity. O that this may make you
have so much regard for the value of souls, as not to neglect all
opportunities for the doing of them good: here is something worth having
charity for, because they remain to all eternity. Therefore, let me
earnestly beseech you both to consider the worth of immortal souls, and let
your charity extend to them, that by your advice and admonition, you may be
an instrument, in the hands of God, in bringing souls to the Lord Jesus.
I am in the next place to consider,
FOURTHLY, Why this charity, or grace of love never faileth.
And it never faileth in respect of its proceeding from an unchangeable
God. We are not to understand, that our charity is always the same: No,
there may, and frequently are, ebbs and flowings; but still it never
totally faileth: No, the grace of love remaineth for ever. There is, and
will be, a charity to all who have erred and run astray from God. We cannot
be easy to see souls in the highway to destruction, and not use our utmost
endeavor to bring them back from sin, and show them the dreadful
consequence of running into evil. Christians cannot bear to see those souls
for whom Christ died, perish for want of knowledge: and if they see any of
the bodies of their fellow-creatures in want, they will do the utmost in
their power to relieve them.
Charity will never fail, among those who have a true love to the Lord
Jesus, and know the value of souls: they will be charitable to those who
are in distress. And thus you see, that true charity, if it proceeds from a
right end, never faileth.
I now proceed, my brethren, in the
LAST place, to exhort all of you, high and low, rich and poor, one
with another, to practice this valuable and commendable duty of charity.
It is not rolling in your coaches, taking your pleasure, and not
considering the miseries of your fellow-creatures, that is commendable or
praise-worthy; but the relieving your distressed poor fellow-creatures, is
valuable and praise-worthy wherever it is found. But alas! how very few of
our gay and polite gentlemen consider their poor friends; rather they
despise, and do not regard them. They can indulge themselves in the follies
of life, and had much rather spend their estates in lusts and pleasures,
while the poor all round them are not thought worthy to be set with the
dogs of their flock. If you have an abundance of the things of this world,
then you are esteemed as companions for the polite and gay in life; but if
you are poor, then you must not expect to find any favor, but be hated, or
not thought fit for company or conversation: and if you have an abundance
of the things of this life, and do not want any assistance, then you have
many ready to help you. My dear brethren, I do not doubt but your own
experience is a proof of my assertions; as also, that if any come into
distress, then those, who promised to give relief, quite forget what they
promise, and will despise, because Providence has frowned. But this is not
acting like those who are bound for the heavenly Jerusalem; thus our hearts
and our actions give our lips the lie: for if we profess the name of
Christ, and do not depart from all iniquity, we are not those, who are
worthy of being esteemed Christians indeed.
For, if we have not charity, we are not Christians: charity is the
great duty of Christians: and where is our Christianity, if we want
charity? Therefore, let me beseech you to exercise charity to your
distressed fellow-creatures. Indeed, my dear brethren, this is truly
commendable, truly valuable; and therefore, I beseech you, in the bowels of
tender mercy to Christ, to consider his poor distressed members; exercise,
exercise, I beseech you, this charity: if you have no compassion, you are
not true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. I humbly beg you to consider
those who want relief, and are really destitute, and relieve them according
to your abilities. Consider, that the more favorable Providence has been to
you, it should make you the more earnest and solicitous to relieve those
whom you may find in distress: it is of the utmost consequence, what is
well pleasing to your fellow-creatures, and doing your duty to God.
When you are called from hence, then all riches and grandeur will be
over; the grave will make no distinction; great estates will be of no
signification in the other world; and if you have made a bad use of the
talent which God hath put into your hands, it will be only an aggravation
of your condemnation at the great day of account, when God shall come to
demand your souls, and to call you to an account, for the use to which you
have put the abundance of the things of this life.
To conclude, let me once more beseech each of you to act according to
the circumstances of life, which God, in his rich and free mercy, has given
If you were sensible of the great consequences which would attend your
acting in this charitable manner, and considered it as a proof of your love
to God, the loving his members; you could not be uncharitable in your
tempers, nor fail to relieve any of your distressed fellow creatures.
Consider how easy it is for many of you, by putting your mites
together, to help one who is in distress; and how can you tell, but that
the little you give, may be the means of bringing one from distress into
flourishing circumstances; and then, if there is a true spirit of a
Christian in them, they can never be sufficiently thankful to God the
author, and to you as the instrument, in being so great a friend to them in
their melancholy circumstances: consider also, once more, how much better
your account will be at the day of judgment, and what peace of conscience
you will enjoy. How satisfactory must be the thought of having relieved the
widow and the fatherless? This is recommended by the Lord Jesus Christ, and
has been practiced in all ages of the church: and therefore, my brethren,
be ye now found in the practice of this duty.
I have been the larger upon this, because our enemies say we deny all
moral actions; but, blessed be God, they speak against us without cause: we
highly value them; but we say, that faith in Christ, the love of God, and
being born again, are of infinite more worth; but you cannot be true
Christians without having charity to your fellow-creatures, be they friends
or enemies, if in distress. And, therefore, exert yourselves in this duty,
as is commanded by the blessed Jesus: and if you have true charity, you
shall live and reign with him for ever.
Now to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, be all
honor, power, glory, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for