24 reasons to be “bountiful” to the poor


The following is a brief summary and some reflections on the second of August Hermann Francke’s (1663 – 1727) Three Practical Discourses. I did this while in Dr. Richard Lovelace’s class on the Pietist renewal, in 1994 at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. The edition I was looking at was (a copy of?) an edition printed in 1716; translated into English from the High-Dutch:

[If you want to jump right to “doing something about it,” then you might be interested in Tyler Blanski’s music project for the homeless]

2. OF CHARITY TO THE POOR

Twenty Four Motives to a faithful Discharge of the Duty of Bounty to the Poor

Mark 8:1ff

‘In those days, the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his Disciples unto him, and says unto them:  I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat, etc.’

1.  The unspeakable and incomprehensible love and mercy of God towards mankind.

‘There is no doubt, but whosoever does duly ponder this love with himself, and revolve it again and again in his mind, but his heart will be excited thereby to bestow a like love on his poor and indigent neighbour.’ (26)

2.  The love of our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

This should make us meditate, and think: ‘Hath the most Holy Jesus loved me to that degree, as to lay down his life for me; why should not this love inspire me with a readiness to bestow a bodily benefit upon my fellow-creatures?…With what confidence can I lift up my eyes unto him, and pour out my prayers in my distress, whilst I leave my neighbour without help and relief?’ (27)

Francke gives as example s Cor 8:9:  ‘Ye know the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.’ (27)

So, we are to think, ‘…since the lord hath given me so much of the things of this world, as to have not only where to lay my head, but also wherewithal to relieve others upon occasion*  Why should I be backward to undergo some degree of Poverty for the sake of my neighbour…’ (29)

3.  The unspeakable forbearance, whereby God hath bore with our sins, in Christ.

‘He will then more regard the present want of the poor, than be overnice about enquiring into their worth and dignity…’

[I in fact appreciate this word, and need it in my life.  I am too prone to turn down panhandlers, reasoning that they are at least in part to blame for their condition, not remembering how blameable I was before the Lord saved me, and that He nonetheless reached down to me with alms of salvation and joy unspeakable!]

4.  The more peculiar favours, God in his infinite mercy hath bestowed on our country in particular, by guarding it on one hand, from plague, war, and famine, and other calamities wherewith other nations have been severely visited; and on the other, by heaping upon us so many visible mercies, even in our outward and bodily concerns.’ (31)

Essentially, he is saying here, let our thanksgiving for his supply run over into mercy and supply of others.  Again the concept of not deserving His beneficence is intended to stir us to beneficence to others we may feel are equally undeserving.

5.  ‘[God, by his love] hath been moved to explain unto us abundantly his whole counsel about our eternal salvation, together with all those spiritual riches and graces which accompany it.’ (33)

6.  ‘…that singular delight the Lord himself doth take in works of mercy.’ (33)

Examples:  Matt 9:13 ‘Go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice.’

Then Francke lists all the ‘Christian duties,’ including churchgoing, bible reading, etc., and concludes, ‘Truly, all this noise about church and religion, will prove at last but a scanty covering, a bare shew and pretence, a dry and empty formality, whilst thou continuest deaf to the cries of the poor, and restrainest thy hand from relieving the needy….’ (34)

7.  ‘The express commands of God, enforcing the duty of charity to the poor, and inculcated over and over again in scripture.’ (35)

Deut 15:4-11, Isa 18:6,7, Matt 6:19.

‘…we are forbid to lay up treasures for ourselves upon earth; and this undoubtedly, by reason of the many poor and miserable that press upon us, the very sight whereof should make us forget the laying up of treasures for ourselves.’ (35)

Further, that whoever obeys these commands and helps the poor ‘will, in the midst of all his charitable deeds, keep an humble opinion of himself, and constantly remember, he doth no more in all this than what the Lord hath commanded…’ (36)

8.  ‘That train of promises, which the Lord hath entailed on works of love and mercy.’ (37)

‘Thus hath he engaged his word to deliver the charitable man in time of trouble; to preserve him and keep him alive; to strengthen him upon the bed of languishing; and to reward an hundred-fold, the good he hath done to the poor.’ (37)

‘…who would be so far stupefied as not to blush at the very consideration of so great a promise on one hand, and of the little good he doth to his neighbour on the other…’ (38)

9.  The Lord hath particularly promised to bless the works of our calling and industry, provided we do not shut up our heart against our fellow-creatures, and thereby bereave our selves of so eminent a blessing.’ (38)

‘Though, after all, he must well consider, that he ought never to rest in these lower motives to the duty of charity:  for these being in some degree bent towards temporal interest, and carrying some earthly respect in them, they may yield some encouragement to a weak beginner in the practice of Piety [He admits of degrees in that practice, which I think is wise!], but ought never to be the only or principal motive to a more grown and generous Christian.  Whoever therefore doth not rise higher, by acting on a purer and more substantial principle, is in danger of losing at last, all the reward of his beneficence.’ (39-40)

[Wise and practical advice indeed, though its basis should be more closely examined, to see if perhaps this motive should not after all be so promoted–at all!–as being somewhat corrupt in itself]

10.  ‘Luk 6:38:  Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom.  For with the same measure that ye mete withal, it shall be measured to you again.’ (40)

[This seems on the face of it as bad as the last one–in that it is a carnal appeal.  I have heard some preachers who were so offended with this kind of use of this passage that they have reinterpreted it to refer only to spiritual giving and receiving.  Yet it seems to really be intended in the sense it has on its face!]

He qualifies, however, ‘[God] doth not only regard the multitude of the works we outwardly perform, but chiefly the inward spring and principle whence they flow; as the widow’s mite doth plainly evince.  And this should put us upon a serious trial of all our charitable deeds, and more particularly, of the productive principle by which they are wrought.  and at this rate might our works attain to a greater purity in time, and to a higher degree of a free and disinterested love.’ (41)

[This may also be an uncomfortable tack, however, in a seeming direct identification of holiness with self-disinterest, which I’m not sure is entirely warranted:  Love your neighbour AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF, for example suggests that healthy self-love is not bad, and that we can be expected to have a concern for our own receiving, as well as our giving.  However, such radical passages as ‘you must hate your own life to follow me’ suggest that there IS some such radical re-orientation of our lives required…I’m just not sure that it is of the ESSENCE of holiness to piously disregard our own gain in every charitable action.

I am particularly suspicious of this pious self-abnegating attitude, as it seems so widespread in non-Christians, and in their critique of certain scriptures implying some degree of self-interest.  Again, he desires MERCY (that is love), not SACRIFICE (that is self-denial for its own sake).  A pious self-denial was evident in the Pharisees, but they seem to have been no better off for it!]

[Francke realizes this tension, and tries to resolve it by saying that consideration of the reward that will attend our charitable actions is by no means a bad thing] ‘For tis true, that faith hath a respect to the recompense of reward; (Heb 11:26) though it be not in a servile and mercenary manner, which would be inconsistent with the nature of faith; but yet in a free and filial spirit, relying on God’s favour and goodness.’ (41-2)  In other words, the expectation of reward is only, in a sense, giving due glory to the faithfulness and providence of God!

11.  ‘The description of the last judgment, as it is exhibited, Matt 25…’ (42)

‘Want of love and charity is the blackest, NAY, THE ONLY crime alledged against those that shall receive their doom in that day…’  and he continues ‘Depart from me ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was an hungered, etc.’ ‘Whoever doth but seriously muse on this final sentence, the good and the bad are to receive in that day, will thereby find himself rid from those frivolous shifts and evasions wherewith a covetous niggard will put off a poor man applying to him for relief.’ (43)

He then notes that the typical excuses, of ‘what if I need this money later,’ or ‘times are tough, I have to save for my retirement’ are invalid, symbolic of a too-intent concentration on ‘the uncertain riches of this world.’ (43-44)

12:  If the picture of a merciless and uncharitable heart could be drawn, nothing would appear more hateful and abominable in the eyes of God.’ (45)

13.  ‘If the picture of a kind and charitable heart could be drawn, it would appear most sweet and lovely in the eyes of God.’ (45)

14.  ‘The inward satisfaction a soul tasteth whilst she is employ’d about works of love and Charity.’

‘No sooner doth he effectually relieve [the poor sufferer], but he is in a manner relieved himself, by feeling the rays of that benign influence wherewith he cherisheth his brother, and which will reflect on him that bestow’d them.  A true child of God taketh as much delight in doing good to the poor, as an hungry stomach doth in satisfying its hunger. And herein he endeavours to follow that perfect pattern set  him by his master, whose meat it was, to do the will of him that sent him… (John 4:34)’ (46-7)

‘But as a charitable person enjoys here A FORETASTE OF AN ENDLESS REWARD RESERVED FOR HIM IN HEAVEN, so the covetous wretch hath nothing but a constant disquiet in the midst of all his worldly wealth and estates.  Both what he giveth, and what he keepeth, is mixed with pain and vexation of Spirit.  All his gold and riches…breed nothing but tumults and perturbations in so weak and diseased a mind.’ (47)

15.  ‘The absolute necessity of following Christ in his life and conversation.’ (47)

[Here we come to the concept of Imitation Christi that so animate (sometimes to extraordinary and questionable actions) St. Francis.]

‘[All of Christ’s charitable actions] is recorded at large by the inspired writers, thereby to engage us, THAT WE MIGHT FOLLOW HIS FOOTSTEPS, HAVING LEFT US A PATTERN FOR THAT PURPOSE, I Pet 2:21.’  (48)

[This is the very literal, plain interpretation of the words ‘follow me.’  It is open, however, to leading into works-righteousness–that is, legalistic moralism.  Here ‘the Footsteps of Divine Providence’ become ‘the pattern for your actions as a Christian.’  I’m not so sure the leap can be this easily made.]

16.  ‘The many illustrious instances of such persons as have adorned their faith with works of love and bounty, and recorded in Scripture.’ (48)

[He is no more specific than this.]

17.  ‘The consideration, that God almighty designeth to try and increase our faith and love, by presenting so many miserable objects to our view…’ (49)

‘The Lord comes to prove our readiness in serving the poor, and whether we are as willing to support them, as he hath been to support us.’ (49)

[Hence, for instance, the point of the story of the rich young ruler is as much his unwillingness to bless the poor through the selling of his goods and distribution of the wealth to them, as it is his unwillingness to ‘give up all for Jesus.’  Again, this latter is perhaps the danger of ‘sacrifice rather than mercy,’ which many non-Christians connect in their minds with the true essence of our faith.]

‘Scripture…teach[es] us [by the story in Mark 12:41 of the Lord sitting over against the treasury, beholding how the people cast money into the treasury…and then observing the widow’s mite, etc.] how intent the Lord is upon our charitable gifts, and how he proveth on all occasions our faith and love, our integrity and obedience, and other Christian virtues.’ (50)

[We should think of this, indeed, when the preacher makes a call for giving, and we consider in our hearts that this is from the motive of man, not God, and that we really can’t give this week, etc.  This carnal argumentation is nothing less than a spirit of un-charity, and it will be judged by the Lord.  What the preacher does with the money is between him and the lord.  What we do with ours is between us and the Lord!  And he is watching!  A hard word for most to hear in this money-centered, cynical society.  This is where the God Mammon comes most directly up against the God of the Bible.]

18.  ‘The daily growth in faith, being the happy effect of the exercise of love and charity.’ (50)

[I couldn’t agree more.  This is another important part of sanctification–to learn to give, and not lean on our substance, but entirely on God’s mercy…and to give even when it is mortification to our flesh!]

‘…faith groweth by the continued practice of Charity, being thereby nourished up into a greater strength and maturity.’ (51)

‘If a man be but faithful in that little he hath received, he will then soon be instrusted with more.’ (51) [THIS is an awesome principle, worthy of FAR more consideration in our lives.  What changes it would make in our stewardship if we always acted with this in mind!]

‘…by this [process of charity] we may arrive in time to an unshaken firmness of faith, attended with the noblest efforts of bounty to the poor.’ (51)

19.  ‘It is a glorious instance of the all-sufficient power of Christ, when one time he filled five thousand men, and at another time four thousand, and with a very small provision of bread; whereof, however, there remained more in the end than was set on at first.’ (52)

[HUH?]

20.  Our Lord’s reproof to his disciples, for their not apprehending his wonderful works, IS TO ENCOURAGE US TO A SERIOUS VIEW OF ALL THE STEPS OF HIS PROVIDENCE IN GENERAL, and of his love and benignity in particular.

[And the biblical rationalists of today who believe that God once acted, but does so no more after the Bible age, to Jesus the same kind of disservice as the disciples did, by not seeing that God is indeed at work all over the place, and in their lives, every day!  They consider it presumption to think this.  But the Lord considers it rank unbelief and an insult to his providence that they DON’T so think, and so perceive!  And there are a lot of these rationalist creatures around…enough so the Holy Spirit had to do an end run around them in the Charismatic renewal, and looks like doing the same thing again today!…]

[These rationalists are like the disciples in the following snippet:]

‘Why reason ye, because ye have no bread?  Perceive ye not yet, neither understand?  Have ye your Hearts yet hardened? (Mar. 8:17)’ (53)

[And it is of course because we either do not observe or do not believe his providence around us, that we are not willing to step out in faith and test that providence in our own lives!  We don’t believe he works in our lives, so we don’t venture to jump out and make a faith decision such as we did when we got saved.  We made one jump, and we’ve been sitting on our rumps ever since, with only the faintest glimmer of faith.  Oh sure, we have a propositional faith in the ‘words of the bible.’  But my God, no wonder we have no power in evangelism.  Who wants to catch such a flickering, smoldering flame from us, as can barely keep us from freezing, let alone melt through the icebergs in their lives?]

21.  The uncertainty of our days, and shortness of life. (54)

‘Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee:  then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?’ (Luke 12:20)  [Amen and amen!]

22.  ‘Because the Lord hath declared charity to be the very pledge and essential character of a sincere Christian, and hath thereby raised this virtue to a considerable dignity.’ (54)

‘By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.’  ‘if a practical demonstration of mutual love and charity is the character and indication of a true Christian and disciple of Christ; then it must follow for certain, that the want thereof is an infallible sign of an unchristian, and of an unregenerate person.’ (55)  [I don’t think it’s an infallible proof–but a pretty good sign!]

23.  The gift of mutual love and benignity, which the Lord hath begun to inkindle in some souls in these latter days. (55)

24.  The present judgments of God, together with those that are nearer and nearer approaching. [referring to the plague, fire, sword, etc. in other places in those times] (56)

‘Certainly, if we neglect to improve these temporal mercies into spiritual graces, by an unfeigned repentance, and a sound reformation of life, we must then expect the nearer approach of those judgments…’ (57)

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