RECTOR OF TRINITY CHURCH, AND CHAPLAIN TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE WILLIAM,
EARL OF STERLING.
PRINTED BY H. GAINE, IN HANOVER SQUARE.
And the other honorable, reverend, and worthy members of the Corporation for the Relief of the Widows and Children of Clergymen in the Communion of the Church of England in America.
THE following discourse was preached at your request, and as it has met with your approbation when delivered, permit me now to present it to you from the press.
In behalf of the widows and fatherless, I most cheerfully embrace this opportunity to return you my hearty thanks for the zeal you have shown for this infant institution, for your countenance, your advice and assistance.
The humane motives that actuate your breasts will forever endear you to the widows and fatherless, whose prayers for you and your posterity will, like the morning and evening oblations, ascend to the throne of grace.
If what I have published on the subject should (by the divine blessing) tend to the benefit of the institution, by reminding the humane and well-disposed to bestow their charity to the best of purposes, I am most amply rewarded.
That every blessing may attend you, reverend sir, and the honorable and worthy gentlemen of the corporation, is the sincere and ardent prayer of
Your much obliged and most obedient servant,
NEW YORK, January, 1771.
2 KINGS iv. 1, 2.--Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant, my husband, is dead, and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord, and the creditor is come to take unto him my two Sons to be bondmen.
And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee?
AT the request of my reverend and worthy brethren, I now appear before this numerous and respectable audience, an advocate for the distressed and the innocent. Compassion, that glorious ray of the divinity, is implanted in every breast by the benevolent Creator of the human race; and sure I am that we are not so far degenerated as to turn a deaf ear to the distresses and misfortunes of those around us.
St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Galatians, exhorts them, while they have time, to do good unto all men, and specially unto them that are of the household of faith; the utility of which precept will, I flatter myself; fully appear in the following discourse.
The words of my text present us with an affecting description of the distressed situation of an afflicted widow of one of the sons of the prophets, addressed to that good and faithful servant of God, Elisha. The disconsolate and tender mother, oppressed with grief; expecting every moment to be deprived of her two sons, her only remaining comfort, by a merciless creditor, accosts the humane prophet--not with studied eloquence, which might charm and captivate the ear, but with the unaffected language which naturally flowed from a heart overwhelmed with sorrow and almost broken by misfortunes. ["The Jewish law looked upon children as the proper goods of their parents, who had power to sell them for seven years, as their creditors lied to compel them to do it in order to pay their debts. From the Jews this custom was propagated to the Athenians, end from them to the Romans. The Romans indeed had the most absolute control over their children. By the decree of Romulus they could imprison, beat, kill, or sell them for slaves. Numa Pompilius first moderated this severity and the Emperor Dioclesian made a law that no free person should be sold on account of debt. The ancient Athenians had the like jurisdiction over their children, but Solon reformed this cruel custom, as indeed it seemed a little hard that the children of a poor man, who had no manner of inheritance left them, should be compelled into slavery in order to pay their deceased father's debts and yet this was the custom, as appears from this passage, wherein the prophet does not pretend to reprove the creditor, but only puts the woman in a method to pay."--Dod's Commentary on 2 Kings iv. 2.]
 "Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant, my husband, is dead, and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord, and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen. And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee?"
No doubt the good prophet, at so moving an object, was sensibly touched with the most tender sentiments of compassion, and we may reasonably suppose that his aged eyes were bathed in tears; for who could behold the piteous condition of an affectionate mother, with her innocent children fondling and clinging around her, ignorant in some measure of her distress, the devoted victims to a merciless creditor, without shedding a sympathetic tear.
The mournful object before him brought fresh to his mind the irreparable loss she and her children had lately sustained by the death of a pious and amiable husband and father, whose usefulness in his sacred station, whose parental love and tender affection for her, whose zeal for the service of his God, and whose humane concern for the souls committed to his trust the prophet was well acquainted with.
My subject on this occasion naturally leads me to take the words of my text in a general sense, without paying too strict a regard to the office of Elisha, or the extraordinary miracle the prophet wrought for the widow's relief. To set the argument in a true light, which recommended the distressed widow and children to that humane assistance they received and the effect it produced, will afford us ample matter for our present meditations.
 There cannot possibly be a more engaging motive to spur a good man on in the laudable pursuit of piety and virtue, and his bounden duty of fearing the Lord, than an intimation that such a wise conduct may bring down from heaven a blessing upon himself and his posterity. But this is not all, for we are also instructed by the prophet's example to pay a proper regard to a virtuous character. Thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord. On those who are actuated by this amiable motive, compassion and pity fo the distressed will immediately have the same happy effect that it had upon the prophet, inducing them to offer, with him, their services, and ask, What shall we do for thee?
Many good reasons may be assigned why Almighty God permits, in some, instances, even those who serve at the altar to bend under the pressures of misfortunes and worldly disappointments, without any impeachment, however, of the rectitude of his conduct, or of his unerring wisdom in the administration of human affairs.
A good man, though laboring under the frowns of fortune, yet amidst the gloom that surrounds him perseveres in his integrity, trusting in his God that it will be the means of deriving a blessing upon those that he leaves behind him. This single consideration will revive his dejected spirits, and be productive of a patient acquiescence in the will of his Creator. As for himself he knows that he is hastening fast to a better world, where, through the merits and satisfaction of his Blessed Redeemer, he will be most amply rewarded for all his sufferings in this present life; and that his light afflictions, which are but for a moment, will work for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
His posterity he resigns with a Christian confidence to the disposal of his Divine Master, flattering himself that his meek and patient sufferings, and their distressed situation, will induce every pious Christian, every benevolent heart, to soothe their grief and alleviate their loss. We shall now be amply furnished with arguments to justify the true disciple of Christ in these his expectations, by taking a distinct view of the widow's hope and the duty implied in Elisha's words.
 "Thy servant, my husband, is dead, and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord." As if she had said:
I am now bereaved of the dear partner of my boom; I no longer hear him offering up his morning and evening oblations to the throne of grace for public and private blessings; I and my two dear sons are no longer to be instructed by his affectionate advice and pious discourse. The endearing title of husband and father is now no more. The small maintenance which the good man received for his services in administering at the holy altar ceases with his breath. And, to add to all my misfortunes, already great and heavy, the merciless creditor is now approaching my door in order to seize my two dear children, my only remaining comfort, for a debt due from my deceased husband, whose poverty was not owing to idleness, prodigality, or wickedness, but to his strict regard to the important duties of his function, to his hospitality and charity. Alas! to be deprived of a decent support, to be in want of a morsel of bread for myself and my poor children, to see them torn from my arms, is enough to rob me of my understanding, if not of my life, had I not an assurance that the great God, who is a father to the fatherless, and defendeth the cause of the widow, will yet raise me up friends, and procure for me wherewithal to satisfy my husband's creditors and save my tender offspring from bondage; for their father feared the Lord.
The success that attended her pathetic and moving address fully justified the confidence and trust she placed in divine providence, and is a pious admonition and example to every good Christian to "go and do likewise."
The Old Testament we find abounds with endearing promises to raise the dejected spirits of all those that fear God, i. e., of all those who have an awful reverence for the Supreme Majesty of heaven and earth, who venerate his adorable name, who regulate their lives and behavior as directed by his revealed will, and who expect through the merits and satisfaction of his Blessed Son, to enjoy consummate felicity with him in heaven, the New Jerusalem, the city of the living God.
The benevolent father of angels and men, to allure us to [8/9] our duty, and to draw us towards him with the cords of love, informs us, in his sacred oracles, that he that honoreth him, he will honor. And again, if a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. And farther, God giveth to a man that which is good in his sight--wisdom, knowledge, and joy.
Under the Jewish economy, temporal blessings indeed were more frequent than those that were spiritual, owing to the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments not being so clearly and universally known to the descendants of Abraham as it was to the disciples of Jesus. It was at best but a light that shined in a dark place, till the day star did arise, and till Christ brought life and immortality to light by his Gospel; but this by no means debars us from expecting, with an humble confidence, temporal good things in due subordination; Godliness having the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come.
Though we are finally to be judged for our behavior during our residence on earth, yet the blessing of heaven may, and in all probability will, attend those whose parents have been conspicuous for piety and virtue. The same just God who will certainly punish the disobedient, though their parents might have been righteous, may (and we have great reason to imagine he will) pour down his blessings upon all those who imitate the virtues of their deceased parents. And "he who visits the iniquities of the fathers upon their children to the third and fourth generation, will shew mercy unto thousands in them who love him and keep his commandments."
If we inquire next what our most holy religion inculcates on this subject, we shall be convinced that it strictly enjoins its professors to assist those that fear the Lord.
The religion of the Blessed Jesus requires the most diffusive benevolence; a benevolence which extends even to our enemies. "If our enemy hunger, we are to feed him; if he thirst, we are to give him drink." A distinction however may, nay, often must be made in the discharge of our duty between our enemies and those with whom we are more nearly connected.
 The great apostle of the Gentiles has set this subject in a true light. "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, but especially unto those who are of the household of faith."
We also find that our Blessed. Lord showed a particular attention to those who were remarkable for a religious deportment. He represents them as his brethren. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it (i. e., have been charitable) unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
If then, in general, he that fears God, or in other words, the good, the religious man, has the best title to our benevolence, it naturally follows that when it is applied to the descendants of those whose sacred function invested them moreover with a relative holiness, it must exceed its usual bounds, and be limited only by our abilities.
We find that there are many promises of God recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy and other parts of sacred writ, to the priests under the law, as well as the commands of God to the people concerning them; and the confirmation of both by our Blessed Lord and his apostles under the Gospel, which plainly demonstrate that he who ministers in holy things is, by the Supreme Majesty of heaven, thought worthy of especial care, and that it is a duty incumbent upon the laity not to forsake the Levites, nor suffer the innocent descendants of the sacred tribe to beg their bread.
The Jewish priests enjoyed a very handsome maintenance; and upon Christianity being cherished and protected by the civil powers, the noble and princely donations to the church afforded an ample provision for those that served at the altar.
Thus the priests under the Levitical law, and the ministers of Christ under his more perfect dispensation, were generously supported. But this is not the case at this day. To what this is owing does not fall under my consideration; it is sufficient to observe that a considerable part of the demesnes of the church, which were originally dedicated to the service of religion, have somehow or other been alienated and devoted to other purposes.
 Many, indeed, are the difficulties that the far greater part of the clergy have at this day to struggle with; many that now serve at the altar, cannot live by the altar. What then have their poor children to expect (unless they are nearly arrived at manhood before their father's eyes are closed in death) but penury and distress? Can any serious Christian now say that it is not his indispensable duty to extend his benevolence to the descendants of those faithful ambassadors of Christ, who have preached to them, not themselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and further have proved themselves to be their servants for Jesus' sake?
Many faithful laborers in the vineyard have only a scanty pittance. Poor encouragement this! But as Divine Providence, for wise and good ends we must suppose, permits it, so a willing acquiescence in the unerring wisdom of God becomes all his intelligent creatures,
By the Reformation, it is true, the clergy were reinstated in some few privileges which they had unnaturally been debarred of; but, at the same time, they paid for this indulgence. They lost part of their property, which is felt by the inferior clergy in England to this day; though the loss, it must be confessed, is in some measure repaid by the generous donations that are annually given for the support and maintenance of the widows and children of deceased clergymen in our mother country.
If then the incomes of the far greater part of the clergy in Great Britain are insufficient to afford any suitable provision for their families after their decease, we cannot suppose that the American clergy (very few excepted) are in a better situation. Therefore the utility, nay, the necessity of establishing a fund, after the example of our mother country, for the relief of their widows and children, must appear in a striking light to every mind of benevolence and sensibility.
Many causes may be assigned why a clergyman has it not in his power to accumulate wealth, nor consequently to provide for his family after his decease. Let a few suffice:
The first I shall mention is the smallness of his salary. It [11/12] is a certain fact, that the American clergy in general enjoy but a very slender maintenance, their incomes being scarcely sufficient to support them and their families with a decency suitable to their character. But I need not enlarge on this head, as the observation is well known to be too justly founded.
Secondly, a clergyman, by the nature of his function, is entirely precluded from engaging in lucrative employments. Should he attempt it, he must, in a great measure, become useless in his profession, and be justly deemed to act beyond his sphere. His whole life ought to be employed in the service of his Heavenly Master, and in promoting the eternal welfare of the souls committed to his care. If he faithfully discharges this trust it will afford him sufficient employment. It will leave him no leisure for the pursuit of such secular affairs as might perhaps better his circumstances, though at the expense of his duty.
Thirdly, notwithstanding the scanty support of many of the clergy among us, yet hospitality and charity are expected from them upon all occasions; and in justice to my worthy brethren in this and the neighboring provinces, I must say, these expectations are fully answered. Their inclination, as well as duty, leads them to exercise benevolence and hospitality, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick. If the clergy then in general deserve this character, it naturally follows that the expense attending such benevolent actions must fall very heavy upon most of them, and prevent in some measure their laying up a comfortable provision for their families after their decease. If this is a fact, which no one can doubt that has but a slender acquaintance with the clergy, should not those who profit by their instructions and are no strangers to their piety and charity exert themselves, not only by providing for them a decent support, but also in assisting and relieving the families they leave behind them in necessitous circumstances?
May it not be expected, that thus watered by the bounty of the worthy and benevolent, a young race may shoot up, become useful members of society, an honor to their church, a credit to religion? What advantages may not their country [12/13] reap in time by being blessed with a race of men, who in their early days have had the principles of loyalty, true piety and virtue deeply implanted in them? These few foregoing reasons then, to which many more might be added, were it necessary, show the utility of establishing a fund for the relief of the distressed widows and children of clergymen.
Perhaps there is no set of men, of a more liberal education, that enjoys so small a maintenance as the clergy. The gentlemen of the law and of physick, those useful and respectable members of the community, by being industrious in their respective employments, frequently and deservedly acquire large fortunes, which enable them to provide handsomely for their families. But the clergy, let their abilities be ever so great, and their usefulness to society ever so conspicuous, can yet only expect (especially on this side of the Atlantic) a bare support. After a series of years spent in the service of their Heavenly Master and in the discharge of their duty to their respective flocks, they sink under age and infirmities, and generally leave their families to experience distresses to which they were formerly strangers, and which accumulate every day.
These considerations founded on truth and reality, have given rise to many excellent charities of the kind of this now under our consideration, not only in our mother country, but in most other civilized States. Let us then, my beloved friends, imitate the example set us in our parent kingdom; and though our circumstances are much inferior to those of our brethren there, yet, I trust in God, our hearts glow with equal warmth for the relief of the necessitous, and for the prosperity of this benevolent institution.
To enable us to act with propriety towards the attainment of so desirable an end, upon application to the respectable governors of this province, New Jersey and Pennsylvania [13/14] royal charters were granted with that readiness and pleasure which will ever, endear their names to this corporation, and transmit them with honor and esteem to the latest posterity. [The Hon. Cadwallader Colden, Esq., Lieutenant-Governor, and at that time Commander-in-Chief, of the Province of New York; His Excellency William Franklin, Esq., Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Province of New Jersey; the Hon. William Penn, Esq., Lieutenant-Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Province of Pennsylvania.]
Our dissenting brethren have already established a plan of this kind, and have met with the success so amiable an institution deserves. May they continue to prosper in their humane and laudable undertaking!
I hope (pardon the expression), I am sure, from the long experience I have had of the benevolent disposition of this respectable and numerous audience, that, upon all occasions, you not only sympathize with the distressed, but are ready generously to bestow a part of that substance your God has blessed you with, for their relief. Your abilities have enabled you and your inclinations prompt you, like the genial warmth of the sun, to diffuse your benign influence on all around you.
If I thought that a pathetic description was necessary to work upon your. passions, I would desire you to accompany me to the melancholy abodes of distressed widows and children of deceased clergymen, too many of which are to be found; view in the house of mourning the disconsolate mother bathed in tears, unable to comfort her poor, weeping children that flock around her, unable to recollect her wandering and disturbed thoughts. To use the poet's description,
"No further voice her mighty grief affords,
For sighs came rushing in betwixt her words,
And stopped her tongue; but what her tongue denied,
Soft tears, and groans, and dumb complaint supplied."
Affluence and plenty once cheered their spirits and enlivened their hearts; hut now baneful poverty depresses the former and casts a deadly gloom on the latter. Those tender hands, not yet indued with strength for servile labor, which were daily employed in distributing to the necessities of the sick and poor, are now stretched out to implore a morsel of bread.
To add to their afflictions, the merciless creditor is near at hand, not indeed to carry the poor children into slavery, but to seize the few necessaries of life that are left, and thereby [14/15] render them destitute of every comfort, of every means of support.
To see the children of an amiable father (to use the words of an elegant author with a little variation), happy during the life of their father and their friend, thrust out in one sad hour from the plenty they were born in and the expectations they were bred to, into hardships and extremities they were untaught to fear and unprepared to suffer! [Pawlet St. John.]
To see the widow of such a good man lamenting, with equal grief, the father she cannot recall and the children she cannot succor, weeping and wailing, and refusing to be comforted. To hear her say to her hungry little ones, Alas, my poor innocent children! In my house is neither bread nor meat for you. To see her desolate, a captive, removing to and fro, begging her bread with those hands with which she had formerly dispensed it, to those very persons whom she had more than once sustained in her prosperity! Remembering all the while, as an aggravation of her miseries, all the pleasant things she possessed in the days of old, now lost and gone forever with the dear partner of her comforts, who had shared with her the enjoyment of them! Have pity on her, O my friends, have pity on this poor destitute, for the hand of God hath touched her. Be not ashamed to look into the cells of the disconsolate; there survey a scene of woe. Hear the distressed widow cry to one of you: "Thy servant, my husband, is dead, and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord, and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen." Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto this sorrow. To a mother thus afflicted, pity will not only be shown by a friend, but even exhorted from an enemy. A good Samaritan himself, a stranger to our most excellent religion, if he has any bowels of his own, should he come where this widow was, when he saw, would have compassion on her.
Ye daughters of Israel, ye fond and indulgent mothers, [15/16] behold the distress to which your sex is liable, and the wants and misfortunes of innocent children. Do you wish and pray that you and your tender offspring may never experience the miseries I have mentioned? Secure now betimes a blessing both upon yourselves and them, by reaching out your charitable hands to the necessities of those that now crave your assistance and implore your aid. You this day have an opportunity of manifesting the compassion, the benevolence of your hearts, Godlike virtues, which your sex in particular are blessed with in an eminent degree.
And now methinks, when I lift up my eyes to the glorious expanse above, which loudly proclaims the greatness, the majesty, and the power of that august being who reared the mighty fabric, I behold the whole hierarchy of heaven looking down upon us with smiling joy, to see us thus piously employed in acts of love, pity, and compassion. What exultation must fill our souls when we farther reflect that the Great Jehovah himself, and his blessed son Christ Jesus our Lord, view with pleasure such good-will towards men. He sees, he approves, he records our labor of love. Every mite we bestow is noted in his book, and will be productive of success and happiness here, and, through the merits and satisfaction of Christ, of felicity hereafter.
To conclude: When every pleasure we now enjoy shall cease, when every gratification we now delight in will become tasteless and insipid, when we shall stand upon the verge of eternity, then charity will be found a valuable treasure, nay, a refuge and consolation laid up against the (lay of nature's great distress. Blessed forever blessed at that day shall the merciful be, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed forever blessed shall those faithful servants be, whom the great Judge of the world shall thus accost before angels and spirits of just men made perfect: Come ye chosen of my Father, ye that fed me when I was hungry, clothed me when I was naked (for inasmuch as you did it unto the fatherless and widow, ye did it unto me), receive now the reward of your labor, and enter into the joy of your Lord. Amen.