Sunday Evening, the 7th of November, 1819,
AT a meeting of the Trustees of the New-York City Dispensary, held on the 15th of November, 1819, it was
Unanimously Resolved, that the thanks of the Board be communicated to the Rev. Dr. MILNOR for his excellent Sermon delivered for the benefit of this Institution, and that a copy of the same be requested for publication.
Resolved, that FRANCIS B. WINTHROP, BENJAMIN W. ROGERS, and Dr. DAVID HOSACK, be a committee to carry the preceding resolution into effect.
JOHN SMYTH ROGERS, Secretary.
And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. And he said, Of a truth, hay unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the treasury of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.
THERE is a pleasing harmony between religious principle and moral duty which characterises the religion of Jesus Christ. Whilst it sets no value on exterior conduct, in reference to the remunerations of a future state, if it be not the result of inward principle; it equally sets aside all pretensions to the favour of God, arising out of a barren profession of religion, however orthodox and earnest. It gives a blasting condemnation on the one hand to the proud Pharisee, who, rejecting or undervaluing the abundant grace and righteousness of a crucified Saviour, would vainly depend on the merit of his own works; and, on the [5/6] other hand, to the deluded Antinomian, who finds an apology for sin, or an exemption from deeds of goodness and beneficence, in the imagined strength of his reliance on gratuitous mercy. Faith, as the justifying principle, works as the fruit and evidence of faith, constitute, in their full exercise, the perfection of Christian character. Whilst one is the instrument by which the atoning blood of Christ is applied to the soul of the sinner, and made available to his salvation, the other forms a test of its reality, and a needful qualification for the heavenly inheritance. "By grace," says the great apostle, "are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God:" Yet the same inspired teacher instructs his brother Titus, and, through him, every minister of Christ, "constantly to affirm, that they who have believed in God ought to maintain good works."
To the performance of a work eminently good, on the principles and motives taught by our blessed religion, it is made my duty to invite this Christian audience to-night. As the basis of my appeal to your beneficence, I have selected an incident in the history of our illustrious instructor and exemplar, which, by the help of God, may elicit some profitable reflections on the obligation, motive, and manner of exercising Christian charity, more especially in that instance of it which is termed alms-giving.
The occurrence which occasioned the commendatory remark of the Redeemer, happened at Jerusalem during his last residence there. He had [6/7] just been assailed by an artful, designing band of Pharisees and Sadducees, whose object was to entrap him into some confession that would make him amenable to the penalties of the civil law. But he evaded their artifices, and warned the people to beware of these insidious and deceitful men. The conversation alluded to took place in the temple. There he had previously been engaged in preaching his Gospel; and at the close of the disputation with his crafty enemies, he observed a number of wealthy persons casting their offerings into the corban or treasury, which was a chest appropriated to the reception of the voluntary contributions of persons frequenting the sanctuary of God, for pious and charitable uses. Among the splendid benefactions of the rich there was mingled an insignificant donation of two mites from a poor widow; a donation so unimportant and trifling in itself, that a person less competent than Christ to judge of the value and merit of human action, would have been inclined to prevent such a useless expenditure, or to have reproved her for indiscretion in thus parting with what appears to have been "all that she had, even all her living." Her conduct was very differently estimated by him. With that disposition, which our Lord ever manifested, to improve each passing incident, he called on those near him to observe this singularly meritorious beneficence of an indigent female; and pronounced that she had performed a greater act of piety and benevolence than any of the rich contributors who had preceded her: for large as were their offerings, they had given, probably, but a small portion of [7/8] their superfluous wealth; "of their abundance they had cast into the treasury of God; but she of her penury had cast in all the living that she had."
Amiable, generous woman! more honourable to thy memory is this record of thy Saviour's approbation, and more enduring too, than all the proud monuments erected to perpetuate the names of the illustrious dead. Wherever the word of life shall extend its blessings, to the end of time, this rich memorial of thy Redeemer's praise shall blazon on its hallowed pages, and a world of Christians be taught to eulogize and copy thy bright example. Let us proceed, brethren, to contemplate several particulars of instruction which the incident suggests.
It teaches not to undervalue or despise a spirit of virtuous exertion in the humbler classes of society; but to venerate and respect the smallest efforts to do good. And here may it not be observed, that simple as is the character of our civil institutions, equal as are the people's rights, unknown amongst us are those wide distinctions of rank and power which obtain in the transatlantic world, we are not strangers to much of that improper feeling which there prevails. The pride of wealth inclines too many to turn with disdain from the unostentatious merit, which is often found amongst the unaspiring children of penury; who "are merciful after their power; who having little; use their diligence gladly to give of that little," and thereby, insignificant as their contributions may be in amount, agreeably to the declaration of the Son of [8/9] Sirach, "gather unto themselves a good reward in the day of necessity." He that despises the offerings of the poor contravenes the spirit of that lesson which the Saviour meant to teach in his commendation of the humble, but cheerful, contribution of this necessitous female.
The incident is also calculated to teach the poor themselves that they are not exempt from the duty of charitably aiding one another. The gracious approbation expressed towards this feeling woman is an evidence that none who are above the necessity of asking alms of others should consider themselves as free from the obligation of relieving the wants of their fellow men. Surely if any one could claim exemption from the duty, this person might. She was a widow, so abject in her circumstances, that her contribution to the treasury of God exhausted the last farthing she possessed. Now, without urging a literal copy in every instance of this honourable act of benevolence, particularly where relatives and others dependant on the poor might be deprived, by too lavish an expenditure in alms-giving, of support, to which they have a more immediate claim, let those in moderate, nay, even restricted circumstances, learn, that these Gospel precepts are obligatory on all who are not wholly destitute of means: "Give alms of such things as ye have:" "To do good and to distribute forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
And we are also instructed by this narrative, that [9/10] the merit of our charitable contributions is not to be estimated so much according to their amount, as according to the liberal proportion which they bear to our means. Christ pronounced, in this instance of the widow, that she east in more than all the wealthy donors who preceded her. He did not mean by this that they had been so stinted in their benefactions, as to have individually thrown into the treasury less than two mites; for the manner in which the narrative commences plainly shows, that they were comparatively munificent in the extent of their donations. They, however, cast in of their abundance; the poor widow of her penury. They gave, out of the superfluity of their wealth, what they wanted not for their own use. She, in her charitable zeal, cast in all her living, submitting to the deprivation, not of the luxuries merely, but of the necessary comforts of existence, for the sake of those who were still more miserable than. herself.
Again we deprecate the idea of straining this instructive circumstance beyond its reasonable use; but surely it was designed to teach an important lesson to those whom the Providence of God has blessed with an abundance of this world's goods. The extent of their charity should be amply proportioned to their means of giving. Those who have much are required to give plenteously. Those who are rich in this world's goods are charged to be "ready to give, and glad to distribute, laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may attain eternal life;" whilst it is also said, that "he that soweth little," he who, in proportion to his means, contributes scantily to the poor's necessities, "shall reap little," an expression in Scripture phraseology implying, that he shall have no reward at all.
On the principles taught by our blessed religion, he who is most abundantly favoured in regard to temporal things is but a steward. His riches are not so completely his own as to invest him with the privilege of withholding, without incurring the Divine displeasure, the portion of the poor. He is accountable to God for the use to which he applies the bounties of his Providence; and because of the too general forgetfulness of this important truth, and the avaricious desire of accumulation, so frequently rendering the rich insensible to the sufferings of their poorer brethren, Christ himself compared the difficulty of an entrance into heaven by the slave of mammon to be no less than that of a camel's passing through the eye of a needle. Not that the mere possession of wealth is a bar to the favour of God; not that it is universally required of the rich to divest themselves of all their possessions, and distribute them among the poor; not that any measure of external beneficence, of itself, lays a claim to an inheritance in glory; but that where the love of riches is suffered to predominate in the breast, where it shuts up the soul in unfeeling selfishness, and renders its possessor either utterly callous to the cries of misery, or meanly restricted in the dispensation of relief, it is conclusively evincive of the absence of that love to man which is ever associated with love to God, and [11/12] without which no man can possess either a title to heaven's blessedness, or a capacity for its enjoyment. Such is the sentiment of St. John, "Whoso hath this world's goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?"
Let it be repeated, one of the circumstances that detracted, in the instance before us, from the merit of the offerings cast by the rich into the treasury, probably was, that, though vastly superior in amount to the humble contribution of the widow, they were taken only from superfluity. The donation of each wealthy contributor involved no personal deprivation; it was attended with no voluntary self-denial; it was disproportionate in extent to the ability with which a gracious Providence had endowed him; it occasioned not such a diminution of his resources as would require him to abridge any of his comforts, or even so much as to part with any of his luxuries. "They all," says the Evangelist, "cast in of their abundance." The expression imports an offering of no more than a part of their superfluities; and, therefore, whatever its amount, it could not be compared with the noble sacrifice of this benevolent woman, who of her penury, though scantily supplied with the indispensable necessaries of life, nevertheless, by this benefaction, to which no doubt she was prompted by the purest motives, was willing "of her want to cast in all she had, even all her living."
Learn, therefore, brethren, from this story, the [12/13] necessity of making your charity bear a generous proportion to your means of giving. Be willing to abate the measure of your own indulgences, to take something from pride, and vanity, and luxury, and even to reduce the number of your personal comforts, in this time of peculiar pressure, to enable you to give liberally to the suffering poor. Cupidity may suggest the danger of excess; but our text is calculated to remove such apprehensions. Excessive anxiety for wealth has led thousands into airy speculations, and adventurous pursuits, that have proved their ruin. The love of worldly pleasure and sensual enjoyment have brought still more into the depths of poverty. But few, very few, have fallen sacrifices to a spirit of expanded Christian beneficence. In parting with her two mites, this charitable widow seemed to be parting with her very life. The Evangelist is silent as to her subsequent history. Yet will any one believe that he, who thus commended the deed, left it unrewarded? Can we question that she experienced the fulfilment of that merciful promise, "He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lori, and that which he bath given will be given him again."
The conduct of Christ on this occasion, obviously teaches, how little fear need generally be entertained of injurious profusion in the exercise of Christian charity. This woman took what was necessary for herself, and gave it to the poor. Yet the great Teacher of righteousness neither interposed a caution to prevent it, as an act of indiscretion, nor afterwards blamed the feeling, generous donor; but has [13/14] honoured her memory by an eternal record of the fact, and transmitted it to us as a continual incitement to similar zeal in ministering to the necessities of our afflicted fellow mortals. What though the effect of Christian charity be the reduction of the sordid heap, what though it subject to a measure of temporary deprivation; he who is liberal in its exercise, from the motives suggested in the Gospel, "provides himself with bags which wax not old," secures "a treasure in heaven which faileth not." In the idle prodigality of the spendthrift, a careless and indiscriminate compliance with every call for pecuniary assistance, may form one item in the multitude of indiscretions, that ultimately enrol him in the ranks of poverty. But such is not the ordinary result of Christian beneficence on the most enlarged scale. "God is not unrighteous that he will forget the Christian's work and labour, that proceedeth of love." Often is an increased measure of worldly prosperity the reward of Christian philanthropy; and where, for wise purposes, this is withheld, there is a rich inward consolation, that accompanies and follows its employment, to which the avaricious worldling is an utter stranger; and in that glorious residence appointed for the obedient servants of Christ, when all terrestrial enjoyments have passed away, he has a treasure awaiting his acceptance, which rust cannot corrode, nor the hand of rapine wrest from his possession.
But, brethren, whilst I desire, by all the considerations which the text suggests, to excite, and increase [14/15] in your breasts a spirit of Christian charity, and to call forth its liberal exercise in favour of the object to which it is now invited, I must not omit that circumstance which gave this widow's benefaction its highest value in the sight of him, who as easily discerned the inward motive as he saw the outward act. It was that purity of intention which I pray God may sanctify your offerings to-night.
Your benefactions, from whatever motive they proceed, may contribute to swell the means of usefulness to the suffering poor; but to make them profitable to yourselves, the heart must accompany the gift. Religious principle, love to God, as the gracious bestower of every blessing, love to our fellow men, as the offspring of the same Heavenly Parent, and candidates for the same inheritance in glory, should inspire all our outward measures of beneficence. An eminent apostle has taught us the possibility of a man's bestowing all his goods to feed the poor, and yet of such an act not being entitled to the praise of Christian charity, and consequently profiting the donor nothing. That inward disposition of soul, which adorned the humble widow, was the chief ingredient in exalting the value of her offering. No principle of ostentation and vain-glory stained the lustre of her conduct. No selfish prospect of advantage in the world's applause prompted to an act of charity, the trivial character of which was rather calculated to draw upon her the ridicule of the proud contributors, whose splendid benefactions seemed to throw contempt on her's. No lurking suggestion of [15/16] avarice tempted her to withhold a part of the little remnant of her living; to cast into the treasury one, instead of both her mites. She gave all, and gave it with a cheerfulness and alacrity, that nothing but religion could inspire.
I ask you, brethren, from the same motives that inspired this worthy woman, to cast your gifts this evening into the treasury of God. I ask you to do it with a generous regard to the means with which a kind Providence has blessed you. I ask you to do it, "every man according as he purposeth in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver." Repress too calculating a temper. Withhold not the exercise of faith and confidence in the continued goodness of the Lord. What a strong act of faith, what a firm reliance on Divine Providence, were evinced by this excellent woman. She cast herself, with her benefaction, into the hands of God. There was associated with her charitable deed, the manifestation of a confiding trust in her Heavenly Parent and Preserver; a trust which no love of personal ease, no apprehension of future hardships, could abate. How much are the charities of life prevented by an excessive fear of want. How little are we disposed to rely upon the promise, that if we cast our bread upon the waters, it shall be found again, though it be after many days; how little inclined to recollect, that our Heavenly Father knoweth that we have need of food and raiment, and that "if we seek first his kingdom and righteousness, these things shall be added."
 Remember, Christians, that this woman was a daughter of Israel. She may have heard of the manna from heaven which supplied the wants of her forefathers in the wilderness; she may have read of the confiding prophet fed by the ravens, and of the generous widow's unwasting barrel of meal, and her cruise of oil, which failed not; but she had not heard those precious declarations from a Saviour's lips, which he uttered to repress in his followers a spirit of undue anxiety for the future, and to induce them to exercise unwavering trust in the bounty of that God, without whose permission not even a sparrow falls. "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye much better than they? And why take ye thought for raiment. Consider the lilies of the field how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?"
Christians, these assurances are yours. You doubt their truth if a fear for the morrow prevent your performance of the duties of the day.
But I must not enlarge on the many topics of instruction which this incident suggests. I notice but [17/18] one other particular, because of its peculiar application to the object for which your alms are now solicited. It was a public charity to which this poor widow was so approved a donor. She might have alleged, as an excuse for withholding her little contribution, its insignificance in the constitution of so great a fund. She might have pleaded for liberty to bestow her pittance towards the mitigation of human misery in some other way; nor are we prepared to say that, if a personal emergency had occurred, and she had given her two mites to the relief of the individual sufferer, they would not have been well applied. The approved benevolence of the good Samaritan, is a standing incitement to seasonable acts of kindness in our daily walks. But this does not supersede the duty of contributing to united public endeavours on an enlarged scale, and especially such as that which now solicits your support, whose object is the relief of individual instances of human misery in its most abject and afflictive form.
The charitable widow's offering was not useless in the promotion of the object to which it lent its willing, though feeble, aid; nor will the smallest contribution of the humblest worshipper before me fail of its destination to an end beneficial to the suffering poor, and acceptable in the sight of a God of mercy and compassion.
I hasten, therefore, brethren, briefly to state to you the character and design of the highly respectable and truly benevolent institution whose cause I advocate.
 Although it has existed for near thirty years, and thousands of the helpless sick have, by its tender and assiduous care, been restored from disabling sickness to health and usefulness; yet the New-York City Dispensary has not been an importunate suppliant of public favour, and its operations being silently conducted amongst the poorest class of our growing population, its merits may not be generally known.
The object to which its funds are directed is the gratuitous supply of the sick poor with medicines and medical attendance at their own homes. For this purpose the city is divided into six districts, and as many respectable physicians are appointed to give every requisite attention to the sick poor within their respective bounds. Six additional consulting physicians are ready to afford additional aid in difficult or dangerous cases. An office, provided by the institution with all the requisite medicines called for by the prescriptions of the physicians, is kept open, by an apothecary, during six hours of the day.
The diffusion of the benefits of vaccine inoculation amongst the poor is made the duty of the visiting physicians, and the apothecary of the Dispensary is also required to vaccinate such as may apply to him for that purpose.
The number of sick patients has, of late years, very much increased. In 1814 there were 2700. Last year the number was increased to upwards of 5000; and nothing can better attest the utility of the [19/20] institution, than the fact, that four thousand nine hundred of these were reported to the Board of Trustees as cured. In the same year near 900 persons received the benefit of vaccination.
Excepting an annual donation from the Corporation of the city, which, though creditable to its beneficence, is, of itself, entirely insufficient for the extensive operations of this valuable association, it is wholly dependent upon the voluntary contributions and donations of individual citizens. The amount of these has been considerably lessened by the pressure of the times, whilst an increased number of the indigent sick are importunately calling for relief. The consequence is a failure of the means to answer the present and expected exigences of this unhappy class; to supply which, no appeal to public munificence having been made in this mode, for many years, they now solicit your generous assistance.
Did ever an appeal to Christian charity present itself in a less questionable shape? Whatever may be the diversity of sentiment respecting the utility of some associations in which the poor are interested, can there be any as to the utility of this? Will any man say that, when the industrious artisan, the useful labourer, the worthy female, or other persons dependent, many of them with numerous families, on daily exertion, are, in the. Providence of God, brought on a bed of sickness, and disabled from earning their customary wages, it is not a well adapted and a noble charity which furnishes the means, under a Divine [20/21] blessing, of the alleviation of their sufferings, and their restoration to health and usefulness?
"The mechanic, who cannot, without great inconvenience, leave his family to reside in a hospital; the mother, who cannot be separated from her children; the tender infant, who requires the constant care and assistance of a fond parent; those who labour under chronic diseases, and are, therefore, not admissible as objects of the hospital;" are declared, by the regulations of this society, to be the "peculiar objects of its charity:" and it is not easy to conceive of cases more emphatically entitled to sympathy and relief.
This assistance of the poor in sickness, at their own habitations, is a measure fraught with kindness and advantage to its subjects, and, is calculated to lessen, most materially, the burdens of the public.
It is a charity which cannot be abused. Pecuniary aid bestowed upon the healthy, or even on those who allege the plea of sickness, may often prove an encouragement to idleness and inebriation. But the nature of the charitable office assumed by this association precludes the possibility of such an evil. Medicine and medical counsel, which it is alone its province to dispense to proper objects of compassion, cannot be so abused; and the highly respectable character of those who conduct its concerns, as well as its transactions for near thirty years, afford a pledge for the utmost circumspection, prudence, and humanity, in the exercise of its interesting duties.
 Brethren, this depositary of your generous contributions may, as justly as the corban at Jerusalem, into which the pious widow threw her grateful offering, be styled the treasury of God; for it is sacred to purposes which Divine beneficence approves, and will reward. "Blessed is he that considereth the poor; the Lord will deliver him in the time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive, and he shall be blessed upon the earth: and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: Thou wilt make all his bed in sickness."
Nor are these the only remunerations promised to deeds of pious liberality towards the suffering poor.
"I was sick, and ye visited me," is the heart-cheering acknowledgment with which the Redeemer welcomes to the heavenly courts such as, from motives of love to him, render the smallest service of that kind to his brethren. He hails them as the blessed of his Father, and ushers them into their appointed kingdom in glory. Small as was the widow's measure of relief, this was her great reward. She gave to the utmost of her power. Her heart was large, and had her means been commensurate with her wishes, she would have out-done her rich competitors in the value, as well as the motive, of her gift.
O may a generous strife be kindled in this assembly, who shall best evince the sincerity of the motives which actuate them, by the full proportion of their charitable tribute to the means with which a favouring [22/23] Providence has blessed them. All, it is hoped, have something to consecrate to this office of humanity. The retrenchment of some unnecessary indulgence, the sacrifice of some contemplated luxury, may enable many to extend the sum of their beneficence.
But I will not continue the language of solicitation. No, brethren, the cause for which I plead, pleads so strongly for itself, that enlargement would but weaken its claims on your compassionate support. The duty is before you. May you realize its reward.