Misfortune

“Put on, therefore, as the elect of God — kindness.” Coll. iii. 12.

… I may add, on this point, that where relief cannot be afforded, it should be declined with a gentle and benevolent heart. It often happens, from the necessity of the case, that we must decline aid to the poor, to the needy, to the stranger, and to the cause of humanity and religion at large. Circumstances put it out of our power to assist them. But it mitigates the evil if benevolence beams in the eye, and gentleness and love dictate the terms by which it is done. It may become pleasant even to have an application rejected. It may be done with so much good will and sincerity; where it is so evident that the heart is in it ; where there is such a manifest wish that the circumstances were different, that the pain of the refusal shall all be taken away, and good shall be done to the soul even where the aid sought for the body could not be granted.

We are often troubled by applications for aid — I say troubled, from their frequency, and because we allow them to trouble us. We are liable to constant solicitations of this sort — solicitations all of which we cannot comply with. It can neither be right for us, nor would it be possible for us to comply with them all. Part of those who apply to us for assistance we know ; part are strangers whom we may never see again. Yet we are to remember that most of them are children of misfortune. Many of them have by nature sensibilities as keen as we ourselves, and they will feel a cold look and a stern repulse as much as we. We are to remember, too, that not a few of them suffer more from the necessity of asking assistance than from almost any other ill of life. Long will a widowed mother suffer from poverty and want, before she will go to the stranger to seek assistance. Long would she suffer still rather than do it, but it is not her own sufferings that prompt her to it ; — it is the cry of her children for bread, the desolation of her home without fuel, and without food, and without work, that compels her to subdue her strong reluctance to solicit charity, and she does this under a depth of mingled, agitated emotions which the affluent never know. If to all this there is now to be added the cool repulse ; the harsh, forbidding look ; the refusal even to hear the simple story of her sufferings, and the sufferings of her children, and if she is to return and say to them that nothing can be obtained for them — and to see them weep and suffer the more by disappointment, you infuse the bitterest dreg into her cup of woes. Christian kindness would have mitigated all ; Christian kindness might have prompted to that little aid from your superabundant wealth, which not being missed in your dwelling, would have made hers to her like Eden.

The same thing is true when help is asked for any object of beneficence. The man who asks your aid to relieve a people suffering the evils of famine; or to help a family whose all has been consumed by fire for to liberate a slave from bondage ; or to enable a man to purchase his wife or children in order that they all may be free together, or to send the preached gospel to the heathen world, has a right to a kind reception. On his part it is a work of benevolence, in which he is usually no more interested than we are — and in doing it he may have overcome much reluctant feeling, and sacrificed many comforts, from the strong conviction of duty. He has a right to expect, where aid cannot be granted for his object, that his feelings shall not be harrowed up by an uncivil and cold reception. If aid is declined, he has a right to expect that it should be in gentleness and love — so declined that it may be pleasant for him and for you to meet when your circumstances shall be better.

Albert Barnes, “SERMON XVII. THE BLESSINGS OF A BENIGNANT SPIRIT” Practical sermons: designed for vacant congregations and families“, 1841

Albert Barnes was an American Presbyterian who pastored churches in Philadelphia and New Jersey.

He reminds us there are those who wouldn’t ask unless they were beyond desperate straits.  He asks us to consider the depth of misfortune a widow may be suffering, says  a mere a mite from our superabundant wealth might turn the grieving widow’s home into Eden.  He uses the word “evil” to refer to our refusal.

Barnes admits the number of appeals from those suffering various misfortunes may be far beyond what we can, or ought to answer affirmitively.  Thus, the duty which Christians must practice regularly is graciousness in saying, “no”.   I know I’ve caught myself being short with telemarketers, even those for charities I support, and have sometimes wished I could find ways to use up their time in order to make the charity find some other way of making an appeal. We ought to consider also the sacrifices the appeal-maker has undertaken for some spiritual or humanitarian good and at least provide an offering of a pleasant human interaction.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, please enlarge our heart for those suffering various misfortunes. We thank you for those who give up their free time to make appeals on behalf of others. Give us a spirit of kindness that we may bring joy and peace everywhere we go– perhaps especially when we need to decline direct or indirect appeals for assistance.  Build up workers in your kingdom to spread the gospel and relieve suffering.  AMEN.

 

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