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CHAPTER XXXI.: of liberality and its contraries. - John Robinson, The Works of John Robinson, vol. 1 
The Works of John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, with a Memoir and Annotations by Robert Ashton, 3 vols (London: John Snow, 1851). Vol. 1.
Part of: The Works of John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, with a Memoir and Annotations by Robert Ashton, 3 vols.
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of liberality and its contraries.
Libesality teacheth us to bestow our worldly goods, when, upon whom, and as we ought,‡ in obedience unto God, and for men's good. This is to be done without hope of requital from them; as not being a mercenary virtue,* but that wherein a man looks to his duty to others, and not to profit from them.† Else it is not liberality rightly performed, but a bargain well made. Neither is that to be accounted liberality, which is done for vain glory; seeing the work is named from the affection.‡ Least of all that, when men give to some, that they may take from others.§ This is rather thievery upon condition. Many account themselves, and are by others accounted not only liberal, but even bounteous, because they give great gifts: whereas, if we consider the persons on whom, and the ends for which they so pour out themselves, and their money (and other men's also, ofttimes); we shall see that in truth they deserve no more the name of liberal, than those prodigals do, who bestow their goods upon harlots, for the satisfying of their lusts. For as that is not a benefit which wants the best part of it, namely, to be given in judgment, so neither is that liberality, which wants that part, but the casting away of a man's goods.||
This virtue exercised in great states and gifts, is called bounty, and a kingly virtue, but may preserve the due respect of their liberality in the smallest matters, and by the poorest persons, if it be constant: which rather teacheth to give a little to many, than much to few.¶ This was verified in “ the churches of Macedonia, towards the poor saints in Jerusalem; whose deep poverty abounded unto their rich liberality.” 2 Cor. viii. 1,2. The same is confirmed, by our Saviour's testimony of the poor widow's contribution of two mites, that she gave, therein, more than all the rich men. Mark xii. 42, 43. None can give more, and therein be more liberal, than he that leaves himself little or nothing.** On the contrary, none can spare more, and therein be more covetous, than he, that will not do the little which he can do, and his neighbour stands in need of. It is the dangerous error of poor men, that only the rich are covetous, or liberal. They may be, and oft are, as very misers, and odiously covetous in their penny; as the other in their ponnd. So may they be as liberal.
“ Every one,” saith Solomon, “ is a friend to a man of gifts,” Prov. xix. 6: which have in them, saith another, a kind of secret force to draw the minds of men, as the loadstone draweth iron:* and that, not only of them that desire to use the liberality of others; but of such also, as neither need, nor would use the same. Look, what liberality loseth a man in his purse, it gets him in a better place, not only in heaven, but in earth also; and the best place there, the hearts of men, and their loving affection. On the contrary, covetous men are contemned, and hated, not only of them, whom they wrong by unjust getting, or keeping; but by all others that know them, though all dare not so manifest. Their credit with others, and comfort in themselves, is only in their purses.
It is a question amongst learned men, whether of the two extremes of liberality; prodigality in the excess, or covetousness in the defect, is worse: but something the less needful to be determined, considering how often they meet together in the same person, and beget either the other. Many “ lust, and desire to have,” and sometimes obtain, that they may consume upon their pleasures, James iv. 2: like unto kites, and gledes, and other ravenous birds, who are ever watching and catching for prey, and yet remain ever carrion-lean, converting the greatest part of their nourishment into long feathers. As some desire riches that they may have them, so a great part of the covetousness reigning in the world, is to maintain prodigal expenses: that look what covetousness hath gathered together, riot may lash out and consume.† For men, as well as women, being with child of riot, and excess in diet, apparel, and other worldly vanities, long for riches, and great gettings, to nourish and maintain their lusts, without which they are in danger to cast their calf, On the other side, they who escape best with prodigality, are driven to repair their too great lavishness in one thing, by too great niggardliness in another. But as it was said of Catiline, that he was prodigal of his own, and covetous of other men's;‡ so the greatest mispenders, for the most part, are constrained to be as great misgetters, to feed one vice by another. Hence some borrow without means, or meaning to pay again; circumvent others, if they have more cunning than they; oppress them, if they have more power; and some are driven to plain thievery, violent or secret. Yet if we will compare together these two naughts, we shall find covetousness, the worse of the twain. For, first, it is the “ root of all evil,” 1 Tim. vi. 10: for that there is no evil fruit but will grow of it. Judas sold Christ for it: and many thousand daily sell their bodies and souls to sin, and hell for it; and would sell Christ, if he were in their hands: whereas wise men, and lawyers count the prodigal rather vain, or at the worst, but half mad, and not capable of governing his own goods, than mischievous. Secondly, covetousness is by the apostle called “ idolatry,” Col. iii. 5, not in the common condition of all sins, in which men either in affection, or effect, esteem of transitory vanities above God, and despise him, in comparison of them; but, especially, for that they put more confidence in their riches, for their safety, and welfare, than they do in God's providence; and by them promise themselves all abundance of happiness. This madness befalls not the but half-mad prodigals. Thirdly, the covetous doth good to none, nor to himself neither, many times; wanting as well the things he hath, as the things he hath not;* “ God not giving him power to eat of, and use his riches.” Eccl. iv. 8, Whereas, the prodigal doth good to many, though not well. Fourthly, covetousness is a base, and beggar- like vice: prodigality a worshipful, honourable, and kingly sin. Fifthly, poverty, and want, the fruits of prodigality, prove, ofttimes, good schoolmasters to the ding-thrift, for his bettering; as we see it fell out with the prodigal son: but the effects of covetousness, which are usually riches, and plenty, harden the hold-fast; causing him to bless himself the more, in his wicked way. Luke xv. 13. The riot of the prodigal draws him dry; but the gettings of the other serve to feed his disease, which causeth him, dropsylike, the more he hath, to desire the more.† Add we unto all these, that whereas age is some remedy against other vices, specially against prodigality, which grows old, and decays with the person, in whom it is; covetousness then grows young: so as they who are but thrifty in youth, are usually covetous in age.‡ And though it seem, and, indeed, be unreasonable, that the less way men have to go, they should be careful for the more viandour, and provision for their journey;∗ yet there are divers colourable occasions, though no just causes of this malady. As first, age being impotent, and unable to sustain itself, is occasioned the more carefully to seek, and get riches, as a staff to lean on. But for this, we shall never see any, more greedy, than such, as have more than enough for many ages, their abundance no more quenching their lust, than fuel doth the flame,‡ Secondly, the aged are oft charged with families, and friends, for whom they are to provide; from which burden youth is free: for “children are not to lay up for the parents, but parents for the children.” 2 Cor. xii. 14. But for this also; we see, that “a man, though he be alone, and have no second, neither child, nor brother, puts no end of labour to get, nor is ever satisfied with riches.” Eccl, iv. 8. I have not in my life observed any more given to covetousniess, than such as have not, nor are like to have children to leave their goods to. Thirdly, the other lusts of prodigal youth languishing in age, the heart, not being set upon ‘God, and true goodness, which alone could fill, and satisfy It, finds only the lust of coveting riches a fit guest to harbour in it; wherewith the flesh maintains itself, that it fall not wholly into decay. So Simonides, being accused of covetousness, answered, that, whereas, the delight of all other pleasures was gone, he nourished his age with that alone profitable pleasure,* And, lastly, what is worst of all, though God have set, religion and covetousness at such variance, that they cannot possibly reign in one person: “ none can serve God, and mammon:” and again, “ he that loveth this world, the love of God dwelleth not in him:” yet we see it, that religion working in persons a loathing of excess in worldly vanities, their flesh so works with it, as it disposes very many to such a wariness, as between which, and plain covetousness, there is too near affinity. Yea, how many have I known, who having passed the danger of the highway ground, and understood the word of God preached, and professed the same: and of the’ stony ground too, in undergoing some troubles, and persecutions for the same: yet nourishing in themselves too much love and care of wordly riches, have had all their goodness choked before the harvest, by those dangerous thorns! Matt. xiii. 19. Against this, so dangerous, deceitful, and close-cleaving evil, we are, first, to get into our hearts faith in God's providence, as well, and as much, for the good things of the life present, so far forth as they are good indeed, as of that to come. 1 Tim. iv. 8. He that dares not, in the use of good means, trust God for this life, does not indeed trust him for life everlasting, how oft soever he say over his creed. Such a man mocks with God, in making a show of trusting him with that, which in truth he profanely despiseth: whereas, for worldly good things which he desires in earnest, he will trust God no further than he sees him. Though the Lord's love show forth itself more in heavenly, than in earthly things; yet his truth binds him alike to performance, as he hath promised: upon which, he that dares not rest for the lesser, makes but a show of resting for the greater. Secondly, we must get contentation with that which we have, seeing God hath said to us, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” Heb. xiii. 5: esteeming, and saying with ourselves, that, this which we enjoy with a good conscience, and by means lawful, diligently used, is our allotment from God, by the sanctified use whereof, he will provide competently for our temporal state, and further our eternal. Thirdly, considering, how uncertain means of our good, even for this life, all earthly things are; and how many times they become the very snare thereof, as in the case of Naboth, 1 Kings xxi. 1—3; and how always the coveting of them deprives of the hope of a better: for “ the covetous is an idolater, and hath no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ, and of God,” Eph. v. 5, it is both sin, and folly, inordinately to affect the getting, or keeping of them. But, as the Pharisees being covetous, mocked at Christ, when they heard him speak against their joining the serving the “ mammon of unrighteousness,” with the serving of God, Luke xvi. 14: so men, in all ages, becoming rich by covetousness, and proud by riches; are ready to mock at whatsoever God or man can say against their gainful wickedness.
Considering how many poor people want, and of those not a few, the living members of Christ Jesus; we ought to make great conscience either of spending prodigally, or sparing covetously anything less, or more, wherewith we might comfort them, and show them mercy: how much more, of that, whereby, we should deal justly with them in giving them their due ? which should first he done.