(1) Mosaic Law. The regulations of the Mosaic law respecting property, and its benign spirit towards the poor, went far to prevent the existence of penury as a permanent condition in society, and, consequently, by precluding beggary, to render the need of almsgiving unnecessary. However, the duty of almsgiving, especially in kind, is strictly enjoined in the law (Lev. xix : 0, to; xxiii :22; Dela. XV :II; XXIV :19; XXVI :2-13: Ruth ii :2). Every third year also tithes were to he shared (Dent. xiv 20). The following passages indicate the theological estimate of ahmgiving ( Job xxxi :17; Esth. ix :22; Ps. cxii : 9; Acts ix :36, in the case of Dorcas; Acts x :2, Cornelius; to which may be added apocrypha Tohit xiv:to, it and Ecclus. iii:3o; (2) General Spirit of Christianity. The general spirit of Christianity, in regard to suc coring the needy, is nowhere better seen than in John iii 'Whoso bath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth tip his bowels from him, how dwcllcth the love of God in him?' With the faithful and conscien tious observance of the 'royal law' of love, par ticular manifestations of mercy to the poor seem to be left by Christianity to be determined by time, place, and circumstances; and it cannot be supposed that a religion, one of whose princi ples is 'that, if any would not work, neither should he cat' (2 Thess. :to), can give any sanction to indiscriminate almsgiving, or intend to encourage the crowd of wandering, idle beg gars with which some parts of the world are still infested. The emphatic language employed by the Lord Jesus Christ and others (Luke iii: ; vi :3o; xi :41 ; xii :33 ; Matt. vi :1 ; Acts ix :36 ; x :2, 4; Gal. ii :to), is designed to enforce the general duty of a merciful and practical re gard to the distresses of the indigent; while the absence of ostentation, and even secrecy, which the Saviour enjoined in connection with alms giving, was intended to correct actual abuses, and bring the practice into harmony with the spirit of the Gospel. In the remarkable reflections
of Jesus on the widow's mite (Mark xii :42) is found a principle of great value, to the effect that the magnitude of men's offerings to God is to be measured by the disposition of mind whence they proceed; a principle which cuts up by the very roots the idea that merit attaches itself to alms giving as such, and increases in proportion to the number and costliness of our alms-deeds.
(3) Early Effects. One of the earliest ef fects of the working of Christianity in the hearts of its professors was the care which it led them to take of the poor and indigent in the 'house hold of faith.' Neglected and despised by the world, cut off from its sympathies, and denied any succor it might have given, the members of the early churches were careful not only to make provision in each case for its own poor, but to contribute to the necessities of other though dis tant communities (Acts xi:29; xxiv :I7 ; 2 Cor. ix :12). This commendable practice seems to have had its Christian origin in the deeply inter esting fact (which appears from John xiii :29) that the Saviour and his attendants were wont, notwithstanding their own comparative poverty, to contribute out of their small resources some thing for the relief of the needy.
"In Christendom during many centuries the duty of almsgiving (primary, no doubt, from a desire of obeying the commands of Christ) re ceived great, and sometimes exaggerated, atten tion. The danger now is rather that, through fear of the ill-effects of indiscriminate almsgiving (as referred to above) the disposition to give and the habit of doing so should be discouraged. A practice, however, enjoined as this one is, must permanently hold a high place in the Chris tian rule of life. It is the function of modern economic and social knowledge only to make its exercises more wise and beneficial," (V. H. Stanton, Hastings' Bib. Dirt.)