A Thousand Doubts of Danger

From “A Homily of Almsdeeds and Mercifulness toward the Poor” Second Book of Homilies (1562)

Consider the example [of Elijah and the widow (1 Kings 17)… This poor woman, in the time of an extreme and long dearth, had but one handful of meal and a little cruse of oil. Her only son was ready to perish before her eyes for hunger. And she herself also about to pine away, and yet when the poor prophet came and asked a part, she was so mindful of mercy that she forgot her own misery.

And rather than give up the opportunity to give alms and engage a work of righteousness, she was content to risk her own life and her son’s life… she never distrusted the promise that God made to her by the prophet, but straightway went about to relieve the hungry prophet of God… But we, like unbelieving wretches, before we will give one mite, we will cast a thousand doubts of danger, whether that will stand us in any stead that we give to the poor, whether we should not have need of it at any other time and whether here wit would not have been more profitably bestowed… There is neither the fear or love of God before our eyes…

Hearken, therefore, merciless miser what will be the end of unmerciful dealing… You who have stony hearts toward others shall find all the creatures of God as hard as brass and iron.

The two Books of Homilies (1547 & 1571) were written to teach the reformed doctrine of the Church of England in local congregations, and were originally appointed to be read out during worship by parish priests, few of whom originally had licenses to preach. The Second Book of Homilies was mostly the work of Bishop John Jewel of Salisbury (1522-1571), a noted polemical theologian, who wrote the first major defense of the Church of England’s structure and worship. 

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