The Body and Soul of Charity

From “Of Alms,” Holy Living, 4.8 (1650)

Love is as communicative as fire, as busy and as active, and it has four twin-daughters, extremely like each other; and but that the doctors of the school have done, as Thamar’s midwife did, who bound a scarlet thread, something to distinguish them, it would be very hard to call them asunder.

Their names are, Mercy; Beneficence, or well-doing; Liberality; and, Alms, which, by a special privilege, has obtained to be called Charity. The first or eldest is seated in the affection, and it is that which all the others must attend. For mercy, without alms, is acceptable when the person is disabled to express outwardly what he heartily desires. But alms, without mercy, are like prayers without devotion, or religion without humility.

Beneficence or well-doing is a promptness and nobleness of mind, making us to do offices of courtesy and humanity to all sorts of persons, in their need or out of their need. Liberality is a disposition of mind opposite to covetousness, and it consists in the despite and neglect of money upon just occasions, and relates to our friends, children, kindred, servants, and other relatives. But alms is a relieving of the poor and needy. The first and the last only are duties of Christianity. The second and third are circumstances and adjuncts of these duties; for liberality increases the degree of alms, making our gift greater; and beneficence extends it to more persons and orders of men, spreading it wider. The former makes us sometimes to give more than need by the necessity of beggars, and serves the needs and conveniences of persons and supplies circumstances; whereas properly alms are doles and largesse to the necessities of nature, and giving remedies to their miseries.

Mercy and alms are the body and soul of that charity which we must pay to our neighbor’s need; and it is a precept which God therefore enjoined to the world, that the great inequality which he was pleased to allow in the possessions and accidents of men might be reduced to some temper and evenness; and the most miserable person might be reduced to some temper and evenness; and the most miserable person might be reconciled to some sense and participation of felicity.

Jeremy Taylor was an Anglican cleric, the author of the twin devotional manuals, The Rules and Exercises of Holy Living and Holy Dying. Classed among the Caroline Divines, he was famed in his time as a preacher and moral theologian, Taylor served as chaplain to King Charles I, and after the Restoration, became Bishop of Down and Connor in Ireland. He is commemorated on August 13 on the liturgical calendars of many Anglican churches.


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