From “Of the Institutions of the Church,” Fifth Decade, Tenth Sermon, Decades (1549-1552)
A portion of the church goods are appointed for the poor. And there are different sorts of poor folks – widows, students, orphans, infants cast out who parents are not known, those who are worn with age and spent with diseases… There are not only poor men born within the land, but also strangers banished from their own countries and home for righteousness’ sake and for the word of God. There are others who have not yet come to extreme poverty but are close to it and, if they are not helped with a little money, soon they will depend wholly on the church box. There are others who are consumed by imprisonment, by wars, by great floods of waters, by fire, and by different mishaps, hail, frosts, storms and distemperatures. The Lord willed us to be mindful of their health and safeguard, saying that whatsoever we bestow upon them we bestow upon him. Therefore, if we despise and do not regard the poor, without all doubt, we despise and neglect our Lord God himself in the poor. We ought of duty to succor the poor of our own good will by counsel, comfort, medicines, cures, money, meat, drink, clothes, lodgings, succoring, and by any means else that we may, and in all such matters and cases as they shall have need of our help.
If the church goods are not sufficient to perform all this at the full, then let the abundance of other good faithful people supply their want… He who has this world’s substance and sees his brother want and shuts up his affection is cruel… Why do we not call to mind the last sentence of the high judge, uttered from his heavenly judgement seat… “truly I say to you, in as much as you did it not for one of the least of these, neither did you do it for me.” … We read that the primitive church was careful in providing for the poor, even to the working of miracles. St Paul, also, in all places commends the poor to the church of God; he made collections for the poor almost in all churches and the blessings which he gathered he distribute with great judgement, faith, and diligence…
Riches were gathered even in the time of the apostles to succor the necessity of the poor. Deacons were appointed by the church as providers and stewardship, among whom those first deacons were most famous, those mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, and also the notable martyr of Christ, Laurence. And the writings of the ancient Fathers do testify that with those ecclesiastical goods, prisoners were redeemed out of captivity, poor maidens of lawful years married, hospitals, hostels, nurseries were built to host poor travelers, for the maintenance of the poor born in other countries, for the relief of the sick, for the necessity of old men, and for the honest bringing up of students and orphans.
Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575) was a Swiss Reformed pastor and theologian, the principal leader of the Church in Zurich for over forty years. He was among the primary drafters of the First and Second Helvetic Confessions, and worked with John Calvin to establish a common basis of teaching on the Eucharist among the Swiss Reformed Churches. His Decades were a series of doctrinal sermons, published as a source of theological instruction for pastors and teachers. This text is adapted from in Thomas Harding ed. Decades of Heinrich Bullinger (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1852).