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From Bonifacius: Essays to Do Good'

Much Occasion for Doing Good

Such glorious things are spoken in the oracles of God, concerning them who devise good, that A

devise good, that A BOOK OF GOOD DEVICES may reasonably demand attention and acceptance from those who have any impressions of the most reasonable religion upon them. I am devising such a book; but at the same time offering a sorrowful demonstration, that if men would set themselves to devise good, a world of good might be done more than is now done, in this “present evil world.” Much is requisite to be done that the great God and his Christ may be more known and served in the world; and that the errors which prevent men from glorifying their Creator and Redeemer may be rectified. Much is necessary to be done that the evil manners of the world, by which men are drowned in perdition, may be reformed; and mankind rescued from the epidemical corruption which has overwhelmed it. Much must be done that the miseries of the world may have suitable remedies provided for them; and that the wretched may be relieved and comforted. The world contains, it is supposed, about a thousand millions of inhabitants. What an ample field do these afford, for doing good? In a word, the kingdom of God in the world calls for innumerable services from us. To do such things is to do good. Those men devise good, who form

, plans which have such a tendency, whether the objects be of a temporal or spiritual nature. You see the general matter, appearing as yet but a chaos, which is to be wrought upon. O! that the good Spirit of God may now fall upon us, and carry on the glorious work which lies before us!

9. In its first publication (1710) Bonifacius had a five-line title, but soon became known as “Essays to Do Good.” Actually the essays have a certain continuity: the first third or more is the philosophical generalization, which we represent here. The remainder is a quaintly pedagogical, yet perceptive analysis of problems of "doing good” for specific groups—wives, servants, and so on; or in occupations—as teachers, civil officials, "rich men,” lawyers.

In the philosophical generalization, his magnanimous "world-view" somewhat resembles the concerns of the present century. Mather's ethical system is Godcentered, but God is not exclusively the Judeo-Christian Jehovah. “I produce,” says Mather, “not only religion but even Humanity itself. * * * I speak to wise

men, whose reason shall be my rhetoric, and to Christians, whose conscience shall be my eloquence, * * * that Mankind [be] rescued from the epidemical corruption which has overwhelmed it. *** A man cannot but find himself while he is doing good [because of] that divine nature of which we are partakers.”

Among many, Franklin was early influenced by this book, as he tells us in his Autobiography, so much so that he echoed its title for the "Dogood Papers.” Also, Franklin's system of self-appraisal may reflect the system of practical selfdiscipline recommended by Mather. And fifty years after Mather's death Franklin wrote to Richard Mather, his son (from Passy, France, 1779), "it gave me such a turn of thinking as to have influence on my conduct through life.”

The Excellence of Well-Doing It may be presumed that my readers will readily admit, that it is an excellent thing to be full of devices to bring about such noble designs. For any man to deride or despise my proposal, “That we resolve and study to do as much good in the world as we can,” would be the mark of so black a character, that I am almost unwilling to suppose its existence. Let no man pretend to the name of a Christian, who does not approve the proposal of a perpetual endeavour to do good in the world. What pretension can such a man have to be a follower of the Good One? The primitive Christians gladly accepted and improved the name, when the Pagans, by a mistake, styled them Chrestians; because it signified, useful ones. The Christians, who have no ambition to be such, shall be condemned by the Pagans; among whom it was a title of the highest honour to be termed, “a Benefactor:" To have done good, was accounted honourable. The philosopher being asked, Why every one desired to gaze on a fair object, answered, that it was the question of a blind man. If any man ask, Why it is so necessary to do good? I must say, it sounds not like the question of a good man. The “spiritual taste” of every good man will give him an unspeakable relish for it. Yea, unworthy to be deemed a man, is he, who is not for doing good among men. An enemy to the proposal, “that mankind may be the better for us,” deserves to be reckoned little better than a common enemy of mankind. How cogently do I bespeak a good reception of what is now designed! I produce not only religion, but even humanity itself, as full of a “fiery indignation against the adversaries” of the design. Excuse me, Sirs; I declare, that if I could have my choice, I would never eat or drink, or walk, with such a one, as long as I live; or look on him as any other than one by whom humanity itself is debased and blemished. A very wicked writer had yet found himself compelled, by the force of reason, to publish this confession: “To love the public; to study the universal good; and to promote the interest of the whole world, as far as it is in our power, is surely the highest goodness, and constitutes that temper, which we call divine.” And he proceeds—“Is doing good for the sake of glory so divine?” (alas! too much human!) “or, is it not more divine to do good, even where it may be thought inglorious; even to the ungrateful, and to those who are wholly insensible of the good they receive?” A man must be far gone in wickedness, who will open his mouth against such maxims and actions! A better pen has remarked it; yea, the man must be much a stranger to history, who has not made the remark: “To speak truth, and to do good, were, in the esteem even of the heathen world, most God-like qualities.” God forbid, that there should be

any abatement of esteem for those qualities in the Christian world!

The Reward of Well-Doing I will not vet propose the REWARD of well doing, and the glorious things which the mercy and truth of God will perform for those who devise good; because I would have to do with such as esteem it a sufficient reward to itself. I will suppose my readers to be possessed of that ingenuous temper, which will induce them to account themselves well rewarded in the thing itself, if God will permit them to do good in the world. It is an invaluable honour to do good; it is an incomparable pleasure. A man must look upon himself as dignified and gratified by God, when an opportunity to do good is put into his hands. He must embrace it with rapture, as enabling him to answer the great end of his being. He must manage it with rapturous delight, as a most suitable business, as a most precious privilege. He must “sing in those ways of the Lord,” wherein he cannot but find himself while he is doing good. As the saint of old sweetly sang, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord;” 1 so ought we to be glad when any opportunity of doing good is presented to us. We should need no arguments to incline us to entertain the offer; but should naturally fly into the matter, as most agreeable to that “divine nature” of which we are made partakers. It should gratify us wonderfully; as much as if an ingot of gold were presented to us! We should rejoice as having obtained the utmost of our wishes. Some servants of God have been so intent on this object, that they have cheerfully proposed to make any recompense that could be desired, to a friend who would supply the barrenness of their own thoughts, and suggest any special methods by which they might be useful. Certainly, to do good, is a thing that brings its own recompense, in the opinion of those who deem information on this head worthy of a recompense. I will only say, that if any of my readers are strangers to such a disposition as this, and do not consider themelves enriched and favoured of God, when he employs them in doing good-with such persons I have done, and would beg them to lay the book aside: it will be irksome to carry on any further conversation with them:

1. Psalms cxxii: 1.

it is a subject on which the house of Caleb 2 will not be conversed with. I will be content with one of Dr. Stoughton's 3 introductions; “It is enough for me that I speak to wise men, whose reason shall be my rhetoric; to Christians, whose conscience shall be my eloquence.”

Though the assertion may fly like a chain-shot amongst us, and rake down all before it, I will again and again assert, that every one of us might do more good than he does; and therefore this is the first proposal I would make. To be exceedingly humbled that we have done so little good in the world. I am not uncharitable in saying, that I know not one assembly of Christians on earth, which ought not to be a Bochim,4 on this consideration. O! tell me in what Utopia I shall find it. Sirs! let us begin to be fruitful, by lamenting our past unfruitfulness. Verily, sins of omission must be confessed and lamented, or else we add to their number. The most useful men in the world have gone out of it, crying, “Lord, forgive our sins of omission!” Many a good man, who has been peculiarly conscientious about the profitable employment of his time, has had his death bed rendered uneasy by this reflection, “The loss of time now lies heavy upon me!" Certain it is, that all unregenerate persons are unprofitable persons; and they are properly compared to “thorns and briers,” to teach us what they are. An unrenewed sinner! alas, he never performed one good work in all his life! In all his life, did I say? I recall that word. He is “dead while he liveth”—he is “dead in sin;" he has not yet begun to “live unto God;” and as he is himself dead, so are all his works; they are “dead works.” O, wretched, useless being! Wonder, wonder, at the patience of Heaven, which yet forbears to cut down such “a cumberer of the ground!” O that such persons may immediately acknowledge the necessity of turning to God; and how unable they are to do it; and how unworthy they are that God should make them able! O that they may cry to God for his sovereign grace to quicken them; and let them plead the sacrifice of Christ for their reconciliation to God; seriously resolve on a life of obedience to God, and resign themselves up to the Holy Spirit, that he may lead them in the paths of holiness! No good will be done, till this be done. The first-born of all devices to do good, is in being born again.

2. An emissary of Joshua sent with other
scouts to view the land of Canaan before
the actual entry of the Israelites. They
returned with fine fruits as evidence of
the productivity of the land, but some
murmured that the land could not be
captured. Cf. Numbers xiii: 2 ff.

3. William Stoughton (16302-1710),
one of the judges of the Salem witch
trials, founder of Stoughton Hall, Har-
vard, one-time lieutenant governor of
4. The place of mourners.

vou lived

But as for you, who have been brought home to God; you have great cause not only to lament the dark days of your unregeneracy, in which you produced only “the unfruitful works of darkness;" but also that you have done so little, since God has quickened you, and enabled you to do better. How little have

up to those strains of gratitude which might justly have been expected from you, since God brought you into his “marvellous light!” The best of us may mourn in his complaints, and say, “O Lord, how little good have I done, compared with what I might have done!” Let the sense of this cause us to loathe and judge ourselves before the Lord; let iť fill us with shame, and abase us wonderfully. Let us, like David, “water our couch with tears,” when we consider how little good we have done. “O that our heads were waters,” because they have been so dry of all thoughts to do good. “O that our eyes were a fountain of tears,” because they have looked out so little for occasions to do good. For the pardon of this evil-doing, let us fly to the great Sacrifice, and plead the blood of that “Lamb of God,” whose universal usefulness is one of those admirable properties, on account of which he is styled “a Lamb.” The pardon of our barrenness of good works being thus obtained, we shall be rescued from condemnation to perpetual barrenness: the dreadful sentence, “Let no fruit grow on thee for ever,” will thus be prevented. A true, evangelical procedure to do good, must have this repentance laid in the foundation of it. We do not “handle the matter wisely” if a foundation be not laid thus low, and in the deepest self-abasement.

How full of devices are we for our own secular advantage! and how expert in devising many little things to be done for ourselves! We apply our thoughts with mighty assiduity to the old question, “What shall we eat and drink, and wherewithal shall we be clothed?” With strong application of mind we inquire, what shall we do for ourselves, in our marriages, in our voyages, in our bargains? We anxiously contrive to accomplish our plans, and avoid numerous inconveniences, to which, without some contrivance, we should be obnoxious. We carry on the business of our personal callings with numberless thoughts how to perform them well; and to effect our temporal affairs we “find out witty inventions.”

But, О rational, immortal, heaven-born soul, are thy wondrous faculties capable of no greater improvements, no better employments? Why should a soul of such high capacities, a soul that may be clothed in the “scarlet” of angels, yet “embrace a dunghill!” O let a blush deeper than scarlet, be thy clothing, for being found so meanly occupied. Alas, in the multitude of thy thoughts within thee, hast thou no disposition to raise thy soul

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