570) Charity in Words and Deeds

CHARITY IN WORDS AND DEEDS;  From the life of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

Johnson’s Deeds of Charity; from Stephen Danckert, The Quotable Johnson, Ignatius Press, 1992, p. 15:

     Johnson’s later years were characterized by extraordinary holiness and compassion, manifest in the most ordinary of circumstances.

     As in his writings, there was an immediacy, a freshness, to Johnson’s charity:  emptying his pockets to beggars who asked for a coin, slipping pennies into the pockets of sleeping children on the streets so that they might have money for breakfast, frequenting an unpopular pub merely because “the owner is a good Christian woman and has not much business.”  Johnson once said, “He who waits to do a great deal of good at once, will never do anything.”

     En route home from a tavern one night, he came upon a prostitute half dead with the cold.  Wrapping her in his enormous brown coat, he picked her up and carried her home.  There he nursed her back to health, arranged for medical attention, and provided her room and board.  Some weeks later, he found her employment as a servant in a family of good reputation.  Many would have hesitated to open their homes to a prostitute; others might have counted their duty discharged in providing a single night’s shelter.  Not so with Johnson, whose memory of (his own days on) the cold London streets never left him.

     Mrs. Thrale, close friend of Dr. Johnson, wrote of him:  “He loved the poor as I never yet saw anyone else do, with an earnest desire to make them happy.  And so he nursed whole nests of people in his house, where the lame, the blind, the sick, and the sorrowful found a sure retreat from all the evils whence his little income could secure them.  And just as he would give all the silver in his pocket to the poor who watched him as he left the house, so, on returning late at night, for years he had been putting pennies into the hands of children lying asleep on thresholds so that they could buy breakfast in the morning.”


Words on Charity; from Sermons IV and XIX by Johnson (paraphrased):

      The chief reason for which charity is to be practiced is the shortness and uncertainty of life.  To a person who considers for what purpose he was created, and how short a time is allotted to his earthly duration, and how much of that time is already passed; how can anything that terminates in this life give any real satisfaction?  Whatever abundance that we have been blessed with, and whatever plenty may surround us, we know that it can be possessed only a short time, and that the manner in which we use it will determine our eternal state.  How can one argue that they should use their abundance in any other way, but to use it in a way that is agreeable to the command of Him that bestowed it?  

     …What stronger incitement can any man require to help the poor and needy than that the Lord will deliver him in the day of trouble; in that day when the shadow of death shall come over him, and all the vanities of the world shall fade away; when all the comforts of this life shall forsake him; when pleasure shall no longer delight, nor his own power protect him?  In that dreadful hour, the man whose care has been extended to the general happiness of mankind; that man shall find favor in the sight of God.  Then he shall stand without fear on the brink of life, and pass into eternity confident of finding that mercy which he never denied to another.

     …Charity is a universal duty, which is in every man’s power to practice, since every degree of assistance given to another, done with proper motives, is an act of charity.  There is scarcely any person in such a poor state that he may not, on some occasions, benefit his neighbor.  The widow that shall give her mite to the treasury, and the poor man who shall bring to the thirsty a cup of cold water, shall not lose their reward.

     …One of the excuses for the neglect of charity is the inability to practice it.  But this excuse is too frequently offered by those who are poor only in their own opinion, who look only on those who are above them, rather on those that are below them.  They cannot consider themselves rich if they see any who are richer; and, while their tables are heaped with delicacies, they allow the poor to languish in the streets in miseries and in want.


Helping the poor is more complicated today than in Johnson’s day, when he would put coins directly into the hands of children sleeping on the streets,– but we can help them.  One very effective way is to be generous in donating to the Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign, soon to be appearing outside of many stores.  The Salvation Army uses the money they are given to provide help by welcoming “whole nests of people in (their) house, where the lame, the blind, the sick, and the sorrowful find a sure retreat,” as did Johnson (see above).  This coming Christmas Season as you pass those Red Kettles on the way into stores, think about Samuel Johnson putting coins into the hands of the poor children in the streets of London, and be generous.


Matthew 10:42  —  (Jesus said), “If anyone gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

Ezekiel 16:49  —  Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom:  She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

Proverbs 19:17  —  He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.


O Lord, come to me and use my bread, silver, gold, and all that is mine.  How well they are applied, if I spend them in your service.  Amen.
–Martin Luther