The Virtue of Liberality
Isaiah 32:8
But the liberal devises liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.

I. THE NATURE OF THIS VIRTUE: what it is and wherein it consists.

1. The several names whereby it is described — generosity, &c. The periphrastical descriptions of it are such as these, — Opening our hands wide (Deuteronomy 15:8); drawing out our souls (Isaiah 58:10); dispersing abroad (2 Corinthians 9:9); being enriched in everything to all bountifulness (2 Corinthians 9:11); to be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate (1 Timothy 6:18).

2. The nature of it. Extended to persons in a state of suffering and misery, it is styled mercy or pity. To persons in a condition of want it is styled alms or charity.

3. The qualifications or conditions required to the due exercise of it.

(1) It must be done willingly, with spontaneity, with forwardness of mind (2 Corinthians 9:2). Not grudgingly, but cheerfully (ver. 7). "Thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest to thy brother" (Deuteronomy 15:10).

(2) It must be done freely, without expecting reward. "Do good — expecting nothing again; freely you have received, freely give." He that is liberal upon design may be styled mercenary. Such kind of gifts are not benevolence, but a bargain; not a dole, but a bait. That is a remarkable place (Proverbs 22:16), "He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want."(3) It must be done readily, without delay (Proverbs 3:28).

(4) Besides these several qualifications for the manner, it must likewise be done freely and liberally for the measure — according to our several abilities. 'Tis for a brother of low degree to give sparingly: they that are rich in this world must be rich in good works also. Goats' hair and badgers' skins may be a suitable gift for the people, and a mite for a poor widow; but the rich are to give purple, and gold, and jewels. And in this sense is that Scripture to be fulfilled, that "to whom much is given, of them much shall be required."

4. The opposites to it, which (as of all other moral virtues) are of two kinds — redundant, and deficient.

(1) The exceeding extreme is styled prodigality, profuseness, riotousness, which observes neither the due manner nor measure in keeping or giving.

(2) The deficient extreme is churlishness, tenacity, shutting up the bowels of compassion, being greedy of filthy lucre. It hath these particular characters given to it in Scripture; it is a kind of idolatry, inconsistent with religion. "No man can serve God and mammon." He that "loveth the world, the love of the Father is not in him." It is the root of all evil, leading men into temptations and snares. It is hateful to men, amongst whom it will render a person vile and contemptible; and it is abominable to God (Psalm 10:3).

II. THE NECESSITY OF IT, or the grounds of our obligation to it from Scripture and reason.

1. Scripture proofs.

(1) The precepts for it (Deuteronomy 15:7, 8, 10, 11; Ecclesiastes 11:1; Matthew 5:42; Luke 6:33; 1 Timothy 6:18; Titus 3:8).

(2) The commendations of it. That which we translate "a liberal soul" (Proverbs 11:25) in the Hebrew is "the soul of blessing." As the virtue of charity is frequently celebrated for one of the most excellent amongst all the rest, and set forth by many peculiar commendations as being better than sacrifice; the fulfilling of the law; the bond of perfectness; the great commandment; the royal law: so is bounty one of the top branches of charity. "It is more blessed to give than to receive." It is both the evidence and the ornament of our religion. It is the chief fruit whereby we are to judge of our sincerity. Men do vainly pretend to faith and religion, without the proof of such good works. Obadiah doth urge this to the prophet as an evidence of his fearing God, that he had been careful to relieve others in distress. And the centurion was for this reason styled a man of worth. "Pure religion and undefiled," is to abound in works of this nature, "to visit the fatherless and the widow" (James 1:27).

(3) The promises made to it.

(4) The threats and judgments denounced upon the neglect of it.

2. The arguments from reason.

(1) From equity.

(a) In respect of God, who bestows upon us all that we have, and therefore may well expect that we should be ready to lay out some of it for His use, according to His appointment.

(b) In respect of the poor, who by reason of their relation to us, and their need of us, may reasonably expect assistance from us.

(c) In respect of ourselves. We can hope for nothing from God but upon the account of bounty. Now, the rules of congruity require that we should be as ready to show mercy to others as to expect it for ourselves.

(2) Justice. In God s law, the not doing a kindness when we have a fitting occasion is counted injustice, and He will arraign us for the omission of such occasions. The apostle, having said (Romans 13:7), "Render to all their dues," subjoins in the next verses, "Owe no man anything, but to love one another," implying that, in the Scripture sense, charity is a debt, and the not paying of it an injustice. It is such a debt as we can never fully discharge, but though we are always paying it, yet we must still be in arrest whilst there shall remain any ability and occasion for our exercising it.

(3) Advantage. "By liberal things shall he stand."


1. Doctrinal inference.

2. Practical inference.

(Bp. J. Wilkins.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.

WEB: But the noble devises noble things; and he will continue in noble things.

The Stability of Liberal Men
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