Giving to the poor without finding fault...

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My earlier post on the virtuous poor was sparked by years of thinking about a comment I once read in Calvin saying that we shouldn’t neglect giving to the poor because we find fault in them. Fault can always be found, he said, immorality and poverty being frequently connected, but we should not do so because the poor are a constant reminder of God’s grace to us in Jesus. Like the poor who are always with us, we are always impoverished by sin and God is always filling our moral need in Christ.

Though I looked and looked for the source in Calvin I couldn’t find it. So I wrote the post without quoting Calvin, but if anyone knows where it can be found, I'd love to be able to reattach the words to the thought.

Earlier today I received this email from a reader telling of a man who stands as an example of the Christlike generosity recommended by Calvin:

Your blog post today on "The Virtuous Poor" put me in mind of philanthropist Nicholas Longworth, who

“had a whimsical theory that those whom everybody will help were not entitled to any aid from him, and that he would confine his donations to the worthless and wretched vagabonds that everyone else turns away from.” These, he would explain, were “the devil’s poor.” They were the beneficiaries of virtually all of his charitable giving.

Much about Longworth’s giving is anecdotal, but the stories that remain are revealing. “A committee of Mormons, on a begging expedition, was once sent to him by a friend,” noted the Harper’s Weekly obituary, “with a note intimating that, as these people were not Christians, and seemed to be abandoned by everybody that professed to be, they probably came within his rule, and he could consistently assist them. He did so without hesitation.”


Despite the frustration, despite the ingratitude, Longworth persisted in his course of charitable giving. “Vagabonds, drunkards, fallen women, those who had gone far into the depths of misery and wretchedness, and from whom respectable people shrank in disgust, never appealed to him in vain,” wrote James Dabney McCabe. “He would listen to them patiently, moved to the depths of his soul by their sad stories, and would send them away rejoicing that they were not utterly friendless. ‘Decent paupers will always find a plenty to help them,’ he would say, ‘but no one cares for these poor wretches. Everybody damns them, and as no one else will help them, I must.’”

Longworth died in February 1863, 81 years old. Tributes poured forth, praising and honoring the son of a disgraced Loyalist. None, it seems likely, would have moved Longworth so much as the sight of his funeral procession, with thousands of outcasts—drunkards and prostitutes, beggars and criminals—sobbing at the loss of this, their one true friend.