75. Now, surely, those who live in gross wickedness and take no care to correct their lives and habits, who yet, amid their crimes and misdeeds, continue to multiply their alms, flatter themselves in vain with the Lord's words, |Give alms; and, behold, all things are clean to you.| They do not understand how far this saying reaches. In order for them to understand, let them notice to whom it was that he said it. For this is the context of it in the Gospel: |As he was speaking, a certain Pharisee asked him to dine with him. And he went in and reclined at the table. And the Pharisee began to wonder and ask himself why He had not washed himself before dinner. But the Lord said to him: 'Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but within you are still full of extortion and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside too? Nevertheless, give for alms what remains within; and, behold, all things are clean to you.'| Should we interpret this to mean that to the Pharisees, who had not the faith of Christ, all things are clean if only they give alms, as they deem it right to give them, even if they have not believed in him, nor been reborn of water and the Spirit? But all are unclean who are not made clean by the faith of Christ, of whom it is written, |Cleansing their hearts by faith.| And as the apostle said, |But to them that are unclean and unbelieving nothing is clean; both their minds and consciences are unclean.| How, then, should all things be clean to the Pharisees, even if they gave alms, but were not believers? Or, how could they be believers, if they were unwilling to believe in Christ and to be born again in his grace? And yet, what they heard is true: |Give alms; and behold, all things are clean to you.|
76. He who would give alms as a set plan of his life should begin with himself and give them to himself. For almsgiving is a work of mercy, and the saying is most true: |Have mercy upon your own soul, pleasing God.| The purpose of the new birth is that we should become pleasing to God, who is justly displeased with the sin we contracted in birth. This is the first almsgiving, which we give to ourselves -- when through the mercy of a merciful God we come to inquire about our wretchedness and come to acknowledge the just verdict by which we were put in need of that mercy, of which the apostle says, |Judgment came by that one trespass to condemnation.| And the same herald of grace then adds (in a word of thanksgiving for God's great love), |But God commendeth his love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.| Thus, when we come to a valid estimate of our wretchedness and begin to love God with the love he himself giveth us, we then begin to live piously and righteously.
But the Pharisees, while they gave as alms a tithing of even the least of their fruits, disregarded this |judgment and love of God.| Therefore, they did not begin their almsgiving with themselves, nor did they, first of all, show mercy toward themselves. In reference to this right order of self-love, it was said, |You shall love your neighbor as yourself.|
Therefore, when the Lord had reproved the Pharisees for washing themselves on the outside while inwardly they were still full of extortion and wickedness, he then admonished them also to give those alms which a man owes first to himself -- to make clean the inner man: |However,| he said, |give what remains as alms, and, behold, all things are clean to you.| Then, to make plain the import of his admonition, which they had ignored, and to show them that he was not ignorant of their kind of almsgiving, he adds, |But woe to you, Pharisees| -- as if to say, |I am advising you to give the kind of alms which shall make all things clean to you.| |But woe to you, for you tithe mint and rue and every herb| -- |I know these alms of yours and you need not think I am admonishing you to give them up| -- |and then neglect justice and the love of God.| |This kind of almsgiving would make you clean from all inward defilement, just as the bodies which you wash are made clean by you.| For the word |all| here means both |inward| and |outward| -- as elsewhere we read, |Make clean the inside, and the outside will become clean.|
But, lest it appear that he was rejecting the kind of alms we give of the earth's bounty, he adds, |These things you should do| -- that is, pay heed to the judgment and love of God -- and |not omit the others| -- that is, alms done with the earth's bounty.
77. Therefore, let them not deceive themselves who suppose that by giving alms -- however profusely, and whether of their fruits or money or anything else -- they purchase impunity to continue in the enormity of their crimes and the grossness of their wickedness. For not only do they do such things, but they also love them so much that they would always choose to continue in them -- if they could do so with impunity. |But he who loves iniquity hates his own soul.| And he who hates his own soul is not merciful but cruel to it. For by loving it after the world's way he hates it according to God's way of judging. Therefore, if one really wished to give alms to himself, that all things might become clean to him, he would hate his soul after the world's way and love it according to God's way. No one, however, gives any alms at all unless he gives from the store of Him who needs not anything. |Accordingly,| it is said, |His mercy shall go before me.|