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The Enchiridion by St. Augustine

Chapter 76.--To Give Alms Aright, We Should Begin with Ourselves, and Have Pity Upon Our Own Souls.

For the man who wishes to give aims as he ought, should begin with himself, and give to himself first. For almsgiving is a work of mercy; and most truly is it said, |To have mercy on thy soul is pleasing to God.| And for this end are we born again, that we should be pleasing to God, who is justly displeased with that which we brought with us when we were born. This is our first alms, which we give to ourselves when, through the mercy of a pitying God, we find that we are ourselves wretched, and confess the justice of His judgment by which we are made wretched, of which the apostle says, |The judgment was by one to condemnation;| and praise the greatness of His love, of which the same preacher of grace says, |God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us:| and thus judging truly of our own misery, and loving God with the love which He has Himself bestowed, we lead a holy and virtuous life. But the Pharisees, while they gave as alms the tithe of all their fruits, even the most insignificant, passed over judgment and the love of God, and so did not commence their alms-giving at home, and extend their pity to themselves in the first instance. And it is in reference to this order of love that it is said, |Love thy neighbor as thyself.| When, then, our Lord had rebuked them because they made themselves clean on the outside, but within were full of ravening and wickedness, He advised them, in the exercise of that charity which each man owes to himself in the first instance, to make clean the inward parts. |But rather,| He says, |give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.| Then, to show what it was that He advised, and what they took no pains to do, and to show that He did not overlook or forget their almsgiving, |But woe unto you, Pharisees!| He says; as if He meant to say: I indeed advise you to give alms which shall make all things clean unto you; |but woe unto you! for ye tithe mint, and rue, and all manner of herbs;| as if He meant to say: I know these alms of yours, and ye need not think that I am now admonishing you in respect of such things; |and pass over judgment and the love of God,| an alms by which ye might have been made clean from all inward impurity, so that even the bodies which ye are now washing would have been clean to you. For this is the import of |all things,| both inward and outward things, as we read in another place: |Cleanse first that which is within, that the outside may be clean also.| But lest He might appear to despise the alms which they were giving out of the fruits of the earth, He says: |These ought ye to have done,| referring to judgment and the love of God, |and not to leave the other undone,| referring to the giving of the tithes.
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