Out of six churches in Birmingham, three bear the names of the donors [including St Philip’s, above, now the Cathedral] … The gifts, which the benefactor himself believes are charitable, and expects the world to believe the same, if scrutinized, will be found to originate from various causes–counterfeits are apt to be offered in currency for sterling. Perhaps ostentation has brought forth more acts of beneficence than charity herself; but, like an unkind parent, she disowns her offspring, and charges them upon charity.
Ostentation is the root of charity; why else are we told, in capitals, by a large stone in the front of a building–“This hospital was erected by William Bilby, in the sixty-third year of his age, 1709.” Or, “That John Moore, yeoman, of Worley Wigorn, built this school, in 1730.”–Nay, pride even tempts us to strut in a second-hand robe of charity, left by another; or why do we read–“These alms-houses were erected by Lench’s trust, in 1764. W. WALSINGHAM, BAILIFF.” Another utters the word charity, and we rejoice in the echo. If we miss the substance, we grasp at the shadow.
Sometimes we assign our property for religious uses, late in the evening of life, when enjoyment is over, and almost possession. Thus we bequeath to piety, what we can keep no longer. We convey our name to posterity at the expence of our successor, and scaffold our way towards heaven up the walls of a steeple. Will charity chalk up one additional score in our favour, because we grant a small portion of our land to found a church, which enables us to augment the remainder treble its value, by granting building leases? a man seldom makes a bargain for heaven, and forgets himself. Charity and self-interest, like the apple and the rind, are closely connected, and, like them, we cannot separate one without trespassing on the other.
In contributions of the lesser kind … [we do not] fear our left hand knowing what our right hand doth, our only fear is, lest the world should not know it.
This superb edifice (Saint Philip’s Church, now Birmingham Cathedral) was begun by act of Parliament, in 1711, under a commission consisting of twenty of the neighbouring gentry, appointed by the bishop of the (Lichfield) diocese, under his episcopal seal.
From An History of Birmingham (1783) by William Hutton.
William Hutton seems to have cast a very cold eye over the benefactors of his home town! But perhaps we can learn from the 18th Century about doing good without the trumpets blaring in the market place. The benefactor, Hutton says, believes he is being charitable, when he’s actually showing off. This Lent, how am I kidding myself?
St Philip’s will always have a special place in our family for it was there that my cousin Margaret was ordained deacon and priest. Pray for her and all ministers in this time of uncertainty. Lench’s Trust is still providing housing for elderly people in Birmingham.