Изображения страниц

guilty conscience, and amid the cries of ruined widows and orphans.

I know not one real advantage that the rich have over the poor, except the power of doing good to others; but this is an advantage which God hath not given wicked men the grace to make use of. The wealth acquired by evil means was never employed to good ends: for that would be to divide the kingdom of Satan against itself. Whatever hath been gained by fraud, avarice, oppression, and the like, must be preserved and increased by the same methods.

I shall add but one thing more upon this head, which I hope will convince you, that God (whose thoughts are not as our thoughts) never intended riches or power to be necessary for the happiness of mankind in this life; because it is certain, that there is not one single good quality of the mind absolutely necessary to obtain them, where men are resolved to be rich at any rate; neither honour, justice, temperance, wisdom, religion, truth, nor learning; for a slight acquaintance of the world will inform us, that there have been many instances of men, in all ages, who have arrived at great possessions and great dignities, by cunning, fraud, or flattery, without any of these, or any other virtues that can be named. Now, if riches and greatness were such blessings, that good men without them could not have their share of happiness in this life; how cometh it to pass, that God should suffer them to be often dealt to the worst, and most profligate of mankind; that they should be generally procured by the most abominable means, and applied to the basest and most wicked uses? This ought not to be conceived of a just, a merciful, a wise, and almighty Being. We must therefore conclude, that wealth

and power are in their own nature, at best, but things indifferent, and that a good man may be equally happy without them; provided that he hath a sufficiency of the common blessings of human life to answer all the reasonable and virtuous demands of nature, which his industry will provide, and sobriety will prevent his wanting.Agur's prayer, with the reasons of his wish, are full to this purpose: "Give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with food convenient for me; lest I be full and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor and steal, and take the name of my God in vain."

From what hath been said, I shall, in the second place, offer some considerations, that may be useful for your practice.

And here, I shall apply myself chiefly to those of the lower sort, for whose comfort and satisfaction this discourse is principally intended. For, having observed the great sin of those who do not abound in wealth, to be that of murmuring and repining, that God hath dealt his blessings unequally to the sons of men, I thought it would be of great use to remove out of your minds so false and wicked an opinion, by showing that your condition is really happier than most of you imagine.

First, therefore, it hath been always agreed in the world, that the present happiness of mankind consisted in the ease of our body, and the quiet of our mind; but, from what hath been already said, it plainly appears, that neither wealth nor power do in any sort contribute to either of these two blessings. If, on the contrary, by multiply ing our desires, they increase our discontents; if they destroy our health, gall us with painful dis

eases, and shorten our life; if they expose us to hatred, to envy, to censure, to a thousand temptations, it is not easy to see why a wise man should make them his choice, for their own sake, al

though it were in his power. Would any of you who are in health and strength of body, with moderate food and raiment, earned by your own labour, rather choose to be in the rich man's bed, under the torture of the gout, unable to take your natural rest, or natural nourishment, with the additional load of a guilty conscience, reproaching you for injustice, oppressions, covetousness and fraud? No; but you would take the riches and power, and leave behind the inconveniencies that attend them; and so would every man living. But that is more than our share, and God never intended this world for such a place of rest as we would make it; for the scripture assureth us that it was only designed as a place of trial. Nothing is more frequent than a man to wish himself in another's condition; yet he seldom doth it without some reserve: he would not be so old; he would not be so sickly; he would not be so cruel; he would not be so insolent; he would not be so vicious; he would not be so oppressive, so griping, and so on. Whence it is plain, that, in their own judgment, men are not so unequally dealt with as they would at first sight imagine; for if I would not change my condition with another man, without any exception or reservation at all, I am in reality more happy than he.

Secondly, You of the meaner sort are subject to fewer temptations than the rich; and therefore your vices are more unpardonable. Labour subdueth your appetites to be satisfied with common things; the business of your several callings filleth

up your whole time; so that idleness, which is the bane and destruction of virtue, doth not lead you into the neighbourhood of sin: your passions are cooler, by not being inflamed with excess, and therefore the gate and the way that lead to life, are not so strait or so narrow to you, as to those who live among all the allurements to wickedness. To serve God with the best of your care and understanding, and to be just and true in your dealings, is the short sum of your duty, and will be the more strictly required of you, because nothing lieth in the way to divert you from it.

Thirdly, It is plain from what I have said, that you of the lower rank have no just reason to complain of your condition: because, as you plainly see, it affordeth you so many advantages, and freeth you from so many vexations, so many distempers both of body and mind, which pursue and torment the rich and powerful.

Fourthly, You are to remember and apply, that the poorest person is not excused from doing good to others, and even relieving the wants of his dis-. tressed neighbour, according to his abilities; and if you perform your duty in this point, you far outdo the greatest liberalities of the rich, and will accordingly be accepted of by God, and get your reward: for it is our Saviour's own doctrine, when the widow gave her two mites. The rich give out of their abundance; that is to say, what they give, they do not feel it in their way of living: but the poor man, who giveth out of his little stock, must spare it from the necessary food and raiment of himself and his family. And therefore our Saviour adds, "That the widow gave more than all who went before her; for she gave all she had, even all her living;" and so went home utterly unprovided to supply her necessities.

Lastly, As it appeareth from what hath been said, that you of the lower rank have in reality a greater share of happiness, your work of salvation is easier, by your being liable to fewer temptations; and as your reward in heaven is much more certain than it is to the rich, if you seriously perform your duty, for yours is the kingdom of heaven so your neglect of it will be less excusable, will meet with fewer allowances from God, and will be punished with double stripes; for, the most unknowing among you cannot plead ignorance in what you have been so early taught, I hope so often instructed in, and which is so easy to be understood, I mean the art of leading a life agreeable to the plain and positive laws of God. Perhaps you may think you lie under one disadvantage, which the great and rich have not; that idleness will certainly reduce you to beggary: whereas those who abound in wealth, lie under no necessity either of labour or temperance, to keep enough to live on. But this is indeed one part of your happiness, that the lowness of your condition in a manner forceth you to what is pleasing to God, and necessary for your daily support. Thus your duty and interest are always the


To conclude; Since our blessed Lord, instead of a rich and honourable station in this world, was pleased to choose his lot among men of the lower condition; let not those on whom the bounty of Providence hath bestowed wealth and honours, despise the men who are placed in an humble and inferior station; but rather with their utmost power, by their countenance, by their protection, by just payment of their honest labour, encourage their daily endeavours for the virtuous support of themselves and their families. On the

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »