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condescend to men of low estate. Such is the error of man's imagination, that it always inclines to the side of pride and haughtiness, the first sin that was infused by the author and father of pride. As the worldly-minded Jew could see nothing wonderful or necessary in the story of Bethlehem, and the manger, and the shepherds ; so the haughty philosopher thinks the world would do better, if there were nothing low in human life, nor any thing higher than himself; as if the creation could be improved, by taking the sun, moon, stars, air, earth, and waters, and stirring them all together into one horizontal miscellany. If there liad been no poor in the world, Christ could not have submitted to that state which was necessary to our salvation. He was born in poverty; of parents not thought good enough to be provided with room in a common inn, but shut out to make room for their betters, and lodge with beasts in a stable. Let us not wonder that the contemplation of this history of oik Saviour's birth inspired many saints and hermits with the love of poverty. If all men were duly affected by it, and compared it properly with their own unworthiness, the proud would lay aside their plumes, the ambitious would be ashamed of their popularity, and kings would throw down their crowns and scepters to the earth.
From the foregoing considerations, it appears to be a part in the plan of Divine Providence that we should have the poor atways with us. To this plan the social laws of God are accommodated, which prescribe condescension, compassion and almsgiving on the one side ; contentment, industry, and submission ou the other. Without this, the moral government of God, and the social duties of man, would have been imperfect; and it does not appear how the scheme
of our salvation, by the birth and humiliation of Jesus Christ, could have taken effect. We have, therefore, every reason to conclude, that what is, in this respect, is right; and that the poor do not exist by accident, but by preordination.
If this doctrine is important enough in itself to merit our serious meditation, it is still more so in the uses we are to make of it. The goodness of God could, and if it had been best, would have prevented, the wants of the poor; but now we see a reason why he did not. The poor have their wants, that the rich may be blessed with the opportunity of relieving them : a duty very earnestly enjoined in many places of the Scripture, and supposed in those words of the textwhensoever ye will ye may do them good. . Too many have the ability without the will to do them good; others say, they are sure they should have the will, if they had the ability. But this will is amongst the other gifts of God, and is always most to be depended upon when it arises from a religious principle. It is then neither subject to be defiled by vanity and hypoerisy, nor defeated by capricious humour and partiality,
I do not mean to move you with an afflicting representation of the evils of poverty; I would rather apply myself to your reason and your consciences than to your imaginations : but iny subject obliges me to mention them; because it requires me to sheiv how, and in what respccts, we are to do the poor good according to their wants; after which, I shall endeavour to inforce the obligations we are under, and the encouragement we have to relieve them.
It is a common, observation, that one half of the world knows but little what he other half is doing and suffering. While the licentiousness of the rich is
studying how to provoke appetite with variety; the poor are either half-filled, or satisfied with what the delicate would disdain to feed upon. While indolence is enjoying its ease, and proud of the contemptible privilege of having nothing to do; they are seeking bitter bread by severe labour. Their occupations expose them to all the varieties of the weather; at noon day they are wasted with the heat, and at night they are wetted with the dew of heaven. While others are spending their precious hours in a vain and fruitless adorning of their persons, they are too frequently exposing themselves to the air when they are heated with hard labour; and thence are subject to pains in their joints, stiffness in their limbs, and premature old age and decrepitude. Other hardships are brought upon them by the contempt and oppres. sion of their superiors; I will not call such people their betters. Some nien carry themselves with a lofty air toward the poor, as if they were of some lower species of animals : and as if contempt were not sufficient, others proceed to injury and oppression: nor are there wanting those who are said to grind the faces of the poor * ; that is, who are mean enough to make a property of them ; extorting unjust and paltry gains out of a poor inan who has nothing to part witli; nothing but what is necessary to his life and being: so that their attempt has as little sense and as little mercy in it, as if they were to grind off something from the skin and the flesh of his face.
But the greatest wants of the poor, and those which I am directed by the present occasion chiefly to insist upon, arise from their ignorance, and their inability to procure necessary instruction, Whatever they inay
* Isa, iii. 15.
suffer from their bodily wants, the wants of the mind are of much greater consequence. It is one privilege of the rich, that they have it in their power to cultivate their understandings; though many of them neglect it, and are weak enough to think their wealth a substitute
for education and improvement. But the poor, with; out the assistance of the rich, have no such opportu
nity. Some of them are, and some are not sensible of their loss; but it is very great to all those, who, for want of timely instruction, are not able to read the Word of God. When we meet with a poor family, in which neither the father nor the mother is able to read, what a prospect is there before the children of such parents ! If many fall a prey to vice, who have been well taught in their childhood, what must become of those who are left to their natural ignorance? We are all sensible, that bodily blindness is a miserable defect; but certainly ignorance, which is the blindness of the soul, is much worse ; because it is more dangerous to fall into a profligate course of life, than into a pit; and worse to lose the soul, than to bruise the limbs; and when ignorance is led by passion, the blind teading the blind, what but ruin can be expected to the mind and njanners ?
The poor, who with their children are in a place where they may have them taught for nothingand and despise or neglect the opportunity, will have both : their own ignorance and that of their children to answer for. God is said to have winked at the igno- . rance of the heathen world, because it is not expected that men should see in the dark: but such ignorance, as may be prevented, and is not, will be considered as a love of darkness. We think it a very preposterous passion, when a white inhabitant of Europe falls in love with a black savage; but it is more unaccount.
able that a Christian, who is born among the children of light, should be fond of that ignorance, which was the misfortune and curse of the heathen world.
Now we have taken a prospect of these evils, let us consider the obligations we are under to find a remedy for them. And the first obligation is that of gratitude; when we remember our own dependence upon God, and the blessings we receive from his bounty. If we have any portion among the good things of this life, it is he who giveth us all things richly to enjoy; and the offerings we make out of what we have are so many acknowledgements that we have nothing but what we have received. . All the beasts of the forest, says he, are mine, and so are the cattle upon a thousand hills. No sacrifice therefore could be offered to God under the law, but of that which was already his own. And the case is the same now: God is the real proprietor of all things; the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof : so that we can make no return to God, but of that which was his own beforę.
The obligation we are under to do this, is farther evident on a principle of distributive justice. That inequality of possession, which is both wise and necess sary, does not proceed from any respect to particular persons; for the mercies of God are over all his works; but God has been pleased to put the allowance of one man into the hands of another, for a trial of his virtue; so that the rich are guilty of fraud and injustice if they either keep it, or bestow it wantonly upon themselves. Withhold not good, saith the wise man, from them to whom it is due* ; as if charity were not a gift, but a debt. As such it is spoken of in the New Testament;
Proy, iii, 27