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BLESSED IS HE THAT CONSIDERETH THE POOR AND
consider the poor, in the common acceptation of the phrase, is to give them something for the relief of their wants : but he only can be said to consider the poor in the true sense, who relieves them in consequence of having meditated on their condition, and his own duty. When the nature of the case hath been duly considered, few words will be wanting to enforce the practice of relieving the poor.
Poverty passes for a frightful subject, and the poor (especially in these times) for a troublesome class of people: but great instruction may be derived; and, I hope, some rational entertainment together with it, from a consideration of what I must call the theory of poverty. · When we meditate upon this subject, we discover, that poverty doth not appear in the world by accident, but by the pre-ordination, of God. For, first, inequality of condition amongst mankind is absolutely necessary in a state of civilization. Many things must be done for the common good, which will never be done by the proud, the indolent, or the effeminate. They who can live without their own labour, (which,
by the way, is no very great privilege) cannot live without the labour of others; as the head and the eyes cannot execute their own designs without thə assistance of the hands and the feet. The same divine wisdom which hath tempered the body together, and made some of the parts subservient and necessary to others, hath appointed the like subordination in the political body of men in society.
But inequality amongst men is farther necessary for moral reasons. By being placed in different stations, men are called to the exercise of different duties: the poor to the duty of submission; the rich to the duty of compassion. The rich are to be served by the poor, and the poor are to be protected and relieved by the rich. Unless there were want in some, God could not be served by the bounty of others. Nothing can be more evident, than that some are entrusted by Providence to take care of others. And hence we infer, that if they assume an exclusive right to what they have, they are contradicting the designs of heaven; and that a want of clarity is a breach of trust; an offence which, under certain circumstances, may be more base and sinful than robbery itself. “ Charge them who are rich,” saith the apostle. It is not said, admonish and persuade, as if they were at liberty; but give it in charge, as a matter of indispensable duty and justice. We hold it to be a great sin, when a servant defrauds his master, or wasteth his goods : But the very same sin is committed, with many aggravations, when the rich waste upon their own pride or pleasure that superfluity, which was put into their hands, that they might supply what is left wanting to others. God is the common master of all; their goods are his goods; and if these are misapplied or wasted by some of his servants, other servants of the same master
will be suffering under the fraud; for which, they who are guilty of it, will be called to account, when the day of reckoning shall come.
To rectify that inequality which Providence permits for the wisest ends, the primitive Christians cast all their property into a common stock, out of which an equal distribution was made, as every man had need. None could be idle; none could be extravagant; none could be drunkards or profligates; if they did not work, it was the apostolical rule that they should not eat; and none could hope to obtain any allowance for the support of their vices. Let every Christian ask himself, whether, if it were now required, he could submit to this charitable regulation; or, whether the proposal would send him away sorrowful? Out of the : , apostolical fund, a society of devout widows were provided for, who employed themselves in all works of charity; such as those of making garments to clothe the poor, distributing the alms of the church, and assisting in the service of God. Such an institution cannot take place in these days; but the law will be in force to the end of the world, that the strong should uphold the weak, and the rich relieve the poor.
It may seem to us upon a superficial view, that Providence hath been partial in distributing the good things of this world, and hath made some happy and others miserable by their birth and station. But when the advantages and disadvantages are laid together, we shall find, that the ways of God are just and equal 10.ward all men. Rich persons are tempted, in consideration of their wealth, to be proud, insolent, and wasteful; to trust in this world, and to be forgetful of God: and hence we are told, that but few of them are fit for the kingdom of heaven. The poor, under all their present disadvantages, are more frequently blessed with
an humble mind, and look up to God for that happiness which they do not find here: therefore Jesus Christ, when he preached the Gospel, chose the poor for his hearers: while those of higher life and prouder education had no respect to his person, and were only hurt by his doctrines. By the reception of the Gospel, the poor are made rich in faith, and so have nothing to complain of; and the rich have but little reason to boast of a very perilous situation.
Upon the whole, the rich and the poor are necessary to one another; the difference between them is agreeabie to the designs of God's providence and his moral government of the world; and when the account is balanced, all is just and equal. If there were no poor, there could be no alms : if all were equal, a spirit of independence and selfishness would prevail, which is most hateful to God. Every man would then live to himself, which no man ought to do; and he would also die unto himself ; none would want him; none would miss him. How far better is it, that there should be the generous feelings of humanity on the one side, and an humble dependence on the other. :
But besides all the foregoing considerations, the condition of poverty was necessary to the humiliation of Jesus Christ. The Saviour of mankind was to visit a world corrupted with pride, and lost in sin: he therefore took upon himself that state of poverty, which was satisfactory to God, and eremplary to man. He that was rich in heaven, became poor on earth for our sakes, and took the form of a scrvant, the lowest condition of life. While the foxes had holes, and the birds of the air nests, he had not where to lay his head. While he fed hungry multitudes bv a miracle, he was himself dependent on the liberalicy
of those who ministered unto himn. So noble and divine was this voluntary poverty of the Son of God, that many have been in love with poverty, and have taken it upon themselves for his sake; leading a life of obscurity and abstinence, while the world was not worthy of their virtues. And where is the mighty difference? So short is the time of man, that the distinctions of this world are but shadows; his great object is to get safe to heaven ; and he may make his way more safely in poverty thao in riches. What is salvation but an escape from shipwreck ? and he who swims naked and unprovided, is more likely to reach the heavenly shore.
Poverty, in itself, is a low thing; but you see it is a great subject. However, it is time, now, to leave our contemplations, and proceed to the duty of relieving the poor.
The things necessary to man's natural life, are meat, drink, and cloathing; to his civil or social life, knowledge and learning; to his spiritual life, the faith, hope, and charity of a Christian. Therefore, the three great evils of poverty, are hunger, and nakedness, and ignorance; and consequently, the three great works of charity, corresponding thereto, are the feeding, the cloathing, and the teaching of the poor.
That it is a good work to feed the hungry, and to clothe the nakeil, is universally allowed ; and the sight is pleasant, which we have now before us, of such decency and comfort in so many children of the poor. it is pleasing to us all : but it must be so in a more especial manner to their benefactors, who have a nearer interest in the case. Thus far, then, we are all agreed, that it is good to feed the hungry, and clothe the naked: but I have heard it questioned,