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lars; but shall only observe, that it is a sign the times are degenerate, and that Christians are become too much like heathens, when opinions are bought and sold like provisions in a market, and the minds of the people, which should be pure and uncorrupt, are given up to prostitution.
As to pleasure, little need be said to prove the ill effects it hath upon a man's circumstances. With wise inen, it hath always had the character of an harlot, as well for its extravagance and expensiveness, as for its deceit and wickedness. When pleasure is become the grand object, the mind grows so weak and effeminate, that all resolution is lost, and it must have what it demands. If, in its pride and wantonness, it requires pearls of inestimable value, to dissolve and swallow them at a draught, as Cleopatra did, they must not be refused. Here the prodigal of the text returns upon us, whose substance was wasted with riotous living ; that is, in the enjoyment of expensive revellings in the worst of company; and there is none worse than harlots, who are next in order to the gaming table, for bringing the unwary into speedy ruin. They are therefore stigmatized in the parable as devourers: this thy son, said the elder brother, hath devoured thy living with harlots.
Having thus far enquired into the causes of prodigality, which I believe are in general such as have been here described; we are now to consider its effects. These are, loss of comfort, loss of honour, of liberty, of honesty, perhaps of life itself, and (which is worst of all) of the grace of God.
And first, the extravagant man forfeits the comfort of his life; while his substance is wasting, he may for a time be insensible of his danger; like a patient in a consumption, who flatters himself he may do well, though others see and lament that he is daily dropping into his grave: but when he has spent all, which he who spends without consideration will soon do, then poverty, which had concealed itself under his table, rises up as an armed man, to assault and terrify him: and it is impossible for him to enjoy any comfort with such a companion at his side. The burthen of debt is so much like the burthen of sin, that the one is often put for the other. It is as unpleasant to a man of sensibility to walk with this load upon his mind, as to travel barefooted through bad ways with a load upon his shoulders, which he cannot shake off; and remorse gnaweth upon him, when he reflects that he hath made it for himself.
In the next place, he loses the repute and honour of his character in the eyes of the world : for what can be more contemptible than a man who was great, but has made himself little; who was rich, but has made himself poor; not in assisting others, but in abusing and undermining himself !
The loss of liberty is another unhappy effect of extravagance. It brings on debt; and hopeless debt leads to hopeless confinement. Misfortunes, imputable to the secret influence of Providence, or which arise from want of judgment, in respect of which some men differ much from others, have a claim upon the benevolent for their favour, and will always find it: but if we were to review the company in some prisons, and enquire into their past conduct, we should find amongst them the vain and inconsiderate, who flourished away in a character which did not belong to them, and, like the flies of a day, which dance about in the air, took their pleasure in a little false sunshine of their own making, to bring a cloud of misery and infamy upon the rest of their lives ; and whose pride and indiscretion, though they were extricated, would soon involve them in their former difficulties.
Extravagance hath in many cases a worse effect than I have yet mentioned: it tempts, men of good hearts to actions which cannot be justified. The best of prodigals are in a dangerous situation; necessity drives them upon mean and base expedients, for the satisfying of present wants; such as they would never have thought of, if their circumstances had been unembarrassed, and their judgment free. This is reported to have been the case with that renowned and otherwise great and good man, the Lord Chancellor Bacon. In such a situation, men who are no profligates are tempted to make encroachments upon their conscience; which, having yielded to one dishonourable action, grows more insensible to those that follow: and when the case becomes desperate, their actions are desperate. When a man is sinking he catches at a twig; and if it has thorns upon it, he must lay hold of it in the moment of distress; though his hand is pierced through by the shift he is making to uphoid himself and save his life.
As for the worst of prodigals, who die by the hand of justice, they are not properly holden within our consideration. Many of them can waste nothing of their own, for they have nothing; and the profusion, of which thieves are so universally guilty, arises, as their theft doth, from the prevailing of ruinous vices; such as idleness, intemperance, the love of ill company; all under the influence of ignorance and ill principle. And it is incredible, how much persons of this character will run through in a short time. One of them, who was executed of late, declared, that be. tween the months of October and April, he had seen the end of eight hundred pounds. But there are prodigals of an higher class, who do not lose their lives by the hand of justice, but, what is worse, by the hand of despair. The history of all past times informs us, how common it hath been, and many miserable examples, of the present day, shew how cominon it is, for a spendthrift to throw away his life, when he has nothing else left. The disappointed avarice of the gamester rages with impatience; and pride, brought to beggary, sinks with dejection : and neither of these having any support from the sources of religion, there is neither comfort in the present, nor hope of the future; so, to their distracted imagination there seems to be no refuge for them, but in that black and dark gulf, to the brink of which their steps have been carrying them through the mazes of a mistaken life.
This leads me to observe, farther, that prodigality, while it throws away that property which is temporal, is also forfeiting the grace of God and the better riches of eternity. This, being the worst, is the only ill effect of wastefulness insisted upon by our blessed Saviour in his parable of the Unjust Steward ; If ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches ? that is, if ye have wasted the riches of this world which were committed to you, how can you expect to be trusted with the gifts of faith, and the talents of divine grace ? concerning which, we learn farther, that man has no other possession properly so called : for our Lord hath added, as equivalent to what he had said before, but differently expressed for our better instruction, if ye have not been faithful in that which is another's, who shall give you that which is your own ? As the managers of this world's wealth, we are not proprietors but stewards, holding in trust for the great proprietar of all, to whom we are accountable: therefore, the unrighteous mammon is not our own but another's; and we must leave all such possessions behind us at our death: but the grace of God, the true riches, when given, will abide with us in life, and pass with us through death into the land of righteousness, from whence they came. These, therefore, when we have them, may be called our own; for they never leave us, and no man can take them away : but he who is found unfit to be trusted with what is of less value, shall not have these committed to him, to be abused and wasted. And it is surely to be apprehended, that much of the grace of God is seldom committed to a man who is loose and wasteful in the conduct of his life. He is without that consideration, that seriousness, that purity, that justice, which are necessary to the character of a religious man who is a candidate for beaven, and keeps up an acquaintance with God.