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AND, WHEN HE HAD SPENT ALL, HE BEGAN TO
BE IN WANT. LUKE XV. 14.
WHEN the case of the prodigal is considered, we owe it as a debt due to the folly of mankind, to shew - then the sins and miseries of extravagance: but we
owe it also as a debt to their understanding and good sense, to convince them of the duty and wisdom of aconomy.
think it sufficient to say, that the way not to be profuse, is to be saving; and that the spirit of parsiinony is the only certain cure for the spirit of prodigality. But this remedy, so as it prevails in some constitutions, may prove as bad as the disease. The economy of a wise man and a Christian doth not consist in the saving, but in the prudent and charitable disposal of his substance : not exclusive of a sparing principle, when that becomes necessary to his affairs.
The ingredients which properly constitute what we call æconomy, are providence, prudence, and order or method. He, who doth not observe these, will always be in danger of that dissipation which leads to ruin.
The provident man, according to the sense of his name, looks forward: he lives to-day, as one who considers that he is to live to-morrow : whereas the fool, looking to the present day only, saith, let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die. When he undertaketh any work, he first revolves in his mind, how it is to be conducted, and when it will be finished. It may be such, perhaps, as any body can begin. Any man can leap into the stream; but he who does this, without considering how he shall swim across, is very much to be blamed; especially if he hath been first admonished of the depth. A person, who miscarries for want of timely consideration, makes himself the talk of his neighbours. Want of foresight is want of wisdom; and want of wisdom, when it affects any thing great, is always in danger of being ridiculous. This case is strongly represented by our Lord in the Gospel : which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first and counteth the cost, whether he hath sufficient to finish it? lest haply after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all that behold it begin to mock him. No man can be allowed to have sense, who hath sense of the present, with no sense of the future. The laughter, which is not restrained . by thought, is mad; and the mirth, not tempered by a consideration of what is to come, is frantic. Improvidence is against nature; at least, it is against what we call nature in brutes; because it is against the principle of self-preservation; of which principle he seems to be destitute, who considereth not what is to become of him, when the day of present gratification is over. Therefore every man, who would live in the world, must consider what his station and circumstances will admit of; leaving as little as possible to probabilities and contingences, which are very apt
to fill the minds of the indolent, and to produce many abortive expectations.
The catechism of the church of England teaches us, while we are children, that there is a certain state of life to which God by our birth or education is pleased to call us : we are to lay down a plan of living suitable to that state, and then we may be able to support it for the time to come. Even in our recreations, it is wise to provide a reserve, and keep up a future relish for them; lest they become insipid, and consign us over to remorse and melancholy. But, there are young people, headstrong and inconsiderate, with no experience of human life, and fascinated with ideas of self-indulgence, who enter upon the world, as if they meant to tear up pleasure by the roots, that it may never bear any fruit to them afterwards : and so their pleasures either end in untimely death, or leave them nothing but bitter herbs to feed upon for the rest of their life. Whereas, a little timely foresight, with regard to common sense as well as to virtue, would preserve to them all that can be enjoyed with wisdoin and innocence: and nothing else, which this world hath to give, will be worth their seeking.
The second ingredient, in good economy, is prudence. The use of this virtue is to distinguish between good and evil, between causes and effects, between appearances and realities : and in consequence of a proper discrimination of things and persons, to choose the good, and avoid the evil. Prudence examines all things, rather in their consequences, than in themselves : it judges of things, as the Gospel teaches us to judge of men, by their fruits. Many actions of mankind are of a doubtful nature ; partly good and partly bad : good under some circumstances, and as bad under others: good in appearance, bad in effect: well
esteemed in the sight of man, but of no account, or even odious and abominable in the sight of God. The world hath virtues of its own manufacture, very expensive, and highly praised, and yet good for little at the bottom. When Satan has the vending of such equivocal virtues, he turns their white side uppermost: and men learn of him, to deceive one another by the like artifice. They praise some good thing, for the sake of some evil thing which is attached to it; or magnify one side of a man's character, which is good, or at least specious, to recommend the other which is bad. How agreeable it is to hear, that a man may be a libertine, and yet pass for a man of virtue! Such deceptions as these may have a very fatal effect upon our ceconomy. We are captivated and flattered with fine ideas of liberality, generosity, hospitality, benevolence, and charity; which are indeed most excellent things, when they are found in the wise and prudent; but when they are affected by the vain or the inconsiderate, they change their nature, and become sometimes ridiculous, often mischievous, always dangerous. Real virtue will be sure to advance us sooner or later: spurious virtue may bring us to ruin, as it hath already brought many, whose profuseness, while upon its progress, did very little good to their neighbours or
Prudence, therefore, is always to distinguish. It will teach us, that no man can be generous in his gifts, till he is just in his payments. It is no better than a specious fraud, to convert that into a gift, which is due elsewhere as a debt; to purchase the character of benevolence, hy feeding one man with the bread of another : or, perhaps, by sending one man to gaol, for want of that money which buys another man out of it. Sometimes it is a much greater kindness to
prevent evil by timely and friendly admonition, than to cure it afterwards (perhaps very imperfectly) by giving money. It is a good thing to shew mercy to felons and debtors, in a prison : but it would be a much better thing to keep them out of it, by teaching them the happiness of sobriety and moderation, or restraining their excesses by a seasonable execution of the laws. It is good to relieve the poor , but the passion of feeding vagrants, encouraging idleness, or promoting debauchery, is so weak and unserviceable, that we may be called to an account for such kindness in the day of judgment. And here I must observe, moreover, that all fictitious virtue, being the child of vanity, is (apt to raise an enthusiastic affection and being chiefly resident in weak minds, who do not make proper distinctions, it has been found to eat deeper into men's fortunes, than the most heroic charity. Prudence, therefore, must save us from being cheated by specious but false virtues ; to the power of which many noble and unsuspecting minds are exposed. Before we admit, we must prove them; as the wary prove their money, before they put it into their purse, by applying it to some touchstone: and there is none better than this of prudence.
To providence and prudence, we must add, above all things, order and method, for the regulating of our daily affairs. Persons of high spirits, and volatile dispositions, look down upon order, as a low thing, fit only for dull people. But, no man's life can be either useful or pleasant, who does not live by rule in the disposing of his time. We all see the absolute necessity of order, in the marshalling, leading, and governing an army; in transacting the business of a kingdom ; in regulating the company of a ship, and carrying on the practice of navigation ; without order