Page images
PDF
EPUB

our hearts, and had a constant and commanding influence on every step we took in our journey through life.

Neither riches nor poverty are bad in themselves. Neither of them is any recommendation, or hinderance to the favor of God, who is no respecter of persons—there are good and bad in all ranks. Men may be rich and yet pious, or poor, yet strictly just and honest. It is, I confels, often done, yet it is highly criminal to look upon all. that are rich in this world as profane; and it would be equally so to look upon all that are poor as destitute of in. tegrity. Yet it is undeniable, that, from the corruption of the human heart, these two extremes do olten become strong temptations to the particular sins mentioned in the text; which we shall now consider separately, in the order in which they lie in the pasiage before us.

“Give me not riches, lest I be full and deny thee, and “ say, who is the Lord ?"

As to the fact, that riches do often lead to profanity and contempt of God, experience, and the state of the world prove it in a manner too plain to be denied.

We not only fee that those, who are born and educated from their infancy in the higher ranks of life, are most prone to neglect the duties of religion; but those who, from a low or mean condition, are remarkably raised in the course of Providence, do osten change their temper with their state, and show the unhappy influence of riches in leading them to a forgetfulness of God. Are there not some, who were regularly in God's house when they but barely subsisted, who have not time for it now, when they are busy and wealthy ? Are there not some families, where the worfhip of God was constant and regular in early life, while they were undistinguished, and now it is no more to be heard in their sumptuous palaces and elegant apartments ? Shall I say, that any worm of the earth is become too confiderable to fall down before the omnipotent Jehovah ?

I may add, as being of great importance in the present fubject, that such changes do often take place gradually and insensibly, very much contrary to men's own expectation; so that we really do not know ourselves, nor can we determine before trial, how far we would relift or yield

to the force of temptation. The prophet Elisha foretold to Hazael, the cruelties he would be guilty of when raised to an higher station ; to which he replied with disdain and abhorrence; “ What, is thy fervant a dog, that he thould “ do this great thing? And Elisha answered, the Lord “ hath fhewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria."The conduct of the children of Israel in their prosperity, is but an emblem of the general conduct of the children of men. “ But Jefhurun waxed fat, and kicked. Thou “ art waxed fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered " with fatness : Then he forfook God which made him, " and lightly esteemed the rock of his falvation.”

What hath been said might be sufficient to fhew the propriety of the prophet's prayer ; for if such hath been often, or generally, the influence of worldly greatness upon other men, why should any be so confident as to presume it would be otherwise with themselves? But perhaps it may afford matter of ufeful instruction, to inquire a little further into the subject to trace the causes of this effect, and Mew how and why riches become an inducement to irreligion and profaneness, for this will best enable us to apply the remedy. When I speak of examining the causes of this effect, I confess that no reason can be given for it, but what reflects great dishonor upon humai nature in its present state. Were we to judge of the matter by the dictates of found reason, we should naturally expect to find it directly contrary. God is the author of every ble:Ting which men pofless, and his gifts should lead us to gratitude and acknowledgment. It seems natural then to suppose, that those who are most highly favored in the courle of Providence, should discover the greatest sense of obligation, and be ready to make every dutiful return. One would think that though the poor should be impatient, furely the rich will be content and thankful. Is not this reasonable ? Had any of you bestowed many favors upon others, would you not expect that their gratitude should bear some proportion to the number and value of benefits received? Had any of them been remarkably distinguished from the rest, would you not expect from them the inolt inviolable fidelity and attachment? Strange, that our conduct should be fo directly opposite in the re. turns we make for the goodness of our Maker! That those who are distinguished from others by the largest possessions, and the greatest fulness of all temporal mercies, should be the most prone to wickedness of all forts; but especially, that they should be peculiarly inclined to forgetfulness and contempt of God! Yet so it is in truth. But however dishonorable it is to human nature, let us search into it a little, and perhaps we may discover the cause of impiety in persons in affluent circumstances, and the danger the prophet would avoid, by attending to the following obfervations:

1. An easy and affluent fortune affords the means, not only of pampering our bodies, but of gratifying all our Jults and appetites. They are as strong probably in perfons of inferior ftations, but Providence has rendered the gratification more difficult, and in some cases impossible. Many work through necessicy, who would be as idle and flothlul as any, but for the fear of want. These will be the first and readiest to reproach the rich, and call them idle drones, who revel in that abundance for which they never toiled; and to put to their own credit that which is wholly owing to the restraints under which they are laid. Many are generally sober, because they cannot afford the charges of intemperance, who want nothing but the means, to riot in the most brutal sensuality. But to persons of great wealth, the objects of desire are always placed in full view, and are evidently within their reach: so that the temptation has uncommon force, and few are able entire. ly to resist it.

2. The indulgence of pleasure insensibly induces a habit, and leads men to place their happinefs in such enjoyments. Habit you know is very powerful, and while the habit acquires strength, the power of relillance is gra. dually weakened. There gratifications consume so much time, that there is little lelt to reflect upon God, and our relation io him. I reckon it none of the least temptatioiìs to persons of high rank, that not only their felf-indulgence, but the attendance and obsequiousncfs of others, fo en. grosses their attention, and wastes their time, that they have few opportunities of calm and lober reflection; or at least, can easily escape from it, and take refuge in compang and amusement. Add to this, that a great variety of sensible objects and enjoyments render the mind, not only lels attentive to things of a spiritual nature, but indeed, lefs able to understand them.

3. Observe further, that when the better part is thus neglected!; and no care taken of the cultivation of the mind, every vice will spring and shoot up in the soul, as briars and thorns do upon ancultivated ground. Sin, my brethren, is natural to us; it is the produce of the soil; if it is not destroyed, it will not die; if it is but neglected, it will thrive. Now when ever persons fall under the power of vice, they begin first to excuse, and then to vindicate it. Those who are under the government of lust, soon find it would be their interest that there was no such thing as religion and virtue. Whatever we wish, we are easily led to believe to be true. Loose and atheistical principles then find a ready admittance, and are swallowed down greedily. This is a short sketch of the steps by which people in affluent and easy circumstances, are often led to deny God, and to say : “What is the Almighty that we should “ serve him, and what profit should we have if we pray

unto him ?" Loose principles are, at first, more frequently the effect, than the cause of loose practices; but when once they have taken deep root, and obtained full dominion in the heart, they have a dreadful and fatal influence on the devoted victim.

But, my brethren, I find a strong inclination to make another remark, though perhaps it may be thought of too refined and abstract a nature. It is, that the danger of afiluence in leading to contempt of God, arises from the nature of all sin as such. The original and first sin of man, was plainly affecting independence. They desired and expected to be as gods, knowing good and evil. And fill sin properly consists in withdrawing our allegiance from, and throwing off our dependance upon God, and giving, as it were, that efteem, love and service to

Vol. II.

ourselves, in one shape or another, that is due only to him.

Now observe, that affluence nourishes this mistake, and fuffering kills it. The more every thing abounds with us, the more our will is submitted to, and our inclinati. ons gratified on every subject ; the more we look upon ourselves as independent, and forget our obligations to God. Whereas, on the other hand, disappointments and calamities open our blind eyes, and make us remember what we are. Was not the proud monarch of Babylon inspired with this delusive sense of independence, when he expressed himself thus: “At the end of twelve months "he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. " The king spake and said, is not this great Babylon, that “ I have built for the house of the kingdom, by the might " of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?” But mark the more powerful word of the King of kings." While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a " voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to " thee it is spoken, the kingdom is departed from thee !" That this is the proper source of worldly greatness, may be seen in the temper fuch persons ufually acquire and settle in, which is pride, infolence and contempt of others. Nay, it appears still more clearly in some few instances, in which the intoxication comes to its height, and the poor deluded mortal literally aspired to be considered and treated as God. It may seem incredible, but we have the most authentic evidence that history can afford, that some men have demanded and received divine worship. This was the case, not only with Alexander the Great, who was really an illustrious prince, but with some of the later Roman emperors, who were the meanest and bafest of all men. No wonder then, that prosperity makes men neglect God, when it prompts them to fit down upon his throne, and rob him of the service of his other subjects.

Before I proceed to the other part of the prophet's argument, luffer me to make a few remarks, for the improvement of what has been already faid, And,

1. See hence the great malignity and deceitfulness of fin. It hardly appears more strongly from any circum

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »