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Let us first consider a little the matter of fact, as it appears in experience, and then a few of its principal caufes.
As to the first of these, shall I be afraid to affirm, that extreme poverty often inclines persons to dislionely and fraưd? Will it be thought harth and severe to those al. ready fufficiently depressed! As I would not seem to stand in this place, and flatter the pride of the greateft and most eminent of my fellow-finners, fo neither will I dissemble the truth froin a false compaslion for the poor. This trould indeed be doing them the greatest possible injury; it would be treating them, from miltaken tenderneis, as the rich are often treated from the fear or partiality of those who are about them; fostering their self-deceit, and not fuffering them to hear the most falutary truths, be. cause they are not pleasing to the flesh.
It is undoubtedly matter of experience, that great po. verty makes many take unjust and unwarrantable methods of procuring relief. Not only fo, but they seem often difpofed to justify and defend them, as if they had a title to rectify the mistakes of Providence, in the diftribution of worldly posiellions. This, in the event, receives great encouragement from some who seem to have imbibed a general false principle, and act upon it, both in their own conduct, and in their judgment of others. In the division of controversy, or dividing disputed property, when one party is, or is supposed to be rich, and in easy circumfiances, and the other poor, and in a mean condition, they think that inltead of acting according to strict justice, the advantage should always be made to fall to the poorer fide. This conduct is considered by some, not only as lawful, but as laudable. It is however a false principle, and is condemned in scripture, which says, ** Neither ” shalt thou countenance
poor man in his cause." It may be thought, perhaps, that the other is the more common and dangerous partiality, and probably it is so; yet this also is blame-worthy, and when followed out, as I am afraid it too often is, must involve numbers unawares in the guilt of liealing; for when they have once laid down this rule, that the poor have some claim upon the rich,
they are ready to apply it to their own case, and extend it very far. But in all matters of property, or right and wrong, whether a person is rich or poor, ought to be ut. terly out of the question, the only thing to be considered is, what is just and lawful. The rich are indeed, in point of conscience, bound to assist the poor ; but this must be their own act; no person can take the smallest part of theić property without their consent, but he is guilty of an act of injustice, and violation of the law of God. No person has a right to make them generous and charitable against their wills, or to exercise their own generosity and charity at their expence. This must be left to the Supreme Judge at the last day, who will say to them, “I was a stranger “and ye took me not in, naked and ye clothed me not, “ fick and in prison and ye visited me not.” But what will give us the most distinct view of the influence of poverty, as a temptation, is the too frequent conduct of those who are reduced from what was once their state, to poverty or debt, by misfortunes or extravagance, or milmanagement of their affairs. The temptation of poverty is not by far so great to those in the meanest ranks of life, whose income, thoagh small, is not very disproportionate to what hath always been their condition; as to those who are reduced from a higher to a lower state. The few, who in such a situation preserve their integrity inviolated, and their fincerity of speech unsuspected, deserve the highest honor. Nay, I am persuaded that, bad as the world is, every person in reduced circumstances, would meet with compassion and assistance, if all about him were sensible that he had neither lost his substance by neglect, nor wasted it by riot, nor concealed it by fraud. But though we cannot help ascribing some measure of what is laid to the charge of persons in this unhappy state, to the rage and resentment of those who have suffered by them; yet alas, there is too great reason to affirm, that they are too often guilty of prevarication and fraud, the fins mentioned in the text.
I will dwell no longer upon the fact, but will consider a little the reasons of it, which will directly serve to promote the design of this discourse, by exciting men to conVot. II.
cern and solicitude, as well as pointing out the proper means of avoiding the temptation. The general reason of this, to be fure, is obvious to every body, that persons in poverty, being strongly solicited by the appetites common to all men, and not having of their own wherewith to gratify their desires, are tempted to lay hold of the property of others. They grudge to see that others have the enjoyments from which they are debarred; and fince they cannot have them in a lawful, make bold to seize them in an unlawful way. But this I do not insist on, that I may mention one or two particular reasons, which will fuggelt fuitable exhortations to duty.
1. The first I shall mention, is ignorance. This is peculiarly applicable to those in the lowest ranks of life. Through poverty they are not so well instructed as they ought to be, in the principles of religion, and the great rules of duty. An ignorant state is almost always a state of security. Their consciences are less tender, and they are less sensible of the great evil of prevarication and fraud. I am obliged, in fidelity, to say, that in the private infpection of my charge, though I have found some instances both of poverty and sickness borne with the most pious resignation, there are also fome whose condition might move the hardest heart, living in the most sordid poverty, grossly ignorant, and, at the same time, so dispirited, so flothful, or so proud, that they will do little to obtain knowledge for themlelves, or communicate it to their chil. dren. Many will not attend upon the public means of instruction, because they cannot appear in fuch a decent garb as they coull wish; and for the fame reason they keep their children from them, till they contract such habits of idleness and vice, that they come out into the world without principle, obstinate and intraétible. Is not the duty here very plain ? All such should exert themselves to obtain the knowledge of the things which belong to their peace. They Mould neither be unwilling nor afhamed to make application for supply; and even the coarsest raiment should not hinder them from appearing in the house of God. Thus they will find acceptance with him, if they worship him in the beauty of holiness, preferable to those who are clothed in purple and fine linen, and their hearts are after their covetousness.
2. Another great reason why poverty becomes a temptation to fraud is, that they are introduced to it insensibly, and led on by degrees. The fin steals upon them by little and little. People involved in their circumstances, to get rid of importunity and solicitation, make promises, more of what they hope or wish, than of what they are able to do. Necessity serves as an excuse for their failing to their own minds, and thus they are gradually brought into a breach of sincerity, and proceed from lower to higher degrees of falfhood. Little arts of evafion are first made use of, and doubtful practices are entered upon. One fin seems necessary to strengthen or conceal another, till at last the grofleft fraud, and sometimes perjury itself, closes the unhappy scene. I have read an excellent observation, that there is hardly such a thing as a single fin; they are always to be found in clusters. I am sure, this holds in a particular manner as to fins of injustice. They are so interwoven and connected together, that you cannot receive any one without being obliged to admit the rest. This is one great branch of the deceitfulness of fin in general; with a view to which the apostle says, “ But ex
hort one another daily while it is called to-day, left any “ of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”
3. I only mention one other reason of poverty being a temptation to fraud, viz. that in time it destroys the sense of shame. I am not ignorant, that a sense of shame, which is nothing else but a fear of the censure of others, neither is, nor ought to be the main principle of a good man's ac. tions. But as there is no other principle at all in many, so it is a good aslistant, and corroborative when justly directed; but now, through the corrupt maxims of the world, poverty is so much the object of contempt, and those who are in this state, meet every day with so many marks of neglect from all, that before their condition is known, they will do almost any thing to conceal it, and after it is known, they become in time fo destitute of shame, that they are under no further restraint.
From this particular branch of the subject, let me put you in mind,
1. What reason many have to be thankful to the God of life, who hath given them their daily provision, if not in all the abundance of immense riches, yet in fulness and fufficiency. An humble, thankful disposition is not only your duty, in return for the divine bounty, but is itself the richest and sweetest ingredient in all temporal mercies. -It is that, indeed, which makes them mercies.-Envi. ous persons do not taste what they have, their evil eye be. ing fixed on what they cannot obtain. Things in this re. fpect are just what they feem to be. Our comforts are as we are enabled to relish them. The same possessions which are despised by the impatient or ambitious, are a treasure and abundance to the humble and grateful.
2. If poverty is a temptation, it ought to be an argu. ment to all to avoid it, or seek deliverance from it by law. ful means. Apply yourselves with steadiness and perse, verance to the duties of your calling, that you may provide things honest in the light of all men. It is a duty of the law, and of the gospel; and it hath this promise, in general, annexed to it, that “the hand of the diligent “maketh rich.” Read, I beseech you, that vast treasure of useful instruction, the book of Proverbs; where you will meet with many excellent counsels and wise observa. tions vpon this subject. Of these I shall mention at present, bút two passages, selected both for the foundnels of the instruction, and the beauty of the illustration.
to the ant, thou fluggard, consider her ways and be wise; " which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth
her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the " harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O fluggard? When “ wilt thou arife out of thy sleep? So shall thy poverty
come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man." And again; “I went by the field of the flothful,
and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; “ and lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles " had covered the face thereof, and the stone-wall thereof
was broken down."