« PreviousContinue »
BEFORE THE RIGHT HON. THE LORD MAYOR, THE COURT OF ALDERMEN, THE SHERIFFS, AND THE GOVERNORS OF THE SEVERAL HOSPITALS OF THE CITY OF LONDON,
At the Parish Church of St Bridget,
On Monday, in Easter-Week, 1740.
PROVERBS Xxii. 2.
The rich and poor meet together: the Lord is the maker of them all.
THE Constitution of things being such, that the labor of one man, or the united labor of several, is sufficient to procure more necessaries, than he or they stand in need of, which it may be supposed was in some degree the case, even in the first ages; this immediately gave room for riches to arise in the world, and for men's acquiring them by honest means; by diligence, frugality and prudent management. Thus some would very soon acquire greater plenty of necessaries than they had occasion for; and others, by contrary means, or by cross accidents, would be in want of them. And he, who should supply their wants, would have the property in a proportionable labor of their hands; which he would scarce fail to make use of instead of his own, or perhaps, together with them, to provide future necessaries in greater plenty. Riches then were first bestowed upon the world, as they are still
Ser. 2.] Preached before the Lord Mayor, &c. 233
continued in it, by the blessing of God upon the industry of men, in the use of their` understanding and strength. Riches themselves have always this source; though the possession of them is conveyed to particular persons by different channels. Yet still, "the hand of the diligent maketh rich,"* and, other circumstances being equal, in proportion to its diligence.
But to return to the first rich man; whom we left in possession of dependants, and plenty of necessaries for himself and them. A family would not be long in this state, before conveniences, somewhat ornamental, and for entertainment, would be wanted, looked for, and found out. And, by degrees, these secondary wants, and inventions for the supply of them, the fruits of leisure and ease, came to employ much of men's time and leisure. Hence a new species of riches came into the world, consisting of things which it might have done well enough without, yet thought desirable, as affording pleasure to the imagination, or the senses. And these went on increasing, till, at length, the superfluities of life took in a vast larger compass of things than the necessaries of it. Thus luxury made its inroad, and all the numerous train of evils its attendants; of which poverty, as bad a one as we may account it, is far from being the worst. Indeed the hands of the generality must be employed, and a very few of them would now be sufficient to provide the world with necessaries; and therefore the rest of them must be employed about what may be called superfluities; which could not be, if these superfluities were not made use of. Yet the desire of such things, insensibly, becomes immoderate, and the use of them almost, of course, degenerates into luxury; which, in every age, has been the dissipation of riches, and in every sense, the ruin of those who were possessed of them; and therefore cannot be too much guarded against by all opulent cities. And as men sink into luxury, as much from fashion as direct inclination, the
* Prov. x. 4.
richer sort together may easily restrain this vice, in almost what degree they please; and a few of the chief of them may contribute a great deal towards the restraining it.
It is to be observed further, concerning the progress of riches, that had they continued to consist only in the possession of the things themselves which were necessary, and of the things themselves which were, upon their own account, otherwise desirable; this in several respects, must have greatly embarrassed trade and commerce, and have set bounds to the increase of riches in all hands, as well as confined them in the hands of a few. But, in process of time, it was agreed to substitute somewhat more lasting and portable, which should pass every where, in commerce, for real natural riches; as sounds had before,in language, been substituted for thoughts. And this general agreement (by what means soever it became general,) that money should answer all things, together with some other improvements, gave full scope for riches to increase in the hands of particular persons, and likewise to circulate into more hands. Now this, though it was not the first origin of covetousness, yet it gives greater scope, encouragement, and temptation to covetousness, than it had before. And there is moreover the appearance, that this artificial kind of riches, money, has begot an artificial kind of passion for them; both which follies well disposed persons must, by all means, endeavor to keep clear of. For indeed "the love of riches is the root of all evil; though riches themselves may be made instrumental in promoting every thing that is good.
The improvement of trade and commerce has made another change, just hinted at, and, I think, a very happy one, in the state of the world, as it has enlarged the middle rank of people; many of which are, in good measure, free from the vices of the highest and the lowest part of mankind. Now these persons must remember, that whether, in common language, they do, or do not, pass under the denomination of rich, yet they really
* 1 Tim. vi. 10.
are so, with regard to the indigent and necessitous; and that, considering the great numbers which make up this middle rank among us, and how much they mix with the poor, they are able to contribute very largely to their relief, and have in all respects a very great influence over them.
You have heard now the origin and progress of what this great city so much abounds with, riches; as far as I had occasion to speak of these things. For this brief account of them has been laid before you for the sake of the good admonitions it afforded. Nor will the admonitions be thought foreign to the charities, which we are endeavoring to promote. For these must necessarily be less, and the occassions for them greater, in proportion as industry should abate, or luxury increase. And the temper of covetousness is, we all know, directly contrary to that of charity, and eats out the very heart of it. Then, lastly, there are good sort of people, who really want to be told, that they are included in the admonitions to be given to the rich, though they do sce others richer than themselves.
The ranks of rich and poor being thus formed, they meet together; they continue to make up one society. The mutual want, which they still have of each other, still unites them inseparably. But they meet upon a foot of great inequality. For, as Solomon expresses it in brief, and with much force, "the rich ruleth over the poor. And thus their general intercourse, with the superiority on one hand, and dependance on the other, are in no sort accidental, but arise necessarily from a settled providential disposition of things, for their common good. Here, then, is a real standing relation between. the rich and the poor. And the former must take care to perform the duties belonging to their part of it; for these chiefly the present occasion leads me to speak to, from regard to Him who placed them in that relation to
* Prov. xxii. 7.
the poor, from whence those duties arise, and who " is the Maker of them all."
What these duties are, will easily be seen, and the obligations to them strongly enforced, by a little further reflection upon both these ranks, and the natural situation which they are in with respect to each other.
The lower rank of mankind go on, for the most part, in some track of living, into which they got by direction. or example; and to this their understanding and discourse, as well as labor, are greatly confined. Their opinions of persons and things they take upon trust: their behaviour has very little in it original, or of home growth; very little which may not be traced up to the influence of others, and less which is not capable of being changed by such influence. Then, as God has made plentiful provision for all his creatures, the wants of all, even of the poorest, might be supplied, so far as it is fit they should, by a proper distribution of it. This being the condition of the lower part of mankind, consider now what influence, as well as power, their superiors must, from the nature of the case, have over them. For they can instil instruction, and recommend it in a peculiar manner by their example, and enforce it still further with favor and discouragement of various kinds. And experience shows, that they do direct and change the course of the world as they please. Not only the civil welfare, but the morals and religion of their fellow creatures, greatly depend upon them; much more indeed than they would, if the common people were not wanting to their duty. All this is evidently true of superiors in general; superiors in riches authority, and understanding, taken together. And need I say how much of this whole superiority goes along with riches? It is no small part of it which arises out of riches themselves. In all governments, particularly in our own, a good share of civil authority accompanies them. Superior or natural understanding may, or may not; but when it does not, yet riches afford great opportunities for improvement, and may command informa