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tion; which things together are equivalent to natural superiority of understanding.
But I am sure you will not think I have been reminding you of these advantages of riches, in order to beget in you that complacency and trust in them, which you find the Scripture every where warning you against. No: the importance of riches, this their power and influence, affords the most serious admonition in the world to those who are possessed of them. For it shows, how very blameable even their carelessness in the use of that power and influence must be; since it must be blameable in a degree proportionate to the importance of what they are thus careless about.
But it is not only true, that the rich have the of doing a great deal of good, and must be highly blameable for neglecting to do it; but it is moreover true, that this power is given them by way of trust, in order to their keeping down that vice and misery, with which the lower people would otherwise be quite overrun. For without instruction and good influence, they, of course, grow rude and vicious, and reduce themselves to the utmost distresses, often to very terrible ones, without deserving much blame. And to these must be added their unavoidable distresses, which yet admit of relief. This their case plainly requires that some natural provision should be made for it: as the case of children does, who, if left to their own ways, would almost infallibly ruin themselves. Accordingly, Providence has made provision for this case of the poor; not only by forming their minds peculiarly apt to be influenced by their superiors, and giving those superiors abilities to direct and relieve them, but also by putting the latter under the care and protection of the former; for this is plainly done, by means of that intercourse of various kinds between them, which, in the natural course of things, is unavoidably necessary. In the primitive ages of the world, the manner in which "the rich and the poor met together," was in families. Rich men had the poor for their servants; not only a
few for the offices about their persons, and for the care of what we now call domestic affairs, but great numbers also for the keeping of their cattle, the tillage of their fields, for working up their wool into furniture, and vestments of necessary use, as well as ornament, and for preparing them those many things at home, which now pass through a multitude of unknown poor hands successively, and are by them prepared, at a distance, for the use of the rich. The instruction of these large families, and the oversight of their morals and religion, plainly belonged to the heads of them. And that obvious humanity, which every one feels, must have induced them to be kind to all whom they found under their roof, in sickness and in old age. In this state of the world, the relation between the rich and the poor could not but be universally seen and acknowledged. Now indeed it is less in sight, by means of artificial methods of carrying on business, which yet are not blameable. But the relation still subsists, and the obligations arising out of it; and cannot but remain the same, whilst the rich have the same want of the poor, and make the same use of them, though not so immediately under their eye; and whilst the instruction, and manners, and good or bad state of the poor, really depend in so great a degree upon the rich, as all these things evidently do; partly in their capacity of magistrates, but very much also in their private capacity. In short, he who has distributed men into these different ranks, and at the same time united them into one society, in such sort as men are united, has, by this constitution of things, formally put the poor under the superintendency and patronage of the rich. The rich then are charged, by natural providence, as much as by revealed appointment, with the care of the poor: not to maintain them idle; which, were it possible they could be so maintained, would produce greater mischiefs than those which charity is to prevent; but to take care, that they maintain themselves by their labor, or, in case they cannot, then to relieve them; to restrain their vices, and
form their minds to virtue aud religion. This is a trust; yet it is not a burden, but a privilege, annexed to riches. And if every one discharged his share of the trust faithfully, whatever be his share of it, the world would be quite another place from what it is. But that cannot be, till covetousness, debauchery, and every vice, be unknown among the rich. Then, and not before, will the manners of the poor be, in all respects, what they ought to be, and their distresses find the full relief which they ought to find. And, as far as things of this sort can be calculated, in proportion to the right behaviour of persons whom God has placed in the former of these ranks, will be the right behaviour and good condition of those who are cast into the latter. Every one of ability, then, is to be persuaded to do somewhat towards this, keeping up a sense of virtue and religion among the poor, and relieving their wants; each as much as he can be persuaded to. Since the generality will not part with their vices, it were greatly to be wished they would bethink themselves, and do what they are able, so far only as is consistent with them. A vicious rich man cannot pass through life without doing an incredible deal of mischief, were it only by his example and influence; besides neglecting the most important obligations, which arise from his superior fortune. Yet still, the fewer of them he neglects, and the less mischief he does, the less share of the vices and miseries of his inferiors will lie at his door; the less will be his guilt and punishment. But conscientious persons of this rank must revolve again and again in their minds, how great the trust is which God has annexed to it. They must each of them consider impartially, what is his own particular share of that trust, which is determined. by his situation, character, and fortune together; and then set himself to be as useful as he can, in those particular ways which he finds thus marked out for him. This is exactly the precept of St Peter: "As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to
another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."* And as rich men, by a right direction of their greater capacity, may entitle themselves to a greater reward; so, by a wrong direction of it, or even by great negligence, they may become "partakers of other men's sins," and chargeable with other men's miseries. For if there be at all any measures of proportion, any sort of regularity and order in the administration of things, it is self-evident, that "unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required and to whom much is committed, of him shall more be demanded."
But still it is to be remembered, that every man's behaviour is his own concern, for every one must give an account of his own works; and that the lower people are very greatly to blame in yielding to any ill influence, particularly following the ill example of their superiors; though these are more to blame in setting them such an example. For, as our Lord declares, in the words immediately preceding those just mentioned, "That servant which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes." Vice is itself of ill desert, and therefore shall be punished in all; though its ill desert is greater or less, and so shall be its punishment, in proportion to men's knowledge of God and religion: but it is in the most literal sense true, that "he who knew not his Lord's will, and committed things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten, though with few stripes." For it being the discernment, that such and such actions are evil, which renders them vicious in him who does them, ignorance of other things, though it may lessen, yet it cannot remit the punishment of such actions in a just administration, because it cannot destroy the guilt of them; much less can corrupt deference and regard to the example of superiors, in matters of
* 1 Pet. iv. 10.
† 1 Tim. v. 22.
plain duty and sin, have this effect. Indeed the lowest people know very well, that such ill example affords no reason why they should do ill; but they hope it will be an excuse for them, and thus deceive themselves to their ruin; which is a forcible reason why their superiors should not lay this snare in their way.
All this approves itself to our natural understanding, though it is by means of Christianity chiefly, that it is thus enforced upon our consciences. And Christianity, as it is more than a dispensation of goodness, in the general notion of goodness, even a dispensation of forgiveness, of mercy, and favor on God's part, does in a peculiar manner heighten our obligations to charity among ourselves. "In this was manifested the love of God towards us,that he sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another."* With what unanswerable force is that question of our Lord to be applied to every branch of this duty, "Shouldst not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?" And can there be a stronger inducement to endeavor the reformation of the world, and bringing it to a sense of virtue and religion, than the assurance given us, "that he which converteth a sinner from the error of his way," and, in like manner, he also who preventeth a person's being corrupted, by taking care of his education, "shall save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins? "+
These things lead us to the following observations on the several charities, which are the occasion of these annual solemnities.
I. What we have to bestow in charity being a trust, we cannot discharge it faithfully, without taking some care to satisfy ourselves in some degree, that we bestow it upon the proper objects of charity. One hears persons complaining, that it is difficult to distinguish who are such; yet often seeming to forget, that this is a reason for using
* 1 John iv. 9, 10, 11.
James v. 20.
† Matt. xviii. 33.