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these holy places, where they can hardly pick up any materials to serve their turn, unless they think it worth their while to misrepresent or pervert the words of the preacher. And whoever is that way disposed, I doubt, cannot be in a very good condition to edify and reform himself by what he heareth. God in his mercy preserve us from all the guilt of this grievous sin forbidden in my text, and from the snares of those who are guilty of it!
I shall conclude with one or two precepts given by Moses from God to the children of Israel in Exod. xxiii. 1, 2.
“Thou shalt not raise a false report : put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.
“Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many, to wrest judgment.”
Now to God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, be praises for ever and ever.
SERMON THE EIGHTH.
ON THE POOR MAN'S CONTENTMENT.
PHILIPPIANS, iv. 11.
I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. The holy Scripture is full of expressions to set forth the miserable condition of man during the whole progress of his life; his weakness, pride, and vanity; his unmeasurable desires and perpetual disappointments, the prevalency of his passions, and the corruptions of his reason; his deluding hopes, and his real as well as imaginary fears, his natural and artificial wants, his cares and anxieties, the diseases of his body and the diseases of his mind; the shortness of his life, his dread of a future state, with his carelessness to prepare for it: and the wise men of all ages have made the same reflections.
But all these are general calamities from which none are excepted, and, being without remedy, it is vain to bewail them. The great question, long debated in the world, is, whether the rich or the poor are the least miserable of the two ? It is certain that no rich man ever desired to be poor, and that most, if not all poor men, desire to be rich; whence it may be argued that, in all appearance, the advantage lieth on the side of wealth, because both parties agree in preferring it before poverty. But this reasoning will be found to be false ; for I lay it down as a certain truth that God Almighty hath placed all men upon an equal foot with respect to their happi
ness in this world, and the capacity of attaining their salvation in the next; or at least, if there be any difference, it is not to the advantage of the rich and the mighty. Now, since a great part of those who usually make up our congregations are not of considerable station, and many among them of the lower sort, and since the meaner people are generally and justly charged with the sin of repining and murmuring at their own condition, to which however their betters are sufficiently subject, (although, perhaps for shame, not always so loud in their complaints, I thought it might be useful to reason upon this point in as plain a manner as I can. I shall therefore show, first, that the poor enjoy many temporal blessings which are not common to the rich and the great; and likewise, that the rich and the great are subject to many temporal evils which are not common to the poor.
But here I would not be misunderstood : perhaps there is not a word more abused than that of the poor; or wherein the world is more generally mistaken. Among the number of those who beg in our streets, or are half starved at home, or languish in prison for debt, there is hardly one in a hundred who doth not owe his misfortunes to his own laziness, or drunkenness, or worse vices.
To these he owes those very diseases which often disable him from getting his bread. Such wretches are deservedly unhappy: they can only blame themselves; and when we are commanded to have pity on the poor, these are not understood to be of the number.
It is true indeed that sometimes honest endeavoring men are reduced to extreme want, even to the begging of alms, by losses, by accidents, by diseases, and old age, without any fault of their own : but these are very few in comparison of the other; nor would their support be any sensible burden to the public, if the charity of welldisposed persons were not intercepted by those common strollers, who are most importunate, and who least deserve it. These indeed are properly and justly called the poor, whom it should be our study to find out and distinguish, by making them partake of our superfluity and abundance.
But neither have these anything to do with my present subject; for by the poor I only intend the honest industrious artificer, the meaner sort of tradesmen, and the laboring man, who getteth his bread by the sweat of his brow in town or country, and who make the bulk of mankind among us, First, I shall therefore show, that the poor (in the sense I under.
stand the word) do enjoy many temporal blessings which are not common to the rich and great; and likewise, that the rich and great are subject to many temporal evils which are not common
to the poor.
Secondly, From the arguments offered to prove the foregoing head,
I shall draw some observations that may be useful for your practice.
As to the first: Health, we know, is generally allowed to be the best of all earthly possessions, because it is that without which we can have no satisfaction in any of the rest. For riches are of no use, if sickness taketh from us the ability of enjoying them; and power and greatness are then only a burden. Now, if we would look for health, it must be in the humble habitation of the laboring man or industrious artificer, who earn their bread by the sweat of their brows, and usually live to a good old age, with a great degree of strength and vigor.
The refreshment of the body by sleep is another great happiness of the meaner sort. Their rest is not disturbed by the fear of thieves and robbers, nor is it interrupted by surfeits of intemperance. Labor and plain food supply the want of quieting draughts, and the wise man telleth us, that the sleep of the laboring man is sweet. As to children, which are certainly accounted of as a blessing, even to the poor, where industry is not wanting; they are an assistance to honest parents, instead of being a burden; they are healthy and strong, and fit for labor; neither is the father in fear, lest his heir should be ruined by an unequal match, nor is he solicitous about his rising in the world, further than to be able to get his bread.
The poorer sort are not the objects of general hatred or envy; they have no twinges of ambition, nor trouble themselves with party quarrels, or state divisions. The idle rabble, who follow their ambitious leaders in such cases, do not fall within my description of the poorer sort; for it is plain I mean only the honest industrious poor in town or country, who are safest in times of pubtic disturbance, in perilous seasons, and public revolutions, if they will be quiet, and do their business; for artificers and husbandmen are necessary in all governments, but in such seasons the rich are the public mark, because they are oftentimes of no use but to be plundered; like some sort of birds who are good for nothing but their feathers, and so fall a prey to the strongest side.
Let us proceed on the other side to examine the disadvantages which the rich and the great lie under with respect to the happiness of the present life.
First, then; While health, as we have said, is the general portion of the lower sort, the gout, the dropsy, the stone, the cholic, and all other diseases, are continually haunting the palaces of the rich and the great, as the natural attendants upon laziness and luxury. Neither does the rich man eat his sumptuous fare with half the appetite and relish that even the beggars do the crumbs which fall from his table, but, on the contrary, he is full of loathing and disgust, or at best of indifference, in the midst of plenty. Thus their intemperance shortens their lives, without pleasing their appetites.
Business, fear, guilt, design, anguish, and vexation are continually buzzing about the curtains of the rich and the powerful, and will hardly suffer them to close their eyes, unless when they are dosed with the fumes of strong liquors.
It is a great mistake to imagine that the rich want but few things; their wants are more numerous, craving and urgent, than those of poorer men; for these endeavor only at the necessaries of life, which make them happy, and they think no further; but the desire of power and wealth is endless, and therefore impossible to be satisfied with any acquisitions.
If riches were so great a blessing as they are commonly thought, they would at least have this advantage, to give their owners cheerful hearts and countenances; they would often stir them up to express their thankfulness to God, and discover their satisfaction to the world. But in fact, the contrary to all this is true. For where are there more cloudy brows, more melancholy hearts, or more ingratitude to their great benefactor, than among those who abound in wealth ? And indeed it is natural that it should be so, because those men who covet things that are hard to be got must be hard to please; and whereas a small thing maketh a poor man happy, and great losses cannot befall him.
It is likewise worth considering how few among the rich have procured their wealth by just measures. How many owe their fortunes to the sins of their parents, how many more to their own! If men's titles were to be tried before a true court of conscience, where false swearing and a thousand vile artifices (that are well known, and can hardly be avoided in human courts of justice) would avail nothing, how many would be ejected with infamy and disgrace! How many grow considerable by breach of trust, by bribery and corruption ! how many have sold their religion, with the rights and liberties of themselves and others, for power and employments!
And it is a mistake to think that the most hardened sinner, who oweth his possessions or titles to any such wicked arts of thiering,
can have true peace of mind, under the reproaches of a guilty conscience, and amid the cries of ruined widows and orphans.
I know not one real advantage that the rich have over the poor except the power of doing good to others; but this is an advantage which God hath not given wicked men the grace to make use of. The wealth acquired by evil means was never employed to good ends; for that would be to divide the kingdom of Satan against itself. Whatever hath been gained by fraud, avarice, oppression, and the like, must be preserved and iucreased by the same methods.
I shall add but one thing more upon this head, which I hope will convince you that God (whose thoughts are not as our thoughts) never intended riches or power to be necessary for the happiness of mankind in this life; because it is certain that there is not one single good quality of the mind absolutely necessary to obtain them, where men are resolved to be rich at any rate; neither honor, justice, temperance, wisdom, religion, truth, nor learning: for a slight acquaintance of the world will inform us, that there have been many
instances of men in all ages who have arrived at great possessions and great dignities by cunning, fraud, or flattery, without any of these or any other virtues that can be named. Now if riches and greatness were such blessings that good men without them could not have their share of happiness in this life, how cometh it to pass that God should suffer them to be often dealt to the worst and most profligate of mankind; that they should be generally procured by the most abominable means, and applied to the basest and most wicked uses? This ought not to be conceived of a just, a merciful, a wise, and Almighty Being. We must therefore conclude that wealth and power are in their own nature at best but things indifferent, and that a good man may be equally happy without them, provided that he hath a sufficiency of the common blessings of human life to answer all the reasonable and virtuous demands of nature, which his industry will provide, and sobriety will prevent his wanting. - Agur's prayer, with the reasons of his wish, are full to this
« Give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with food convenient for me; lest I be full and deny thee, and say, 'Who is the Lord ?' or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.”
From what hath been said I shall, in the second place, offer some considerations that may be useful for your practice.
And here I shall apply myself chiefly to those of the lower sort, for whose comfort and satisfaction this discourse is principally intended. For having observed the great sin of those who do not