« PreviousContinue »
The truth is, they care as little in their hearts for the poor, as for Christ; but they must invent some plausible excuse for withholding their offerings from the Lord; and not content with shutting their own hands, must complain of the prodigality of those pious women, who, like Mary, come forward, to testify their love for the Savior. But, methinks, I hear a voice from the excellent glory, Let them alone, they have wrought a good work upon me.
It is not my intention, however, to plead the cause of missions, on this occasion. I have another important object in view. Our text brings directly before us an interesting class of the community, whose wants and sufferings have, I am happy to find, recently excited strong public, as well as private commiseration. Nor, I hope, will the discussion, on which I am about to enter, be thought inappropriate to the present season of humiliation, fasting, and prayer. • Is not this the fast, saith the Lord, that I have chosen, to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye brake every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor, that are cast out, to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him: and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh ?' If such are the duties which we owe to the oppressed and the indigent, when we fast and afflict our souls before God, no subject can be more appropriate this day, than the one which I have chosen. Ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will, ye may do them good.
In looking round upon these pitiable objects-visiting their cheerless abodes, listening to their complaints, and thinking of their privations,-many anxious inquiries
crowd upon the benevolent mind. What can be done for their immediate relief? How were they reduced to this state of suffering and dependence? Is their poverty unavoidable and incurable? Might not some of them, at least, be put in a way to maintain themselves ?
What public provision ought to be made for their support ? What should be the measure of my private benefactions ? How much, how often, and to whom am I bound to give ? Is there not some danger of increasing the evils of poverty, by the very means which are employed to relieve it? Does not the known liberality of a town, or a neighborhood, unhappily operate, in too many instances, as a premium upon idleness and profligacy? Is it not a fact, that some of the most benevolent efforts to cure the disease, serve only to spread the infection ?
Such are the queries, which I doubt not, every week, and every day, perplex the minds of thousands, whose ears are ever open to the cry of the poor and the forsaken ; whose hearts devise, and whose hands execute liberal things. If God should enable me, satisfactorily, to answer any of these questions; to throw but a little light upon the path of duty, and to excite proper dispositions towards the poor, in your minds and my own, I shall not have labored in vain.
In the further prosecution of my design, I shall
I. Consider the fact, specified by our Lord in the text. Ye have the poor with you always.
II. Point out some of the most common and alarming causes of poverty in this country, particularly among ourselves.
III. Propose various methods of mitigating these evils, or of improving the condition of the poor. And,
IV. Suggest motives and encouragements for a speedy,
united, and persevering course of measures, for the accomplishment of this great object.
I. Let us attend to the fact stated in our text, Ye have the poor with you always. This is a matter of universal experience and observation. It has been so from the beginning. History furnishes not a solitary exception, in any age or quarter of the world. Neither fertility of soil, nor healthfulness of climate, nor profusion of wealth, nor progress of science, nor encouragements to industry, nor legal provisions, nor penal statutes, nor charitable institutions, nor private munificence, have been found adequate to banish the evils and miseries of pauperism, from any country. On the contrary, poverty has sometimes made the most alarming progress, where the amplest provision has been made for its relief, and where the rewards of industry have been most liberal. The adventurous and enterprising spirit of modern voyagers and travellers has discovered pew Islands and strange people: but which of them has found the Utopia, where poverty has no dwelling-place, and where want claims no relief?
Look where you will, at the present moment, and you will find pauperism in many of its distressful and appalling forms. The great empires of the east, swarm with a degraded and beggarly population. Most of the large cities, on the continent of Europe, are filled with paupers, and besieged by squalid' and clamorous hordes of mendicants. Ireland is overrun by the same unhappy description of human beings. And in England, it is estimated, that one million, five hundred fortyeight thousand and four hundred,—or more than one ninth of the whole population, are entirely, or partly, supported by the poor rates. Nor can we, in this highly favored land of liberty and plenty, boast of our exemption from the miseries and claims of poverty. Increasing multitudes, in our cities and large towns, are miserably dependant on the aids of charity, for their daily subsistence; and even in the country, we have the poor always with us.
We meet them every where in our little excursions, and are almost every day besieged by their importunities.
of the number and wants of the poor in this town, I can form no comparative estimate, between the present and former years : but it is agreed, on all hands, that the increase of pauperism, in our country at large, far outruns its increasing population : and I have reason to believe, that Pittsfield cannot be excepted from this remark. The expenses of supporting the poor in this place, are said to be steadily advancing.
Now, what, my brethren, is the conclusion to which these alarming facts should lead us ? Not surely that the poor are to be utterly forsaken and forgotten. Nor that everything which is contributed for their relief is worse than thrown away.
Much less, are we to sit down in despair, regarding poverty as a sort of malignant epidemic, which must and will continue to spread, in spite of every effort and precaution, till the great mass of our people shall become incurably diseased. Much may be done to alleviate present sufferings, and to mitigate, if we cannot wholly cure the distemper. With this hope and this purpose in view, it is our present business,
II. To ascertain, if we can, the causes of a calamity, at once so distressful and so threatening, that we may the better judge what remedies and preventives are necessary.
It might, on some accounts, be an interesting speculation, to go over the ground, with those English and Scottish writers, who have, within a few years past, discussed
this subject with singular ability, in reference to their own country. But many of their wisest and profoundest speculations are irrelevant to our circumstances. The alarming increase of the evil in question, among ourselves, cannot as in Great Britain, be ascribed to the decay of manufactures ; to the enormous burdens of taxation; nor to the want of sufficient territory, to afford scope for the enterprise of an increasing population. Leaving these points, therefore, to be settled by those foreign champions, who may choose to range themselves on the one side or the other, let us confine our attention to the legitimate field of our present inquiries. In pursuing this course, however, let us not refuse to be instructed, by the operation of those general laws and principles, which have had time for a more ample developement, on the other side of the Atlantic.
Were I called to address an audience, in one of our great cities, on the subject before us, I should not hesitate to number among the causes of this mighty drawback upon their prosperity, lewdness, in all its fearful and horrible resorts; and gambling, in all its forms of cards, dice, billiards, wheels of fortune, lotteries, and pawn-brokers. Nor should I think it right to pass unnoticed those packed cargoes of human flesh and blood, under the name of emigrants, which the cupidity of unprincipled men has lured from foreign countries, and disgorged upon our shores, without a shilling to support them in a strange land.
Happily, the wasting operation of these causes is chiefly confined within comparatively narrow limits. That they operate more or less obviously, to a great extent, cannot indeed be questioned; but they are not the great and prominent causes of pauperism in New