« PreviousContinue »
• them that are rich in this world, that they be
not high minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us all things
richly to enjoy ; that they do good, that they ' be rich in good'works, ready to diftribute, willing to communicate ; Playing up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.'
Left I be poor and steal, and take the name of my God
PROCEED now to consider the argument by
which the Prophet urges the second branch of his request, which, in connexion, runs thus• Give me not poverty least I be poor and steal.' Having not only explained the general principle that runs through the whole of this subject, but also very particularly pointed out the dangers attending an opulent and wealthy ftate ; I shall endeavour to do the same thing with respect to a state of poverty and straitness. While I attempt this, I an sincerely forry that there is so much propriety in the subject, and that it is fo well suit
ed: the circumstances of the inhabitants of this place. You see the Prophet considers the great and general temptation to which the poor are exposed to be dishonesty, by using fraudalent means of relieving their wants, or bettering their condition. You see also, he confiders this temptation in its progress, not only inclining them to act unjuftly, but fometimes proceeding to the terrible d gree of concealing or supporting the fraud by falsehood, and perhaps at last by perjury or falfe fwearing ; 'least I be poor and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.'
Let us first confider a little the matter of fact, as it appcars in experience, and then a few of its principal causes.
As to the first of these, shall I be afraid to affirm, that extreme poverty often inclines perfons to dishonesty and fraud ? Will it be thought harsh and severe to those already sufficiently depreffed? As I would not seem to stand in this place and flatter the pride of the greatest, and most eminent of my fellow-finners, so neither will I disiemble the truth from a false compaffion for the poor. This would indeed be doing them the greatest possible injury. It would be treating them, from mistaken tendernefs, as the rich are often treated from the fear or partiality of those who are about them; fostering their self-deceit, and not suffering them to hear the most falutary truths, because they are not pleasing to the flesh.
It is undoubtedly matter of experience, that great poverty makes many take unjust and unwarrantable methods of procuring relief. Not only so, but they seem often disposed to justify and defend them, as if they hał a title to rectify what they think mistakes of Providence, in the distribution of worldly poffeffions. 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 divifion of controversy, or dividing disputed property, when one party is, or is supposed to be rich, and in easy circumstances, and the other poor, and in a mean condition, they think, that instead of ac-: ting according to strict justice, the advantage should always be made to fall on 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 a poor
man in his cause. It may be thought, perhaps, that the other. is the more common and dangerous partiality, and probably it is fo; yet this also is blameworthy, and when followed out, as I am afraid it too often: is, must involve numbers unawares in the guilt of stealing; 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 cafe, 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 utterly 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 affift the poor : but this muft be their own act; no person can take the smalleft part of their property without their confent, but he is guilty of an act of injuftice, and violation of the law of God. No perfon 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 thofe who are reduced from what was once their ftate to poverty or debt, by misfortune or extravagance, or mif management of their affairs. The temptation of poverty is not by far fo great to those in the meanest ranks of life, whofe income, though small, is not very disproportionate to what hath always been their condition, as to thofe 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, deferve the highest honour. Nay, I am persuaded that, bad as the world is, every person in reduced circumstances would meet with compassion and