Part 24 RICH AND POOR
Happiness must have its seat in the mind, and, like that, be of a spiritual nature; consequently earthly goods cannot give it: so far are they from either producing or procuring it, that they always engender care and anxiety, and often strifes and contentions.
Affluence is a slippery path: few have ever walked in it without falling. It is possible to be faithful in the unrighteous mammon: but it is very difficult. No man should desire riches; for they bring with them so many snares and temptations as to be almost unmanageable. Rich men, even when pious, are seldom happy: they do not enjoy the consolations of religion. A good man, possessed of very extensive estates, unblamable in his whole deportment, once said to me, "There must be some strange malignity in riches, thus to keep me in continual bondage, and deprive me of the consolations of the gospel." Perhaps to a person, to whom his estates are a snare, the words of our Lord may be literally applicable: "Sell what thou hast, and give to the poor and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, take up thy cross, and follow me." But "he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions!"
To be rich is in general a great misfortune: but what rich man can be convinced of this? It is only God himself who, by a miracle of mercy, can do this.
A godly man must save both time and money. Before he was converted he lost much time, and squandered his money. All this he now saves, and therefore wealth and riches must be in his house: and if he do not distribute to the necessities of the poor, they will continue to accumulate till they be his curse; or God will, by his providence, sweep them away.
What art thou, O rich man? Why, thou art a steward to whom God has given substance, that thou mayest divide with the poor. They are the right owners of every farthing thou hast to spare from thy own support and that of thy family; and God has given thee surplus for their sakes. Dost thou, by hoarding up this treasure, deprive the right owners of their property? If this were a civil case, the law would take thee by the throat, and lay thee up in prison: but it is a case in which God alone judges. And what will he do to thee? Hear! "He shall have judgment without mercy who hath showed no mercy." Read, feel, tremble, and act justly.
In the order of God the rich and the poor live together, and are mutually helpful to each other. Without the poor, the rich could not be supplied with the articles they consume; for the poor include all the laboring classes of society: and without the rich the poor could get no vent for the produce of their labor; nor, in many cases, labor itself. The poor have more time to labor than the mere necessaries of life require; their extra time is employed in providing a multitude of things which are called the superfluities of life, and which the rich especially consume. All the poor man's time is thus employed; and he is paid for his extra labor by the rich. The rich should not despise the poor, without whom he can neither have his comforts, nor maintain his state. The poor should not envy the rich, without whom he could neither get employment nor the necessaries of life. Both the states are in the order of God's providence; and both are equally important in his sight. Merely considered as men, God loves the simple artificer, or laborer, as much as he does the king; though the office of the latter, because of its entering into the plan of his government of the world, is of infinitely greater consequence than the trade of the poor artificer. Neither should despise the other; neither should envy the other. Both are useful; both important; both absolutely necessary to each other's welfare and support; and both are accountable to God for the manner in which they acquit themselves in those duties of life which God has respectively assigned them. The abject poor, those who are destitute of health and. the means of life, God in effect lays at the rich man's door, that by his superfluities they may be supported. How wise is that ordinance which has made the rich and the poor! Pity it were not better understood! Great possessions are generally accompanied with pride, idleness, and luxury, and these are the greatest enemies to salvation.
What opinion should we form of a rich man who, in a collection for a public charity, only threw in a handful of halfpence?
What blindness is it for a man to lay up that as a treasure which must necessarily perish! A heart designed for God and eternity is terribly degraded by being fixed on those things which are subject to corruption. "But may we not lay up treasure innocently?" Yes, 1. If you can do it without setting your heart on it, which is almost impossible: and, 2. If there be neither widows nor orphans, destitute nor distressed persons, in the place where you live.
In every man professing Christianity, the religion of Jesus Christ says most authoritatively, "With every man who is pinched by poverty, share what the providence of God has not made absolutely necessary for thy own support."
A rich man is a man who gets all he can, saves all he can, and keeps all he has gotten. Speak, reason! Speak, conscience! (for God has already spoken,) Can such a person enter into the kingdom of God? All, No!
A man of the world cannot be a truly religious character. He who gives his heart to the world robs God of it; and, in snatching at the shadow of earthly good, loses substantial and eternal blessedness.
The affluently rich, full of sensuality, and pampered with the good things of this life, are only occupied with what they shall eat, what they shall drink, how they shall amuse and sport themselves, and wherewithal they shall be clothed according to the endless changes in fantastic flippery fashions; are too busy or too brutally happy to attend to the call of the gospel; and because it would break in upon their gratifications, they hate religion, despise a crucified Saviour and the men who proclaim salvation through his name alone.
Who, whatsoever his authority might be, or his qualifications, has been able to make many favorable impressions on the souls of mighty, and particularly rich and opulent men, so as to stem the torrent of fashionable impiety, and to establish among them the "form," or, if already established, imbue it with the "power of godliness?
Neither good nor evil can be known by the occurrences of this life. Every thing argues the certainty of a future state, and the necessity of a day of judgment. They who are in the habit of marking casualties (especially if those whom they love not be the subjects of them) as tokens of divine displeasure, only show an ignorance of God's dispensations, and a malevolence of mind, that would fain arm itself with the celestial thunders, in order to transfix those whom they deem their enemies.
"Blessed are the poor!" This is God's word .' but who believes it? Do we not say, " Yea, rather, blessed is the rich?"
A man may be grievously afflicted, and yet have his eye bent on temporal good; from his afflictions he can derive no benefit, though many think that their glorification must be a necessary consequence of their afflictions; and hence we do not infrequently hear among the afflicted poor, "Well, we shall not suffer both here and in the other world too! Afflictions may be the means of preparing us for glory, if during them we receive grace to save the soul." But afflictions of themselves have no spiritual nor saying tendency; on the contrary, they sour the unregenerate mind, and cause murmurings against the dispensations of divine providence. Let us, therefore, look to God, that they may be sanctified; and when they are, then we may say exultantly, "These light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." O world to come, in exchange for the present! O eternity, for a moment! O eternal communion in the holy, blessed, and eternal life of God, for the sacrifice of a poor, miserable, and corrupted life here on earth!
I have had occasion to remark in many thousands of cases, during the observations of a long life, made in various parts, that true religion makes as little way among the miserably poor as among the affluently rich. The former, full of unbelief, baseness of mind, and pining bitterness, neither pray to God, nor care to hear about the provision he has made for their salvation. Who has ever been able to spread religion with much success among the occupants of a parish workhouse?
And now, ye poor: arise and shake yourselves from the dust, and cry unto the Lord. Has not your present wretchedness proceeded either from your slothfulness, or the abuse of mercies already received? God may bring back your captivity: search your hearts, humble yourselves before him; who knows but he will return to you with mercies, and your expectation shall not perish for ever?
Be prudent; be cautions; neither eat, drink, nor wear, but as you pay for every thing. Live not on trust, for that is the way to pay double; and by this means the poor are still kept poor. He who takes credit, even for food or raiment, when he has no probable means of defraying the debt, is a dishonest man. It is no sin to die through lack of the necessaries of life when the providence of God has denied the means of support; but it is a sin to take up goods without the probability of being able to pay for them. Poor man! suffer poverty a little; perhaps God is only trying thee for a time; and who can tell if he will not turn again thy captivity. Labor hard to live honestly; if God still appear to withhold his providential blessing, do not despair; leave it all to him; do not make a sinful choice; he cannot err. He will bless thy poverty, while he curses the ungodly man's blessings.
The most indigent may exercise the works of mercy and of charity; seeing even a "cup of cold water," given in the name of Jesus, shall not lose its reward. How astonishing is God's kindness! It is not the rich merely whom he calls on to be charitable; but even the poor, and the most impoverished of the poor!
We can scarcely ever speak of poverty and affliction in an absolute sense; they are only comparative. Even the poor are called to relieve those who are poorer than themselves; and the afflicted, to comfort those who are more afflicted than they are. The poor and afflicted churches of Macedonia felt this duty, and therefore came forward to the uttermost of their power to relieve their more impoverished and afflicted brethren in Judea.
"I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread." I believe this to be literally true in all cases. I am now gray-headed myself, I have traveled in different countries, and have had many opportunities of seeing and conversing with religions people in all situations of life; and I have not, to my knowledge, seen one instance to the contrary. I have seen no righteous man forsaken, nor any children of the righteous begging their bread. God puts this honor upon all that fear him; and thus careful is he of them and of their posterity. * * * * * * *