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studying how to provoke appetite with variety; the poor are either half-filled, or satisfied with what the delicate would disdain to feed upon. While indolence is enjoying its ease, and proud of the contemptible privilege of having nothing to do; they are seeking bitter bread by severe labour. Their occupations expose them to all the varieties of the weather; at onoon day they are wasted with the heat, and at night they are wetted with the dew of heaven. While others are spending their precious hours in a vain and fruitless adorning of their persons, they are too frequently exposing themselves to the air when they are heated with hard labour; and thence are subject to pains in their joints, stiffness in their limbs, and premature old age and decrepitude. Other hardships are brought upon them by the contempt and oppression of their superiors; I will not call such people their betters. Some men carry themselves with a lofty air toward the poor, as if they were of some lower species of animals: and as if contempt were not sufficient, others proceed to injury and oppression: nor are there wantmg those who are said to grind the faces of the poor *; that is, who are mean enougti to make a property of them; extorting unjust and paltry gains out of a poor man who has nothing to part with; nothing but what is necessary to his life and being: so that their attempt has as little sense and as little mercy in it, as if they were to grind off something from the skin and the flesh of his face.
But ine greatest wants of the poor, and those which I am directed by the present occafion chiefly to insist upon, arise from their ignorance, and their mability tp procure necessary instruction. Whatever they may
* Jsa. iii. 1£.
suffer from their bodily wants, the wants of the mind are of much greater consequence. It is one privilege of the rich, that they have it in their power to cultivate their understandings; though many of them neglect it, and are weak enough to think their wealth a substitute for education and improvement. But the poor, without the assistance of the rich, have no such opportunity. Some of them are, and some are not sensible of their loss; but it is very great to all those, who, for want of timely instruction, are not able to read ..the Word of God. When we meet with a poor family* in. which neither the father nor the mother is able to read^ what a prospect is there before the children of such parents! If many fall a prey to vice, who have been well taught in their childhood, what must become of those who are left to their natural ignorance ? We are all sensible, that bodily blindness is a miserable defect; but certainly ignorance, which is the blindness of the soul, is much worse; because it is more dangerous to fall into a profligate course of life, than into a pit; and worse to lose the soul, than to bruise the limbs; and when ignorance is led by passion, the blind leading the blind, what but ruin can be expected to the mind and manners?
The poor, who with their children are in a place xyhere they may have them taught for nothing, and and despise or neglect the opportunity, will have both their own ignorance and that of their children to answer for. God is said to have winked at the ignoranee of the heathen world, because it is not expected that men should see in the dark: but such ignorance, as may be prevented, and is not, will be considered as a love of darkness. We think it a very preposterous passion, when a white inhabitant of Europe falls in love with a black savage; but it is more unaccountable, that a Christian, who is born among the children of light, should be fond of that ignorance, which was the misfortune and curse of the heathen world.
Now we have taken a prospect of, these evils, let us consider the obligations we are under to find a temedy for them. And the first obligation is that of gratitude; when we remember our own dependence upon God, and the blessings we receive from his bounty. If we have any portion among the good things of this life, it is he who giveth us all things richly to enjoy; and the offerings we make out of what we have are so many acknowledgements that we have nothing tut what we have received. All the beasts of the forest, says he, arc mine, and so are the cattle upon a thousana hills. No sacrifice therefore could be offered to God under the law, but of that which was already his own. And the case is the same now : God is the real proprietor of all things j the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof: Sq that we can make no return to God, but of that which was his own before.
The obligation we are under to do this, is farther evident on a principle of distributive justice. That inequality of possession, which is both wise and necessary, does not proceed from any respect to particular persons; for l/it mercies of God are over all his works • but God has been pleased to put the allowance of one man into the bands of another, for a trial of his virtue • so that the rich are guilty of fraud and injustice if they either keep it, or bestow it wantonly upon themselves. Withhold not good, saith the wise man, from them to whom it is due*; as if charity were not a gift, but a debt. As such it is spoken of in the New Testament •
f Prov. iii. 2J.
Charge them that are rich—that they be ready to distribute, willing to communicate; the original mean$, willing to make that common, which God intended to be so; at least, amongst the household of faith; in which they that have most are stewards for the rest.
But our obligations as Christians is plainest of all, from this consideration; that God doth not require u$ to do any thing for the poor, but what he nimself hath done for us, in a sense infinitely superior. If he commands us to visit them, he himself, as the day-spring from on high, hath visited us: If he commands us to give bread to the hungry, he himself hath given to us the bread of life. Who is it that commands us to clothe the naked, but he who hath put the best robe upon his returning prodigal, and clothed us with the garments of his own righteousness, which shall never decay r as a sign of which, the clothes of his people did neither wear out nor wax old, neither their shoes upon their feet, in their journey through the wilderness. Who is it that expects we should teach the ignorant, but he who hath taught us by his holy word, opening to us all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and giving light to them that sit in darkness? Few exhortations will be wanting to those who believe these things, and are sensible of their own obligations to God as the Saviour of sinners: the love of God is already shed abroad in their hearts, and charity to man will be the fruit of it. Happy are they who act on such liberal and sublime principles: it is their pleasure, as well as their honour to be doing good. Far from looking with an evil eye upon their poor brethren, they rejoice that there are any poor to be relieved; they would never wish to be without them; fmd they are thankful for-the opportunity of assisting them; and if the poor do not look for them, they look for the poor. But besides the obligations which arise from the consideration of what is past, we are encouraged to do good to the poor from the expectation of future blessings. And here let me observe, that no kind of charity answers better in this world than that which prowides for the teaching of the children of the poor. It shews them the way, and it gives them the power of becoming useful members of society; it introduces them to the knowledge of God's holy will and commandments; it sets before them the reasons, the measures, the rewards of those duties, by means of which they are to prosper now, and be happy hereafter. Superior talents, with good principles, may lawfully raise the poor above the level of their birth; but it cannot be expected that this should happen, without the advantage of an early education. I have known some instances of poor children, who have attained to credit and affluence, by the help of that learning, which they obtained from the hand of charity; and who lived to make returns of gratitude to the persons from whom they had received it. Where the seed of instruction has fallen into a proper soil, there'have undoubtedly been many examples of the same kind, which never came to the knowledge of myself, or of any that are here present. But with all this, we are to consider, that if a charitable education should never raise them to wealth, it may do more; it may be the saving of their souls: and though the effect in this case is not so conspicuous as if it mended their fortune, it may be of greater value, though but little heard of ; for the advancements of piety are secret and silent, and better known to God than to man. This is an encouragement which relates only to them