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will be suffering under the fraud; for which, they •who are guilty of it, will be called to account, when the day of reckoning shall come.
To rectify that inequality which Providence permits for the wisest ends, the primitive Christians cast all their property into a common stock, out of which an equal distribution was made, as every man had need. None could be idle ; none could be extravagant; none could be drunkards or profligates; if they did not work, it was the apostolical rule that they should not eat; and none could hope to obtain any allowance for the support of their vices. Let every Christian ask himself, whether, if it were now required, he could submit to this charitable regulation; or, whether the proposal would send him away sorrowful? Out of the apostolical fund, a society of devout widows were provided for, who employed themselves in all works of charity; such as thdse of making garments to clothe the poor, distributing the alms of the church, and assisting in the service of God. Such an institution cannot take place in these days; but the law will be in force to the end of the world, that the strong should uphold the weak, and the rich relieve the poor.
It may seem to us upon a superficial view, that Providence hath been partial in distributing the good thing* of this world, and hath made some happy and others miserable by their birth and station. But when the advantages and disadvantages are laid together, we shall find, that the ways of God are just and equal toward all men. Rich persons are tempted, in consideration of their wealth, to be proud, insolent, and wasteful; to trust in this world, and to be forgetful of God: and hence we are told, that but few of them are fit for the kingdom of heaven. The poor, under all their present disadvantages, are more frequently blessed with
an humble mind, and look up to God for that happiness which they do not find here: therefore Jesus Christ, when he preached the Gospel, chose the poor for his hearers: while those of higher life and prouder education had no respect to his person, and were only hurt by his doctrines. By the reception of the Gospel» the poor are made rich in faith, and so have nothing to complain of; and the rich have but little reason to boast of a very perilous situation.
Upon the whole, the rich and the poor are necessary to one another; the difference between them is agreeabie to the designs of God's providence and his moral government of the world; and when the account is balanced, all is just and equal. If there were no poof, there could be no alms: if all were equal, a spirit of independence and selfishness would prevail, which is most hateful to God. Every man would then. live to himself, which no man ought to do; and he would also die unto himself; none would want him; none would miss hira. How far better is it, that there should be the generous feelings of humanity on the one side, and an humble dependence on the other.
But besides all the foregoing considerations, the
condition of poverty was necessary to the humiliation
of Jesus Christ. The Saviour of mankind was to visit
a world corrupted with pride, and lost in sin: he
therefore took upon himself that state of poverty,
which was satisfactory to God, and cvcmplary to
man. lie that was rich in heaven, became poor on
earth for our sakes, and took the form of a servant,
the lowest condition of life. While the foxes had
holes, and the birds of the air nests; he had not where
to lay his head. While he fed hungry multitudes bv
a miracle, he was himself dependent on the libcralky
Vol. iv. L of those who ministered unto him. So noble and divine was this voluntary poverty of the Son of God, that many have been in love with poverty, and have taken it upon themselves#for his sake; leading a life of obscurity and abstinence, while the world was not worthy of their virtues. And where is the mighty difference? So short is the time of man, that the distinctions of this world are but shadows; his great object is to get safe to heaven ; and he may make his way more safely in poverty thau in riches. What is salvation but an escape from shipwreck? and he who swims naked and unprovided, is more likely to reach the heavenly shore.
Poverty, in itself, is a low thing; but you see it is a great subject. However, it is time, now, to leave our contemplations, and proceed to the duty of relieving • the poor.
The things necessary tb man's natural life, are meat, drink, and cloathing; to his civil or social life, knowledge and learning; to his spiritual life, the faith, hope, and charity of a Christian. Therefore, the three great evils of poverty, are hunger, and nakedness, and ignorance; anil consequently, the three great works of charity corresponding thereto, are the feeding, the cloathing, and the teaching of the poor.
That it is a good work to feed the hungry, and to clothe the naked, is universally allowed; and the sight is pleasant, which we have now before us, of such decency and comfort in so many children of the poor, it is pleasing to us all: but it must be so in a more especial mumier to their benefactors, who have a nearer interest in the case. Thus far, then, we are all agreed, that it is good* to feed the hungry, and clothe the naked: but I have heard it questioned, whether it he expedient or charitahle to teach the poor. You may be surprised at this; but I can assure you it is very true; and the arguments by which the objection is supported, are these; viz. that learning tends to lift the poor out of their sphere, or tempts them to affect things above their station; and, which is worst of all, gives them ability to do that mischief in society, which they could not have done, if they had been left to their own ignorance. The objection against any thing good, which is drawn from the possibility of its being abused, is the weakest as well as the most common; for all things in this life are abused; and if we were to drop them one after another on that account, we should have nothing left. In the present subject, all arguments against the teaching of the poor may be answered on this one consideration, that Ciod hath given to man a revelation in writing; it must therefore be good for man to read- But how shall the poor read, unless they are taught? and if'they cannot pay for their own teaching, others must pay for it who can afford it better: and in so doing, they are undoubtedly fulfilling the will of God. If learning enables the poor to raise themselves above their station, in God's name, let them do it, if they can : the pen of business is a more innocent and useful instrument than the sword of war, by which so many have raised themselves from a low station to wealth and honours. If learning disposes the poor to be discontented with their condition it ought not to do so, because the remedy goes with the temptation. When they are taught to write and read, they receive i eligious instruction . at the same time; they are taught, that their duty is to be done in that state of life to which God hath calkd them; and they may thence infer, that discontent is an act of rebellion against his Providence; and will forfeit his favour, the loss of which is M'orse than death. In an age, when, vain and corrupting publications abound without any restraint, reading may be a dangerous employment; and many, who read only to amuse the imagination, have read themselves into idleness and beggary. I have heard of a mother, who hath gone into a workhouse with a novel in her hands, followed by a family of poor ragged children. But then, reading is not taught with this view: for there is the reading of wisdom, and the reading of folly; and they are at their liberty to take the one, or the other. Life and death are set before all, as the two trees were planted for the trial of our first parents in Paradise; and if some are so infatuated by passion as to make choice of death, many will prefer the worst sort of reading; such as will corrupt the mind, as surely as death corrupts the body. But this danger ought to be no discouragement: it proves nothing, but that good, by an abuse of it, may be turned into evil; and that the world abounds with temptations to sin.
But now, if some are disposed to plead against learning from the possible danger of it; it is but fair, that they should consider how the case stands with ignorance. There the danger is certain. Leave nature to itself, say some, and it will go right; but, that I deny. Leave the land to itself, and see what will happen; you will soon find it covered with weeds; and the stronger the soil, the fouler it wilt grow, if it is neglected. It is thus with the heart of man; which must be cultivated, and sown with good seed -before any fruits can be gathered from it: and by neglect, the weeds of nature become so deeply .t rooted, that nothing but a miracle of grace can ex