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AND WHEN HE HAD SPENT ALL, HE BEGAN TO BE IN WANT. LUKE XV. 14.
J. HE words describe the miserable situation of a young man, who might have lived in his father's house, where there was plenty of all things for those who were wise enough to enjoy it.
But the love of liberty, and novelty, arose in the mind of this unfortunate youth. A restless curiosity was in his temper, and pleasure was his object: not the pleasure of the wise, but of the foolish; not that which God allows for our comfort, but that which the tempter throws in our way to ruin us. So he left his father's house, and went afar off, to be his own master, and take his pleasure, where no authority would reprove him, no counsel direct him, but that of himself and his wicked companions.
For awhile, he went on as he pleased: but at length, the evil consequences which he had kept out of his mind, fell upon his affairs : he had spent all, and began to be in want. He, who is without prudence, will, by degrees, be without money: and he, who hath spent all, must suffer many inconveniences; of which this is one; that having learned no useful employment, he will be driven to miserable and base expedients to keep himself from starving: as this poor young man, in his distress, submitted to be sent into the field to feed swine, without being allowed the liberty of partaking with them.
The parable supposes this poor sinner to have recovered his senses, and to have returned: but, alas! how many are there, who go off and never return! whose ruined affairs can never be repaired! who have no father to receive and restore them; but are left to do as they can, and be lost in the misery they have brought upon themselves.
I mean to use this example of the Gospel, for the purpose of warning my hearers, especially some of the younger part of them, of the causes and miseries of extravagance, and of recommending the wisdom and virtue of ceconomy, as absolutely necessary to make them happy.
When you enquire into the sources of extravagance, you may imagine that extravagance is owing to an extravagant temper. But extravagance is not the cause of itself: A man will no more throw away his fortune, than he will throw away his victuals, till some infirmity or folly has got possession of his mind. Every act, good or bad, is the result of some counsel, either from a man's judgment, or his imagination, leading his judgment astray. If his idea of things is false or partial, his actions will accord with it: unaccountable, perhaps, to reason and wisdom, but suitable to his conceptions. Allow a madman his principles, and then you will no longer wonder at his actions. Thus it is in the case of an extravagant person. He has conceived a false idea of things, and persuaded himself, either that we are sent into the world for nothing but to seize the present moment, and take our pleasure, or that his actions will not be attended with such consequences as other men's are; or that consequences, which are distant, are not to be weighed against gratification which is present. Extravagance, therefore, in all cases, is to be considered as an effect which hath its causes: and these I find to be,
1. Intemperance. If a man is hungry, he may feed cheaply; but if he is nice, he cannot live but at a great expeuce. And here we are also to consider, that besides the extravagant charge of high eating and drinking, excess of every kind has a bad effect upon the understanding, and brings upon the mind a sottishness, which is always improvident. As the drunkard loses the direction of his feet, an intemperate man is very apt to lose the direction of his fortune, and run headlong into many other foolish and hurtful expences. Fulness breeds sleepiness and indolence; and while extravagance is carrying every thing out, idleness brings nothing in; so that an intemperate man is between two fires; he has ruin before him and behind him; and if his livelihood depends on his attention to business, he very soon falls into distress. And the case is not much better with the man of fortune; whose inattention and indolence will have the same baneful effect upon his affairs, though his ruin may not come on so rapidly. . Two evil principles are working upon him at once: the same passions, which make him wanton and expensive, render him also inattentive and careless; and so his affairs, instead of being inspected by himself, are left to others, who are secretly making a property of him; feeding and enriching themselves, and their friends, without his knowledge. While his visible expences are great, and he gathers his fruits too fast with his own hand before they are ripe; there is an invisible worm work
ing at the root, which brings on unexpected, and seemingly unaccountable but certain decay. It is, therefore, a very unfortunate circumstance, when any gentleman, or lady, through a fault in their temper, or a defect in their education, think themselves too great to be personally acquainted with the state of alt their domestic concerns: a privilege to which nobody is born but the ideot. /.
2. A second aause of extravagance is a vain desire of shew and appearance. Persons who do not seek true happiness within themselves, derive an imaginary happiness from the opinion, of what they think to be the opinion, of other people. They suppose it impossible for them to be happy, unless they seem so: therefore they purchase this visionary happiness at an extravagant rate. No man or woman can say how far this fancy will carry them, or where it will end: for perhaps it will never be satisfied so long as a single competitor is left. It is too common in this age, for those who are less, to take their pattern from those who are greater. God made them to be rich; but they find a way of making themselves poor, by living after a fashion which is above their condition. Hence it is a just observation, and has been frequently made by those who know the world, that some of the poorest families in this kingdom, are those of middle fortunes who affect the style of the nobility. For, what is poverty? It is xcant: and he, who is in want, is poor, whatever may be the value of his estate. He suffers the distress of poverty, with those additional evils of vexation and mortification, unknown to persons of humble life. Artificial appetites are observed to domineer more than the natural; and it is equally true, that artificial poverty is more pressing and more distressing than that poverty to which we are born. It ought in justice to be so; because the one is innocent and the other sinful. Therefore, let not the poor re-* pine, as if they were the only, poor; many of their betters, who make a great shew in the world, are in the same condition with themselves, or a worse. Suppose a man of reasonable size should resolve to add even one inch more to his stature. This small addition he cannot preserve but by being constantly upon the rack, and submitting to be in an agony, that he may appear greater than he is. What is worst of all to themselves, when they come to the knowledge of it, such people find they have made themselves contemptible to their superiors, and ridiculous to their equals. In his sphere, every man may be respectable; but no man can be so out of it; because he cannot get thither without having first made himself a fool. So great is this species of folly, that in many instances it approaches near to madness. I remember an example of a gentleman, who was a wit in other respects, but so desirous of appearing great and splendid above himself, that he had laid out large sums in beautifying a seat which did not belong to him; and he was shewing a friend what waters and plantations he had added, and how much farther he intended to carry his improvements; while the officers of justice were then actually in the house, to apprehend him as a debtor.
Admirable is the sentence of the son of Sirach, on the abortive plans of extravagant people: he that buildeth an house with other men's money, that is, by running into debt, is like one who gathereth stones for the tomb of his burial. Ecclus. xxi. 8. The edifice raised on such terms, stands as a monument of the builder's ceconomical death. Thus did the vanity of Absalom raise a pillar, to be a grand memorial of himself: not thinking that an ignominious death should
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