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difficulty of the subject. It is a matter of great delicacy, to appear to suppose that any who are present can need to be reminded of their duty in this respect, and warned of the consequences of neglecting it. It is still more so, to be thought to urge any persons to go beyond what their ability will fairly enable them to perform. But it is no breach of propriety, strenuously to exhort the rich, to a cheerful and ample discharge of the obligations, imposed upon them by their affluent condition. It is, on the contrary, imperative upon us, even for their own sakes, still more than for those of the indigent, to lay the matter before them in all its plenitude of interest, to exhibit it in every point of view of which it is susceptible, to shew its reasonableness and necessity, and to persuade men to attend to it, both by the display of the glorious rewards annexed to their obedience, and the dreadful punishment denounced against their neglect of it.
But the subject is not only one of delicacy, but also of considerable difficulty. And this arises from the strong and unqualified terms, in which it is set forth in Scripture: which have (I apprehend) frequently operated, rather
to diminish than encrease that beneficence, which they are designed to excite (when properly understood) in the highest practicable degree. Precepts so apparently unreasonable as some of them are, may have been thought to have no serious obligation. I grant that some of them as applied to ourselves, must be understood with much limitation, as requiring to be obeyed rather in their spirit, than their letter. When our Saviour charged a certain ruler to sell all that he had, and distribute to the poor, and that he should have treasure in heaven-he added these wordsand come follow me. Conduct which under such circumstances would be manifestly proper and practicable, in the totally different circumstances in which we are placed, would be quite the reverse: and can only be proposed for our imitation, with a due regard to our actual condition. Almost all our Saviour's rules are expressed in the strongest terms, and possibly he contemplated the existence of a state of society, when they might be all strictly obeyed, and when the exact performance of some of them would facilitate that of the rest. But we are at present far from such a state of things, and must content
ourselves with humble approaches towards that Christian perfection, of which we must still fall miserably short. But because the literal sense of our Saviour's injunctions to charity, may not now be binding upon us; are we to conclude that they have no sense at all? Because we are not called upon to give all that we have to the poor; are we to suppose ourselves at liberty to give nothing, or so little in proportion to our means, that we should justly be ashamed of it? Can any man who has a spark of human feeling in his breast, even if he be destitute of religion, think this? Can any man who believes only in God and a future state, venture to act upon such an opinion? Can any one who professes only to be a Christian, dare to stake his salvation upon such an issue? Or can any one who is really a Christian, not be eager to give so just and so gratifying a proof of the sincerity of his faith, as that of relieving the sufferings of his fellow-creatures? I would fain hope that I am not addressing a single individual, capable of entertaining and acting upon sentiments so unworthy and so degrading as these.
Strong as the language of our Saviour constantly is upon the dangerous tendency of
riches, it is important to bear in mind, that it is not merely their possession, but their abuse against which his observations are pointed. Riches and poverty, and even the extremes of each, are conditions so evidently intended by the Almighty to exist amongst mankind, that it would be an argument against the truth of the Gospel itself, if it taught a different doctrine. But such is not the fact. On the contrary, it never speaks of the rich with censure, when their actions are not censurable; and at least implies commendation when they deserve it. Thus Joseph of Arimathea is described, as a rich man who was also Jesus' disciple. And the manner in which he is mentioned, and the action recorded of him clearly shew, that no blame was imputed to him because he happened to be wealthy. So also, it is related by St. Mark, that Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. It is true that upon that occasion, the conduct of the poor widow, in casting in all that she had, is extolled above that of those, who gave of their abundance; but it may fairly be inferred, that some degree of applause is in
tended for them also. The Gospel also recognizes, and fully sanctions, all the various orders of men, of which society consists, from the highest to the lowest: that is, it recognizes the two extremes of poverty and riches, as conditions necessarily existing, and neither meritorious nor otherwise in themselves, but only as they are sustained by those who fill them. And it must be considered, as no slight proof, that the Apostles of our Lord, had imbibed the genuine spirit of his doctrines, that they exactly adhered to them in this respect. For looking upon them as merely ordinary and unassisted, and poor men, going about to inculcate a new religion, and that of the character of that of the Gospel; the most natural error, into which they would unintentionally have fallen, would have been to declaim against the rich as such, and to represent their condition as one in itself odious both in the sight of God and man. But they have done no such thing. Like their Divine Master, they have fully admitted the necessity of subordination amongst mankind; that is, of the various degrees of wealth and poverty. They have warned the rich of the serious obligations imposed upon them; but they