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A farther Continuation of the same Subject.
The subject of the two preceding chapters is of
such importance, that I cannot leave it without adding some farther considerations upon it.
For, notwithstanding the Scriptures are so clear and express on the side of the doctrine there delivered, yet I must expect to encounter the prejudices of men who are settled in other opinions.
I know it will still be asked, where can be the impiety of getting or enjoying an estate?
Whether it be not honourable, and matter of just praise, to provide an estate for one's family?
It will also be asked, what people of birth and fortune are to do with themselves if they are not to live suitably to their estates and qualities?
Any one that has taken the trouble to read this treatise, must have found, that the doctrine here taught is none of mine, and that therefore I have no occasion to support it against such questions as these.
The same persons may as well ask, why the little span of life is made a state of trial and probation, in which men of all conditions are to work out their salvation with fear and trembling?
But, however, to the first question let it be answered :
Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or wherewithal shall we be clothed; for after all these things do the Gentiles seek.
If to be careful and thoughtful about the necessaries of life, be a care that is here forbidden, and that because it is such a care as only becomes heathens; surely, to be careful and thoughtful how to raise an estate, and enrich one's family, is a care
He John vi. 27.
that is sufficiently forbidden Christians. And he that can yet think it lawful and creditable to make it the care and design of his life to get an estate, is too blind to be convinced by arguments. with as much regard to Scripture, say, that it is lawful to swear falsely, though it forbids him to speak falsely.
Our Saviour saith, Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life. commands us not to lay up for ourselves treasures on earth; he assures us that we cannot serve God and mammon.
Now these places have no meaning, if it is still lawful for Christians to heap up treasures, to labour for great estates, and pursue designs of enriching their families.
I know it is easy to evade the force of these texts, and to make plausible harangues upon the innocency of labouring to be rich, and the consistency of serving God and mammon.
I do not question but the rich young man in the Gospel, who had kept the commandments of God from his youth, could have made a very good apology for himself, and have shown how reasonable and innocent a thing it was for so good and so young a man to enjoy an estate.
The rich man in torments could have alledged how much good he did with his fortune, how many trades he encouraged by his purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day; and how he conformed to the ends and advantages of society by so spending his estate.
But to return: The apostle saith, Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content; that they who will be rich fall into a temptation
1 Tim. vi. 8, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drawn men in destruction and perdition.
We may perhaps, by some acuteness of reasoning, find out that this doctrine still leaves us at our liberty, whether we will labour to be rich or not; and if we do, we are as much enlightened as the quakers, who find themselves at liberty from the use of the sacraments.
We may pretend, that notwithstanding what the apostle here says of a snare, a temptation, and foolish lusts; yet that we can pursue the means, and desire the happiness of riches, without any danger to our virtue.
But if so, we are as prudent as those Christians who think they can secure their virtue without watching and prayer; though our Saviour has said, Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation.
He, therefore, that neglects watching and prayer, though the appointed means of avoiding temptation, may show that he lives as much according to Scripture as he that is careful and desirous of riches and wealth, though they are the declared occasions of sin, snares, and destruction.
If we will not be so humble and teachable, as to conform to Scripture in the simplicity and plainness of its doctrines, there will be no end of our errors; but we shall be in as much darkness as where the light of Scripture never appeared.
For if we could submit to its plain and repeated doctrines, it would never be asked, what people of birth and fortune are to do with themselves, if they are not to live up to the splendor and plenty of their estates.
The rich man in the Gospel was a ruler, a young man, and a good man; if, therefore, there are any amongst us that are neither young nor good, it can hardly be thought that they have less to do to inherit eternal life than the young man in the Gospel.
And as for those who, like him, have kept the commandments of God from their youth, I dare not tell them, that they are not under a necessity of offering all their wealth to God, and of making their estates, however acquired, not the support of any foolish vain indulgencies, but the relief of their distressed brethren.
Suppose great people, by means of their wealth, could throw themselves into a deep sleep of pleasant dreams, which would last till death awaked them; would any one think it lawful for them to make use of their riches.
But if it was asked, why this is not as lawful as a life of high living, vain indulgencies, and worldly pleasures, it could not be easily told.
For such a life as this is no more like a state of probation than Tsuch a sleep is like it; and he that has done nothing but sleep and dream to the time of his death, may as well say, that he has been working out his saloation with fear and trembling, as he that has been living in such luxury, splendor, and vain gratifications, as his estate could procure him.
The Gospel has made no provision for dignity of birth, or difference in fortune; but has appointed the same straight gate, the common passage for all persons to enter into glory.
The distinctions of civil life have their use, and are, in some degree, necessary to society; but if any one thinks he may be less devoted to God, less áfraid of the corruptions of pleasures, the vanities of pride, because he was born of one family rather than another, he is as much mistaken as he that fancies he has a privilege to steal, because he was born of a father that was poor.
Why may not poor people give themselves up to discontent, to impatience, and repining? Is it not because Christianity requires the same virtues in all states of life? Is it not because the rewards of religion are sufficient to make us thankful in every condition ?
But who sees not that these same reasons equally condemn the gratifications, the sensual indulgencies
of the rich, as the discontents and repinings of the poor?
So that a great man taking his swing in worldly pleasures, in the various gratifications which his plenty can furnish, is as good a Christian, as careful of his duty to God, as the poor man who resigns himself up to discontent, and spends his time and spirits in restless complaints and repinings.
And if the joys of religion, our hopes in Christ, are sufficient to make us rejoice in tribulation, and be thankful to God in the hardships of poverty; surely the same hopes in Christ must be equally sufficient to make us forbear the luxury and softness, and all other pleasures of imaginary great
If, therefore, the rich or great man can find out a a course of pleasures, that support no wrong turn of miud; a luxury and indulgence, which do not gratify sensuality, delights, and entertainments; which indulge no vain and weak passions; if they can find out such self-enjoyments of their riches' as show that they love God with all their strength, and their neighbours as themselves; if they can find out such instances of splendor and greatness, as gratify neither the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, nor the pride of life; religion has no command against such enjoyments.
But if this cannot be done, let it be remembered that the rich have no more permission to live in sensual pleasures, and vain indulgencies, than the poor have to spend their time in anxious complaints and unthankful repinings.
Let it also be remembered, that if any distinctions of life make men forget, that sin is their only baseness, and holiness their only honour; if any condition makes them less disposed to imitate the low, humble estate of their suffering Master, or forget that they are to return to God by humiliation, repentance, and self-denial; instead of being