Page images

proof of principle; because a man of no principle whatever, if he were possessed of common prudence, would do the same; but when we deal equitably and justly with those who must take what we choose to give them ; who must sit down under our determination, be that determination what it will; to deal, I say, with those at least as amply and liberally as we should do either with a superior who could command justice, or with an equal who could enforce it, this again I acknowledge to be a proof of honesty upon principle.

Now many persons may stand in this relation to us; and they often do so, for different reasons.

It is the case with those who are too poor to vindicate their pretensions. The benefit of the laws, in many cases, cannot be obtained easily. If you will have justice, you must pay for it. When such men, therefore, take advantage of this difficulty, withhold your right under color of referring it to the law, they rob; when, under protection of their own wealth and ability to maintain a contest, they refuse or but delay to comply with equitable obligations, they steal.

But, secondly; the person with whom we have to do may not be absolutely poor, but may be dependent upon us in some other way. Now, whenever we make this dependency a reason for curtailing him, in any respect whatever, of his full and just rights, we show evidently that our honesty, even when we do act honestly, is not an honesty upon principle. He must be silent, even though oppressed. He must not complain, however injured. But if we be honest upon principle, we shall either lay this situation of his with respect to us entirely out of our consideration, or, if we do consider it, we shall make it a reason for conducting ourselves towards him with more attention to all his claims, and with a strict regard to the justice and honesty of the particular case now under our view; without reference to any other case, or any other transaction, which may have passed between us. He must not remind us of our duty; therefore we should be more careful and anxious not to forget it ourselves, both to recollect it and to discharge it. We may have been bountiful, we may have been generous towards him upon former occasions, but that is not to be made a reason for doing him injustice upon the present. It may stop his mouth; we shall hear of no remonstrance from him ; but it ought not to induce us to subtract the smallest particle of his right or his claims. This is one case in which honesty is put to the test. Nor will it vary the case, whether the person with

whom we have to deal be obliged to us by former favors, or be dependent upon us for future expectations.

Exceedingly plain cases need not come in question ; that is, when a demand is precise and positive, exact and clear, both in its amount and in the right. These are not the sort of cases upon which honesty is called upon to do its duty, or to manifest its principle. There is another class of cases, and that is of those in which there is some degree of doubt or latitude. These are the cases for an honest man to show his character in; most especially when they are conjoined with the circumstances of the former case, namely, that whatever we do cannot be questioned ; that in fact we have the making of both sides of the bargain, the adjudication of our own cause in our own breast, and that cause not without grounds of doubt and question, then is the time to give evidence of the sincerity and the reality of a moral principle within us.

If in cases like these we do not lean, not even a little, towards our own side; if we attend to the whispers of equity without any one to admonish us; if we be advocates, not for ourselves, but with ourselves for every one who has a claim upon us; if we see our own cause with the same eye with which we look upon that of another, our own reasons not made greater than they are by selfinterest, another person's reasons not made less than they are because he is unable to maintain them; if we impose no hardships because they must be borne ; then, I say, we have a comfortable assurance in our own conscience, that our integrity, not only upon these but upon more ordinary occasions, upon occasions in which it cannot be brought to the same test, is in truth the effect, not of policy, but of principle; and such integrity, such honesty as this, is a fulfilment of duty, and therefore a great virtue, because it is a fulfilment of that comprehensive christian precept, whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do even so to them.'





Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me, lest

I should be full and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord ? or lest I be poor and steal.

I have made choice of this text, not so much for the prayer itself, which yet is a very good one, and what most wise men will join in, as because it marks very strongly, and I believe very truly, the effects which riches and poverty, the extremes of them, however, frequently have upon us. We will convert the order of the words, which will make no difference in the substance of them, and consider at present what the text has to say of poverty.

Give me not poverty, says the author of this prayer, lest I be poor and steal. The strength of this observation extends beyond the words. We must not by poverty understand only an absolute want of subsistence and the ordinary accommodations of life, but every situation, high and low, where men's expenses exceed their income, and thereby occasion embarrassment and distress. Nor is the danger confined to stealing. Any dishonesty, and unfair shifts by which people can relieve their distresses, come within the extent and substance of this remark. So that the force of the prayer may be seen, perhaps, more plainly if it be put into these words; Guard me against all difficulties and embarrassments in my circumstances, lest these difficulties put me upon unfair means of relieving them, and drive me to desperate and dishonest shifts to get rid of them. · Whether there be sufficient reason for this prayer or not, must be judged of by observation and experience; and they who have seen most of the world will be most ready, I believe, to acknowledge that the opprobrium of involved circumstances is so great and so urgent, that there are few who find their integrity firm enough to bear up against it. How frequently do we see, or hear, however, of men of fair character, whilst the world went easily with them, drawn in by degrees as their circumstances grew worse, to try experiments, at first perhaps, though not quite upright, neither on the other hand absolutely dishonest, and end at last in the direct practice of roguery and deceit! The inducement, no doubt, is strong. There are few who can give up their habits of luxury, or part with the indulgences to which they have been accustomed; fewer still who can bear the share of it. There is a reputation to be upheld, a pride and point of honor to be maintained, which, however false or foolish, will not permit men to descend in the ranks of life, or submit to those humiliations and restraints which their circumstances require. Now this is a constant pressure and temptation; and although at certain times their reflection may get the better of it, and fortify them against the remotest thought of relieving themselves by dishonesty, yet these reflections coming only at certain times, and the temptations, as I say, being constant, pressing always upon their thoughts and spirits, if an opportunity comes in their way, of supplying or superseding their necessities, it is well if they be scrupulous about the means, or able to refrain from any expedient which promises alleviation or relief in present distress. One may imagine how urgent the temptation is. A man has tasted what it is to live well and reputably. This must beggar him. He must give up his acquaintance, connexions, place, character, appearance, and esteem. This is what is before him, if he insist upon the strict rules of honesty and uprightness, and all this may be avoided by taking an advantage which is in his power. A man, in such an instant, has not wit or ingenuity enough to disguise or palliate the irregularity of what he is about. But no matter what is the cause of it, if it be found true in fact, that distressed circumstances drive most men to injustice of one kind or other, it affords matter of very serious reflection to all of us..

Are we those, first, who are setting out in the world? Such, if they consider what has been said, will take heed to lay the plan of their expenses so as to fall easily and entirely within the compass of their fortune, and to keep close to this plan: And this, not merely as a matter of prudence and economy, but as a moral duty ; for so they will find it to be to their costo if they neglect it. Let pot any luxury of living tempt them into dissipation and extravagance. Luxury of eating and drink ing is the poorest of all pleasures at the best ; and can, I think, be no pleasure at all when it is procured and embittered by the difficulties it draws us into. Neither, which is equally dangerous, let any false notions of shame, or appearance, or emulation, lead them into expenses inconsistent with their fortune. They may be sure that real respect is never procured that way. They mistake the matter much, if they hope to procure reverence and esteem by displaying an appearance beyond their circumstances. All who are acquainted with the truth will upbraid and despise them for it, and it is surely a pitiful ambition to impose upon strangers. All this, as I said before, is to be pressed upon them on the score of duty and religion, for, if they will either observe the world themselves, or believe those who have observed it, they will find dishonesty in some shape or other, open or concealed, direct or indirect, to be the general effect of involved and encumbered fortunes, especially where the incumbrance is brought on by extravagance or profusion; and when we see other men's integrity so often borne down by the temptation this lays them under, it is a piece of presumption to expect that ours should stand firm against it. So that a reasonable degree of prudence, in the regulation of our desires, habits, and expenses will be found, and I believe most men will own it earlier or later, to be as conducive to our virtue as our comfort; equally necessary, that is, in other words, to make us happy here as hereafter.

I would next address a word to those whose misconduct or misfortunes have reduced them to straits and difficulties in their circumstances. There is a vast difference, no doubt, in the cause of their distress; but their distress, in either case, may be great. Now such, perhaps, should be told what they are to expect. They must look for struggles and temptations. They may expect to meet with opportunities of relieving the present burden by unfair practices; perhaps, of setting themselves, apparently, at ease and at liberty. They must count upon being violently beset and urged in their minds when these opportunities offer. Their own hearts will suggest to them all the misery of their present situation, what they have suffered, or what they are likely to suffer, if they neglect the present opportunity. Their imagination will go in quest of every excuse and palliation that can be thought of; what they are induced to do is no more than what thousands, and they themselves, perhaps, have done before, what, they hope, urgent want may make pardonable ; it is what, some time hence, they may make restitution for; what, perhaps, may never be known, what, if it be known, will not leave them worse than they are. These, and numberless more like reflections, will rise up in their minds. All is, however, of no weight, because what is wrong and unjust in a rich man will be wrong and unjust in a poor man; but such, nevertheless, as will probably be of great influence upon

« PreviousContinue »