« السابقةمتابعة »
our hearts, and had a conftant and commanding influence on every step we took in our journey through life.
Neither riches nor poverty are bad in themselves. Neither of them is any recommendation, or hinderance to the favor of God, who is no refpecter of perfons-there are good and bad in all ranks. Men may be rich and yet pious, or poor, yet ftrictly juft and honeft. It is, I confefs, often done, yet it is highly criminal to look upon all. that are rich in this world as profane; and it would be equally fo to look upon all that are poor as deftitute of integrity. Yet it is undeniable, that, from the corruption of the human heart, these two extremes do often become frong temptations to the particular fins mentioned in the text; which we fhall now confider feparately, in the or der in which they lie in the paffage before us.
"Give me not riches, left I be full and deny thee, and fay, who is the Lord?"
of the world
We not on
As to the fact, that riches do often lead to profanity and contempt of God, experience, and the ftate prove it in a manner too plain to be denied. ly fee that thofe, who are born and educated from their infancy in the higher ranks of life, are most prone to neglect the duties of religion; but thofe who, from a low or mean condition, are remarkably raised in the course of Providence, do often change their temper with their state, and fhow the unhappy influence of riches in leading them to a forgetfulness of God. Are there not fome, who were regularly in God's houfe when they but barely fubfifted, who have not time for it now, when they are bufy and wealthy? Are there not fome families, where the worfhip of God was conftant and regular in early life, while they were undiftinguifhed, and now it is no more to be heard in their fumptuous palaces and elegant apartments? Shall I fay, that any worm of the earth is become too confiderable to fall down before the omnipotent Jehovah ?
I may add, as being of great importance in the prefent fubject, that fuch changes do often take place gradually and infenfibly, very much contrary to men's own expectation; fo that we really do not know ourselves, nor can we determine before trial, how far we would refift or yield
to the force of temptation. The prophet Elifha foretold to Hazael, the cruelties he would be guilty of when raised to an higher station; to which he replied with difdain and abhorrence; "What, is thy fervant a dog, that he fhould "do this great thing? And Elifha answered, the Lord "hath fhewed me that thou fhalt be king over Syria."— The conduct of the children of Ifrael in their prosperity, is but an emblem of the general conduct of the children of men. "But Jefhurun waxed fat, and kicked. Thou "art waxed fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered "with fatness: Then he forfook God which made him, "and lightly esteemed the rock of his falvation."
What hath been faid might be fufficient to fhew the propriety of the prophet's prayer; for if fuch hath been often, or generally, the influence of worldly greatness upon other men, why fhould any be fo confident as to prefume it would be otherwife with themfelves? But perhaps it may afford matter of ufeful inftruction, to inquire a little further into the fubject-to trace the caufes of this effect, and fhew how and why riches become an inducement to irreligion and profanenefs, for this will beft enable us to apply the remedy. When I fpeak of examining the caufes of this effect, I confels that no reafon can be given for it, but what reflects great difhonor upon human nature in its present state. Were we to judge of the matter by the dictates of found reafon, we fhould naturally expect to find it directly contrary. God is the author of every blefling which men poffefs, and his gifts fhould lead us to gratitude and acknowledgment. It feems natural then to fuppofe, that thofe who are most highly favored in the courfe of Providence, fhould difcover the greatest fenfe of obligation, and be ready to make every dutiful return. One would think that though the poor fhould be impatient, furely the rich will be content and thankful. Is not this reafonable? Had any of you beflowed many favors upon others, would you not expect that their gratitude fhould bear fome proportion to the number and value of benefits received? Had any of them been remarkably diftinguifhed from the reft, would you not expect from them the most inviolable fidelity and attachment? Strange,
that our conduct fhould be fo direly oppofite in the returns we make for the goodnefs of our Maker! That thofe who are diftinguifhed from others by the largest poffeffions, and the greatest fulness of all temporal mercies, fhould be the most prone to wickedness of all forts; but especially, that they fhould be peculiarly inclined to forgetfulness and contempt of God! Yet fo it is in truth. But however difhonorable it is to human nature, let us fearch into it a little, and perhaps we may difcover the caufe of impiety in perfons in affluent circumftances, and the danger the prophet would avoid, by attending to the following obfervations:
1. An eafy and affluent fortune affords the means, not only of pampering our bodies, but of gratifying all our lufts and appetites. They are as ftrong probably in perfons of inferior ftations, but Providence has rendered the gratification more difficult, and in fome cafes impoffible. Many work through neceffity, who would be as idle and flothful as any, but for the fear of want. Thefe will be the first and readieft to reproach the rich, and call them idle drones, who revel in that abundance for which they never toiled; and to put to their own credit that which is wholly owing to the reftraints under which they are laid. Many are generally fober, because they cannot afford the charges of intemperance, who want nothing but the means, to riot in the most brutal fenfuality. But to perfons of great wealth, the objects of defire are always placed in full view, and are evidently within their reach: fo that the temptation has uncommon force, and few are able entirely to refift it.
2. The indulgence of pleafure infenfibly induces a habit, and leads men to place their happinefs in fuch enjoyments. Habit you know is very powerful, and while the habit acquires firength, the power of refiftance is gradually weakened. Thefe gratifications confume fo much time, that there is little left to reflect upon God, and our relation to him. I reckon it none of the leaft temptations to perfons of high rank, that not only their felf-indulgence, but the attendance and obfequioufnefs of others, fo en
groffes their attention, and wastes their time, that they have few opportunities of calm and fober reflection; or at leaft, can easily escape from it, and take refuge in company and amusement. Add to this, that a great variety of fenfible objects and enjoyments render the mind, not only less attentive to things of a fpiritual nature, but indeed, lefs able to underfland them.
3. Obferve further, that when the better part is thus neglected, and no care taken of the cultivation of the mind, every vice will fpring and fhoot up in the foul, as briars and thorns do upon uncultivated ground. Sin, my brethren, is natural to us; it is the produce of the foil; if it is not deftroyed, it will not die; if it is but neglected, it will thrive. Now when ever perfons fall under the power of vice, they begin first to excufe, and then to vindicate it. Those who are under the government of luft, foon find it would be their intereft that there was no fuch thing as religion and virtue. Whatever we wish, we are easily led to believe to be true. Loofe and atheistical principles then find a ready admittance, and are fwallowed down greedily. This is a short sketch of the steps by which people in affluent and eafy circumftances, are often led to deny God, and to fay: "What is the Almighty that we should "ferve him, and what profit fhould we have if we pray "unto him?" Loofe principles are, at first, more frequently the effect, than the caufe of loofe practices; but when once they have taken deep root, and obtained full dominion in the heart, they have a dreadful and fatal influence on the devoted victim.
But, my brethren, I find a strong inclination to make another remark, though perhaps it may be thought of too refined and abstract a nature. It is, that the danger of afiluence in leading to contempt of God, arifes from the nature of all fin as fuch. The original and first fin of man, was plainly affecting independence. They defired and expected to be as gods, knowing good and evil. And fill fin properly confifts in withdrawing our allegiance from, and throwing off our dependance upon God, and giving, as it were, that efteem, love and fervice to VOL. II.
ourselves, in one shape or another, that is due only to him.
Now observe, that affluence nourishes this mistake, and fuffering kills it. The more every thing abounds with us, the more our will is fubmitted to, and our inclinations gratified on every fubject; the more we look upon ourfelves as independent, and forget our obligations to God. Whereas, on the other hand, disappointments and calamities open our blind eyes, and make us remember what we are. Was not the proud monarch of Babylon infpired with this delufive fenfe of independence, when he expreffed himself thus: "At the end of twelve months "he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. "The king spake and said, is not this great Babylon, that "I have built for the houfe of the kingdom, by the might "of my power, and for the honor of my majefty?" But mark the more powerful word of the King of kings.. "While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a "voice from heaven, faying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to "thee it is fpoken, the kingdom is departed from thee!" That this is the proper fource of worldly greatness, may be feen in the temper fuch perfons ufually acquire and fettle in, which is pride, infolence and contempt of others. Nay, it appears ftill more clearly in fome few inftances, in which the intoxication comes to its height, and the poor deluded mortal literally afpired to be confidered and treated as God. It may feem incredible, but we have the most authentic evidence that hiftory can afford, that fome men have demanded and received divine worship. This was the cafe, not only with Alexander the Great, who was really an illuftrious prince, but with fome of the later Roman emperors, who were the meaneft and baseft of all men. No wonder then, that profperity makes men neglect God, when it prompts them to fit down upon his throne, and rob him of the service of his other fubjects.
Before I proceed to the other part of the prophet's argument, fuffer me to make a few remarks, for the improvement of what has been already faid, And,
1. See hence the great malignity and deceitfulness of fin. It hardly appears more ftrongly from any circum