« PreviousContinue »
glorious name. But who am I, and what is my people that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort ? FOR ALL THINGS COME OF THEE, AND OF THINE OWN HAVE WE GIVEN THEE” (Chron. I. xxix. 11, &c.).
It seems, therefore, that our bounty at the best, must be very dependent, as God gives the means of our giving; and sometimes, perchance, a man shall also apply God's bounty so injudiciously, if not unjustly, as to resemble a young magnifico; who shews an ostentatious bounty at his father's expense, and perhaps OF HIS LITTLE BROTHERS AT HOME. All this may seem a considerable deduction from the merit of our beneficence, but still the grace is worth cultivating, and especially with the conditions before mentioned, if it be only in consideration of
3. Some collateral advantages which may be added to those already enumerated; as
1, That obliging ourselves to do to others as we would have them to do to us, which has been proposed as the sum of beneficence, may have the good effect of teaching us to moderate our expectations towards them. This is one positive advantage of the characteristic: so is
2, All that delightful feeling, which the practice of beneficence, the pleasantest practice or profession in the world, reflects on its subject or performer: and some of its negative advantages are also not inconsiderable; as
3, That by some sacrifice of our incidental property to the wants of others a worse application of the same is often prevented, such as pampering and bedizening our own persons, to make them loathsome and ridiculous; or, which is much the same, pampering and bedizening those who belong to us.
As it often happens for a man who is moderate himself both in dress and diet, to suffer his wife perhaps to carry the portion of many a widow and fatherless child on her back, or to indulge his sons in riotous living at the expense of the fatherless and the widow. For all these things the unjust steward will have to account, together perhaps, with the objects of his mis
placed generosity: so will be perhaps, for many other faults, which a sacrifice to charity might have prevented, BY DISQUALIFYING HIM FOR SUCH IDLE OR VICIOUS EXPENSES.
4, And certainly none of these fore-mentioned advantages, whether positive or negative, of beneficence, can be considered light, though generally outdone by the consolation which our dying moments are likely to derive from a life of good works: when a dutiful and benevolent mind, without reckoning on the merit of such performances, any other cause,
but the atonement of a blessed Redeemer, may still be pleased at reflecting on the kind offices that have been rendered by one poor creature to others in worse circumstances, and enjoy the pleasure of doing good over again, when the season for doing is passed.
§ 3. If there could be any excuse for covetousness, it might be the last mentioned good objective characteristic on incidentals, namely beneficence: but they who know what covetousness is, will not be very sanguine in their expectations of beneficence from that quarter; and perhaps they may not have the same idea, as some others, of the omnipotence of wealth. Perhaps they will think, that Contentment is more nearly related to beneficence, than any thirst of aggrandizement; that they who require least for themselves will generally have most to spare for others, independent of circumstances. And if content do not imply generosity, it will imply at least so much as this: Here are, it may be, so many pounds that I have; I care not how much more I might have if I would: which seems a good opening at least for generosity. To some, content may look therefore like apathy, accounting that it does not imply any appetite: but that is a palpable mistake, for it certainly does, though without expectation or dependence. Content is an appetite with fruition, like a dinner of herbs with a seasoning of love (Prov. xv. 17). It clings to its present circumstances, whatever they may be, and delights in its station. It does not wish to be
either richer or greater than it is : but still, what it is, it likes to be ; SEEKING WHAT IT HAS, without acquiring, or caring to acquire any thing further : while another righteous property, and the next of kin to content, is supposed to have acquired something, and positively to have likewise the power of acquiring more, though it can rest with a subdued appetite (no easy part) in the midst of acquisition.
Such is the noble part of Moderation; a part that seems more difficult altogether than that of content, because content has no antagonists to struggle with, apparently: but moderation has, and sometimes very powerful, not only in the sanguine temperament it supposes, but also in the habit of acquiring; an habit as hard to be subdued almost as any that is against us. Therefore moderation may be thought more admirable even than contentment, in making or selecting such a fortune for itself as content inherits from the cradle.
Content is common sense; and if the poor man be wise, far from envying his superiors in fortune or incidentals, he will rather pity them; and instead of seeking to undermine, will rather wish to keep them above himself: in troublesome times particularly, he will desire this, as he would like to wear his hat in a rainy day. By the poor man, is generally understood one in narrow circumstances : but more properly speaking, he is the poor man who either covets something, or has nothing to spare. But that man is rich who has any thing unappropriated, be it time, or wealth, or information, or any other valued incidental. So that a day labourer, who has not a foot of land, nor a guinea, when he is out of work, and has a portion of his time unappropriated, is so far rich. person cannot be justly reproached with this quality, who devotes all his time, wealth and information, be they never so great, to the service of others, any more than the steward can be reproached with being a lord, only because he holds a lordly revenue in his hands, and applies it ac
cording to his lord's behest. A man's private wealth must depend entirely on his disposition : “ Godliness is great riches, if a man be content with that he hath: for we brought nothing into the world, neither may we carry any thing out” (Tim. I. vi. 7).
$ 4. The convenient share of incidentals prescribed by moderation, and accepted by content, must not be surrendered to waste and neglect: but there shall be other good objectives found, to regulate their application and secure their efficiency, such are the virtues of Frugality and Economy, differing outwardly from the two last mentioned also, in two respects; 1, as they seem rather more domestic, presenting in themselves the part of a good housekeeper, whose proper duty consists in such parts; 2, as they are exercised on their own exclusively, while the others are also occasionally exercised at other men's tables.
And likewise between frugality and economy there seems an internal distinction worth understanding ; v.g. as the object of economy is rather more local than that of frugality, whether its scite be the house and homestead, the barton, the garden, or the fields : so economy may be called, a local frugality. A man may be frugal without keeping house, and no matter where : he may be frugal in camp, or frugal at an inn, but can only be economical at home. And hence persons of one description are cut off from the enjoyment of this property, with its natural concomitant, abundance: that is to say, the absentees or runagates, who wandering every way from their respective abodes, will sometimes meet elsewhere,-not however to improve each other, but to drag on an useless existence in common.
How often do we find these runagates permitted to continue in scarceness ! (Ps. lxviii. 6.) WANDERING LIKE THE RAVENS FOR LACK OF MEAT (Job. xxxviii. 41) AT LAST; BUT ORIGINALLY, WITHOUT ANY OBJECT.
§ 5. When matters are come to this pass, it will be almost too late to recommend a virtue by which frugality
and economy in and about the house should always be attended,—and that is Neatness of the person. It will be too late to recommend this when a man is returned from his extravagant rambles ragged and pennyless: but while the means exist, a degree of neatness in the person or habit, may be worth cultivating. And therefore our Saviour, while he particularly taught men to look most to the things that are most intimate and unseen, has also delivered to us a precept on this characteristic of externals, as beautifully expressed as its meaning is high and accurate ; not condemning the study of dress, nor of neatness altogether, but the fault of foppery, or an overprizing of articles so foreign to the kingdom or subject. “Why take ye thought of raiment ? (said he to the multitude). Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow : they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Mat. vi. 28, 29).
Now the lily of the field, where it grows spontaneously, may be regarded as an emblem of neatness: and therefore our Saviour, who was not ashamed of a sense for the beauties of nature, may be thought to inculcate neatness, when he reminds us of its modest emblem. The divine law of love, keeping still before the human law of expedience, requires here, as in most other cases, a greater degree of perfection. For WHEREAS HUMAN LAWS REQUIRE CONCERNING DRESS ONLY WHAT MAY NOT OFFEND; AS AN INDECENT EXPOSURE OF THE PERSON, FOR EXAMPLE-THE DIVINE LAW AFORESAID WILL REQUIRE WHAT MAY ALSO PLEASE, at least to an elegant taste in this respect; as it aims to make its subjects amiable in all respects. A cynical slovenliness is as strange and unbecoming in the exterior of a Christian as the fantastical full dress of a fop or a footman.
And as the Christian precept concerning dress is an improvement in artificial legislation, so is it likewise on the more ancient law of nature, which does not suggest