« VorigeDoorgaan »
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."
PRUDENCE IN THE CONDUCT OF OUR TEMPORAL CONCERNS.
PROVERBS Xxx. 8, 9.
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 con
fined to stealing. Any dishonesty, any 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 indulgencies to which they have been accustomed fewer still who can bear the shame of it. There is a reputation to be upheld, a pride and point of honour 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 cost, if they neglect it. Let not any luxury of living tempt them into dissipation and extravagance. Luxury of eating and drinking 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 en- . cumbered 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,