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Lord is the maker of them all." The sacred writer thus introduces all of us into an equal and common relation to God, who is the great Parent of us all. We are the creatures of the same hand, the subjects of the same government; we occupy the same economy of divine providence; and, as to our destination, we all stand in relation to the same future and eternal state of being. These two distinctions and divisions of society have existed in every period. It is impossible to avoid them: and any attempt to establish an equality of possessions in the present world, would be replete with disappointment, confusion, rapine, and misery. The greatest disturbances mankind has ever experienced, have arisen from abortive attempts of this nature: nor can any one seriously consider the causes from which these two conditions of society spring, but he must despair of ever realizing any thing like equality, or any thing approaching to equality, as to the possessions and enjoyments of the present state.
It has been urged in favour of such attempts, and with some degree of plausibility, that a scheme of this kind was executed at the first beginning of Christianity, that the saints at Jerusalem had nothing which they called their own, but threw their property into a common stock; and out of that stock they relieved the distress and poverty of their persecuted brethren. But there is great reason to conclude, as Mosheim* has very
* See his “ Commentaries on the Affairs of the Christians," (Vidal's translation,) vol. i. p. 202, and the reference there made.-ED.
judiciously shewn, that there was no such thing as community of goods established among them, and that the right of property was not formally relinquished; but that it was customary for all who possessed property, to hold themselves in readiness to relieve the exigencies of those who applied to them. It does not appear that it was ever hinted at by the apostles themselves, who were at Jerusalem, or made even a temporary law of that church; but every one was left to act agreeably to the dictates of his own mind: and the apostle Peter aggravates the guilt of Ananias and Sapphira, by declaring, that while the estate “ was in their own possession, was it not their own; and after it was sold, was it not in their own power;" and that no necessity existed for resorting to falsehood, when they laid the price of it at the feet of the apostle. It never prevailed in any other church. We have no intimation that it was adopted in any other of the great churches, which were planted by the apostle Paul; and in his epistles there is no reference to any similar regulation, though he alludes there to a large collection, which Paul and the apostles were engaged in making in those churches, for relieving the distress of the saints of Jerusalem. The pressure of calamity was local and temporary, it was occasioned by peculiar circumstances of time and place, and never pervaded the other parts of Christendom. It never was made a law by the apostle Paul; nor, as a permanent regulation, was it countenanced by the apostles at Jerusalem.
It would be wasting your time, to spend more
words in pointing out the folly and absurdity of every attempt to equalize the possessions of mankind. I am persuaded there are none here, that permit themselves to be deluded by the sophistries of the designing and wicked who propagate this statement. But it is of great importance for us to consider, because it is intimately connected with our duties and prospects, in what great points the rich and poor meet together, and that the Lord is the maker of them all : that each of these
respective classes may learn their proper duties to one another, that the poor may learn not to envy and murmur, and the rich not to despise and oppress. Then will society be happy, when the poor and the rich unite in spirit to promote the great purposes of social order and happiness, in entire and equal subjection to the Father of spirits, who is the fountain and source of every good.
In considering this subject permit me to observe,
I. That the rich and the poor meet together in the participation of a common nature. They are equal sharers in the common nature of humanity, in distinction from those who are in a lower, and from those who are in a higher order of beings. The faculties by which this nature makes itself known, are exhibited with equal clearness, and certainty, and activity in both these classes. The poor as well as the rich give the most unequivocal indications of the possession of that reason, which is the grand distinction of man, and forms the chief difference between mankind and the beasts that perish. Reason may be cultivated to a higher
extent by some of the rich, in consequence of the more improved education which they may procure, and of the leisure which their station commands. But decisive indications of a reasonable nature are presented in the lowest walks of society; and they are sometimes such as greatly to surpass and eclipse the indications of intellect in the higher classes. Every age of society has produced persons who have broken through the difficulties and disadvantages of their station ; who have surmounted the obstacles by which they were surrounded, and have reached a high position in a career of virtuous probation, among those who have set out on a more elevated stage. And, on the contrary, among the sons of opulence, some have been found who possess such an imbecility as no education could remedy: their knowledge has never been of any use to them; and the learning which has been bestowed upon them has rather been an incumbrance than an assistance to them : their knowledge has remained a dead mass, which the mind could never animate,-a sort of raw produce, out of which nothing useful or ornamental to society could be extracted. When this imbecility has prevailed to a certain extent, so as to invite a comparison with the degree of knowledge which the mind is capable of attaining, it shews its native disadvantage, and is never more conspicuous than in the case of those who unite a large portion of human attainment with a portion of radical imbecility.
The poor and the rich have equally the power of ascertaining general principles, of forming conclusions as to the future from the consideration of past events, and of rendering their senses conducive to those general and abstract ideas in which all real science and knowledge consists. Thus you see that the poor and the rich, in the great faculty of the understanding, afford proofs of equality ; and no difference exists between them but such as may be easily accounted for by the circumstances of human life.
With respect to their moral sensibilities also, the rich and the poor meet together. They possess alike that conscience which “either accuses or excuses," and they possess that cognizance of the purposes and intents of the mind, which connects it with a system of legislation, with the hope of reward, or the fear of punishment. The poorest, as well as the richest, is capable of feeling these sentiments. The hopes and the fears of a future world act as powerfully upon the poor as upon the rich; and that legislation which appeals to the conscience, and which refers to the primary distinctions of the human mind between right and wrong, is calculated to take as much hold of the one as of the other.
In regard, also, to devotion, which by some men of profound thought is declared to be the great characteristic of man, in opposition to the brutes that perish, these two classes meet together. There are many examples, among the poor, of persons who are “rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which God has promised to them that love him.” In the poorest breast we find the flame of devotion