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Thirdly, Riches are esteemed a great ingredient of our happiness and well-being in this world: though some are of opinion, that they contribute nothing thereto, but that a mean estate is the best; and therefore Agur prays, Prov. 30. 8. Give me neither poverty nor riches. And the Preacher, Eccles. 5. 11. Saith of Riches, What good is there to the owners thereof, save the beholding of them with their eyes? And the Heathen Poet Horace,
—Si ventri bene, si lateri est, quid
Divititæ possunt regales addere majus?
If we are well provided with Food and Clothing, what more can Kingly Riches add to us? And the Apostle, 1 Tim. 6. 8. adviseth us, That having food and raiment; we should therewith be content; because they that will be rich, fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful Lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. It is clear that Riches do expose to the temptations of Pride and Luxury, and the sad consequences thereof.
You will say. If Riches have such an ill influence upon Mens Manners, why then are they proposed in Scripture as rewards to virtuous actions? why are they made the effects and fruits of God’s Blessing?
I answer, Riches if well used, and it is Our own fault if we use them not well, are real Blessings, enabling us to do much good in the World; to be rich in good Works, to relieve the Necessities of others, to feed the Hungry, to cloath the Naked, to redeem Prisoners and Captives, to deliver the Oppressed, to minister to the Sick convenient Diet and Physick, &c. And our Saviour tells us, That it is a more blessed thing to give, than to receive; and consequently to have whereof to give.
I should now proceed to shew, That Riches are a Blessing promised to our Obedience, and likewise a natural consequent and effect of it: And in the first place to explain what is meant by Riches; but I find this so well done to my hand by 44 Treatise of Natural Religion.Dr. Wilkins, late Bishop of Chester, that I shall spare my pains, and only transcribe what I find upon this Head in his Treatise of the Principles of Natural Religion, Lib. 2. Cap. 4.
The Word Riches is capable of a twofold sense.
1. In the more absolute sense it may be defined to consist in such a measure of Estate, as may be sufficient to serve a Man’s occasions and conveniencies; when his Possessions are so proportioned as fully to answer all the necessities of his condition, and afford him a comfortable subsistence according to his Quality, and the station wherein he is placed. In which sense men of all ranks and degrees are capable of being rich. A Husbandman or an ordinary Tradesman may as truly be styled a Rich Man, as a Gentleman, a Lord, or a King. Though perhaps what these can very well afford to fling away upon their Diversions be more than all the Estate and Possessions that the other can pretend to.
And upon this ground all men grant, that a man may be as truly liberal in giving a Penny, but a poor Mite, as another in giving an Hundred Pounds; because these things are to be rneasured according to the different conditions of the Givers, or proportion of their Estates: And a Man may as well be rich with a little, as liberal with a little.
Now though this be the true notion of Riches, yet in the opinion of Moralists and Philosophers is it not enough to denominate a man rich; but there is further required an Acquiescence of Mind, Contentment or Satisfaction with such a Sufficiency: Dives est, non qui plus habet, sed qui nihil cupit: He is not rich who hath much, but who covets no more. Aristotle affirms, That the true nature of Riches doth consist in the contented use and enjoyment of the things that we have, rather than in the possession of them. Those that out of penuriousness can scarce afford themselves the ordinary Conveniencies of Life, out of their large Possessions, have been always accounted poor: Such men may be truly said to want those things they have, because lying by useless, it is all one as if they had them not.
Moreover, That Man who is not content with what is in it self sufficient for his condition, is not rich, nor ever will be so; because there can be no other real limits to his desires, but that of sufficiency, whatever is beyond this being boundless and infinite. And though men may please themselves with an imagination, that if they had but such an addition to their Estates, they should then think they had enough, yet that is but a mere imagination, there being no real cause why they should be more satisfied then, than they are now.
2. Riches may be taken in a more relative sense, and so they may be described to consist in having large Possessions, when a man’s Estate and Revenue is of such a proportion as is commonly esteemed great; whether with relation to the generality of other men; and so only those at the upper end of the world are capable of being counted rich; or else with respect to others of the same rank and order and so all such are accounted rich, who do in their Possessions exceed the common sort of those that are of the same rank with them; this kind of Wealth consisting properly in comparison; there being not any one determinate sum or proportion of revenue to which the name of Riches may be appropriated, but that it may be as much below the occasions of some persons, as it is above the condition of others, who yet live plentifully.
Those that are rich in this comparative sense, may rather be styled proprietors of great Possessions, than truly rich; because though such Possessions be in themselves great, yet they may not be sufficient to free the owner of them from want and poverty, whether in respect to his real or imaginary occasions for more: And that is not Riches which cannot free a Man from being poor; and want of Necessaries is as truly Poverty in him that hath much, as in him that hath but little. He that in any one Condition of Life, hath enough to answer his Conveniencies, such a Man is more truly rich than he whose Revenue is a thousand times greater, if it be not equal either to his Occasions or his Mind. Riches in this second comparative sense are no where promised to our obedience to the Commandments of God, or to any particular Grace and Virtue; nor are they the natural effects and consequents of such Obedience; as if he that were godly, should be thereby advanced to the greatest Possessions that any man else doth enjoy; but only that Religion will be a means to supply him with such a sufficiency as may denominate him rich, and free him from such necessities, whether real or imaginary, as others of his rank are liable to.
1. Riches are proposed in Scripture as a Reward or Blessing to them that fear God, and keep his Commandments. It is said of Wisdom, that is the fear of God, which in several places of Scripture is said to be the beginning of Wisdom, or the chief Wisdom; nay, Wisdom it self, Job 28. 28. And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is Wisdom; and to depart from evil is understandmg. Prov. 3. 16. That length of days are in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and honour, &c. c. 8. 18. Riches and honour are with me; yea, durable riches, &c. And again, V. 21. That I may cause those that love me to inherit substance, and I will fill their treasures. Psal. 34. 9. They that fear the Lord, there is no want to them. Levit. 26. 3, &c. God promises to the Israelites, if they will walk in his Statutes, and keep his Commandments, a confluence of all worldly Blessings; and the like in Deut. 18. The Apostle tells us, 1 Tim. 4. 8, That Godliness hath the promises as well of this life, as of that which is to come.
2. The fear of God, and the practice of several Virtues commanded by him, are the most effectual means to gain and increase Riches: As
1. Diligence and Industry in our Callings, The hand of the diligent maketh rich, Prov. 10. 4. No gains without pains. Man is born to labor, as the sparks fly upward. God hath not sent us into the world like Leviathan, to take our pastime here, but to bear our part of the Burthens of Mankind. Tho’ a Man be born to an Estate sufficient to maintain him without Labor, yet I look upon him as unjust, if he lives upon the Sweat of other Mens Brows, and is not some way or other so helpful and beneficial to them, as to compensate for his Food and Raiment: Every man that hath Riches is accountable to God for the expence of them; being, as I said before, but a Steward to him who is the supreme Proprietor.
2. Justice and Honesty in our Dealings: It is commonly said, That honesty is the best Policy; and so in this particular we find it in experience to be; those Tradesmen having the greatest custom, and quickest returns, who are noted for their just and honest Dealings,
3. Temperance and Sobriety: These conduce as well to the encreasing of our Estates, as the health of our Bodies, cutting off all superfluous Expences in gratifying our Sensual Appetites and Desires: Whereas the contrary Vices of Voluptuousness and Luxury, to which we may add Idleness, Prodigality, Pride, are known waiters of Estates, often bringing men to a morsel of bread, and clothing them with rags, as Solomon saith.
But besides the having a sufficiency of all things necessary and convenient in reference to our rank and order in this world; to denominate us truly rich, as I said before, there is required contentment and satisfaction of mind with such a sufficiency, and a free use of the things we have, which is attainable only by Religion; that teaches and enables us to be content with our Estates, and to live comfortably without such things as others know not how to want, Heb. 13. 5. Be content with such things as ye have; for he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. The ability of being content with a little, may much more truly be called Riches, than the having of much without being satisfied therewith: As it is better to be in health with a moderate Appetite, than to be continually eating and drinking under the disease of a βουλιμία [voracious Appetite] or a Dropsy: And in this sense a little that the righteous hath is better than great riches of the ungodly.
Now that the fear of God, and practice of those Virtues he commands us, is a real means of procuring and preserving a sufficiency of worldly Goods, and contentment therewith, we find confirmed by experience: Let any man impartially consider, what kind of persons those are, among the generality of Men, who in their several degrees and orders are accounted most able, and most wealthy; and it will appear that they are such as are most diligent in their Callings, most just and honest in their Dealings, most regular and sober in their Conversations, most liberal towards any good Work: Upon which account it is that such places, where men have the opportunity of being instructed in, and excited to the Duties of Religion, do thereupon thrive and flourish most; it being one property of Religion to civilize men, and make them more inquisitive in Learning, and more diligent in practising their several Professions. And as for contentment of Mind, it is not to be obtained but upon the account of Religion, Piety and Virtue: Such men need not fear future want, because they have God’s Promise for their security: Let them but do good, and put their trust in him, and verily they shall be fed. They are also to consider, that great Riches cannot make them more happy than they are, but rather expose them to Temptations.
But it may be objected, 1. That there are some kinds of Virtue which seem to have a contrary tendency, as Charity to those that want, Bounty and Liberality to any good Work. To which I answer,
That these Acts may very well consist with Riches in the most proper Notion of it, as it denotes a sufficiency for our Occasions; the ability of contributing in some proportion towards any worthy and charitable Work being in the esteem of every good Man one Of those occasions and conveniencies required to such a sufficiency, and cannot any more be a prejudice to it, than it would be for a Man to lay up some part of his Estate in the safest place, to lend it out upon the best interest, to part with it for the purchase of the same favour and assistance from others in the like exigencies; to lay it out upon his pleasure, with respect to that inward comfort and satisfaction which doth accompany the Conscience of doing worthy things. And besides all this, experience will assure us, that there is a secret Blessing, which doth for the most part accompany such Actions; so that Men grow the richer, not the poorer for them, according to that Proverb, Giving to the poor, increases a Man’s store: And they that in this kind sow bountifully, do often even in this world, reap bountifully.
Obj. 1. There are some kinds of Vice that seem to have a tendency to the enriching of men; as Fraud, Extortions, Sordidness, all kinds of unlawful ways of getting and keeping an Estate. But to this it may be said,
1. That these Vices may tend to the encreasmg of Mens Possessions, but not to the making of them truly rich; and it is a plain Argument that such persons do not think themselves to have a sufficiency, who can apply themselves to such wretched Courses for the getting more.
2. ’Tis commonly seen in experience, that there is a secret Curse attends such Practices, a Canker that eats into such Gain, a Hole in the bottom of the Bag, by which it insensibly drains out, and wastes away; Malè parta malè dilabuntur: He that shall carefully observe the usual course of things in the World, may from his own experience find Instances enough to confirm those Sayings of the Wiseman, Prov. 11. 24. There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. Chap. 13. 11, 22. Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished. The wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just. Chap. 22. 16. He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, shall certainly come to want. Chap. 28. 8. He that by unjust gain increaseth his substance, shall gather it for him that will pity the poor.
But if a man who by Extortion or unjust gain raises an Estate, happens to transmit it to his Posterity, he usually entails upon them a Curse together with it, it decaying by degrees, and coming to nothing: De malè quæsitis vix gaudet tertius hæres: The third Heir scarce ever enjoying an ill-gotten Estate.
Obj. 3. It may be objected, That there are some good Men that are poor; and that God hath chosen the poor of this world to receive the Gospel, and to be rich in faith, James 2. 5. To this it may be said,
1. That the Providence of God may so order it sometimes, as to reduce good Men to great exigencies, to wander up and down in Sheeps-Skins, and Goats-Skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented: But then these are particular exempt Cases, such as are not suitable to the most usual and general course of things. But besides, such as are good Men may sometimes be defective in several of those Duties which Religion doth oblige them to, as Diligence, Caution, &c. And the poverty of such may justly be ascribed to their defect in Religion.
2. As for that Scripture, That God hath chosen the poor in this world; it is not to be understood in the more absolute sense for such as want Necessaries; because it’s plain from other Texts, That though some of the Primitive Believers were by reason of the Persecution of those times, reduced to great exigencies, yet the generality of the rest were very liberal in their Contributions towards them. But it must be understood in the Relative Sense, concerning such as might be styled comparatively poor; that is, such as were of a lower rank, and meaner condition than others, and consequently had less Temptation to corrupt and seduce them, than those that did more abound in these earthly things; of whom our Saviour saith, It is hard for a rich Man to enter into the Kingdom of God.
It may further be objected by those of the lowest rank of poor: We are as it were condemned to perpetual Poverty; our condition is so mean, and our charge so great, and the gain so small and inconsiderable, which comes in by our utmost Labor and Industry, that it will scarce suffice to provide things absolutely necessary for the support of our selves and dependents; so far are we from any possibility of mending our Estates, or growing rich.
To These I answer, That we do not say, That all that are truly religious shall certainly grow rich, let their Circumstances be what they will; but only that obedience to God’s Commands is the most likely way of improving and advancing a man’s Estate, that hath means and opportunities of gaining; which though God hath denied thee, yet hast thou no reason to be discontented with thy Condition, or to complain that thou art hardly dealt with: Thou art not so forlorn, destitute, neglected a Wretch as thou may’st imagine. There is a great Philosopher affirms, That there is no Man born into the World, and grown up to years of discretion, but hath received more good at the hands of God than evil, more pleasure than pain; though he overlooks and considers not the pleasure, as thinking it due to him, but fixes too much upon the pain; which is indeed due, and for the most part deserved. And another great 55 Bishop Wilkins.Divine saith thus, Suppose all manner of evils and afflictions, which are now promiscuously scattered up and down in the world, whether they concern Soul or Body; Spiritual Blindness and Obduracy, Poverty, Slavery, Reproach, Sickness, Pain, Maimedness, Deformity, &c. I say, suppose all these were to be distributed among Mankind, so as every one were to have an equal share of them; would you be content to stand to this distribution? I suppose there are not many persons in this Nation in so miserable and forlorn a condition, that upon serious consideration of the special advantages they do, or may partake of, above many other Millions in the World, would consent to it. But I shall add further for thy encouragement, and the vindication of the goodness of God to thee; That he hath put thee into a near capacity of obtaining as happy an Estate, as the rich, or learned, or powerful: The Gate of Heaven is set open to thee, eternal Life and Immortality offered to thee, upon more easie terms in some respect, than to the rich and mighty. Consider that God may on purpose set thee in a low station, put thee into a mean condition to remove from thee the Temptations to Pride, Luxury, and other Vices, which Riches or Honour would have exposed thee to, and which he foresaw thou wouldest not be able to resist. Consider that he is Wise, and knows better what Condition is fit for thee than thou thy self dost; and likewise good, and hath therefore chosen what is best and most proper for thee. Bestir thy self then and make a Virtue of Necessity, and what thou must suffer, suffer patiently, resigning thy Will to the Will of God: And seeing thou hast not, nor art ever likely to obtain those things, in the enjoyment whereof many Men falsly place their happiness, labour after durable Riches and Righteousness, an Inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away: Be not contented to be miserable here, and eternally miserable hereafter, when thou needest not: And seeing God hath denied thee these wordly Goods, to compel thee, as it were, to seek after better. This course, if thou takest, [of loving and fearing God, and keeping his Commandments], thou shalt not only obtain eternal Life hereafter, but also render thy condition tolerable, nay comfortable to thee here: Thou shalt enjoy inward peace and satisfaction of Mind, and for thy outward estate, God will, if he fees it best for thee, raise thee up Friends to assist thee; or otherwise make such provision for thee, that thou shalt not want what is necessary for thy support and maintenance.
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