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We here proceed to the third thing, which is the limitation, by which we are confined to work only the things that are good, foregoing all unlawful means of supporting ourselves : let him labor, working with his hands the things that are good. Had not this condition been expressed, it might have been collected from the nature of the command; for if the law of God be superior to our necessities in any point, it must be in all. Our Saviour tells us that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God: if so, then we must not for bread transgress any part of God's word; which would be to destroy life under the pretence of preserving it. As we are men, we are the servants of God, and his law is our highest obligation : as we are poor, we must serve men, which is the law of our condition; and this can never supersede the law of our nature : therefore no necessity can justify us in despising or neglecting God's ordinances: this point enlarged on. Hence we may learn what value there is in the excuse which servants and poor men usually make, when they are sensible that they are employed otherwise than they ought to be : they dare not desert the service of their master, on whom they depend for their livelihood; the work they do is his, and his is the guilt : the first part of this excuse shown to be false, as God is superior to man : the second, as reason, which is given to us for a guide, makes us principals in all the evil we do. It is therefore manifest that, as the law of our condition obliges us to labor for our maintenance, so the superior law of reason and nature obliges us to work only the things that are lawful and honest.
But it may be asked, what are lawful and honest employments ? Now the labor of the poor depends on the wants and desires of the rich : but the things which men want are either the necessaries, or conveniences, or pleasures of life; and all trades or callings are subservient to one or other of these. 1. God has made nothing necessary to us which is not lawful and honest : therefore all such works as those of husbandry, &c. may be pursued. 2. When men are furnished with necessaries, they may then look out for conveniences; and if the rich may lawfully desire and enjoy them, then the poor may
lawfully provide them : this point enlarged on. 3. The next thing which may furnish employment are the pleasures of life. Some of these are very innocent, and some very wicked ; and the rule in this case must follow this distinction : such pleasures as the rich may innocently enjoy, the poor may lawfully provide ; such as are wicked may neither be enjoyed nor provided without guilt.
But there are some things, which, according as they are used, may administer to innocent pleasure, or to vice and immorality : as wine may either make glad the heart of man, or sink him below the level of a brute; hence the question, how far we may lawfully provide things of this kind ? Now since the innocence or wickedness of these lies altogether in the use of them, he that uses them may be to blame, and he that provides them may be innocent: this point enlarged on.
When things in their own nature evidently tend to corrupt and debauch men's manners, they are capable of no defence. Whatever exposes religion to contempt, or virtue to ridicule, whatever makes vice glorious, or gives to lust dominion over reason, is of this kind. The stage considered in this point of view : inquiry also made whether gaming can be a lawful calling or profession for men to maintain themselves by. From previous observations it may be collected what is an honest labor : and we must follow our honest callings honestly. The next thing to be considered is, what is the measure of this duty ; whether we are obliged to labor merely to supply our wants, or whether there be other duties which are to be answered by our toil. This the Apostle has settled in the last
place; enjoining us to labor, that we may have to give to him that needeth ; so that we are to labor not only to support ourselves and families, but that we may also contribute to the necessities of such as are not able to work for themselves : nor will objects of our charity ever fail ; since the more gain, the more ought we to give; and for this end should we labor.
But there are many things which a poor man ought to provide for, before he can come to the exercise of charity : he must supply his own wants; he must also by his industry provide against the casualities and misfortunes of life: and this in consequence of the Apostle's rule ; for the first piece of charity which a man is bound to, is to keep himself from being a charge and burden on charity; that there may be a greater maintenance for such as are truly necessitous : next to himself a man is likewise bound to provide for his family, children, and near relations: and this is a duty of nature; for the Apostle tells us, that if any man provide not for his own, he is worse than an heathen, &c. Nor must their present maintenance be his only care, but likewise their future welfare. But, it may be asked, what is the measure of this provision for futurity; and when shall we satisfy this duty ? Answered : he who can get no more than is necessary for himself and family, is under no obligation to works of charity : but when he gets beyond this necessity, he is then obliged to provide for his own future wants and the present wants of the poor; so that to lay up in store for ourselves, and to give in charity to others, are concurrent duties.
But it must be allowed that charity is naturally the duty of the rich rather than the poor; and if it be the duty of the poor to give out of the little which they can earn by their hands, how much more will it be expected from those to whom God has given more than enough? who are appointed, as it were, his stewards; and to whom are committed the
SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE XXXVII.
good things of this world, that they may use them to the glory and honor of his name. The time will come when we must quit lands and houses, and all the possessions of this life : let us therefore make to ourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness.
DISCOURSE XXXVII. .
EPHESIANS, CHAP. IV.-VERSE 28.
Let him that stole steal no more; but rather let him labor, work
ing with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.
The words now read to you make up a complete sense,
without depending on what goes before or comes after. They contain a confirmation and explication of the eighth commandment: for what the Apostle enjoins concerning labor, and working with our hands, is no more than the necessary consequence of the command, Thou shalt not steal. For since all men are equal sharers in the wants and necessities of life, and the things which should supply these wants are unequally divided, so that some have more than enough, and some much less; it follows that the necessities of the one must be supplied from the abundance of the other. Steal you must not, and give perhaps he will not. The only way then by which you can come at the things you want, is by purchase or exchange; and the only thing a poor man has to exchange, is the work and labor of his hands: and therefore it follows as a consequence of the law, that since you must not steal, you must work, and purchase by your labor and industry the things which are necessary for your support and subsistence. In all that rich men do, they want the help and assistance of the poor ; they cannot minister to themselves either in the wants, or conveniences, or pleasures of life : so that the poor man has as many ways to maintain himself, as the rich man has wants or desires; for the wants and desires of the rich must be served by the labor of the poor. But then the rich man has often very wicked desires, and often de