« PreviousContinue »
so far with the meaner people as to restrain them from envious and malicious discourse, from lewd and filthy jesting, which are great ingredients in their conversation: for since God has designed them for society as well as you, and given them no great share of understanding, you can neither restrain them from society, nor exact more wisdom from them than they have received.
This consideration will likewise reach the case of wiser men : you must not despise your weak brother. Charity obliges you to be civil and courteous to him: and when a man of understanding is joined in society with a weak man, the discourse must be according to the meanest capacity; and it is sometimes a piece of charity to submit to the conversation of men of much less ability than yourself.
From all these considerations together then, it appears that the conversation of the world, on common and trivial subjects, is not blameworthy. It is a diversion in which we must not spend too much time; if we offend in this respect, we shall be answerable for the neglect of weightier matters; but otherwise, if we transgress not the bounds of innocence and virtue, we trust in Christ that our harmless, though weak and unprofitable words, shall not rise up in judgment against us.
SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE XXXVII.
EPHESIANS, CHAP. IV.-VERSE 28.
THIS text contains a confirmation and explication of the eighth commandment: for since all men are not equally supplied with the necessaries of life, and those who are without them are forbidden to steal, they can be obtained only by purchase or exchange; and as the only thing which a poor man has to exchange is the labor of his hands, it follows that, as he must not steal, he must work he has as many ways to maintain himself as the rich man has wants or desires: but this latter has often very wicked desires and sinful pleasures; and though to serve the rich be the poor man's maintenance, yet to these he is forbidden to administer: he must work with his hands only the thing that is good.
Moreover, since labor to the poor is the business and employment which God has given them to do, a man is not to rest satisfied with working merely as far as the wants of nature oblige him, and spending the rest of his time idly and wantonly; but if, through God's goodness, he is enabled to gain more than is sufficient for himself, he becomes a debtor to other duties, he owes a tribute to his Maker; and he is bound still to labor, that he may have to give to him that needeth. It is shown that both the rich and the poor are equally obliged to make returns to God suitable to their abilities. The text consists of four distinct parts: I. a prohibition; let him that stole
steal no more : 11. a consequent injunction; but rather let him labor: III. a limitation of this duty to things honest and lawful; working with his hands the thing which is good: IV. the rule and measure of the same; that he may have to give to him that needeth. First, as to the prohibition by this we are forbidden the use of all such means, for our own maintenance and support, as are injurious to our neighbour. The command, thou shalt not steal, was given to secure every man in the possession of his goods; and therefore the reason of the law reaches all sorts of fraud and deceit; and there are many things which, strictly speaking, we do not call stealing, but which must be understood as comprehended in this law, in virtue of the reason on which it is founded: this point explained. Some are apt to repine at the unequal distribution of the goods of fortune; and thinking that they have as good a natural right to a share as their possessors have, they assert that right whenever it is in their power to do so. Hence sprang the sect called Levellers, who were for having the world equally divided among its inhabitants. Their opinion is destructive of all law and justice, and makes void the command given against theft. It renders labor and industry useless, since he that labors can acquire nothing that he had not before; and if it prevailed generally, it would render the world a nest of idle vagabonds. It requires but few words to show the vanity of such a doctrine; for though we cannot produce a divine law ordering the distribution of this world's goods, yet property is evidently of divine right: for when God gave the command, thou shalt not steal, he confirmed to every one the possession of his goods; this point enlarged on. From whence it follows that no man can acquire the possession of any thing which is at present another's, without his consent fairly obtained; and to this right of his own establishing even God himself submits. The poor are his peculiar charge, and he stands engaged for their support; but neither does he force us to part
with our estates to them, nor does he give to the poor any right to serve themselves out of the abundance of others; but he has left them to be supported by voluntary charity: since God therefore has not, for the sake of the most necessitous, thought fit to break into the sacred law of property, no man can be warranted, whatever may be his wants, in transgressing it: but in consequence of this, it follows that he who has not enough of the good things of this life for his maintenance and support, is obliged to work for his living. And this is the
Second thing to be considered, as the injunction of the text; but rather let him labor. His wants must be supplied from the abundance of others; and therefore he must find some honest way of transferring to himself what at present is not his. This must be done by consent of the present possessor, which must be obtained by purchase or intreaty. A man may, if he pleases, part with his goods freely to others by way of gift; and it should seem that, what another freely gives, we may freely and innocently take. This raises a question concerning the lawfulness of begging; for if a man may lawfully beg, and can by that means raise a sufficient maintenance, then it does not necessarily follow that, because we must not steal, therefore we must labor. In this question we must distinguish concerning persons; for some have a right to be maintained by charity, and these have a right to ask for it. Charity is the inheritance of the poor: it is, as it were, their property and therefore, if any one who is not an object of it, lives by charity, he invades the rights and property of the poor; and this is the worst way of stealing. Who are not objects of charity the Apostle tells us in another place; if any man will not work, neither let him eat; that is, if a man can work and will not, he ought to starve. Now no man ought to starve, who ought to be maintained by charity; for such have a right to eat thereof: from whence it follows that such as can labor, but will not, have no right to charity, and consequently have no right to ask it; and therefore beg
ging, for such as are able to labor, is an unlawful calling, or more specious theft: this subject enlarged on.
Since then it is not lawful either to beg or to steal, it follows that a man must labor, and by his own industry maintain himself and those who have a right to be maintained by him. The Apostle adds that he must labor, working with his hands ;* which is our duty when we are not capable of any better work; for such as cannot live without it, must live by bodily labor. But the injunction is more general, and includes all kinds of labor, toil, or study, by which men may be serviceable to themselves or others: and it may properly be asked how far this duty extends, and whether such only are obliged to labor as cannot live without it.
Man was not made to be idle. God has not given him sense and understanding to sit still and do nothing. If he was made only to eat and drink, then indeed it would follow that those who have enough, need do nothing else; but if he is made for and is capable of nobler employment, then it is an absurd thing to ask, whether a man may be idle, provided he wants nothing? The necessary affairs of the world cannot be managed by the labor of the hands alone: the head must also be employed in things of the highest consequence and every man owes it as a duty to God and his country to render himself useful in his station, &c. hence all men are obliged to that kind of labor and work which is suitable to their rank. We generally say, that God has made nothing in vain: yet what is the rich man made for, if his business be only to eat and drink, and spend his estate? Sense and reason are great gifts of God: and if he has exempted our hands from toil, he will expect that we should improve our nobler parts, and will exact an account of the talents committed to our trust.
* Of this St. Paul himself was an illustrious example: see Acts xviii. 3.-Ed.