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lights in sinful pleasures; and though to serve the rich be the poor man's maintenance, yet in these cases the poor man must not serve him; and therefore the Apostle adds, that he must labor, working with his hands the thing which is good.' His poverty obliges him to serve man, and therefore he must work with his hands;' and his reason and religion oblige him to serve God, and therefore he must work only the thing which is good.'
Labor is the business and employment of the poor, it is the work which God has given him to do; and therefore a man cannot be satisfied in working merely as far as the wants of nature oblige him, and spending the rest of his time idly or wantonly; for if God has enabled him to gain more by his labor than his own wants and the conveniences necessary to his station require, he then becomes a debtor to such duties as are incumbent on all to whom God hath dispensed his gifts liberally. He must consider that he owes a tribute to his Maker for the health and strength he enjoys; that there are others who want limbs to labor, or sense and understanding to arrive at the knowlege of any art or mystery whereby to maintain themselves; and to these he is a debtor out of the abundance of his strength, and health, and knowlege, with which God has blessed him: and therefore he is obliged to labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.'
To the great men God hath given riches, to the mean, strength and understanding; both are equally indebted for what they have received, and equally obliged to make returns suitable to their abilities: and therefore, as the rich man must honor God out of his substance, so must the man of low degree make his acknowlegement out of the product of his labor and understanding: and therefore men are obliged to use labor and industry in their honest callings and employments, first, to provide for themselves, and all who depend on them for maintenance; and, in the next place, to provide a stock to discharge the debt they owe to their Maker, by administering, in proportion to their ability, to the wants and necessities of their poorer brethren.
And this may serve to give us a general view of the sense
and reasoning of the text; which I shall now more particularly consider, according to the distinct parts of which it consists. And those I think are four: first, a prohibition, Let him that stole steal no more.' Secondly, in consequence of that, an injunction, But rather let him labor.' Thirdly, a limitation of this duty of laboring to things honest and lawful, expressed in these words, Working with his hands the thing which is good.' Fourthly, the rule and measure of his duty,‹ That he may have to give to him that needeth.'
First, as to the prohibition, Let him that stole steal no more.' By this we are forbidden the use of all such means, for our own maintenance and support, as are injurious to our neighbor. The command, Thou shalt not steal,' was given to secure every man in the property and possession of his goods; and therefore the reason of the law reaches to all kinds of fraud and deceit by which men are injured in their goods and estate; and there are many things which, in propriety of speech, we do not call stealing, which nevertheless must be understood to be comprehended in this law, in virtue of the reason on which it is founded. The unjust acquisition of any thing is theft; for what you unjustly acquire, another loses, and suffers in his property, for the security of which the law against theft was enacted: and therefore, in the way even of trade, if you sell a commodity to an unskilful buyer for a shilling, which, according to the market price, is worth but sixpence, you are a thief to the value of sixpence for of so much you unjustly defraud the man. He that is stronger than another may rob him by violence, he that is more subtle may do it by cunning; but if the injury in both cases be the same, must not the guilt be so too?
Some are apt to repine at the unequal division of the goods of fortune, and think that they have as good a natural right to a share of the world as those who at present possess it; and consequently that they may assert their right, whenever it is in their power so to do. From these principles sprang the sect known by the name of Levellers, who were for having the world equally divided among the inhabitants of it; and thought it very unnatural that one should be a lord and another a beggar. This opinion destroys all law and justice, and eva
cuates the command given against theft and stealing, by laying all things open and common, and making all men joint proprietors of all things. It renders labor and industry useless; since he that labors can acquire nothing which he had not before; and were it a prevailing opinion, it would soon make the world a nest of idle vagabonds, by leaving no encouragement for the labor either of the body or the mind. But few words may show the vanity of this opinion: for first, though we cannot produce a divine law ordering the distribution of the things of the world, yet nevertheless property is evidently of divine right for when God gave the commandment Thou shalt not steal,' he confirmed to every one the possession and property of his goods; since from that time, at least, it became unlawful for any man to wrest out of his neighbor's hands the goods he was in possession of. So that it is to no purpose in this question to inquire by what means men at first divided the world among themselves, or how one acquired in any thing a private right to himself; since we find this right and property declared and confirmed by a subsequent act of God. God is the supreme proprietor of all things; and it will not be denied but that he might at first have divided the world as he thought good; and this he may do at any time, since he cannot lose or forfeit his right: and therefore it matters not by what means the world was divided, when God confirmed the division, and established men in their right and property; since his confirmation gave a right, if there were none before. And hence it appears that property is established, if not by the law of reason and nature, yet by the positive law of God; which is to us the highest reason and authority. And from hence it follows that no man can acquire the possession of any thing which is at present another's, without the consent of the present proprietor fairly obtained. And to this right of his own establishing even God himself submits: the poor are his peculiar charge; his providence stands engaged for their support: but neither does God force us to part with our estates to the poor, or give the poor any right to serve themselves out of the abundance and superfluity of others; but he has left them to be maintained by charity, that is, by the free and voluntary gift of such as can spare from their own subsistence some part of what they enjoy.
Now none can have greater want than those who are objects of charity; and since God has not thought fit to break into the sacred law of property for the relief of these, no man's necessity can be great enough to warrant him to transgress the law, since the greatest necessity is made subject to it in consequence of this it follows, that those who have not enough of the good things of this life for their maintenance and support, are obliged to work for their living which is the Second thing to be considered in the text, But rather let him labor.' Your wants must be supplied from the abundance of others; and therefore you must find some honest way of transferring to yourself what at present is not yours: this must be done by consent of the present possessor, which must be obtained either 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. And this raises a question, whether begging be a lawful way of maintaining ourselves? If a man may lawfully beg, and can by begging raise a sufficient maintenance, then it does not necessarily follow that, because we must not steal, therefore we must labor; for it may be answered, we may beg. In this question we must distinguish concerning persons; for some have a right to be maintained by charity; and those who have a right to this kind of maintenance, have a right to ask for it, that is, to beg the charity of all well-disposed Christians. Charity is the inheritance of the poor; it is, as I may say, their property and therefore, for any one who is not an object of charity to live by charity, is invading the right and property of the poor; which is by much the worst way of stealing.
Who are not objects of charity, the Apostle plainly 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 of charity: 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 begging, for such as are able to labor, is an unlawful calling. It is indeed but a more specious theft: for
first, you do not fairly obtain the consent of the proprietor to part with what you by begging extort from him; which is a necessary condition in all just and lawful acquisitions. You represent yourself as an object of charity, pretend age, or sickness, or lameness, or some other indisposition, which renders you incapable of an honest calling. The charitable man, bound in duty, relieves these necessities, and out of what he allots for charity, gives something to you. Here you manifestly deceive him; for did he know you, he would give you nothing; and therefore, by your false pretences, you fraudulently obtain his consent to part with his money to you: this is a direct cheat. Secondly, you diminish the maintenance of such as are truly objects of charity. If the money that is given charitably in this kingdom were applied only to proper objects, our streets need not be crowded with beggars: but since begging has been found to be a profitable trade, it has diverted the maintenance of the poor to a parcel of idle, lazy hypocrites, who are taught to whine and beg with as much. art and care, as others are taught their lawful trades and mysteries. These common beggars are public robbers of the poor, and live out of their peculiar inheritance. The money which well-disposed people allot of their substance for the maintenance of the poor, these insinuating hypocrites, by their pretended wants and necessities, appropriate to themselves; so that their employment is like to that of a pirate, they lie in wait to intercept whatever comes to the relief and support of the poor. Now if common begging is but a disguised kind of robbery, and really injurious both to rich and poor, it follows that this crime, like all others, falls under the care and correction of the civil magistrate, and that laws made to restrain this evil, and to punish idle vagabonds, are founded in reason and justice; and accordingly all wise states have made provision to prevent and to punish this evil.
Since then it is neither lawful for you to beg nor to steal, it follows that you must labor, and by your own industry and diligence maintain yourself, and such others as have a right to be maintained by you. The Apostle adds, that you must labor, working with your hands:' which is your duty when you are not capable of any better work; for such as cannot