Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

of his prospect, nor the avoidance of them within the compass of his power; but, notwithstanding all his art, wit, and cunning, lies perpetually open to a thousand invisible, and, upon that account inevitable mischiefs. And thus I have shewn the dangers which attend the several ways and passages by which men aspire to wealth and greatness; the things upon which the abused reason of mankind so much dotes, and in which it places so much felicity, and finds so little. But

3. Men are frequently forced to make their way to great possessions, by the commission of great sins, and therefore the happiness of life cannot possibly consist in them. It has been a saying, and a remarkable one it is, that there is no man very rich, but is either an unjust person himself, or the heir of one or other who was so. I dare not pronounce so severe a sentence universally: for I question not, but, through the good providence of God, some are as innocently, and with as good a conscience rich, as others can be poor: but the general baseness and corruption of men's practices has verified this harsh saying of too many; and it is every day seen, how many serve the god of this world to obtain the riches of it. It is true, the full reward of a man's unjust dealing never reaches him in this life; but if he has not sinned away all the sense, tenderness, and apprehensiveness of his conscience, the grudges and regrets of it will be still like death in the pot, and give a sad grumbling allay to all his comforts: nor shall his heart ever find any entire, clear, unmixed content in the wealth he has got, when he shall reflect upon the manner of his getting it; and assure him, that nothing of all that which he possesses in the world is yet paid for; so that, if the justice of God should exact his soul in payment of that vast score, which his sinful gains have run him into, when this sad debt came once to be cleared off, who then would be the gainer? or what could be got, when the soul was lost?

guilt and profound peace to cohabit in the same breast. Jonah must not think to disobey, and then to sleep securely and unmolested. No, the storm will quickly be about his ears, and the terrible remembrancer within will be rubbing up old stories, and breaking in upon his false repose with secret intimations of an impending wrath. So that, if the tempter, at any time, be at one elbow, to induce a man to sin; conscience will not fail to be jogging him at the other, to remind him what he has done, and what he is to expect thereupon. This has been the case of the most prosperous sinners in the world; these remorses and forebodings have stuck close to them in the midst of all their plenty, power, and splendour; a sufficient demonstration, doubtless, how thin and counterfeit all the joys of these grandees are, in spite of all the flourishes and fine shows they make in the opinion of the foolish world, which sees and gazes upon their glistering outside, but knows not the dismal stings and secret lashes which they feel within.

One man, perhaps, has been an oppressor and an extortioner, and waded to all his wealth through the tears of widows and orphans. Another with blood and perjury, falsehood and lying, has borne down all before him, and now lords it in the midst of a great estate; and the like may be said of others, who, by other kinds of baseness, have done the same. But now, can any of these thriving miscreants be esteemed or called happy in such a condition? Is their mind clear, their conscience calm and quiet, and their thoughts generally undisturbed? For there can be no true happiness, unless they are so; forasmuch as all happiness must pass through the mind and the apprehension. But God has not left himself so without witness, even in the hearts of the most profligate sinners, as to suffer great

And thus much for the first general argument, proving, that true happiness consists not in any earthly abundance, taken from the consideration of those evils through which men commonly pass into the possession of it. The

Second general argument shall be taken from the consideration of such evils as attend men, when they come to be actually possessed of this abundance. As, 1. Excessive, immoderate cares. The very management of a great estate is a greater and more perplexing trouble than any that a poor man can be subject to. Great riches superinduce new necessities; necessities added to those of nature, but accounted much above them; to wit, the necessities of pomp, grandeur, and a suitable port in the world. For he who is vastly rich must live like one who is so and whosoever does that, makes himself thereby a great host, and his house a great inn; where the noise, the trouble, and the charge is sure to be his, but the enjoyment (if there be any) descend, upon the persons entertained by him; nay, and upon the very servants of his family, whose business is only to please their master, and live upon him, while the master's business is to please all that come about him, and sometimes to fence against them too. For a gainer by all his costs and charges, by all that he can give or spend, he shall never be. Such being the temper of most men in the world, that though they are never so kindly used and so generously entertained, yet they are not to be obliged; but go away, rather envying their entertainer's greatness, than acknowledging his generosity. So that a man, by widening or enlarging his condition, only affords the malicious world about him so many more

handles to lay hold of him by, than it had before. It is indeed impossible that riches should increase, and that care, with many malign accidents besides, should not increase with them. This is the dark shadow, which still follows those shining bodies. And care is certainly one of the greatest miseries of the mind; the toil and very day-labour of the soul. And what felicity, what enjoyment can there be in incessant labour? For enjoyment is properly attractive, but labour expensive. And all pleasure adds and takes in something to the stores of nature; while work and labour is still upon the exporting and the spending hand. Care is a consuming and a devouring thing, and with a kind of spiteful as well as craving appetite, preys upon the best and noblest things of a man, and is not to be put off with any of the dainties of his full table; but his thoughts, his natural rest and recreations, are the viands which his cares feed upon. And is not that wealthy great one, think we, very happy, whose riches shall force him to lie awake, while his very porter is asleep? and whose greatness shall hardly allow him so much as time to eat? Certainly such an one sustains all the real miseries of want, no less than he who seeks his meat from door to door. For he is as much starved, who cannot find when, as he who cannot find what to eat; and he dies as surely, who is pressed to death with heaps of gold and silver, as he who is crushed under an heap of stones or dirt. The malignity and corroding quality of care is, to all intents and purposes of mischief, the same, be the causes of it never so different. And whether poverty or riches produce the vexation, the impression it makes upon the heart is alike from both. "They who will be rich," says Saint Paul, (1 Tim. vi. 9,)" pierce themselves through with many sorrows;" and those, it seems, sorrows not of the lighter and more transient sort, which give the mind but feeble touches and short visits, and quickly go off again; but they are such as strike daggers into it; such as enter into the innermost parts and powers of it; and, in a word, pierce it through and through, and draw out the very life and spirit through the wound they make. These are the peculiar and extraordinary sorrows which go before, accompany, and follow riches; and there is no man, though in never so low a station, who sets his heart upon growing rich, but shall, in his proportion, be sure to have his share of them. But then, let us cast our eye upon the highest condition of wealth and abundance which this world affords; to wit, the royal estate of princes: yet neither can this be truly esteemed an estate of happiness and fruition: but as much advanced, above all other conditions, in care and anxiety, as it is in power and dignity. The greatest and the richest prince can have but the enjoyment

of one man; but he sustains the united cares and concerns of as many millions as he commands. The troubles of the whole nation concentre in the throne, and lodge themselves in the royal diadem. So that it may, in effect, be but too truly said of every prince, that he wears a crown of thorns together with his purple robe, (as the greatest of princes once did,) and that his throne is nothing else but the seat imperial of care. But,

2. The second evil which attends the possession of riches is an insatiable desire of getting more, (Eccles. v. 10.) "He who loves money shall not be satisfied with it," says Solomon. And I believe it would be no hard matter to assign more instances of such as riches have made covetous, than of such as covetousness has made rich. Upon which account, a man can never truly enjoy what he actually has, through the eager pursuit of what he has not; his heart is still running out; still upon the chase of a new game, and so never thinks of using what it has already acquired. And must it not now be one of the greatest miseries, for a man to have a perpetual hunger upon him, and to have his appetite grow fiercer and sharper amidst the very objects and opportunities of satisfaction? Yet so it is usually with men hugely rich. They have, and they covet; riches flow in upon them, and yet riches are the only things they are still looking after. Their desires are answered, and while they are answered they are enlarged; they grow wider and stronger, and bring such a dropsy upon the soul, that the more it takes in, the more it may; just like some drunkards, who even drink themselves athirst, and have no reason in the world for their drinking more, but their having drank too much already.

There cannot be a greater plague, than to be always baited with the importunities of a growing appetite. Beggars are troublesome, even in the streets, as we pass through them; but how much more, when a man shall carry a perpetually clamorous beggar in his own breast, which shall never leave off crying, Give, give, whether the man has any thing to give or no? Such an one, though never so rich, is like a man with a numerous charge of children, with a great many hungry mouths about him to be fed, and little or nothing to feed them with. For he creates to himself a kind of new nature, by bringing himself under the power of new necessities and desires. Whereas nature, considered in itself, and as true to its own rules, is contented with little, and reason and religion enables us to take up with less, and so adds to its strength, by contracting its appetites, and retrenching its

occasions.

There is no condition so full and affluent, but content is and will be a necessary supplement to make a man happy in it; and to

compose the mind in the want of something or other, which it would be otherwise hankering after. And if so, how wretched must that man needs be, who is perpetually impoverishing himself by new indigences founded upon new desires and imaginary emptiness, still disposing him to seek for new reliefs and accessions to that plenty, which is already become too big for consumption and the just measures of nature; which never finds any real pleasure, but in the satisfaction of some real want!

But as for the insatiable miser, whom we are now speaking of, what difference is there between such an one, and a man over head and ears in debt, and dogged by his creditors wherever he goes? For the miser is as much disquieted, dunned, and called upon by the eagerness of his own desires, as he whose door is haunted and rapped at every hour, by those who come crying after him for what he owes them; both are equally pulled and haled to do that which they are unable to do for as the poor man cannot satisfy his creditors, so neither can the rich man satisfy his grasping, endless desires. And this is the direct and natural result of increasing wealth. Riches are still made the reason of riches; and men get only that they may lay up, and lay up only that they may keep. Upon which principle it is evident, that the covetous person is always thinking himself in want, and consequently as far from any true relish of happiness, as he must needs be, who apprehends himself under that condition, which of all things in the world he most abhors.

purse? Such an one's condition places him in the very highway to damnation; while it surrounds and besets him with all those allurements which are apt to beguile and ruin souls. And a man must have a rare mastery of himself, and control of his affections, to be able to look a pleasing vice in the face, and to despise it, when the affluence of his fortune shall give him his free choice of all those pleasures which his nature so mightily importunes him to. But it is scarce an age that can give us an instance of such an impregnable and resolved abstemiousness under such circumstances; men are generally treacherous and false to themselves and their greatest concerns; wretchedly weak and pliant to their innate viciousness, when it is once called forth_and inflamed by the provocations it receives from the wealth and plenty they wallow in.

Whence it is, that many hopeful young men debauch and drown themselves in sensuality, and come at length to lose both their souls and their wits too; and that only because it was their lot to be born to great estates, and thereby to have money enough to keep pace with their lewd desires, and to answer them with full and constant supplies; while others, in the mean time, whose nature and temper was perhaps not at all better than their own, have took to the ways of industry and virtue, and so made themselves both useful in their lives, and happy after their death, only through the mercy of Providence stiuting their worldly fortunes, and thereby cutting off those incentives of lust and instruments of sin, which have inveigled and abused others, and brought them headlong to destruction. Certain it is, that a rich man must use greater caution to keep himself clear from sin, and add greater strength and force to his resolutions to make himself virtuous, than men in other circumstances need to do: for he has greater temptations to break through than they have; and consequently cannot make good his ground at the same rate of vigilance and activity, which persons less assaulted may: which being his case, it is hard to conceive what happiness there can be in that condition, which renders virtue, a thing in itself so difficult, infinitely more difficult; which turns the strait gate into a needle's eye, and makes hell itself, which is so broad already, ten times broader than it was before.

4. The fourth evil attending men in the possession of this earthly abundance is, the malice and envy of the world round about them. The bounties of Providence are generally looked upon with an evil eye by such as are not the objects of them themselves. And some have no other fault so much as objected against them, to provoke the invectives and satires of foul mouths, but only that they thrive in the world, that they have fair estates, and so need not herd themselves with

3. The third evil which attends men in the possession of the abundance of this world is, that such a condition is the proper scene of temptation. It brings men, as the apostle tells us in the forecited (1 Tim. vi. 9,) "into a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, and such as drown men in destruction and perdition." So hard is it for the corruption of man's nature not to work, where it has such plenty of materials to work upon. For who so strongly tempted to pride, as he who has riches to bear it out? Who so prone to be luxurious, as he who has wealth to feed and maintain his luxury? Who so apt to besot himself with idleness, as he who can command and have all things, and yet do nothing? It is a miracle almost for a rich man not to be overrun with vice, having both such strong inclinations to it from within, and such inducements and opportunities to it from without. To be rich in money and rich in good works too, rarely concur. All opportunity and power to gratify a man's vicious humour is a shrewd temptation to him actually to do so. Where riches are at hand, all impediments and obstructions vanish. For what is it which gold will not command? What sin so costly which the rich man may not venture upon, if he can but stretch his conscience to the measures of his

the rabble, nor lick the spittle of great ones, nor own any other dependencies, but upon God in the first place, and upon themselves in the next. So long as malice and envy lodge in the breasts of mankind, it is impossible for a man in a wealthy, flourishing condition not to feel the stroke of men's tongues, and of their hands too, if occasion serves. The fuller the branches are, the more shall the tree be flung at. What impeached Naboth of treason and blasphemy, but his spacious vineyard, too convenient for his potent neighbour, to let the owner enjoy it long? What made the king of Babylon invade Judea, but the royal stores and treasures displayed and boasted of by Hezekiah before the Chaldean ambassadors, to the supplanting of his crown, and miserable captivity of his posterity? In Sylla's bloody proscription, matters came to that pass in Rome, that if a man had but a fair garden, a rich jewel, or but a ring of value, it was enough to get his name posted up in the cut-throat roll, and to cost him his life, for having any thing worth the taking from him. Seldom do armies invade poor day-labouring countries; they are not the thin weather-beaten cottages, but the opulent trading cities, which invite the plunderer; and war goes on but heavily, where there is no prospect of spoil to enliven it. So that, whether we look upon societies or single persons, still we shall find them both owing this to their great wealth, that it gives them the honour to be thought worth ruining, and a fit prey for those who shall think they deserve that wealth better than themselves; as, they may be sure, enough will.

And thus much for the second general argument, proving, that true happiness consists not in any earthly abundance, taken from the consideration of those evils, which, for the most part, if not always, attend and go along with it. But,

The third general argument for the proof of the same, shall be taken from the utter inability of the greatest earthly riches to remove those things which chiefly render men miserable. And this will appear to us, if we reflect,

1. Upon what affects the mind. And, 2. Upon what affects the body. And here, First, for that which affects a man's spiritual part, his mind. Suppose that to be grieved, and labouring under the most pressing and insupportable of all griefs, trouble of conscience; and what can riches, power, or honour contribute to its removal? Can they pluck out any of those poisoned arrows, which the apprehension of God's wrath fastens in the soul? Can they heal the wounds and assuage the anguish of a conscience groaning and even gasping under the terrors of the Almighty? Nay, let the grief arise but from a temporal cause, as suppose the death and loss of a dear friend, the diminution of a

man's honour, or the like, and what miserable comforters, in any of these cases, are the heaviest bags and the fullest coffers? The pleasure arising from all other temporal enjoyments cannot equal the smart which the mind endures from the loss of any one of them. For what pleasure did David find in his crown and sceptre, and all his royal greatness, when his dear (though sottishly beloved) Absalom was torn from him? What enjoyment had Haman in all his court-preferments, his grandeur, and interest in his royal master's affection, when Mordecai, his most maligned enemy, refused to cringe to him in the gate? Why, just none at all, if we may take his word for it, who should know his own mind best. For, in Esther, v. 11, 12, when he had reckoned up all his wealth, glory, and greatness, together with his numerous offspring, designed, as he thought, to inherit all of it, he adds in the 13th verse, (and a remarkable passage it is,) "Yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting in the king's gate." The pride of his swelling heart, and the envy of his malicious eye, racked and tormented him more than all that the splendour and magnificence of the Persian court (the greatest then in the world) could delight or gratify him with. And now, what poor contributors must these earthly enjoyments needs be to a man's real happiness, when an hundred pleasures shall not be able to counterbalance one sorrow? But that one cross accident shall sour the whole mass of a man's comforts; and the mind shall as really droop, languish, and pine away, while a man is surrounded with vast treasures, rich attendance, and a plentiful table, as if he had neither where to lay his head, nor wherewithal to fill his mouth. For all the delight he does or can reap from his other comforts, serves only to quicken and increase the sense of that calamity which has actually took possession of him. But, in the

Second place, let us consider the miseries which affect the body; and we shall find, that the greatest pleasure, arising from any degree of wealth or plenty whatsoever, is so far from reaching the soul, that it scarce pierces the skin. What would a man give to purchase a release, nay, but a small respite from the extreme pains of the gout or stone? And yet, if he could fee his physician with both the Indies, neither art nor money can redeem, or but reprieve him from his misery. No man feels the pangs and tortures of his present distemper (be it what it will) at all the less for his being rich. His riches indeed may have occasioned, but they cannot allay them. No man's fever burns the gentler for his drinking his julaps in a golden cup. Nor could Alexander himself, at the price of all his conquests, antidote or recall the poisonous draught, when it had once got into his veins. When God shall think fit to cast a man upon

his bed of pain or sickness, let him summon about him his thousands and his ten thousands, his lands and his rich manors, and see whether he can bribe, or buy off, or so much as compound with his distemper but for one night's rest. No; the sick bed is so like the grave, which it leads to, that it uses rich and poor, prince and peasant all alike. Pain has no respect of persons, but strikes all with an equal and an impartial stroke.

We know how God reproved the foolish worldling, (as our Saviour tells us,) in Luke, xii. 20. "Thou fool," says he, "this night shall thy soul be required of thee; and then whose shall all those things be which thou hast hoarded up?" But we may bring the sentence here pronounced much lower, and yet render it dreadful enough, even within the compass of this life, and say, "Thou fool, this night, this day, shall thy health and strength be taken from thee;" and then what pleasure, what enjoyment will all thy possessions afford thee? God may smite thee with some lingering, dispiriting disease, which shall crack the strength of thy sinews, and suck the marrow out of thy bones; and then, what pleasure can it be to wrap thy living skeleton in purple, and rot alive in cloth of gold? when thy clothes shall serve only to upbraid the uselessness of thy limbs, and thy rich fare stand before thee only to reproach and tantalize the weakness of thy stomach; while thy consumption is every day dressing thee up for the worms? All which, I think, is a sufficient demonstration, that plenty and enjoyment are not the same thing. They are the inward strength and sufficiency of a man's faculties, which must render him a subject capable of tasting or enjoying the good things which Providence bestows upon him. But as it is God only who creates, so it is he alone who must support and preserve these; and when he withdraws his hand, and lets nature sink into its original weakness and insufficiency, all a man's delights fail him, all his enjoyments vanish. For no man (to be sure) can enjoy himself any longer than he can be said to be himself.

|

comes which he daily earns with the labour of his hands or the working of his brain. So that the sum and result of all their efficacy towards a man's happiness amounts but to this; that riches may indeed minister something to the making of that person happy, who is in such a condition of health and strength as may enable him, if he pleases, to make himself happy without them. For a bare competence, and that a very slender one too, will answer all the needs of nature; and where a competence is sufficient, an abundance, I am sure, cannot be necessary. And this introduces the

But now, if riches are thus wholly unable of themselves to effect any thing towards a man's relief under a corporal malady, how can they, as such, deserve the name of felicity? For what are they good for? What can they do for him? The man is sick, and his disease torments, and death threatens him; and can they either remove the one, or keep off the other? Nothing less. But it will be answered, perhaps, that when a man is well and healthy, they may serve him for many conveniences of life. They may do so, I confess; but then, this also is as true, that he who is healthy and well, may enjoy all the necessary satisfactions which his nature calls for, though he has no other riches in the world but those poor in

Fourth and last argument, to prove, that man's happiness consists not in any earthly abundance, taken from this consideration, That the greatest happiness which this life is capable of, may be, and actually has been enjoyed without this abundance; and consequently cannot depend upon it. Now that undoubtedly is the chief happiness of life, for the attainment of which all other things are designed but as the means and subservient instruments. And what else can this be, but the content, quiet, and inward satisfaction of a man's mind? For why, or for what other imaginable reason, are riches, power, and honour so much valued by men, but because they promise themselves that content and satisfaction of mind from them, which, they fully believe, cannot otherwise be had? This, no doubt, is the inward reasoning of men's minds in the present case. But the experience of thousands (against which all arguments signify nothing) irrefragably evinces the contrary. For was there not a sort of men, whom we read of in the former ages of the world, called the ancient philosophers, who, even while they lived in the world, lived above it, and in a manner without it; and yet all the while accounted themselves the happiest men in it? And from these, if we pass to the professors and practisers of an higher philosophy, the apostles and primitive Christians, who ever so overflowed with spiritual joy as they did? "a joy unspeakable and full of glory," as Saint Peter terms it; a joy not to be forced or ravished from the heart once possessed of it, as our Saviour himself, the great giver of it, has assured us. Hear Saint Paul and Silas singing out this joy aloud in the dismal prison, where they sat expecting death every moment. And from hence to proceed to the next ages of the church: who could be fuller of and more transported with a joyous sense of their condition, than the martyrs of those primitive times, who were so far from any of the accommodations of this world, that their only portion in it was to live in hunger, nakedness, and want, and stripped of every thing but the bodies, in and through which they suffered all these afflic tions? And as this internal, spiritual com

« AnteriorContinuar »