« PreviousContinue »
works to the utmost of our power, as it is necessary to forgive until seventy times seven, and live in the habitual exercise of this forgiving temper towards all that want it.
And the reason of all this is very plain, because there is the same goodness, the same excellency, and the same necessity of being thus charitable at one time, as at another. It is as much the best use of our money, to be always doing good with it, as it is the best use of it at any particular time; so that that which is a reason for a charitable action, is as good a reason for a charitable life. That which is a reason for forgiving one offence, is the same reason for forgiving all offences. For such charity has nothing to recommend it to-day, but what will be the same recommendation of it to-morrow; and you cannot neglect it at one time, without being guilty of the same sin, as if you neglected it another time.
As sure, therefore, as these works of charity are necessary to salvation, so sure is it, that we are to do them to the utmost of our power; not to-day, or to-morrow, but through the whole course of our life. If therefore it be our duty at any time to deny ourselves any needless expenses, to be moderate and frugal, that we may have to give to those that want, it is as much our duty to do so at all times, that we may be farther able to do more good for if it is at any time a sin to prefer needless vain expense, to works of charity, it is so at all times: because charity as much excels all needless and vain expense, at one time as at another. So that if it is ever necessary to our salvation, to take care of these works of charity, and to see that we make ourselves in some degree capable of doing them; it is as necessary to our salvation, to take care to make ourselves as capable as we can be, of performing them in all the parts of our life.
Either therefore you must so far renounce your Christianity, as to say, that you need never perform any of these good works; or you must own, that you are to perform them all your life in as high a degree as you are able. There is no middle way to be taken, any more than there is a middle way betwixt pride and humility, or temperance and intemperance. If you do not -Strive to fulfil all charitable works, if you neglect any of
them that are in your power, and deny assistance to those that want what you can give, let it be when it will, or where it will, you number yourself amongst those that want Christian charity. Because it is as much your duty to do good with all that you have, and to live in the continual exercise of good works, as it is your duty to be temperate in all that you eat and drink.
Hence also appears the necessity of renouncing all those foolish and unreasonable expenses, which the pride and folly of mankind has made so common and fashionable in the world. For if it is necessary to do good works as far as you are able, it must be as necessary to renounce those needless ways of spending money, which render you unable to do works of charity.
You must therefore no more conform to these ways of the world, than you must conform to the vices of the world you must no more spend with those that idly waste their money as their own humour leads them, than you must drink with the drunken, or indulge yourself with the epicure; because a course of such expenses is no more consistent with a life of charity, than excess in drinking is consistent with a life of sobriety. When therefore any one tells you of the lawfulness of expensive apparel, of the innocency of pleasing yourself with costly. satisfactions, only imagine that the same person was to tell you, that you need not do works of charity, that Christ does not require you to do good unto your poor brethren, as unto him, and then you will see the wickedness of such advice; for to tell you, that you may live in such expenses, as to make it impossible for you to live in the exercise of good works, is the same thing as telling you, that you need not have any care about such good works themselves.
How the imprudent use of an estate corrupts all the tempers of the mind, and fills the heart with poor and ridiculous passions through the whole course of life: represented in the character of Flavia.
IT has already been observed, that a prudent and religious care is to be used, in the manner of spending our money or estate, because the manner of spending our estate makes so great a part of our common life, and is so much the business of every day, that according as we are wise, or imprudent, in this respect, the whole course of our lives, will be rendered either very wise, or very full of folly.
Persons that are well affected to religion, that receive instructions of piety with pleasure and satisfaction, often wonder how it comes to pass that they make no greater progress in that religion which they so much admire.
Now the reason of it is this: it is because religion lives only in their head, but something else has possession of their hearts; and therefore they continue from year to year mere admirers, and praisers of piety, without ever coming up to the reality and perfection of its precepts,
If it be asked why religion does not get possession of their hearts, the reason is this. It is not because they live in gross sins, or debaucheries, for their regard to religion preserves them from such disorders.
But it is because their hearts are constantly employed, perverted, and kept in a wrong state, by the indiscreet use of such things as are lawful to be used,
The use and enjoyment of their estates is lawful, and therefore it never comes into their heads to imagine any great danger from that quarter. They fever reflect, that there is a vain, and imprudent use of their estates, which though it does not destroy like gross sins, yet so disorders the heart, and supports it in such sensuality and dulness, such pride and vanity, as makes it incapable of receiving the life and spirit of piety.
For our souls may receive an infinite hurt, and be rendered incapable of all virtue, merely by the use of innocent and lawful things.
What is more innocent than rest and retirement? And yet what more dangerous, than sloth and idleness? What is more lawful than eating and drinking? And yet what more destructive of all virtue, what more fruitful of all vice, than sensuality and indulgence?
How lawful and praise-worthy is the care of a family! And yet how certainly are many people rendered incapable of all virtue, by a worldly and solicitous temper!
Now it is for want of religious exactness in the use of these innocent and lawful things, that religion cannot get possession of our hearts. And it is in the right and prudent management of ourselves, as to these things, that all the art of holy living chiefly consists.
Gross sins are plainly seen, and easily avoided by persons that profess religion. But the indiscreet and dangerous use of innocent and lawful things, as it does not shock and offend our conscience, so it is difficult to make people at all sensible of the danger of it.
A gentleman who spends all his estate in sports, and a woman that lays out all her fortune upon herself, can hardly be persuaded that the spirit of religion cannot subsist in such a way of life.
These persons, as has been observed, may live free from debaucheries, they may be friends of religion, so far as to praise and speak well of it, and admire it in their imaginations; but it cannot govern their hearts, and be the spirit of their actions, till they change their way of life, and let religion give laws to the use and spending of their estates.
For a woman who loves dress, that thinks no expense too great to bestow upon the adorning of her person, cannot stop there. For that temper draws a thousand other follies along with it, and will render the whole course of her life, her business, her conversation, her hopes, her fears, her taste, her pleasures, and diversions, all suitable to it.
Flavia and Miranda are two maiden sisters, who have each of them two hundred pounds a year. They buried
their parents twenty years ago, and have since that timespent their estate as they pleased.
Flavia has been the wonder of all her friends, for her excellent management, in making so surprising a figure on so moderate a fortune. Several ladies that have twice her fortune, are not able always to be so genteel, and so constant at all places of pleasure and expense. She has every thing that is in the fashion, and is in every place where there is any diversion. Flavia is very orthodox; she talks warmly against heretics, and schismatics, is generally at church, and often at the sacrament. She once commended a sermon that was against the pride and vanity of dress, and thought it was veryjust against Lucinda, whom she takes to be a great deal finer than she need to be. If any one asks Flavia to do something in charity, if she likes the person who makes the proposal, or happens to be in a right temper, she will toss him half a crown, or a crown, and tell him, if he knew what a long milliner's bill she had just received he would think it a great deal for her to give. A quarter of a year after this, she hears a sermon upon the necessity of charity; she thinks the man preaches well, that it is a very proper subject, that people want much to be put in mind of it; but she applies nothing to herself, because she remembers that she gave a crown some timeago, when she could so ill spare it.
As for poor people themselves, she will admit of no complaints from them; she is very positive they are all cheats and liars, and will say any thing to get relief, and therefore it must be a sin to encourage them in their evil ways.
You would think Flavia had the tenderest consciencein the world, if you was to see how scrupulous and apprehensive she is of the guilt and danger of giving amiss.
She buys all books of wit and humour, and has made an expensive collection of all our English Poets. For, she says, one cannot have a true taste of any of them, without being very conversant with them all.
She will sometimes read a book of piety, if it is a short one, if it is much commended for style and language, and she can tell where to borrow it.