Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

widows and orphans melt away before his breath, as the snow beneath the April sun. The possessions of all around him move only towards his den. The farm and the house, the garden and the cottage, the herd on the one band, and the widow's cow and ten sheep on the other, go down together into this open sepulchre. Over the miserable beings who cannot escape his fangs he reigns with a despotic and wolfish dominion. All around him tremble at his nod; and, should any one retain sufficient energy to question bis pleasure, or dispute his control, be points his eyes to the jail, and hushes every murmur to silence, and every thought to despair.

Nor does he less injure society, although the injury is ordinarily less observed, as being less felt, by corrupting both his family and his neighbourhood. His example emboldens, his skill instructs, and his success allures those who are witnesses of his life to pursue the same course of villany and oppression. All the sagacious sharpen their cunning by his practical lessons. The intrepid become daring by his example. The greedy become ravenous by his success. Thus the spirit of avarice is caught, its villanies are multiplied, and a poisonous cion engratted upon every stock in the neighbourhood. His own sons, if not broken down by his hard-handed parsimony, or induced by their sufferings to detest it, and rush into the opposite extreme of profusion, become proficients in all the mysteries of fraud and oppression : not instructed and led only, but drilled into the eager, shrewd, and gainful pursuit of wealth. From him they learn to undervalue all rules of morality, except the law of the land, to violate the dictates of compassion, to burst the bonds of conscience, and to regard with indifference and contempt the will of God. In bis house, as in a second Newgate, young men soon become old in villany; and, with a heart prematurely hardened into stone, and hands trained to mischief by transferred experience, are turned loose to prey upon the vitals of society,

The public mischiefs of Avarice are not less numerous; and are of incomprehensible magnitude. It was one of the glorious characteristics of the men recommended by Jethro to Moses, to fill the stations of rulers, that they bated covetousness :' a characteristic indispensable to bim, who would rule justly, and be a minister of God for good to his people.' When avarice ascends the chair of state, mingles with the councils of princes, seals herself on the bench of justice, or takes her place in the chamber of legislation ; nay, when she takes possession of subordinate departments, particularly. of those which are financial, in the administration of government, her views become extended, and her ravages terrible. The man over whom she has established her dominion sees, even in the humblest of these stations, prospects of acquiring wealth opening suddenly upon him, of which he before never formed a conception. In the mysterious collection of revenues, the mazy management of taxes, the undefined claims for perquisites, the opportunities of soliciting and receiving customary bribes, and in the boundless gulf of naval and military contracts, he bebolds new means and new motives for the exercise of all his talents, fraud, and rapacity, and for the speedy acquisition of opulence, crowding upon him at once. The alluring scene he surveys with the same spirit with which a vulture eyes the field of blood. Every thing on which he can fasten his talons here becomes his prey. The public he cheats without compunction ; individuals he oppresses without pity. There is sufficient wealth in the world to supply all its inhabitants with comfort. But, when some become suddenly and enormously rich, multitudes must sink into the lowest depths of poverty. To enable a single farmer of revenues, or a single contractor, to lodge in a palace, to riot at the table of luxury, and to roll on wheels of splendour, thousands have sweat blood, and wrung their hands in agony. But what is all this to him? He is rich, whoever else may be poor. He is fed, whoever else may starve. The frauds and ravages of public agents, which find palliation, countenance, and excuse from the fact that they have become customary, constitute no small part of that oppression which has awakened the groans and cries of the human race, from the days of Nimrod to the present hour.

But avarice is not confined to subordinate agents. Often it ascends the throne, and grasps the sceptre. The evils of which it is the parent in this situation, are fully proportioned to its power, and outrun the most excursive wanderings of imagination. A large part of the miseries entailed on mankind by oppressive taxes at home, and ruinous wars abroad, are created by the Just for plunder. This fiend hurried the Spaniards to America, and stung them into the perpetration of all those cruelties which laid waste the empires of Mexico and Peru. The same foul spirit steered the slave-ships of America and Europe to the African shores ; tore from their friends, children, and parents, ten millions of the unoffending natives ; transported them in chains across the Atlantic; and hurried them to the grave by oppressive toil, torture, and death. Everywhere and in every age she has wasted the happiness, wrung the heart, and poured out the blood of man. Relentless as death, and insatiable as the grave, she has continually opened her mouth without measure ; and the glory, the multitude, and the pomp’ of cities, states, and empires have descended into the abyss !

SERMON CXXXII.

THE LAW OF GOD.

THE DECALOGUE.

THE TENTH COMMANDMENT.

AMBITION.

MIND NOT HIGH THINGS.

ROMANS XII. 16.

The subject of the preceding Discourse, you may remember, was avarice. In the present, I shall consider the other great exercise of a covetous spirit, viz. ambition.

Ambition is an affection of the mind, nearly related to pride and vanity. Vanity is the self-complacency which we feel in the consciousness of being superior to others. Pride is the same self-complacency, united with a contempt for those whom we consider as our inferiors. Ambition is the desire of obtaining, or increasing, this superiority. Vanity usually makes men civil and complaisant. Pride renders them rude, imperious, and overbearing. Vanity chiefly subjects men to the imputation of weakness, and excites mingled emotions of pity and contempt. Pride is often attended with a kind of repulsive dignity ; is rather seen to be deserving of contempt, than realized as the object of it ; sometimes awakens awe; and always creates hatred and loathing. Vain men are always ambitious; proud men generally; but they sometimes appear satisfied with their present envied superiority to all around them. Ambitious men are frequently vain, and sooner or later are always proud. Vanity rests chiefly on personal attributes. Pride, in addition to these, fastens on every thing which is supposed to create distinction.

This love of superiority is the most remarkable exercise of covetousness; and, united with the discontentment and envy by which it is regularly accompanied, appears to constitute the principal corruption of the human mind. It is impossible, without wonder, to observe the modes in which mankind exercise it, and the objects in wbich it finds its gratification. They are of every kind, and are found everywhere. We are proud and vain of whatever, in our own view, raises us above others; whether a gift of nature, an attainment of our own, or a mere accident. Our pride and vanity are excited by the possession of personal beauty, strength, or agility ; by a lively imagination, clear judgment, and tenderness of feeling ; by patrimonial wealth, and distinction of family ; by the fact, that we live in the same neighbourhood, or even in the same country, with persons of eminence ; that we know them; or even that we have seen them. No less commonly are we proud and vain of bodily feats, graceful motions, and becoming manners; of our gains; of our learning, inventions, sallies of wit, efforts of eloquence, and exploits of heroism ; of the employments to which we are devoted; of the taste which we display in our dress, entertainments, manner of living, building, and planting ; of our industry, prudence, generosity, and piety; of our supposed interest in the favour of God; nay, even of our penitence and humility. We are proud also of the town in which we were born ; of the church to which we are attached ; of the country in which we live; of the beauty of its surface, the fertility of its soil, and the salubrity of its climate. In a word, these emotions are excited by everything from which a roving, eager imagination, and a corrupt heart, can elicit the means of personal distinction.

So far as these gratifications of pride are not in our possession, but are yet supposed to be attainable, or so far as they are supposed capable of being increased, when already possessed by us, they become objects of ambition. We eagerly covet them, and labour strenuously to acquire them. : In the humble circles of life, the first, and very frequently

« ПредишнаНапред »