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" inhabitants thereof;" a darkness that may indeed be felt, and that ought to be bewailed, as it is a sure forerunner of ruin and excision.—“My people are
destroyed for lack of knowledge : because thou hast
rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee; seeing " thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also
forget thy children h.”
But suppose this not altogether the case. It is among the evils of external poverty, and one of the greatest of those evils, to be the cause of that other poverty which is internal. The poor, unless care be taken of them in this respect by the ricb, are by that very circumstance often deprived of the means of knowledge. Much of their time is of necessity otherwise employed; and when they enjoy any little intervals of leisure, opportunities and instructors are wanting
It may be said, perhaps, What occasion have the poor for knowledge? For knowledge of many kinds, none at all: they are better without it: ignorance for them is preferable. But there is an ignorance that above mentioned—which is attended with effects very prejudicial to the welfare of society in this world, and that of individuals in the nextproductive of vice and ill manners, of confusion, and every evil work. Good may be known without being practised; but it cannot be practised if it be not known.
“ If we inquire,” says a late writer, in his admirable treatise on the subject of the Poor" if we
& Isa. lx. 2.
h Hos, iy, 6.
inquire into the state of those countries where " the people are grossly ignorant, we shall find the
most unhappy consequences arising from their " deplorable situation. The savages in America are “ but in a small degree raised above the irrational “ tribes: the populace in Portugal, whose whole
knowledge consists in a credulous superstition, are now the most cruel and barbarous people in Europe; and the lower class in London, who are in
general very ignorant, are ripe for every crime. “ Had the same degree of knowledge of which some
complain as improper for the commonalty, been
imparted to them, there is reason to believe it 66 would have civilized their manners and corrected " their morals. Some of our late eloquent and ju“ dicious historians have set in a very striking view “the barbarity and misery of the middle ages,
arising almost wholly from the ignorance which then overspread Europe.. “Wherever gross ignorance prevails, there either gross vices or absolute stupidity will abound. It “ is by a school education chiefly that we receive the “ rudiments of knowledge. Though men may be, “ and it is hoped are, improved by public discourses, “yet, unless they have received some previous in“struction, they can reap but little benefit from 66 them. It
It appears, then, to be an object of great 'importance to the public, as well as to individuals, " that the meanest of the people should be taught to “ read, and be instructed in the duties of religion " and morality. This seems to be one of the most
necessary steps towards the civilizing of a country; " and this instruction may be given at an early
period, before they are fit for labour, or at times when they are not otherwise employed i.”
There must ever be in all communities a considerable majority of poor, to perform the various labours of life. In return for their temporals, we should communicate to them of our spirituals. If they, by their labours, furnish us with “the meat that " perisheth,” it is but reasonable that we, especially as it can be done without much labour, should supply them with “that meat which endureth for ever.” If they “ give us to drink,” we should in return present them with “the water springing up unto “ eternal life.” Their spiritual necessities are the same with those of the rich; they have equally souls to be saved, and stand therefore equally in need of the knowledge requisite to save them.
This being perfectly known to the God of the spirits of all flesh, he has not been unmindful of them in the dispensations of his grace, but has adapted his Gospel to the wants of all alike.
The evidence, on which its authority stands, is not veiled from vulgar sight by the clouds of inetaphysical subtlety; it depends not on intricate arguments, and tedious consequences, which the poor have neither leisure to study, nor ability to understand. Jesus could not have performed the miracles which he did perform, unless God had been with him; and if God were with hiin, then the doctrines taught by him, under the sanction of those miracles, were also of God. The apostles believed in him,
i M'Farlan's Inquiries concerning the Poor, p. 246.
because they saw his mighty works; and we believe them when they tell us so, because they could not have deceived the world if they would, and would not have done it if they could. A little plain common sense sees all this ; and more need not be seen to induce any man to become a Christian.
As the evidence is stated, so the doctrines of salvation are taught, with a condescension to the capacities of all. To render them at the same time intelligible and agreeable, they are delivered in the pleasing form of history, and illustrated by comparisons and similitudes taken from the most familiar objects in the natural world, and the concerns of ordinary life. A poor man is thus taught, in a week, more than philosophy could teach those that were most learned in it, for a series of ages : he is taught to know God, and his various dispensations to man, kind : and, with respect to morals and the duties of society, he is taught--what every wise government would wish that its citizens might all be taught.
Accordingly we find it given as one mark of the divinity of the Gospel, and as the circumstance which discriminates it from the wisdom of the world, that it was preached by Christ and his apostles to the poor. Not for the reasons insinuated by unbelievers, ancient and modern, that they were either afraid or ashamed to preach it to the rich and the learned ; but because the former were clear from many prejudices and evil passions which adhered to the latter, and therefore were better disposed to receive it. These received it first, and had the honour to lead the way to the others, who followed after, in due
time, from every rank and order of life, as they could be brought to give it a fair and impartial hearing. But be it ever remembered, when this argument is under discussion, that the truth of God must finally rest upon its proper evidence, and not upon the incident of its being accepted or rejected by those to whom it is proposed. Such acceptance or rejection must afterwards be accounted for, from the different tempers, dispositions, and circumstances of mankind. And it requires but a very moderate degree of acquaintance with human nature, to assign adequate reasons why, when the same doctrine is preached to two different persons, one should put it from him, and depart“ sorrowful,” while the other embraces it, and “ goes on his way rejoicing.”
If it be inquired whether the poor be capable of making any considerable proficiency in the school of Christ? experience will answer in the affirmative. With a little plain instruction, they can apprehend the articles of faith as contained in the apostles' creed, and the rules of practice'as laid down in the commandments. They can learn to trust in God, their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier : they can give him thanks for what they have, and pray to him for what they want. They can love their Saviour, and for his sake show kindness to their brethren, whom he has redeemed. One may often behold, among the lower ranks, that attention to the distresses of each other, that earnest desire, and, what is of more worth, that unwearied endeavour to remove or alleviate them, which do credit to the human heart, wherever they are found.