My dear Friend,
I confess myself almost ashamed to write to you. You are pinched by poverty, suffer thelack of many things; and your faith is often sharply tried, when you look at your family, and perhaps can hardly conceive how you shall be able to supply them with bread to the end of the week. The Lord has appointed me a different lot. I am favored, not only with the necessities but with the comforts of life. Now I could easily give you plenty of good advice: I could tell you, it is your duty to be patient, and even thankful, in the lower state; that if you have bread and water, it is more than you deserve at the Lord’s hands; and that, as you are out of hell, and made a partaker of the hope of the Gospel, you ought not to think anything hard that you meet with on the way to heaven. If I should say thus, and say no more, you would not dispute the truth of my assertions. But as coming from me, who lives at ease, to you, who are beset with difficulties, you might question their propriety, and think that I know but little of my own heart, and could feel but little for your distress. You would probably compare me to one who would think himself a mariner because he had studied the art of navigation by the fire-side, though he had never seen the sea. Yet I hope, by my frequent converse with the Lord’s poor (for I live in the midst of an afflicted and poor people), I have made some observations, which, though not strictly the fruit of my own experience, may not be wholly unseasonable or unacceptable to you.
Whether the rich or the poor, who live without God in the world, are most to be pitied, is not easy to determine. It is a dreadful case to be miserable in both worlds; but yet the parade and seeming prosperity in which some live for a few years will be no abatement, but rather a great aggravation, of their future torment. A madman is equally to be pitied, whether he is laid upon a bed of down, or a bed of straw. Madness is in the heart of every unregenerate sinner; and the more he possesses of this world’s goods, he is so much the more extensively mischievous. Poverty is so far a negative good, to those who have no other restraint, that it confines the effects of the evil heart within narrower bounds, and the small circle of their immediate connections: whereas the rich, who live under the power of sin, are unfaithful stewards of a larger trust, and by their pernicious influence are often instrumental in diffusing profaneness and licentiousness through a country or a kingdom; besides the innumerable acts of oppression, and the ravages of war, which are perpetrated to gratify the insatiable demands of luxury, ambition, and pride. But, to leave this; if we turn our eyes from the false maxims of the world, and weigh things in the balance of the sanctuary, I believe we shall find, that poor Christians, though they have many trials which call for our compassion, have some advantages above those of the Lord’s people to whom he has given a larger share of the good things of the present life. Why else does the Apostle say, “God has chosen the poor?” or why do we see, in fact, that so few of the rich, or wise, or mighty, are called? Certainly he does not choose them because they are poor; for “he is no respecter of persons.”
Sanctified poverty is an honorable state; not so indeed in the judgment of the world; the rich have many friends, the poor are usually despised. But I am speaking of that honor which comes from God only. The poor, who are “rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom,” are honored with the nearest external conformity to Jesus their Savior; who, though he was Lord of all, was pleased for our sakes to make himself so poor, that he had not where to lay his head, and submitted to receive assistance from the contributions of his followers; Luke 8: 3. By this astonishing humiliation, he poured contempt upon all human glory, and made the state of poverty honorable; and now “he who reproaches the poor, despises his Maker.”
Again: Poverty is honorable, because it affords a peculiar advantage for glorifying God, and evidencing the power of his grace, and the faithfulness of his promises, in the sight of men. A believer, if rich, lives by faith; and his faith meets with various trials. He himself knows by whom he stands; but it is not ordinarily so visible to others, as in the case of the poor. When ministers speak of the all-sufficiency of God to those who trust in him, and the certain effect of the principles of the Gospel, in supporting, satisfying, and regulating the mind of man, the poor are the best and most unsuspected witnesses for the truth of their doctrine. If we are asked, ‘Where do these wonderful people live, who can delight themselves in God, esteem a day in his courts better than a thousand, and prefer the light of his countenance to all earthly joy?’—we can confidently send them to the poor of the flock. Among the number who are so called, there are some who will not disappoint our appeal. Let the world, who refuse to believe the preachers, believe their own eyes; and when they see a poor person content, thankful, rejoicing, admiring the Lord’s goodness for affording him what they account hard fare, and, in the midst of various pressures, incapable of being bribed by offers, or terrified by threats, to swerve a step from the path of known duty—let them acknowledge that this is the finger of God. If they harden themselves against this evidence, “neither would they be persuaded though one should arise from the dead.”