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together on a common stock; but it is pro- SERM.
VI. bable that they still continued to employ themselves in their several trades and
professions, Nor was there any obligation upon them to this communion of goods, as St. Peter expressly asserts in the case of Ananias and Sapphira; nay, among those, who were first called, there are several instances to the contrary, instances of opulent persons and in high civil and military employments, who neither divested themselves of their riches, nor forsook their occupations. They are charged indeed, to be ready to give, and willing to communicate, which they doubtless were; but neither did they look on themselves as bound, nor did the apostles require of them, when they adopted the character of Christians, to desert their duty as men. Christianity with respect to the civil relations of men to each other; and their secular employments, seems to have left the world entirely as she found it;
SERM, she insists indeed on a faithful discharge of VI.
the duties of our station, whatever it may be, but nowhere commands that the station itself should be deserted: the prince is not enjoined to descend from his throne, nor the subject to throw off his allegiance; the master is not required to dismiss his servant, nor the servant to forsake his master, neither is there any precept to the man of business to relinquish his occupation.
Christianity inculcates no virtue, which may not be practised in the most eminent degree amidst society and worldly employment; while there are Christian duties which in retirement and seclusion scarce be practised at all, or at best but imperfectly.
And this brings me to what I proposed in the second place, to shew the pernicious tendency of the notion that religion and worldly occupation are irreconcileable.There needs no proof of its destructive ef
fect upon those who are driven by it to give SERM.
VI. themselves, up entirly to this present life, and to throw off all thoughts about the next; but I will take the instance of those who make choice of the most favourable side of the alternative, and in their desire to attain the things above, altogether renounce the things on earth. I assert then, that such a renunciation, so far from being necessary, is criminal, and that religion does not only not command, but actually disapproves it. At the head of the Christian graces stands benevolence; to do all the good we possibly can to our fellow-creatures, is our bounden and indispensable duty; now he who secludes himself from the world, can observe this but very imperfectly : taking no measures to advance his fortune, his bounties to the indigent will be narrowed and confined; not improving his interest, he will be the less able to countenance merit or succour distress; and in
SERM. vain do his friends have recourse to him for VI.
advice, whom solitude has prevented from the acquisition of experience.
I do not say that he will be unable or unwilling to exercise those duties at all, but certainly in no comparable degree to what he might have done, if idleness or superstition had not driven him to seclusion. The case of that servant who
wrapped his talent in a napkin, and applied himself to no means of improving it, is precisely the same with his who withdraws from all the duties of active life; and it behoves us to remember the sentence that his lord passes upon him,
“ Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness : there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” ... The world is the noblest theatre of action; it is there only that our talents can be applied to the greatest advantage, and our virtues exercised with the most diffusive utility. It is not meant by this, that
he who finds himself placed in a private $i- SERM,
VI. tuation should endeavour to exchange it for one which is more public; by no means ! it is only meant that whatever a man's rank and station in life may be, he ought not to desert the duties of it; nor think to atone by piety towards his Creator, for the neglect of doing all possible good to his fellow creatures.
To keep ourselves unspotted from sin, is one motive of retiring from society, but it has not in general been found that the experiment has succeeded. We may quit the business of the world, without divesting ourselves of its vices; the exercises of piety cannot fill up our whole time, and the dangers of idleness are great! From some temptations to sin perhaps solitude may exempt us, but at the same time it excludes us from many encouragements to virtue: if we escape the contagion of bad,