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INDIRECT MODES IN WHICH THE RIGHT OF PROPERTY IS
VIOLATED: IDLENESS, AND PRODIGALITY.
The command which gives to every one an exclusive right to that property which is his own, is violated in a variety of ways; by indirect as well as by direct means.
We shall begin with the consideration of the in direct means of doing injustice to others in their property. Of these, idleness presents itself foremost to our contemplation. This does injury to the property of others, by preventing us from giving them their due ; and it does injury to ourselves and to the members of our family, by depriving them of the comfort and respectability which otherwise they would enjoy. “ I went by the field of the slothful,” says Solomon, “and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding, and lo! it was all grown over with thorns ; and nettles had covered the face thereof; and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw and considered it well. I looked upon it, and received instruction. Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep. So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.”
In idleness there is a misimprovement of time, a waste of talents, and a neglect of the varied advantages which providence puts within our reach. If industry and labour be the source of wealth, do we
not inflict an injury on ourselves, on our families, and on all who have claims upon us, when we yield to indolence? Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep ; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger. Besides the inconveniences to which he subjects himself and his dependants in their scanty food and clothing, and uncomfortable lodging, he exposes himself to many temptations. Without supposing him to yield to the temptation of putting forth his hand to steal, he will be constantly liable to do so ;—and being without any useful engagement, he will naturally associate with the seditious and the profligate. He might learn from the inferior animals the criminality of his conduct in neglecting the improvement of the trust committed to him. “ Go to the ant thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest."
The evil of idleness, and the duty of industry, in the disciples of Christ, are clearly taught in the New Testament. “ For, even when we were with you,” says the Apostle, addressing the Thessalonians, “ this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now, them that are such, we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.” The duty of making provision for ourselves and dependants, by an industrious prosecution of our calling, is repeatedly enforced by the same authority. “If any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” The good works and alms deeds, of which Dorcas was full, and the coats and the garments which she had made, are alluded to as proofs of that industry which was orna, mental to her christian profession. Nor does any situation in life exempt us from the exercise of this habit : “ Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” The habit of active and persevering industry will thus be formed, and will lead us, almost without effort, to derive our happiness from the im provement of our talents ;-from the redemption of time ;- from the usefulness of our lives;-and from the extent in which we are instrumental in accom plishing the beneficent designs of Providence, and in doing good to others. It will foster that spirit of honourable independence which is so conducive to our virtue and happiness, and which is so compatible with all the decorum and loveliness of christian hu, mility.
Prodigality is another means of sinfully wasting property. It is somewhat difficult to define,-since it has a relation to the circumstances in which we are placed, and to our capability of spending, without encroaching on the rights of justice, and the duties of charity. Mere waste, without relation to circumstances, must be wrong in itself; though the criminality is doubtless aggravated when it is a direct dissipation of that to which our families are entitled to look for comfort and respectability, and our creditors for payment of their just claims.
A man may be termed prodigal when he is inconsiderate and injudicious in the management of his affairs; when he parts with his property without a fair equivalent; and when he so profusely squanders what is his own that he soon will have recourse to what belongs to others. The feelings and habits in which this vice takes its rise, though different in dif. ferent individuals, are such as ought not to be indulged. They are chiefly vanity and pride under various modifications, awakening the love of display, and the desire for expensive gratifications. The prodigal having entered on his career of folly, is stimulated in the pursuit by competitors alike foolish as himself, who are are all eager to outstrip each other in show, in extravagance, in the idle and criminal consumption of property.
What are the consequences to which this vice leads, and in which it usually terminates ? There is of course a rapid decline of property--a recourse to all the shifts and artifices which ingenuity can devise to elude creditors, and to keep up appearances; till at length, when the evil cannot be any longer postponed, ruin spreads itself around. This ruin is not confined to the prodigal himself; his family and immediate dependants share it with him. They are by his means precipitated from a station of comfort and respectability to a state of indigence and obscurity. After having defrauded tradesmen of their property, by withholding from them payment of their labour, or their goods,-after having borrowed without possessing the power, or perhaps the intention to pay,--after having injured, if not involved in deep calamity, all whom by deceit he had induced to support his extra
vagance,-he is deserted by those who had profited by his criminality, excluded from the confidence of society, deprived of influence and usefulness, and doomed to suffer the bitter reflection, that he has been faithless to his stewardship, and has brought accumulated distresses on himself and on others.
In this situation, and even before he had reached it, how numerous are the temptations to which he is exposed! He has been long faithless to his engagements, just because his own conduct rendered it impossible for him to fulfil them. His promises which, at first, were broken with self-crimination have been so often violated, that they are of no value with others, while their breach scarcely gives pain to himself. He now has recourse to direct and deliberate false. hood, -to obtain by deceit and swindling what, but for himself, he might have obtained by the most honourable means. Detected, repulsed, despised,
under the influence of painful recollections, of mortified pride, and almost of despair, he has recourse to strong drink for relief from his distresses. The repetition of the stimulus strengthens the habit,till at length the career is completed in frequent drunkenness, and perhaps terminated in self-destruction.
The guilt and misery of such a course are incalculable. If the person who runs it has been born to affluence, to power, and to be the instrument of putting the means of virtue and of happiness within the reach of thousands, how much has he lost in wasting, in prodigality and profligacy, the important talents with which Providence had intrusted him ? Enjoying by