David Lipscomb, “Who are to Blame?” Gospel Advocate 11 (6 May 1869) 422-425.
There is a general disposition among men to despise a state of poverty, or even moderate competence, and regard it as a disgrace. This is certainly wrong, and not according to the Divine standard. Poverty, and especially a moderate competency, has been honored of God. His prophets of olden time were poor, often clothed in sackcloth. His Son was born of a humble handmaid of the Lord, who was espoused to a carpenter. The reputed Father of our Lord, Joseph, was a carpenter. The laboring, toiling classes were the associates chosen of God for his Son during his childhood and youth. The more prominent of his Apostles were form the laboring classes. Several followed the uncertain and precarious calling of fishermen. They were the chosen vessels of the Lord in which his spirit dwelt, and through whom it guided and guides the nations of the earth to God and Heaven. The poor of this world were the chosen vessels of mercy, the especially honored and blessed of God. They ,a s a class, constitute his elect. They are the chosen objects of his tender regard and true and faithful love. The great mass of his true and honored followers, in all ages of the world, have been, ever must be, from the poor.
If God has thus honored the poor as a class in all ages, by so many distinguished marks of his favor, why are thye as a class despised, and why is it regarded a disgrace to be poor?
There is a species of poverty that has never been honored of God–that is a crime in the sight of God–and that justly deserves to be stamped with disgrace and infamy by men. It is that poverty, want and penury that is brought bout by idleness, debauchery and crime. The man that is indolent, idle, lounges around the groceries and in public places, spends his time foolishly, and is thriftless, careless and reckless in his habits, must be poor, and a thriftless, complaining, dependent vagrant. Poverty of this kind God condemns in all of its parts and characters, and it deserves the condemnation of every good man on earth. The man who is thus poor, dependent, lazy, idle and thriftless, deserves to be held in deep disgrace, and to be despised by honest men.
But the poor whom God approves are those who are industrious, contented, economical and faithful; who are not dissatisfied, envious of others with more property; who are not always complaining and repining over their lots, and who with brave hearts and independent spirits, determine to do their duty and find happiness, peace of mind and contentment in humble competence. These are the true, and faithful, and chosen children of God.
But we had started out to inquire, Who are to blame that honest toil, industrious, self-reliant poverty, and humble competence, are despised in this world? That the rich, as a class, those who are ambitious of great wealth, who trust in uncertain riches, despite this state, so honored of God, we know. The Apostle James especially teaches this.
While the rich, as a class, put their trust in riches–pride themselves on their riches–despise the lowly condition, not all who possess wealth are of this class. Wealth throws temptation around its possessor that the poor know not of. it is calculated to unduly fill his heart and occupy his attention. It invites him to follow fashion, fleshly ease and self-indulgence. It opens to him the fields of folly, and beckons him on to sensual indulgence. Wealth and worldly power excite his ambition for earthly glory. The wealthy are sorely tempted. Hence, “How hard it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Yet, among the rich there are now and then some found who, despite the temptations, despise no condition of humanity, are able to condescend to men of low estate, and in humility honor the worthy in the lowest vale of poverty and humility, and themselves sigh for that freedom from care and anxiety that pertains to the poor. But if the rich all despised the condition, that could not cause the world as a whole to look upon it with horror. The rich constitute a very small proportion of the human family.
The persons who bring the greatest obloquy upon poverty and labor, are those who are poor and who labor themselves. They show that they despise their own condition, are discontented with their lot, and envy those who are possessed of more of the world’s goods, and bring ten-fold more opprobrium on their condition than the rich could ever do. It is quite common for the poor to cultivate feelings of bitterness, and indulge in complaints and ill-feelings toward the more wealthy. This is a sure evidence they despise their own lot, and envy those differently situated. There is a positive sin in this. It is a violation of the plain letter of the law. John, in preaching to the soldiers, commanded them, “Be content with your wages.” Paul, to the Philippians, iv:11, says, as an evidence of his perfection in the Christian calling, and as an example to others, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and how to abound everywhere, and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthened me.” To Timothy, he says, first letter, ii:6-8. “Godliness with contentment, is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out of it. And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich, fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil, which, while some coveted after they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou,O man of God, flee these things and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.” The man of God is here commanded to flee the discontented spirit, the complaining, envious, covetous spirit, the anxiety to grow rich, which drown men in perdition; to follow after the opposite–meekness, patience, faith, love, godliness, righteousness. Heb. xiii:5: “Let your conversation (behavior, or course of life) be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have; for he has said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”
Paul, 1st Cor. vii:20, says, “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called, being a servant? care not for it; but if thou mayest be free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise , also, he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant. Ye are bought with a price. Be not ye the servants of man. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God. Brethren, let every man wherein he is called, therein abide with God.” The question before the Apostle’s mind was, Whether the Gentile should become a Jew in becoming a Christian? He announces that he must not, and then enlarges and amplifies the principle that social and political relations are not necessarily changed by becoming a Christian–that each must contentedly and quietly discharge his duties in the position in which he was placed. If bound in servitude care not for it. No anxious worrying care, to better our position in this world, must mark the Christian. If you are bound in servitude, you are the Lord’s freeman: that is, your duties of service to your Master, releases you from the possibility and consequent obligation, of giving your whole labor directly to the Lrod. If freedom from your earthly master comes without special, anxious care on your part, accept of it, as offering opportunities for greater service to God.
In one word, theres i no greater enemy to true Christian holiness of heart than the nursing of a discontented, complaining, ambitious, unhappy spirit in reference to our earthly condition. Not only is it inimical to our holiness of heart, but this same spirit of discontent, this coveting after other stations and positions than the one we are in, is a fruitful cause of misery and suffering in this world. Each position in life has its own source of happiness and pleasure, that may be enjoyed by a mind contented and meek. What are termed the higher positions, furnish its pleasure at a much dearer cost than those that are lower. But men and women make themselves miserable because they are not contented with their lot, and, instead of seeking happiness in it, are rendering themselves miserable by striving to get out of their position, or in appearing to be out of it.
The poor, despising the lot that God has honored, are continually striving to change that lot. Ashamed of their position, they strive to make the appearance that they do not belong to the position of honest poverty and toil. They live niggardly, deny themselves thousands of comforts that are in their reach to make an appearance that is false–that would indicate they were wealthy. For the sake of fine, costly, unserviceable clothing, or a showy house, to be like the rich, many families deny themselves all the true comforts of life, pinch themselves in diet, fuel, clothing at home, involve themselves in debt and harassment, are brought to poverty, wretchedness, infamy and ruin. It causes cankering care, anxious, weary, wasting toil, and destroys all peace of mind and true happiness.
It corrupts their hearts, it makes hypocrites of them. Every garment that is worn in public, every ornament that is not in keeping with true home and internal comforts; that is not in keeping with the condition of those making the display, it is a lie deliberately acted before the public. Every dress worn by man or woman, that is not paid for, or that is paid for at the cost of creditors or of true comforts at home; that is done to be like those richer than the wearer, that is done with a view of making others believe we are richer than we really are, is a deliberate falsehood, as sinful and corrupting as if deliberately spoken by the mouth. No Christian can do this. And this ambitious, envious striving–this false appearance–puts out of our reach all true happiness.
Cabin comforts are more accessible, because cheaper, are more sure and lasting because accompanied by less care and fewer temptations than those of the palace. They are truer and purer because simpler, more in accordance with the will of God, and within the reach of a much greater number. So far as appearance is concerned, there is nothing so disgusting to good taste as cheap finery, nothing so out of place as the dilapidated or coarse imitations with which the poor strive to appear like the rich. All their efforts to appear not poor, not of the industrious working class whom God has honored, show at once how heartily they despise their position and calling, and how far their heart is from God–how false and hypocritical they are. Now the Christian religion requires us to be contented in our condition, to seek happiness in that condition. It requires us to be candid, frank and honest; it permits us to make no false appearances, no false impressions, willingly. If we act as Christians, (if we are Christians we will act as Christians,) we will be contented and happy in our position; we will not be ashamed of honest, industrious, independent poverty and toil; we will not strive to appear as though we were rich, or to be like the rich; we will live, and dress, and act, with the simplicity of the honest and independent poor; we will not envy the rich, will not cultivate ill-feelings toward them, will pity them for the many temptations that surround their pathway to happiness in this world and the world to come: will strive to realize that true happiness is found in humble competency, in being content with such things as we have. The Christian religion is just as much intended to make us happy here as hereafter; and it will give to each individual, who will be true to its teachings, the highest state of happiness he is capable of enjoying. The rich, who will follow its teachings, and condescend to men of low estate, who will be rich in good works, who will be merciful to the poor and lift up the fallen, who will adorn themselves in modest apparel and do good with their riches, will find more true happiness, and pure unalloyed bliss, than they can in any other manner. Wealth, hoarded or spent in vain and foolish show, displayed either in houses, lands, equipages or dress, can never bring happiness even in this world to a single soul. The Christian religion reveals the only plan by which wealth can make us happy. The poor can never be happy by trying to appear wealthy, or to ape and dress like the rich, by seeking that which is out of their reach, by false pretenses, or repining discontent at their lot. The Christian religion proposes to make them happy,not by changing their lot or gratifying their pride, not by enabling them to make false appearances, by permitting them to act a hypocritical and deceptive part. But by making them content in their position, by making them willing, honestly, to conform to that condition, by teaching them to seek happiness in their condition, and by making them honest, candid and frank, which will make them willing to dress, live and appear just as they are, will take away all shame of poverty or its appearance, and will enable them to spend the means they now spend to keep up false appearance, in making themselves truly comfortable, and in doing good for God and man. The teachings of the Bible will guide every individual who will follow them to the highest possible happiness to be attained by him or her in either this present world, or in that which is to come.