by James Meikle, 1730-1799
The singular advantages of Poverty
The very title of this meditation may perhaps provoke, at
least surprise, many a pious soul. What advantage can it be—to be
reproached, despised, oppressed, and in pinching straits—all of which
accompany a state of poverty? But I beg their patience a little, before they
"Labor not to be rich!" is an inspired direction. But it
is quite disregarded by saint and sinner, by professor and profane; for the
unwearied labor of all is for luxury, opulence, and grandeur. Repeated
disappointments never stop the pursuit—but only vary the plan, and multiply
the schemes to attain it.
When God is pleased to bless with abundance—my humility,
gratitude and holiness, ought to be conspicuous. But when he is pleased to
appoint poverty—then entire approval of the conduct of Providence is
incumbent on me.
The state of the Jews under the Old Testament
dispensation will not apply to Christians under the New; for as their
service was more bodily, so their rewards were more of a temporal nature—and
both were typical of the more spiritual worship and rewards under the New
Testament. Yet directions cautions, promises, and consolations, suited to
the poor and needy, sparkle through all the Old Testament writings, like
stars in the skies of heaven.
Riches cannot give that happiness which is expected by
all who are in the keen pursuit of them. People in very moderate
circumstances enjoy all the comforts of life as well as the rich, and with a
much better relish; so that the advantages on the side of riches are rather
imaginary than real.
I. Before we view some of
the advantages of poverty, we will examine
the HARM that riches often bring to
1. Riches make men confident in themselves.
"We are lords, we will come no more unto you." There
are few who, like Job, can say, "I have never trusted in riches or taken
pride in my wealth." For it is very natural to trust in uncertain riches;
therefore the apostle disparages it. The rich man is apt to swell in his own
opinion: his word must go far, his smile be esteemed a favor, and his very
look is condescending. Yes, while the poor man's wisdom is despised—the rich
man's opinions are over-valued.
2. PRIDE is often attendant on riches.
It is curious to observe how some men's spirits rise and fall with their
fortune. Is he in affluence—he is haughty, arrogant, and overbearing. Is he
in indigence—he is polite, and humble, affable, and even cringing.
Nothing is more odious to God than pride! "I hate pride and arrogance!"
"Those who walk in pride, he is able to abase."
3. Dependence on SELF is another attendant of riches.
Here men burn incense to their themselves. One depends on his own genius in
literature; another on his fertile invention for some new thing in
mechanics; one builds on his own industry in agriculture; another on his
application to business; and another blesses his good fortune. But in all
these things God is neither seen nor acknowledged. And can any other rock be
like our Rock, even the rich themselves being judges?
4. EARTHLY-MINDEDNESS is too often a fruit of riches.
There is a deceit in riches that insensibly
draws aside from communion with God. When Israel walked in a land that was
not sown, he was holiness to the Lord; but when Jeshurun waxed fat, he
There is, I confess, a variety of cares attendant on
poverty; but the cares with which riches are encumbered, are of a more
dangerous nature. The cares of the needy naturally point heavenward, and
there is a voice in them, that implores the pity, pleads the promise, and
claims the protection of God. But the cares of the rich are about their
growing sums and worldly affairs; insomuch that Solomon says, "Their
abundance will not allow them to sleep."
5. DISTRACTIONS, and a multiplicity of concerns, attend
on riches, as the shadow follows the body.
Generally speaking, the rich are strangers to retirement and solitude—to
mental ease and tranquility. Still eager to possess greater and greater
sums, they pursue their worldly affairs with unabating ardor. Perhaps, in
the midst of their career, they lose a round sum, and then resolve, if they
had made up this loss, that then they will retire from business, and turn
pious in their old age. But one event after another continues their chase of
created good, postpones their designs, and gives their resolutions the lie;
so that they retire from business and life at once—and are no more!
6. The rich have a very hard task to discharge their duty
to all around them. They are but STEWARDS
over their own riches, and have no allowance to consume anything of it on
their own lusts, or on their luxury! The naked have a claim on the
fleece of their flock, the hungry to be fed from their table, and the
stranger to be lodged under their roof. As much is committed to them, so not
only men—but God will expect the more. They must give an account according
to their talents; and, being in high station, their example must have
influence on others around them; therefore it is incumbent on them, not only
to behave well themselves—but to act well to others, in a manner which
cannot be expected from the poor.
7. The rich are exposed to SNARES and TEMPTATIONS,
various, and well suited to corrupt nature.
Instead of naming them, I bid my readers cast an eye on the lives of the
rich in general, (though here and there some of this class are to be found,
who serve their God in the abundance of all things,) and they will see
how riches procure fuel to the fire of every corruption, and drown men in
endless perdition! Stealing has generally been set to the account of
poverty; but the real poor, the truly needy, are not the thieves that infest
the kingdom; and some, not only in easy—but in opulent circumstances, have
been more infamous for knavish practices, than the poorest beggar from door
to door, while they have not the least pretext of necessity for their crime.
In a word, it is grace, not riches—which can keep men honest from a right
principle; and stealing is rather to be placed to the account of depravity
II. I shall now name some
of the positive ADVANTAGES of
poverty, that the poor may rejoice, rather
1. Conformity to Christ in his state of humiliation, who
though heir to all things, had nowhere to lay his head.
Though we are not to refuse what Providence bestows on
us, and, like some of the orders of the church of Rome, make a profession of
voluntary poverty, from a fond conceit that thus they shall be accepted by
God. Yet we are not to murmur or complain, since we, who have forfeited all,
are in no worse condition in this world, than the Creator of all things was,
when in our world. Can we call no house our own—but must sleep in a borrowed
bed, exist on a drab, coarse, or scanty food? Have we small incomes, little
cash, and no credit, and depend entirely on the charity of others? Well, so
was the Captain of our salvation, who was made perfect through sufferings.
And if we are rightly exercised, our graces shall grow more and more
perfect under the various pressures of an afflicted lot.
2. Poverty gives a claim on the compassion of God.
None could ever go to a throne of grace, and
say, 'I am rich and prosperous, therefore hear my request.' Indeed, chief
favorites, and great noblemen, have their requests granted in the courts of
kings; but the King eternal "looks to the man who is poor and of a contrite
spirit," and who can plead, "But I am poor and needy, make haste unto me, O
God." And well may the poor plead with that God, who, by his prophet, has
said, "I will leave in the midst of you an afflicted and poor people, and
they shall trust in the name of the Lord;" and says the apostle, "Has not
God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith?"
O the vast difference between heaven and earth, between
God and men! Here the rich live in luxury and often neglect the poor. Thus
"the destruction of the poor is his poverty." But what a sweet relation
commences between God and the poor! He is their help, their shield, their
kind provider; so that, both in a temporal and spiritual sense, "When the
poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue fails for
thirst—I the Lord will hear them—the God of Jacob will not forsake them." He
puts himself down as surety in the poor man's bond, and declares, that "he
who gives to the poor, lends to the Lord;" and as a good surety he will not
fail to repay him.
Now, if this noble connection, and divine relation, will
not balance all the perplexity, pain and reproach, attendant on poverty, to
the pious soul—what will do it? In a word, at the general judgment in the
great day, the final sentence to the righteous and the wicked will be
awarded, though not for, yet according to the kind or unkind usage of his
poor, needy, and persecuted followers in the world.
3. The poor have a daily dependence on God; and if their
provision were more, their dependence might be less.
The rich man in the gospel, forgetting the heavenly favor builds for
futurity on the plenty he had amassed. But his folly is corrected, by his
soul being demanded of him in a moment. A servant does not expect that the
provision of a week, a month, or a year, should be set in his sight at every
meal; he depends on his master, is content with his food, and attends to his
service. Just so, why should God's poor despond? It is enough if they are
fed from hand to mouth; when the hand of God is seen in their supply, their
needs are relieved, and their faith feasted. God is a master whose servants
need have no anxious care for futurity. In feeding them from day to day,
they have a daily communion with him in his providences, as well as in his
ordinances. The 102nd psalm is called "a prayer for the afflicted;" so the
fourth petition may be called a petition for the poor, and properly belongs
to them; for though we may seek spiritual blessings for all the ages of
eternity, yet we are to seek temporal good things only from day to day. And
as this petition directs us to be moderate in our requests for created good,
so it informs us after what manner, generally speaking, God will provide his
people, that it will be only from day to day. Hence it becomes
absolutely necessary for a saint in poverty, to depend on God at all times,
and to depend on him alone. And, by this needy dependence, he puts honor on
the power, on the compassion, on the promise, and on
the providence of God—nor shall he ever be disappointed!
4. They have a sweet submission to the will of God.
Indeed it is grace, not poverty, that can
produce this heavenly temper. But when the poor see such a display of all
the divine perfections in their daily supply, such condescension, such care
of God concerning them; they approve of their lot, and submit, cheerfully
submit, to the divine disposal. The poor not only have good cause to be
submissive—but thankful, since to those who improve poverty aright
our Savior has said, in his sermon on the mount, "Blessed are the poor in
spirit;" and, in another sermon on the plain, "Blessed are the poor" in
temporals; as appears by the contrast, as he says to those that take riches
for their portion, "Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your
5. Humility is another attendant or fruit of poverty.
Indeed, a poor proud person is as great a contradiction in nature, as to say
a sick strong man, or a swift lame man. Pride is so hateful to God, so
hurtful to the soul, that poverty is a cheap cure for such a distemper. And
humility is so lovely in the eyes of God, and portrays such a beauty on the
soul, that God condescends to dwell there; while from the proud he not only
stands afar off but knows them afar off. Affluence and prosperity are the
soil where corruptions are most luxuriant in their growth; while poverty and
affliction are the soil where graces thrive best.
It is so natural for rich men to forget—that infinite
wisdom, who knows best what is in us, sees a state of mediocrity, or even of
indigence, most proper for the heirs of heaven. And the very word, "an heir
of heaven!" is enough to balance all that can be perplexing, afflicting, or
calamitous, in our lot below. When Israel walked after God, in a land that
was not sown, then he was holiness to the Lord. But when Jeshurun waxed fat,
he kicked, and grew forgetful of God that formed him.
People in pinching circumstances may be apt to think it
impossible for them to abuse a state of opulence, would God bestow it on
them. So Hazael, servant to Benhadad king of Syria, stood astonished at the
prophet's prediction, that on his advancement to royal authority, he would
become a monster of cruelty, and exclaims, "Is your servant a dog, that he
should do this?" But no sooner does the servant commence a sovereign, than
the man becomes the dog! So, ofttimes, no sooner does the poor become rich,
than he becomes proud towards man, and impious towards God, to such a
degree, that frequently the change is greater in his conversation than in
In this respect God deals with the greater part of his
people, as a prudent parent does with his child. He does not give him sharp
weapons to play with, lest, in spite of the parent's admonitions, and the
child's fair promises, he might wound himself with them. It is true, some
eminent saints, (I say but some,) are both rich and in high station. But
then grace is given to them, suiting to that very station they are in. And
when I find myself in straitening circumstances, I may conclude, that this
very state is absolutely necessary, either to suppress some sin that might
otherwise sprout up, or to exercise some grace that otherwise might lie
dormant, and thus is most conducive both to God's glory, and my own good.
6. Poverty calls to the exercise of certain graces,
which Christians in opulence cannot so properly be actually engaged in;
though every saint has the essence of every grace. The rich cannot depend on
God for their daily bread, in the same manner that the needy do. And when
the poor, in their pinching straits, and repeated trials and
disappointments—are enabled to let patience have her perfect work, to a full
resignation to, and approbation of the disposal of providence in their lot,
and have a sweet recumbency on the faithfulness and kindness of a reconciled
God; thereby he is glorified, and their souls enriched for a world to come.
Again, the saints in poverty have a sweet display of a
special providence towards them, and the small things, and petty sums they
receive, have a relish to them, above the vast and yearly incomes of the
rich; because these come as it were from the immediate hand of God, are the
answer of their prayers, and the fruit of their faith. As in an indigent
state needs daily return, so faith is daily necessary; and the daily actings
of faith on an all-sufficient God, of all Christian graces glorifies God
most, putting honor on all his perfections, on his truth and faithfulness,
his power and immutability, his wisdom and mercy! And the soul that in the
highest degree glorifies God in time, shall be glorified in a higher degree
in heaven; for the seeds now sown with weeping, shall yield sheaves of
comfort then, and the happy reapers shall rejoice forever.
It matters not how much we suffer here—if God may thereby
be more glorified on earth, and we more glorified in heaven. If, then,
poverty with the divine blessing, promotes this noble end, can any deny its
singular advantages? If the soul goes out towards God, has the world
crucified to him, and is crucified to the world; if he esteems the heavenly
bliss a sufficient portion, and looks not at the things that are seen; if he
commits all to God; if he welcomes every cross that comes from God; if he
approves of that lot which God appoints, and in everything depends, confides
on God, for himself and his children; and if he has his little allowance,
(for he does not wish for much,) insured in the bank of heaven—while the
great sums amassed by worldly-minded men and misers, are often in a short
time so entirely consumed—is he a loser by poverty?
Finally, though God leads me through a terrible
wilderness, and feeds me in the wilderness in a manner which the rich know
not, since it is to humble me, and prove me, and do me good at my latter
end, even to do me good world without end—why should I complain?