Solitude Sweetened

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 conclude.

"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 immortal souls.

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 kicked.

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 than poverty.

II. I shall now name some of the positive ADVANTAGES of poverty, that the poor may rejoice, rather than despond.

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 consolation."

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 his circumstances.

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?