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JOHN vi. 12.*
GATHER UP THE FRAGMENTS THAT REMAIN, THAT NOTHING BE LOST.
Of many virtues it may be remarked, that they are so nearly allied to particular vices, that, by minds unwilling or unaccustomed to make nice moral distinctions, they are continually confounded. Thus, on the one hand, what is called liberality in sentiment is sufficiently near to indifference, and devotional fervour, on the other, to enthusiasm, to deceive those, who are not disposed to distinguish them. What in one man is only caution, in another is thought nothing better than timidity; what in this mind is allowed to pass for generous emulation, in that is gross envy, or inordinate ambition. In the view of the undiscerning, generosity spreads itself out into waste and profusion, and prudence shrinks into parsimony
Since, then, there is a great affinity between certain dispositions, which yet differ in moral character; and since some virtues stand, in fact, on the confines of certain vices; the more nearly any one of our characteristic qualities is allied to an unpop
* In order to feel all the force of some passages of this discourse, the reader should be informed, that it was written at the commencement of our commercial restrictions, and pronounced at the quarterly charitable lecture in Boston.
ular or unamiable vice, the more careful ought we to be of the simplicity, and the more sure of the rectitude of our motives, because the easier is it for the world to misrepresent their nature and depreci. ate their value. Since, also, many of those feelings and habits, on which men rest their claims to superiour worth, are sometimes vices in disguise, and still oftener the product of doubtful dispositions, it becomes of especial importance to ascertain the true nature and real worth of those qualities, to which we find ourselves the most disposed, and which wear the form of virtues.
Among those moral qualities of close affinity, which occasion much perversion and mistake of judgment in the world, we may reckon the virtue of frugality, and the vice of avarice. On these every man feels competent to decide in the character of another. We propose now to consider the virtue of frugality, to relieve it from disesteem, and to guard it from perversion. In doing this, we shall attempt to draw the requisite distinctions between it and its unworthy counterfeits ; to distinguish what in it is prudent from what is purely selfish, what in it is wise and honourable from what is childish and disgraceful; and what is useful to the individual, and good for society, from what is always useless to the one, and ultimately destructive to the other.
Among the considerations, which have induced me to make this virtue the subject of a discourse on this occasion, it is not one of the least, that nothing will more effectually enable us to preserve in all their vigour, and, in fact, to multiply and extend the charities of this place, than the revival or the preservation of frugality. We have been living in a period, and state of society, where the facilities of profit have been numerous beyond a parallel, and the frequent examples of sudden gain flattering and seductive. Temptations to extravagance have increased daily. Thousands have been spending upon anticipation, and dissipating, not hereditary wealthfor of that we possessed little—not sure and tangible acquisitions, for these we have wanted patience to collect—but that airy and invisible representative of wealth, credit, which, of all possessions, it is most necessary to economize and guard from violation. The time seems to be approaching, if it have not already come, in which men are to learn, that they cannot, with impunity, despise this virtue of frugality; and we have begun to see, that uninterrupted profit is not the order of nature. We have found, that there are other enemies to rapid gains, besides the elements of nature, or the shoal which wrecks our vessels, or the indiscretion which mismanages our means, or the moth and rust which corrupt treasures long ago collected. We find, that there may be serious obstructions to usual channels of profit, which check in an instant the movements of the vast machine of acquisition ; that the calculations of the aspiring man of business may be arrested, and every man in society compelled to pause, some to inquire into the sources of their prosperity, others into the security of their actual possessions. We find, that, in the ordinary course of human affairs, changes occur, against which nothing but habitual frugality can provide ; and we are taught to feel the importance of establishing the habits of a rising community in that state of moderate expense, which can be easily maintained through all these changes. It is a time, in fact, to learn the great riches of frugality. Gather up, then, the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.
Before we proceed further to recommend this virtue, let us attempt to distinguish it from that vice of avarice, to which some will persist in supposing it related. There is no man, whatever be his place, his means, or his character in life, who does not feel au
thorized to decry the spirit of parsimony. Though he denies that he has ever felt it himself, it is the passion which he is always most sharp-sighted to detect in others. But, if we mistake not, economy differs from avarice, not merely in degree, but in kind. The utmost excess of frugality never sinks into avarice; nor does the lowest degree of avarice ever amount to frugality. They proceed from different propensities, they avail themselves of different means, they are directed to different ends. Avarice accumulates for the sake of accumulation; economy spares for the sake of use. Avarice becomes at last a disinterested passion ; and money, the more it is gained, is loved and hoarded more solicitously, merely because it is money. Economy does not grow more saving, as the means of expense are multiplied : it lays by with a view to some future accommodation, but with less scrupulosity, the more it has to deposite. rice, even when it is cheated into bounty, reluctantly parts with the little that it yields; economy rever gives merely on compulsion, and is often grieved that it dares not bestow a more ample favour. Avarice, always intent on minute savings, is frequently blind, and is sometimes betrayed by her rapacity into se. rious losses; economy, while she gathers up the fragments that remain, is never hurried, by a thirst of gain, into imprudent and destructive speculations. Avarice regards only money, or what it represents; economy is a branch of that comprehensive prudence, which knows how to be frugal of every thing; of time, opportunities, and talents, as well as wealth. An avaricious man feels like a unit in creation, and saves for himself alone ; a frugal man considers himself one of a circle of creatures, mutually dependent, whose expectations and whose claims he consults, and in all his habits of frugality has reference to his relation to society and to posterity. The highest benevolence of character may consist with a
habit of regulated and moderate expenditure, and consists, indeed, with nothing else; but it is the curse of the avaricious man, to experience the miseries of pure selfishness, to be at once envious of the rising prosperity of others, and anxious about his own possessions, to be ever afraid of losing, and still more afraid to give, because he sees nothing in bounty but deliberate waste, and uncompensated diminution. In short, frugality will associate with any of the virtues, and becomes herself the parent of others, and not only of virtues, but of a thousand permanent comforts ; avarice, in its very nature, defeats its own wishes, and encounters from others nothing but enmity and contempt. When mature, it sheds a blasting influence over the finest affections and sweetest comforts of mankind. Men spontaneously combine to detest it, and God, the most bountiful of beings, looks down with abhorrence on a spirit, which does nothing but counteract his benevolent designs.
This, you may say, however, is rather a rhetorical, than a precise description of the quality, which we mean to recommend under the name of frugality. To avoid, then, all cavil or subterfuge, all excuses from the plea, that you know not how far your expenses may be carried without profuseness, or how much economy you may observe without penuriousness, I would say, once for all, that I mean by the economical man, him who does not exceed his income, who does not spend upon anticipation, and who is not ashamed to gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost; and who, in the regulation of his expenses, always has regard to the claims of charity, and retrenches always, when he can, from his own personal gratifications, to do good to those who want what he can spare. If, then, you ask for the reasons, why you
should practise this virtue, I answer, in the first place, from the authority of the text. I have chosen it, as a re