“The Old Pauper” on Proverbs 19:3, is written by Charlotte Maria Tucker (A.L.O.E.) is from “Precepts in Practice,” and is about the consequences of a selfish life.
“The foolishness of man perverteth his way; and his heart fretteth against the Lord.”—Proverbs 19:3.
“It is very very hard in one’s old age to be driven to poverty, to be neglected by one’s friends, forsaken by one’s children,—left to wear out a weary life in a hateful place like this!”
Such were the words of a miserable old man, who, bedridden and helpless, was pouring out his complaint to a humane visitor at the work house.
“But, my friend,” replied the lady, “we must remember that these trials are sent by a gracious and merciful God, who does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.”
“It’s all very well for those to talk who don’t know what trouble means,” said old Sam Butler, in a tone of peevish irritability. ‘Where is the mercy shown to me? I was once a strong, hearty young man,—none better at cricket or at football; and now I can’t so much as creep across this hateful room! I had once my own well-stocked shop, with the customers thronging in and out like bees; and now, but for the work-house, I shouldn’t have a roof over my head! I was once surrounded by wife and children,—a thriving, goodly family; and now my wife’s in her grave, and the children scattered over the world, and there’s not one of them that so much as cares to inquire whether the old man’s dead or alive! Oh! it’s very hard! it’s very very hard!”
“But there are some comforts and hopes of which neither old age nor sickness, neither man’s neglect nor poverty can ever deprive us.”
“Don’t talk to me!” cried the old pauper, angrily. “I know all that you’re going to say, but there’s neither comfort nor hope to me in these things. I never found any in my better days, and I’m not likely to find any now!”
The visitor looked shocked and distressed. She felt anxious to speak a message of peace to the wretched old man; but his bitterness of spirit and rebellion of will made her find it difficult to address him. Thinking that to reflect on the trials of others might divert his mind from his own, or give him an indirect lesson on resignation under them, she said, after a few moments’ hesitation, “I have recently been visiting one who has known much affliction,—a poor man of the name of Charles Hayes—”
“Charles Hayes!” interrupted the pauper; “as if I did not know him!—my schoolfellow when I was a boy, and my neighbor for twenty long years! I always said he would come to the work-house,—what with his bad health and his silly scruples about turning an honest penny; thinking everything wrong which did not square with his odd notions, and helping others when he had scarcely enough for himself! I always said he would come to the work-house. And yet, see what a world this is!” continued Butler with a burst of indignation; “no sooner is he quite laid on the shelf than the gentry take to petting and pampering him as if he were one of themselves! The squire gets him into an alms-house, the ladies send him blankets and broth, the parson takes a pleasure in visiting him, and he is watched day and night with as much care as if he were one of the lords of the land!”
“Watched by an orphan whom he had generously brought up.”
“Other people have brought up children,” cried the pauper, with something like a groan, “and have had no comfort in them. Charles Hayes had never a child of his own, but he finds one like a daughter by his sickbed; he has always been poor, but now in his age I don’t believe that he wants for anything,—a friend seems to meet him wherever he turns; and they say that in spite of his weakness and pain he calls himself contented and happy! Oh! this is a bad world!—a miserable world! Why should his lot be so different from mine? Why should he have peace, and I have nothing but trouble? Why should his friends stick by him, and all mine forsake me? Why, when I am wearing out my days in a work-house, should he rest in a home of his own?”
An answer was on the visitor’s lips, but consideration for the feelings of the pauper prevented her from uttering it aloud—“Because the blessing of the Lord it maketh rich, and He addeth no sorrow therewith. There would have been no use in attempting to point out to the repining old man how godliness, even in this world, brings its reward; nor did the lady know enough of the events of Butler’s life to be aware how completely his present miseries were the natural consequences of his own conduct. Self had ever been his first object; to gratify self had been the business of his life. He had not served God in the time of his health; he could not look to God in the hour of his helplessness and need He had done nothing to benefit man, and man cared nothing for him now, though compassion might bring a few, like the visitor at the work-house, to spend some minutes beside him as a disagreeable duty.
Yet Sam Butler had set out in life with no bad prospects. Blessed with cheerful spirits, buoyant health, a fair education and good name, and settled in a comfortable situation, he seemed likely to do well in the world, and spend a very prosperous life.
The first great mistake which Butler made was that of marrying for money. His master was old and infirm, and willing to give up his business whenever his only daughter should marry one able to assist her in carrying it on. Betsy was neither pleasing in person nor agreeable in manner. She was proud, passionate, and self-willed, with a heart utterly worldly, in which piety had never found a place. Sam cared nothing for her, but he cared much for the shop, and, regardless of the command to marry only in the Lord, he vowed to love and cherish until death a woman whom he secretly despised. Degraded in his own eyes by his worldly marriage, Butler was not long in discovering that he had sold his happiness for gold. The comfort of a cheerful, peaceful home was never to be his. When ever he crossed his own threshold, the first sound which struck his ears was the voice of peevishness and ill-temper. What wonder if he often passed his evenings at places which it would have been better for him if he had never entered, and sought elsewhere for that enjoyment which by his own hearth he never could find!
At this time Charles Hayes was the near neighbor of Sam Butler. He was united to one who, like himself, was serving God with a humble heart, and a cheerful, contented spirit. If Charles’s home was lowly, it was peaceful; if he had little of this world’s goods, he had few of its cares: labor and poverty might be his lot, but piety and love sweetened all.
But affliction, from which even the most faithful servants of God are not exempted, was sent to the cottage of Charles Hayes. His beloved partner was suddenly called to her rest. Sore was the trial to the Christian, when he stood by the grave of the young wife who had been dearer to him than all the world beside, and who was worthy of all his affection. But his was a sorrow not without hope. He looked forward, even when grief bowed his heart to the dust, to a blessed reunion in a land where parting shall never be known; though divided from his wife by death, he could think of her as “not lost, but gone before;” and when time had mellowed the sharp ness of his pain, there was no earthly pleasure for which he would have exchanged the sweet remembrance of years spent in happiness with one who was now an angel in heaven!
Sam Butler had a family, and, as he would proudly say, there were no children in all the village so healthy and handsome as his own. He was by no means wanting in parental affection; and it was a pleasing sight to see him in the evening, when the day’s business was over, with one laughing little one perched on his shoulder, and another holding fast to his hand, chasing the third down a daisy-mottled slope, while the neighborhood rang with the sound of their mirth. Sam made great projects for his children, and built for them castles in the air without end. Patrick was to get a grand education,—perhaps go to the bar, distinguish himself by his talents, and rise to the highest honours. “Well see you Chancellor yet!” the proud father would cry, clapping his boy on the back, when the little fellow, who was sharp and ready of wit, had said some thing more flippant than usual.
Dan, according to Butler’s plans, should keep the shop,—make money with wonderful success,—go to London, and in time become an alderman,—feast upon turtle, entertain princes, and perhaps end by being elected Lord Mayor! As for Nina, his beautiful little Nina, Butler had still Wilder speculations for her.
But there was one thing which Butler had left out of all his calculations. He never remembered that “man proposes, but God disposes;” and that the blessing of the Almighty alone could make his children either prosperous or happy. He neglected to train up his children in the way in which they should go; or rather, he himself led his children in the way in which they should not go; and when old, they did not depart from it.
Charles Hayes came to Butler one day, drawing along with him, by a firm grasp on the shoulder, the half-resisting, terrified Pat rick, who, with lips blackened with cherries, and pockets dropping gooseberries, stood before his father the picture of a self-convicted thief.
“I am very sorry to say,” began Charles, “that I have found your boy in my garden, and, I fear, not for the first time. I thought it best to bring him at once to his father, that he may receive from you such a punishment as may make him a better and more honest boy.”
“Well,” said Butler, carelessly, “I’m sorry he has done mischief in your garden, neighbor; but it’s the nature of boys to love fruit. We must remember that we were children once.
“It is not the fruit that I care for,” said Charles; “but it grieves me to see the sin. Every river was a brook once, every oak an acorn; and the boy who steals unheeded a cherry from a tree may end his days in prison as a thief!”
Sam chucked his boy under the chin, told him to mind what he had heard, and turned away with some jesting remark about the ease with which those who have no children of their own can manage the children of others.
“He that spareth the rod hateth his son,” thought Charles Hayes, as he slowly returned to his cottage.
Butler’s shop was one in which a variety of cakes and sweetmeats were sold, and he in variably kept it open on Sundays. “I make more on that day than on any other day in the week,” he used to say. “No one but a fool would beggar himself for the sake of idle scruples. I keep my conscience in my till!”
Butler’s shop was, indeed, more full than usual on that day which we have been commanded to keep holy. And did he benefit by disobedience? He certainly thought that he did. His Nina dressed more gaily, his own table was better supplied, his boys had more sports, he was enabled himself to drink deeper, than if, like his neighbor, he had devoted his Sabbaths to rest and religion. But was he really the better for his unhallowed gains?—were his wife or his children the better? Oh, no! the example which he set, the company which he kept, were surely and not slowly corrupting and destroying the source of even his earthly happiness. We have read of a Spanish general who was so fond of money that the enemies into whose hands he had fallen tortured and killed him by pouring melted gold down his throat, in mockery of his covetousness! So Satan now often makes money unlawfully acquired the very means of tormenting the miserable beings who have sold their conscience to obtain it. There is no blessing on it, no blessing can be expected with it, and it is not only at the judgment-day that ill-gotten wealth shall crush its owner beneath its weight!
Butler had gradually acquired in the taverns, to which he had been driven by the temper of his wife, a taste for spirituous liquors. He was what is called “a jovial fellow;” and if his Sunday mornings were spent in business, his Sunday evenings were spent in revels. He was fond of placing his little Dan on the table, and calling for a song from the child; and then, when the boy had set all present in a roar of laughter by his fun, would reward him by giving him a sip from the brimming glass which he himself loved too well. Poor boy! it had been better for him if it had been poison that passed his lips!
Nina, too, was brought forward to be ad mired and flattered by her father’s Sunday guests, and to have the seeds of folly and vanity planted in a soil which was but too ready to receive them.
While Butler’s children were yet young, their mother died. Her death was little regretted by her husband; and yet it proved to him no small misfortune. Her temper had made his home uncomfortable, but she had preserved in it something like order and regularity. She had had some influence over her children; and though she had never used it to implant in their young minds those principles which might have survived herself, and guided them to virtue and happiness, yet that influence had been some restraint, at least, on their outward conduct. Now all curb upon them was taken away. They became each year more ungovernable and wild; their extravagance emptied the purse of their father much faster than his gains could fill it. If the sin of Sabbath-breaking made money seem to flow readily into it, other sins, to which Sabbath-breaking gave rise, made holes for that money to flow through. Butler became a poorer and poorer man. He drank more, to drown thought, and so hastened the ruin which he dreaded. He became so irregular in his habits that all respectable customers gave him up. Companions he had still, but friends he had none. He had trifled with his health, now it failed him ; and neither of his sons, though intelligent youths, were sufficiently steady and regular to be fitted to take his place in the shop. Butler fell, gradually fell, from one stage of ruin to another. He saw all his comforts one by one disappear. A blight, a mildew was upon his fair hopes; a worm was at the root of his joys. He lived to see his daughter, once his pride, make a silly marriage, without his consent, to a worth less, dissipated soldier, who carried her away to a distant land, where her father never heard of her more. He lived to see his boys grow up unprincipled men, undutiful sons,—the one a drunkard, the other a thief! He lived to see his home in the hands of a stranger, and to be himself, in his old age, compelled to seek the dreary shelter of a work-house!
Bitterly Butler murmured against the decrees of Providence, which he believed had brought him to misery. Bitterly he complained of poverty and desertion, and the feebleness of a broken constitution. And yet he was but reaping as he had sowed! Self-indulgence, self-will, self-worship, were but bearing their natural fruit; and what Butler called his misfortunes were but the first installment of the miserable wages of sin. The foolishness of man perverteth his way; and his heart fretteth against the Lord.
There are no chains that bind
So close as chains of sin;
There are no foes we find
So stern as foes within.
God may send pain and loss
To those whom most he loves;
But heavier far than such a cross
The sinner’s burden proves!
’Tis guilt that barbs the dart,
’Tis guilt that binds the cord;
Yet the deceiving heart
Will fret against the Lord!
When mirth in anguish ends,
Man dreads the truth to own
That from the Lord all good descends.
Despair from sin alone!