A Sermon And Prayer Delivered by THOMAS LECHTWORTH at the Meetinghouse in the Park, Southwark, England, date unspecified.
Twelve Discourses Delivered Chiefly at the Meeting House of the People Called Quakers, in the Park, Southwark. Salem: Thomas Cushing, 1794.

This is The Quaker Homiletics Online Anthology, Section 2: The 17th Century.

The Sermon:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven; and again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, who then can be saved? It is no wonder, indeed, that these appeared to them to be hard sayings, and that they should excite their astonishment, if they apprehended by them, that the kingdom of heaven was only open to poverty and wretchedness. It appears, I think, beyond controversy, that notwithstanding the disciples attended to the doctrine of such an excellent minister, who spoke with peculiar authority, yet they did not at once comprehend the whole of his doctrine and works. Their understandings were gradually opened and informed; they were led on step by step. The work of religion was not with them, as some people have imagined the work of religion to be, an instantaneous work: they went on from strength to strength, and from one degree of knowledge to another, till they had acquired as much as was necessary for them. They were not instructed in all truths, but in such as respected the duties of their day and of their station, and which, in the course of their pilgrimage in this world, filled them with a humble hope and expectation of ultimately entering into one that is infinitely better, there to partake of the joy of their Lord, and of that rest from their labours which is prepared for the people of God. Thus, we find, when they were told that they must eat his flesh, and drink his blood, - that it was necessary a man should hate his father and mother, his wife, his children, and even his own life, - accepting these texts, at first, in a strict and literal sense, it is no wonder they should think them hard sayings: hard indeed it would be if it were necessary that the affections, which flow from consanguinity and affinity, must be totally eradicated, and the malignant passion of hatred be substituted, in order to render us successful candidates for an inheritance that is incorruptible and that fadeth not away.

But it is clear to me, beyond the least doubt, that our Lord designed, throughout the whole of his ministry, to excite and to strengthen, instead of weakening, those bands by which society is held together.

He designed to inspire us with te most friendly affections, as the main, or principal, motive to the discharge of the various social and relative duties: this appears to me to be comprehended in the second commandment, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. With respect to this particular passage of the New Testament, it may, perhaps, be profitable, at least to the younger part of this assembly, whole experience has not yet been much, and whose observations have been but transient, to advert a little to the occasion of these hard sayings, which excited the amazement of the disciples.

It seems there was a young man who had heard of the fame of Jesus; who wanted to be instructed with respect to what measures were necessary for him to adopt and to Pursue in order to inherit everlasting life. Urged by this desire, he makes an application unto Jesus, addressing him after this manner, Good master, what good thing shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life? Our Saviour enumerated several of the commandments, to which he replied, and no doubt with the greatest degree of sincerity, "All these have I kept from my youth up, what lack I yet?" It appears that our Lord meant to bring his love and his virtue to a severe test. One thing, says he, thou lackest; if thou wilt be perfect, sell that thou haft, and give to the poor; take up thy cross, and follow me, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven. It seems that our Saviour struck at his darling passion, the love of money; for, upon hearing this proposal, it is evident that he preferred, at that time, retaining his corporeal possessions, that present temporary good, to the future, and remote one of eternal life, for, he went away sorrowful.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, A rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. It must indeed, be acknowledged, that, seeing we have nothing which we have not received, - that we are not proprietors of the inheritance which we possess, but tenants only at will; for, the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof, and the cattle on a thousand hills, we ought to relinquish, to give up, a part, or the whole, of that which is lent us, when it is the will of the giver to make that requisition: but it is evident to me, that this particular requisition intends not a general command. I conceive, that it is not riches, merely as riches, which can prevent our entrance into the kingdom of heaven. It may be laid, with equal truth, that, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than far a poor man to enter into the kingdom of heaven, if he have nothing but poverty and wretchedness to recommend him. It is very evident, from divers circumstances, that our Lord's controversy was not with riches, but the spirit of pride, which too frequently possesses the hearts of the rich; for, we have an account of a rich, and yet of a good, man, Joseph of Arimathea. From the several accounts of the evangelists it appears he was an honourable counselor, a rich man, a good, a just, man, a disciple of Jesus, and one that waited for the kingdom of God, though it was probable that he was a member of the Sanhedrin.

It seems to me that the rich man, designed in this text, is such a man as is represented to us in the parable: There was a certain rich man, who was clothed with purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: there was also a certain beggar, that was laid at his gate, full of sores, of whom there can be no doubt that he was a proper object of human sympathy. He was laid at his gate full of fores: his requisition was humble, desiring to be fed only with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table; moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores. It came to pass that the beggar died, and that he was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and he lilted up his eyes in hell, and saw Lazarus in Abraham's bosom. He cried out in a sort of agony, Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus that he may dip his finger in water to cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame: but Abraham answered, Son, remember, that thou, in thy lifetime, receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now, he is comforted, and thou art tormented. But we are not to infer from this text, that, merely his being clothed in purple and fine linen, or faring sumptuously, was the cause caf his consequent misery; or, that it followed of course, having received the good things of this life, he should suffer the worst of evils in the next; but it appears he wanted the brotherly sympathy, that friendly affection, recommended to us in the character of the good Samaritan, which is not restricted to any peculiar class, but directed to every object of distress. There was a man, who, traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, fell among thieves: he was spoiled, he was wounded. - The priest passed by, - he who attended at the altar of God, he that should have possessed a spirit of universal charity. The priest passed by, - the Levite followed his example, untouched with the feelings of humanity; his heart was contracted, perhaps, by the prejudices of a party, which he had conceived to be religion. But a Samaritan passed that way: he looked upon the man with that sympathy and compassion which the love of Christ inspires towards a brother in distress, incapable of relieving himself, upon whom many sufferings were brought, and many more expected to follow. He takes compassion of this poor Jew, pours oil and wine into his wounds, attempts to alleviate his grief by lessening its cause; and, though he could have no expectation of compensation, yet it did not restrain him from attempting every thing in his power for the relief of this indigent person, and his views were not confined to the present time; he looked forward, and endeavoured to provide for his future well-being, giving a direction unto his host, I will repay thee. It was therefore the want of this sympathy, together with the spirit of pride, which prompted the rich man to pursue the luffs of the flesh, of the eye, and the pride of life, at the expense of his social and religious duties, which rendered him highly criminal. This appears clearly to have been designed: the character of this certain rich man and that of the beggar formed a contrast. The rich man wanted virtue; the poor man was destitute of food; it is evident, however, that he was in a humble state. What could he have asked less if he had asked any thing? The severity of hunger forced him to ask thus much of him, as he was incapable of helping himself, he desired only the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table, but he was unnoticed. If he had been of the rich, if there had been a prospect that the interest, or the pleasure, of the rich man could have been augmented by relieving him, he would have noticed him as Laban did Abraham's servant when he saw the bracelets on his sister's hands, Come in, thou blessed of the Lord, wherefore standest thou without? The door would have been readily opened to opulence, and titular dignity would have found an easy access; but the poor beggar lay unnoticed: the inferior species of animals seemed to feel more sympathy than the rich man, Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. I would not be understood, by any thing that I have said, to attempt an ingenious apology for the rich; but, at the same time, I would attempt to make that distinction between the poverty of the heart and the possessions of the hands which the author of the Christian religion designed. In the course of the providence of Almighty God it so falleth out, that the efforts of the laborious and industrious are not crowned with equal success. Bur we are not to conclude that the person, whose barn's are filled with plenty, and whole presses are ready to burst with new wine, is the distinguished favourite of heaven, any more than that the poor man, who divides his morsel with his family, and mixes his tears with his bread, is reprobated by heaven. it is the abuse, and not the use, of riches which the testimony of Christ is certainly against. The apostle did not enjoin the rich to throw away their riches, but he exhorts Timothy to charge them who are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, neither trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us all things richly to enjoy. This is what he had in charge, adding, I think, that we brought nothing with us into the world, and we shall carry nothing out of it. Naked we came into the world, naked we shall return, be dissolved and mixed with those elements, from which we originally sprang. I would, therefore, attempt, at least, that we should individually reflect upon the circumstances that we are placed in, and that we should receive with gratitude the portion which, in the general course of God's providence, shall be allotted to us. Nothing more is required of us than to be good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

We are called stewards; and a time approaches, with unavoidable certainty, when the Lord of the universe will call us, will summon us hence, with Give thou an account of thy stewardship, for thou shalt be no longer steward. Let us therefore confider the several talents we have received for the improvement of our hearts in the Christian life: let us consider the outward benefits that are bestowed upon us, and let it be the study of our lives to apply them property, and to resemble the good Samaritan; that in imitating the example of the author of the Christian religion, it may be the delight of our lives to diffuse happiness all around, and to go about doing good. This appears to be of indispensable obligation. If the rich man had possessed this friendly disposition, the beggar would not have been neglected at the gates of his house, the dogs would not have been suffered to lick his sores; he would have poured into them lenient balm; he would have attempted to bind up his broken heart, and to wipe away all tears from all faces, to diffuse happiness in as extensive a manner as his abilities could qualify him to diffuse it, and therein he would have been the best prepared to join the heavenly society above, when a period should have been put to his existence upon earth, and his possessions could no longer avail him. But this was not the circumstance of the rich man; he wanted bowels of compassion; and, therefore, whatever religious party he was connected with, whether of the Pharisees or of the Sadducees, he was not acceptable in the sight of the Searcher of hearts. Let us now reflect a little on what his feelings must be, - the feelings of a man that has rolled along in pomp, that has been clad in purple and fine linen, that has had his singing men and his singing women, with the found of the pipe and of the tabret, to attune his heart to joy, yet destitute of the feelings of humanity and of worthy sentiments of religion. Death approaches, - he fees the heavens passing away as a scroll, and the very foundation of his happiness dissolved. I cannot better express it than in the language of the holy scriptures: When in his prosperity, the destroyer came upon him; his purposes were cut off, even the thoughts of his heart and the desire of his eyes; but his day is turned into night, his light into darkness; his harp is turned into mourning, and his organ into the voice of them that weep. He is about to quit this scene of things without any hope or expectation of entering upon any scene that is better. He looks back upon a life that has been spent in various species of dissipation, in the gratification of his sensual appetites, and in the neglect of every social duty. He now finds himself in a circumstance far beneath the poor beggar's that lay at his gate. - Conscience resumes the seat the had lost, - wounds that had been healed break out afresh, and bleed anguish. He looks back, but it gives him no pleasure; the picture excites the most painful feelings. He looks forward, but he has no hope; his singing men and his singing women, with the voice of the pipe and the tabret, can no more inspire his foul with joy. He is about to quit this mortal stage, and to enter into the world of spirits, but destitute of those moral virtues that would have qualified him to join the celestial society, and to take a part in the general festivity which prevails throughout heaven's empire. The rich man lifted up his eyes to heaven in a state of anguish; he beheld the beggar in Abraham's bosom. We are not to confider this text literally: this is a parable, not a matter of fact; and a parable designed to illustrate the moral doctrine of the gospel of Christ. He reaped the fruit of his doings, that which will inevitably follow a course of dissipation and a neglect of our proper duties: the recompense of his hands will be rendered to every man. To those, who obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil: of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; for, there is no respect of persons with God: and I wish to God there were less respect of persons with men. This was the circumstance, as I conceive, of the rich man. - Let us now confider what might be the feelings and the hopes of the poor beggar. Despised of his brethren, unpitied, unrelieved, he lay at the gates of the rich man; the dogs licked his wounds: - he importuned charity, - but he importuned in vain. The rich man's ear was deaf to his prayers. What consolation could he have in this state! Indeed, his feelings must have been exquisite. Hunger and thirst are appetites, which, in the extreme, throw the mind into tumult. His natural feelings were painful, but what were his prospects! What were his hopes! Though he was poor, he was not forsaken of Maker: he could not boast of purple and fine linen, he attended not the tables of the rich, nor partook of their luxurious banquets, yet he the offspring of the eternal Father, who made of one blood all the nations of men who dwell on the face of the earth, and hath determined the bounds their habitation. If the earth was unpropitious to him, prayers, still heaven was open to his cries. The Sovereign of the universe, who regards the crying of the poor and the supplication of the needy, took compassion on the poor beggar. He was about to quit his rags, to quit his poverty, and to enter into a state of everlasting happiness, - he was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. Which of those circumstances was the most desirable? Let us extend our views beyond the present scene of things: let us anticipate the shock we cannot shun. Which would you rather sustain, the character of this poor beggar, or the character of this certain rich man? Would you lose the hopes of the beggar in order to sustain the dignity of the rich man? This, methinks, is a question which common sense would not be long in deciding upon; but, such is the weakness and frailty of our nature, that we approve the right, and yet pursue the wrong: we do the thing that we would not, and neglect that which we would, do. The passions of human nature are exceedingly strong, and there is some one that generally characterizes every person; a kind of reigning passion, which, like Aaron's rod, swallows up all the rest. We are not all pursuing one path of vanity, for its paths are endless: but we have an aptitude, we have a promptness, rather to pursue measures that may produce a temporal good, than those which will produce a spiritual good. The gratification of the present moment engages our passions. If we were to form an idea by the general practice of mankind, we seem to forget that we are mortal, and that we must die. Mankind busy themselves often beside their proper business; and, whilst they are enlarging the boundaries of their earthly inheritance, are but little solicitous to obtain a habitation in the new heavens and in the new earth, wherein righteousness dwells. They prefer present to everlasting good, and neglect to cultivate those virtues which would make them resemble the Deity, (if I may be allowed the expression,) expand the faculties of the soul, and make it capable of those sublime contemplations which are the employment of the celestial choir. I wish, therefore, that we might be induced to reflect on the vanity of human wishes and on the folly of human pursuits. We have no continuing city here: perfect felicity is no more to be found in this mutable state of things, than it was practicable for the Babel builders to erect an edifice that should reach the heavens. Many have soared aloft, and built their nests on high, as upon the cedar of Lebanon, yet they have been brought down. Death levels all distinctions, and earthly possessions make no difference in the grave: let us set our affections therefore upon things that are above, and not on things which are beneath. If our affections be placed upon the superior good, we shall feel gradually less attachment to things that are seen; - less to this world, the fashion whereof is passing away, and we are passing away with it. Its pleasures are but as a cloud or a vapour, which will soon disappear. We are hastening to the place of our destination, let us therefore run with patience the race that is set before us, imitating the example of the wise and virtuous of all generations, endeavouring to fulfil the various obligations that we are under to the Author of our being and one to another; - to adopt the phrase in the parable, that we may be carried by angels into Abraham's bosom, and enter into the fulness of that joy, of which we have here but a foretaste, as of the brook that is by the way.

Perhaps some present, in the hours of the hours of their solitude, may reflect, that they pass unnoticed amidst the throng, while others sustain the plaudit of the people. Let them consider, that in a few days, there will be an end put to their anxieties: if they be virtuous, indeed, they are destined for the regions of glory, immortality, and eternal life - regions of which we can at present form no adequate idea. We see but darkly, as through a glass, - we explore but a little of that vast plan of the providential government of the Supreme Being; yet in a future state, with faculties better disposed, with minds properly prepared, it may be a part of our employment to investigate the dispensations of divine providence which at present appear exceedingly mysterious; - to celebrate, in a future world, the wonderful display of wisdom and power in the constitution of this, and also the goodness of God in adapting all his dispensations to all his people, for the accomplishment of their supreme good; and, from a Principle of conviction, to join the heavenly host, in saying, Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are all thy ways, thou king of saints. I am encouraged to expect this from the flying of Christ, that what I do, thou knowest not now; but shalt know hereafter; therefore let not the poor be disconsolate in their habitations of poverty, but let them attempt, in their respective stations, to fill up the duties of their day, and they shall end in peace everlasting. I intend not by what I have said that I have any person in view who is wanting in charity and benevolence; by no means: my design is general. I commend that good and virtuous disposition which has been apparent in many whom I am addressing; and I wish they may persevere in that which is right, and that they may endeavour to lay up for themselves a good foundation against the time to come. Riches are attended with many snares, and so is poverty. That poverty which brings a man to want the necessaries of life, will require uncommon fortitude and patience to bear.

There are indeed snares in every state. Every state is a state of probation, and there are temptations excited in our minds which correspond with the state and circumstances that we are in, and to the several biases that we possess. Let us therefore lay aside every weight and burden, and the sin which easily besets us, and run with patience the race that is set before us, cherishing, in the first instance, a sincere love of the Supreme Being in the highest degree, and then the love of our neighbour as ourselves, that we may possess a spirit of universal benevolence, which will prompt us to do all the good we can to that family of which the Lord God Almighty is the Father and Head. I conceive, indeed, that religion and virtue allow of degrees in love. There are peculiar attachments which arise from consanguinity, and also from affinity, which religion has no controversies with. We read, in the character of our Lord, that, notwithstanding he possessed a love of all his disciples, and of all the inhabitants of the earth, yet John seemed to be distinguished: he leaned upon his bosom, he was the disciple whom Jesus loved; but we are not hence to conclude that he loved no other; but there was a peculiar attachment to the disciple whom Jesus loved.

I would recommend, in attempting every step of reformation, and in every good word and work, that we attend to, and wait for, the influence of the holy Spirit; that which would sanctify us, that which would gradually inform our understandings, remove our prejudices and our doubts, inspire us with the most substantial hopes, and open to us prospects that are the most pleating; and, whatever portion of ill may be allotted us in the course of divine providence, let the virtuous ever bear in remembrance that there is a river, the streams whereof make glad the heritage of God; and every sincere, devoted soul, of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, that fears God and works righteousness, is part of this heritage, which is replenished with the showers of immortal goodness, and is as a garden inclosed, notwithstanding the different circumstances of individuals. The whole of this heritage is inclosed with walls that are impregnable, - impregnable against the enemy. They Will be preserved by the providence of Almighty God, as in a garden that is inclosed, - a garden that will be refreshed with the descent of celestial rain, that will be replenished, and bring forth the acceptable fruits of virtue and holiness. My soul, saith the Psalmist, thirsteth for God; yea, for the living God; and again, As the heart panteth tor the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God! This is the disposition of the humble soul, who looks upon the Lord as his superior good, and prefers a communion with him to the increase of corn, wine, or oil. He will, by every method, endeavor to keep open a communication with this fountain, - a fountain that will never be exhausted. Thanks be to God we have a river: though we may be exposed to many things, to the darkness and light, the heat and the cold, yet, in the course of our pilgrimage, there is a river that flows from Hermon's hills, the streams whereof ever make glad the heritage of God.

Let us attempt to pass along this river that we may be replenished, so shall we experience that. which is spoken of Wisdom, my brook became a river, and my river became a sea. The good, the virtuous, man; the man that feels the emotions of filial piety, has recourse to this river. A brook is opened to him by the way, at which he can satiate his thirst, and renew his strength. He will, in waiting upon God, mount up as on wings of an eagle; he will walk, and not be weary; run, and not be faint. Thanks be to God that we have this river, and I wish we may distinguish this fountain of living water from the broken cisterns that can hold no water. If this be the case with our hearts, then we shall find our consolation enlarge, our hopes increase till they are lost in fruition, and our, faith terminate in open vision, in the contemplation of those truths of which we can at present form but inadequate ideas, when we shall enter into the joy of our Lord, and be numbered with the wise. They that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars forever and ever!

The Prayer:

Most gracious God, inspire our hearts with suitable reverence, that we may approach thee acceptably, and offer up our prayers to thee in full assurance that, though heaven is thy throne, and the earth thy footstool, yet thou art graciously pleased to notice the inhabitants of this lower world, as well as those who are clothe with the greatest degree of dignity, and are perfectly happy in a world that is infinitely superior. Impress our hearts with a sense of thy goodness, upon which we every moment depend. Let it be manifested unto us, that the dispensing of thy manifold grace should impress us with emotions of filial piety and gratitude unto thee, who art the source of every thing that is good. We approach thy altar in the multitude of thy mercies, and look in confidence towards thee, that, notwithstanding our many infirmities, there is mercy with thee, that thou mayest be feared. Grant, we beseech thee, that, by the operation of thy holy Spirit, thou everlasting Shepherd and Bishop of souls, multitudes may be gathered out of the wilderness, in which they have wandered and been loft, within thy fold, to become a part of thy flock, and the sheep of thy pasture. Be pleased, in mercy, to bring back every sheep that has strayed unto the fold again, that, as we are thine by creation, we may, at length, be thine by adoption into a state of sonship, and become heirs of a spiritual inheritance, the crown immortal, that shall never fade away.

O most righteous and everlasting Father, be pleased, we humbly beseech thee, to look down upon the various circumstances of thy people; console the poor, and abate the pride of the rich, that we may by the interposition of thy spirit, be what thou wouldst have us to be, a humble, dependent people, looking up unto thee as the source whence all our blessings are derived, and imploring at thy throne to be instructed to use our talents to the ends and purposes for which thou hast given them, that, whenever thou shalt be pleased to summon us hence, we may have an evidence, a hope, as an anchor that is most sure and steadfast, that may preserve our souls in tranquillity when the waves of affliction roar, when the winds of adversity may blow upon us from every quarter. In the most painful dispensations we may have to pass through, grant that we may find an asylum in thy name, which has been the tower of defence, the munition of rocks, to the righteous in all generations.

O Lord, enable us to call successfully upon thy name, that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation; that, fortified by thy grace, we may endure the dangers of prosperity, and also the trials of poverty, if they shall be permitted to attend us; that we may not be elevated too high, nor puffed up to deny thee, and say, who is the Lord ? nor may be ever so cast down and oppressed in adversity, as to steal, and take thy name in vain, to deny thee, O God; but that, in every dispensation of thy providence, we may humbly acquiesce with thy will, and say, Not my will, O Lord, but thine be done.

Grant, We beseech thee, that, under an awful sense of thy attributes, which it is not in the power of human beings adequately to conceive, nor of the tongues of angels to express, in the contemplation of thy attributes, our souls, inflamed with a spirit of pure devotion, may ascend up, and put up our supplications, to thee, O Lord. We feel a holy awe pervade our fouls: in the contemplation of thy attributes our words are swallowed up: we offer unto thee the increase of praise, and ascribe unto thee every thing that is excellent, every thing that is great: to thee belong majesty and dominion, with every other adorable attribute, now and forevermore. Amen.