Regarding John Armstrong’s insightful post yesterday, I want to pass along some related wisdom on the subject from Richard Baxter from his 1682 treatise, How to do Good to Many. Writing on the text of Galatians 6:10, he writes about the problem and responsibility of passing along wealthy estates to heirs:

III. The Text plainly intimateth that it is a great Crime in them, that instead of doing good while they have opportunity, think it enough to leave it by Will to their Executors to do it. When they have lived to the flesh, and cannot take it with them, they think it enough to leave others to do that good, which they had not a heart to do themselves: But a treasure must be laid up in heaven before-hand, and not be left to be sent after, Matth. 6. 20, 21. And he that will make friends of the Mammon of Unrighteousness, must now be rich towards God, Luk. 12. 21. It’s no victory over the World, to leave it when you cannot keep it: Nor will any Legacy purchase Heaven for an unholy worldly soul.

IV. Yet they that will do good neither Living nor Dying are worst of all. Surely the last Acts of our Lives, if possible, should be the best; And as we must live in health, so also in sickness, and to the last in doing all the good we can; and therefore it must needs be a great sin, to leave our Estates to those that are like to do hurt with them, or to do no good, so far as we are the free disposers of them.

The Case, I confess is not without considerable difficulties, how much a man is bound to leave to his Children, or his neerest Kindred, when some of them are disposed to live unprofitably, and some to live ungodly and hurtfully. Some think men are bound to leave them nothing, some think they ought to leave them almost all: And some think that they should leave them only so much as may find them tolerable food and raiment. I shall do my best to decide the case in several propositions.

  1. The Case is not with us as it was with the Israelites, who might not alienate their Inheritances from the Tribes. Yet even they had power to prefer a younger Son, that was more deserving, before an Elder that was worse.

  2. Where either Law or Contract have disabled a man to alienate his Estate from an ungodly Heir, there is no room for a doubt what he must do.
  3. Nature teacheth all men to prefer a Child that is pious and hopeful, in his provisions and Legacies before a stranger that is somewhat better, and not to alienate his Estate for want of a higher degree of goodness.
  4. When there is a just cause to disinherit an elder Son, a younger is to be preferred before a Stranger; or a Kinsman if there be no tolerable Son.
  5. And a Son that ought not to be trusted with Riches or a great Estate, yet ought to have Food and Raiment; (unless he come to that State of obstinate rebellion in sin, for which God’s Law commanded the Israelites to bring forth their Sons to be put to death: In such Cases the house of Correction is fittest for them.) Yet should he have such food as may humble him, and not to gratifie his lust.
  6. If a man that hath the full power to dispose of his Estate, real or personal, have Sons and Kindred that according to the Judgment of sound reason, are like, if they had his Estate, to do mischief with it, or maintain them in a wicked life, or in a meer unprofitable Life of idleness, living only to themselves and fleshly ease and pleasure, That man ought to give his Estate from such to some that are liker to do good with it, and to use it for God, and the publick benefit.

This is much contrary to the common course of most, that think no Estate too great for their Heirs, nor any Portion too great for their Daughters, be they what they will, or what use soever they are like to make of it: But these following reasons prove it to be true.

I. Every man hath his Estate from God, and for God, and is bound as his Steward accordingly to use it. This is past doubt: And how doth that man use it for God, who leaveth it to one that is liker to use it for the Devil in a fleshly unprofitable Life? What account can such a Steward give? Did God give it you to maintain idleness and sin?

Obj. O but it is a Son whom I am bound to provide for. Ans. Are you more bound to your Son than to your Self? God doth not allow you to spend it on your self, to maintain Idleness and Vice, Rom. 13. 13, 14. Make no provision for the flesh to satisfie the lust (or will) thereof. And may you leave it for such a use as is forbidden both your Son and You? It is God that is the owner of it, and it is to him that you must both use and leave it: Whether you Eat or Drink or whatever you do, do all to the Glory of God. And will you leave it to be the fuel of lust, and sin?

Obj. I leave it not for sin: but if he misuse it, I cannot help it. Ans. Would that excuse you if you put a Sword into a mad man’s hand, to say, I cannot help it if he use it ill? You might have helpt it: It’s supposed that you fore-knew how he was like to use it.

Obj. But he may prove better hereafter, as some do. Ans. It is not bare possibilities, that must guide a wise man’s Actions when probability is against them. Would you commit your Children to the care of a Mad man or a Knave, because he may possibly come to his Wits, or become honest? Have you not long tried him, and have you not endeavour’d to cure him of his Idleness, wickedness or lust? If it be not done, what ground have you to presume it will be done when you are dead? You may have so much hope as not utterly to despair of him: But that will not allow you to trust him with that which God made you Steward of for his use and service.

But if such hopes may be gratified, give your estate in trust to some Conscionable friend, with secret order to give it your Son or Kinsman, if he become hereafter fit to use it, according to the ends for which God giveth it.

Reas. 2. The Obligation in my Text of doing good to all, extendeth to the end of our lives: And therefore to our last Will and Testament. Therefore you must make your Wills so as may do good to all, and not to cherish sin and idleness.

Reas. 3. You are bound to your best to destroy sin and idleness, and therefore not to feed and cherish it.

Reas. 4. Doing good is the very thing which you are Created, Redeemed and Sanctified for; and therefore you must extend your endeavours to the uttermost and to the last, that as much as may be, may be done when you are dead. If Magistrates and Ministers took care for no longer than their own lives, what would become of the State or Church?

Reas. 5. The Common good is better than the plenty of a sinful Child: Yea it is to be preferred before the best Child, and before our selves. And therefore much more before the worst.

Reas. 6. It’s a dreadful thing to be guilty of all the fleshly sins, which your ungodly Sons will commit with your estate; when they shall by it maintain the sins of Sodom, Pride, Fulness of Bread, and abundance of Idleness: If not to strengthen their hands for oppression or Persecution. To think that they will spend their days in voluptuousness, because you gave them provision for the flesh.

Reas. 7. It is cruelty to them that are already so bad, to make their temptations to sin much stronger, and their place in Hell the worse, and to make the way to Heaven as hard to them as for a Camel to go through the eye of a needle: To prepare them to want a drop of water in Hell, who were clothed richly and fared sumptuously on Earth. To entice them to say, Soul take thine ease thou hast enough laid up for many years, till they hear: fool this night shall they require thy Soul; to cherish that love of the world, which is enmity to God, by feeding that lust of the flesh and lust of the eyes, and Pride of life, which are not of the Father, but of the world.

Reas. 8. When this preferring unprofitable and ungodly Children before God and the Common good, is so common and Reigning a sin in the world, it is a great fault for Religious Men to encourage them in it, by their example, and to do as they.

Reas. 9. It is a sin to cast away any of God’s gifts. When Christ had fed men by a Miracle, he saith, gather up the fragments that nothing be lost: If you should cast your mony into the Sea, it were a crime: But to leave it to such as you foresee are most likely to use it sinfully, is more than casting it away. If you saw men offer Sacrifice to Bacchus or Venus, you would abhor it. Do not that which is so like it, as to leave bad men fuel for fleshly lust.

Reas. 10. It is the more dreadful, because it is dying in studyed sin without repentance. To put so much sin into one’s Will, shews a full consent and leaveth no room and time to repent of it.

On all these accounts I advise all the Stewards of God, as they love him and the publick good and their own Souls, while they have opportunity, even to the last breath, to do good to all, and to provide more for the common good than for superfluities to any, and than for the maintaining ungodly Children in sin, to the increase of their guilt and misery.

Indeed in the choice of a Calling, employment and condition of life, and place for their Children, doing good should be preferred before their rising in the world: And they that justly endeavour to raise their Families in wealth, honour or power, should do it only; that they might do the more good. But it is Satan’s design to turn all God’s mercies to the cherishing of wickedness, and even the Love of Parents to their Children to the poisoning of their Souls, the strengthening of their snares, and the hinderance of their own and other men’s Salvation. But it’s shame and pity, that they who in Baptism devoted their Children to God, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, renounceing the world the flesh and the Devil, as under the banner of the Cross, should labour all their life, that impenitently at death they may leave all hat they can get to such as in all probability will use it in pride, fulness and idleness, for the flesh, the world and the Devil, against him and his interest from whom they received it, and to whom both they and all they had were once devoted.

When men are loth that their estates should remove from the Name and Family (for which there may be just cause) I take it for the safest way, (as aforesaid) to trust some (as men do their Children with Guardians) by the advise of Lawyers, to secure all from their unworthy heirs, for the next or some other of the name and lineage that proveth worthy.

There are many other good works by which some rich men may be very profitable to the Common-wealth, such as setting all the poor on work, and building Hospitals for the Impotent, &c. But these this City is happily acquainted with already, and tho still there be much wanting, yet there is much done.