49. ON THE DANGER OF
There is a beautiful harmony in the doctrines and precepts of Scripture,
whether promulgated under the Patriarchal, Mosaic, or Christian
dispensation, which strikingly proves its divine origin. Every enlightened
reader of the Bible will perceive a rich vein of truth running through the
whole of the sacred volume. What is obscurely revealed under the patriarchal
dispensation, is more fully made known under the Law, and exhibited in its
brightest colors by the Gospel.
A short review of the Scriptures, with respect to the sin of covetousness,
will verify this observation.
Job, when vindicating his character, makes the following declaration: "Have
I put my trust in money or felt secure because of my gold? Does my happiness
depend on my wealth and all that I own? Have I looked at the sun shining in
the skies, or the moon walking down its silver pathway, and been secretly
enticed in my heart to worship them? If so, I should be punished by the
judges, for it would mean I had denied the God of heaven." Job 31:24-28. We
have here the closest connection between covetousness and idolatry. The two
sins are classed together as twin evils springing from one common source,
the unbelief and earthliness of the heart.
This is in strict accordance with the other parts of the sacred oracle. Paul
styles covetousness, idolatry; (Coloss. iii, 5;) and a covetous man an
idolater. (Ephes. v, 5.) Our Savior explains the nature of this idolatry:
"How hard is it for those who trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of
To possess wealth, when imparted in the providence of God, is not sinful;
for it was said of Abraham by his servant Eleazar, "The Lord has blessed my
master greatly and he has become great; and he has given him flocks and
herds, and silver and gold, and men-servants and maid-servants, and camels
and donkeys." But the sin lies in trusting in these things; hence Job says,
"If I have made gold my hope, or have said to the fine gold, you are my
confidence; if I have rejoiced because my wealth was great—I would have
denied the God that is above."
David was aware of the same danger arising from the possession of wealth,
and he gives this salutary caution: "If riches increase, set not your heart
upon them." Or in the words of Job, "make them not your hope and your
confidence." Solomon points out the same evil "He that trusts in his riches
shall fall." (Prov. xi, 28.) Moses strongly cautions the Israelites against
this misuse of temporal things: "The Lord your God will soon bring you into
the land he swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a
land filled with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses
will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water
from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive
trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, be
careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of
Egypt." Deut. 6:10-12.
From where does this proneness to depart from God arise? this cleaving to
earthly things? It springs from the fall of Adam. It is the very fault and
corruption of our nature. We are all naturally idolaters, "loving the
creature more than the Creator, who is over all, blessed for evermore;" and
therefore this evil justly exposes us to eternal death. Nothing but divine
grace can save us from this idolatrous attachment to earth. Who does not
daily feel its influence? Oh! how much I need the sovereign grace of God to
wean my affections from the world, and cause me to seek my all in him!
Herein consists true happiness. Until God in Christ be my all-sufficient, my
all-satisfying portion, I cannot be truly happy. A divided heart must of
necessity be a wretched heart. "Lord, unite my heart to fear your name.
Collect my scattered powers, and let them work for you alone. As it was with
the Israelites, so may it be with me. In my departure out of a wicked world,
let not 'a hoof be left behind.' May all that I possess be wholly
consecrated unto you."
Were we told of some highly-favored individual, whose every desire after
wealth and pleasure might be gratified; should we not be ready to exclaim,
this must be a happy man? A slight acquaintance with human character would
soon dissipate this illusion. The desire of man which is the very essence of
covetousness, makes us dissatisfied with what we already possess. While an
increase of possessions, by increasing our cares and troubles, tends only to
diminish our portion of actual enjoyment.
The experience of Solomon, so feelingly described in the book of
Ecclesiastes, speaks volumes on this subject. He made the dangerous
experiment of gratifying his desires, with an eagerness which could only he
equaled by his means of gratification– I thought in my heart, "Come
now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good." But that also
proved to be meaningless. "Laughter," I said, "is foolish. And what does
pleasure accomplish?" I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing
folly--my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was
worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.
I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.
I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I
made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and
female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned
more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver
and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men
and women singers, and a harem as well--the delights of the heart of man. I
became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my
wisdom stayed with me.
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My
heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my
labor." Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled
to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing
was gained under the sun." Eccles. 2:1-10.
But what was the fruit of such unbounded gratification, which by thousands
is esteemed the climax of human happiness? Hear the humiliating confession
of Solomon, than whom no one had ever a fairer opportunity of reaping
happiness, if ever it sprang out of worldly pleasure "Yet when I surveyed
all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was
meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun."
And after enumerating a variety of vanities, he closes his book with these
important words: "Here is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his
commands, for this is the duty of every person. God will judge us for
everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad."
Nothing is so restless as the spirit of a covetous man. He is continually
pursuing after a phantom. Dissatisfied and miserable, "They have planted the
wind and will harvest the whirlwind. The stalks of wheat wither, producing
no grain. And if there is any grain, foreigners will eat it." Hosea 8:7. "We
are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap
up wealth for someone else to spend." Psalm 39:6. Solomon felt this when he
said, "I hated all my labor which I had taken under the sun: because I shall
leave it unto the man that shall be after me; and who knows whether he shall
be a wise man or a fool? This is also meaningless."
How contentedly happy is the child of God! He views every event as directed
by Infinite Wisdom; and reviews every gift as the expression of Infinite
Love. He knows that God is well acquainted with the nature of his own gifts,
and is therefore satisfied with the portion which Infinite Love bestows; as
well as with the dispensation by which infinite Wisdom takes away. With
childlike acquiescence in the divine disposals, he learns, in whatever state
he is, therewith to be content. He does not labor to be rich. He finds, by
experience, that riches cannot confer happiness, or health, or honor. He
sees many rich men miserable, and many poor men happy. He blesses God for
his daily bread; eats his food with gladness and singleness of heart; and
praises God for his hourly mercies flowing to him through that precious
medium of communication between heaven and earth, the Lord Jesus Christ.
He has, however, covetous desires. He covets earnestly the best gifts. He
longs and labors to possess these eternal blessings, which never cloy, but
increase the joy and happiness of the soul by their increased possession. He
prays with fervent desire for the graces of faith and love; for humility and
purity; for the filling of the Spirit; for the presence of the Savior; for
the love of the Father; for a heart filled with all the fulness of God.
This is the happy man, whose desires are accomplished. He delights in the
Lord, and the God of all grace gives him the desires of his heart. The
character of his life is contentment with moderation in earthly things,
combined with ardent desires after the increase of spiritual blessings. He
is diligent in business as a duty; fervent in spirit as a blessedness;
active in serving the Lord as his highest honor.
Oh! for this contentment, this thirsting after God, this devotedness to his
service and glory! He who trusts in riches, is like one who endeavors to
repose upon the foam of a tempestuous sea. No sooner does he throw himself
upon it, than it separates, and he sinks as lead in the waters; while he who
trusts in the Lord, resembles the man, who, securely stationed upon a rock,
sees the billows spend their fury at his feet. He views the wild uproar, and
smiles at the storm.
In this fallen world, where sin has planted sorrows in awful profusion, is
it not amazing, that creatures, liable to continual change, are not
solicitous to find a shelter from the tempest? They are anxious, indeed, to
obtain rest, but they seek for it where it never can be found—in earthly
Men are apt to imagine, that if they can only amass a fortune, and reach the
hill of prosperity, they shall escape those troubles which overwhelm the
many who dwell in the valley below. But are not mountains the most exposed
to storms? Are they not the most bleak and barren parts of the earth? while
the sheltered valleys stand so thick with corn, that, in the poetic language
of David, "they laugh and sing?"
History furnishes abundant proofs that elevated stations expose men to
perpetual dangers, and cause the soul to be barren in those fruits of peace,
contentment, and piety, which enrich the heart of the lowly, retired
believer. Why, then, should I envy the great, or labor to be rich? Even if I
should happily escape the common snares of wealth, yet death will soon
transfer it into other hands, and then what will all my riches profit, if at
that solemn period I should be destitute of faith and love!
"Lord, make me anxious for the true riches. May I daily lay up my treasure
in heaven. May my heart be there. Let no idol be seated on the throne of my
affections. May you reign the sovereign Lord within. Oh! may all my powers
be subject unto you. May I own no sway but yours. All will then be well.
Whether prosperous or afflicted, all things shall work together for my
The Scriptures point out in the strongest manner the danger of riches. Many
monuments of wrath are there presented to our view. Achan, Gehazi, Judas,
Ananias, and Sapphira, being dead, yet speak with warning voice. The love of
money proved their downfall.
We all naturally love ease. We have a natural love of rest. Toil and pain
are alike irksome to the savage and the sage. Those earthly possessions
which promise the greatest portion of enjoyment, are the most coveted by
mankind in general. In civilized countries it may be said, in the expressive
language of Solomon, "Money answers all things." It is able to procure for
us those various conveniences which tend to smooth the path of life. It
provides us with food and clothing; with innumerable elegancies and
superfluities; with opportunities of extending our researches after
knowledge, of visiting distant countries, and treasuring up the labors of
the dead. Money can command almost everything, but what is most essential to
our happiness—peace of conscience, joy in God and victory over sin and
Here, then, arises the danger of riches. They furnish us with every
requisite to earthly pleasure. They give us a commanding influence over our
poorer neighbors; and an importance in the circle in which we move. Hence we
secretly pant after their increase. They engross the affections; they fill
the mind; they captivate the will; they usurp the place of God in the soul.
When riches flow into the coffer, trouble is never apprehended; but when
they cease to flow, the darkened clouds seem rapidly to threaten the
destruction of our earthly joys; the smile then forsakes the worldling's
countenance; gloom settles upon his once laughing face; despair seizes on
his heart, and death not infrequently closes the fatal scene.
Such a state of mind as this, infallibly proves the love of money to be the
predominating passion in the soul. And such a state of mind is incompatible
with salvation. Our blessed Lord has declared, in words too plain to be
misunderstood, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,
than for a rich man—trusting in his riches—to enter into the kingdom of
God." Paul in like manner bears his testimony against this sin of our
nature: "Charge those who are rich in this world, that they do not be
high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives
us all things richly to enjoy." He cautions believers most solemnly against
the evil of covetousness, by declaring that "the love of money is at the
root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered
from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows." 1 Tim. 6:10.
If true believers, we ought again and again to impress upon our hearts this
sacred truth– that real happiness consists in having God for our portion; in
being satisfied, yes, thankful for the allotments of his providence; in
feeling ourselves to be pilgrims and strangers upon earth, hastening along
the stream of time to that blessed world, where every trial will be
forgotten; or, if remembered, will only, by its recollection, enhance our
This state of mind, this holy frame of heart, is the work of the Spirit, the
fruit of faith. "All your children shall be taught of the Lord, and great
shall be the peace of your children." "You will keep him in perfect peace,
whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you." "Don't worry about
anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank
him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God's peace,
which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace
will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus." Philip.
4:6-7. "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far
more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we look not at the things
which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which
are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
"Oh, blessed Savior! wean my foolish heart from the world. Save me from the
love of money, which is spiritual idolatry. Raise my affections to high and
heavenly things. May you in time and through eternity my all in all."
Why, Oh my soul, should earthly joys
Detain you prisoner here below?
The richest gems are trifling toys,
Compared with those believers know.
How glorious their immortal crowns,
More dazzling bright than mid-day sun
Jesus their happy souls adorns
With wreaths, which he himself has won.
How vain are all the scenes of earth,
Beneath their now exalted view!
They feel the honors of their birth,
The friends or God, and angels too.
Oh! blissful state of holy joy!
Awake, my soul, and upward soar;
Your rebel passions now destroy,
Let earth engross your heart no more.
Yet, Lord! I look alone to you
Exert your sovereign, saving power;
Oh! set my captive spirit free;
Be this redemption's joyful hour!