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The Danger of Riches

The Danger of Riches

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Published by: thepillquill on Jul 24, 2012
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http://www.newmanreader.org/works/parochial/volume2/sermon28.htmlPage 1 of 524/07/2012 03:38 AM
Newman Reader - Parochial & Plain Sermons 2 - Sermon 28
newmanreader.org"Woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation." Luke vi. 24.{343} [Note 1] U we were accustomed to read the New Testament from our childhood, I think we should beNLESSvery much struck with the warnings which it contains, not only against the love of riches, but the very possession of them; we should wonder with a portion of that astonishment which the Apostles at first felt, who had been broughtup in the notion that they were a chief reward which God bestowed on those He loved. As it is, we have heard themost solemn declarations so continually, that we have ceased to attach any distinct meaning to them; or, if ourattention is at any time drawn more closely to them, we soon dismiss the subject on some vague imagination, thatwhat is said in Scripture had a reference to the particular times when Christ came, without attempting to settle itsexact application to us, or whether it has any such application at all,as {344} if the circumstance, that theinterpretation requires care and thought, were an excuse for giving no thought or care whatever to the settling of it.But, even if we had ever so little concern in the Scripture denunciations against riches and the love of riches, thevery awfulness of them might have seemed enough to save them from neglect; just as the flood, and the judgmentupon Sodom and Gomorrah, are still dwelt upon by Christians with solemn attention, though we have a promiseagainst the recurrence of the one, and trust we shall never be so deserted by God's grace as to call down upon us theother. And this consideration may lead a man to suspect that the neglect in question does not entirely arise fromunconcern, but from a sort of misgiving that the subject of riches is one which cannot be safely or comfortablydiscussed by the Christian world at this day; that is, which cannot be discussed without placing the claims of God'sLaw and the pride of life into visible and perplexing opposition.Let us then see what the letter of Scripture says on the subject. For instance, consider the text. "Woe unto you thatare rich! for ye have received your consolation." The words are sufficiently clear (it will not be denied), as spoken of rich persons in our Saviour's day. Let the full force of the word "consolation" be observed. It is used by way of contrast to the comfort which is promised to the Christian in the list of Beatitudes [Note 2]. Comfort, in the fulnessof that word, as including help, guidance, encouragement, and support, is the peculiar promise of the Gospel. ThePromised Spirit, {345} who has taken Christ's place, was called by Him "the Comforter." There is then somethingvery fearful in the intimation of the text, that those who have riches thereby receive their portion, such as it is, in full,instead of the Heavenly Gift of the Gospel. The same doctrine is implied in our Lord's words in the parable of Divesand Lazarus: "Son, remember thou in thy lifetime receivedst good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; butthyhe is , and thou art tormented." At another time He said to His disciples, "How hardly shall they thatnowcomfortedhave riches enter into the kingdom of God! for it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a richman to enter into the kingdom of God." [Luke xvi. 25; xviii. 24, 25.]Now, it is usual to dismiss such passages with the remark, that they are directed, not against those who have, butagainst those who trust in, riches; as if forsooth they implied no between the having and the trusting, noconnexionwarning the possession led to the idolatrous reliance on them, no necessity of fear and anxiety in the possessors,lestlest they should become castaways. And this irrelevant distinction is supposed to find countenance in our Lord's ownlanguage on one of the occasions above referred to, in which He first says, "How hardly shall they that riches,"havethen, "How hard is it for them that in riches, to enter into the kingdom of God;" whereas surely, He onlytrustremoves His disciples' false impression, that the bare circumstance of possessing wealth was inconsistent with a stateof salvation, and no more interprets by than {346} makes essential to . He connectshavingtrustingtrustinghavingthe two, without identifying, without explaining away; and the simple question which lies for our determination isthis:whether, considering that they who had riches when Christ came, were likely in His judgment idolatrously totrust in them, there is, or is not, reason for thinking that this likelihood varies materially in different ages; and,according to the solution of this question, must we determine the application of the woe pronounced in the text tothese times. And, at all events, let it be observed, it is for those who would make out that these passages do applynotnow, to give their reasons for their opinion; the burden of proof is with them. Till they draw their clear andreasonable distinctions between the first and the nineteenth century, the denunciation hangs over the world,that is, asmuch as over the Pharisees and Sadducees at our Lord's coming.But, in truth, that our Lord meant to speak of riches as being in some sense a calamity to the Christian, is plain, not
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only from such texts as the foregoing, but from His praises and recommendation on the other hand of poverty. Forinstance, "Sell that ye have and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old." "If thou wilt be perfect, gosell that thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven." "Blessed be ye poor: for yours is thekingdom of God." "When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thykinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours ... but ... call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind." And in {347} like manner,St. James: "Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of that kingdom which He hathpromised to them that love Him?" [Luke xii. 33. Matt. xix. 21. Luke vi. 20; xiv. 12, 13. James ii. 5.] Now, I cite thesetexts in the way of doctrine, not of precept. Whatever be the line of conduct they prescribe to this or that individual(with which I have nothing to do at present), so far seems clear, that according to the rule of the Gospel, the absenceof wealth is, as such, a more blessed and a more Christian state than the possession of it.The most obvious danger which worldly possessions present to our spiritual welfare is, that they become practicallya substitute in our hearts for that One Object to which our supreme devotion is due. They are present; God is unseen.They are means at hand of effecting what we want: whether God will hear our petitions for those wants is uncertain;or rather I may say, certain in the negative. Thus they minister to the corrupt inclinations of our nature; they promiseand are able to be gods to us, and such gods too as require no service, but, like dumb idols, exalt the worshipper,impressing him with a notion of his own power and security. And in this consist their chief and most subtle mischief.Religious men are able to repress, nay extirpate sinful desires, the lust of the flesh and of the eyes, gluttony,drunkenness, and the like, love of amusements and frivolous pleasures and display, indulgence in luxuries of whatever kind; but as to wealth, they cannot easily rid themselves of a secret feeling that {348} it gives them afooting to stand upon, an importance, a superiority; and in consequence they get attached to this world, lose sight of the duty of bearing the Cross, become dull and dim-sighted, and lose their delicacy and precision of touch, arenumbed (so to say) in their fingers' ends, as regards religious interests and prospects. To risk all upon Christ's wordseems somehow unnatural to them, extravagant, and evidences a morbid excitement; and death, instead of being agracious, however awful release, is not a welcome subject of thought. They are content to remain as they are, and donot contemplate a change. They desire and mean to serve God, nay actually do serve Him in their measure; but notwith the keen sensibilities, the noble enthusiasm, the grandeur and elevation of soul, the dutifulness andaffectionateness towards Christ which become a Christian, but as Jews might obey, who had no Image of God giventhem except this created world, "eating their bread with joy, and drinking their wine with a merry heart," caring that"their garments be always white, and their head lacking no ointment, living joyfully with the wife whom they loveall the days of the life of their vanity," and "enjoying the good of their labour." [Eccles. ix. 7-9; v. 18.] Not, of course, that the due use of God's temporal blessings is wrong, but to make them the object of our affections, to allowthem to beguile us from the "One Husband" to whom we are espoused, is to mistake the Gospel for Judaism.This, then, if we may venture to say so, was some part of our Saviour's meaning, when He connects together {349}the having with the trusting in riches; and it is especially suitable to consider it upon this day, when wecommemorate an Apostle and an Evangelist, whose history is an example and encouragement for all those who have,and fear lest they should trust. But St. Matthew was exposed to an additional temptation, which I shall proceed toconsider; for he not only possessed, but he was engaged also in the pursuit of wealth. Our Saviour seems to warn usagainst this further danger in His description of the thorns in the parable of the Sower, as being "the care of thisworld and the deceitfulness of riches;" and more clearly in the parable of the Great Supper, where the guests excusethemselves, one as having "bought a piece of ground," another "five yoke of oxen." Still more openly does St. Paulspeak in his First Epistle to Timothy: "They that desire to be rich, fall into temptation and a snare, and into manyfoolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil;which, while some coveted after, they have erred from the Faith, and pierced themselves through with manysorrows." [Matt. xiii. 22. Luke xiv. 18, 19. 1 Tim. vi. 9, 10.]The danger of riches is the carnal security to which they lead; that of "" and them, is,possessingdesiringpursuingthat an object of this world is thus set before us as the aim and end of life. It seems to be the will of Christ that Hisfollowers should have no aim or end, pursuit or business, merely of this world. Here, again, I speak as before, not inthe way of precept, but of doctrine. I am looking at His holy religion as at a {350} distance, and determining what isits general character and spirit, not what may happen to be the duty of this or that individual who has embraced it. Itis His will that all we do should be done, not unto men, or to the world, or to self, but to His glory; and the more weare enabled to do this simply, the more favoured we are. Whenever we act with reference to an object of this world,even though it be ever so pure, we are exposed to the temptation(not irresistible, God forbid!) still to thetemptationof setting our hearts upon obtaining it. And therefore, we call all such objects , as stimulatingexcitements
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us incongruously, casting us out of the serenity and stability of heavenly faith, attracting us aside by their proximityfrom our harmonious round of duties, and making our thoughts converge to something short of that which isinfinitely high and eternal. Such excitements are of perpetual occurrence, and the mere undergoing them, so far frominvolving guilt in the act itself or its results, is the great business of life and the discipline of our hearts. It is often asin to withdraw from them, as has been the case of some perhaps who have gone into monasteries to serve God moreentirely. On the other hand, it is the very duty of the Spiritual Ruler to labour for the flock committed to him, tosuffer and to dare; St. Paul was encompassed with excitements hence arising, and his writings show the agitatingeffect of them on his mind. He was like David, a man of war and blood; and that for our sakes. Still it holds goodthat the essential spirit of the Gospel is "quietness and confidence;" that the possession of these is the highest gift,and to gain them perfectly our main aim. {351}Consequently, however much a duty it is to undergo excitements when they are sent upon us, it is plainlyunchristian, a manifest foolishness and sin, to seek out any such, whether secular or religious. Hence gaming is sogreat an offence; as being a presumptuous creation on our part of a serious, if not an overpowering temptation to fixthe heart upon an object of this world. Hence, the mischief of many amusements, of (what is called) the fashion of the day; which are devised for the very purpose of taking up the thoughts, and making time pass easy. Quite contraryis the Christian temper, which is in its perfect and peculiar enjoyment when engaged in that ordinary, unvariedcourse of duties which God assigns, and which the world calls dull and tiresome. To get up day after day to the sameemployments, and to feel happy in them, is the great lesson of the Gospel; and, when exemplified in those who arealive to the temptation of being busy, it implies a heart weaned from the love of this world. True it is that illness of body, as well as restlessness of mind, may occasionally render such a life a burden; it is true also that indolence,self-indulgence, timidity and other similar bad habits, may adopt it by preference, as a pretext for neglecting moreactive duties. Men of energetic minds and talents for action are called to a life of trouble; they are the compensationsand antagonists of the world's evilsstill let them never forget their place; they are men of war, and we war that wemay obtain peace. They are but men of war, honoured indeed by God's choice, and, in spite of all momentaryexcitements, resting in the depth of their hearts upon {352} the One true Vision of Christian faith; still after all theyare but soldiers in the open field, not builders of the Temple, nor inhabitants of those "amiable" and specially blessed"Tabernacles" where the worshipper lives in praise and intercession, and is militant amid the unostentatious duties of ordinary life. "Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things; but one thing is needful, and Maryhas chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her." [Luke x. 41, 42.] Such is our Lord's judgment,showing that our true happiness consists in being at leisure to serve God without excitements. For this gift weespecially pray in one of our Collects: "Grant, O Lord, that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered byThy governance, that Thy Church may joyfully serve Thee in all godly quietness." [Note 3] Persecution, civilchanges, and the like break in upon the Church's calm. The greatest privilege of a Christian is to have nothing to dowith worldly politics,to be governed and to submit obediently; and though here again selfishness may creep in, andlead a man to neglect public concerns in which he is called to take his share, yet, after all, such participation must beregarded as a duty, scarcely as a privilege, as the fulfilment of trusts committed to him for the good of others, not asthe enjoyment of rights (as men talk in these days of delusion), not as if political power were in itself a good.To return to the subject immediately before us; I say then, that it is a part of Christian caution to see that ourengagements do not become pursuits. Engagements are our portion, but pursuits are for the most {353} part of ourown choosing. We may be engaged in worldly business, without pursuing worldly objects; "not slothful in business,"yet "serving the Lord." In this then consists the danger of the pursuit of gain, as by trade and the like. It is the mostcommon and widely extended of all excitements. It is one in which every one almost may indulge, nay, and will bepraised by the world for indulging. And it lasts through life; in that differing from the amusements and pleasures of the world, which are short-lived, and succeed one after another. Dissipation of mind, which these amusements create,is itself indeed miserable enough: but far worse than this dissipation is the concentration of mind upon some worldlyobject, which admits of being constantly pursued,and such is the pursuit of gain. Nor is it a slight aggravation of theevil, that anxiety is almost sure to attend it. A life of money-getting is a life of care; from the first there is a fearfulanticipation of loss in various ways to depress and unsettle the mind; nay to haunt it, till a man finds he can think about nothing else, and is unable to give his mind to religion, from the constant whirl of business in which he isinvolved. It is well this should be understood. You may hear men talk as if the pursuit of wealth was the business of life. They will argue, that by the law of nature a man is bound to gain a livelihood for his family, and that he finds areward in doing so, an innocent and honourable satisfaction, as he adds one sum to another, and counts up his gains.And perhaps they go on to argue, that it is the very duty of man since Adam's fall, "in the sweat of his face," byeffort and anxiety, "to {354} eat bread." How strange it is that they do not remember Christ's gracious promise,

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