Charge them that are rich in this world. I.
THE DANGERS OF THE RICH are manifold, but only two or three are suggested here.
1. The danger of self-conceit is hinted at in the words, "Charge them that are rich in this world that they be not high-minded." The vulgar boasting of wealth, and the ostentatious display of it, are indications of this. Again, the self-sufficiency that leads a successful man to attribute all his gains to his own shrewdness and diligence, and to speak contemptuously of those who never get on in the world, as if God had nothing to do with his physical energy and mental calibre, with the education and training of his youth, or with the unexpected opportunities of his manhood, is another sign of "high-mindedness." The pride which refuses to associate with those whose income is smaller, and which will hold aloof from intelligent and religious men and women, in order to cultivate acquaintance with those whose minds are shallow, but whose establishments are costly, and whose influence in the money market is great.
2. Another danger threatening rich men is that of trusting to uncertain riches. It is on this evanescence that Paul lays stress when he speaks of the folly of trusting to them. He hints at the conquest of this by exercising confidence in the living God, who giveth us all things richly to enjoy. The remembrance of the fact that God gave you money adds sacredness to it, a sense of responsibility in the use of it, and arouses the gratitude and praise which are His due.
II. THE OPPORTUNITIES OF THE RICH are as noteworthy as their dangers.
1. They can "do good" to others, and many a noble institution has its source in the generous and wise gifts of those whom God has prospered. But besides this —
2. They can do noble things. The words used by Paul, which are both rendered "good" (in the R.V. as well as the A.V.), have not the same meaning in Greek. They would be better translated, "Charge them that they do good, and that they be rich in noble deeds." The latter word used by Paul signifies what is honourable and lovely in itself. It fell from the lips of our Lord when He described Mary's act of devotion. Rich men can afford to make wise and noble experiments in philanthropy and in Christian enterprise.
III. THE RECOMPENSE OF THE RICH who are thus faithful is not obscurely taught in the words which describe them as laying up in store for themselves "a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life." Of course, Paul does not mean that they gain eternal life by their good works. No one insists more strongly than he does on the fact that salvation is the gift of sovereign grace to the sinful and undeserving. But from its nature this grace becomes a talent, with which we are to do service for God. And since the nature of the future recompense is found in the development of life, all that makes that life more full of possibility and of result lays up in store a good foundation against the time to come. The fact is, that the connection between this life and that is far closer than many imagine it to be.
To trust in riches, is to trust in what we may never acquire; to trust in God, is to trust in Him whom we may always depend on finding.
2. To trust in riches, is to trust in what cannot avail us in the various calamities which occur in the course of human life; to trust in God, is to trust in One who will always be with us in all our straits and trials.
3. To trust in riches, is to trust in what cannot meet the wants of the heart, if it is found; to trust in God, is to trust in One who can fully supply all our need.
4. To trust in riches, is to trust in what we may be deprived of in a moment, or may gradually lose; to trust in God, is to trust in One whom we can never be deprived of, and never shall lose.
5. To trust in riches, is to trust in what we must all part with at last; to trust in God, is to trust in One who will be ours for ever.
6. Many and great are the blessings of every kind which this trust in God, rather than in riches, will secure to us.(1) It will teach us to moderate our desires after riches, and to be less eager than we often are in the pursuit of them.(2) It will show us how we may mingle the right pursuit of temporal things with that supreme regard to spiritual things which their paramount importance entitles them to.(3) It will enable us, when worldly losses come, to bear up patiently and hopefully under them, and to hear the voice of God speaking to us in them.(4) It will teach us the responsibility which is always connected with the possession of any portion of earthly things, and remind us of the account which we must give to God for the way we have used them.
The apostle sets before us, in the text, two applications of the same human affection. He bids us not to "trust in uncertain riches," but to trust "in the living God." He assumes that this trusting impulse exists, and he would not destroy but reform it. He would exhibit the true and eternal object for a tendency in itself indestructible; and would intimate that there is pre pared for the just desires of the soul a sphere of being, adequate to these desires, and from which the present detains us, only as the counterfeit and mockery of it! On the one hand "uncertain riches"; on the other the parallel announcement, that "God giveth us richly all things to enjoy." And thus the Spirit, that spoke in the exhortation of Paul, instructs in the great truth, that the faculties of men are themselves a mechanism for eternity; that it is not they — it is not Love, and Reliance, and Hope, and Desire — but their habitual objects, that man must toil to change. On this important matter, then, I shall first endeavour briefly to engage your attention, and I shall then attempt to illustrate the melancholy extent of the actual perversion of our nature, by showing how, even in their wanderings, these affections betray the higher purpose for which they were primarily intended, and how — more especially in the instance noted in the text, the "trust in riches" man still unconsciously invests with the very attributes of perfect felicity,, of heaven, and of God, the earthly idol to which he sacrifices both! There are those, then, who speak with solemn and prophetic truth of the change which comes over the aspect of the human soul, when, for the first time, "awaking to righteousness," it is introduced (while yet in the world of time) into the eternal world, and becomes cognizant of the glories, till then unseen, that surround "the throne of God and the Lamb." But when, from the dignity and circumstances of the change, men pass to define its natured there is often, it seems to me, much inaccuracy and some imprudence in their statements. We find it sometimes described as if no one element of human nature were to remain in the regenerate spirit. The declaration that a new heart is bestowed is taken in almost the fulness of a literal acceptation. All the old machinery of humanity is discarded; the "works" are, as it were, taken out of the case of the instrument, and a totally new organization of passions and affections provided. The spiritual renewal is thus falsely, I think, and dangerously, made to consist, not in "setting" our emancipated "affections upon things above" — not in the privilege of having "the whole body, and soul, and spirit preserved blameless until the coming of Christ," but in the acquisition of some indescribable affections (if such they may be called), which, though they be named love and desire, are no longer human love and human desire, but differing almost as much, it would seem, from these affections as they are in our hearts, as love and hate differ from each other! Hence that mystic and dangerous mode of representation too common among a large class of teachers, which would exalt the "love to God," for example, beyond all human conception, not merely in the dignity of its object (in which, I need not say, no language could overstate it), but even in the very nature of the feeling; as if the love of a devoted friend was one thing and intelligible, but the love to God quite another affection, and all but incomprehensible! The error of all such cases is the same — the notion that in the work of renewal new faculties are given us, instead of a new direction to the old ones; the notion that God annihilates human nature when He only perfects it; to destroy the channels themselves, instead of cleansing their polluted streams, and then replenishing them for ever with the waters of Paradise! As long as men conceived that the religious affections are in their essence wholly different from every other affection, they will inevitably conclude that the training and discipline for them must be itself equally different. So far for the general principle involved in the particular exhortation of the apostle, the principle that the same affections which cling to the lowly earth are those which must struggle, under celestial guidance, to find their rest in God. "Trust not in riches, but [trust] in the living God!" Blessed invitation I How it exalts, even while it reproves, our fettered nature! Trust, yes, trust with a devotedness such as the wildest frenzy of avarice has never exhibited! Trust, and fear not! It is among the noblest energies of your being — it was never given in vain. Trust, but "trust in the living God!" Preserve unbroken every element of your affections; they are all alike the property of heaven. Be ambitious, but ambitious of the eternal heritage, Labour after knowledge, but let it be "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ!" Be it ours to find in the new world unveiled in the gospel the true materials of these holy desires, and so to train them while on earth for the society of heaven. I have but this moment glanced at a topic which might well demand deeper and fuller illustration. I mean the change which the fact of the incarnation of God most rightfully make in all that concerns the laws and regulation of the human affections. For, after all, these affections do, doubtless, strive, in the first instance, towards human objects; human themselves, they naturally cling to the human outside and beyond them. Ever since God became incarnate, this tendency precludes not their direct passage to heaven; nay, it quickens and guides it. It would have been little short of miracle, that even the most pious should maintain the state of perpetual contemplative affection towards the awful essence of the unmingled God. But when that God became man this difficulty was removed. The direct pathway to heaven was opened to the human heart. And the more you regard the passage, the more will you perceive that such views as those I have sketched were, in substance, the views which occupied the inspired teacher. His whole object is manifestly to contrast the two rivals for the human heart, the worlds visible and invisible; and hence it is that the text before us is the natural sequel to the preceding verse, where the glory of the eternal God is unveiled in all its majesty as the object which is to fix the affections of man. There is, proclaims St. Paul (ver. 15), a "blessed and only Potentate," who is hereafter to determine, "in His own time" (as it is emphatically called), the appearing of Christ Jesus in glory. This Being demands, as His inalienable right, all the energies of all the affections; for no inferior claimant can interfere with Him, who is "King of kings and Lord of lords." Then comes the exhortation. Seeing that such a privilege as this is ours (ver. 17), "charge them that are rich in this world," that they interpose not a veil between themselves and this Father of their spirits, or suffer the clouds and vapours of earth to sully or eclipse the beams of this eternal sun. "Charge them, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy!" Our earthly objects of pursuit are themselves clad by hope with colours that rightfully belong only to their celestial rivals; our ordinary earthly longings themselves strain after a really heavenly happiness, while they miss so miserably the way to reach it; that, in other words, in the treasuries of heaven are laid up all that you truly covet, even while, by a wretched illusion, you labour after their mockeries on earth! Surely, if this can be proved, no conceivable argument can more powerfully demonstrate how we are made for religion, and can only find our true rest there! Now the truth is, so wholly are we framed for the eternal world, that we must make a heaven of earth before we can fully enjoy it. God has so inwoven, in the innermost texture of our nature, the title and testimonies of the immortal state for which He made us, that, mingled with the perishable elements of earth, it is, even now, for ever around us; it rises in all our dreams, it colours all our thoughts, it haunts us with longings we cannot repel; in our very vices it reveals itself, for they cannot charm us till they have more or less counterfeited it. There are aspirations turned astray, that, even in their distortion, attest their origin and purpose, There are warped, and crippled, and polluted hopes, that, even from their dungeon of flesh, still cry to heaven. In the spirit of these convictions, turn again to the text. To whom does the apostle enjoin the exhortation? To "them that are rich in this world." What does he here assume? He assumes the existence of wealth, and, involved in that existence, the desire to attain it, which is the necessary motive for its accumulation. He assumes that there resides in the heart of man the desire to build up around it the means of perpetual enjoyment, to secure to itself the materials of happiness — of happiness, for such is the specific essence of moneyed wealth, that may be independent of the moment, and which (as it were, condensed in its representative) may be preserved for a period indefinitely future. But what terms, save these, shall we employ, when we would depict the heaven of the Scripture revelation? What characters are these but the very properties of God's eternal world? And so far is it not manifest that the votary of earthly wealth does in fact, with all the energies of his nature, strain after that very security of unchangeable bliss which we preach; but, mistaking the illusory phantom, weds his whole soul to the fictitious heaven, which the powers of evil have clothed in colours stolen from the skies? The delusion produces its own delusive results. But these also are but the shadowy copies of a bright and holy reality. Every attribute of the eager candidate for earthly happiness and security is but the poor semblance of the very state the Christian already possesses or anticipates. The rich are first warned of the peril of what is here called "high-mindedness"; a word whose happy ambiguity perfectly corresponds to my argument. But as there is a worldly and Satanic high-mindedness, so is this, as before, but the counterfeit presentment of a high-mindedness God-given and celestial. Laying deep its foundations in self-abasement, the doctrine of faith alone bestows the blessed confidence, without which the Christian may be the inconsolable penitent, the mortified ascetic, the prostrate trembler before an offended God; but without which he is, nevertheless, but half a Christian. The happy confidence of the children of God is an element which, though false teaching may exaggerate, no true teaching will ever discard. It is not for nothing that he is bid to rest upon the Rock of Ages, and to anticipate upon earth the repose of immortality. Here, then, is the "high-mindedness" of the Christian; here is the truth to match that worldly falsehood, that high-mindedness base and debasing; here is the bright, unchanging fire, which the votary of this world would rake among the dust and ashes of earth to enkindle! Once more, the "rich in this world" is warned, not merely of the peril of self-exaltation, but also of that of unbounded "trust" in the fleeting riches he accumulates. The contrast I need not here insist on. We have already noticed it, and the apostle himself has expressly enforced it. The "living God" and His liberal graces arise to claim the homage of the "trusting" heart. The dependent on riches makes them his god, in making them the object of his dependence. Heaven is here again defrauded of its own, and all the charms of the Divine character, the charms that fix and fascinate the adoring believer in Christ — its abiding permanence, its just sovereignty, its fixed security, its unshaken falthfulness — all are torn from the throne of God to clothe the idol of the worshipper of wealth!
Every condition of life hath its peculiar dangers to be avoided and duties to be done, but none hath dangers more threatening or duties more important than that of the rich and great: whose situation, notwithstanding, is seldom considered by those who are in it as having anything to be feared; and is generally imagined by others to comprehend almost everything that is to be wished. To be thus environed with temptations, and probably sensible of none of. them, is a most pitiable condition. Now the peculiar dangers of the rich and great arises either from the eminence of their station or the abundance of their wealth: and therefore the text points a caution against each. But I shall be able at present to treat only of the first: which is, THAT THEY BE NOT HIGH-MINDED. Every superiority of every sort, which men only imagine themselves possessed of, is too liable to be over-rated and improperly used. But superior fortune and condition are advantages so visible to all eyes, create such dependences, and give such influence, that it is no wonder if they tempt to uncommon haughtiness. Now undoubtedly distinguished rank is entitled to distinguished regard; and the good order of society very much depends on keeping up that regard; and therefore the great should in a proper manner be much more careful to keep it up than many of them are. But when they nurse up the consciousness of their own superiority into a contemptuous neglect of others and insolent expectations of unfit submissions from them, they have great need to be reminded that respect is paid to wealth and birth because the common good requires it, not because the persons who receive it are always worthy of it; but their dishonourable behaviour will be the more conspicuous for their honourable station. And even supposing them guilty of nothing else to lessen the esteem they claim, yet claiming too much of it, or too openly, will frustrate their intention most effectually. For neither equals nor inferiors will suffer near so much to be extorted from them as they would have bestowed most freely on their own accord. But one sort of condescension to inferiors may be of peculiar advantage; I mean listening to useful information and advice from them, things which the great are very apt to think themselves above, when every one else sees they have much need of them. Neither affluence nor high rank by any means imply superiority of judgment. But if humility in the great could be no ether way beneficial to them, yet avoiding the guilt of so injurious a behaviour as indulging a proud spirit prompts them to, is surely a motive important enough. Thus too many treat their tenants hardly, or permit them to be so treated. Another sort of persons, for whom superiors too commonly will not vouchsafe to have the consideration that they ought, are those who come to them upon business. Obliging such to an unreasonable attendance, making them wait long, and it may be return often, is a very provoking and a very injurious kind of stateliness. But there is another fault still worse frequently joined with this; deeming it beneath their notice whether such of their inferiors as have just and reasonable demands upon them are paid when they ought. Another very blameable and very pernicious instance of high-mindedness in the great is imagining the management of their families an attention too low for them. Even that of their children they very commonly despise to an astonishing degree. Or if they have humility enough to inspect some part of their education, it is usually the outward and showy but less material part. Now proceed to the latter, TRUSTING IN UNCERTAIN RICHES: which phrase comprehends placing the happiness of life either in wealth itself or in those pleasures and amusements which it is commonly made the instrument of procuring. The prohibition therefore of doing this extends to regulate the acquisition, the possession, and use of a great fortune; and to go through the subject fully, each of these points must be considered.
1. The acquisition. In speculation it seems hardly to be expected that any one who is once master of enough to answer his real and reasonable wants should feel any desire almost, on his own account, of having more: that he should take much pains about is very wonderful; and that he should do anything wrong for it quite unaccountable. No temptation is a warrant for doing wrong; but to do wrong without anything that deserves the name of a temptation is exceedingly bad. And it cannes be nature, but merely an absurd habit wilfully indulged, that tempts men to accumulate what they have no need of. But though riches alone render eagerness for more very blameable and unbecoming, yet greatness added to them doubles the fault. For exalted rank absolutely calls for the exercise of honourable disinterestedness.
2. Concerning the possession of it. Now keeping a heap of wealth merely for the sake of keeping it is an apparent absurdity. Keeping it merely for the repute of having it is a very low inducement. And if laying up against future accidents be pretended, a moderate store will suffice for a reasonable security, and nothing can secure us absolutely. Indeed the larger the fortune, the more room for accidents in one part or another of it; and the loss of a small part will be as grievous to a heart set upon riches as that of a larger to another man. Besides, whoever lives only to the purpose of saving and accumulating will be tempted by this ruling passion to a sinful neglect of the poor and the worthy among his friends and dependants, perhaps among his relations and very children. But besides the sins which may be committed in the getting or keeping of wealth, there are —
3. Others, committed too frequently in using it; which persons of superior fortune and rank must be charged to avoid, and which undoubtedly the text comprehends. For putting their trust in riches is just as much the description of those who place the happiness of life in the enjoyment of large estates as those who place it in the possession of them. Some trust in their riches so very inconsiderately that they trust there will never be an end of them, let them be squandered as extravagantly as they will. So they set out with gratifying themselves in everything. Others, if they do not dissipate their estates in so wild a manner, yet use them principally to minister to their sensuality and debauchery; vices which men of superior fortune somehow imagine they have a sort of right to be guilty of. Another very bad use of wealth, in which too many seem to place no small part of their happiness, is that of gaming. But supposing wealth be neither spent in this nor any of the gross vices mentioned before, yet if it be employed in ministering to a course of more decent and refined luxury, or in supporting such a pomp of life as nourishes vanity and pride, or in filling so much time with unprofitable entertainment, that little room is left in the mind for objects of importance: these things also the rich and great must be charged to amend.I proceed to THE DUTIES OF WHICH HE ENJOINS THEY SHALL BE PECULIARLY REMINDED.
1. The first is, to trust in the living God, who giveth us all things richly to enjoy. After warning them against placing their happiness in the pre-eminences, the possessions or pleasures of this world, it was very natural to direct them where they should place it: for somewhere-we must. And his precept carries the proof of its own fitness along with it. For the living God must have the greatest power to reward our trust, and He who giveth us all things richly to enjoy hath shown Himself to have the greatest will also. Some persons, it may be, when they are pressed upon the subject, will plead that they are by no means without inward regard to God; though they cannot say they give much outward demonstration of it in acts of worship. But supposing them sincere, what reason can there be why respect to God should not be paid outwardly when respect to every superior besides is? But it is possible for us to keep up a sufficient possession of religion to secure both public order and domestic tranquility, yet by no means have a sufficient sense of it for obtaining eternal life; and what will the former avail us without the latter? We should all, therefore, learn to live more to our Maker; to imprint on our hearts and exert in our whole behaviour a stronger sense of His present providence and future rewards. It would be a direction, a security, an improvement, a comfort to us beyond expression.
2. The second duty prescribed in the text as peculiarly necessary for the rich and great is that they do good, that they be rich in good works. If men of rank and fortune observe duly the preceding part of the apostle's charge, they will easily be induced to observe the concluding one. If they are neither so high-minded as to neglect and despise their fellow-creatures, nor so selfish as to trust in uncertain riches, in the acquisition, the possession, or voluptuous enjoyment of them, for their happiness, but expect it only from their acceptance with the living God; they will naturally imitate Him whom they desire to please, particularly in His beneficence, the most amiable of all His perfections. And it is not by their wealth only that they are able and therefore called to do good, but by their whole behaviour. But still, though almsgiving is by no means the whole of beneficence, yet it is an essential part in those whom God hath qualified for it. And He hath given them all things richly and in plenty, not merely for themselves to enjoy in the vulgar sense, but that others may enjoy a due share of them and they the pleasure of imparting it; the worthiest and highest enjoyment of wealth that can be. But, in general, that both our charity and our generosity should bear some decent and liberal proportion to our abilities, and the rich in this world be rich in good works also. Nor is it sufficient for the rich to give plentifully, but they must do it on every fit occasion speedily; be ready to distribute and not stay till the circumstances of the poor are beyond recovery or their spirits broken under the weight of their misfortunes, but make haste to help them and, as far as possible, prevent distress.
A good example of liberality was given by Mr. Thornton, of Clapham, a noble-hearted Christian merchant. One morning, when he had received news of a failure that involved him in a loss of no less than a hundred thousand pounds, a minister from the country called at his countinghouse to ask a subscription for an important object. Hearing that Mr. Thornton had suffered that loss, he apologized for having called. But Mr. Thornton took him kindly by the hand: "My dear sir, the wealth I have is not mine, but the Lord's. It may be that He is going to take it out of my hands and give it to another; and if so, this is a good reason why I should make a good use of what is left." He then doubled the subscription he had formerly intended to give.
That they do good
Live for some purpose in the world. Act your part well. Fill up the measure of duty to others. Conduct yourselves so that you shall be missed with sorrow when you are gone. Multitudes of our species are living in such a selfish manner that they are not likely to be remembered after their disappearance. They leave behind them scarcely any traces of their existence, but are forgotten almost as though they had never been. They are, while they live, like one pebble lying unobserved amongst a million on the shore; and when they die, they are like that same pebble thrown into the sea, which just ruffles the surface, sinks, and is forgotten, without being missed from the beach. They are neither regretted by the rich, wanted by the poor, nor celebrated by the learned. Who has been the better for their life? Who has been the worse for their death? Whose tears have they dried up? whose wants supplied? whose miseries have they healed? Who would unbar the gate of life to re-admit them to existence? or what face would greet them back again to our world with a smile? Wretched, unproductive mode of existence! Selfishness is its own curse; it is a starving vice. The man who does no good gets none. He is like the heath in the desert, neither yielding fruit nor seeing when good cometh — a stunted, dwarfish, miserable shrub.
We shall then know better than we do now know that every soul on its way to eternity has its appointed times and seasons of good, which, if they be allowed to pass away shall never, never return again. Though the person be not lost, yet the innocence, the heroism, the saintliness, may be. We must, therefore, lose no opportunity of doing good to the souls and bodies of those whom God's good providence has put under our care, because if we miss it by our own fault, it may never again be allowed to us; the persons whom God intended us to profit may be taken out of our reach, may be taken into another world before they come in our way again.
An eminent surgeon, who was also an eminent Christian, visited a lady who was a professed believer in Christ, but who, like some ladies I have heard of, was frequently troubled with imaginary diseases. The good doctor was frequently called in, until at last he said to her, "Madam, I will give you a prescription which I am certain will make a healthy woman of you, if you will follow it." "Sir," she said, "I shall be so glad to have good health that I will be sure to follow it." "Madam, I will send you the prescription this evening." When it arrived it consisted of these words, "Do good to somebody." She roused herself to relieve a poor neighbour, and then sought out others who needed her help, and the Christian woman, who had been so constantly desponding and nervous, became a healthy, cheerful woman, for she had an object to live for, and found joy in doing good to others.
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