1 Timothy 6:17-19
Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God…
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!
(W. A. Butler.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;
WEB: Charge those who are rich in this present world that they not be haughty, nor have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches, but on the living God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy;