Upon Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount, 8
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18. Secondly. "Trust not in uncertain riches." Trust not in them for help: And trust not in them for happiness.
First. Trust not in them for help. Thou art miserably mistaken if thou lookest for this in gold or silver. These are no more able to set thee above the world than to set thee above the devil. Know that both the world, and the prince of this world, laugh at all such preparations against them. These will little avail in the day of trouble-even if they remain in the trying hour. But it is not certain that they will; for how oft do they "make themselves wings and fly away!" But if not, what support will they afford, even in the ordinary troubles of life? The desire of thy eyes, the wife of thy youth, thy son, thine only son, or the friend which was as thy own soul, is taken away at a stroke. Will thy riches re-animate the breathless clay, or call back its late inhabitant? Will they secure thee from sickness, diseases, pain? Do these visit the poor only? Nay, he that feeds thy flocks or tills thy ground has less sickness and pain than thou. He is more rarely visited by these unwelcome guests: and if they come there at all they are more easily driven away from the little cot than from the "cloud-topt palaces." And during the time that thy body is chastened with pain, or consumes away with pining sickness, how do thy treasures help thee? Let the poor Heathen answer, --
Ut lippum pictae tabulae, fomenta podagrum,
Auriculas citharae collecta sorde dolentes.
[Such help as pictures to sore eyes afford,
As heap'd-up tables to their gouty lord.]
19. But there is at hand a greater trouble than all these. Thou art to die! Thou art to sink into dust; to return to the ground from which thou wast taken, to mix with common clay. Thy body is to go to the earth as it was, while thy spirit returns to God that gave it. And the time draws on: the years slide away with a swift though silent pace. Perhaps your day is far spent: the noon of life is past, and the evening shadows begin to rest upon you. You feel in yourself sure approaching decay. The springs of life wear away apace. Now what help is there in your riches? Do they sweeten death? Do they endear that solemn hour? Quite the reverse. "O death, how bitter art thou to a man that liveth at rest in his possessions!" How unacceptable to him is that awful sentence, "This night shall thy soul be required of thee!" -- Or will they prevent the unwelcome stroke, or protract the dreadful hour? Can they deliver your soul that it should not see death? Can they restore the years that are past? Can they add to your appointed time a month, a day, an hour, a moment? -- Or will the good things you have chosen for your portion here follow you over the great gulf? Not so. Naked came you into this world; naked must you return.
Linquenda tellus, et domus, et placens
Uxor; neque harum quas colis, arborum,
Te, praeter invisam cupressos,
Ulla brevem dominum sequetur!
[The following is Boscawen's translation of these verses from Horace:]
Thy lands, thy dome, thy pleasing wife,
These must thou quit; 'tis nature's doom.
No tree, whose culture charms thy life,
Save the sad cypress, waits thy tomb.
Surely, were not these truths too plain to be observed, because they are too plain to be denied, no man that is to die could possibly trust for help in uncertain riches.
20. And trust not in them for happiness: For here also they will be found "deceitful upon the weights." Indeed this every reasonable man may infer from what has been observed already. For if neither thousands of gold and silver, nor any of the advantages or pleasures purchased thereby, can prevent our being miserable, it evidently follows they cannot make us happy. What happiness can they afford to him who in the midst of all is constrained to cry out,
To my new courts sad thought does still repair,
And round my gilded roofs hangs hovering care?
Indeed experience is here so full, strong, and undeniable, that it makes all other arguments needless. Appeal we therefore to fact. Are the rich and great the only happy men? And is each of them more or less happy in proportion to his measure of riches? Are they happy at all? I had well nigh said, they are of all men most miserable! Rich man, for once, speak the truth from thy heart. Speak, both for thyself, and for thy brethren!
Amidst our plenty something still,-
To me, to thee, to him is wanting!
That cruel something unpossessed
Corrodes and leavens all the rest.
Yea, and so it will, till thy wearisome days of vanity are shut up in the night of death.
Surely then, to trust in riches for happiness is the greatest folly of all that are under the sun! Are you not convinced of this? Is it possible you should still expect to find happiness in money or all it can procure? What! Can silver and gold, and eating and drinking, and horses and servants, and glittering apparel, and diversions and pleasures (as they are called) make thee happy? They can as soon make thee immortal!
21. These are all dead show. Regard them not. Trust thou in the living God; so shalt thou be safe under the shadow of the Almighty; his faithfulness and truth shall be thy shield and buckler. He is a very present help in time of trouble, such an help as can never fail. Then shalt thou say, if all thy other friends die, "The Lord liveth, and blessed be my strong helper!" He shall remember thee when thou liest sick upon thy bed; when vain is the help of man. When all the things of earth can give no support, he will "make all thy bed in thy sickness." He will sweeten thy pain; the consolations of God shall cause thee to clap thy hands in the flames. And even when this house of earth" is well nigh shaken down, when it is just ready to drop into the dust, he will teach thee to say, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be unto God, who giveth" me "the victory, through" my "Lord Jesus Christ."
O trust in Him for happiness as well as for help. All the springs of happiness are in him. Trust in him "who giveth us all things richly to enjoy," pareconti plousivs panta eis apolausin.-- who, of his own rich and free mercy holds them out to us as in his own hand, that receiving them as his gift, and as pledges of his love, we may enjoy all that we possess. It is his love gives a relish to all we taste, -- puts life and sweetness into all, while every creature leads us up to the great Creator, and all earth is a scale to heaven. He transfuses the joys that are at his own right hand into all he bestows on his thankful children; who, having fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, enjoy him in all and above all.
22. Thirdly, seek not to increase in goods. "Lay not up for" thyself "treasures upon earth." This is a flat, positive command; full as clear as "Thou shalt not commit adultery." How then is it possible for a rich man to grow richer without denying the Lord that bought him? Yea, how can any man who has already the necessaries of life gain or aim at more, and be guiltless? "Lay not up," saith our Lord, "treasures upon earth." If, in spite of this, you do and will lay up money or goods, which "moth or rust may corrupt, or thieves break through and steal;" if you will add house to house, or field to field, -- why do you call yourself a Christian? You do not obey Jesus Christ. You do not design it. Why do you name yourself by his name? "Why call ye me, Lord, Lord," saith he himself, "and do not the things which I say?"
23. If you ask, "But what must we do with our goods, seeing we have more than we have occasion to use, if we must not lay them up? Must we throw them away?" I answer: If you threw them into the sea, if you were to cast them into the fire and consume them, they would be better bestowed than they are now. You cannot find so mischievous a manner of throwing them away as either the laying them up for your posterity or the laying them out upon yourselves in folly and superfluity. Of all possible methods of throwing them away, these two are the very worst; the most opposite to the gospel of Christ, and the most pernicious to your own soul.
How pernicious to your own soul the latter of these is has been excellently shown by a late writer: --
"If we waste our money we are not only guilty of wasting a talent which God has given us, but we do ourselves this farther harm, we turn this useful talent into a powerful means of corrupting ourselves; because so far as it is spent wrong, so far it is spent in the support of some wrong temper, in gratifying some vain and unreasonable desires, which as Christians we are obliged to renounce.
"As wit and fine parts cannot be only trifled away, but will expose those that have them to greater follies, so money cannot be only trifled away, but if it is not used according to reason and religion, will make people live a more silly and extravagant life than they would have done without it. If therefore you don't spend your money in doing good to others, you must spend it to the hurt of yourself. You act like one that refuses the cordial to his sick friend which he cannot drink himself without inflaming his blood. For this is the case of superfluous money, if you give it to those who want it is a cordial; if you spend it upon yourself in something that you do not want it only inflames and disorders your mind.
"In using riches where they have no real use, nor we any real want, we only use them to our great hurt, in creating unreasonable desires, in nourishing ill tempers, in indulging in foolish passions, and supporting a vain turn of mind. For high eating and drinking, fine clothes and fine houses, state and equipage, gay pleasures and diversions, do all of them naturally hurt and disorder our heart. They are the food and nourishment of all the folly and weakness of our nature. They are all of them the support of something that ought not to be supported. They are contrary to that sobriety and piety of heart which relishes divine things. They are so many weights upon our mind, that makes us less able and less inclined to raise our thoughts and affections to things above.
"So that money thus spent is not merely wasted or lost, but it is spent to bad purposes and miserable effects; to the corruption and disorder of our hearts; to the making us unable to follow the sublime doctrines of the gospel. It is but like keeping money from the poor to buy poison for ourselves."
24. Equally inexcusable are those who lay up what they do not need for any reasonable purposes: --
"If a man had hands and eyes and feet that he could give to those that wanted them; if he should lock them up in a chest instead of giving them to his brethren that were blind and lame, should we not justly reckon him an inhuman wretch? If he should rather choose to amuse himself with hoarding them up than entitle himself to an eternal reward by giving them to those that wanted eyes and hands, might we not justly reckon him mad?
"Now money has very much the nature of eyes and feet. If therefore we lock it up in chests, while the poor and distressed want it for their necessary uses, we are not far from the cruelty of him that chooses rather to hoard up the hands and eyes than to give them to those that want them. If we choose to lay it up rather than to entitle ourselves to an eternal reward by disposing of our money well, we are guilty of his madness that rather chooses to lock up eyes and hands than to make himself for ever blessed by giving them to those that want them."
25. May not this be another reason why rich men shall so hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven? A vast majority of them are under a curse, under the peculiar curse of God; inasmuch as in the general tenor of their lives they are not only robbing God continually, embezzling and wasting their Lord's goods, and by that very means corrupting their own souls; but also robbing the poor, the hungry, the naked, wronging the widow and the fatherless, and making themselves accountable for all the want, affliction, and distress which they may but do not remove. Yea, doth not the blood of all those who perish for want of what they either lay up or lay out needlessly, cry against them from the earth? O what account will they give to him who is ready to judge both the quick and the dead!
26. The true way of employing what you do not want yourselves you may, Fourthly, learn from those words of our Lord which are the counterpart of what went before: "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven; where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal." Put out whatever thou canst spare upon better security than this world can afford. Lay up thy treasures in the bank of heaven; and God shall restore them in that day. "He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord, and look, what he layeth out, it shall be paid him again." "Place that," saith he, "unto my account. Howbeit, thou owest me thine own self besides!"
Give to the poor with a single eye, with an upright heart, and write, "So much given to God." For "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
This is the part of a "faithful and wise steward:" Not to sell either his houses or lands, or principal stock, be it more or less, unless some peculiar circumstance should require it; and not to desire or endeavour to increase it, any more than to squander it away in vanity; but to employ it wholly to those wise and reasonable purposes for which his Lord has lodged it in his hands. The wise steward, after having provided his own household with what is needful for life and godliness, makes himself friends with all that remains from time to time of the "mammon of unrighteousness; that when he fails they may receive him into everlasting habitations," -- that whensoever his earthly tabernacle is dissolved, they who were before carried into Abraham's bosom, after having eaten his bread, and worn the fleece of his flock, and praised God for the consolation, may welcome him into paradise, and to "the house of God, eternal in the heavens."
27. We "charge" you, therefore, "who are rich in this world," as having authority from our great Lord and Master, agadoergein, -- to be habitually doing good, to live in a course of good works. "Be ye merciful as your Father which is in heaven is merciful;" who doth good, and ceaseth not. "Be ye merciful," -- how far? After your power, with all the ability which God giveth. Make this your only measure of doing good, not any beggarly maxims or customs of the world. We charge you to "be rich in good works;" as you have much, to give plenteously. "Freely ye have received; freely give;" so as to lay up no treasure but in heaven. Be ye "ready to distribute" to everyone according to his necessity. Disperse abroad, give to the poor: deal your bread to the hungry. Cover the naked with a garment, entertain the stranger, carry or send relief to them that are in prison. Heal the sick; not by miracle, but through the blessing of God upon your seasonable support. Let the blessing of him that was ready to perish through pining want come upon thee. Defend the oppressed, plead the cause of the fatherless, and make the widow's heart sing for joy.
28. We exhort you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to be "willing to communicate;" koinvnikous einai: to be of the same spirit (though not in the same outward state) with those believers of ancient times, who remained steadfast en th koinvnia, in that blessed and holy fellowship, wherein "none said that anything was his own, but they had all things common." Be a steward, a faithful and wise steward, of God and of the poor; differing from them in these two circumstances only, that your wants are first supplied out of the portion of your Lord's goods which remains in your hands, and that you have the blessedness of giving. Thus "lay up for yourselves a good foundation," not in the world which now is, but rather "for the time to come, that ye may lay hold on eternal life." The great foundation indeed of all the blessings of God, whether temporal or eternal, is the Lord Jesus Christ, -- his righteousness and blood, -- what he hath done, and what he hath suffered for us. And "other foundation," in this sense, "can no man lay;" no, not an Apostle, no, not an angel from heaven. But through his merits, whatever we do in his name is a foundation for a good reward in the day when "every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour." Therefore "labour" thou "not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life." Therefore "whatsoever thy hand" now "findeth to do, do it with thy might." Therefore let
No fair occasion pass unheeded by;
Snatching the golden moments as they fly,
Thou by few fleeting years ensure eternity!
"By patient continuance in well-doing, seek" thou "for glory and honour and immortality." In a constant, zealous performance of all good works, wait thou for that happy hour when the King shall say, "I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink. I was a stranger, and ye took me in, Naked, and ye clothed me. I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me. -- Come, ye blessed of my Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!"
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[Edited by Jean Fogerson, student at Northwest Nazarene College (Nampa, ID), with corrections by George Lyons for the Wesley Center for Applied Theology.] The text for John Wesley's sermons originally came from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.