Text St. Luke 12:15
Dixit igitur eis, Videte & cavete ab avaritia: nec enim cujusquam vita ex iis quæ ipsi suppetunt, in eo sita est ut redundet.
And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
Here Christ gives two commandements to covetous men; First, To discern and see the sinne of covetousnesse; Secondly, To beware of it.
Against the latter of them, as against every other Commandement, the corrupt nature of man makes two questions, First of Rebellion, Why should we beware? Secondly, of Ignorance, How shall we beware?
[538/539] The former question is resolved in three wayes. First, We must beware of it, because the sinne of covetousnesse is hardly avoided, the desire of having aboundance is so rooted in the hearts of all men. Secondly, Because, as it is hardly avoided, so it is a sinne very hainous in Gods sight, being committed, howsoever we perswade our selves, that those sinnes are the least, that are naturally planted in us. Thirdly, Because whereas men may repent for other sinnes, they can hardly repent of this. For other immoderate desires doe cease by two means; either when they are satisified, or else when death doth approach. Covetousnesse doth yield to neither of these means; for the more that riches increase the more doth his covetous desire increase; and the neerer that death is, the more doth a covetous man imbrace his riches and still covet more.
Touching this second question. Though we be perswaded that we ought to avoid this sinne, yet we know not how; and therefore we ask, How shall we avoid it? The word of God appoints us three meanes, First, Trust in God: Secondly, Prayer against the sinne: Thirdly, Meditations concerning the same.
First, it is a good way, for the avoiding of covetousnesse to trust in God for that is a thing that the heart of a covetous man will not set himself against: He will in no wise follow the counsell of the Philosopher which teacheth, That to avoid covetousnesse, a man must give himself to the actions of prodigality; he would rather hear how he might get money, than how to spend that he hath: But if he be advised to put his trust in God, he will not be against that, as a thing which is not so contrary to his sinne as prodigality: But this means doth the Scripture inculcate Trust not in uncertain riches, the first epistle to Timothy, the sixt[h] chapter. If riches increase set not your hearts upon them Psalm the sixty second: Riches avail not in the day of wrath, Divitias nam perdet in die iræ, Proverbs, the eleventh chapter and the fourth verse: Let not the rich man glory in his riches, Jeremiah the ninth chapter and the twenty third verse. As the Scripture exhorts us, not to trust in riches; so it sets forth examples of them that in vain put there trust therein: For this is the man that took not God for his strength, but trusted in the multitude of his riches, Psalme the fifty second. But of confidence in God it speaketh thus, it is better to trust in the Lord, than to put confidence in man, Psalm one hundred [and] eighteen; O Lord of hosts! blessed is the man that putteth his trust in Thee, Psalme the eighty fourth; Our fathers trusted in thee, and thou didest deliver them, Psalme the twenty second and the fourth verse; The lyon shall hunger, but such as trust in the Lord shall want no good thing, Psalme the thirty fourth and the tenth verse. A horse is a vain thing to save a man, but the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, and trust in his mercie; Psalme the thirty third and the seventeenth verse; To deliver their souls from death, and to feed them in the time of dearth. After that a man hath admitted this opinion, which so confirmed by Scripture, then there is cause to perswade him; for the Apostle gives two commands, in the first to Timothy, the sixt[h] chapter and the seventeenth verse, [539/540] Charge the rich of this world, not to trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God; and to distribute. To teach them, That the cause why men doe not distribute, is for want of trust in God. They could be content to sow good works; but they look up and fear a cloud of poverty will come upon them, and they shall want themselves; which would not be if they did trust in God: but men give more trust to the uncertainty of riches, than to the certainty of God's promise. To help this error, our Saviour saith, Care not; for your heavenly Father knoweth that you need all these things, Matthew, the sixt[h] chapter and the thirty second verse; and the Apostle saith, Let your conversation be without covetousnesse; for God hath said, I will not leave thee, nor forsake thee, Hebrews, the thirteenth chapter and the fifth verse. If we were perswaded, that he that seeks to obtain Gods favour by doing good works, layeth up a better foundation for the time to come, than he that heaps up riches, the first epistle to Timothy, the sixt[h] chapter and nineteenth verse; it would make us use this means, for the avoiding of covetousnesse. For be a man never so rich in this world, and never so honourable, yet his glorie shall not goe with him Psalm the fourty ninth and the seventeenth verse. But their works follow them, opera sua sequuntur eos, Apoc. the fourteenth chapter and the thirtieth verse. Therefore it were good for us rather to respect and provide for the time to come. And as it is good for the life to come, so for this life present; For a little that the righteous hath, is better than great riches of the ungodly, Psalme the thirty seventh and the sixteenth verse; And Godlinesse hath promise of this life and that which is to come, the first epistle to Timothie, the fourth chapter and the eight[h] verse. Again to trust in God, and not in riches, is a better foundation, not for ourselves only, but for our prosperity; I never saw the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread, Psalme the thirty seventh and the twenty first verse; the seed of the righteous is blessed, Psalme one hundred and twelve and the second verse.
The second means to avoid this sinne is Prayer; either with a moderate desire to pray with Salomon, Proverbs, the thirtieth chapter, That God will give neither poverty nor riches; or with David, Psalme one hundred and nineteenth, Incline my heart to thy Laws, and not to covetousnesse. And this is a good means, such as a covetous man will easily admit: For howsoever the sin of covetousnesse be rooted in the hearts of man, yet when he considers the danger that he is in by the same, he will pray that he were not so covetous. And howsoever the Apostle saith, The prayer of a righteous man availeth much, if it be fervent Oratio justi servens prævalet, James, the fift[h] chapter and the sixteenth verse, yet God will sometime hear the prayer of a wicked man, if it be not fervent, yet if it be offered up often, it will not be in vain; not by the violence or weight, but by often rising up, as the water that often falls makes the stone hollow. The prayers of wicked men are turned into sinne, if they be ordained to sinne, Psalme the hundred and ninth and the seventh verse: And God doth not hear them that ask to spend upon their lusts, James the fourth chapter and the third verse. [540/541] But when wicked men pray against sinne, and seek for grace to destroy sinne in them, God doth not reject these prayers, For Christ will not quench the smoaking flax: and the sudden flashing of such desires in the hearts of coveteous men, though they be not so vehement as the prayers of righteous men, Matthew, the twelfth chapter. Christ did not quench the small desire that was in Zaccheus at the first, but accepted of it, so that it grew to be desire of shewing greater works of liberality. Luke, 19.
The third means is Meditation. Every covetous man hath these flashing desires in his heart, that he were so covetous; As Balaam, though he lived wickedly, yet desired to dye the death of the righteous. But that those desires may be constant; they must arise from meditation, which will stirre them up often; For so they will tanquam lumen crescens ad meridiem, Proverbs, the fourth chapter and the eighteenth verse; Whereas otherwise they are as the sudden flash of lightning, that doth no sooner appear, but is presently gone. Therefore that he may avoid this sinne, the covetous man among all his thought of vanity, I will goe to the Citie and buy and sell, James the fourth chapter; I will pull down my barns and make greater; I will eat and drink, Luke, the twelfth chapter, must use these true thoughts, which only keep him from it: First, he must think of the means, whereby he obtains riches. Secondly, of riches, what it is to be rich, and what riches are. That he may consider of the means of getting rich as he ought, he must think first, To how many cares he is brought with the desire with the desire of being rich; how infinite and intricate his cares are; that they are like thornes; he hath no sooner rid himself of one care, but another ariseth in his heart; For when a man hath enough, yet still he hath his cares: They that want meat and drink doe but say, What shall we eat and drink? Matthew, the sixt[h] chapter, and the rich men that have to eat and drink, are also carefull to have more, and to enlarge their barnes to receive more, Luke, the twelfth chapter; therefore the Apostle saith well, They that will be rich, pearce themsleves with many sorrows, the first epistle to Timothy, the sixt[h] chapter. Secondly, and verse two, to how many sinnes the covetous man doth endanger his soul, while, to gather riches, he sticketh not to sinne against God, by oppression, by deceit, by perjury, swearing, and unrighteous dealing. Thirdly, to how many judgments and plagues of God he is subject, by means of these sinnes, even while he is in this life. Fourthly, that by means of his impenitencie, he is like to perish for ever: For whereas there is a sorrow due to every sinne, which being committed, by repentance is remitted and feeleth mercy at the hands of God. The sinne of the covetous man is so rooted in him, that he cannot be sorry for it: the more he hath, the more he still desireth: and the neerer he is to death, the more he cleaveth to his sinne of covetousnesse. If he will be truly penitent for his sinne, he must make restitution, as Zacheus, Luke, the nineteenth chapter; Poenitentia non agitur nisi restituitur, & non remittitur peccatum nisi restituatur ablatum. But this is that which makes a covetous man sinne grievous before God, 541/542. That he cannot make restitution, which not withstanding must be made, and other sinnes require no restitution; therefore Christ saith well, That it is as hard for a rich man to enter in to the Kingdom of Heaven, as for a Camel to passe though the eys of a needle, Matthew, the nineteenth chapter. When the young man was willed to sell all he had, and to give to the poor, he was very sore greived; so loath are they to restore that which they have unjustly gotten together. But howsoever the Doctrine of restitution is durus sermo, yet it is sanus sermo. The consideration of these four things that doe accompany the greedy desire of getting riches, will make a man to avoid this sinne, if he think upon them throughly.
The second observation, is touching riches, wealth itself. If thou consider how deceitful and uncertain a thing riches is, for which thou hast brought thy self to so many inconveniences and such infinite cares, so many grievous sinnes, to so many judgements of God daily hanging over our heads for the same, and into such difficulty of repentance, it will make thee avoid it; therefore our Saviour calls riches deceitfull, Matthew, the thirteenth chapter and the twenty second verse: And the Apostle saith they are uncertain vanity, the first epistle to Timothie, the sixt[h] chapter: The reason is, because he that hath them to-day, may lose them tomorrow; and though they make mans life comfortable for a while, yet they cannot prolong life.
The reason is, because our life doth not stand in the aboundance of wealth. In which words the holy Ghost gives them leave to imagine, that if they be covetous they shall be wealthy and rich; howbeit it is not any means that the covetous man can use, that will make him wealthy; for which of you by taking thought, Proverbs, the twenty second chapter and Matthew, the sixt[h] chapter: The blessing of the Lord maketh rich, Sola benedictio Domini, Proverbs, the tenth chapter and the twenty second verse: It is not early rising, nor late sitting down, Psalme the hundred and twenty seventh. But put case it be true which they imagine with themselves, yet their life stands not in the riches so gotten. It is indeed probable that a covetous man shall soon attain to riches; For all is fish that comes to net with him; he will not refuse any gain, be it never so unlawfull, If it be panis fallaciæ, if it be pretium sanguinis, he will put it up. And as he hath more means to get, so he spares more than other men doe: He doth no good works; he distributeth not to the necessity of the poor, magnumn vectigal parsimonia; and flesh and blood alwaies perswades her self of the best, and never doubteth of any hurt: The rich Merchants say with themselves, We will goe and buy and sell, and gain, James, the fourth chapter, never thinking that they shall lose. The rich man thought with himself, I will eat and drink and take my rest, but never thought that he should dye, Luke, the twelfth chapter. So we alwaies dream of the best, and never fear any evil. We will drink strong drink to day, and tomorrow shall be as this day, and better, Isaiah, the fifty seventh chapter. Again, they may pretend further cause for the sinne of covetousnesse [542/543]. Aboundance makes a man abstain from many sinnes, which poor men fall into of necessity, For poverty makes a man to steal, Proverbs, the thirtieth chapter: Therefore the Apostle willeth, that if any man will not steal, he must labour with his hands, Ephesians the fourth chapter. Aboundance sets them in case, that they can doe many good works, when the Borrower is a servant to the lender, as it is in the Proverbs. The rich man is free from this inconvenience: Plenus est abundat ommnibus. Riches doe make a man glorious. But though all this were true, yet Christ saith, that life stands not in riches, as the Preachers speaks by way of permission, to the rich man, Goe too take thy pleasure; but for all know, that God will bring thee to judgment, Ecclesiastes, the eleventh chapter: So doth Christ give them scope to conceive what opinion they think good of Riches. Put case thou, though thy covetousnesse hast aboundance, yet thy life consists not therein; that that this true, That man is not a whit longer lived for his wealth, the Scripture shews, Divitiæ non proderunt in die iræ, Proverbs, the eleventh chapter and the fourth verse: Though hand be joyned in hand, yet it shall not serve the turn, the rich man dyeth as well as the poor, Psalme the thirty ninth: but how powerfull this is to restrain covetousnesse appears by this. We will doe nothing in vain, much lesse suffer in vain. The Apostle speaketh, Galatians, the fifth chapter, While we are in health of body, we know our riches doe us great service; but if death draw neer, we are ready to say with Esau, Genesis, the twenty fift[h] chapter, Behold I dye, and what will all this wealth doe me good. Christ saith not, Be not coveteous, for you shall not be the richer, but Be afraid of covetousnesse, for your life stands not in aboundance of riches; to put thee in minde, to provide for another life rather than for this: For albeit the covetous and miserable man hath misery in this life, because he disquiets himself in vain, Psalme the thirty ninth, and therefore is called a murtherer or man-flyer; yet his future misery being compared with the misery of this life, makes him more miserable. While he is in his Stewardship, it is well with him, though he have many wordly cares; But when he is put out of his office, and shall be called to account, How he came by his office, and how he hath behaved himself therein? How he got his worldly wealth, and how he hath distributed the same for the relief of his poor fellows Saints. Then, if he be found faulty in this account, his misery is farre greater than ever it was in this life. Luke the sixteenth chapter; Christ takes away from covetous men the opinion of life, and will them not to think that that they live the longer for their riches; And seeing they must dye, and after death commeth the Judgement, Hebrews, the ninth chapter, it is their part rather to lay up a good foundation for the time to come, to lay up their treasure in Heaven, Matthew the sixth chapter; because as they heap up riches unjustly, so they heap up wrath for themselves against the day of wrath, Romans, the second chapter. Though covetous men think themselves well while they live; yet Christ tells them, They must dye, that they should take care that it may goe well with them after death, That when they have layd down these [543/544] earthly tabernacles, the second epistle of Peter, the first chapter, they may be received into everlasting tabernacles, Luke, the sixteenth chapter.