WHAT is Covetousness ? It is an easy besetting sin, from which few persons are entirely free; and it is eminently deceitful. It is decried and condemned in others, by multitudes who live in the habit of it themselves. It is very difficult to fix a conviction of this sin upon those who are guilty of it. Whether drunkards or profligates regard the warnings of the preacher or not, when he declares that they who persist in those evil practices shall not inherit the kingdom of God; they know at least their own characters, and are sensible that they are the persons intended. But ^ he adds, Nor the covetous man, who is an idolator — the covetous man usually sits unmoved, and is more ready to apply the threatening to his neighbour than to himself. If he is willing to entertain theministers or friends of the Gospel sometimes at his table, if he now and then gives a few shillings to the poor, and a guinea or two to a charitable subscription, he cannot suspect that he is liable to the charge of covetousness.,
There are two words in the Greek Testamenr, which are rendered covetousness in our version. The one literally signifies, The love of money : the other, A desire of more. The senses are indeed coincident : for no man would desire more of that which hi- does not love ; and as he that loveth silver, cannot be satisfied with the silver that he already possesses, he will of course desire more. Money is generally loved and valued at first, as a mean of procuring other things which appear desirable; but many who begin thus, are brought at length to love money for its own sake. Such persons are called misers. We meet with those who, so far from being benevolent to others, are cruel to themselves, and, though abounding in wealth, can hardly afford themselves the necessaries of life.. But a man may be very covetous, though not being yet given up to this judicial infatuation, he may congratulate himself, and thank God, that he is not a miser.
1 consider covetousness as the most generally prevailing and ensnaring sin, by which professors of the Gospel in our commercial city, are hindered in their spiritual progress. A disposition deeply rooted in bur fallen nature, strengthened by the habits of business, the immense circulation of cash, the power of custom, and the fascinating charm of a balance sheet, is not easily counteracted.
If we are, indeed, believers in Christ, and partakers of the power of his resurrection, we are bound by obligation, and required by our rule, to set our affec'.ions on the things that are above, not on the things on the earth. He has called us out of the world, and cautioned us against conformity to its spirit. While we are in.the world, it is our duty, privilege, and honour, to manifest that grace which has delivered us from the love of it. Christians must indeed eat and drink, and may buy and sell as other people do ; but the principles, motives, and ends of their conduct are entirely different. They are to adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour, and to do all for his glory. By his wisdom and providence, he places them in different situations, that the power and sufficiency of his grace may appear under a great variety of outward circumstances. He gives them talents, to some more, to others less ; but all to be improved for him.— Whether they are rich or poor, bond or free, they are so by his appointment; with which, if they cheerfully comply, they shall in due time, be sensible that he chooses better for them, than they could have chosen for themselves. The language of faith, when ia exercise, will not be, " What is most conducive to " my temporal ease and prosperity ?" but, " What " will give tne the fairest opportunity of glorifying " him, who has bought me with his blood, and called " me out of darkness into his marvellous light ? Too " much of my time has already been wasted : how " shall I improve the little uncertain remainder for his " service? I am too short-sighted to judge for myself, " but he has thus far determined it. I am where he " has placed me : and the calling in which his mercy " found me (if it be a lawful ©ne) is that in which, " for the present, I am to abide, as the best for me. " When it ceases to be so, 1 may depend upon him to " appoint me another. But till then, 1 desire to be " contented with such things as I have, and to be " thankful for them. He knows my frame, my feel
." ings, my wants, and my trials ; he permits, yea, " invites me to cast all my cares upon him ; he as" sures me that he careth for me, and therefore I " only wish to do or to suffer according to his will to-day, and to leave the concerns of tomorrow in his " hands. While I live, may I live for him, and when " I die, may 1 go to him ! May his grace be sufficient v " for, me, and all shall be well."
The Christian knows, or should know, that it isnot necessary to be rich, or to be admired or envied by an unthinking world ; but it is absolutely necessary for him to maintain peace of conscience, communion with God, and a cheerful activity of spirit in his service. And as his gracious Lord accepts him, not according to what he actually does, but according to what he would do if »he could, so that he who can. only give a cup of cold water to a prophet, in the name of a prophet, should receive a prophet's reward ; in this respect all his people, however differently situated, are exactly upon a par. Luke xxt. 3, 4. . But, alas! how many who profess to know and value the Gospel are far otherwise minded 1 the chief mark of their profession, is their attendance upon the ordinances of worship. At other times, and in other respects, they are not easily distinguished from the world. If their houses, furniture, tables, and other appendages, secure them from the suspicion of being misers, the manner in which they follow their business, sufficiently proves them to be covetous. If when they can find leisure to speak of religion, they complain .that their frames are low, and that they have but little' comfort in the ways of God, this is the most favourable token we can find to encourage our hope, that in the midst of all their hurry, there may be a latent sin- ' cerity at the bottom. For how can it be otherwise, if they had a spark of life and grace in their hearts
while they attempt to look too ways at once, and to reconcile the incompatible claims of God and mammon ? The love of money, and the desire of more, are always in exercise. As to these, their frames seldom vary, from the beginning to the end of the year. They rise early, take late rest, and eat the bread of carefulness, that they may be able to vie with the world in their outward appearance, and to lay up snares, and thorns, and encumbrances for their children. Often, when already possessed of a lawful business, which affords a competence for a comfortable support, if opportunity offers, they eagerly catch at some other prospect of gain, though they hereby double their anxieties, and encroach still more upon that time (too little before) which they could afford to allot to the concerns of their souls. Such opportunities they call providential openings, and perhaps say they are thankful for them ; not considering that such openings of Providence are frequently temptations or tests, which the Lord permits a man to meet with, to prove what is in his heart, and to try him, whether he will hold fast his integrity or not, and whether his affections be indeed set on the things above, or still cleave *o the earth.
It is sometimes the pleasure of the Lord to give a servant of his what the world calls prosperity. He places him in a line of life suited to his turn and ability, prepares a plain path before him, and, by a blessing upon his industry and ceconomy, the man, perhaps, from small beginnings, increases in wealth, almost imperceptibly, with little other solicitude on his own part, than a faithful attention to the duties of his calling from day to day. Such a person is a public benefit. The Lord, who gives him riches, teaches him likewise how to use them. He chiefly values the increase of his property and influence, as they enlarge his sphere of usefulness. He is ready and active to promote th« cause of God in the world, and to relieve the wants and miseries of his fellow-creatures. He is eyes to the blind', and feet to the lame ; the friend of the fatherless and the widow. Persons of this character are to be found amongst us ; but compared with the bulk of professors, we may apply to them what the poet says of the fleet of /Eneas after the storm :
Apparent rari, nantes in gurgite vasto.
A few still swim upon the waves, which have swallowed up many. For those who, as the apostle expresses it, " will be rich,'' who will strain every nerve to load themselves with thick clay, and to be found in the list of those who gain much money, or transact much business, may, and often do obtain the poor reward they seek. As in the case of Israel, when, not satisfied with bread from heaven, they importunely clamoured for flesh likewise ; God gives them their desire, but sends leanness withal into their souls. They expose themselves to temptations and snares, to foolish passions and pursuits; and thus too many, who promised fair at the first setting out, are drowned in destruction and perdition. For it is written in the Scripture* that no covetous man, who is an idolator, shall inherit the kingdom of God; and the Scriptures cannot be broken;
At the best, if they do not finally perish, they are in great danger of erring from the faith, and certainly pierce themselves through with many sorrows : for the Jpve of money is the root of all evil. We may err from the faith, without changing the form of our creed, or imbibing doctrinal errors. Faith is an active, powerful principle ; it realizes things unseen, it leads to the throne of grace, it feeds upon the word of life, it desires and obtains coaimunion with God, and power from the Spirit of grace, by which it purifies the heart, works by love, and overcomes the world. These are the sure effects of faith; and he who does not in some measure experience them in himself, may have an opinion, a notion of the truths of the Gospel, anil may be right in theory ; bat he is either an utter stranger to the faith of God's people, or has greatly erred from it.
Who can enumerate the many sorrows with which the covetous and worldly-minded professor is pierced ! Especially if it be the Lord's pleasure to be gracious to him, and he purposes to bring him at last out of the snares in which he is entangled. Then, sod'ner, or later, his schemes are broken ; losses, crosses, disappointments, and anxieties, wear down his spirit
improper connexions which he would form, because, he would be rich, become thorns in his sides and in his eyes. He trusted in men, and men deceive him : he leaned upon a week reed, which breaks, and he falls. Thus he finds that the way of transgressors and backsliders is hard. His distresses are aggravated by the voice of conscience, which will speak and will be heard —" Hast thou not procured these things to thyself, in " that thou bast forsaken the Lord thy God, when he " led thee by the way ?"
Covetousness, or the love of the world, is one great cause of the many trials we meet with in life. The principle of this evil is sostrong in us, and so powerfully nourished by almost every thing around us, that it is seldom suppressed but by a course of sharp disciplineMany persons have now reason to be thankful for those dispensations of Providence which once seemed most severe. If the Lord had not seasonably defeated, their plans of life, withered their gourds, broken their cisterns, and wounded them where they were most keenly sensible, they might, yea, they would have gone on from bad to worse. But losses are gains, and the heaviest trials are mercies, when sanctified to bring us to our right minds, and to guide our feet into the paths of peace.
If therefore, my dear reader, you wish to avoid trouble, and to pass through life as smooth as possible, take heed and beware of covetousness. If the Lord loves you, he will not lose you ; and therefore he will beat you, as it were, in a mortar, if necessary, rather than permit that to remain in you which his soul abhors, and which, if it were to remain, would exclude you from his kingdom. He has said, and daily experience and observation confirm his aphorism, " A man's life (the real comforts of it) " consisteth not in the " abundance of the things which he possesseth." Gold cannot communicate peace of mind, nor compensate for the want of it. Surely they who are satisfied with a' little of this world's goods, must be more happy than they who are not satisfied with a great deal. Remember likewise, that where much is given, much will be required ; and seriously consider, what will it pro. fit a man, if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul!
October 2, 1795.