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Covetousness proved no less an absurdity in reason,
than a contradiction to religion, nor a more
unsure way to riches, than riches
themselves to happiness.
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.
WHEN I entered upon the prosecution of these words, I observed in them these two general parts.
I. A dehortation, or dissuasive from covetousness in these words; Take heed, and beware of covetousness.
II. A reason enforcing it, and joining the latter part of the text with the former by the causal particle for; for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
As for the first of these two, viz. the dehortation, or dissuasion from covetousness; I have already despatched that in a discourse by itself, and so proceed now to the
Second general part, to wit, the reason enforcing the said dehortation, and expressed in these words; for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
In the foregoing discourse I shew, that these 319words were an answer of our Saviour to a tacit argumentation formed in the minds of most men in the behalf of covetousness; which, grounding itself upon that universal principle, that all men desire to make their life in this world as happy as they can, proceeded to the main conclusion by these two steps; to wit, that riches were the direct and proper means to acquire this happiness; and covetousness the proper way to get and obtain riches.
The ground of which arguments, namely, that every man may design to himself as much happiness in this life, as by all lawful means he can compass, our Saviour allows, and contradicts not in the least; as being indeed the first and most native result of those principles which every man brings into the world with him. But as for the two consequences drawn from thence; the first of them, viz. that riches were the direct and proper means to acquire happiness, our Saviour denies, as absolutely false; and the second, viz. that covetousness is the proper way to obtain riches, he does by no means allow for certainly true; though he does not, I confess, directly set himself to disprove it here; but in the text now before us insists only upon the falsehood of the former consequence, as we, in the following discourse, shall likewise do; though even the latter of these consequences also shall not be passed over in its due place.
Accordingly, our Saviour here makes it the chief, if not sole business of his present sermon, (and that in defiance of the common sentiments of the world,) to demonstrate the inability of riches for the attainment of true happiness, and thereby to make good the grand point insisted upon, viz. that a man’s life 320consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. Where, by life, I suppose, there can be no need of proving, that our Saviour does not here mean life barely and physically so taken, and no more; which is but a poor thing, God knows; but by life, according to a metonymy of the subject for the adjunct, understands the happiness of life in the very same sense wherein St. Paul takes this word in 1 Thess. iii. 8. Now, says he, we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord. That is, we live with comfort, and a satisfactory enjoyment of ourselves. And conformable to the same, is the way of speaking in the Latin, as Istuc est vivere, and Non est vivere, sed valere vita. In which, and many the like expressions, vivere and vita import not the mere physical act of living; but the pleasure, happiness, and accommodations of life; without which, life itself is scarce worthy to be accounted life; but only a power of breathing, and a capacity of being miserable.
Now, that riches, wealth, and abundance (the things which swell so big in the fancies of men, promising them mountains, but producing only a mouse) are not, as they persuade themselves, such sure, unfailing causes of that felicity, which the grand desires of their nature so eagerly press after, will appear from these following considerations.
1. That no man, generally speaking, acquires, or takes possession of the riches of this world, but with great toil and labour, and that very frequently even to the utmost fatigue. The first and leading curse, which God pronounced upon mankind in Adam, was, that in the sweat of his brows he should eat his bread, Gen. iii. 19. And if it be a curse for a man 321to be forced to toil for his very bread, that is, for the most necessary support of life; how does he heighten and multiply the curse upon himself, who toils for superfluities, and spends his time and strength in hoarding up that which he has no real need of, and which it is ten to one but he may never have any occasion for. For so is all that wealth which exceeds such a competence, as answers the present occasions and wants of nature. Arid when God comes to account with us, (let our own measures be what they will,) he will consider no more.
Now certain it is, that the general, stated way of gathering riches must be by labour and travail, by serving other men’s needs, and prosecuting their business, and thereby doing our own. For there is a general commutation of these two, which circulates and goes about the world, and governs all the affairs of it; one man’s labour being the stated price of another man’s money; that is to say, let my neighbour help me with his art, skill, or strength, and I will help him in proportion with what I possess. And this is the original cause and reason, why riches come not without toil and labour, and a man’s exhausting himself to fill his purse. This, I say, is the original cause; for I know, that, the world being once settled, estates come to be transmitted to many by inheritance; and such need nothing else to render them wealthy, but only to be born into the world. Sometimes also riches fall into men’s hands by favour or fortune; but this is but seldom, and those who are thus the favourites of Providence make but a small number in comparison of those who get what they have by dint of labour and severe travail. And therefore, (as I said at first,) this is the common, 322stated way which Providence allows men to grow rich by.
But now, can any man reconcile temporal happiness to perpetual toil? Or can he enjoy any thing truly who never enjoys his ease? I mean that lawful ease, which God allows and nature calls for, upon the vicissitudes of rest and labour. But he who will be vastly rich must bid adieu to his rest, and resolve to be a slave and a drudge all his days. And at last, when his time is spent in heaping up, and the heap is grown big, and calls upon the man to enjoy it, his years of enjoyment are past, and he must quit the world, and die like a fool, only to leave his son or his heir a rich man; who perhaps will be one of the first who shall laugh at him for what he left him, and complain, if not also curse him, for having left him no more. For such things have happened in the world; and I do not find that the world much mends upon our hands. But if this be the way of it, (as we see it is,) what happiness a man can reap from hence, even upon a temporal account, needs a more than ordinary invention to find out. The truth is, the absurdity of the practice is so very gross, that it seems to carry in it a direct contrariety to those common notions and maxims which nature would govern the actions of mankind by.
2. Men are usually forced to encounter and pass through very great dangers, before they can attain to any considerable degrees of wealth. And no man, surely, can rationally account himself happy in the midst of danger. For while he walks upon the very edge and brink of ruin, it is but an equal cast, whether he shall succeed or sink, live or die, in the attempt he makes. He who (for instance) designs 323to raise his fortunes by merchandise, (as a great part of the world does,) must have all his hopes floating upon the waves, and his riches (the whole support of his heart) entirely at the mercy of things which lave no mercy, the seas and the winds. A sudden storm may beggar him; and who can secure him from a storm in the place of storms? A place, where whole estates are every day swallowed up, and which has thereby made it disputable, whether there are more millions of gold and silver lodged below the salt waters or above them; so that, in the same degree that any man of sense desires wealth, he must of necessity fear its loss; his desires must still measure out his fears; and both of them, with reference to the same objects, must bear proportion to one another; which in the mean time must needs lake the man really miserable, by being thus held a continual distraction between two very uneasy passions. Nevertheless, let us, after all, suppose that this man of traffic, having passed the best of his days in fears and dangers, comes at length to triumph so far over both, as to bring off a good estate from the mouth of the devouring element, and now thinks to sit down and solace his old age with the acquisitions of his younger and more daring years; let him, however, put what is past and what is present into the same balance, and judge impartially, whether the present enjoyment, which he reaps from the quiet and plenty of this poor remainder of his age, (if he reaps any,) can equal those perpetual fears and agonies, which not only anticipated, and brought age upon him before its time, but likewise, by a continual racking solicitude of thought, cut him off from all pleasure in the proper days of pleasure, and from those youthful 324satisfactions which age must by no means pretend to. I am this day fourscore years old, (said the aged and rich Barzillai, in 2 Sam. xix. 35,) and can I yet taste what I eat or what I drink? But, it seems, as dull as his senses were, he was severely sensible of the truth of what he said. And whosoever lives to Barzillai’s years, shall not, with all Barzillai’s wealth and greatness, (sufficient, as we read, to entertain a king and his army,) be able to procure himself a quicker and a better relish of what shall be set before him, than Barzillai had. For all enjoyment must needs be at an end, where the powers of enjoying cease. And if, in the next place, we should pass from the delicacies of fare to the splendour of habit, (another thing which most of the world are so much taken with,) what could the purple, and the scarlet, and all the fineries of clothing avail a man, when the wearer himself was grown out of fashion? In a word, every man must be reckoned to have just so much of the world as he enjoys of it. And the covetous man (we have shewn) will not, and the old man can not enjoy it.
But some again (the natural violence of their temper so disposing them) are for advancing and enriching themselves (if possible) by war: a course certainly, of all others, the most unaccountable and preposterous. For is it not highly irrational for a man to sacrifice the end to the means? to hazard his life for the pursuit of that, which for the sake and support of life only can be valuable? Well indeed may the man who has been bred up in, and accustomed to camps, battles, and sieges, look death and danger boldly in the face; but yet, let him not think to look them out of countenance too; these being evils, no 325doubt, too great for mortality, with but common sense and reason about it, to defy. Nay, suppose we, likewise, the man of arms so fortunate, as in his time to have fought himself into an estate, (as several such have done,) yet may not even this also prove a very slight and contemptible purchase, if, as soon as it is made, the man himself should drop out of this world, and so become wholly uncapable of taking possession of what he had bought with his life, but only by his grave?
Thus, I say, it often fares with those soldiers of fortune, or field-adventurers, (as we may call them,) from whom, if we cast our eye a little further, upon another sort of men, no less eager after gain and grandeur from their management of state-affairs, shall we find their condition at all more secure? their happiness more firmly fixed? and less at a venture than that of those of the forementioned tribe? No surely, no less hazards meet the statesman at the council-board, than accost the soldier in the field; and one had need be as good a fencer, as the other ought to be a fighter, to defend himself: the oppositions he is to contest with being altogether as terrible and fatal, though not in the same dress. For he has the changeable will of his prince or superiors, the competition of his equals, and the popular rage of his inferiors, to guard and secure himself against. And he must walk with a wary eye and a steady foot indeed, who never trips nor stumbles at any of these cross blocks, which, sometime or other, will assuredly be cast before him; and it is well if he carries not only his foot, but his head too, so sure, as to fall by neither of them: many wise men, I am sure, have fallen so. For it is not wisdom, but fortune 326which must protect such an one; and fortune is no man’s freehold, either to keep or to command.
Which being truly his case, I cannot judge that man happy, who is in danger to be ruined every moment, and who can neither bring the causes of his ruin within the reach of his prospect, nor the avoidance of them within the compass of his power; but, notwithstanding all his art, wit, and cunning, lies perpetually open to a thousand invisible, and, upon that account, inevitable mischiefs. And thus I have shewn the dangers which attend the several ways and passages by which men aspire to wealth and greatness; the things upon which the abused reason of mankind so much dotes, and in which it places so much felicity, and finds so little. But,
3. Men are frequently forced to make their way to great possessions, by the commission of great sins, and therefore the happiness of life cannot possibly consist in them. It has been a saying, and a remarkable one it is, that there is no man very rich, but is either an unjust person himself, or the heir of one or other who was so. I dare not pronounce so severe a sentence universally: for I question not, but, through the good providence of God, some are as innocently, and with as good a conscience rich, as others can be poor: but the general baseness and corruption of men’s practices has verified this harsh saying of too many; and it is every day seen, how many serve the god of this world to obtain the riches of it. It is true, the full reward of a man’s unjust dealing never reaches him in this life; but if he has not sinned away all the sense, tenderness, and apprehensiveness of his conscience, the grudges and regrets of it will be still like death in the pot, and give 327a sad grumbling allay to all his comforts; nor shall his heart ever find any entire, clear, unmixed content in the wealth he has got, when he shall reflect upon the manner of his getting it; and assure him, that nothing of all that which he possesses in the world is yet paid for; so that, if the justice of God should exact his soul in payment of that vast score, which his sinful gains have run him into, when this sad debt came once to be cleared off, who then would be the gainer? or what could be got, when the soul was lost?
One man, perhaps, has been an oppressor and an extortioner, and waded to all his wealth through the tears of widows and orphans. Another with blood and perjury, falsehood and lying, has borne down all before him, and now lords it in the midst of a great estate; and the like may be said of others, who, by other kinds of baseness, have done the same. But now, can any of these thriving miscreants be esteemed or called happy in such a condition? Is their mind clear, their conscience calm and quiet, and their thoughts generally undisturbed? For there can be no true happiness, unless they are so; forasmuch as all happiness must pass through the mind and the apprehension. But God has not left himself so without witness, even in the hearts of the most profligate sinners, as to suffer great guilt and profound peace to cohabit in the same breast. Jonah must not think to disobey, and then to sleep securely and unmolested. No, the storm will quickly be about his ears, and the terrible remembrancer within will be rubbing up old stories, and breaking in upon his false repose with secret intimations of an impending wrath. So that, if the tempter, at any time, be 328at one elbow, to induce a man to sin; conscience will not fail to be jogging him at the other, to remind him what he has done, and what he is to expect thereupon. This has been the case of the most prosperous sinners in the world; these remorses and forebodings have stuck close to them in the midst of all their plenty, power, and splendour; a sufficient demonstration doubtless, how thin and counterfeit all the joys of these grandees are, in spite of all the flourishes and fine shows they make in the opinion of the foolish world, which sees and gazes upon their glistering outside, but knows not the dismal stings and secret lashes which they feel within.
And thus much for the first general argument, proving, that true happiness consists not in any earthly abundance, taken from the consideration of those evils through which men commonly pass into the possession of it. The
Second general argument shall be taken from the consideration of such evils as attend men, when they come to be actually possessed of this abundance. As,
1. Excessive, immoderate cares. The very management of a great estate is a greater and more perplexing trouble than any that a poor man can be subject to. Great riches superinduce new necessities; necessities added to those of nature, but accounted much above them; to wit, the necessities of pomp, grandeur, and a suitable port in the world. For he who is vastly rich, must live like one who is so; and whosoever does that, makes himself thereby a great host, and his house a great inn; where the noise, the trouble, and the charge is sure to be his, but the enjoyment (if there be any) descends upon the persons entertained by him; nay, and upon the 329very servants of his family, whose business is only to please their master, and live upon him, while the master’s business is to please all that come about him, and sometimes to fence against them too. For a gainer by all his costs and charges, by all that he can give or spend, he shall never be. Such being the temper of most men in the world, that though they are never so kindly used and so generously entertained, yet they are not to be obliged; but go away, rather envying their entertainer’s greatness, than acknowledging his generosity. So that a man, by widening or enlarging his condition, only affords the malicious world about him so many more handles to lay hold of him by, than it had before. It is indeed impossible that riches should increase, and that care, with many malign accidents besides, should not increase with them. This is the dark shadow, which still follows those shining bodies. And care is certainly one of the greatest miseries of the mind; the toil and very day-labour of the soul. And what felicity, what enjoyment can there be in uncessant labour? For enjoyment is properly attractive, but labour expensive. And all pleasure adds and takes in something to the stores of nature; while work and labour is still upon the exporting and the spending hand. Care is a consuming and a devouring thing, and, with a kind of spiteful as well as craving appetite, preys upon the best and noblest things of a man, and is not to be put off with any of the dainties of his full table: but his thoughts, his natural rest and recreations, are the viands which his cares feed upon. And is not that wealthy great one, think we, very happy, whose riches shall force him to lie awake, while his very porter is asleep? and whose 330greatness shall hardly allow him so much as time to eat? Certainly such an one sustains all the real mi series of want, no less than he who seeks his meat from door to door. For he is as much starved, who cannot find when, as he who cannot find what to eat; and he dies as surely, who is pressed to death with heaps of gold and silver, as he who is crushed under an heap of stones or dirt. The malignity and corroding quality of care is, to all intents and purposes of mischief, the same, be the causes of it never so different. And whether poverty or riches produce the vexation, the impression it makes upon the heart is alike from both. They who will be rich, says St. Paul, 1 Tim. vi. 9, pierce themselves through with many sorrows; and those, it seems, sorrows not of the lighter and more transient sort, which give the mind but feeble touches and short visits, and quickly go off again; but they are such as strike daggers into it; such as enter into the innermost parts and powers of it; and, in a word, pierce it through and through, and draw out the very life and spirit through the wound they make. These are the peculiar and extraordinary sorrows which go before, accompany, and follow riches; and there is no man, though in never so low a station, who sets his heart upon growing rich, but shall, in his proportion, be sure to have his share of them. But then, let us cast our eye upon the highest condition of wealth and abundance which this world affords; to wit, the royal estate of princes: yet neither can this be truly esteemed an estate of happiness and fruition; but as much advanced, above all other conditions, in care and anxiety, as it is in power and dignity. The greatest and the richest 331prince can have but the enjoyment of one man; but he sustains the united cares and concerns of as many millions as he commands. The troubles of the whole nation concentre in the throne, and lodge themselves in the royal diadem. So that it may, in effect, be but too truly said of every prince, that he wears a crown of thorns together with his purple robe, (as the greatest of princes once did,) and that his throne is nothing else but the seat imperial of care. But,
2. The second evil which attends the possession of riches is an insatiable desire of getting more, Eccles. v. 10. He who loves money shall not be satisfied with it, says Solomon. And I believe it would be no hard matter to assign more instances of such as riches have made covetous, than of such as covetousness has made rich. Upon which account, a man can never truly enjoy what he actually has, through the eager pursuit of what he has not; his heart is still running out; still upon the chace of a new game, and so never thinks of using what it has already acquired. And must it not now be one of the greatest miseries, for a man to have a perpetual hunger upon him, and to have his appetite grow fiercer and sharper amidst the very objects and opportunities of satisfaction? Yet so it is usually with men hugely rich. They have, and they covet; riches flow in upon them, and yet riches are the only things they are still looking after. Their desires are answered, and while they are answered they are enlarged; they grow wider and stronger, and bring such a dropsy upon the soul, that the more it takes in, the more it may: just like some drunkards, who even drink themselves athirst, and have no reason in 332the world for their drinking more, but their having drank too much already.
There cannot be a greater plague, than to be always baited with the importunities of a growing ap petite. Beggars are troublesome, even in the streets, as we pass through them; but how much more, when a man shall carry a perpetually clamorous beggar in his own breast, which shall never leave off crying, Give, give, whether the man has any thing to give or no? Such an one, though never so rich, is like a man with a numerous charge of children, with a great many hungry mouths about him to be fed, and little or nothing to feed them with. For he creates to himself a kind of new nature, by bringing himself under the power of new necessities and desires. Whereas nature, considered in itself, and as true to its own rules, is contented with little, and reason and religion enables us to take up with less, and so adds to its strength, by contracting its appetites, and retrenching its occasions.
There is no condition so full and affluent, but content is and will be a necessary supplement to make a man happy in it; and to compose the mind in the want of something or other, which it would be otherwise hankering after. And if so, how wretched must that man needs be, who is perpetually impoverishing himself by new indigences founded upon new desires and imaginary emptiness, still disposing him to seek for new reliefs and accessions to that plenty, which is already become too big for consumption and the just measures of nature; which never finds any real pleasure, but in the satisfaction of some real want!
But as for the unsatiable miser, whom we are now 333speaking of, what difference is there between such an one, and a man over head and ears in debt, and dogged by his creditors wheresoever he goes? For the miser is as much disquieted, dunned, and called upon by the eagerness of his own desires, as he whose door is haunted and rapped at every hour, by those who come crying after him for what he owes them; both are equally pulled and haled to do that which they are unable to do: for as the poor man cannot satisfy his creditors, so neither can the rich man satisfy his grasping, endless desires. And this is the direct and natural result of increasing wealth. Riches are still made the reason of riches; and men get only that they may lay up, and lay up only that they may keep. Upon which principle it is evident, that the covetous person is always thinking himself in want, and consequently as far from any true relish of happiness, as he must needs be, who apprehends himself under that condition, which of all things in the world he most abhors.
3. The third evil which attends men in the pos session of the abundance of this world is, that such a condition is the proper scene of temptation. It brings men, as the apostle tells us in the forecited 1 Tim. vi. 9, into a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, and such as drown men in destruction and perdition. So hard is it for the corruption of man’s nature not to work, where it has such plenty of materials to work upon. For who so strongly tempted to pride, as he who has riches to bear it out? Who so prone to be luxurious, as he who has wealth to feed and maintain his luxury? Who so apt to be sot himself with idleness, as he who can command and have all things, and yet do nothing? It is a miracle 334almost for a rich man not to be overrun with vice, having both such strong inclinations to it from within, and such inducements and opportunities to it from without. To be rich in money and rich in good works too, rarely concur. All opportunity and power to gratify a man’s vicious humour is a shrewd temptation to him actually to do so. Where riches are at hand, all impediments and obstructions vanish. For what is it which gold will not command? What sin so costly which the rich man may not venture upon, if he can but stretch his conscience to the measures of his purse? Such an one’s condition places him in the very high way to damnation; while it surrounds and besets him with all those allurements which are apt to beguile and ruin souls. And a man must have a rare mastery of himself, and control of his affections, to be able to look a pleasing vice in the face, and to despise it, when the affluence of his fortune shall give him his free choice of all those pleasures which his nature so mightily importunes him to. But it is scarce an age that can give us an instance of such an impregnable and resolved abstemiousness under such circumstances; men are generally treacherous and false to themselves and their greatest concerns; wretchedly weak and pliant to their innate viciousness, when it is once called forth and inflamed by the provocations it receives from the wealth and plenty they wallow in.
Whence it is, that many hopeful young men debauch and drown themselves in sensuality, and come at length to lose both their souls and their wits too; and that only because it was their lot to be born to great estates, and thereby to have money enough to 335keep pace with their lewd desires, and to answer them with full and constant supplies; while others, in the mean time, whose nature and temper was perhaps not at all better than their own, have took to the ways of industry and virtue, and so made themselves both useful in their lives, and happy after their death, only through the mercy of Providence stinting their worldly fortunes, and thereby cutting off those incentives of lust and instruments of sin, which have inveigled and abused others, and brought them headlong to destruction. Certain it is, that a rich man must use greater caution to keep himself clear from sin, and add greater strength and force to his resolutions to make himself virtuous, than men in other circumstances need to do: for he has greater temptations to break through than they have; and consequently cannot make good his ground at the same rate of vigilance and activity, which persons less assaulted may: which being his case, it is hard to conceive what happiness there can be in that condition, which renders virtue, a thing in itself so difficult, infinitely more difficult; which turns the strait gate into a needle’s eye, and makes hell itself, which is so broad already, ten times broader than it was before.
4. The fourth evil attending men in the possession of this earthly abundance is, the malice and envy of the world round about them. The bounties of Providence are generally looked upon with an evil eye by such as are not the objects of them themselves. And some have no other fault so much as objected against them, to provoke the invectives and satires of foul mouths, but only that they thrive in the world, that they have fair estates, and so need 336not herd themselves with the rabble, nor lick the spittle of great ones, nor own any other dependences, but upon God in the first place, and upon themselves in the next. So long as malice and envy lodge in the breasts of mankind, it is impossible for a man in a wealthy, flourishing condition not to feel the stroke of men’s tongues, and of their hands too, if occasion serves. The fuller the branches are, the more shall the tree be flung at. What impeached Naboth of treason and blasphemy, but his spacious vineyard, too convenient for his potent neighbour, to let the owner enjoy it long? What made the king of Babylon invade Judea, but the royal stores and treasures displayed and boasted of by Hezekiah before the Chaldean ambassadors, to the supplanting of his crown, and the miserable captivity of his posterity? In Sylla’s bloody proscription, matters came to that pass in Rome, that if a man had but a fair garden, a rich jewel, or but a ring of value, it was enough to get his name posted up in the cut-throat roll, and to cost him his life, for having any thing worth the taking from him. Seldom do armies invade poor day-labouring countries; they are not the thin weather-beaten cottages, but the opulent trading cities, which invite the plunderer; and war goes on but heavily, where there is no prospect of spoil to enliven it. So that, whether we look upon societies or single persons, still we shall find them both owing this to their great wealth, that it gives them the honour to be thought worth ruining, and a fit prey for those who shall think they deserve that wealth better than themselves; as, they may be sure, enough will.
And thus much for the second general argument, 337proving, that true happiness consists not in any earthly abundance, taken from the consideration of those evils, which, for the most part, if not always, attend and go along with it. But,
The third general argument for the proof of the same, shall be taken from the utter inability of the greatest earthly riches to remove those things which chiefly render men miserable. And this will appear to us, if we reflect,
1. Upon what affects the mind. And,
2. Upon what affects the body. And here,
1. First for that which affects a man’s spiritual part, his mind. Suppose that to be grieved, and labouring under the most pressing and unsupportable of all griefs, trouble of conscience; and what can riches, power, or honour contribute to its removal? Can they pluck out any of those poisoned arrows, which the apprehension of God’s wrath fastens in the soul? Can they heal the wounds and assuage the anguish of a conscience groaning and even gasping under the terrors of the Almighty? Nay, let the grief arise but from a temporal cause, as suppose the death and loss of a dear friend, the diminution of a man’s honour, or the like, and what miserable comforters, in any of these cases, are the heaviest bags and the fullest coffers? The pleasure arising from all other temporal enjoyments cannot equal the smart which the mind endures from the loss of any one of them. For what pleasure did David find in his crown and sceptre, and all his royal greatness, when his dear (though sottishly beloved) Absalom was torn from him? What enjoyment had Haman in all his court-preferments, his grandeur, and interest in his royal master’s affection, when Mordecai, 338his most maligned enemy, refused to cringe to him in the gate? Why, just none at all, if we may take his word for it, who should know his own mind best. For, in Esther v. 11, 12, when he had reckoned up all his wealth, glory, and greatness, together with his numerous offspring, designed, as he thought, to inherit all of it, he adds in the 13th verse, (and a remarkable passage it is,) Yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate. The pride of his swelling heart, and the envy of his malicious eye, racked and tormented him more than all that the splendour and magnificence of the Persian court (the greatest then in the world) could delight or gratify him with. And now, what poor contributors must these earthly enjoyments needs be to a man’s real happiness, when an hundred pleasures shall not be able to counterbalance one sorrow? But that one cross accident shall sour the whole mass of a man’s comforts: and the mind shall as really droop, languish, and pine away, while a man is surrounded with vast treasures, rich attendance, and a plentiful table, as if he had neither where to lay his head, nor wherewithal to fill his mouth. For all the delight he does or can reap from his other comforts, serves only to quicken and increase the sense of that calamity which has actually took possession of him. But, in the
Second place, let us consider the miseries which affect the body; and we shall find, that the greatest pleasure, arising from any degree of wealth or plenty whatsoever, is so far from reaching the soul, that it scarce pierces the skin. What would a man give to purchase a release, nay, but a small respite from the extreme pains of the gout or stone? And yet, if he 339could fee his physician with both the Indies, neither art nor money can redeem, or but reprieve him from his misery. No man feels the pangs and tortures of his present distemper (be it what it will) at all the less for his being rich. His riches indeed may have occasioned, but they cannot allay them. No man’s fever burns the gentler for his drinking his juleps in a golden cup. Nor could Alexander himself, at the price of all his conquests, antidote or recall the poisonous draught, when it had once got into his veins. When God shall think fit to cast a man upon his bed of pain or sickness, let him summon about him his thousands and his ten thousands, his lands and his rich manors, and see whether he can bribe, or buy off, or so much as compound with his distemper but for one night’s rest. No; the sick bed is so like the grave, which it leads to, that it uses rich and poor, prince and peasant all alike. Pain has no respect of persons, but strikes all with an equal and an impartial stroke.
We know how God reproved the foolish world ling, (as our Saviour tells us,) in Luke xii. 20, Thou fool, says he, this night shall thy soul be required of thee; and then whose shall all those things be which thou hast hoarded up? But we may bring the sentence here pronounced much lower, and yet render it dreadful enough, even within the compass of this life, and say, Thou fool, this night, this day shall thy health and strength be taken from thee; and then what pleasure, what enjoyment will all thy possessions afford thee? God may smite thee with some lingering, dispiriting disease, which shall crack the strength of thy sinews, and suck the marrow out of thy bones; and then, what pleasure can it be to 340wrap thy living skeleton in purple, and rot alive in cloth of gold? when thy clothes shall serve only to upbraid the uselessness of thy limbs, and thy rich fare stand before thee only to reproach and tantalize the weakness of thy stomach; while thy consumption is every day dressing thee up for the worms? All which, I think, is a sufficient demonstration, that plenty and enjoyment are not the same thing. They are the inward strength and sufficiency of a man’s faculties, which must render him a subject capable of tasting or enjoying the good things which Providence bestows upon him. But as it is God only who creates, so it is he alone who must support and preserve these; and when he withdraws his hand, and lets nature sink into its original weakness and insufficiency, all a man’s delights fail him, all his enjoyments vanish. For no man (to be sure) can enjoy himself any longer than he can be said to be himself.
But now, if riches are thus wholly unable of themselves to effect any thing towards a man’s relief under a corporal malady, how can they, as such, deserve the name of felicity? For what are they good for? What can they do for him? The man is sick, and his disease torments, and death threatens him; and can they either remove the one, or keep off the other? Nothing less. But it will be answered perhaps, that when a man is well and healthy, they may serve him for many conveniences of life. They may do so, I confess; but then this also is as true, that he who is healthy and well, may enjoy all the necessary satisfactions which his nature calls for, though he has no other riches in the world but those poor incomes which he daily earns with the labour 341of his hands or the working of his brain. So that the sum and result of all their efficacy towards a man’s happiness amounts but to this; that riches may indeed minister something to the making of that person happy, who is in such a condition of health and strength as may enable him, if he pleases, to make himself happy without them. For a bare competence, and that a very slender one too, will answer all the needs of nature; and where a competence is sufficient, an abundance, I am sure, can not be necessary. And this introduces the
Fourth and last argument, to prove, that man’s happiness consists not in any earthly abundance, taken from this consideration; that the greatest happiness which this life is capable of, may be, and actually has been enjoyed without this abundance; and consequently cannot depend upon it. Now that undoubtedly is the chief happiness of life, for the attainment of which all other things are designed but as the means and subservient instruments. And what else can this be, but the content, quiet, and inward satisfaction of a man’s mind? For why, or for what other imaginable reason, are riches, power, and honour so much valued by men, but because they promise themselves that content and satisfaction of mind from them, which, they fully believe, cannot otherwise be had? This, no doubt, is the inward reasoning of men’s minds in the present case. But the experience of thousands (against which all arguments signify nothing) irrefragably evinces the contrary. For was there not a sort of men, whom we read of in the former ages of the world, called the ancient philosophers, who, even while they lived in the world, lived above it, and in 342a manner without it; and yet all the while accounted themselves the happiest men in it? And from these, if we pass to the professors and practisers of an higher philosophy, the apostles and primitive Christians, who ever so overflowed with spiritual joy as they did? a joy unspeakable and full of glory, as St. Peter terms it; a joy not to be forced or ravished from the heart once possessed of it, as our Saviour himself, the great giver of it, has assured us. Hear St. Paul and Silas singing out this joy aloud in the dismal prison, where they sat expecting death every moment. And from hence to proceed to the next ages of the church: who could be fuller of and more transported with a joyous sense of their condition, than the martyrs of those primitive times, who were so far from any of the accommodations of this world, that their only portion in it was to live in hunger, nakedness, and want, and stripped of every thing but the bodies, in and through which they suffered all these afflictions? And as this internal, spiritual comfort is doubtless the highest that human nature is capable of, and may serve instead of all others, so it descends even to those of the lowest condition. And the poor labouring peasant, with his coarse fare, and a good conscience to season and make a feast of it, feeds as cheerfully, and with as much inward satisfaction, as his great landlord or flourishing neighbour can; there being, for the most part, as much of real enjoyment under the meanest cottage, as within the walls of the stateliest and most magnificent palaces. For does not the honest ploughman, whose strength is his whole estate, and his day’s work his revenue, carry about him as light an heart and as clear a breast, as he who commands 343armies, or can call thirty-five millions his own? No doubt he does; and his experience (an evidence too great to be borne down) will vouch the same. Accordingly, let any one shew me that enjoyment or pleasure which men seek for from a vast estate in land or monies; and I will shew the same, or some thing equal to it, full as high and satisfactory, in that man, who cannot call one foot of land in the whole world his own, and whose purse never reached beyond the present, nor knew what it was to lay up for the morrow. Many, doubtless very many such there are, who eat their bread with as much relish, sleep as soundly, think as cheerfully, and rejoice as much in their homely dame and ragged children, together with their high-shoed companions, as those who can command sea and land to their tables, domineer over kingdoms, and set their foot upon the necks of conquered nations.
Content is the gift of Heaven, and not the certain effect of any thing upon earth; and it is as easy for Providence to convey it without wealth as with it; it being the undeniable prerogative of the first cause, that whatsoever it does by the mediation of second causes, it can do immediately by itself without them. The heavens can and do every day derive water and refreshment upon the earth without either pipes or conduits, though the weakness of human industry is forced to fly to these little assistances to compass the same effects. Happiness and comfort stream immediately from God himself, as light issues from the sun, and sometimes looks and darts itself into the meanest corners, while it forbears to visit the largest and the noblest rooms. Every man is happy or miserable, as the 344temper of his mind places him, either directly under, or beside the influences of the divine nature; which enlighten and enliven the disposed mind with secret, ineffable joys, and such as the vicious or unprepared mind is wholly unacquainted with. We have nothing, and yet we possess all things, says the apostle, in 2 Cor. vi. 10. And can a greater happiness be imagined, than that which gives a man here all things in possession, together with a glorious eternity in reversion? In a word, it is not what a man has, but what he is, which must make him happy: and thus, as I have demonstrated the utter insufficiency of riches to make men happy, so to confirm the high reason of our Saviour’s dissuasive from covetousness, against all objections, or so much as pretences to the contrary; we shall further observe, that covetousness is by no means a certain way to procure riches; and if neither riches can make a man happy, nor covetousness make him rich, all pleas for it must needs be torn up by the very roots. And for this we need not assign any other ground or cause of the strange and frequent disappointments which covetousness meets with in the ends it drives at, if we consider the nature of the means and instruments which it makes use of for the bringing of these ends about. Such as are fraud and force, schism and sedition, sacrilege and rebellion, all of them practices carrying the curse of God inseparably cleaving to them and inherent in them. And to shew this in the principal of them, the violation of things sacred, who ever knew any family made rich by sacrilege? or any robber of the altar, but sooner or later he fell a just sacrifice to the shrine he robbed? Covetousness 345may possibly sometimes procure such an one a broad estate for the present, but a long one never. Wealth may brave and flourish it for a while in the front and forepart of his life, but poverty generally brings up the rear. For the justice of God is never in jest, nor does it work by halves in such cases; but whether by a speedy or lingering execution, by striking or eating through the cursed thing, it will be sure to make good its blow at last. A notable instance of which, we have in the faction which carried all before it in the grand rebellion of forty-one. Men were then factious and rapacious, because they were first covetous; and none more so, than a pack of incendiaries, who had usurped the name of ministers of the gospel. For these were the men, who with such rage and vehemence preached down episcopacy and the established government of the church, in hopes to have had a great part, at least, of the revenues of it bestowed upon them for their pains. But, alas, poor tools! they understood not the work they were employed in; for the lay-grandees, their masters, (who had more wit with their godliness,) meant no such thing: no, the hunters never intended that the hounds should eat the hare; but though their throats, their noise, and their fangs were made use of to run it down, and catch it, yet, being once caught, they quickly found that it was to be meat only for their masters; and that, whatsoever became of the constitution of the church, effectual care was taken that the lands of it should go another way. And in good earnest it would fare but very ill with mankind, if all that the mouth gapes for, the hand should be able to grasp. But, thanks be to God, innumerable are the ways which Providence 346has, (some of them visible, and some secret and in visible, but all of them certain,) by which it crosses and confounds the greedy wretch even in his most refined contrivances and arts of getting; and there by gives the world a convincing proof, one would think, (if experience could convince men,) that it is God, and God alone, who (as Moses said to the Israelites) must teach men to get wealth, as well as enable them to enjoy it. And consequently, that for a man to be covetous and poor too, a miser and yet a beggar, is no such paradox, as to imply either an inconsistency in the thing itself, or a contradiction in the terms.
And now, in the last place, having finished the subject before us, in the several particulars proposed to be discoursed of by us; let us sum up, and recapitulate all in a few words, viz. that since it is natural for men to design to make their lives as happy as they can; and since they promise themselves this happiness from riches, and thereupon use covetousness as the surest means to attain these riches; and yet, upon all the foregoing accounts, it is manifest, that neither can covetousness certainly procure riches, nor riches certainly procure a man this happiness; it must follow, by an unavoidable inference, that covetousness must needs be in the same degree irrational, in which riches are to this great end ineffectual; and consequently, that there is as little reason for avarice, as there is religion in it. And therefore that the covetous person (whatsoever he may seem, either in his own or the world’s opinion, is in truth neither rich, reasonable, nor religious; but chargeable with all that folly, and liable to all that misery, which is justly the shame and 347portion of those, who, according to those other excellent words of our Saviour, in the 21st verse of this chapter, lay up treasure for themselves, and are not rich towards God.
To whom (as the sole giver of all happiness, whether with or without riches) be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for ever more. Amen.348
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