Imágenes de páginas


that the world was made for the Messias. And we Christians hold, that it was made by him too. For he was (as the prophet Isaiah styles him) the "mighty God," and consequently the creator of all that was not God. The son of Abraham by one nature, and eternally before Abraham by another. And yet this wonderful almighty person, whom the whole world could not circumscribe, by reason of the divinity and immensity of his being, had not so much in the same world as where to lay his head," by reason of the meanness of his condition. From all which it follows, that since the quality of the person persuading makes one great part or ingredient in the persuasion, nothing could come more invincibly, by way of argument, against covetousness, than a discourse against it from the mouth of him who created, governed, and had a rightful title to all things, and yet possessed nothing. And thus much for the first thing to be considered in the dehortation; namely, the person dehorting, who was Christ himself. Pass we now to the

Second thing to be considered in it, to wit, the thing we are dehorted from, which is covetousness. And here, one would think, it might well be supposed, that there needed no great pains to explain what this is, if we may rationally conclude, that men know the things they practise, or (in other words) understand what they do; yet since the very nearness of the object sometimes hinders the sight of it, and nothing is more usual than for men to be most of all strangers at home, and to overlook the darling sin lying in their own bosoms, where they think they can never sufficiently hide it, (especially from themselves,) I shall endeavour to give some account of the nature of this vice. And that,

1. Negatively, by shewing what it is not. And

2. Positively, by declaring what it is, and wherein it does consist; for there is often a fallacy on both sides. And

1. For the negative. Covetousness is not that prudent forecast, parsimony, and exactness, by which men bound their expenses according to the proportion of their fortunes. When the river is shallow, surely it is concerned to keep within its own banks. No man is bound to make himself a beggar, that fools or flatterers may account him generous; nor to spend his estate, to gratify the humour of such as are like to be the first who shall despise and slight him, when it is spent. If God bestows upon us a blessing, we may be confident that he looks upon it as worth our keeping. And he only values the good providence of God for giving him an estate, who uses some providence himself in the management of it; and by so doing, puts it into his power to relieve the poverty of the distressed, and to recover a sinking friend, when the

circumstances of things shall stamp his liberality with the name of charity and religion. For indeed he only is in a true sense charitable, who can sacrifice that to duty, which otherwise he knows well enough both how to prize and make use of himself; and he alone can be said to love his friend really, who can make his own convenience bow to his friend's necessity, and thereby shews that he values his friendship more than any thing that his friend can receive from him. But he who with a promiscuous undistinguishing profuseness does not so much dispense, as throw away what he has, proclaims himself a fool to all the intelligent world about him; and is utterly ignorant, both of what he has and what he does; till at length, having emptied himself of all, he comes to have his purse and his head both alike.

We never find the Scripture commending any prodigal but one, and him too only for his ceasing to be so. Whose courses if we reflect upon, we shall see his prodigality bringing him from his revelling companions and his riotous meats, to the swine and to the trough; and from imitating their sensuality, by a natural consequence, to take up with their diet too. Prodigality is the devil's steward and purse-bearer, ministering to all sorts of vice; and it is hard, if not impossible, for a prodigal person to be guilty of no other vice but prodigality. For men generally are prodigal, because they are first intemperate, juxurious, or ambitious. And these, we know, are vices too brave and costly to be kept and maintained at an easy rate; they must have large pensions, and be fed with both hands, though the man that feeds them starves for his pains. From whence it is evident, that that which only retrenches, and cuts off the supplies of these gaping, boundless appetites, is so far from deserving the ugly name of avarice, that it is a noble instrument of virtue, a step to grace, and a great preparation of nature for religion. In a word, so far as parsimony is a part of prudence, it can be no part of covetousness.

And thus having shewn negatively what the covetousness here condemned by our Saviour is not, let us now shew positively what it is and wherein it does consist. And we shall find that it consists in these following things.

1. An anxious, carking care about the things of this world: such a care as is expressed (Matt. vi. 28,) by “taking thought;" the Greek word is τί μεριμνᾶτε, and in the 31st verse, as μn our perpipevnonte. A word importing such a thoughtfulness as distracts, and, as it were, divides the mind, and after it has divided it, unconscionably takes both parts to itself. In short, such a care is here meant, as lies like a kind of wolf in a man's breast, perpetually gnawing and corroding it, and is

[ocr errors]


elsewhere expressed by Saint Luke, xii. 29, by being of doubtful mind." As when a man, after all his labours in the sober, rational, and industrious pursuit of his lawful calling, yet distrusts the issues of God's providence for a competent support therein, and dares not cast himself upon that goodness of God which spreads its fatherly bounty over all, even the least, the lowest, and most contemptible parts of the creation. Such an one is a direct reproach to his great Lord and Maker, while he can find in his heart to think him so careful of the very meanest rank of beings, as in the mean time to overlook the wants of his noblest creatures, whom he made to lord it over all the rest, and, as a farther honour, designed themselves for his own peculiar service: but yet so, that he never intended that they should serve even him, the Lord of all, for nothing. No, the methods of Providence are far from being so preposterous, as, while it "adorns the lilies, and clothes the very grass of the field," to leave him naked, who was ordered by God and nature to set his feet upon both, and while it "feeds the fowls of the air,' and the "beasts of the land," to suffer him to starve, for whose food both of them were made. Besides, that man has a claim also to a promise for his support and sustenance, which none ever missed of, who came up to the conditions of it. And now, can God require an easier and more reasonable homage from the sons of men, than that they should trust him, who neither will nor can fail them? And withal rest satisfied, quiet, and composed in their thoughts while they do so? For surely the infinite power and goodness of God may much more rationally be depended upon, than a man's own pitiful projects and endeavours, so much subject to chance and disappointment, be the man himself never so skilful, never so laborious. See with what strength of reason our Saviour argues down this solicitous, restless temper of mind, in the forementioned 6th of Saint Matthew, from this one unanswerable consideration, that if God so carefully and tenderly provides for mankind in their greatest concernments, surely he will not relinquish them in those, where the difficulty of a supply is less, and yet their inability to supply themselves altogether as great. "Is not the life," says our Saviour, more than meat, and the body than raiment?" And shall we commit the former to the common mercies of Providence, but wholly distrust it for the latter? And instead thereof, fly for succour to our own short, fallible contrivances? When it is certain, that our thinking can no more of itself work an alteration in our civil, than it can in our natural estate; nor can a man, independently upon the overruling influence of God's blessing, care and cark himself one penny richer, any more than one cubit taller: the same all


disposing power no less marking out the exact bounds and measures of our estates, than determining the just stature of our bodies; and so fixing the bulk and breadth of one, as well as the height of the other. We vainly think we have these things at the disposal of our own wills; but God will have us know, that they are solely the result of his. But,

2. Covetousness implies in it also a rapacity in getting. When men, as it were, with open mouth fly upon the prey, and catch with that eagerness, as if they could never open their hands wide enough, nor reach them out far enough to compass the objects of their boundless desires. So that, had they (as the fable goes of Briareus) each of them an hundred hands, they would all of them be employed in grasping and gathering, and hardly one of them in giving or laying out; but all in receiving, and none in restoring; a thing in itself so monstrous, that nothing in nature besides is like it, except it be death and the grave, the only things I know which are always robbing and carrying off the spoils of the world, and never making restitution. For otherwise, all the parts of the universe, as they borrow of one another, so they still pay what they borrow, and that by so just and wellbalanced an equality, that their payments always keep pace with their receipts. But, on the contrary, so great and so voracious a prodigy is covetousness, that it will not allow a man to set bounds to his appetites, though he feels himself stinted in his capacitites; but impetuously pushes him on to get more, while he is at a loss for room to bestow, and an heart to enjoy what he has already. This ravenous, vulture-like disposition the wise man expresses by "making haste to be rich," Prov. xxviii. 20, adding withal, that he who does so "shall not be innocent." The words are a meiosis, and import much more than they express, as there is great reason they should; for so much of violence is there in the course or practice here declared against, that neither reason nor religion, duty nor danger, shall be able to stop such an one in his career, but that he will leap over all mounds and fences, break through right and wrong, and even venture his neck in pursuit of the design his head and his heart are so set upon. And this, I confess, is haste with a witness, but not one degree more than what is implied in "making haste to be rich." For from hence it is, that we see some estates, like mushrooms, spring up in a night, and some who were begging or borrowing at the beginning of the year, ready to be purchasers before it comes about. But this is by no means the course or method of nature; the advances of which are still gradual, and scarce discernible in their motions; but only visible in their issue. For nobody perceives the grass grow, or the shadow move upon the dial, till after some time and leisure we reflect upon their

progress. In like manner, usually and naturally, riches, if lawful, rise by degrees, and rather come dropping by small proportions into the honest man's coffers, than pouring in like a torrent or land-flood, which never brings so much plenty where at length it settles, but it does as much mischief all along where it passes.

Upon the whole matter, the greedy getter is like the greedy eater; it is possible that by taking in too fast he may choke or surfeit, but he will hardly nourish and strengthen himself, or serve any of the noble purposes of nature, which rather intends the security of his health, than the gratification of his appetite.

And in this respect covetousness, a thing of itself bad enough, is heightened by the conjunction of another every whit as bad, which is impatience; a quality sudden, eager, and insatiable, which grasps at all, and admits of no delay, scorning to wait God's leisure, and attend humbly and dutifully upon the issues of his wise and just providence. Such persons would have riches "make themselves wings to fly to them," though one, much wiser than they, has assured us, Prov. xxiii. 5, that when they "make themselves wings," they intend "to fly away."

But certainly, in this business of growing rich, poor men (though never so poor) should slack their pace, (how open soever they found the way before them,) and (as we may so express it) join something of the cripple to the beggar, and not think to fly or run forthwith to a total and immediate change of their condition, but to consider, that both nature and religion love to proceed leisurely and gradually, and still to place a middle state between two extremes. And therefore, when God calls needy, hungry persons to places and opportunities of raising their fortunes, (a thing which of late has happened very often,) it concerns them to think seriously of the greatness of the temptation which is before them, and to consider the danger of a full table to a person ready to starve. But generally such as in this manner step immediately out of poverty into power know no bounds, but are infinite and intolerable in their exactions. So that, in Prov. xxviii. 3, Solomon most elegantly compares "a poor man oppressing the poor, to a sweeping rain, which leaves no food;" a rain which drives and carries off all clean before it; the least finger of a poor oppressor being heavier than the loins of a rich one; for while one is contented to fleece the skin, the other strips the very bones and all this to redeem the time of his former poverty, and at one leap, as it were, to pass from a low and indigent into a full and magnificent condition. Though, for the most part, the righteous judgment of God overtakes such persons in the issue, and commonly appoints this for their lot, that estates sudden in the getting are

but short in the continuance. They rose, as I shew, like land-floods, and like them they fell. 3. Covetousness implies in it all sinister and illegal ways of getting. And if we dwell fully upon this, we shall find, that it is not for nothing that covetousness is called by the apostle, (1 Tim. vi. 10,) "the root of all evil;" a root as odious for its branches, as the branches for their fruit; a root fed with dirt and dunghills, and so no wonder if of as much foulness as fertility; there being no kind of vice whatsoever, but covetousness is ready to adopt and make use of it, so far as it finds it instrumental to its designs; and such is the cognation between all vices, that there is hardly any, but what very often happens to be instrumental and conducing to others besides itself. It is covetousness which commands in chief in most of the insurrections and murders which have infested the world; and most of the perjuries and pious frauds which have shamed down religion, and even dissolved society, have been resolved into the commanding dictates of this vice. So that, whatsoever has been pretended, gain has still been the thing aimed at, both in the grosser outrages of an open violence, and the sanctified rogueries of a more refined dissimulation. None ever acted the traitor and the Judas expertly and to the purpose, but still there was a quid dabitis behind the curtain. Covetousness has been all along, even in the most villainous contrivances, the principal, though hidden spring of motion; and lying, cheating, hypocritical prayers and fastings, the sure wheels by which the great work (as they called it) has still gone forward. Nay, so mighty a sway does this pecuniary interest bear even in matters of religion, that toleration itself, (as sovereign a virtue as it is said to be of, for preserving order and discipline in the church,) yet without contribution, would hardly be able to support the separate meetings of the dissenting brotherhood; but that, if the people should once grow sullen, and shut up their purses, it is shrewdly to be feared, that the preachers themselves would shut up their conventicles too: at present, it is confessed, the trade is quick and gainful, but still, like other trades, not to be carried on without money. Gold is the best cordial to keep the good old cause in heart; and there is little danger of its fainting, and much less of starving, with so much of that in its pocket.

The truth is, covetousness is a vice of such a general influence and superintendency over all other vices, that it will serve its turn even by those which, at first view, seem most contrary to it. So that it will command votaries to itself even out of the tribe of Epicurus, and make uncleanness, drunkenness, and intemperance itself minister to its designs; for let a man be but rich and great, and there

shall be enough to humour him in his lusts, that they may go sharers with him in his wealth enough to drink, and sot, and carouse with him, if, by drinking with him, they may come also to eat, and drink, and live upon him, and, by creeping into his bosom, to get into his pocket too; so that we need not go to the cozening, lying, perjured shopkeeper, who will curse himself into hell forty times over, to gain twopence or threepence in the pound extraordinary, and sits retailing away heaven and salvation for pence and halfpence, and seldom vends any commodity, but he sells his soul with it, like brown paper, into the bargain. I say, we need not go to these forlorn wretches, to find where the covetous man dwells; for sometimes we may find him also in a clean contrary disguise, perhaps gallanting it with his ladies, or drinking and roaring, and shaking his elbow in a tavern with some rich young cully by his side, who, from his dull, rustic converse, (as some will have it,) is newly come to town to see fashions and know men, forsooth: and having newly buried his father in the country, to give his estate a more honourable burial in the city.

In short, the covetous person puts on all forms and shapes, runs through all trades and professions, haunts all places, and makes himself expert in the mystery of all vices, that he may the better pay his devotions to his god Mammon. And so, in a quite different way from that of the blessed apostle, he "becomes all things to all men," that he may by any means gain something; for he cares not much for gaining persons, where he can gain nothing else.

4thly and lastly, Covetousness implies in it a tenaciousness in keeping. Hitherto we have seen it filling its bags, and in this property we find it sealing them up. In the former, we have seen how eagerly it can catch; and in this latter, it shews us how fast it can gripe. And we need no other proof of the peculiar baseness of this vice, than this. For as the prime and more essential property of goodness is to communicate and diffuse itself; so, in the same degree that any thing encloses and shuts up its plenty within itself, in the same it recedes and falls off from the nature of good. If we cast our eyes over the whole creation, we shall find every part of the universe contributing something or other, either to the help or ornament of the whole. The great business of Providence is to be continually issuing out fresh supplies of the divine bounty to the creature, which lives and subsists like a lamp fed by continual infusions from the same hand which first lights and sets it up. So that covetousness is nothing so much as a grand contradiction to Providence, while it terminates wholly within itself. The covetous person lives as if the world were made altoge

ther for him, and not he for the world, to take in every thing, and to part with nothing. Charity is accounted no grace with him, nor gratitude any virtue. The cries of the poor never enter into his ears; or if they do, he has always one ear readier to let them out, than the other to take them in. In a word, by his rapines and extortions, he is always for making as many poor as he can, but for relieving none whom he either finds or makes so; so that it is a question, whether his heart be harder, or his fist closer. In a word, he is a pest and a monster; greedier than the sea, and barrener than the shore; a scandal to religion, and an exception from common humanity: and upon no other account fit to live in this world, but to be made an example of God's justice in the next.

Creditor and debtor divide the world; and he who is not one, is certainly the other. But the covetous wretch does not only shut his hand to the poor in point of relief, but to others also in point of debt. Upon which account the apostle James upbraids the rich men, (James, v. 4.) "Behold," says he, "the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back, crieth." These, it seems, being the men who allow neither servants nor workmen any other wages than, as the saying is, their labour for their pains. Men generally, as the world goes, are too powerful to be just, and too rich to pay their debts. For whatsoever they can borrow, they look upon as lawful prize, and extremely despise and laugh at the folly of restitution. But well it is for the poor orphan and the oppressed, that there is a court above, where the cause of both will be infallibly recognized, and such devourers be forced to disgorge the widows' houses they had swallowed, and the most righteous Judge be sure to pay those their due, who would never pay any else theirs.

The truth is, the covetous person is so bad a pay-master, that he lives and dies as much a debtor to himself as to any one else; his own back and belly having an action of debt against him; while he pines, and pinches, and denies himself, not only in the accommodations, but also in the very necessities of nature; with the greatest nonsense imaginable, living a beggar, that he may die rich, and leave behind him a mass of money, valuable upon no other account in the world, but as it is an instrument to command and procure to a man those conveniences of life, which such an one voluntarily and by full choice deprives himself of.

Nor does this vice stop here; but, as I verily believe, one great reason which keeps some persons from the blessed sacrament, may be resolved into their covetousness. For God, in that duty, certainly calls for a remembrance of the poor; and therefore there must be something offered, as well as received, by the

worthy communicant. But this the covetous wretch likes not, who perhaps could brook the duty well enough, were it an ordinance only for receiving and taking in; but since it requires also something to be parted with, he flies from the altar, as if he were to be sacrificed upon it; and so, turning his back upon his Saviour, chooses rather to forget all the benefits of his precious death and passion, than to cast in his portion into the poor's treasury; a strange piece of good husbandry certainly, for a man thus to lose his soul, only to save his pelf.

And thus much for the second thing considerable in the dehortation; namely, the thing we are therein dehorted from, which is that mean, sordid, and degrading vice of covetousness; the nature of which I have been endeavouring to make out, both negatively, by shewing what it is not; and positively, by shewing what it is, and wherein it consists. I proceed now to the

Third and last thing to be considered in the dehortation: which is, the way and means whereby we are taught to avoid the thing we are thus dehorted from. And that is, by using a constant care and vigilance against it; "Take heed, and beware of covetousness." Concerning which we must observe, that as every thing to be avoided is properly an evil or mischief, so such an evil as is to be avoided by a singular and more than ordinary caution, is always attended with one or both of these two quali


1. An exceeding aptness to prevail upon us. 2. An equal difficulty in removing it, when it has once prevailed. In both which respects we are eminently cautioned against covetousness. And first, we shall find, that it is a vice marvellously apt to prevail upon and insinuate into the heart of man; and that upon these three accounts,

1. The near resemblance which it often bears to virtue.

2. The plausibility of its pleas and pretences. And,

3. The great reputation which riches generally give men in the world, by whatsoever ways or means they were gotten. And,

lawful or indifferent, rendering it culpable and unlawful. Covetousness is confessedly a vice, could we but know where to find it. But when it is confronted with prodigality, it is so apt to take shelter under the name and shew of good husbandry, that it is hard to discern the reality from the pretence, and to represent nature in its true shape. Parsimony and saving, determined by due circumstances, are, questionless, the dictates of right reason, and so far not allowable only, but commendable also. For surely there can be no immorality in sparing, where there is no law whatsoever that obliges a man to spend. It is the common and received voice of the world, that nothing can be more laudably got, than that which is lawfully saved. Saving, as I hinted before, being nothing else but a due valuation of the favours of Providence, and a fencing against one of the greatest of miseries, poverty, which, Solomon tells us, "comes like an armed man" upon the lavish and the prodigal ; and when it comes, is of itself a curse and a temptation, and too often makes a man as wicked as he is poor. But such is the frailty of human nature, and its great proneness to vice, that, under the mask of lawful parsimony, that "amor sceleratus habendi," covetousness insensibly steals upon and gets possession of the soul, and the man is entangled and enslaved, and brought under the power of an ill habit, before he is so much as alarmed with its first approaches; and ready to be carried off by the plague, or some mortal distemper, before he is aware of the infection. But,

2dly, Covetousness is apt to insinuate also by the plausibility of its pleas. Amongst which, none more usual and general, than the necessity of providing for children and posterity; whom, all will grant, parents should not be instrumental to bring into the world, only to see them starve when they are here. Nor are just the necessities of a bare subsistence to be the only measure of their care for them; but some consideration is to be had also of the quality and condition to which they were born, and consequently were brought into, not by choice, but by descent. For it seems not suitable to the common and most impartial judgment of mankind, that one of a noble family and extraction should be put to hedging and ditching, and be forced

1. It insinuates, by the near resemblance it bears to virtue. Virtue and vice dwell upon the confines of each other; always most distant in their natures, though the same too often in appearance, like the borders of two kingdoms or countries, the greatest enemies, and yet the nearest neighbours; so that it must needs require no small accuracy of judgment (and such as few are masters of) to state the just limits of both and a man must go nearer than the covetous person himself, to hit the dividing point, and to shew exactly where the virtue ends and the vice begins; a small accident or circumstance often changing the whole quality of the action, and of before their truest friends.

* But much different was the advice of a certain lawyer, a great confident of the rebels in the time of their reign; who, upon a consult held amongst them, how to dispose of the Duke of Gloucester, youngest son of King Charles the First, then in their hands, with great gravity (forsooth) declared it for his opinion, that they should bind him out to some good trade, that so he might eat his bread honestly. These were his words, and very extraordinary ones they were indeed. Nevertheless, they could not hinder him from being made a judge in the reign of King Charles the Second. A practice not unusual in the courts of some princes, to encourage and prefer their mortal enemies

« AnteriorContinuar »