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o support himself with the labour of his hands and the sweat of his brow. It is hard measure to be nobly born and basely endowed; to wear a title above one's circumstances, and so serve only as a foil to an elder brother. But now, by such provisions for posterity, the reason and measure of men's gains, from personal, is like to grow infinite and perpetual; and yet no charge of covetousness seems here able to take place; it being impossible for a man to be covetous in that, in which no getting can be superfluous. The first plea of avarice therefore is, provision for posterity.
But then, if a man's condition be such, that all his cares are to terminate in his own person, and that he has neither sons nor daughters to lay up for, but that his whole family lives and dies with him, and one grave is to receive them all, why then covetousness will urge to him the necessity of hoarding up against old age, against the days of weakness and infirmity, when the strength of his body and the vigour of his mind shall fail him, and when the world shall measure out their friendships and respects to him only according to the dimensions of his purse. Upon which account, one would think, that all a man's gettings and hoardings up, during his youth, ought to pass but for charity and compassion to his old age; which must either live and subsist upon the stock of former acquisitions, or expect all that misery, which want, added to weakness, can bring upon it. The sight of an old man, poor and destitute, crazy and scorned, unable to help himself, or to buy the help of others, is a shrewd argument to recommend covetousness to one, even in his greenest years, and to make the very youngest and jolliest sparks, in their most flourishing age, look about them. It having been the observation and judgment of some, who have wanted neither wisdom nor experience, that an old man has no friend but his money. And I heartily wish I could confute the observation.
But the like and no less plausible a plea will this vice also put in for providing against times of persecution, or public calamity; calling to a man's mind all the hardships of a civil war, all the plunders and rapines, when nothing was safe above-ground; but a man was forced to bury his bags, to keep himself alive. And therefore, though, at present, there should be peace, and all about us calm and quiet; yet who knows how soon a storm may arise, and the spirit of rebellion and fanaticism put it into men's heads once more to raise armies to plunder and cut throats in the Lord; and then, believe it, when the great work shall be thus carrying on, and we shall see our friends and our neighbours reformed out of house and home as formerly, it will be found worth while to have secured a friendly penny in a corner, which may bid us eat, when we should otherwise starve, and speak comfort to us,
when our friends will not so much as know
With these and such like reasonings, fallaciously applied, will covetousness persuade a man both of the necessity and lawfulness of his raising heap upon heap, and joining house to house, and puttting no bounds to his gains, when his hand is once in. And it must be confessed, that there is some shew of reason for what has been alleged. But when again we shall consider, that the forementioned cases are all but future contingencies, which are by no means to be the rule of men's actions, our duty is only to look to the precept, and the obligation of it, which is plain and present, and may be easily known; and for the rest, to commit ourselves to the good providence of God. For while we are solicitously providing against the miseries of age and persecution, how do we know, whether we shall ever live to be old? or to see the calamity of our country? or the persecution of our persons? But however, if God shall see it for his honour to try and humble us with the miseries of any of these conditions, it is not all our art and labour, all our parsimony and providence, which can prevent them. And therefore, how plausible soever the pleas of covetousness may seem, they are far from being rational. But,
3dly and lastly, Covetousness is apt to prevail upon the minds of men, by reason of the reputation which riches generally give men in the world, by whatsoever ways or means they were gotten. It is a very great, though sad and scandalous truth, that rich men are at the very same time esteemed and honoured, while the ways by which they grew rich are abhorred and detested; for how is griping and avarice exclaimed against! how is oppression branded all the world over! All mankind seems agreed to run them down; and yet, what addresses are made, what respects shewn, what high encomiums given to a wealthy miser, to a rich and flourishing oppressor! The lucky effect seems to have atoned for and sanctified its vile cause; and the basest thing covered with gold, lies hid itself, and shines with the lustre of its covering.
Virtue, charity, and generosity, are indeed splendid names, and look bright in sermons and panegyrics, (which few regard :) but when we come to practice and common life, virtue, if poor, is but a sneaking thing, looked upon disdainfully, and treated coldly; and when charity brings a man to need charity, he must be content with the scraps from the table of the rich miser or the great oppressor. For no invitations are now made, like that in the gospel, where messengers are sent, with tickets, to bring in guests from the hedges and highways. No, it is not the way in our days to spread tables or furnish our banquets for
the poor and the blind, the hungry and the indigent. For in our times, (to the just shame of the fops our ancestors, as some call them,) full bellies are still oftenest feasted; "and to them who have shall be given, and they shall have more abundantly." This is the way of the world; be the discourse of it what it will.
And as this is the general practice of the world, so it must needs be the general observation of the world too; for while men reproach vice, and caress the vicious; upbraid the guilt of an action, but adore its success; they must not think, that all about them are so without eyes or common sense, as not to spy out the prevarication, and to take an estimate of the real value of things and persons, rather by what they do, than by what they talk. Since therefore it is so natural for every one to desire to live with as good esteem and reputation in the world as he can, it is no wonder, if covetousness makes so strong a plea for itself in the hearts of men, by promising them riches, which they find so certain a way to honour and respect. And thus much for the first general reason of the caution, given by our Saviour, against covetousness; namely, its great aptness to prevail upon and insinuate into men's minds.
2. The other general reason is, the exceeding great difficulty of removing it, when it has once prevailed. In which and the like cases, one would think it argument sufficient to caution any man against a disease, if we can but convince him of the great likelihood of his falling into it; and not only of that, but, in case he should fall into it, of the extreme difficulty (sometimes next to an impossibility) of his recovering, and getting out of it. Both which considerations together, certainly should add something more than ordinary to the caution of every wise man, and make him double his guards against so threatening a mischief. And as for covetousness, we may truly say of it, that it makes both the alpha and omega in the devil's alphabet, and that it is the first vice in corrupt nature which moves, and the last which dies. For look upon any infant, and as soon as it can but move an hand, we shall see it reaching out after something or other which it should not have; and he who does not know it to be the proper and peculiar sin of old age, seems himself to have the dotage of that age upon him, whether he has the years or no. For who so intent upon the world commonly, as those who are just going out of it? Who so diligent in heaping up wealth, as those who have neither will nor time to spend it?
If we should insist upon the reason of things, nothing seems more a prodigy, than to observe, how catching and griping those are, who are utterly void of all power and
capacity of enjoying any of these things whien they so eagerly catch at. All which shews, how fast this vice rivets itself into the heart, which it once gets hold of; how it even grows into a part of nature, and scarce ever leaves the man who has been enslaved by it, till he leaves the world.
Now, if we inquire into the reason of the difficult removal of this vice, we shall find, that all those causes, which promoted its first insinuation and entrance into men's affections, contribute also to its settlement and continuance in the same; as the same sword which enables to conquer, enables also to reign and rule after the conquest. Covetousness, we shew, prevailed by its likeness and resemblance to virtue, by the plausibility of its pleas, and by the reputation of its effects. All which, as they were so many arguments to the soul, first to admit and take in the vice, so they are as potent persuasives not to part with it. But the grand reason, I conceive, which ties the knot so fast, that it is hardly to be untied, is this; that covetousness is founded upon that great and predominant principle of nature, which is self-preservation. It is indeed an ill-built superstructure, but yet it is raised upon that lawful and most allowed foundation. The prime and main design of nature, whether in things animate or inanimate, being to preserve or defend itself; which since it cannot do, but by taking in relief and succour from things without, and since this desire is so very eager and transporting, it easily overshoots in the measure of what it takes in, and thereby incurs the sin and contracts the guilt of covetousness; which is properly an "immoderate desire and pursuit of even the lawful helps and supports of nature."
Men dread want, misery, and contempt, and therefore think they can never be enough provided with the means of keeping off these evils: so that, if want, misery, and contempt were not manifestly enemies to, and destructive of the enjoyments of nature; and nature were not infinitely concerned to secure and make good these enjoyments; and riches and plenty were not thought the direct instruments to effect this; there could be no such thing as covetousness in the world. But even money (the desire of all nations) would sink in its value, and gold itself lose its weight, though it kept its lustre. For to what rational purpose should men prowl and labour for that, without which nature could continue in its full, entire fruition of whatsoever was either needful for its support, or desirable for its pleasure? But it is evident, that men live and act under this persuasion, that unless they have wealth and plenty enough, they shall be needy, miserable, and despised, and that the way to have enough, is to let nothing, if possible, go beside them.
So that herein lies the strength of covetousness, that it acts in the strength of nature, that it strikes in with its first and most forcible inclination; which is to secure itself, both in the good it actually has, and against the evil it fears.
In short therefore, to recapitulate the foregoing particulars. If caution and vigilance be ever necessary for the prevention of any evil, it must be of such an one as insinuates itself easily, grows upon a man insensibly, and sticks to him immovably ; and in a word, scarce ever loses its hold where it has once got it. So that a man must be continually watching and fencing against it, or he shall be sure to fall by it.
And thus much for the first general part of the text, to wit, the dehortation from covetousness, expressed in these words, "Take heed, and beware of covetousness." A vice, which no character can reach the compass, or fully express the baseness of, holding fast all it can get in one hand, and reaching at all it can desire with the other. A vice which may but too significantly be called the Bounix, or appetitus caninus of the soul, perpetually disposing it to a course of alternate craving and swallowing, and swallowing and craving; and which nothing can cure, or put an end to, but that which puts an end to the man himself too. In a word, of so killing a malignity is it, that wheresoever it settles, it may be deservedly said of it, that if it has enriched its thousands, it has damned its ten thousands. An hard saying, I confess; but it is the truth of it which makes it so. And therefore happy, no doubt, is that man, who maturely takes the warning which our Saviour so favourably gives him; and by shuuning the contagion of a vice so peculiarly branded and declared against, neither contracts the guilt, nor comes within the number of those whom God himself, (Psalm x. 3,) expressly tells us he abhors.
To which God (who so graciously warns us here, that he may not condemn us hereafter) be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore.
* Namely, Insatiabilis edendi cupiditas; sive morbus, quo laborantes, etiam post cibum esuriunt. Tusanus.
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."- LUKE, xii. 15.
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, namely, the dehortation, or dissuasion from covetousness; I have already despatched that in a discourse by itself, and so proceed now to
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 shewed, that these words 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 aud
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, namely, that riches were the direct and proper means to acquire happiness, our Saviour denies, as absolutely false; and the second, namely, 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 the 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, namely, “that a man's life consisteth 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 Saint Paul takes this word in 1 Thess. iii. 8. | "Now," says he, "we live, if we 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 tself 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 to 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 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. And when God
comes to account with us, (let our own measures be what they will,) he will consider
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, stated 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 to 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 have 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 make the man really miserable, by being thus held in 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 satisfactions 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 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 cannot 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 lock them out o countenance too; these being evils, no doubt 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 incapable 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 cager 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, some time 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. is not wisdom, but fortune which 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