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persons in your circumstances ? And are you thankful to the Giver of every good gift, for the general spread of true religion ? Surely you can never praise God enough for all these blessings, so plentifully showered down upon you, till you praise him with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven.
· It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a
rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”—Matt. xix. 24.
1. IN the preceding verses we have an account of a young man, who came running to our Lord, and kneeling down, not in hypocrisy, but in deep earnestness of soul; and said unto him, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” “ All the commandments," saith be, “I have kept from my youth: what lack I yet ?” Probably he had kept them in the literal sense ; yet he still loved the world. And he who knew what was in man, knew that, in this particular case, (for this is by no means a general rule,) he could not be healed of that desperate disease, but by a desperate remedy. Therefore he answered, “Go and sell all that thou hast, and give it to the poor: and come and follow me. But when he heard this, he went away sorrowing, for he had great possessions.” So all the fair blossoms withered away! For he would not lay up treasure in heaven at so high a price! Jesus, observing this, “ looked round about; and said unto his disciples,” Mark x. 23, &c., “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God! And they were astonished out of measure, and said aniong themselves, Who then can be saved ?" If it be so difficult for rich men to be saved, who have so many and so great advantages, who are free from the cares of this world, and a thousand difficulties, to which the poor are continually exposed !
2. It has indeed been supposed he partly retracts what he had said concerning the difficulty of rich men's being saved, by what is added in the tenth chapter of St. Mark. For after he had said, ver. 23, “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God !” when the disciples were astonished at his words, Jesus answered again, and said unto them, “How hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God !” ver. 24. But observė, 1, Our Lord did not mean hereby, to retract what he had said before. So far from it, that he immediately confirms it, by that awful declaration; “ It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”? Observe, 2, Both one of these sentences and the other assert the very same thing. For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for those that have riches not to trust in them.
3. Perceiving their astonishment at this hard saying, “ Jesus looked upon them,” undoubtedly with an air of inexpressible tenderness, to prevent them thinking the case of the rich desperate, and said, “ With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”
4. I apprehend, by a rich man here is meant, not only a man that has immense treasures, one that has heaped up gold as dust, and silver as the sand of the sea ; but any one that possesses more than the necessaries and conveniences of life. One that has food and raiment sufficient for himself and his family, and something over, is rich. By the kingdom of God, or of heaven, exactly equivalent terms, I believe is meant, not the kingdom of glory, (although that will without question follow,) but the kingdom of heaven; that is, true religion upon earth. The meaning then of our Lord's assertion is this, That it is absolutely impossible, unless by that power to which all things are possible, that a rich man should be a Christian: should have the mind that was in Christ, and to walk as Christ walked. Such are the hinderances to holiness, as well as the temptations to sin, which surround him on every side.
I. Such are the hinderances to holiness, which surround him on every side. To enumerate all these would require a large volume: I would only touch upon a few of them.
1. The root of all religion is faith, without which it is impossible to please God. Now whether you take this in its general acceptation, for an evidence of things not seen, of the invisible and the eternal world, of God and the things of God: how natural a tendency have riches to darken this evidence, to prevent your attention to God and the things of God, and to things invisible and eternal! And if you take it in another sense, for a confidence; what a tendency have riches to destroy this ; to make you trust, either for happiness or defence, in themselves, not in the living God! Or if you take faith in the proper Christian sense, as a divine confidence in a pardoning God; what a deadly, what an almost insuperable hinderance to this faith are riches! What! can a wealthy, and consequently an honourable man, come to God, as having nothing to pay? Can he lay all his greatness by, and come as a sinner, a mere sinner, the vilest of sinners ; as on a level with those that feed the dogs of his flock; with that beggar who lies at his gate full of sores ? Impossible, unless by the same power that made the heavens and the earth. Yet without doing this, he cannot, in any sense, enter into the kingdom of God. 2. What a hinderance are riches to the very first fruit of faith ;; namely, the love of God!" If any man love the world,” says the Apostle, “the love of the Father is not in him." But how is it possible for a man not to love the world, who is surrounded with all its allurements ? How can it be, that he should then hear the still small voice, which says, “My son, give me thy heart ?” What power less than Almighty, can send the rich man an answer to that prayer;
“Keep me dead to all below,
Only Cbrist resolv'd to know :
3. Riches are equally a hinderance to the loving our neighbour as ourselves; that is, to the loving all mankind as Christ loved us. А rich man may indeed love them that are of his own party, or his own opinion. He may love them that love him ; “Do not even Heathens,” baptized or unbaptized, “the same ?" But he cannot have pure, disinterested good-will to every child of man. This can only spring from the love of God, which has great possessions expelled from his soul.
4. From the love of God, and from no other fountain, true humility likewise flows. Therefore, so far as they hinder the love of God, riches must hinder humility likewise. They hinder this also in the rich, by cutting them off from that freedom of conversation, whereby they might be made sensible of their defects, and come to a true knowledge of themselves. But how seldom do they meet with a faithful friend; with one that can and will deal plainly with them! And without this, we are likely to grow gray in our faults; yea, to die “ with all our imperfections on our head.”
5. Neither can meekness subsist without humility ; for of pride naturally cometh contention. Our Lord accordingly directs us to learn of Him at the same time as to be meek and lowly in heart." Riches therefore are as great a hinderance to meeh ness as they are to humility : in preventing lowliness of mind, they of consequence prevent meekness, which increases in the same proportion as we sink in our own esteem; and, on the contrary, necessarily decreases as we think more highly of ourselves.
6. There is another Christian temper which is nearly allied to meekness and humility. But it is hardly a name. St. Paul terms it ETTEIXA. Perhaps till we find a better name, we may call it yieldingness; a readiness to subunit to others, to give up our own will
. This seems to be the quality which St. James ascribes to “ the wisdom from above,” when he styles it EUT1045, which we render easy to be entreated; easy to be convinced of what is true; easy to be persuaded. But how rarely is this amiable temper to be found in a wealthy man! I do not ow that I have found such a prodigy ten times, in above threescore and ten years.
7. And how uncommon a thing is it to find patience in those that have large possessions ! Unless when there is a counterbalance of long and severe afflictions, with which God is frequently pleased to
visit those he loves, as an antidote to their riches. This is not uncommon: he often sends pains, and sickness, and great crosses, to them that have great possessions. By these means, "patience has its perfect work, till they are perfect and entire, lacking nothing."
II. Such are some of the hinderances to holiness, which surround the rich on every side! We may now observe, on the other side, what a temptation riches are, to all unholy tempers.
1. And, first, how great is the temptation to Atheism, which naturally flows from riches ; even to an entire forgetfulness of God, as if there was no such Being in the universe! This is at present usually termed dissipation: a pretty name, atfixed by the great vulgar, to an utter disregard for God, and indeed for the whole invisible world. And how is the rich man surrounded with all manner of temptations to continual dissipation ! Yes, how is the art of dissipation studied among the rich and great! As Prior keenly says:
“ Cards are dealt, and dice are brought,
Happy effects of human wit,
Say rather, “that mortals may their God forget;" that they may keep him utterly out of their thoughts, who, though he sitteth on the circle of the heavens, yet is “ about their bed, and about their path, and spieth out all their ways.” Call this wit if you please; but is it wisdom ? O no! It is far, very far from it! Thou fool, dost thou imagine, because thou dost not see God, that God doth not see thee? Laugh on; play on ; sing on; dance on ; but “for all these things God will bring thee to judgment !"
2. From Atheism there is an easy transition to idolatry: from the worship of no God to the worship of false gods: and, in fact, he that does not love God, (which is his proper and his only proper worship,) will surely love some of the works of his hands; will love the creature, if not the Creator. But to how many species of idolatry is every rich man exposed! What continual and almost insuperable temptations is he under to “love the world;" and that, in all its branches ! - The desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life.” What innumerable temptations will he find, to gratify the desire of the flesh! Understand this rightly. It does not refer to one only, but all the outward senses. It is equal idolatry, to seek our happiness in gratifying any or all of these. But there is the greatest danger, lest men should seek it in gratifying their taste; in a moderate sensuality ; in a regular kind of Epicurism : not in gluttony, or drunkenness : far be that from them! They do not disorder the body; they only keep the soul dead; dead to God and all true religion.
3. The rich are equally surrounded with temptations from the desire of the eyes ; that is, the seeking happiness in gratifying the imagination, the pleasures of which the eyes chiefly minister. The objects that give pleasure to the imagination are grand, or beautiful, or new. Indeed all rich men have not a taste for grand objects : but they
have for new and beautiful things; especially for new : the desire of novelty being as natural to men, as the desire of meat and drink. Now how numerous are the temptations to this kind of idolatry, which naturally springs from riches! How strongly and continually are they solicited to happiness (if not in grand, yet) in beautiful houses, in elegant furniture, in curious pictures, in delightful gardens ! Perhaps in that trifle of all trifles, rich or gay apparel ! Yea, in every new thing, little or great, which Fashion, the mistress of fools, recommends ! How are rich men, of a more elevated turn of mind, tempted to seek happiness, as their various tastes lead, in. poetry, history, music, philosophy, or curious arts and sciences ! Now although it is certain all these have their use, and therefore may be innocently pursued, yet the seeking happiness in any of them instead of God, is manifest idolatry. And therefore were it only on this account, that riches furnish him with the means of indulging all these desires, it might well be asked, “Is not the life of a rich man, above all others, a temptation upon earth ?”
4. What temptation likewise must every rich man have, to seek happiness in the pride of life! I do not conceive the Apostle to mean thereby pomp, or state, or equipage : so much as “the honour that cometh of men," whether it be deserved or not. A rich man is sure to meet with this; it is a snare he cannot escape. The whole city of London uses the words rich and good as equivalent terms. “Yes,” say they, “he is a good man; he is worth a hundred thousand pounds.” And indeed every where, if thou dost well unto thyself, if thou increasest in goods, men will speak well of thee. All the world is agreed
" A thousand pounds supplies The want of twenty thousand qualities.".
And who can bear general applause, without being puffed up; with out being insensibly induced to think of himself “ more highly than he ought to think."
5. How is it possible that a rich man should escape pride, were it only on this account, that his situation necessarily occasions praise to flow in upon him from every quarter. For praise is generally poison to the soul; and the more pleasing, the more fatal; particularly when it is undeserved : So that well might our poet say;
And not only praise, whether deserved or undeserved, but every thing about him tends to inspire and increase pride. His noble house, his elegant furniture, his well-chosen pictures, his fine horses, his equipage, his very dress, yea, even “the embroidery plastered