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more surely discover men than their actions. They do not acts of piety and charity in obedience and thankfulness, to imitate and honour God, but sometimes for reputation and fame; as the pharisees, Mat. 6. (whose inseparable properties were pride and covetousness) dispensed their alms with the sound of a trumpet, to call the poor together. Other sins require shades and retirements, but pride to be conspicuously distinguished from others.
The covetous sometimes do good, to compound with God, and appease conscience, for their unrighteous procuring riches: their gifts are sin-offerings to expiate the guilt contracted by ill-gotten goods, not thank-offerings for God's free favours and benefits. To countenance their opinion and practice, they alledge our Saviour's counsel, “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations :" Luke 17. as if bestowing part of their unrighteous gains, would purchase discharge from the arrears due to divine justice. Can there be a more monstrous perverting the rectitude of truth, to conform it to the crooked lusts of men ? * St. Austin speaking of this vain and impious presumption of some in his time, advises them, 'Do not form such an unworthy conception of God, as were very unbecoming a good man: he is not to be bribed by offerings of robbery, as if he were a party in the robbery : such alms and legacies are so far from propitiating him, that they cry for vengeance against those that offer them. Yet how many, who have raised great estates by unrighteousness, quiet their accusing thoughts by resolving to bequeath some pious legacies, when they shall leave the world? And how often when a rich man dies, his last will dies with him, and is buried in oblivion ? How can an unrighteous man confide in the conscience of another, when his own has been so unfaithful ? Besides, that is only ours that remains when all our debts are paid; and till there be restitution of what by deceit or force was unjustly got, there is nothing to give.
A covetous man is very defective in the manner of giving. There are internal affections to be mixed with the acts of charity. They must be done with readiness and alacrity; and not wrung out, as a man presses sour grapes : for there is no moral value in benefits so obtained. God loves a cheerful giver. Cha
• Noli talem tibi pingere deum. Aug. Serm. 35. de Verb. Dom,
rity must be unconstrained as well as unconfined ; free, and respecting all in their wants and miseries. Now covetousness makes one as unwilling to part with his money, as to have the blood, the treasure of life, drawn from his veins. We are directed to put on bowels of compassion, and to remember them in bonds, as bound with them. Col. 3. 3. Covetousness infuses an unrelenting frame into the breast, hardens the bowels, and makes them incapable of melting impressions. The languishing looks, the pleading eyes, the complaints and calamities of the miserable, do not affect those in whom covetousness reigns: the tender inclinations of humanity are quenched by it.
The covetous will not give in proportion to their abilities, and the exigencies of others. It is true, an estate is often more in reputation than in reality, and there cannot be a visible conviucing-proof of covetousness from the meanness of the gift; but there is a secret proof from the conscience of the giver, and known to God. The widow that gave two mites to the sacred treasury, was more liberal than those who threw into it richer gifts. “God accepts according to what a man has, and not according to what he has not.” A covetous man, though rich, will pretend the smallness of his estate to excuse and palliate his illiberal giving ; and makes himself doubly guilty, of feigned poverty, and real avarice, in God's sight: but “a liberal man deviseth liberal things :" he duly considers the circumstances of persons in want; and esteems a just occasion of charity, to be a golden opportunity, and will be noble and magnificent.
I will now consider the difficulty of the cure. This will be evident from the causes of the disease, and the frequent unsuccessfulness of the means in order to it. There is no kind of sinners more inconvincible and incurable, than the worldly-minded. It is a rule without exception, those sins which have the greatest appearance of reason, and the least of sensuality, are the most plau.sible and prevailing. So long as there are remains of reason in mankind, there will be modesty; and brutish lusts will expose to shame. The high birth and honourable rank of the unclean, cannot varnish and disguise their impurities, but render them more infamous and odious. Besides, unless men are not prodigiously bad, if they are not free from fault, they will not defend their intemperance and incontinency. If there be any spark of conscience alive, it discovers and condemns those sins, and assists a faithful counsellor in their cure. But the covetous, by many fair pretences, justify themselves : the apostle expresses them “ by the cloak of covetousnesss,” | Thes. 2. 5. to hide its filthiness. They pretend to be frugal, but not covetous: they alledge the example of those who are reputed wise, who prosecute the gains of the world, as the main scope of their actions : they will tell you, it is necessary prudence to improve all opportunities to increase their estates, to secure them from evils that may happen; and to neglect providing for our families is worse than infidelity. Thus reason is engaged to join with the affection. From hence the covetous are not only enamoured with the unworthy object, but averse from the cure of the vicious affection, The love of money smothers the mind with ignorance, and darkens its serenity, that the filthiness of the sin is indiscernible. The covetous are like persons sick beyond the sense of their disease, and near death, without feeling the presages of it. Besides, those corrupt affections, which in their rise and degrees depend upon the humours of the body that are mutable, are sometimes with force and violence carried to their objects; but when the disposition of the body is altered, they flag, and distastes succeed: but the root and principle of covetousness is in the will; and when that is depraved, it is diabolical in obstinacy. The most fierce and greedy beasts, when they have glutted their ravenous appetites, * do not presently seek after new prey; but covetousness, like a dropsy thirst is inflamed by drinking, and enraged by increasing riches. And whereas other vicious desires are weakened and broke by lapse of time, covetousness derives new life and vigour from age. The thoughts and affections of the covetous are never more deeply tainted with the earth, than when they draw near to their fatal period, and their bodies must be resolved into their original elements.
The difficulty of the cure is evident from the inefficiency of the means used to effect it. The divine authority of the scripture, the clearest reason, the plainest experience, are often used in vain to reform the covetous. Of a thousand persons, in whom covetousness is the regent lust, scarce ten are cleansed and changed from covetous to be liberal.
1. The word of God has no commanding persuasive power
* Crescentem sequitur cura pecuniam majorumque fames.
upon them. The word declares, that “covetousness is idolatry;" for it deposes God, and places the world, the idol of men's heads and hearts, in his throne: it deprives him of his regalia, his royal prerogatives, which he has reserved to himself in the empire of the world. He is infinitely jealous of our transferring them to the creature. Our highest adoration and esteem, our confidence and trust, our love and complacency, our dependance and observance, are entirely and essentially due to him. “Who in the heaven can be compared to the Lord? Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened to him?" Psal. 89. 6. “ Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth I desire in comparison of thee.” Psal. 73. 25. “ The Lord is my portion, saith my soul.” Lam. 3. - The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous fly to it, and are safe. Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hands of their masters; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until he have mercy upon us." Prov. 18. 10, 11. These scriptures are declarative of those eternal respects that are due to God from reasonable creatures; and he is highly dishonoured and displeased, when they are alienated from him. Now the covetous deify the world: “ The rich man's riches are his strong city, and as an high walt, in his imagination." He will trust God no farther than according to visible supplies and means: he takes not God for his strength, “but trusts in the abundance of his riches.” His heart is possessed and polluted with the love of the world, and God is excluded : therefore we are commanded, “not to love the world, nor the things of it: if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” He is provoked to jealousy, the most severe and sensible attribute, by the coldness of men's love. From hence it appears how this comprehensive sin is injurious to God. The psalmist tells us, that the covetous are not only the objects of God's anger, but abhorrence: thus he brands them, “ The covetous whom the Lord abhors.” The words are of the most heavy signification. If his lovingkindness be better than life, his hatred is worse than death.
It is the root of all evil, in persons of all conditions, civil and sacred. This bribes those that are in the seat of judgment, to clear the guilty ; and which is a bolder crime, to condemn the innocent. Of this there is recorded a cruel and bloody instance, in the death of Naboth, occasioned by Ahab's covetousness.
This corrupts the preachers of the word, to speak to the lasts, not the consciences of men, upon whom they have a servile dependance : and as the spirit of delusion is never more the spirit of delusion, than under the appearance of an angel of light; so his mi ters are never more his ministers, than when they pervert the word of God to support sinful practices by corrupt principles. Covetousness makes men faint and false in the time of trial: they will save the world with the loss of their souls. In short, it was the impulsive cause of a sin of the greatest guilt that ever was committed, in betraying the Son of God; and his suffering the most cruel and ignominious death: a sin never to be expiated, but by the flames that shall consume this world, the place wherein he suffered.
Covetousness excludes all, in whom it is predominant, from the kingdom of heaven. Lazarus may as soon be expelled from Abraham's bosom, as a covetous man may be received into it. “ Be not deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. A covetous wretch is in as direct a progress to damnation, as the most notorious sinners, guilty of the most filthy lusts, natural and unnatural. Did men believe and prize heaven, how would this terrible denunciation strike them through? But what tongue has so keen an edge, as to cut a passage through rocks, the hardened hearts of the covetous ? The word cannot enter into the conscience and conversation of the earthly-minded. If you discourse " to them of righteousness and judgment to come, they are not at leisure to hear," or will not attend. Tell them of another world, when they are ready to be expelled from this present world. We have a most convincing instance of inefficacy of divine instruction upon the covetous. Our Saviour directed his auditory to the best use of riches, in doing good to the saints in their wants, “ that after death, they might be introduced into everlasting habitations : and it is said, “ that the pharisees, who were covetous, heard all these things, and derided him.” Luke 10. 14. They were fixed in their principles and resolutions to increase and secure their wealth : they had their religion in numerato; gain was their godliness; and were so strongly conceited of their own wisdom, that they despised the authority, counsel, and love of the Son of God.