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TENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
St. LUKE XII. 15.
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.
THE occasion on which our Lord uttered these words was as follows.—One of the company about Him appealed to Him to interfere iu a matter of property-Master, speak to my brother that he divide the inheritance with me! He replied—and there is a tone of rebuke in His words -Man, who made me a judge and divider over you? As much as to say—“It was not His province to judge such matters—He meddled not with particular cases—He laid down rules for all cases—He taught justice, mercy, and truth_let those principles be adhered to, and there would be no need of a divider, for each would give to the other what was his due.”
But while our Lord refused to interfere in this case of the inheritance, He seized the moment for striking at the
root of all quarrels about property. He urged upon His hearers to beware of covetousness, for, said He, a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
And surely, brethren, never was counsel more needed than this ; needed at the time, and needed now. Surely of all sins that are common in the world, this of covetousness is the most common.
For what do I mean by covetousness? What is meant by the word in the Scriptures ? It means, a craving for more than we have already-a desire to be rich-and if rich already, then still richer. And which of us can plead to be wholly guiltless of this ? which of us--speaking from the knowledge he has of himself-can say with truth, that his conversation is without covetousness ?
Then surely the warning in the text is for all.--All need to give ear when the Lord thus bids us, to take heed and beware of covetousness; for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things he possesseth.
And notice, brethren, these last words. In our Lord's view a man's life does not consist in his riches-à man might have these in the greatest abundance, and yet be in His sight, poor and miserable, wanting all the elements of true happiness. But not so is the opinion of the world : with the world, riches are the one thing needful to happiness.—In its judgment a man's life consists in having these—nay, without these, life is nothing. The more the reason that we should have this false judgment corrected by a comparison with the true. The more the reason that we should take home to our hearts, and hold fast these impressive words of our Master-a man's life
consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth!
On the present occasion, my aim will be to enforce the warning of the text, by an example from the Old Testament; an example which our Church brings before us to-day—the example of Ahab.—When we have looked at his history, we shall see better what covetousness is, and how much we need to be on our guard against it.
Ahab was the son of Omri, captain of the host, whom the Israelites had made their king, after he had avenged them on the usurper Zimri. And of Omri the record is that he was a bad man, he wrought evil in the sight of the Lord, and did worse than all that were before him. But bad as he was, his son who succeeded him was yet more wicked. Of all in the long list of wicked kings of Israel, we read there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up.
Observe the words—whom Jezebel his wife stirred up. This wicked princess was an idolater, daughter of Ethbaal king of Zidon, and Ahab had married her in defiance of God's express law, which forbade any intercourse between His people and the surrounding heathens.
That disobedience to God brought its punishment.Had not Ahab married Jezebel, he might have been free from blood-guiltiness, he might never have had on his soul the murder of Naboth. And that is the great crime with which his name is associated—in the particulars of it lies the chief warning of Ahab's history.
Let me recall them to you, as shortly as I can.
Naboth had a vineyard hard by Ahab's palace in Samaria. Ahab set his eyes on it, and would have purchased it; but Naboth refused to part with it. It was the inheritance of his fathers; it had come down to him through many generations, and small as it was, it was very precious in his sight. Besides, even had Naboth been willing to sell it, it would not have been right for him to do so. For by God's law the Israelites, after they were settled in Canaan, were forbidden to part with their assigned portion. And if, under some unusual pressure of distress, this had in any case been done, the land thus lost to the family, was to be restored at the year of Jubilee, or year of release—i. e., within fifty years at the furthest.
Naboth then was fully justified in declining the king's offer. There was no want of loyalty in his saying—The Lord forbid it me that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee!
But how did Ahab bear his refusal ? He went home to his house, heavy and displeased because of the words of Naboth.–And he laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread!
What a spectacle is this ! a great king with a king's wealth, and a king's power to command the means of enjoyment, fretting like a spoilt child ! Look at him there as he lies in sullen anger on his bed, and think of the Lord's words—A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth!
But he did not lie long thus, without advantage being taken of his bad temper, to push him into further sin. His wife came, -Satan's own messenger, to put bad
thoughts into his rankling heart, and to stir him up to a greater wickedness-Dost thou not govern the kingdom of Israel? Arise, and eat bread, and let thine heart be merry, I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite !
You all remember how she kept her promise—by what treacherous and bloody means she gave the vineyard to Ahab-even by procuring the death of the innocent owner on a false charge of blaspheming God and the king.
Ahab, it would seem, took no active part in the murder. Jezebel wrote the death letter, and sealed it with the king's seal. We hear no more of Ahab, till the moment when, the crime accomplished, Jezebel accosts him in accents of triumph-Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give thee for money : for Naboth is not alive, but dead.
Then, indeed, there was no backwardness in Ahab. He had not dared to have a hand in the deed of violence, but he has no scruple in profiting by it, when it is done -so he rose up to go down to the vineyard of Naboth, to take possession of it.
And now God's justice finds him out. Now, in the moment of his guilty success, the prophet stands before him, sets in clear light the enormity of his sin, and pronounces the sentence of God upon him. Hast thou killed and also taken possession ? Thus saith the Lord, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, shall dogs lick thy blood even thine !
Yes, blood for blood !-Ahab's life for Naboth's life and not only Ahab's, but Jehoram’s life as well.–And that too with some incidents of terrible resemblance.