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Of all the people of God recorded in the scriptures, not one is accused of the sin of covetousness, We cannot positively assert, that they were not at all worldly-minded; but surely they were not eminently covetous. It were well if we could say so now of many professors. But this, alas! is so common a sin, that, unless a man become really penurious, or discover the heart of a miser, he is scarcely considered as meriting censure. But is not covetousness a sin ? The apostle ranks it among the most enormous offences : “ Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, not extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Is not covetousness a sin? Why, it is idolatry itself, and is one of the greatest opposers of Christ and Christianity that has ever existed. Those whom the Apostle wept over, and mentions' as' such bitter enemies to the cross of Christ, were the men whose'God was their belly, who gloried in their shame, and who minded earthly things. “ What, then, must we never think about the affairs of the world? Must we attend to nothing but religion, and be all religious beggars, as we soon shall be, if we mind not our own business?” You greatly mistake, or grossly misrepresent, the precepts and prohibitions of religion relating to covetousness, if you stretch them to such an unreasonable length. Industry and religion are every where recommended, and required; and nothing is forbidden, but such thoughts and cares about getting or keeping the world, as hinder or distract us in the discharge of our duty. The gospel allows and encourages men to labour, not only for their own support, but to enable them to give to him that needeth, and to honour the Lord with their substance. It permits them to eat their bread with joy; and to delight in the portion which his bounty has bestowed. But it only requires that the heart be kept for God, and that they remember that “ the time is short; and therefore, that they which have wives, be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.”
Covetous thoughts are the inordinate motions of the soul towards riches or worldly possessions. Our Saviour calls covetousness, “ Taking thought:" And the Apostle terms it, “ The love of money." I say, it is an inordinate motion, or an inclination beyond due measure, or that rule of mediocrity which our own prudence or the word of God, evidently, dictates, This sometimes appears in the eagerness of men for the acquisition of riches; they are so intent upon getting wealth, that nothing besides it will satisfy them. Like those whom the Apostle mentions, they will be rich; and are resolved upon it, whatever self-denial and labour it cost them. Sometimes it appears in the anxiety they feel to secure what they have. David cautions such, when he says, “ If riches increase, set not your heart upon them :" and the Apostle exhorts them " to set their affections on things above.” But the covetous man hearkens to neither of them: He says to gold,
6. Thou art my hope ; and to fine gold, thou art my confidence:” and dreads every diminution of his wealth, as cutting off a right hand, or plucking out a right eye. Whether, therefore, we consider covetousness as meaning an excessive desire for the acquisition of wealth, or an unbecoming anxiety for securing what we already possess, it is a very criminal and dangerous passion.
We are informed in this chapter, that a person said to Christ, “ Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. Our blessed Lord refused this interference: and then said to his bearers in general, as well as to this man in particular, “ Take heed and beware of covetousness." I wish to enforce the same caution, my brethren, upon you: and I shall request your attention, while I shall first mention the causes of covetousness, then enumerate some of its effects and consequences, and afterwards give directions that may
in preventing or curing this evil.
1. There are many general causes of covetous. ness; but I shall mention a few which are of a more particular nature.
A corrupt and perverted judgment is one cause of covetousness. · We form a false opinion of the world, and think more highly of it than it merits, This error insinuates itself into the understanding, which is the eye of the soul: and by the eye it finds an easy passage into the heart. So when Eve saw that the fruit was pleasant to the eye, she was prevailed with to eat it, in defiance of God's threatening. So Achan confesses, that when he discovered among the spoils, a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold, he coveted, and took them. Our minds are easily captivated in a similar manner. Many fancy, that if. they had houses and lands, and goods laid up for many years, they must be happy; and that it is absolutely impossible to enjoy theinselves if they do not possess them. The smiles of the world appear more desira able than the favour of God; and its reproach and persecution are more feared by them than his dreadful displeasure. Is it wonderful then, that when the world is so high in their esteem, it should be so much in their thoughts? Why did David meditate in the law of God day and night? Because he loved his testimonies more than all riches. Why does a worldly man think of nothing else, but buying, and selling, and getting gain, but because corn and wine, and earthly possessions and enjoyments, are the highest blessings that he knows or desires ? If he could see the world in the light in which God regards it, or in which holy men view it, or in which he him. self will consider it when he shall lie. upon his death-bed: I say, if it appeared as yain and deceita ful now as it will at that time, he would not disco, ver so much solicitude about it.
Distrust of the providence of God is another cause of covetousness. When we cannot believe that God will provide for us, our hearts will be overcharged with the care of providing for ourselves. But if we knew our own interest, and would accept and improve our privileges, we might be perfectly easy about the world, and need not have one anxious thought respecting our subsistence. The Lord has condescended to declare, that if we will cast our cares upon bim, he will care for us. He has even commanded us, upon our allegiance to him, to be careful for nothing; but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving to make our requests known to him ; and if we did so, we might be assured, that he would do for us. “ exceeding abundantly above all that we could ask or think.” But the unhappiness is that men have not faith to trust the promises of God. They fear to believe that he will be faithful to his word, or that he can manage so well for them as they can for themselves ; and, therefore, if a cloud arise not bigger than a man's hand, they presently picture to themselves a storm that will “ Overturn, overturn, overturn," till all their dear possessions are buried in the wide-spreading desolation. Or if the fig-tree do not blossom, or there be no fruit in the vine, they frighten themselves with the prospect of an approaching famine. Thus they think, and think again, how to prevent or remedy these apprehended misfortunes. This is that unbelief which our Saviour reproves, when he says, Wherefore if Godso clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is,