Page images

From this observation I think all disputes about riches may be reconciled : where they are ill got, or ill used, they are an hurt to the owner; where they are honestly got, and worthily enjoyed, they are a blessing to the owner, and through his means to many others. Thus far the case is plain : but then it is a matter of farther consideration, to see what the iniquity is that generally follows a large possession. The rich man's crimes are commonly considered under the head of profuseness or covetousness: to the first are referred luxury, intemperance, and all the sins of pleasure which wealth furnishes and supports: to the second head are reduced fraud, oppression, want of kindness and charity, and all the iniquity that attends the unreasonable desire of getting or preserving an estate. All these indeed are very great and too common faults among rich men : but there is still a more secret iniquity that sticks close to great possessions, and which does not always discover itself in the ill effects before-mentioned : a man may have an estate honestly gotten, and in the eye of the world he may use it in all respects as he ought, and yet still be a very wicked rich man. What, you will say, although he be free from covetousness, given to hospitality, and liberal to the poor? if these things will not preserve riches from the contagion of guilt, what will ? But before you judge too hastily in this cause, you must consider that virtue does not consist merely in the outward act; it is not the material action that denominates a man good or bad, but the judgment in this case must regard the principle from whence the actions flow. A prodigal man squanders his money without regard or distinction of persons or occasions : where tenderness and good-nature attend on this vice, the poor and miserable often gather largely of the prodigal man's scatterings: but will you call this Christian charity, where perhaps the duty owing to God was never once thought on, and of all that was given, not one farthing offered as tribute to the great Giver of every good gift ; but the fountain-head was corrupt, though the stream indeed flowed in no ill channel ?

If we consider the parable of the rich man, of which the words of the text are the moral or application, we shall discover what particular evil in riches our Saviour pointed at, and designed to correct by the instruction of this parable. The fruits and my

story is this : The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: and he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits ? And he said, This will I do ; I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all

my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up

for many years ; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.

But God said unto him, Thou fool! this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided ?' After which follow the words of the text, “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God.'

The first thing to be inquired into is the true drift and meaning of this parable. In the fifteenth verse of this chapter our Lord warns his hearers to beware of covetousness :' in this parable he represents the foolish rich man enlarging his barns, that he might heap up his goods in store : in the text he warns us of the danger of laying up treasures for ourselves, whilst we neglect being rich towards God : and in the thirty-third verse he exhorts us to sell that we have, and give alms; to provide for ourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.' From these circumstances it is commonly understood that covetousness was the rich man's crime; that enlarging his barns to receive his plentiful crop was the instance and proof of it; and that the only way to be rich towards God is to sell our goods, and to distribute them in works of charity and mercy. Thus this parable is commonly understood, but I think not rightly. Our Saviour, it is true, introduces this parable in consequence of the caution he had given against covetousness : but he had before given a reason against covetousness, · For a man's life,' says

e, consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth :' and the parable was added to illustrate this reason given against covetousness, and not to display the folly or vice of covetousness in general. The rich man is not described in the colors of a covetous man : his wealth arose from no oppression or uśury; it was the product of his own land, which has always been esteemed as honest a way of being rich, and to proceed as much from the immediate blessing of God as any whatever : the ground was his own; he is not said to withhold from the rightful possessor by violence or by fraud. Thus far then there is no mark of covetousness, or of any

other fault. But when he found his crop to be great, he enlarged his barns; and this perhaps was his crime. But where was the iniquity of this? Does not every man endeavor that his barns should be in proportion to the product of his land ? May not the most charitable man in the world have a barn, or build a barn, large enough to receive his crop, and yet be guiltless ? Nay, it is evident from hence, that covetousness, properly so called, was not his fault; for he built his barn to lay up stores for many years, proposing rest and satisfaction in the goods already gotten, and intending to trouble himself no farther about wealth; he had enough. A covetous man would rather have turned his goods into money, and put it to usury, and slaved on still for more. Besides, in the twentieth verse, where God is brought in reproving the rich man for his folly, there is not one word said of his building large barns to receive his fruits : Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee.' But if the large barn had been the crime, the consistency of the parable requires that the reproof should have pointed to the crime, and it should have been said, Thou fool, this night shall the lightning from heaven consume thy large barns, or something to this purpose. Farther : neither on this is it rightly concluded from the circumstances of the parable, that this rich man was void of charity to the poor : he is represented as fully satisfied in his abundance : there had been much more reason to have thought him uncharitable, had he been represented as not contented with his abundance, but still fearful of poverty and want; which is often the case, and the pretence of the rich uncharitable man. Nor, lastly, is it reasonable to limit and confine the notion of being rich towards God to works of charity only; all good works in proportion make us rich towards God. St. Paul speaks in general of the richness of good works, and St. James of the richness of faith : and in the text, to be rich to God does particularly signify, to trust and rely on his providence for our life and support, in opposition to relying on treasures of our own heaping up, or large barns of our own building and filling; as I shall show presently.

Having thus far examined the common interpretation of the parable, and shown how much short it falls of our Saviour's true aim and intent, I shall now endeavor to point out the true meaning of it, which will lead us into the right sense and understanding of the text.

When our Saviour exhorted his hearers to beware of covetousness, he supported his advice with tặis reason, · For a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth :' this reason he illustrates and confirms in the following parable. The aim then of the parable is to show that wealth is no security, that it is folly to pretend to arm ourselves against the accidents or casualties of life by heaping up treasures, which nothing can protect us against but the good providence and care of our heavenly Father. In this point all the circumstances of the parable meet: the rich man is represented as flowing in plenty, so that he was necessitated to pull down his barns and storehouses in order to enlarge them : this plenty made him forget God, and vainly imagine that he had a security in his own hands against all the calamities of life : his riches made him promise himself many happy days and years : in which confidence he thus expresses himself, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.' This folly God reproves him for, and checks him in his presumptuous security, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided ? Thou shalt die, and what then must become of those mighty pledges of thy security? So little will they avail thee, that they themselves will fall under the power of another, never to return to thee again. So is he,' says our Lord, who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God.' These words, being the moral of this parable, must be expounded so as to answer the design of the parable; and therefore to lay up treasures for ourselves, must signify to lay up treasures for our own security, as if we meant to become thereby the carvers of our own fortune; consequently, to be rich towards God, being placed in opposition to laying up treasures for ourselves, must denote our placing our confidence and trust in him, our endeavoring to procure his favor and

protection, as knowing that in them only is all our hope and stability.

From this representation it is easily collected what is the dangerous circumstance attending riches, which makes them often prove so fatal to their owners ; namely, that they beget an irreligious confidence and presumption in the heart of man, inclining him to forget God who formed him. A sense and feeling of want is a constant remembrance of our dependence, and is ever calling on us to look up to him, on whose mercy and goodness we exist. A life spent in these difficulties, and supported beyond all the reasonable hopes of narrow circumstauces, suggests to us every moment how wonderfully God has brought us on our way, when we had neither staff nor shoes nor money in our scrip: these are the natural thoughts and suggestions of poverty. But a man who lives in the midst of plenty, and fears no want, is not apt to think of the need he has to be assisted : he that remembers nothing, but that his large estate has ever supplied both his necessities and superfluities, will hardly reflect farther, so as to come to an acknowlegement that God has been his stay ever since he fell from his mother's womb. This is the common case of riches; they steal the heart from God, and render it insensible to the duties of religion, by taking away the foundation of all religion, the sense of our dependence on the providence and care of heaven. This made our Lord cry out, “How hardly shall a rich man enter into the kingdom of heaven !' This insolence, this pride of mind, which is the proper growth of the rich man's soil, chokes all the seeds of virtue and holiness, and leaves no room for the plants planted by our heavenly Father to thrive and prosper : even charity itself, the choicest flower of a rich garden, flies the neighborhood of this poisonous weed, and will not take root by it.

It is this irreligiousness of mind, this disregard to God and every thing that is good, which are the too common companions of a plentiful fortune, that have made riches to be so hardly spoken of in Scripture. If you examine particular places, you will find regard is still had to this corruption of mind. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus it is not

« PreviousContinue »