And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?…
Rather, if one asked, What peril have riches? one might ask, What peril have they not? First, then, they are wholly contrary to the life of Christ and His passion. That cannot be the safe, the happy lot, which is in all things most opposite to His. Unlike Him, we must ever here be; for we are sinners, He alone, as man, was holy; we are His creatures, He our God. But can it be safe not to be aiming, herein also, to be less unlike? Can it be safe to choose that which in all its pomp and glory was brought before His eye as man, to be wholly rejected by Him; to choose what He rejected, and shrink back from what He chose? This, then, is the first all-containing peril of riches. They are, in themselves, contrary to the Cross of Christ. I speak not now of what they may be made. As we, being enemies, were, through the Cross, made friends, so may all things, evil and perilous in themselves, except sin, become our friends. The Cross finds us in desolation, and they, He says, “have received their consolation”; it finds us in evil things, and they are surrounded by their good things; it comes in want, and they have abundance; in distress, and they are at ease; in sorrow, and they are ever tempted even to deaden their sorrows in this world’s miserable joys. Happy only in this, that He who chasteneth whom He loveth, sprinkles His own healthful bitterness over life’s destructive sweetness, and by the very void and emptiness of vanity calls forth the unsatisfied soul no more to “spend money on that which is not bread, or its labour on that which satisfieth not.” But if it be so hard for the rich to seek to bear the cross, it must be hard for them truly to love Him who bore it. Love longeth to liken itself to that it loves. It is an awful question, my brethren; but how can we love our Lord if we suffer not with Him?
2. Then it is another exceeding peril of riches and ease that they may tend to make us forget that here is not our home, Men on a journey through a stranger’s, much more an enemy’s, and linger not. Their hearts are in their home; thither are their eyes set; they love the winds which have blown over it; they love the very hills which look upon it, even while they hide it; days, hours, and minutes pass quickly or slowly as they seem to bring them near to it; distance, time, weariness, strength, all are counted only with a view to this, “are they nearer to the faces they love? can they, when shall they reach it?” What then, my brethren, if our eyes are not set upon the everlasting “hills, whence cometh our help”? what if we cherish not those inward breathings which come to us from our heavenly home, hushing, refreshing, restoring, lifting up our hearts, and bidding us flee away and be at rest? What if we are wholly satisfied, and intent on things present? can we be longing for the face of God? or can we love Him whom we long not for? or do we long for Him, if we say not daily, “When shall I come and appear before the presence of God?”
3. Truly there is not one part of the Christian character which riches, in themselves, do not tend to impair. Our Lord placed at the head of evangelic blessings, poverty of spirit, and, as a help to it and image of it, the outward body of the soul of true poverty, poverty of substance too. The only “riches” spoken of in the New Testament, except as a woe, are the unsearchable riches of the glory and grace of Christ, the riches of the goodness of God, the depth of the riches of His wisdom, or the riches of liberality, whereto deep poverty abounded.
4. Poverty is, at least, a fostering nurse of humility, meekness, patience, trust in God, simplicity, sympathy with the sufferings of our Lord or of its fellow (for it knows the heart of those who suffer). What when riches, in themselves, hinder the very grace of mercifulness which seems their especial grace, of which they are the very means? What wonder that they cherish that brood of snakes, pride, arrogance, self-pleasing, self-indulgence, self-satisfaction, trust in self, forgetfulness of God, sensuality, luxury, spiritual sloth, when they deaden the heart to the very sorrows they should relieve? And yet it is difficult, unless, through self-discipline, we feel some suffering, to sympathize with those who suffer. Fulness of bread deadens love. As a rule, the poor show more mercy to the poor out of their poverty, than the rich out of their abundance. But if it be a peril to have riches, much more is it to seek them. To have them is a trial allotted to any of us by God; to seek them is our own. Through trials which He has given us He will guide us; but where has He promised to help us in what we bring upon ourselves? In all this I have not spoken of any grosser sins to which the love of money gives birth: of what all fair men would condemn, yet which, in some shape or other, so many practise. Such are, hardness to the poor or to dependents; using a brother’s services for almost nought, in order to have more to spend in luxury; petty or more grievous frauds; falsehood, hard dealing, taking advantage one of another, speaking evil of one another, envying one another, forgetting natural affection. And yet in this Christian land many of these are very common. Holy Scripture warns us all not to think ourselves out of danger of them.