But woe to you that are rich! for you have received your consolation.
We will therefore show —
I. In what conjunction these two, woe and riches, do stand.
II. How they may be sundered: find out why riches are so dangerous to receive, and how we may receive them without any danger. And with these we shall exercise your devotion at this time. "Woe to rich men"; which cannot be literally and generally true: for all rich men are not accursed. But it is the safest way to remove men as far from danger as may be. It is safest for some men to conceive feasting unlawful, that they may avoid gluttony; or sports unlawful, that they may not be wantons; to be afraid of an oath, that they may not be perjured; not to flatter themselves too much in the lawfulness of war, that they delight not in blood, but rather remember the lesson of Moses, or indeed of God: "When thou goest out with the host against thine enemies, then keep thee from all wickedness" (Deuteronomy 23:9).
1. But so far is the world from having that opinion of riches, that they have goodly and glorious titles bestowed upon them. They commend themselves unto us under the honest names of "thrift," and "frugality," and "wisdom." What poor glass is a diamond, to him that is familiar with virtue! What trash is riches, to him who is filled with grace! What nicknames are the empty titles of secular honours, to him that knoweth the glory of a saint l What a nothing is the world, to him that hath studied heaven!
2. Further yet: Riches are accounted as necessaries, and as ornaments of virtue; and under that name we receive and entertain them.
3. Again: Riches are not only not necessary to religion and virtue, but rather a "hindrance." They take us down from our third heaven, and take us off from "the contemplation" of future happiness, and bind our thoughts to the vanities of the earth, which so press them down and weary them that they cannot aspire. They are retinacula spei, "fetters of our hope." For "now where is our hope?" (Job 17:15.) Even in the bowels of the earth. They are degraders of our faith. For whilst we walk in this vain shadow, how many degrees doth our faith fall back! The more we "trust in uncertain riches" the less we trust in God (1 Timothy 6:17). They are coolers and abaters of our charity: for, they make us ungrateful to God, severe to ourselves, and cruel to our brethren.
4. Further yet: As riches are a hindrance and obstacle to good, so are they instrumental to evil. They facilitate and help it forward, and are as the midwife to bring it to its birth, which otherwise peradventure had died in the womb, in the thought, and never seen the sun. If sin make "our members the weapons of unrighteousness," riches are the handle without which they cannot well be managed. Every man cannot grind the face of the poor, every man cannot take his brother by the throat, every man cannot go into the foolish woman's house, every man cannot bribe a judge, every man cannot be as wicked as he would. And it may seem to be a part of God's restraining grace, to take riches from some men, as he took off the wheels of Pharaoh's chariots, that they may not pursue their brethren. But when the purse is full, the heart will more easily vent all the poison it hath, in a reproach, in contempt, in a blow, in an injury, in oppression.
II. You have seen the rich and woe in a sad conjunction, a most malignant one as any astrology hath discovered. I am unwilling to leave them so; and therefore, in the last place, I must find out some means to put them asunder, that we may receive riches without danger; which is indeed "to lead the camel through the needle's eye."
1. We must bring riches into a subordination, nay, into a subjection, to Christianity. We may be rich, if we can be poor.
2. That the mind may be rightly affected, we must root out of it all love of riches. For if we set our hearts upon them, the love of them will estrange us from Christ, and make us idolaters.
3. I must bring you yet further, from not loving, not desiring riches, to contemning of them. For though I have emptied my store, and cast it before the wind, yet till I have made riches the object of my fear, till I can say within myself, "This lordship may undo me," "These riches may beggar me," "This money may destroy me" — till in this respect I make it the object of my contempt, and look upon it as a bait of Satan, I am not so far removed but that still the woe hangeth over me. For as, when a man taketh a wedge of lead upon his shoulders, it presseth and boweth his body to the earth; but if he put it under his feet, it will lift and keep him from the ground: so, when we place riches above us, and look upon them as upon our heaven; when we prefer them before salvation, and make gain our godliness; it must needs be that they will press us down to hell: but if we keep them below as slaves, and tread them under our feet, and contemn them as dung in comparison of Christ, they will then lift us up as high as heaven.
4. Therefore, in the last place, let me commend unto you a godly jealousy of yourselves. Suspicion in such a case as this is very useful.
5. I am unwilling to leave the rich and the woe so near together, but would set them at that distance that they may never meet. To conclude then: Let us not be too familiar with riches, lest whilst we embrace them we take the plague, and the woe enter into our very bowels. The love of the world is a catching disease, and it is drawn on with dallying, with a very look. We do not traffic for gold where there are no mines: nor can we find God in the world. He that maketh Him his purchase, will find business enough to take up his thoughts, and little time left for conference and commerce in the world, scarce any time to look upon it, but by the by and in the passage, as we use to look upon a stranger. A look is dangerous; a look of liking is too much: but a look Of love will bury us in the world, where we are sown in power, but are raised in weakness; sown in glory, but are raised in dishonour. We rest and sleep in this dust; and when we awake, the woe which hung over our heads falleth upon us.
(A. Farindon, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.
WEB: "But woe to you who are rich! For you have received your consolation.