Thursday, November 13, 2008

The danger of riches (long)

The other day Debbie and I were discussing the prosperity “gospel” and how it ignores certain scriptures, especially I Timothy 6:9: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.” RSV

Interestingly enough, John Wesley wrote a sermon entitled “The Danger of Riches.” Here is a few lines from it:

The Apostle does not here speak of gaining riches unjustly, but of quite another thing: His words are to be taken in their plain obvious sense, without any restriction or qualification whatsoever. St. Paul does not say, “They that will be rich by evil means, by theft, robbery, oppression, or extortion; “they that will be rich by fraud; or dishonest art;” but simply, “They that will be rich:” These, allowing, supposing the means they use to be ever so innocent, “fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful desires, which drown men in destruction and perdition.”

But who believes that? Who receives it as the truth of God? Who is deeply convinced of it? Who preaches this; Great is the company of preachers at this day, regular and irregular; but who of them all, openly and explicitly, preaches this strange doctrine?

He goes on to explain a bit more:

First, let us consider, what it is to be rich. What does the Apostle mean by this expression?

The preceding verse fixes the meaning of that: “Having food and raiment,” (literally coverings; for the word includes lodging as well as clothes,) “let us be there with content.” “But they that will be rich;” that is, who will have more than these; more than food and coverings. It plainly follows, what ever is more than these is, in the sense of the Apostle, riches; whatever is above the plain necessaries, or at most conveniences, of life. Whoever has sufficient food to eat, and raiment to put on, with a place where to lay his head, and something over, is rich.

Let us consider, Secondly, What is implied in that expression, “They that will be rich?” And does not this imply, First, they that desire to be rich, to have more than food and coverings; they that seriously and deliberately desire more than food to eat, and raiment to put on, and a place where to lay their head, more than the plain necessaries and conveniences of life? All, at least, who allow themselves in this desire, who see no harm in it, desire to be rich.

And so do, Secondly, all those that calmly, deliberately, and of set purpose, endeavor after more than food and coverings; that aim at and endeavor after, not only so much worldly substance as will procure them the necessaries and conveniences of life, but more than this, whether to lay it up, or lay it out in superfluities. All these undeniably prove their “desire to be rich,” by their endeavors after it.

So what is the result of this desire? Wesley examines that next:

This seems to mean much more than simply, they are tempted. They enter into the temptation: They fall plump down into it. The waves of it compass them about, and cover them all over. Of those who thus enter into temptation, very few escape out of it. And the few that do are sorely scorched by it, though not utterly consumed. If they escape at all, it is with the skin of their teeth, and with deep wounds that are not easily healed.

They fall, Secondly, into “a snare,” the snare of the devil, which he hath purposely set in their way. I believe the Greek word properly means a gin, a steel trap, which shows no appearance of danger. But as soon as any creature touches the spring, it suddenly closes; and either crushes its bones in pieces, or consigns it to inevitable ruin.

Not a good place to be, is it? And the ultimate end is:

Riches, either desired or possessed, naturally lead to some or other of these foolish and hurtful desires; and, by affording the means of gratifying them all, naturally tend to increase them. And there is a near connection between unholy desires, and every other unholy passion and temper. We easily pass from these to pride, anger, bitterness, envy, malice, revengefulness; to an headstrong, unadvisable, unreprovable spirit: Indeed, to every temper that is earthly, sensual, or devilish. All these, the desire or possession of riches naturally tends to create, strengthen, and increase.

Sounds like the U.S., doesn't it? Don't agree with us? We'll invade/bomb/kill you until you do!

But, what is the remedy? Wesley had a 3-fold plan:

You may gain all you can, without hurting either your soul or body; you may save all you can, by carefully avoiding every needless expense; and yet never lay up treasures on earth, nor either desire or endeavor so to do.

Permit me to speak as freely of myself as I would of any other man. I gain all I can (namely, by writing) without hurting, either my soul or body. I save all I can, not willingly wasting anything, not a sheet of paper, not a cup of water, I do not lay out anything, not a shilling, unless as a sacrifice to God. Yet by giving all I can, I am effectually secured from “laying up treasures upon earth.” Yea, and I am secure from either desiring or endeavoring, it, as long as I give all I can.

I highly recommend that you read the whole sermon; it is available on-line here. A sound word for a time like this.

1 comment:

Caron said...

Check out the video on Justin Peters' site:

He is an expert in this area and is also so moving! He spoke at my church and comes highly recommended by my pastor, Dr. John MacArthur.