A Classic Study:
The Love of Money
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A Classic Study by Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847)
[Here, we begin a study by Thomas Chalmers. It is a discourse on the love of money.]—Ed.
Discourse on the Love of Money, pt. 2
“If I have made gold my hope, or have said to the fine gold, ‘Thou art my confidence’; if I rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because mine hand had gotten much; if I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness; and my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand; this also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge; for I should have denied the God that is above” (Job 31:24-28)
A sum of money is, in all its functions, equivalent to a reservoir stocked by God. Take one year with another, and the annual consumption of the world cannot exceed the annual produce which issues from the storehouse of Him who is the great and the bountiful provider of all its families. The money that is in any man’s possession represents the share which he can appropriate to himself of this produce. If it be a large sum, it is like a capacious reservoir on the bank of the river of abundance. If it be laid out on firm and stable securities, still it is like a firmly embanked reservoir. The man who toils to increase his money is like a man who toils to enlarge the capacity of his reservoir. The man who suspects a flaw in his securities, or who apprehends, in the report of failures and fluctuations, that his money is all to flow away from him, is like a man who apprehends a flaw in the embankments of his reservoir.
Meanwhile, in all the care that is thus expended, either on the money or on the magazine, the originating source, out of which there is imparted to the one all its real worth, or there is imparted to the other all its realfulness, is scarcely ever thought of. Let God turn the earth into a barren desert, and the money ceases to be convertible to any purpose of enjoyment; or let Him lock up that magazine of great and general supply, out of which He showers abundance among our habitations, and all the subordinate magazines formed beside the wonted stream of liberality, would remain empty. But all this is forgotten by the vast majority of our unthoughtful and unreflecting species. The patience of God is still unexhausted; and the seasons still roll in kindly succession over the heads of an ungrateful generation; and that period, when the machinery of our present system shall stop and be taken to pieces has not yet arrived; and that Spirit, who will not always strive with the children of men, is still prolonging His experiment on the powers and the perversities of our moral nature; and still suspending the edict of dissolution, by which this earth and these heavens are at length to pass away.
So, the sun still shines upon us; and the clouds still drop upon us; and the earth still puts forth the bloom and the beauty of its luxuriance; and all the ministers of heaven’s liberality, still walk their annual round, and scatter plenty over the face of an alienated world; and the whole of nature continues as smiling in promise, and as sure in fulfillment, as in the days of our forefathers; and out of her large and universal granary is there, in every returning year, as rich a conveyance of aliment as before, to the populous family in whose behalf it is opened. But it is the business of many among that population, each to erect his own separate granary, and to replenish it out of the general store, and to feed himself and his dependents out of it. And he is right in so doing.
But he is not right in looking to his own peculiar receptacle, as if it were the first and emanating fountain of all his enjoyments. He is not right in thus idolizing the word of his own hands – awarding no glory and confidence to Him in whose hands is the key of that great storehouse, out of which every lesser storehouse of man derives its fullness. He is not right, in laboring after the money which purchases all things to avert the earnestness of his regards from the being who provides all things. He is not right, in thus building his security on that which is subordinate, unheeding and unmindful of Him who is supreme. It is not right, that silver and gold, though unshaped into statuary, should still be doing, in this enlightened land, what the images of paganism once did. It is not right that they should thus supplant the deference which is owing to the God and the governor of all things – or that each man among us should, in the secret homage of trust and satisfaction which he renders to his bills, and his deposits, and his deeds of property and possession, endow these various articles with the same moral ascendancy over his heart, as the household gods of antiquity had over the idolaters of antiquity – making them effectually usurp the place of divinity, and dethrone the one monarch of heaven and earth from that preeminence of trust and of affection that belongs to Him.
He who makes a god of his pleasure, renders to this idol the homage of his senses. He who makes a god of his wealth, renders to this idol the homage of his mind; and he, therefore, of the two, is the more hopeless and determined idolater. The former is goaded on to his idolatry, by the power of appetite. The latter cultivates his with willful and deliberate perseverance; consecrates his very highest powers to its service; embarks in it, not with the heat of passion, but with the coolness of steady and calculating principle; fully gives up his reason and his time, and all the faculties of his understanding, as well as all the desires of his heart, to the great object of a fortune in this world; makes the acquirement of gain the settled aim, and the prosecution of that aim the settled habit of his existence; sits the whole day long at the post of his ardent and unremitting devotions; and, as he labors at the desk of his counting-house, has his soul just as effectually seduced from the living God to an object distinct from Him, and contrary to Him, as if the ledger over which he was bending was a book of mystical characters, written in the honor of some golden idol placed before him, and with a view to render this idol propitious to himself and to his family.
Baal and Molech were not more substantially the gods of rebellious Israel, than mammon is the god of all his affections. To the fortune he has reared, or is rearing, for himself and his descendants, he ascribes all the power and all the independence of a divinity. With the wealth he has gotten by his own hands, does he feel himself as independent of God, as the pagan does, who happy in the fancied protection of an image made with his own hand, suffers no disturbance to his quiet, from any thought of the real but the unknown deity? His confidence is in his treasure, and not in God. It is there that he places all his safety and all his sufficiency. It is not on the supreme being, conceived in the light of a real and a personal agent, that he places his dependence. It is on a mute and material statue of his own erection. It is wealth which stands to him in the place of God – to which he awards the credit of all his enjoyments – which he looks to as the emanating fountain of all his present sufficiency – from which he gathers his fondest expectations of all the bright and fancied blessedness that is yet before him – on which he rests as the firmest and stablest foundation of all that the heart can wish, or the eye can long after, both for himself and for his children. It matters not to him, that all his enjoyment comes from a primary fountain, and that his wealth is only an intermediate reservoir. It matters not to him, that if God were to set a seal upon the door of the upper storehouse in heaven, or to blast and to burn up all the fruitfulness of earth, he would reduce, to the worthlessness of dross, all the silver and the gold that abound in it. Still the gold and the silver are his gods. His own fountain is between him and the fountain of original supply. His wealth is between him and God. Its various lodging places, whether in the hand, or in the place of registration, or in the depository or wills and title-deeds – these are the sanctuaries of his secret worship – these are the high-places of his adoration; and never did a devout Israelite look with more intentness towards Mount Zion, and with his face towards Jerusalem, than he does to his wealth, as to the mountain and stronghold of his security. Nor could the Supreme be more effectually deposed from the homage of trust and gratitude than He actually is, though this wealth were recalled from its carious investments; and turned into one mass of gold; and cast into a piece of molten statuary; and enshrined on a pedestal, around which all his household might assemble, and make it the object of their family devotions; and plied every hour of every day wit all the fooleries of a senseless and degrading paganism. It is thus, that God may keep up the charge of idolatry against us, even after all its images have been overthrown. It is thus that dissuasives from idolatry are still addressed, in the New Testament, to the pupils of a new and better dispensation; that little children are warned against idols; that all of us are warned to flee from covetousness.