A Classic Study:
The Love of Money
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A Classic Study by Thomas Chalmers
[Here, we conclude this study by Thomas Chalmers.]—Ed.
Discourse on the Love of Money, pt. 3
“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)
We have the authority of that Word which has been pronounced a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, that it cannot have two masters, or that there is not room in it for two great and ascendant affections. The engrossing power of one such affection is expressly affirmed of the love for mammon, or the love for money thus named and characterized as an idol. Or, in other words, if the love of money be in the heart, the love of God is not there. If a man be trusting in uncertain riches, he is not trusting in the living God, who gives us all things richly to enjoy. If his heart be set upon covetousness, it is set upon an object of idolatry. The true divinity is moved away form His place; and, worst than atheism, which would only leave it empty, has the love of wealth raised another divinity upon His throne.
So then covetousness offers a more daring and positive aggression on the right and territory of the Godhead, than even infidelity. The latter would only desolate the sanctuary of heaven; the former would set up an abomination in the midst of it. It not only strips God of love and of confidence, which are His prerogatives, but it transfers them to another. And little does the man who is proud in honor, but, at the same time, proud and peering in ambition – little does he think, that though acquitted in the eye of all his fellows, there still remains an atrocity of a deep character than even that of atheism, with which he is chargeable. Let him just take an account of his mind, amid the labors of his merchandise, and he will find that the living God has no ascendancy there; but that wealth just as much as if personified into life, and agency, and power, wields over him all the ascendance of God. Where his treasure is, his heart is also, and linking as he does his main hope with its increase, and his main fear with its fluctuations and its failures, he has as effectually dethroned the Supreme from his heart, and deified an usurper in his room, as if fortune had been embodied into a goddess, and he were in the habit of repairing, with a crowd of other worshippers to her temple. She in fact is the dispenser of that which he chiefly prizes in existence. A smile from her is worth all the promises of the Eternal, and her threatening frown more fearful to the imagination than all His terrors.
And the disease is as near to universal as it is virulent. Wealth is the goddess whom all the world worships. There is many a city in our empire, of which with an eye of apostolical discernment, it may be seen, that it is almost wholly given over to idolatry. If a man look no higher than to his money for his enjoyments, then money is his god. It is the god of his dependence, and the god upon whom his heart is stayed. Or if, apart from other enjoyments, it, by some magical power of its own, has gotten the ascendance, then still it is followed after as the supreme good; and there is an actual supplanting of the living God. He is robbed of the gratitude that we owe him for our daily sustenance; for, instead of receiving it as if it came direct out of His hand, we receive it as if it came from the hand of a secondary agent, to whom we ascribe all the stability and independence of God. This wealth, in fact, obscures to us the character of God, as the real though unseen author of our various blessings; and as if by a material intervention, does it hide from the perception of nature, the hand which feeds and clothes, and maintains us in life, and in all the comforts and necessaries of life. It just has the effect of thickening still more that impalpable veil which lies between God and the eye of the senses. We lose all discernment of Him as the giver of our comforts; and coming, as they appear to do, from that wealth which our fancies have raised into a living personification, does this idol stand before us, not as a deputy, but as a substitute for that being, with whom it is that we really have to do. All this goes both to widen and to fortify that disruption which has taken place between God and the world. It adds the power of one great master idol to the seducing influence of all the lesser idolatries. When the liking and the confidence of men are towards money, there is not direct intercourse, either by the one or the other of these affections towards God; and in proportion as he sends forth his desires, and rests his security on the former, in that very proportion does he renounce God as his hope, and God as his dependence.
And to advert, for one moment, to the misery of this affection, as well as to its sinfulness. He over whom it reigns, feels a worthlessness in his present wealth, after it is gotten; and when to this we add the restlessness of a yet unsated appetite, lording it over all his convictions, and panting for more; when, to the fullness of his actual satisfaction in all his riches that he has, we add his still unquenched, and indeed, unquenchable desire for the riches that he has not; when we reflect that as, in the pursuit of wealth, he widens the circle of his operation, so he lengthens out the line of his open and hazardous exposure, and multiplies, along the extent of it, those vulnerable points from which another and another dart of anxiety may enter into his heart; when he feels himself as if floating on an ocean of contingency, on which, perhaps, he is only born up by the breath of a credit that is fictitious, and which, liable to burst every moment, may leave him to sink under the weight of his overladen speculation; when, suspended on the doubtful result of his bold and uncertain adventure, he dreads the tidings of disaster in every arrival, and lives in a continual agony of feeling, kept up by the crowd and turmoil of his manifold distractions, and so overspreading the whole compass of his thoughts, as to leave not one narrow space for the thought of eternity—will any beholder just look to the mind of this unhappy man, thus tossed and bewildered, and thrown into a general unceasing frenzy, made out of many fears and many agitations, and not say, that the bird of the air which sends forth its unreflecting song, and lives on the fortuitous bounty of providence, is not higher in the scale of enjoyment than he? And how much more, than the quiet Christian beside him, who, in possession of food and raiment, has that godliness with contentment which is great gain – who, with the peace of heaven in his heart, and the glories of heaven in his eye, has found out the true philosophy of existence; has sought a portion where alone a portion can be found, and in bidding away from his mind the love of money, has bidden away all the cross and all the carefulness along with it?
Death will soon break up every swelling enterprise of ambition, and put upon it a most cruel and degrading mockery. And it is, indeed an affecting sight, to behold the workings of this world’s infatuation among so many of our fellow mortals nearing and nearing every day to eternity, and yet, instead of taking heed to that which is before them, mistaking their temporary vehicle for their abiding home, and spending all their time and all their thought upon its accommodations. It is all the doing of our great adversary, thus to invest the trifles of a day in such characters of greatness and durability; and it is, indeed, one of the most formidable of his wiles. And whatever may be the instrument of reclaiming men from this delusion, it certainly is not any argument either about the shortness of life, or the certainty and awfulness of its approaching termination. On this point man is capable of a stout-hearted resistance, even to ocular demonstration; nor do we know a more striking evidence of the derangement which must have passed upon the human faculties, than to see how, in despite of arithmetic—how, in despite of manifold experience – how, in despite of all his fathering wrinkles, and all his growing infirmities – how in despite of the ever-lessening distance between him and his sepulchre, and of all the tokens of preparation for the onset of the last messenger, with which, in the shape of weakness, and breathlessness, and dimness of eyes, he is visited; will the feeble and asthmatic man still shake his silver locks in all the glee and transport of which he is capable, when he hears of his gainful adventures, and his new accumulations. Nor can we tell how near he must get to his grave, or how far on he must advance in the process of dying, ere gain cease to delight, and the idol of wealth cease to be dear to him. But when we see that the topic is trade and its profits, which lights up his faded eye with the glow of its chiefest ecstasy, we are as much satisfied that he leaves the world with all his treasure there, and all the desires of his heart there, as if, acting what is told of the miser’s deathbed, he made his bills and his parchments of security the companions of his bosom, and the last movements of his life were a fearful, tenacious, determined grasp of what to him formed the all for which life was valuable.