Andrew Fuller Friday: On Covetousness

“And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness; for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”—Luke 12:15.

When our Lord was preaching on subjects of eternal importance, a certain young man interrupted him, requesting him to speak to his brother to divide the inheritance with him. It seems as if his father had lately died, and that his brother could not be induced to do him justice in the division of the estate. He might possibly have heard of some such case as that of Zaccheus; in which Jesus, by a few words speaking, had rendered a selfish man both just and generous. Jesus, however, instead of complying with his wishes, disclaims having any thing to do in such matters; and warns others, from his example, to “take heed and beware of covetousness.”

Allowing the propriety of our Lord’s declining to be a judge in such matters, as not comporting with the spiritual nature of his kingdom, yet how was it that he should take occasion hence to warn his followers against the sin of covetousness? There is nothing in the story that gives us to suppose that the young man coveted what was not his own. Wherein then consisted his sin? Let us suppose a person under a mortal disease, who, seeing an eminent physician passing by him, instead of telling him his case, should request him to settle a dispute in his family! What should we say? If any thing, it would be to this effect:—Settle those matters as you can; in applying to the physician, treat him in character, and have regard to your life.—For a sinner to come to the Saviour on a mere secular business, and this while his soul was in a perishing condition, must prove his heart to be set supremely on this world, and his regard to Christ to be only a wish to render him subservient to his temporal interest.

Here then we perceive the species of covetousness that our Lord meant to censure. It is not that which breaks out in acts of robbery, theft, or oppression—not that which withholds the hire of the labourer, or studies the arts of fraud—it is not any thing, in short, which respects the conduct of man to man; but that which immediately relates to God, withholding the heart from him, and giving it to the world.

Such is the idea conveyed by the parable of the rich fool, which is here introduced by our Lord in illustration of the subject. He is not accused of any thing injurious to those about him; his “grounds brought forth plentifully;” and who can blame him for this? All that he proposed was, by the bounty of Providence on his labours, to accumulate a fortune, and then to spend it on himself. And what harm (most men will ask) was there in this? Truly, it is the general opinion of mankind that this is all fair and right. If a man regard not God, but himself only, so long as he acts well towards them, he will not only be acquitted, but applauded at their tribunal: “Men will praise thee when thou doest well to thyself.” Howbeit, this is not the doctrine of Christ. In his account, it is not the miser only that is covetous, but he who sets his heart upon the world, rather than God, even though he lays out a part of his substance in building and other accommodations; and proposes, when he has got things a little in order, to “eat, drink, and be merry” with the surplus.

In the case of the young man who came to Christ on a secular errand, we see that things in themselves lawful, by being pursued out of place and out of season, may become sinful. It is lawful at proper seasons and in subordination to higher objects to follow our worldly affairs; but if we go to the house of God with this end in view, it is profaning it. The same is true if while we are there our thoughts are employed in forming plans and schemes for the week, by which we may promote our temporal interest. Such things are: nor is it confined to the house of God. Even when upon our knees, the busy mind will wander after this and that pursuit, till we have in a manner forgotten where we are! Nor does the evil of such things consist merely in a few volatile wandering thoughts, but in that of which they are an indication; namely, a mind cleaving to the earth instead of ascending to God. In the case of this young man, we may also see the danger of regarding Christ and religion in only a secondary or subordinate manner, while the world is treated as supreme. Religion may have changed a bad husband into a good one, or induced a customer to leave off his expensive habits, and to pay his bills with punctuality and promptitude, and as such you may respect it; but such respect will not be approved of Christ. If we have any thing to do with him, it must be in his proper character of Lord and Saviour. To attempt to render his religion subservient to worldly interest, is to lean upon him while you are worshipping in the temple of mammon.

Fuller, A. G. (1988). “Covetousness,” Sermon LI. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 1, pp. 448–449). Sprinkle Publications.

By |February 16th, 2024|Categories: Blog|

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