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Sermons on Important Subjects
By J. M. Pendleton

The Rich Saved with the Greatest Difficulty.

      How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at his words, but Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them, saith, with men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible. - Mark x, 23-27.

      Wealth is, in these degenerate times, the object of almost universal pursuit. How can we become rich? is the question proposed everywhere. The poor wish to be rich, and the rich are anxious to be richer. ISTone are satisfied. The general impression is, that wealth promotes happiness; nor does the experience of past ages dissipate this impression. Solomon abounded in wealth, and tasted every cup of earthly joy; but he had to say, with a sad heart, "all is vanity and vexation of spirit, and there is no profit under the sun." He spoke the words of truth and soberness when he said, "He that loveth silver, shall not be satisfied with silver, nor he that loveth abundance with increase."

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      It is not.desirable to be rich. The possession of a competency is decidedly preferable. The accumulation of wealth is not an object sufficiently ennobling to engage the attention of an intelligent being. This would be true, even if there was no future state; but when we remember that eternity awaits us, with its bliss to be enjoyed, or its miseries to be endured, and that riches interpose a gigantic obstacle in the way of the soul's salvation, it really becomes a fearful thing to be rich. How few believe this! How few credit the words of Jesus, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of God! Yet he labored under no mistake. He knew when he uttered the language of the text - and he knows now - just what influence riches have on the heart. He understands perfectly well whatever has a tendency, either to promote or hinder the salvation of men, and he assures us in the most solemn manner, that if the rich are saved, it will be because all things are possible with God.

      I deduce from the text this theme:


      The following considerations are presented in illustration of this theme:
      1. The very pursuit of riches produces a state of heart unfavorable to the pursuit of salvation. - An apostle has said, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world: If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."

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      Nothing tends more directly to promote love of the world than the pursuit of wealth. Look at the man who is anxious to gather up riches. Once he had only a moderate desire to improve his circumstances and possess a competency. Then he was bound to the world by feeble ties that might have been easily broken. Now his moderate desire has, by gradual indulgence, grown into an inordinate anxiety to be rich, and he is bound to the world by fetters of iron. He loves the world in a sense utterly incompatible with love to God. Money is the idol of his heart, because money is the representative of all worldly good. His love of money makes him a covetous man. It is a love of the world embodied in what the world considers the exponent of everything desirable and attainable. Covetousness is idolatry. Why? Because the object coveted engrosses the affections and excludes God therefrom. Whatever does this is an idol, Love to God and love of the world can not co-exist in the same heart. Let love to God be absent from any heart, and, as has been forcibly said by a distinguished author, "love of the world rushes in to fill up the vacuum." I repeat, that the pursuit of riches increases a love of the world, and how adverse are worldly influences to the interests of salvation! Who does not know that it is difficult to renounce the world? It is difficult for the poor man to do it - with the rich it is almost impossible. Every dollar a wealthy man possesses infuses into him a worldly spirit. The more
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abundant his treasures, the greater his worldliness. And worldliness implies a state of heart unfavorable to the pursuit of salvation. Is it not evident, then, that the rich, if saved at all, are scarcely saved - saved with the greatest difficulty? Connected with this view of the matter, is another consideration. As a general thing, those who become rich, in making their accumulations, resort to means promotive of the corruption of the heart. To accomplish what they so much desire, they avail themselves of opportunities justifiable and unjustifiable. They often have it in their power to take advantage of the poor. The necessities of the unfortunate are frequently allowed to open the way to the attainment of wealth. Those who take the first step in this way, by availing themselves of the misfortunes of others, generally proceed in the same manner. At first, conscience remonstrates, and with difficulty they ignore the suggestions of benevolence and justice; but these suggestions, once disregarded, are more easily set aside the second time. Thus, the line of demarkation between right and wrong becomes less and less distinct, till at last it is almost entirely effaced. The moral perceptions are rendered obtuse. The heart is hardened. The cries of the orphan and the lamentations of the widow are unheeded. The love of money has possession of the soul, and everything is made subservient to the accumulation of wealth. Property, it may he, .is procured by fraud, and even if an attempt is made to
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expose the fraud in courts of justice, the influence of riches makes the attempt vain.

      Who does not see that wealth improperly obtained hardens the heart? And who, with a heart hardened and corrupted by riches, will engage in the pursuit of salvation? He who has defrauded his fellow-men must, if he would become a Christian, make restitution. The genuineness of his repentance can not otherwise be indicated. But it requires a great effort to make restitution. Hence it is very difficult for a rich man to be saved.

      2. Engrossing cares accompany riches. - The man of wealth has many objects to engage his attention. He can not, if he would, manage his possessions without much anxious thought. Even if satisfied with the amount of his possessions, he is troubled with the apprehension that they may be lost - and can, in the nature of things, feel no certainty that what he calls his own is held by a permanent tenure. It is, however, a very rare circumstance to find a rich man satisfied with his wealth. The almost universal fact is that the accumulation of wealth intensifies the desire to make still greater accumulations. Hence the rich are harassed with anxiety to employ their capital in the most productive manner. Those who are in moderate circumstances in life often make haste to be rich, and just as often the rich make haste to be richer. Thus their cares have reference, not only to what they have, but to what they desire. But my object is to speak of the cares accompanying wealth in possession. Often

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these cares are as engrossing as those connected with the rule of an empire. It requires a great mind to manage the affairs of a large estate without annoying perplexity. There are very few men of great minds; and the rich, of ordinary intellect, are occupied by day and by night with the cares incident to wealth. How they shall manage one portion of their capital advantageously without neglecting some other portion of it, is frequently a problem of very difficult solution. What to do with their lands, their servants, their money, etc., is often with them, the first thought in the morning, the last at night, while it becomes the material their dreams are made of. Now let the subject of salvation be presented to the attention of these rich men, and they thrust it from them. They do this not only because the subject is distasteful to them, but because they are mentally incapable of caring for it while engrossed with the cares of riches. The care of the soul and the care of wealth are antagonistic. The heart must throw away its solicitude about riches before it can be engaged in the pursuit of salvation. But how difficult is this! The heart is preoccupied with the cares of wealth, and it is almost hopeless to attempt to dispossess it. These cares are congenial with depravity, and the more they are cherished the more engrossing they become. Who does not see that the rich are saved with the greatest difficulty? The cares growing out of large possessions render it, humanly speaking, impossible for requisite attention to be paid to the salvation of
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the soul. Alas, how deplorable the condition of the rich! How hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God!

      3. The rich have peculiar temptations. - They are tempted, as already intimated, to increase their possessions by unfair means. Such temptations operate more powerfully on the rich than on others, because they suppose their wealth will cover a multitude of sins. The poor, and those having a competency, are not so liable to yield to this temptation, for they have nothing to protect them from the infamy of dishonorable deeds. The influence of wealth to shield from reproach is, in some communities, almost omnipotent. This circumstance gives the temptations peculiar to the rich peculiar power.

      An apostle refers to "the lust of the eye and the pride of life," which, he says, "is not of the Father, but of the world." "The lust of the eye" is a strongly figurative expression, denoting that which it is pleasant to see - which, in being seen, affords gratification. The eye is metaphorically referred to as desiring. The temptation to gratify the lust of the eye appeals with remarkable power to the rich, for they have the means of gratifying this desire. They can purchase objects that they love to look upon. It gives them inward satisfaction that they are able to procure what others can not command. Closely allied to "the lust of the eye" is "the pride of life." If we understand the former phrase as descriptive of what pleases the rich themselves, we may consider the latter as

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denoting that which they have and procure with a view to excite the admiration of others. "The pride of life!" This is a phrase full of meaning. How often do we see the splendid mansions of the rich? How much is expended on fine buildings, costly furniture, and showy equipage? The pride of life has much to do with all these things.

      Now, is it not as clear as the sun in mid-heaven, that as "the lust of the eye and the pride of life" are opposed to God; and make a most powerful appeal to the rich, they multiply the difficulties in the way of the salvation of the wealthy? The lust of the eye and the pride of life render the heart accessible to all the multiform temptations originating in this lust and pride. These temptations are such as to present mountainous obstacles in the way of the salvation of the rich. How hard is it for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

      4. The rich trust in their riches. - There is a vast depth of signification in the words, "How hard is it for those that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!" The considerations already presented show that there are great difficulties in the way of the salvation of the rich. But the greatest difficulty arises from the disposition of the rich to trust in their wealth. We see this disposition manifested every day and everywhere. It leads the man of large possessions to claim respect and consideration from his fellow-men on account of his possessions. It prompts him to assume airs of superiority and to exhibit pride in

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some of its most disgusting forms! How often do the rich disdain an equality with those in humble circumstances. They aspire to move in a different circle. They claim for themselves what they are not willing to allow to others. And too often their claim is recognized. Who does not know that in many communities the estimation in which men are held is regulated by the amount of their wealth? Who has not seen the poor man neglected, not to say despised? And yet, when that poor man, by some revolution of the wheel of fortune, has been suddenly raised to affluence, he has at once been treated with marked attention. He has been noticed and caressed by those who did not extend to him in his poverty, a look of recognition. Sometimes, too, such a man is foolish enough to suppose that he is treated with special regard for his personal merit. He is like one who in a heathen country carries about with him an idol god and the people fall prostrate before him. The stupid creature thinks the prostration personally respectful to himself, whereas the homage is paid to the idol.

      Job, in vindication of himself, said he had not made gold his confidence. He did not trust in riches. Many, however, in all ages, have trusted to uncertain riches. The propensity to trust in wealth is never so pernicious in its influence as when the attention of the rich is directed to the subject of salvation. Having been accustomed to make gold their confidence - having learned to regard it as competent to answer all the purposes

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of life - having been treated by their fellow-men with distinguished consideration on account of its possession - they still confide in it - they think it sufficiently valuable to answer the purposes of salvation - and they vainly expect that God will, like their fellow-creatures, be influenced by their wealth in the treatment they receive at his hands. Tell them they must be saved, if saved at all, as the poor are saved, and their proud hearts rise up in rebellion. Their excessive self-respect is offended. They revolt from the terms of salvation so humiliating. They turn with indignation from the messengers of God, even as did Naaman the Syrian from the prophet. Alas, here too frequently the parallel ceases; for Naaman afterward returned and complied with the prophet's directions.

      David has well said, "They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him." If the rich man can not give to God a ransom for his brother, how can he make the salvation of his own soul a pecuniary transaction? "When Jesus shed his own blood as a sacrifice for sin, what ineffable folly to trust for redemption in corruptible things, as silver and gold! "What has wealth to do in procuring salvation? What guilt can it expiate? What pollution can it remove?

      I say again, that the greatest difficulty in the way of the salvation of the rich grows out of that trust in riches which leads them to expect that God will deal favorably with them on account of

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their riches. This is making gold their confidence. Their trust in riches excludes the Savior as the object of their faith. This trust in riches as infallibly prevents the salvation of the soul as does reliance on self-righteousness. To break up this habit of trusting in riches, is vastly difficult. Hence, says Jesus, in the text, "How hard it is for those that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God."


      1. How clearly do we see that wealth is not to be desired! It jeopardizes the interest of the immortal soul. It makes the entrance of its possessor into the kingdom of God comparable in difficulty to the passage of a camel through the eye of a needle.

      2. How unwise are those parents who wish to make their children rich! Such parents are willing, thoughtlessly it may be, but not less truly, to place most serious difficulties in the way of . their children's salvation. They are willing to make the salvation of their children as difficult as for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. And how many professedly Christian parents are doing this thing! Alas, it is a sad thought, that fathers and mothers may be instrumental in hindering the salvation of their sons and daughters!

      3. The poor ought not to repine at their condition. They are destitute of many of the comforts of life, but their salvation is more hopeful than that of the rich.


[From J. M. Pendleton, Short Sermons on Important Subjects, 1859. This book is from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Library, Wake Forest, NC; via ILL through Boone County Public Library, Burlington, KY. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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