This sermon appeared in the Tennessee Baptist, May 21, 1859, p. 1, under "The Pulpit."
Sermons on Important Subjects
By J. M. Pendleton
Duties of the Rich
Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. - 1 Timothy vi:17, 18, 19.
You are perhaps ready to say that you have no personal interest in a sermon on this text. You do not consider yourselves rich, and you regard as inapplicable to yourselves, what the Scriptures say to the rich. What is your idea of riches? Is it not that those are rich who have all they desire? Is this the correct idea? Surely not. Those who own millions wish to own more. There were rich men in Judea in the days of Christ. He spoke to the rich and told them of the almost insuperable difficulties in the way of their salvation. It may be that some of those men were not worth five thousand dollars. Riches and poverty are comparative terms. The man who has a large family to provide for may be considered poor, while he who has no one dependent on him may be called rich, though they may both possess the same amount of property.
I am inclined to think all persons ought to be accounted rich who have more than enough to furnish them a comfortable support. If this is the case, our country abounds with the rich and the rich are in this congregation. As there are duties incumbent on all classes of society, there are of course duties peculiar to the rich. Obligations rest on them which do not rest on others. My message to-day is to the rich. Let us consider, -
I. WHAT THE RICH OUGHT NOT TO DO.
Following the order of the text we learn,
1. The rich ought not to be high-minded. - They are peculiarly liable to pride and haughtiness. They are in danger of feeling that their possessions entitle them to a preeminence over those in humble circumstances. This is offensive to God, and can never be regarded with favor by sensible men. Pride is highly unbecoming in creatures; it is specially so in sinful creatures: while one of its most disgusting exhibitions is to be seen in the airs of superiority assumed by the rich. The points of resemblance between the poor and the rich are much more numerous than the points of difference. They have a common origin - are involved in a common ruin - need a common salvation - are tending with equal pace to the grave, and hastening to the same eternity. In view of these matters of substantial agreement, how trifling appears the accidental dissimilarity which wealth creates. How ridiculous for those
who have a few more dollars than others to be high-minded. This, however, is often the case. The rich are proud. They are prone to forget that their possessions are the gift of God, and bring with them solemn responsibilities. I know there are illustrious exceptions to be found in the ranks of the wealthy; but every one acquainted with the tendencies of human nature, will see that the caution which the text administers to the rich, is not out of place - that they be not high-minded, etc. Who has not seen the humility of the poor exchanged for the haughtiness of the rich, when persons have been suddenly raised from indigence to affluence? What extravagant claims to respect do such persons urge! And too frequently these claims are recognized. It would be well if their recognition were kept without the Churches of the saints; but alas, they are sometimes tolerated within the precincts of Zion In the majority of the Churches, who expect a rich member and a poor one to be treated alike? The improprieties of a rich member are sometimes, by means of a spurious leniency, reduced from mountain to molehill size, while the indiscretions of a poor member are magnified from a molehill into a.mountain. These things ought not so to be. The Churches of the saints ought not to "have the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory with respect to persons." The influence of a Church member should be graduated by his spiritual attainments. Superior piety, and nothing else, should give superior influence
If the rich are poor in spirit and if the poor are rich in faith, they can form a harmonious brotherhood, none rising in distinction above others, except as more ardent piety supplies the elevating impulse. But why enlarge? We all see the propriety of the dissuasive admonition to the rich, Be not high-minded. The evils resulting from a haughty spirit are deplorable, and their name is legion.
2. The rich ought not to trust in uncertain riches. - There is danger of this - the sin of trusting in riches is more common than we suppose. Men are liable to trust in wealth, as if it were competent to answer all purposes. They seek happiness in its acquisition, and especially in its possession. It is the idol of most worldly men. They think its attainment indispensable to happiness. They trust in uncertain riches. Christians are often tempted to do this. They sometimes, almost without knowing it, depend on their earthly possessions for happiness. To whatever extent this is done, to that extent God, as the exclusive object of trust, is displaced from the position he claims. The language of inspiration is, "Trust ye in the Lord forever; for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength." When we seek in anything that which can be found only in God, we trust in that thing; in so doing, we "forsake the fountain of living waters, and hew out for ourselves broken cisterns which can hold no water." It is vain to trust in riches for happiness; they can not satisfy the cravings of the immortal mind.
Its desires are too intense and too comprehensive to be gratified by earthly things. The soul may extract from all created objects every element of gratification, and still there will be in it a painful void, an aching vacuum. Happiness, to be found, must be sought in God. He alone, out of his exhaustless fullness, can fill to overflowing the soul with joy. O ye rich! trust not in wealth to do for you what God alone can do. It is obvious to every reflecting mind, that whatever imparts happiness must be stable and permanent: it must partake of the nature of the soul, which is a stable and permanent existence. But there is nothing stable and permanent in wealth.
The text refers to "uncertain riches." A literal translation of the original would be the uncertainty of riches. How great the uncertainty! This uncertainty is seen in the incompetency of wealth to do what it is expected to do. What extravagant calculations are made on riches! These calculations have been made in every generation, and in every generation they have been attended with bitter disappointment. Every man whom fortune has raised to affluent circumstances, testifies that riches do not make him happy. This testimony has been borne in all ages, both in civilized and savage lands. It is, however, without practical effect; for every man wishes to make the experiment for himself, thinking that some peculiarity in his case will render him exempt from the operation of a general law. If any fact is legibly written in the annals of
our race, it is that wealth can not do for men what they expect it to do.
Riches, too, are uncertain, because they are held by a precarious tenure. If they could do, while they are possessed, what they are expected to do, we all know the uncertainty of their continuance. "Riches," says Solomon, "certainly make themselves wings; they fly away, as an eagle, toward heaven." And thus it seems that all the certainty connected with riches, is the certainty that they will make wings, and fly away as an eagle. How uncertain are riches! How common is the transition from wealth to poverty! Flames may consume in an hour what it has required years to accumulate. "Who has not seen exemplifications of the uncertainty of riches? Who has not seen the vale of poverty occupied by those who once had their thousands of gold and silver? Among the many wealthy families of other generations, what changes of fortune have occurred! In numerous instances, there are now only a few scanty memorials of the possessions of other times. The uncertainty of riches receives a striking illustration in the history of individuals, families, and nations. How unwise, then, to trust in "uncertain riches!" How pertinent the admonition of the text!
II. WHAT THE RICH OUGHT TO DO.
1. They ought to trust in the living God. - We have seen that riches do not possess the properties requisite to make them a suitable object of
trust. They can not impart happiness, and their instability is proverbial. While, therefore, it is folly to trust in riches, it is the true wisdom to trust in God. In him the soul finds all that it needs. The desires of the rich and the poor receive perfect gratification in the divine fullness. God is the only proper object of trust to a rational and immortal creature. "Trust in the Lord," is the language both of reason and revelation. God alone can help those who trust in any object; and he is graciously disposed to help those who trust in him. Hence it is written, "Blessed are all they that put their trust in him." "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put, confidence in man; it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes." Surely, then, it is infinitely better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in uncertain riches. Whatever is needed to make the soul happy in life, in death, and through eternal ages, may be found in infinite perfection in the ever-blessed God. He, as the portion of the soul, is so perfectly and so exclusively able to gratify all its desires, that we may say, with equal truth and beauty -
" Give what thou canst, without thee still we are poor,
And with thee rich, take what thou wilt away."
He who trusts in God has nothing to fear and everything to hope. Who can injure him whom the shield of the divine protection defends? Who can disappoint the expectations whose fulfillment is pledged by the word of Him who can not lie?
The God in whom we are invited to trust ia termed in the text, the "living God." The gods of the nations are destitute of life; they are senseless idols. Our God is the source of all life. He must then be the living God. He is without beginning of days or end of life; for he enjoys an underived and endless life. THE LIVING GOD! What a sublime phrase! inexhaustible in meaning, inexhaustible in consolation. O ye rich! trust in this living God and not in uncertain riches. The certainty of his eternal existence and the uncertainty of riches, present as remarkable a contrast as the universe affords. And this living God gives us richly all things to enjoy. He not only gives the necessaries, but the comforts of life. Some persons of gloomy temperament are disposed to represent life as a dreary desert without a single oasis to modify the monotonous desolation. In their pilgrimage they see no beautiful sights - they hear no harmonious sounds - and the objects of taste are all bitter. Let such persons remember that God gives us richly all things to enjoy. We are kindly permitted to have enjoyment as we pass through the world. Christians ought surely to be happy.
"Let those refuse to sing
Who never knew our God,
But children of the heavenly king
May speak their joys abroad."
2. The rich ought to do good with their wealth. - It is a great privilege to do good in any way.
Those who possess talents, should so employ them as to do good. Influence should be consecrated to the accomplishment of good. Time should be spent in doing good. To do good is the only object worth living for. Now if riches can be used as the means of doing good, they ought so to be used. There is no good reason why they should be exempted from the operation of the general law that governs talents, influence, and everything else. God's people are his stewards, and "it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful." The gold and silver are the Lord's, and he in his providence makes distribution as he pleases. Those to whom he gives, or rather to whom he temporarily intrusts his own, will be held accountable for the use they make of.whatever comes into their hands. Great moral responsibility attaches to the possession of wealth. A proper appreciation of this truth, would make men afraid to be rich. Wealth creates so many artificial wants, that it is impossible to supply them without robbing God. The rich, if they would do their duty, must learn to disregard, more than they do, these artificial wants. Unless they do, they cannot be rich in good works. How are they to abound in good works, if they make their chief expenditures on unworthy objects? O you whom God has blessed with worldly possessions, I call upon you to be rich in good works. It will not do for you, a few times in your lives, to perform good works. You may do this and be poor in good works. The text does not refer to
meager and occasional offerings cast into the treasury of the Lord, but to bountiful and frequent contributions. To be rich in good works is to abound in them. To specify all the methods of becoming rich in good works would be impossible. They are as various as the necessities and the sufferings of fallen humanity. Look around you, ye that have wherewith to give, and you will see where to bestow your benefactions. I will not dictate to you, but I leave you to become rich in good works as the impulses of gratitude for redemption may prompt you.
The rich are to be ready to distribute. This is the opposite of backwardness. A readiness to distribute indicates a disposition to give promptly, esteeming it a privilege and not a hardship. Some persons give, but what an effort it requires. They can decide in an hour to invest their thousands in some worldly enterprise, but they deliberate for a week whether they shall give five dollars to a religious object, and then decide not to give so much. They are the men of whom I once heard a minister say, "it required the application of forty-horse power to screw a dollar out of their pockets." Such men are not ready to distribute - they are less ready to distribute than to do anything else. To give is the very thing they are not ready to do. O ye who give to the Lord's cause, whether you are able to give little or much, give it readily, promptly. Give because it is right to give, and because it is a privilege to give.
There is another phrase in the text which claims consideration - willing to communicate. - Nothing cast into the treasury of the Lord should be thrown in reluctantly. The Lord loves, a cheerful giver. I am afraid he does not love many of the givers of this generation; there are so few who give cheerfully. What a blessing if all were ready to distribute, willing to communicate. Then the necessity of agencies would be superseded, and all the objects of benevolence would be adequately sustained. Then our Missionary, Bible, Sabbath School, Education, and all kindred enterprises would no longer languish through the scantiness of pecuniary contributions. And is not this a state of things greatly to be desired - "a consummation devoutly to be wished?"
III. THE HAPPY RESULT.
We have seen what the rich ought not to do, and what they ought to do. If they practically take heed to the admonitions of the text, they will lay up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come. The proper use of wealth is greatly promotive of the spiritual interests of the rich. The more they give the more they are like the Giver of every good and perfect gift. As often as they give they sever some tie that binds them to earth. Every man is in danger of becoming a covetous man. The divinely appointed method of forestalling the spirit of covetousness is to give, and give as the Lord prospers. He who refuses to adopt this
plan will inevitably become covetous. Rich Christians ought to remember that they may make such a use of their worldly possessions as to promote their growth in grace - their spirituality - their likeness to Christ. I here refer to the spiritual advantages accruing to the rich in this world from a proper use of their wealth. But there are advantages reserved for the world to come; and they, doubtless, infinitely exceed the advantages restricted to this life. Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. How important to have a good foundation - not only at present, but against the time to come! A good foundation! Stocks for sale in the mercantile world are sometimes announced as "stocks on good foundations." This is quite a recommendation. It is deemed important to know on what foundation stocks rest. The best investment the rich can make of their capital is in the work of doing good. Nothing is lost that is given to the cause of truth and righteousness. Those who give make prudent provision for the future. They lay up in store for themselves a good foundation. And they will lay hold on eternal life. The idea is not that they will by a proper use of their wealth merit eternal life. All the gold and silver of the world can not purchase eternal life for one soul. All the planets, if they were diamonds, and placed at the disposal of one man, could not buy for him a title to glory in heaven. The merits of Christ alone are sufficient
for this purpose, and these merits are appropriated by faith. But this faith is a living faith, and good works are its legitimate fruits and the proper evidences of its genuineness. Such a faith leads its possessor to perform whatever good works come within the sphere of his ability. The rich can, by means of their wealth, do good; and their faith, if genuine, will prompt them to do good in this way. Hence a proper use of their riches indicates a living faith, while this faith unites to Christ, and graciously entitles the believer to eternal life. You see, therefore, in what sense the consecration of wealth to the performance of good works enables the Christian to lay hold on eternal life.
And here the Savior's language may be considered: "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye fail they may receive you into everlasting habitations." The mammon of unrighteousness means riches. To make friends of this mammon is to make friends by the use of it. Let me illustrate: Here is a rich man; he sends a dozen missionaries to preach the Gospel to the heathen. He supports them; he furnishes them with the means to circulate the Bible among the people. God blesses the labors of his servants. Hundreds of the poor heathen are converted. Of these hundreds many are soon called to heaven to enjoy its blissful glories. Years roll away, and in process of time the benefactor dies. He has made friends by a proper use of his wealth, and those friends, having
gone before him to paradise, welcome his ascending spirit to everlasting habitations in the skies. Do you not see, brethren, that the consecration of wealth to worthy purposes has something to do with the rich believer's laying hold on eternal life?
1. How few of the rich have an adequate idea of the responsibility which the possession of wealth creates! The most of them practically affirm that their wealth is their own - that they have a right to do as they please with it - and hence they hasten to the judgment, making no definite calculation on rendering an account to God for either the use or abuse of their riches. It is high time for the rich to ponder well the sentiments of the text.
2. Let the rich begin at once to do good with their wealth. If they try to ease their consciences by promising to consecrate their riches at some future period, they will probably never be rich in good works. Those who honestly and earnestly desire to do good in any way will, if it be possible, begin without delay. There are hundreds of rich men who, instead of increasing their possessions, ought to sell a portion of what they have and cast bountiful offerings into the treasury of the Lord. "Sell that ye have," says Jesus, "and give alms - provide bags that wax not old - a treasure in the heavens which no moth corrupts and no thief approaches."
3. Happy are those who inscribe on their worldly possessions, "holiness to the Lord." They hold whatever is intrusted to them subject to the providential intimations of the divine will. They see not how gold and silver can be so usefully expended as in promoting the cause of God in the world. They enjoy the noble satisfaction of doing good while they honor the Lord with their substance. Nor will this satisfaction be confined to the present life. In the life to come - far, far in the future - ten thousand ages hence - it will be a pleasant reminiscence that they made pecuniary offerings to the Lord. The poor widow of whom the Savior spoke so approvingly when she cast in her two mites into the treasury, now thinks with pleasure of the disposal she made of those mites.
[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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