Monday, February 25, 2008

Removing the horse leach of covetousness

We concluded a previous post on the disease of consumerism, by acknowledging that we get nowhere until we realise that consumerism is a sin, the sin of covetousness.
"The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give." Proverbs 30:15. None of us think that we are covetous or the victims of consumerism but if we searched our life, hearts and habits honestly - our time and our thoughts we would know otherwise.

The puritan Richard Capel makes this point. 'We must be convinced that covetousness, I mean that our covetousness, is a vice; for it holds something of a virtue, of frugality, which is not to waste that which one hath; and this makes us entertain thoughts that it is no vice; and we often say that it is good to be a little worldly; a little covetousness we like well; which shows that we do not indeed and in heart, hold it to be a sin. For if sin be naught, a little of sin cannot be good. As good say, a little poison were good, so it be not too much.' This is how destructive covetousness and consumerism is.

We must describe it as it is, and as Scripture describes it, idolatry. ‘Little do they think that worldliness is a most guiltful sin in respect of God, and most hurtful in respect of men. Hark what the Word of God saith of it, Eph 5:5, - it is idolatry, and idolatry is the first sin of the first table.’ (Richard Capel)

'Covetousness is called idolatry, which is worse than infidelity, Colossians 3:5; for it is less rebellion not to honour the king than to set up another king against him.' (Henry Smith).

The only way to deal with the destructive influence of covetousness is not to contain it but to remove it altogether. It must be destroyed itself. We are to mortify covetousness. The horse-leach must be removed or it will drain our spiritual life and endanger our eternal life.

Capel points to Psalm 119:36 "Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness": he saith not, this or that testimony, but (as including all the laws of God) he saith "testimonies"; to show us covetousness draws us away, not from some only, but from all God's commandments. So St. Paul: where covetousness is, there are "many lusts," 1 Timothy 6:9, and "many sorrows," 1 Timothy 6:10. "It drowns men in perdition and destruction," 1 Timothy 6:9. And the Greek word signifies such a drowning as is almost past all hope and recovery. It is the bane all society: men cry out of it, because they would have none covetous, rich but themselves...Such believe not the word, they trust neither nor man. For he that trusts not God, cannot trust man. It robs God that confidence we should have in him, and dependence we owe unto him it turns a man from all the commandments. Hence the prophet prays God to turn his heart to his commandments, "and not to covetousness." For not only we ought not, but as the phrase is, "we cannot serve God mammon," Luke 16:13.'

One of the puritans that wrote most extensively concerning covetousness was William Gouge He has five remedies for preventing or redressing covetousness.

1. The judgment must rightly be informed in these two points-

(1.) In the nature of true happiness.
(2.) In the vanity and deceitfulness of riches.

Many learned men lack this point of understanding.

It is the blindness of a man's mind that maketh him place a kind of happiness in the things of this world, whereby he is brought even to coat upon them. If therefore we shall be rightly instructed that happiness consisteth in matters of another kind than this world affords, and that the things of this world are so vain as they can afford no solid comfort to a man, especially in spiritual distress, and so uncertain as they may suddenly be taken away from men, or men from them, surely their immoderate desire of riches could not be but much allayed. He that said, 'There be many that say, Who will shew us any good O Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us,' Ps. 4:6, well discerned the difference betwixt earthly and heavenly blessings. So did he who said, 'Riches profit not in the day of wrath; but righteousness delivereth from death,' Prov. 11:4.

2. The will and heart of man must follow the judgment well informed, and raise themselves up to that sphere where true happiness resteth. 'Set 'our affection on things above, not on things on the earth,' Col. 3:2. This will keep the heart from coating on things below; for 'where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,' Mat. 6:21. A beast which is feeding in fair and fresh pasture will not stray into a bare and barren heath; much less will an understanding man, that finds the sweetness of spiritual and heavenly blessings, feed upon earthly trash. This made Paul account all outward things but dung, because his heart had tasted of the sweetness of Christ, Phil. 3:8ff.

3. A man's confidence must be placed on God and his providence. God's providence is an overflowing and ever-flowing fountain. The richest treasures of men may be exhausted; God's cannot be. Be therefore fully resolved of this, that 'God will provide,' Gen. 22:8. This casting of our care on God's providence is much pressed in Scripture, as Ps. 55:22, 1 Pet. 5:7, Mat. 6:25, 26, &c. By experience we see how children depend on their parents' providence. Should not we much more on our heavenly Father? This resting upon God's providence is the more to be pressed in this case, because nothing makes men more to misplace their confidence than riches. 'The rich man's wealth is his strong city,' Prov. 10:15.

4. Our appetite or desire of riches must be moderate. Herein be of his mind who thus prayed, 'Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me,' Prov. 30:8. This is the main scope of the fourth petition, Matt. 6:11. Be content, therefore, with that portion which God gives thee, and be persuaded it is best for thee. This lesson had Paul well learned, Phil. iv. 11. Contentedness and covetousness are directly opposite, as light and darkness. The apostle here in this text opposeth them.

5. We must pray against covetousness, as he who said, 'Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness,' Ps. 119:36. We ought the rather to pray to God against it, because it is a hereditary disease, and in that respect the more hardly cured. It was one of Christ's greatest miracles to cure one that was born blind, John 9:32.