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MEDITATION XXXIX

THE VANITY OF THE WORLD

The Eternal Transcends the Temporal

Johann Gerhard

(Translated by Rev. C. W. Heisler, A.M.)

DO not, O my soul, set thine affections upon things that are upon the earth. For “the world passeth away” (1 John ii. 17; 1 Cor. vii. 31); “and all the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Pet. iii. 10); where then will be thy love? Love the good that is eternal, that thou mayest live the life that is eternal! Every creature was made subject to vanity (Rom. viii. 20); if therefore thou lovest the creature, thou thyself shalt be made subject to vanity. Love that which is truly and lastingly good, that thy heart may enjoy lasting peace and rest.

Why do the honors of this world delight thee? If we seek honor of men, we cannot receive honor of God (John v. 44); and in seeking worldly honor we must conform ourselves to this world, but if we seek to please men we cannot please God (Gal. i. 10). That which is produced by the transitory and unstable is itself transitory and unstable, and hence worldly honor cannot be stable. One may be exalted to the height of worldly glory to-day, and sunk to the lowest depths of ignominy to-morrow. Seek to please God, that He may confer upon thee His true and lasting honor. After all, what real advantage is there in being esteemed great and honorable among men? A man is really great and honorable only as he is so esteemed by the great God Himself. When the people would have made Christ a king He fled from them (John vi. 15); but when they sought Him to put Him to a shameful and ignominious death upon the cross, He freely and voluntarily offered Himself. If thou wouldst then become more and more conformed to Christ, take more satisfaction in the shame the world heaps upon thee, than in the empty glories it offers thee. If thou canst not lightly esteem the honors of this world for the sake of Christ, thy Saviour, how couldst thou rise to that point of love that thou wouldst pour out thy life for Him? There is no other path to the attainment of true glory with Christ than through a holy contempt for worldly glory, just as Christ Himself through the ignominy of the cross entered into His glory (Luke xxiv. 26). Therefore choose rather to be despised, to be lightly esteemed, to be scorned in this world, that thou mayst be honored of God in the world that is to come. Christ has plainly taught us what estimate we ought to place upon the glory of this world, all the glory of the heavenly world was His own and waited upon Him; aye, He Himself is true glory, and yet He emptied Himself of all His glory and for a time voluntarily cast it from Him. The more worldly honor one enjoys, the more abundantly he is supplied with the material comforts of this world, the more profoundly and heartily ought he to be saddened by it, seeing that in all this he is just so much farther from conformity to Christ. How vain are the world’s plaudits, if we carry about within us a guilty and accusing conscience! What advantage is it to a man intensely suffering from a burning fever that he lies upon an ivory couch? The testimony of a good conscience –- that is true honor, that is true praise. Thou canst have no juster or more impartial judge of thy deeds than thy God and thy conscience. Let it be thine aim and desire to bring all thy deeds to the test of this holy judgment. Is it not satisfaction enough for thee that thou art known to thyself, and what is best of all, to God?

But coming now to riches, why dost thou so greatly desire them? Far too avaricious is he for whom the Lord suffices not! This life is the pathway to our heavenly fatherland; of what advantage then is great wealth? It simply burdens the Christian pilgrim as a vast cargo does a ship. Christ, the King of heaven, is riches enough for the true servants of God. A real treasure ought to be something within a man, not without him, and a something that thou canst carry with thee to the universal judgment; but all these external, material possessions must be laid aside by thee at death. All these heaps of riches shall one day perish; but he who has heaped them up shall perish in a still worse manner, if he has not been rich toward God. Naked and poor thou camest into the world; and naked and poor shalt thou go out of it (Job i. 21); why then should the middle portion of thy life be so different from its beginning and its end? We ought to value riches for the use we can make of them, and how little will they then suffice us? The most insignificant gifts of grace and virtue are far more valuable than all earthly riches, and why? Simply because with grace and virtue we may please God, whilst with riches alone, apart from these, we cannot please Him. We ought to be more pleased with the facts of Christ’s poverty than with the riches of all the world, because Christ has thus sanctified poverty for us. He was poor at his birth, poorer during His life, and poorest of all at His death. Why shouldst thou hesitate to prefer this world’s poverty to its riches, since Christ preferred it to the riches of His heavenly kingdom? How wilt thou trust thy soul to God, if thou dost not commit the care of thy body to Him? How wilt thou lay down thy life for thy brother, if thou art not willing to lay out thy riches for him? Riches are acquired with great difficulty and labor; they are held in possession in constant fear, and their loss occasions great pain, and what is still more to be deplored, all the labor of the avaricious man in acquiring his wealth will not only come to naught, but will be deadly in its effects upon his soul, according to the teaching of St. Bernard. Thy love is thy God; “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. vi. 21); if thou lovest these material, earthly, perishing riches, thou canst not love those higher spiritual, heavenly, eternal riches. Why? Because those weigh upon a man’s heart as a heavy burden, and drag it down to the earth, whilst these lift it up towards heaven. The love of earthly things is a sort of weight upon the wings of our souls, said a certain ancient lover of Christ.[1] The solemn example of Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt (Gen. xix. 26), warns us not to look back to our worldly possessions, but to direct our way towards our heavenly home. The apostles left all and followed Christ (Matt. iv. 22); because their knowledge of the true riches which Christ could give, took away their desire for riches falsely so-called. If we once taste of spiritual things, carnal things become tasteless to our souls; he who truly loves Christ cares little for the world.

But why dost thou so greatly desire worldly pleasure? Oh, let the memory of Him who was crucified for thee crucify in thee all desire for mere pleasure. Let the thought of the fires of hell quench in thee all the ardor of lust. Contrast these pleasures, which are but for a brief moment, with eternal torments. Fleshly pleasure is beastly, and renders all who indulge in it beastly. He has no taste for the delightsome repasts of the heavenly kingdom who fills himself daily with swine’s husks. Let us then mortify our sensual pleasures, and with Abraham (Gen. xxii. 10), offer up in spiritual sacrifice our beloved son, that is, figuratively, those delights of our souls especially dear to us, by renouncing voluntarily all worldly pleasure, and cheerfully accepting the hardships of the holy cross. Oh! the way to the heavenly kingdom is not smooth and level and strewn with roses, but it is rough and rugged and beset with thorns. The outward man may flourish in worldly pleasures, but the inward man grows spiritually by bearing his cross and in suffering tribulations; and in proportion as the outward man flourishes the inward man droops. Pleasures minister to our bodies, but to the godly man the care of his body is his least concern, while the care of his soul is his greatest. Pleasures lead captive our hearts so that they cannot freely love God. It is not these pleasures, but a certain loathing of them, that thou wilt carry away with thee at death, and bear with thee to the awful judgment bar of God. Let the fear of God so pierce thy flesh that carnal love may not lead thee astray. Oh, let the thought of God’s judgment be so continually in thy mind, that thine own perverse will may not bring thee into captivity to the sensual appetites. Look not upon the face of the tempter alluring thee to sin, but think rather of the bitter stings of an accusing conscience that shall follow that sin. Overcome sin and temptation by the grace of Christ, and finally thou shalt be crowned a victor by Christ Jesus Himself.



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