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Who is a Really Poor Man? The Avaricious Man.

Johann Gerhard

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

As we love the salvation of our souls, we ought to hate the sin of avarice. The avaricious man is the poorest of all men, because what he has fails him as much as what he has not. He is the most distressed of all, because he is good to no one, and worst towards himself. The beginning of all sin is pride; the root of all evil is avarice (1 Tim. vi. 10). Pride draws the soul away from God; avarice turns it to created things. Riches are acquired by the sweat of the brow; they are held in possession in constant fear; cause bitter pain if lost; and what is worse than all, the labors of avaricious men will not only perish, but they are deadly in their effects upon their souls. Riches will either desert thee or thou them. If, therefore, thy hope is placed in riches, what will become of that hope in the hour of death? How wilt thou trust thine immortal soul to God, if thou dost not trust the care of the body to Him now? Thou art an object of care to Almighty God, why dost thou doubt His power to sustain thee? Thou art an object of care to the All-wise God; why dost thou doubt His willingness to sustain thee? Thou art an object of care to the most bountiful God; why again dost thou doubt whether He is willing to sustain thee? Thou hast the solemn pledge of Christ, the Lord of all things in heaven and on earth that if we “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all these things shall be added unto us” (Matt. vi. 33). Trust this promise of Christ, it will not fail; for He is “the Truth” (John xiv. 6). Avarice is the height of idolatry (Col. iii. 5), because it puts the creature in the place of God the Creator. The avaricious man transfers the confidence that he ought to repose in God to the things of earth, the work of His hands. Whatever is loved more than God is preferred to God, and is hence put in the place of God. Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage (Gen. xxv. 33). And thus many, for the sake of mere temporal good, will part with their heavenly inheritance bestowed upon them by Christ Himself. Judas sold his Lord for thirty pieces of silver (Matt. xxvi. 15); and the avaricious likewise sell the grace of Christ for earthly riches. How can one filling himself daily with swine’s husks aspire to the kingdom of heaven? How can one lift up his heart to God, who seeks peace of soul in the riches of this world?

Christ, the Truth, says that riches are as thorns (Matt. xiii. 22), and hence he who loves riches loves thorns. O these thorns, in how many souls do they choke the good seed! As the thorns spring up and hinder the growth of the good seed sown, so does the anxiety for riches hinder the spiritual fruit of the Word. As thorns pierce the body, so riches distract the mind with cares. Thou too wilt perish, if thou gatherest together only such treasures as will perish. Those who lay up treasures upon the earth are like people who store their fruits in damp places under ground, forgetting that there they will most quickly decay. How foolish are they whose only desires are for worldly riches! How can any material object satisfy the soul, which is spiritual in its nature, since rather the spiritual nature, by the very law of its own being, bears such a relation to material objects that it never could be satisfied with any quantity of them? Thy soul was created for eternity; thou wouldst do it an injury then, if thou shouldst confine its desires to objects that are temporal and transient in character. The more thy soul rises in its love to God, the less will it love riches.

“The fowls of the air sow not, neither do they reap” (Matt. vi. 26); in the case of these lower creatures of God’s hands, it almost seems as if the nearer the sky they dwell, the less do they desire, and the less do they lay up. It is a good indication that our souls are fixing their affections on things above, when we lightly value and despise the perishing things of earth. Mice and reptiles gather in holes and caves of the earth, because they are of a lower order of nature than the birds of the air. And it is a certain sign that our souls have forsaken God and are fixed upon earthly things, if we love riches inordinately. God hath given thee thy soul, and canst thou not commit the care of thy body to Him? God feeds the fowls of the air, and dost thou doubt His willingness to sustain thee who art made in His own image? God clothes the lilies of the field, and dost thou doubt that He will also clothe thee? We ought to be ashamed that, with faith and reason, we can not exercise the same trustful dependence upon God that the birds do, with only natural instinct. They sow not, neither do they reap, but with an instinctive trust commit the care of their little bodies to God.

But an avaricious man will not trust the word of the Most High God, till he himself sees whence his daily bread is coming. This is very unreasonable in him, because he brought nothing with him into the world; and yet he is bent upon the acquisition of worldly riches, as though he would carry with him out of this world as much as he possibly could lay hold of. The avaricious man is most ungrateful, because he enjoys so many of God’s blessed gifts, and yet never gratefully and trustfully turns his heart to the Giver of all these. He is a most stupidly foolish man, because he forsakes God, the only true God, and sets his heart upon those things which, without the grace of God, cannot possibly be good. He whose heart is bound up in these earthly things does not really possess them, but is possessed by them.

The spirit of avarice is not destroyed either by plenty or want. Dire want diminishes it not, for the inability to obtain what he wants merely whets the desire of the avaricious man. Neither does an abundance of this world’s goods diminish it; for the more the avaricious man obtains the more he wants. As soon as one desire is gratified others immediately spring up, just as the more wood you heap on a fire the more fiercely it burns. Avariciousness is like a mountain torrent, very small in its beginning, but enlarging and gathering new force as it rolls down the mountain side. Set due bounds, therefore, to thy desire for wealth, lest it drag thee down into eternal perdition. Many greedily devour in this life what they must afterwards digest in hell. And many others, while they are still thirsting for filthy lucre, run headlong into instant destruction.

As thou considerest these things, O devout soul, avoid, as much as thou possibly canst, an avaricious spirit. Nothing of all thy worldly store canst thou carry with thee to the judgment-bar of God, except what thou hast given away to the poor. Withhold not thy frail and perishing goods from the poor, for whom the blessed Christ refused not to give His life. Give to the poor, that thou mayest give to thyself; for what thou hast not thus given in Christian charity another will have. Far too avaricious is that man for whom the Lord Himself suffices not; nor has he a sure hope of heaven, who so highly values the perishing things of earth. How can he lay down his life for his brother (1 John iii. 16), who denies his brother the little temporal gifts he begs of him? What we place in the hands of a poor man we really lay up as a treasure in heaven, that it perish not on the earth. Wouldst thou offer a pleasing service to Christ thy Saviour? Show kindness to the poor. What we do to the members of His mystical body, Christ receives as done to Himself (Matt. xxv. 40). Christ is saying to thee: “Give to Me of that which I have given of Myself to thee; do good with the good thou hast, that thou mayest bring more good to thyself. Give bountifully of thine earthly possessions that thou mayest more truly preserve them; for by hoarding them as a miser thou wilt really lose them.” Heed now the warning of Christ, that thou mayest not be obliged to hear Him saying to thee at the judgment: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire; * * * for I was an hungered, and ye gave Me no meat” (Matt. xxv. 41, 42). The giving of alms is like sowing good seed; and if thou sowest sparingly, thou shalt reap also sparingly; if thou sowest bountifully, thou shalt reap also bountifully (1 Cor. ix. 6; Gal. vi. 8). If thou wouldst be among those on the right hand of thy Lord on that great day, show the kindly spirit He commends in them. Let the sad fate of those on His left hand strike fear into thy heart, because they are there not for doing evil so much as for not doing good.

O God, “incline my heart unto Thy testimonies, and not to covetousness” (Ps. cxix. 36)!

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