Chap. 2.—The City of Peace. (2)—God’s Bounty; or, The Blessings of both His Hands.

posted 17 May 2014, 13:51 by Stephen Chaffer   [ updated 17 May 2014, 13:53 ]


God’s Bounty; or, The Blessings of both His Hands

'Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour.' — Prov. 3:16.

BY Wisdom here we understand the Son of God, the Saviour of man. In 1 Corinthians 1:24, he is called the ‘wisdom of God.’ Col. 2:3, ‘In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’

Wisdom is formerly commended for her beauty, here for her bounty:— ‘Length of days is in her right hand; in her left, riches and honour.’ Conceive her a glorious queen sitting on a throne of majesty, and calling her children about her, to the participation of those riches which from everlasting she had decreed them.

Not to travel far for distribution, the parts of this text are as easily distinguished as the right hand from the left. Here be two hands, and they contain two sorts of treasures. The right hand hath in it ‘length of days’; the left, ‘riches and honour.’

The right hand is, upon good reason, preferred, both for its own worth whereby it excels, and for the worth of the treasure which it contains. It hath ever had the dignity, as the dexterity.

Length of days is the treasure it holds. This cannot be properly understood of this mortal life, though the sense may also stand good with such an interpretation. For by me,’ saith Wisdom, ‘thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased,’ Prov. 9:11. Wisdom is the mother of abstinence, and abstinence the nurse of health; whereas voluptuousness and intemperance, as the French proverb hath it, digs its own grave with the teeth.

There is nothing made perfectly happy but by eternity; as nothing but eternity can make perfect misery. Were thy life a continued scene of pleasures, on whose stage grief durst never set his unwelcome foot; were the spoil of Noah’s ark the cakes of thy table; had’st thou King Solomon’s wardrobe and treasury; did the West Indies send thee all her gold, and the East her spices; and all these lying by thee whiles a late succession of years without cares snows white upon thy head; thou wert ever indulgent to thyself, and health to thee; — yet suddenly there comes an impartial pursuivant, Death, and he hath a charge to take thee away bathing thyself in thy delights. Alas! what is all thy glory but a short play, full of mirth till the last act, and that goes off in a tragedy? Couldest thou not have made Death more welcome if he had found thee lying on a pad of straw, feeding on crusts and water-gruel? Is not thy pain the more troublesome because thou wast well? Doth not the end of these temporary joys afflict thee more than if they had never been? Only then eternity can give perfection to pleasure; which because this world cannot afford, let us reckon of it as it is, a mere thoroughfare, and desire our home, where we shall be happy for ever.

In her left hand, riches and honour. — The gift of the right hand is large and eternal; of the left, short and temporal. Riches and honour are God’s gifts, therefore in themselves not evil. Saith Augustine — that they may not be thought evil, they are given to good men; that they may not be thought the best good, they are given also to evil men. A rich man may be a good man, and a poor man may be wicked. Not seldom a russet coat shrouds as high a heart as a silken garment. You shall have a paltry cottage send up more black smoke than a goodly manor. It is not wealth thereof, but vice, that excludes men out of heaven.

The friars and Jesuits have very strongly and strangely backbited riches; but all their railing on it is but behind the back:— secretly and in their hearts they love it. When they are out of the reach of eyes, then gold is their sun by day, and silver their moon by night. Some of them for enforced want, like the fox, dispraise the grapes they cannot reach. Or, as Eusebius notes of Licinius the emperor, that he used to rail at learning, and to say nothing worse became a prince, because himself was illiterate; so they commend nothing more than poverty, because they are, and must be, poor against their wills.

Others of them find fault with riches, whereof they have great store, but would that none should covet it beside themselves. So the cozening epicure made all his fellow-guests believe that the banquet was poisoned, that, all they refusing, he might glut himself alone. These often cheat themselves, and work their own bane:— whiles they so beat off others from the world, and wrap themselves up in it to their confusion. The fox in the fable, with divers other beasts, found a rich booty of costly robes and jewels. He persuades the lion that he needs not trouble himself with them, because he is king, and may command all at his pleasure. He tells the stag, that if he should put them on, they would so molest him that he could not escape the huntsmen. For the boar, he says they would evil-favouredly become him; and the wolf he shuffles off with the false news of a fold of lambs hard by, which would do him more good. So all gone, he begins to put on the robes himself, and to rejoice in his lucky fraud. But instantly came the owners, and surprised him, who had so puzzled himself in these habiliments, that he could not by flight escape; so they took him, and hanged him up.

The subtle foxes, Jesuits and friars, dissuade kings from coveting wealth, because of their power to command all; and great men, because it will make them envied and hunted after for their trappings; countrymen it will not become, they say; and all the rest, that it will hinder their journey to heaven. So in conclusion they drive all away, and get the whole world for their master Pope and themselves. But at last these foxes are caught in their own noose; for the devil finds them so wrapped and hampered in these ornaments, and their hearts so besotted on money and riches, that he carries them with as much ease to hell as the chariot drew Pharaoh into the Red Sea.

For us, beloved, we teach you not to cast away the bag, but covetousness. We bid you ‘use the world,’ but enjoy the Lord. And if you have wealth, ‘make you friends with your riches, that they’ — so made friends by your charity — ‘may receive,’ and make way for, ‘you into everlasting habitations,’ Luke 16:9. It is not your riches of this world, but your riches of grace, that shall do your souls good. ‘Not my wealth, nor my blood, but my Christianity makes me noble,’ quoth that noble martyr Romanus. And though the philosopher merrily, when he was asked whether were better, wisdom or riches, answered, Riches; for I have often, said he, seen poor wise men at rich fools’ doors, but never rich fools at poor wise men’s doors:— yet wealth may be joined with wisdom, goodness with greatness. Mary and Martha may be sisters:— righteousness and riches may dwell together. Riches are not unrighteous, but to the unrighteous. It is not a sin to have them, but to trust them.

It is easy for that man to be rich that will make his conscience poor. He that will defraud, forswear, bribe, oppress, serve the time, use, abuse all men, all things, swallow any wicked-ness, cannot escape riches. Whereas he whose conscience will not admit of advancing or advantaging himself by indirect means, sits down with contented poverty. But a good man seldom becomes rich on the sudden. Wealth comes not easily, not quickly, to the honest door. Neither let us envy the gravel that sticks in the throat of injustice. For he that will swallow the bait which hangs on the line of another man’s estate, shall be choked with it. Of riches let us never desire more than an honest man may well bear away. I had rather be a miserable saint than a prosperous sinner. When the raising of thy roof is the raising of another’s foundation, ‘the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it,’ Hab. 2:2. ‘Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house!’ We think the oppressor’s avarice evil only to the houses of the oppressed; but God saith it is most evil to his own. Whether fraud or force bring in unjust gain, it is as a coal of fire put in the thatch of his house.

And to show that God is not the giver of this, he pours a curse upon it; that often they who thus desire most wealth shall not have it:— the world being to them like a froward woman, the more wooed, the further off. Isa. 33:1, ‘Woe to thee that spoilest, and wast not spoiled! when thou shalt cease to spoil thou shalt be spoiled.’ Philip was wont to say that an ass laden with gold would enter the gates of any city; but the golden load of bribes and extortions shall bar a man out of the city of God. All that is so gotten is like quicksilver, it will be running. If the father leave all to his son, yet the son will leave nothing for his son, perhaps nothing for himself; never resting until he hath spread abroad all with a fork which his father got together with a rake. We have seen huge hills of wealth, like mountains of ice, thus suddenly thawed as wax, with the heat of luxury. Their wealth is not God’s, therefore he taketh no charge of it. But the riches of the good is the riches of God and he will prosper it.

Riches are well disposed or used when piety, not lust, rules them. He whom God’s blessing hath made rich gives God his part. It is reason that he who gives all should have part of all. What can then be pleaded for our accursed impropriations? Did the heavenly Wisdom ever give you those riches? Show us your patent, and we will believe you. If ever God did convey his own portion to you, show his hand and seal for it. Where did ever Jesus pass away his royal prerogative, or acknowledge any fine before a judge, that you say, These are ours? What money did you ever pay him for them? Where is your aquittance? Show your discharge. Oh, but you plead prescription! If you were not past shame, you would never dare to prescribe against the eternal God. Nullum tempts occurrit regi, — The king of heaven had these from the beginning, and will you now plead prescription? You may thus undo the poor minister in these terrene courts, but your plea shall be damned in the courts of God. We can produce his act and deed whereby he separated tenths to himself; have you nothing to show, and will you take away his inheritance? Go to, you have a law, and by your own law this proceeding is intolerable. You say you hold them by your law, by your law you shall be condemned.

Perhaps you think to make amends for all, for you will increase the stipend of the vicar. When the father hath gotten thousands by the sacrilegious impropriation, the son perhaps may give him a cow’s grass, or a matter of forty shillings tier annum; or bestow a little whiting on the church, and a wainscot seat for his own worship. Yea, more; he may chance to found a little alms-house, and give twelve pence a-piece a-week to six poor people. Oh, this oppressor must needs go to heaven! what shall hinder him? But it will be, as the byword is, in a wheelbarrow:— the fiends, and not the angels, will take hold on him.

For is it not a great piece of charity to get five hundred pounds a-year from God, and to bestow twenty marks a-year on the poor? When David, providing for the temple’s building, saw how bountifully the princes and people offered, he gives solemn thanks to God, acknowledging that they had all received this first from him. 1 Chron. 29:14, For all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee.’ The original is, ‘of thine hand.’ What here the left hand of God gave to them, their right hand returns to God. They did not, as our church-sackers and ransackers do, rob God with the right hand, and give him a little back with the left; take from him a pound, and restore him a penny. Well, you would know whether God bath given you your wealth; and he says, whatsoever you have gotten by tenths was none of his giving; and, besides everlasting malediction, it shall make your posterity beggars.

The second rule of using our riches well is, when God bath his own, in the next place, to render every man his due. If they be God’s gifts, they must be disposed with justice. This is double — commutative and distributive justice. The one arithmetical, the other geometrical. Arithmetical is to give every one alike; geo-metrical is to give every one according to his deserts. Owe no man anything, but to love one another.’ Indeed there must be some owing, as there must be some lending; without this mutual commerce we are worse than savages. But we must pay again:— ‘The wicked borroweth and payeth not again.’ Debt is not deadly sin when a man hath no means, but when he hath no meaning to pay.

What shall we then say of their goods that break, and defraud others? Come they from God’s hand or from the devil’s? Surely Satan’s right hand gave them, not God’s left. Oh that men would see this damnable sin! Methinks their terrified conscience should fear that the bread they eat should choke them; for it is stolen, and stolen bread fills the belly with gravel. They should fear the drink they swallow should poison them; being the very blood of good house-holders, mixed with the tears of widows and orphans. The poor creditor is often undone, and glad of bread and water; whiles they, like hogs lurking in their stys, fat and lard their ribs with the fruit of others’ labours. They rob the husband of his inheritance, the wife of her dowry, the children of their portions; the curse of whole families is against them.

And if this sin lie upon a great man’s soul, he shall find it the heavier, to sink him lower into perdition. They are the lords of great lands, yet live upon other men’s moneys; they must riot and revel, let the poor commoners pay for it. They have protections; their bodies shall not be molested, and their lands are exempted. What then? Shall they escape? No, their souls shall pay for it. When the poor creditor comes to demand his own, they rail at him, they send him laden away, but with ill words, not good money. In the country they set labourers on work, but they give them no hire. Tut, they are tenants, vassals. Must they therefore have no pay? Yet those very landlords will bate them nothing of their rents. But the riches so had are not of God’s giving, but of the devil’s lending, and he will make them repay it a thousand-fold in hell.

And here we may fitly proceed to the condemnation of bribery. Deut. 16:19, ‘A gift blindeth the eyes of the wise.’ They that see furthest into the law, and most clearly discern the causes of justice, if they suffer the dusts of bribes to be thrown into their sight, their eyes will water and twinkle, and fall at last to blind connivance. It is a wretched thing when justice is made a hackney that may be backed for money, and put on with golden spurs, even to the desired journey’s end of injury and iniquity.

And this is sinful in a justicer though he pass true judgment on the cause; but much more

I accursed when for this he will condemn the cause he should allow, or allow the cause he should condemn. ‘To justify the wicked and condemn the innocent’ are alike abomination to the Lord. Far be from our souls this wickedness, that the ear which should be open to complaints is thus stopped with the ear-wax of partiality. Alas, poor Truth, that she must now be put to the charges of a golden ear-pick, or she cannot be heard!

But to show that these riches are not of God’s giving, his anger is hot against them:— Job 15:34, ‘Fire shall consume the tabernacles of bribery.’ The houses, or tabernacles, the chambers, halls, offices, studies, benches, a fire shall consume them. They may stand for a while, but the indignation of the Lord is kindled; and if it once begin to burn, all the waters in the south are not able to quench it. These riches, then, come not of God’s blessing; but I pray that God’s blessing may be yours, though you want those riches. The Lord send us the gifts of his left hand at his own good pleasure, but never deny us the blessings of his right, for Jesus Christ’s sake.

Thus you see this second general point amplified, riches be God’s blessings, (not only in themselves, so they are always good, but to us,) when they are gotten honestly, disposed justly, lost patiently. As much happily might be said, secondly, for honour, wherein I will briefly consider how and when it is of God.

It is a hard question wherein honour consists. Is it in blood, descending from the veins of noble ancestors? Not so, except nature could produce to noble parents noble children. It was a monstrous tale that Nicippus’s ewe should yean a lion. Though it be true among irrational creatures, that they ever bring forth their like, — eagles hatch eagles, and doves doves, — yet in man’s progeny there is often found not so like a proportion as unlike a disposition. The earthy part only follows the seed, not that whose form and attending qualities are from above. Honour must therefore as well plead a charter of successive virtue as of continued scutcheons, or it cannot consist in blood. The best things can never be traduced in propagation:— thou mayest leave thy son heir to thy lands in thy will, to thy honour in his blood; thou canst never bequeath him thy virtues. The best qualities do so cleave to their subjects, that they disdain communication to others.

That is then only true honour where dignity and desert, blood and virtue meet together; the greatness whereof is from blood, the goodness from virtue. Among fools dignity is enough without desert; among wise men desert without dignity. If they must be separated, desert is infinitely better. Greatness without virtue is commended by others’ tongues, condemned in thy own heart. Virtue, though without promotion, is more comforted in thy own content than disheartened by others’ contempt. It is a happy composition when they are united:— think it your honour, ye great men, that you are ennobled with virtues; not that you have, but that you deserve honour. Let this that hath been spoken teach us some lessons concerning honour.

If thou have honour, keep it, but trust it not. Nothing is more inconstant; for it depends upon inconstancy itself, the vulgar breath, which is a beast of many heads, and as many tongues, which never keep long in one tune. As they never agree one with another, so seldom do they agree long with themselves. Acts 14; Paul and Barnabas come to Lystra, and raise an impotent cripple; here at the amazed people would needs make them gods, and draw bulls and garlands to the altars for sacrifice to them. Not long after they draw Paul out of the city and stone him. They suddenly turn him from a god to a malefactor, and are ready to kill him, instead of killing sacrifice to him. Oh the fickleness of that thing which is committed to the keeping of vulgar hands! Trust not then popularity with thy honour, so it is mutable; but trust virtue with it, so it is durable. Nothing can make sure a good memory but a good life. It is a foolish dream to. hope for immortality and a long-lasting name by a monument of brass or stone. It is not dead stones, but living men, that can redeem thy good remembrance from oblivion. A sumptuous tomb covers thy putrefied carcase; and be thy life never so lewd, a commending epitaph shadows all:— but the passenger that knew thee tells his friends that these outsides are hypocritical, for thy life was as rotten as is thy corpse; and so is occasioned by thy presumed glory to lay open thy deserved infamy. Neither can the common people preserve thy honour whilst thou livest, nor can these dull and senseless monuments keep it when thou art dead. Only thy noble and Christian life makes every man’s heart thy tomb, and turns every tongue into a pen to write thy deathless epitaph.

Lastly, observe that though riches and honour be God’s gift, yet they are but the gifts of his left hand:— therefore it necessarily follows, that every wise man will first seek the blessings of the right. Godliness is the best riches, riches the worst. Let us strive for the former without condition; for the other, if they fall in our way, let us stoop to take them up. If not let us never covet them.

Here is the main difference between the gifts of God’s right hand and of his left. He gives real blessings with the left, but he doth not settle them upon us; he promiseth no perpetuity. But with the graces of his right he gives assurance of ever lastingness. Christ calls riches the ‘riches of deceitfulness,’ Matt. 13:22; but grace ‘the better part, that shall never be taken away,’ Luke 10:42. David compares the wealthy to a flourishing tree that is soon withered, Psa. 37:35; but faith stablisheth a man like ‘Mount Zion, never to be removed,’ Psa. 125:1. He that thinks he sits surest in his seat of riches, ‘let him take heed lest he fall.’ When a great man boasted of his abundance, saith Paulus Emilius, one of his friends told him, that the anger of God could not long forbear so great prosperity. How many rich merchants have suddenly lost all! How many noblemen sold all! How many wealthy heirs spent all! Few Sundays pass over our heads without collections for shipwrecks, fires, and other casualties; demonstrative proofs that prosperity is inconstant, riches casual. And for honour, we read that Belisarius, an honourable peer of the empire, was forced in his old age to beg from door to door:— Obolum dale Belisario. Frederic, a great emperor, was so low brought, that he sued to be made but the sexton of a church.Oh, then, let us not adhere to these left-hand blessings, but first seek length of days, eternal joys never to be lost. A man may enjoy the other without fault:— the sin consisteth either in preferring riches or in comparing them with faith and a good conscience. When God hath assured to a Christian spirit the inheritance of heaven, he joyfully pilgrims it through this world:— if wealth and worship salute him by the way, he refuseth not their company; but they shall not stray him out of his path, nor transport his affections, for his heart is where his hope is, his love is where his Lord is; even with Jesus his Redeemer, at the right hand of God.