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CHAPTER III.

ON THE INCONSISTENCY OF COVETOUSNESS WITH THE

WORD OF GOD.,

There is no vicious propensity of the human heart more frequently alluded to, and more severely denounced in the Scriptures of truth, than the sin of covetousness. For it strikes at the root of all true religion, saps the foundations of piety and benevolence, and is accompanied with innumerable vices and evil propensities, which rob God of his honour and glory, and "drown men in destruction and perdition." It would be too tedious to enter into all the views which the word of God exhibits of the nåture and tendencies of this sin, of the threatenings which are denounced against it, and of its utter inconsistency with the benevolent spirit of the religion of Jesus; and therefore, I shall select for illustration, only two or three prominent particulars.

In the first place, this propensity is branded in Scripture with the name of IDOLATRY. “Let not covetousness,” says Paul to the Ephesians, “be once named among you, as becometh saints. For this ve know, that no covetous man who is an idolater, hath

any

inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” And, in his Epistle to the Colossians, he enumerates, among the vices which bring down the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience, “ covetousness which is idolatry."*

Idolatry is one of the greatest crimes of which a rational being can be guilty; for it is that which is the source of all the ignorance, superstition, cruelties, immoralities, and obscene abominations of the heathen world. It is to idolatry we are to ascribe the burning of widows in Hindostan, the cruel rites of Juggernaut, the exposing of the sick and dying on the banks of the Ganges, the murder of infants, the infernal sacrifices of the Mexicans,

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the making of children pass through the fire to Moloch, the human butcheries which are perpetrated in almost every pagan land to appease imaginary deities, the abominations of the ancient Canaanites, the murders and obscenities of the South Sea Islanders, the degradation of intellect which is found in every heathen country, and the innumerable vices and moral pollutions of all descriptions which abound among the tribes and nations that are ignorant of the living and true God. So that idolatry may be considered as a comprehensive summary of every species of malignity, impiety, and wickedness.

It was for this reason that the children of Israel were separated from the nations around, and so strictly interdicted from the least intercourse or communion with idolaters. So "jealous” was the God of Israel in refer'ence to idolatry, that the least approach to such worship, either in word or action, or even in imagination, was pointedly forbidden :-" In all things that I have said unto you be circumspect; make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth. Thou shalt not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do after their works, but thou shalt utterly overthrow them and quite break down their images; ye shall destroy their altars and cut down their groves. Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; for they will turn away thy son from following me, and the anger of the Lord will be kindled and destroy thee suddenly."*

If idolatry had not been strictly forbidden and undermined, the knowledge and the worship of the true God would never have been established in the earth. In accordance with these injunctions, the first and fundamental precept of the moral law was given, which has a reference not only to the Jews, but to all the inhabitants of the world, thou shalt have no other gods before me ;” and the second, which forbids any visible representations of Deity, has this strong and impressive sanction, "for I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me." For this reason, likewise, the nations of Canaan were devoted to utter destruction. For they not only worshipped a multitude of strange gods, but offered human victims on their altars, and sacrificed even their sons and daughters to devils; and such practices led to adultery, incest, sodomy, bestiality, and other kindred crimes, by which these nations were distinguished; so that, by these abominations, they rendered themselves unworthy of a place within the precincts of terrestrial existence; they were blotted out as a stain upon the creation of God; and their doom was intended as an awful warning to the Israelites, of the evil and danger of turning aside from the true God to idolatry. Hence the curses and denunciations that were threatened against the least tendency of the heart to idol-worship. “Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination to the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place." “ Every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, who separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and cometh to a prophet to enquire of him concerning me, I the Lord, will answer him by myself, and I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people, and ye shall know that I am Jehovah."* Hence the punishment of death which was uniformly denounced and inflicted upon the idolater. “If there be found among you man or woman that hath gone and served other gods and worshipped them, either the sun or moon, or any of the host of heaven; then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, who have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, and shalt stone them with stones till they die.”+ Such denunciatis may be seen running through the whole of the pro vatical writings in reference to Israel; and almost every judgment of God, either threatened or inflicted, is ascribed to the abounding of idolatry, and the sins connected with it, as its procuring cause.

* Exod. xxiii. 13, 24, &c. Deut. vii. 3, &c.

* Deut. xxvii. 15. Ezek. xiv, 7, 8.

7. Deut. xvii. 2, 5.

These circumstances, therefore, may be considered as stamping upon idolatry a higher degree of opprobrium and malignity than upon any other crime; and consequently, as representing the idolater as the most depraved and degraded of human beings. We are, therefore, apt to recoil from such a character, as one who labours under a peculiar mental and moral derangement, in virtually denying the first principle of human reason, and “the God that is above”-as one whom we would almost shudder to receive into our company, and would think unworthy to enjoy the common sympathies of human creatures. But, wherein lies the great difference between “ the covetous man who is an idolater,” and him who falls down to Moloch or Juggernaut, or worships the sun, and moon, and the host of heaven? There is the same mental derangement, the same malignity of affection, and the same dethronement of God from the heart, in the former case as in the latter, though they are manifested by different modes of operation. Let us consider, for a little, the resemblance between these two modes of idolatry.

Covetousness may be considered in two points of view: as consisting either in the inordinate love of money on its own account, or in the love of those sensitive gratifications which it procures; and in both these respects it

may

be shown to partake directly of the nature of idolatry. In what does the essence of idolatry consist, but in the estrangement of the heart from God, and setting up, in competition with him, any other object, as the supreme object of our affections and the ultimate end of all our pursuits? While the pious soul joins in unison with the Psalmist, and says, “whom have I in heaven but thee, O Lord, and there is none on earth that I desire besides thee;" the covetous man says of his gold, “ thou art my hope, and to the fine gold, thou art my confidence. I rejoice, because my wealth is great and my hands have gotten me much.” And such mental idolatry is no less irrational and hateful in the sight of the Most High, than that of the blinded pagan who prostrates himself before a. block of wood or the figure of a crocodile.

Pagan idolatry consists either in worshipping the sun,

moon, or stars, or in paying homage to a statue of gold or silver, brass or stone. "Mental idolatry consists in paying a similar homage to gold and silver, either abstractly considered, or to those sensual objects and pleasures which they are the means of procuring. The idolater bows down before the shrine of a splendid image; perhaps one formed of the richest materials, such as the golden image set up by Nebuchadnezzar, in the plain of Dura, which was ninety feet high, and contained a thousand Babylonish talents of gold, or about four millions of British money. To this splendid image he pays his homage in the midst of assembled multitudes, and at the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music. The glittering pomp and splendour of such a scene fascinates his affections and overpowers his reason, so that he may be led for a moment to imagine that it is a fit representation of the unknown God. But the covetous idolater worships an image, or an imaginary idea, still more degrading. He adores, or, in other words, he concentrates his affections upon a circular piece of gold which he can carry in his pocket, or a thousand such pieces tied up in a bag, or locked in his coffers. On such objects his mind incessantly broods, even when they are not present to his senses; and when he is deprived of them by any accident, he is overwhelmed with anguish, and exclaims in despair, “my gods are taken away, and what have I more?" There can be no essential difference between gold and silver shaped into statuary, adorned with splendid trappings, and set up for the worship of Pagan nations, and the same metals shaped into the form of guineas, crowns, and dollars, to which a similar homage is paid by the inhabitants of an enlightened land. The forms of the idol and the modes of adoration are somewhat different; but the idolatry, in all its main points and bearings, is substantially the same. Which of these species of idolatry, then, is most irrational and debasing? There can no apology whatever be made for idol-worship, in any shape or under any circumstances. But, in the case of the Pagan idolater, there may be certain extenuating circumstances. The ignorance and superstition in which

VOL. VI. 9

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