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Looking Forward, or Divine Covetousness.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. II.  Trinity Sunday to All Saints' Day 

Rivingtons, London, 1875, pp. 126-131.

  Second part of Sermon LVI. for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity.
O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would
consider their latter end.—DEUT. xxxii. 29.

...The Epistle holds up to our attention the sacred history of the people of God journeying to the promised land.  (for the first part, on the Epistle.)   The Gospel would lead us to the like consideration from altogether another point of view, from what we witness as it were among the nations of the world around. And here first let us notice the source and occasions which furnish us with this mode of instruction.

We are surrounded on all sides by persons taken up more or less with the love of this world; everything is full of it,—newspapers, conversation, all our daily life wherever we go. And this circumstance is full of temptation to a Christian; he is led to follow the examples of those around him, to have the like affections and desires, or to uncharitable judging of them, to envy and ill-will. But to what account would our Blessed Saviour have us turn this scene of evil? He would have us use it altogether in a different manner, as a means to quicken us and strengthen us in heavenly wisdom. Nor is there any consideration more impressive and affecting than that with which our Lord terminates this parable, that “the children of this world are in their generation” so much “wiser than the children of light” are in theirs; to notice in the examples which occur around us how wise men are in the things of time,—how slow and blind, even the best, in the things of eternity. It has been this reflection beyond any other which filled the Son of Man, and His prophets that went before, and His saints that followed, with sorrow and tears. “O that there were such an heart in them, that it might be well with them for ever!” “O that My people would have hearkened unto Me; for if Israel had walked in My ways, I should soon have put down their enemies!”

It is an instance of this worldly forethought that our Lord has pointed out in that interesting parable which is brought before us to-day. Jesus said unto His disciples, There was a certain rich man which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. And he called him and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? Give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. Now, my brethren, when you hear of an incident of this kind, do you thus immediately turn it to heavenly wisdom? Do you at once reflect, Ah, how like is this to my case! am not I put into this life as a stewardship? am not I called upon soon to give it up, and to render my account of it? For I have sinned against God, and my life is forfeited.

Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig, to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. Seeing that he could not stay where he was, he looks forward, he seizes the short opportunity that remained; he makes haste, and prolongs not the time; he forgets his present position in every respect except as a means of securing the future. So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill and write fourscore. Thus by cheating his master did he make friends of his tenants. Observe his urgency and despatch, lest he be turned out before his position has been made secure by his overreaching and treachery. “Sit down quickly,” he says. How impatient lest he be overtaken before his retreat is safe. And the Lord commended the unjust steward because he had done wisely. What the Lord pointed out and dwelt upon in this conduct, was the wise craft and forethought of this wicked man. For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. O that we might learn wisdom of the evil world around us; that we had but the management and care of worldly men,—that eye to our main interest which they have for temporal shadows! “You see,” says an ancient Bishop, “how the Almighty maketh light out of darkness, and out of iniquity teacheth righteousness.” [Paulin. apud. Par. Brev.]  And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.  Those riches which are connected with so much evil in the world around you, may become to you your very best friends in your great need; they may purchase for you an inheritance with God which faileth not. You may find Christ in His poor, you may make them your friends, and in them you may have, when you leave the body, an Almighty Protector. Your covetous and dishonest neighbour cannot carry his gold with him to the grave, nor sleep more sweetly there for a golden coffin; but you may, if you make haste, if you use all diligence and wisdom, the like to what you see in him, you may send. before you all your worldly opportunities to wait for you against you leave the body, and then to receive you with blessed welcome into that life which is hid with Christ in God.

Although this parable is usually and rightly applied to giving of alms, yet it may be well explained also of all the means and opportunities of this temporal life; we may make friends of them; and thus it may be taken, in a larger sense, in conjunction with the Collect; that we may be quickened by the example of the children of this world, to live with all that earnestness and care that becomes the children of light; to keep with us in all our actions the gracious guidance of God; that He would “grant to us the spirit to think and do always such things as be rightful, that we may be enabled to live according to His will.”

What, therefore, is the one great lesson which this Sunday would impress upon us, taking together as in one the Collect, the Epistle, and the Gospel,—the oracle of God, enshrined as it were in His holy place, and speaking as from this His sanctuary? It is this, that the children of light should consider their salvation as much a real matter, to be contended and struggled for, as the children of this world do their temporal objects, of interest, honour, or pleasure. We are in a state of danger and temptation which requires this. We are so placed that nothing less will succeed; there is not one of us that can succeed without it; and yet there is not one of us who will fail to succeed at last with it. I mean, with such pains, wisdom, and care, as men take for worldly objects; so nicely are all things respecting us arranged, “in measure, and number, and weight.”

For instance, there is one man whose chief thought, labour, and anxiety, is to become richer than he now is before he dies. To this his heart turns; he is cheerful and happy when anything promotes and assists this object; he is depressed and disheartened when a cloud comes over it; his thoughts are continually engaged in something respecting it; he loses no opportunity, however slight, in advancing it. To this his reflections recur in the watchful night; on this they dwell as he rises in the morning. Now this is an exact description of what God requires of the children of light, in order to obtain a far more important, an infinitely greater, and more noble object, and that is, to root out of the heart the love of money, and of this world altogether. It requires constant thought and pains; it is an object never to be omitted, never to be forgotten or lost sight of; it is, like the other, an art to be learned; but nothing can exceed the blessedness of it, God Himself being our Helper. For of whom have we to learn this divine art? It is of the Blessed Comforter Himself. It is first of all by continual and earnest prayer that He will open our eyes more and more to see the vanity of all earthly things, and by labouring together by our prayers to co-operate with Him. There are many things to sacrifice, many things to suffer in this work, hard to flesh and. blood, still harder to a heart that hath drunk deep the love of this world; but can He not make even this labour refreshing and light? for is He not called the Comforter? But still, it is a labour and a work, and may well be one of a whole life; for is it not so with the children of this world, to obtain the contrary and can we expect to buy at less cost a pearl of so great price? Ask the worldly man what it is that makes him labour so, so eager and watchful? It is hope of success, ever increasing, ever renewed after every disappointment, and a love of the end he has in view, ever growing more and more within him, that is, the love of riches. This is the case with thousands around us. And shall we not have hope to quicken our exertions in labouring after poverty of spirit, when God. Himself is with us? Shall we not have love sufficient to sustain us when we are daily drawing near to the time when we shall behold Him Whose Name is Love?  Oh! my Christian brethren, why is it we have so little active hope? why is it that our love is so weak? It is because we do not labour after it as the worldly man does after his objects. We allow so much to interfere with it without sorrow, or so much to interfere with that sorrow when it comes; we let our vision of things heavenly become daily more dim and languid, and yet we are not depressed, or we let that depression pass away.

Our Lord would seem to say to us, Why need I say so much from Heaven? What if Prophets, and Apostles, and Saints, and God Himself, were silent; does not even this miserable and wicked world around, in every place, call upon you to look forward, and provide for that time when you will have to give up your stewardship? Only be as wise in your heavenly calling as the men of this world are in their generation, and the angels shall assuredly receive you into everlasting habitations, and you shall for ever dwell with God.