A Classic Study:
The Love of Money
To contact us:
A Classic Study by Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847)
[Here, we begin a study by Thomas Chalmers. It is a discourse on the love of money.]—Ed.
Discourse on the Love of Money, pt. 1
“If I have made gold my hope, or have said to the fine gold, ‘Thou art my confidence’; if I rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because mine hand had gotten much; if I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness; and my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand; this also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge; for I should have denied the God that is above” (Job 31:24-28)
What is worthy of remark in this passage is, that a certain affection, only known among the votaries of paganism, should be classed under the same character and have the same condemnation with an affection, not only known, but allowed, nay cherished, into habitual supremacy, all over Christendom. How universal is it among those who are in pursuit of wealth, to make gold their hope, and among those who are in possession of wealth, to make fine gold their confidence! Yet we are here told that this is virtually as complete a renunciation of God as to practice some of the worst charms of idolatry. And it might perhaps serve to unsettle the vanity of those who, unsuspicious of the disease that is in their hearts, are wholly given over to this world, and wholly without alarm in their anticipations of another, — could we convince them that the most reigning and resistless desire by which they are actuated, stamps the same perversity on them, in the sight of God, as He sees to be in those who are worshippers of the sun in the firmament, or are offering incense to the moon, as the queen of heaven.
We recoil from an idolater, as from one who labors under a great moral derangement, in suffering his regards to be carried away from the true God to an idol. But, is it not just the same derangement, on the part of man, that he should love any created good, and in the enjoyment of it lose sight of the Creator – that he should delight himself with the use and the possession of a gift, and be unaffected by the circumstance of its having been put into his hands by a giver — that thoroughly absorbed with the present and the sensible gratification, there should be no room left for the movements of duty or regard to the being who furnished him with the materials, and endowed him with the organs, of every gratification, — that he should thus lavish all his desires on the surrounding materialism, and fetch from it all his delights, while the thought of Him who formed it is habitually absent from his heart — that in the play of those attractions that subsist between him and the carious objects in the neighborhoods of his person, there should be the same want of reference to God, as there is in the play of those attractions which subsist between a piece of unconscious matter and the other matter that is around it — that all the influences which operate upon the human will should emanate from so many various points in the mechanism of what is formed, but that no practical or ascendant influence should come down upon it from the presiding and the preserving Deity? Why, if such be man, he could not be otherwise, though there were no Deity. The part he sustains in the world is the very same that it would have been, had the world sprung into being of itself; or, without an originating mind, had maintained its being from eternity. He just puts forth the evolutions of his own nature, as one of the component individuals in a vast independent system of nature, made up of many parts and many individuals. In hungering for what is agreeable to his senses, or recoiling from what is bitter or unsuitable to them, he does so without thinking of God, or borrowing any impulse to his own will from anything he knows or believes to be the will of God. Religion has just as little to do with those daily movements of his which are voluntary, as it has to do with the growth of his body, which is involuntary; or, as it has to do, in other words, with the progress and the phenomena of vegetation. With a mind that ought to know God, and a conscience that ought to award to Him the supreme jurisdiction, he lives as effectually without Him, as if he had no mind and no conscience; and, bating a few transient visitations of thought, and a few regularities or outward and mechanical observation, do we behold man running, and willing, and preparing, and enjoying, just as if there was no other portion than the creature — just as if the world, and its visible elements, formed the all with which he had to do.
I wish to impress upon you the distinction that there is between the love of money, and the love of what money purchases. Either of those affections may equally displace God from the heart. But, there is a malignity and an inveteracy of atheism in the former which does not belong to the latter and in virtue of which it may be seen that the love of money is, indeed, the root of all evil.
When we indulge the love of that which is purchased by money, the materials of gratification, and the organs of gratification are present with each other – just as in the enjoyments of the inferior animals, and just as in all the simple and immediate enjoyments of man; such as the tasting of good, or the smelling of a flower. There is an adaptation of the senses to certain external objects, and there is a pleasure arising out of that adaptation, and it is a pleasure which may be felt by man, along a right a full infusion of godliness. The primitive Christians, for example, ate their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God. But, in the case of every unconverted man, the pleasure has no such accompaniment. He carries in his heart no recognition of that hand, by the opening of which it is, that the means and the materials of enjoyment are placed within his reach. The matter of the enjoyment is all with which he is conversant. The author of the enjoyment is unheeded. The avidity with which he rushes onward to any of the direct gratifications of nature bears a resemblance to the avidity with which one of the lower creation rushes to its food, or to its water, or to the open field, where it rambles in all the wantonness of freedom, and finds a high-breathed joy in the very strength and velocity of its movements. And the atheism of the former, who has a mind for the sense and knowledge of his Creator, is often as entire as the atheism of the latter, who has it not. Man ought to look to the primary cause of all his blessings, because he is capable of seeing Him. He can trace the stream to its fountain; but still he drinks of the stream with as much greediness of pleasure, and as little recognition of its source, as the animal beneath him. In other words, his atheism, while tasting the bounties of providence, is just as complete, as is the atheism of the inferior animals. But theirs proceeds from their incapacity of knowing God. His proceeds from his not liking to retain God in his knowledge (see Rom. 1:28). He may come under the power of godliness, if he would. But he chooses rather that the power of sensuality should lord it over him, and his whole man is engrossed with the objects of sensuality.
But a man differs from an animal in being something more than a sensitive being. He is also a reflective being. He has the power of thought, and inference, and anticipation, to signalize him above the beasts of the field, or of the forest; and yet will it be found, in the case of every natural man, that the exercise of those powers, so far from having carried him nearer, has only widened his departure from God, and given a more deliberate and willful character to his atheism, than if he had been without them altogether.
In virtue of the powers of mind which belong to him, he can carry his thoughts beyond the present desires and the present gratification. He can calculate on the visitations of future desire, and on the means of its gratification. He can not only follow out the impulse of hunger that is now upon him; he can look onwards to the successive and recurring impulses of hunger which await him, and he can devise expedients for relieving it. Out of that great stream of supply, which comes direct from heaven to earth, for the sustenance of all its living generations, he can draw off and appropriate a separate rill of conveyance, and direct it into a reservoir for himself. He can enlarge the capacity, or he can strengthen the embankments of this reservoir. By doing the one, he augments his proportion of this common tide of wealth which circulates through the world, and by doing the other, he augments his security for holding it in perpetual possession. The animal who drinks out of the stream thinks not whence it issues. But man thinks of the reservoir which yields to him his portion of it. And he looks no further. He thinks not that to fill it, there must be a great and original fountain, out of which there issues a mighty flood of abundance for the purpose of distribution among all the tribes and families of the world. He stops short at the secondary and artificial fabric which he himself has formed, and out of which, as from a spring, he draws his own peculiar enjoyments; and never thinks either of his own peculiar supply fluctuating with the variations with the will of the great by unseen director of all things. It is true, that if this main and originating fountain be, at any time, less copious in its emission, he will have less to draw from it to his own reservoir; and in that very proportion will his share of the bounties of providence be reduced. But still it is to the well, or receptacle, of his own striking out that he looks, as his main security for the relief of nature’s wants, and the abundant supply of nature’s enjoyments. It is upon his own work that he depends in this matter, and not on the work or the will of Him who is the author of nature; who gives rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, and fills every heart with good and gladness. And thus it is that the reason of man, and the retrospective power of man, still fail to carry him, by an ascending process, to the first cause. He stops at the instrumental cause, which, by his own wisdom and his own power, he has put into operation. In a word, the man’s understanding is overrun with atheism, as well as his desires. The intellectual as well as the sensitive part of his constitution seems to be infected with it. When, like the instinctive and unreflecting animal, he engages in the act of direct enjoyment, he is like it, too, in its atheism. Even when he rises above the animal, and in the exercise of his higher and larger faculties, he engages in the act of providing for enjoyment, he still carries his atheism along with him.