Matthew 19:23-24. Then said Jesus unto his disciples While they had this example before their eyes, and were witnesses of the melancholy fact of a well-educated and well-disposed man voluntarily foregoing all hope of eternal life rather than part with his temporal possessions; that is, relinquishing all prospect of the infinite and everlasting riches and glories of heaven, for the unsatisfying, uncertain, and transitory enjoyments of earth! Verily I say unto you And enjoin you firmly to believe and seriously to consider what I say; that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven Either into the kingdom of grace or the kingdom of glory; or be brought to have such an esteem and love for the gospel, with its present and future blessings, as to embrace it at the hazard of losing their worldly property, together with their good name, thereby, or so as to use that property in such a manner as the laws of the gospel require. Our Lord therefore adds, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, &c. A common proverb among the Jews to express the extreme difficulty of a thing. Theophylact observes, that some explain the word, καμηλον , as signifying here a cable. “A good authority, however, for this signification, though adopted by Castalio, who says, rudentem, I,” says Dr. Campbell, “have never seen. The frequency of the term among all sorts of writers, for denoting the beast so denominated, is undeniable. Besides, the camel being the largest animal they were acquainted with in Judea, its name was become proverbial for denoting any thing remarkably large, and a camel’s passing through a needle’s eye came, by consequence, as appears from some rabbinical writings, to express a thing absolutely impossible.” Our Lord, therefore, here represents the salvation of a rich man as being next to an impossibility. It was especially so in those early days, when the profession of the gospel exposed men to so much persecution. And perhaps, as Dr. Macknight observes, these strong expressions, in their strictest sense, must be understood of the state of things at that time subsisting; yet they are also applicable to rich men in all ages. The reason is, “Riches have a woful influence upon piety in two respects. 1st, In the acquisition; for, not to mention the many frauds and other sins that men commit to obtain riches, they occasion an endless variety of cares and anxieties, which draw the affections away from God. 2d, They are offensive to piety in the possession; because, if they are hoarded, they never fail to beget covetousness, which is the root of all evil; and if they are enjoyed they become strong temptations to luxury, drunkenness, lust, pride, and idleness.” But, besides these, riches are a dangerous snare in several other respects. 1st, It is difficult to possess them and not inordinately love them, and put that trust in them which ought to be put only in the living God. For rich men “obtaining all the necessaries and superfluities of life by means of their riches, are apt to consider them as the sources of their happiness, and to depend upon them as such, forgetting altogether their dependance on God. It is otherwise with the poor. They are exposed to manifold afflictions, and labour under the pressure of continual wants. These serve to convince them of the vanity of the world, and to put them in mind of their dependance upon God; at the same time, the unexpected deliverances and supplies which they meet with, rivet the idea more firmly. Wherefore, in the very nature of things, the poor are nearer to the kingdom of God than the rich; and if the latter, yielding to the temptations of their state, trust in their riches, words can scarce be invented strong enough to paint the difficulty of bringing them to that holy temper of mind which would qualify them for the kingdom of God.” 2d, It is not easy to possess riches and not think highly of ourselves on account of them, as they certainly give their possessors a consequence which they otherwise could not have, and cause them to be looked up to with respect by all that are round about them. But, 3d, The most difficult thing of all is, to possess them and make a right use of them, even that use which God wills all to make in whose hands he hath lodged them. In other words, To use them as those who are persuaded that, properly speaking, they are not proprietors, but merely stewards of them, and will certainly be called by the great Lord of all to give an account how they have employed every part of them, and what use they have made of the advantages and opportunities for doing and receiving good above others, which riches put in their power.
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