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A H O M I L Y
“ For I was envious at the foolish when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”—Psalm lxxiii. 3.
HO was the author of this Psalm?
when, where, and on 'what occasion was it composed ? These questions appear but of little importance when we look deeply into its principles. It seems to have little of the local and temporary about it. It presents society to us as it has appeared in all times, and unfolds those perplexing subjects with which the good in every age have been harassed. We feel in relation to such a Psalm as we do in
relation to a book of mathematical reasoning, little or no anxiety either to ascertain its author, or the circumstances of its origination, simply because it reveals what is common to human nature ;—the unfolding of the human soul as it goes on in all lands and under all suns.
The few words of our text contain the substance of the whole Psalm, which presents with impressive prominence two things to our view :
First: Bad men in good circumstances. The bad men are here described as the “foolish” and “wicked.” Folly and
wickedness are convertible terms. Sin is folly. Man sinning, is man violating all the laws of reason, all the principles of true policy. He barters away the sublime interests of eternity for the evanescent gratifications of an hour. He resists the hand stretched forth to bless him. He battles against forces that can crush him in a moment. He breasts those billows of holy influence wbich roll to bear humanity to the peaceful haven of the good. Such are the bad characters before us, and they are found in good circumstances ;—they are in “prosperity.” The material heavens shine on them, the earth yields up her fruit to gratify their every taste and to supply their every want. The unconscious beast springs with alacrity to bear them whithersoever they please. Men await their orders and hurry to fulfil their behests. Providence pours into their lap those gifts which it denied the Son of God Himself. Such are the good circumstances in which bad men are often to be found. I say good circumstances.
Those who say that wealth is not a blessing often exhibit more envy than wisdom. Such an assertion clashes with the universal sentiment of mankind, for do not all consider wealth a thing to be desired for man's happiness ? It is true, men often convert it into a curse, convert it into all the elements that minister to sin and add strength to vice. Albeit they may, and ought, and sometimes do, convert riches into that which aids in the cultivation of intellect, the refinement of taste, the extension of truth, the education of conscience and the well-being of souls. Wealth is a good thing in itself.
Secondly: A good man in a bad temper. Asaph, the supposed writer of this psalın, acknowledges that he was “envious" of these bad men who were living in good circumstances. Now envy is ever a bad thing. It is a plant that springs from depravity, it can find no soil in a truly pure heart. It is ever the attribute of selfishness, and selfishness is the essence of sin. The more generous and benevolent a man is, the more free is he from this the characteristic sin of little souls. —“The coal that comes hissing hot from hell.” Still, I presume, the author of this psalm must be considered
a good man, and this must be regarded as one of the remaining infirmities of his yet unperfected character. Such a temper of mind as this is peculiarly base in such a a man as Asaph, who had been taught what true greatness was, and who presumed to pass strictures on the providential government of God. Nor could envy well appear in a more unreasonable aspect. He was “envious at the wicked.” This is truly irrational. Poor godless wretches, what have they of which the good should be “envious”?
The position I wish to lay down is this :
THAT THE CONDITION OF THE GODLY POOR EVEN WORLD, IS SUPERIOR TO THAT OF THE UNGODLY RICH. Public sentiment, I am aware, is against this doctrine; hence the universal struggle to be rich, and the power and honor that are on all hands ceded to the wealthy. Hence too, the popular disregard of goodness as goodness, and the almost contempt for it if found in connexion with poverty. Goodness, when found in mansions, dressed in the robes of royalty or fashion, shall readily have praise. The temporizing press shall pour forth its adulations at its feet, popular orators will declaim on it, and an unthinking crowd shall magnify it in their daily conversations. But goodness in indigence! What eye will deign to look at it ? What tongue will speak its praise ? Nor is merely public opinion against it; the sentiment even of the religious world is, sad to say, so also. Hence our pulpits and religious books are to a great extent ministering to this error. Hence the current cant in some districts of the religious world that God's “ dear people” have the worst portion in this life ; that as a rule their situation here is not comparable to that of those who forget God.
Let us look for a moment a little closely at this matter. Take two cases for comparison. One shall be an averagely rich ungodly man, the other an averagely poor pious man. The former in this life has everything that heart can wish. He has no need to toil for his livelihood, for he has “much goods laid up for many years." He has no need of anxiety
about his family, for they are so well provided for that he can see that his own fortune will raise even his children's children to an independent position. Wherever he goes, outward respect is shown to him. The best commodities in the market, the chief seat in the church, are for him. The rich court his society, and the poor express themselves honored by his recognition. But there are no great truths within him, no great spirit lifts him upwards to the unseen, no great hopes beam upon his imagination ; "he is without God and without hope in the world” :-" of the earth, earthy." The other man, who is godly, is in needy circumstances. He has no store laid up for the future ; by the sweat of his brow himself and his family must live. From the dawn of morning till evening's shade he must work or else must starve. As he retires to rest after the exhausting fatigue of the day, he knows that the food, required for himself and his dependents on the morrow, must come from his morrow's toil, or else not come at all. He feels that upon that exhausted strength and those wearied limbs of his hangs the subsistence of those whom nature has twined around his heart. But he is a godly man. His spirit has been enriched with “the unsearchable ricbes of Christ.” “The Lord is his portion.” He is full of “joy and peace in believing." His fare, mean though it be, awakens within him an overflow of holy gratitude. He casts all his care on that God who feeds the ravens when they cry. In his toil his heart pulsates with generous sympathies for the world. Though he owns no inch of land his soul revels in the beauties of the landscape and delights in the God that created all. He can say concerning the rich man :
“ Cleon true possesseth acres,
But the landscape I,
Money cannot buy.
In a daisy, I ;
In the sea and sky.
Nature sings to me for ever,
Earnest listener I,
Who would change ? not I.” No envy, jealousy, pride, or such passions find a place within his pacific breast. His heart is free as the winds. Now, who will say that this poor godly man has not the best portion in this life, that even on the assumption that there is no futurity, his lot is not to be preferred, to that of the ungodly rich man? This we shall see as we proceed to consider the following facts :
I. THAT THE WEALTH OF THE ONE IS IN HIS HAND, THAT OF THE OTHER IN HIS HEART. All that the supposed rich man has is without him ;-it has no vital connexion with his being. The wealth of the other is that of holy principles, elevating hopes, generous sympathies, lofty aims, and endeared fellowships. Between spiritual and secular wealth there is a wide contrast which we shall do well to study.
First: The one is of contingent value, the other is of absolute worth. The value of earthly property is altogether relative. What is a fortune to one man, in one country, or in one age, is but a miserable pittance in another; and to the very same man the value of wealth decreases every moment. Though a man in relation to the amount of property may be richer this year by thousands than he was last, yet to him it is really not so valuable. One long year out of the short period allotted to his existence is to be subtracted from his interest in it. All earthly property is but life-leased, and all life-leased property decreases in value with every passing day. Time constantly, yet gradually, loosens our grasp on it, till at length it goes from us altogether. But spiritual wealth has an absolute value. In all worlds and in all times it is of equal worth. Its value is not measured by conventionalities, or determined by passing circumstances, but by the immutable and everlasting principles of rectitude and truth. If anything, it becomes more valuable to the individual man as time rolls on and eternity approaches.