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John Wesley on ‘Laying up for yourselves treasure on earth’

  1. Therefore, “lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” If you do, it is plain your eye is evil: it is not singly fixed on God.
  2. With regard to most of the commandments of God, whether relating to the heart or life, the Heathens of Africa or America, stand much on a level, with those that are called Christians.
    1. The Christians observe them (a few only being excepted) very near as much as the Heathens. It is not easy to say, when we compare the bulk of nations in Europe, with those in America, whether the superiority lies on the one side or the other.
    2. But we cannot affirm this, with regard to the command now before us. Here the Heathen has far the pre-eminence.
    3. He [the Heathen] desires and seeks nothing more than plain food to eat, and plain raiment to put on. And he seeks this only from day to day. He reserves, he lays up nothing; unless it be, as much corn at one season of the year, as he will need before that season returns. This command, therefore, the heathens, though they know it not, do constantly and punctually observe. They “lay up for themselves no treasure upon earth;” no stores of purple or fine linen, of gold or silver, which either “moth or rust may corrupt, or thieves break through and steal.”
    4. But how do the Christians observe what they profess to receive, as a command of the most high God. Not at all ; not in any degree; no more than if no such command had ever been given to man. Even the good Christians, as they are accounted by others as well as themselves, pay no manner of regard thereto. It might as well be still hid in its original Greek, for any notice they take of it. In what Christian city do you find one man of five hundred, who makes the least scruple, of laying up just as much treasure as he can, of increasing his goods just as far as he is able?
      1. There are indeed those who would not do this unjustly; there are many who will neither rob nor steal; and some, who will not defraud his neighbour; nay, who will not gain, either by his ignorance or necessity. But this is quite another point.
      2. Even these do not scruple the thing [think its wrong], but the manner of it. They do not scruple the “laying up treasures upon earth;” but the laying them up by dishonesty. They do not start at disobeying Christ, but at a breach of Heathen morality. So that even these honest men do no more obey this command, than a highwayman or a house-breaker. Nay, they never designed to obey it. From their youth up, it never entered into their thoughts. They were bred up by their Christian parents, masters, and friends, without any instruction at all concerning it : unless it were this, To break it as soon, and as much as they could, and to continue breaking it to their live’s end.
      3. There is no one instance of spiritual infatuation in the world, which is more amazing than this. Most of these very men read, or hear the Bible read, many of them every Lord’s-day. They have read, or heard these words a hundred times, and yet never suspect that they are themselves condemned thereby, any more than by those which forbid parents to offer up their sons or daughters unto Moloch. O that God would speak to these miserable self-deceivers, with his own voice, his mighty voice . That they may at last awake out of the snare of the devil, and the scales may fall from their eyes!
  3. Do you ask what it is to “lay up treasures on earth?” It will be needful to examine this thoroughly.
    1. And let us, first, observe, what is not forbidden in this command, that we may then clearly discern, what is.
      1. We are not forbidden in this command, first, to “provide things honest in the sight of all men,” to provide wherewith we may “render unto all their due, whatsoever they can justly demand of us.
        1. So far from it, that we are taught of God, to “owe no man any thing.” We ought therefore to use all diligence in our calling, in order to owe no man any thing: this being no other than a plain law of common justice, which our Lord came “not to destroy, but to fulfil.”
      2. Neither, secondly, does he here forbid the providing for ourselves, such things as are needful for the body; a sufficiency of plain, wholesome food to eat, and clean raiment to put on.
        1. Yea, it is our duty, so far as God puts it into our power, to provide these things also ; to the end we may “eat our own bread, and be burdensome to no man.”
      3. Nor yet are we forbidden, thirdly, to provide for our children, and for those of our own household.
        1. This also it is our duty to do, even upon principles of heathen morality.
        2. Every man ought to provide the plain necessaries of life, both for his own wife and children; and to put them into a capacity of providing these for themselves, when he is gone hence, and is no more seen.
        3. I say, of providing these, the plain necessaries of life, not delicacies, not superfluities: and that by their diligent labour; for it is no man’s duty to furnish them, any more than himself, with the means either of luxury or idleness.
          1. But if any man provide not thus far for his own children, (as well as for the widows of his own house; of which primarily St. Paul is speaking, in those well-known words to Timothy,) He hath practically denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel, or heathen.
        4. Lastly. We are not forbidden in these words, to lay up from time to time, what is needful for the carrying on our worldly business, in such a measure and degree, as is sufficient to answer the foregoing purposes : in such a measure, as first, to owe no man any thing; secondly, to procure for ourselves the necessaries of life; and thirdly, to furnish those of our own house with them while we live, and with the means of procuring them when we are gone to God.
    2. We may now clearly discern (unless we are unwilling to discern it) what that is which is forbidden here.
      1. It is, The designedly procuring more of this world’s goods, than will answer the foregoing purposes:
        1. the labouring after a larger measure of worldly substance, a larger increase of gold and silver;
        2. the laying up any more than these ends require, is what is here expressly and absolutely forbidden.
      2. If the words have any meaning at all, it must be this; for they are capable of no other.
      3. Consequently, whoever he is, that owing no man any thing, and having food and raiment for himself and his household, together with a sufficiency to carry on his worldly business, so far as answers these reasonable purposes: whoever, I say, being already in these circumstances, seeks a still larger portion on earth, he lives in an open, habitual denial of the Lord that bought him.
        1. He hath practically denied the faith, and is worse than an African or American infidel. – :
  4. Hear ye this, all ye that dwell in the world, and love the world wherein ye dwell. Ye may be “highly esteemed of men;” but ye are “an abomination in the sight of God.”
    1. How long shall your souls cleave to the dust? ‘How long will ye load yourselves with thick clay ?
    2. When will ye awake and see, that the open, speculative Heathens are nearer the kingdom of heaven than you ?
    3. When will ye be persuaded to choose the better part; that which cannot be taken away from you ?
    4. When will ye seek only to “lay up treasures in heaven,” renouncing, dreading, abhorring all other ?
    5. If you aim at “ laying up treasures on earth,” you are not barely losing your time, and spending your strength for that which is not bread: for what is the fruit, if you succeed?
      1. You have murdered your own soul. You have extinguished the last spark of spiritual life therein.
      2. Now indeed, in the midst of life, you are in death. You are a living man, but a dead Christian.
      3. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Your heart is sunk into the dust : your soul cleaveth to the ground.
      4. Your affections are set, not on things above, but on things of the earth ; on poor husks that may poison, but cannot satisfy an everlasting spirit, made for God. Your love, your joy, your desire are all placed on the things which perish in the using.
      5. You have thrown away the treasures in heaven: God and Christ are lost. You have gained riches and hellfire.
  5. O “how hardly shall they that have riches, enter into the kingdom of God 1″
    1. When our Lord’s disciples were astonished at his speaking thus, he was so far from retracting it, that he repeated the same important truth, in stronger terms than before. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
    2. How hard is it for them, whose every word is applauded, not to be wise in their own eyes!
      1. How hard for them not to think themselves better than the poor, base, uneducated herd of men .
      2. How hard not to seek happiness in their riches, or in things dependent upon them; in gratifying the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life
      3. O ye rich, how can ye escape the damnation of hell ? Only with God, all things are possible.
  6. And even if you do not succeed, what is the fruit of your endeavouring to lay up treasures on earth :
    1. “They that will be rich,” (they that desire, that endeavour after it, whether they succeed or not,) “fall into a temptation and a snare,” a gin, a trap of the devil, “and into many foolish and hurtful lusts;” desires with which reason hath nothing to do; such as properly belong, not to rational and immortal beings, but only to the brute-beasts, which have no understanding: “which drown men in destruction and perdition,” in present and eternal misery.
    2. Let us but open our eyes, and we may daily see the melancholy proofs of this: men, who desiring, resolving to be rich, coveting after money, the root of all evil, have already pierced themselves through with many sorrows, and anticipated the hell to which they are going.
  7. The cautiousness with which the Apostle here speaks, is highly observable.
    1. He does not affirm this absolutely of the rich ; for a man may possibly be rich, without any fault of his, by an over-ruling Providence, preventing his own choice.
    2. But he affirms it of Those who desire, or seek to be rich. Riches, dangerous as they are, do not always “drown men in destruction and perdition.”
    3. But the desire of riches does : those who calmly desire, and deliberately seek to attain them, whether they do in fact, gain the world or not, do infallibly lose their own souls.
      1. These are they, that sell him who bought them with his blood, for a few pieces of gold or silver.
      2. These enter into a covenant with death and hell: and their covenant shall stand.
      3. For they are daily making themselves meet to partake of their inheritance with the devil and his angels.
    4. O who shall warn this generation of vipers, to flee from the wrath to come !
      1. Not those who lie at their gate or cringe at their feet, desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fall from their tables.
      2. Not those who court their favour or fear their frown; none of those who mind earthly things.
      3. But if there be a Christian upon earth, if there be a man who hath overcome the world, who desires nothing but God, and fears none but him that is able to destroy both body and soul in hell: thou, O Man of God, speak and spare not; lift up thy voice like a trumpet. Cry aloud, and shew these honourable sinners the desperate condition wherein they stand.
      4. It may be, one in a thousand may have ears to hear, may arise and shake himself from the dust; may break loose from these chains that bind him to the earth, and at length lay up treasures in heaven.
  8. And if it should be, that one of these, by the mighty power of God, awoke and asked, ‘What must I do to be saved’ The answer, according to the Oracles of God, is clear, full, and express.
    1. God doth not say to thee, “Sell all that thou hast.” Indeed he who seeth the hearts of men, saw it needful to enjoin this in one peculiar case, that of the young, rich Ruler. But he never laid it down for a general rule, to all rich men, in all succeeding generations.
    2. His general direction is,
      1. first, “Be not high-minded.”
        1. God seeth not as man seeth. He esteems thee not for thy riches, for thy grandeur or equipage, for any qualification or accomplishment, which is directly or indirectly owing to thy wealth, which can be bought, or procured thereby. All these are with him as dung and dross : let them be so with thee also. Beware thou think not thyself to be one jot wiser or better for all these things. Weigh thyself in another balance; estimate thyself only by the measure of faith and love which God hath given thee. If thou hast more of the knowledge and love of God than he, thou art on this account, and no other, wiser and better, more valuable and honourable than he who is with the dogs of thy flock.
        2. But if thou hast not this treasure, thou art more foolish, more vile, more truly contemptible, I will not say, than the lowest servant under thy roof, but than the beggar laid at thy gate, full of sores. 18.
      2. Secondly, “Trust not in uncertain riches.”
        1. Trust not in them for help : and trust not in them for happiness.
          1. First, Trust not in them for help. Thou art miserably mistaken, if thou lookest for this in gold or silver. These are no more able to set thee above the world, than to set thee above thee devil. Know that both the world and the prince of this world laugh at all such preparations against them. These will little avail in the day of trouble: even if they remain in the trying hour. But it is not certain, that they will; for how often do they “make themselves wings and fly away!” But if not, what support will they afford, even in the ordinary troubles of life : The desire of thy eyes, the wife of thy youth, thy son, thine only son, or the friend which was as thy own soul, is taken away at a stroke. Will thy riches re-animate the breathless clay, or call back its late inhabitant?—Will they secure thee from sickness, diseases, pain : Do these visit the poor only Nay, he that feeds thy flocks, or tills thy ground, has less sickness and pain than thou. He is more rarely visited by these unwelcome guests: and if they come there at all, they are more easily driven away from the little cot, than from “the cloud-topt palaces.” And during the time that thy body is chastened with pain, or consumes away with pining sickness, how do thy treasures help thee”
          2. But there is at hand a greater trouble than all these. Thou art to die. Thou art to sink into dust; to return to the ground from which thou wast taken, to mix with common clay. Thy body is to go to the earth as it was, while thy spirit returns to God that gave it. And the time draws on ; the years slide away with a swift though silent pace. Perhaps your day is far spent : the noon of life is past, and the evening shadows begin to rest upon you. You feel in yourselves sure approaching decay. The springs of life wear away apace.
          3. Now what help is your riches? Do they sweeten death Do they endear that solemn hour * Quite the reverse. “O death, how bitter art thou, to a man that liveth at rest in his possessions !” How unacceptable to him is that awful sentence, “This night shall thy soul be required of thee!”—Or will they prevent the unwelcome stroke, or protract the dreadful hour? Can they deliver your soul that it should not see death 2 Can they restore the years that are past 2 Can they add to your appointed time, a month, a day, an hour, a moment 2—Or will the good things you have chosen for your portion here, follow you over the great gulf? Not so: naked came you into this world; naked must you return.
          4. Surely were not these truths too plain to be observed, because they are too plain to be denied, no man that is to die could possibly trust, for help, in uncertain riches.
        2. And trust not in them for happiness.
          1. For here also they will be found deceitful upon the weights. Indeed, this every reasonable man may infer, from what has been observed already.
          2. For if neither thousands of gold and silver, nor any of the advantages or pleasures purchased thereby, can prevent our being miserable, it evidently follows, they cannot make us happy. What happiness can they afford to him, who in the midst of all is constrained to cry out,
          3. Indeed experience is here so full, strong, and undeniable, that it makes all other arguments needless. Appeal we therefore to fact. Are the rich and great, the only happy men? And is each of them more or less happy, in proportion to his measure of riches? Are they happy at all? I had well nigh said, they are of all men the most miserable ! Rich man, for once, speak the truth from thy heart. Speak both for thyself, and for thy brethren.
          4. Yea, and so it will, till thy wearisome days of vanity are shut up in the night of death. Surely then to trust in riches for happiness, is the greatest folly of all that are under the sun Are you not convinced of this 2 Is it possible you should still expect to find happiness in money, or all it can procure ? What! Can silver and gold, and eating and drinking, and horses, and servants, and glittering apparel, and diversions and pleasures (as they are called) make thee happy : They can as soon make thee immortal.
          5. These are all dead show. Regard them not. Trust thou in the living God. So shalt thou be safe under the shadow of the Almighty; his faithfulness and truth shall be thy shield and buckler. He is a very present help in time of trouble; such an help as can never fail. Then shalt thou say, if all thy other friends dic, “The Lord liveth, and blessed be my strong helper” He shall remember thee when thou liest sick upon thy bed : when vain is the help of man, when all the things of the earth can give no support, he will “make all thy bed in thy sickness.” He will sweeten thy pain: the consolations of God shall cause thee to clap thy hands in the flames. And even when this house of earth is well nigh shaken down, when it is just ready to drop into the dust, he will teach thee to say, “O death where is thy sting O gravel where is thy victory : Thanks be unto God, who giveth me the victory, through my Lord Jesus Christ.” O trust in him for happiness as well as for help. All the springs of happiness are in him.
          6. Trust in him who giveth us all things richly to enjoy. Who, of his own rich and free mercy, holds them out to us, as in his own hand, that receiving them as his gifts, and as pledges of his love, we may enjoy all that we possess. It is his love gives a relish to all we taste, puts life and sweetness into all, while every creature leads us up to the great Creator, and all earth is a scale to heaven. He transfuses the joys that are at his own right hand, into all he bestows on his thankful children: who having fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, enjoy him in all, and above all.
      3. Thirdly, seek not to increase in goods. “Lay not up for thyself treasures upon earth.”
        1. This is a flat, positive command, full as clear, as, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” How then is it possible for a rich man to grow richer, without denying the Lord that bought him? 
        2. Yea, how can any man, who has already the necessaries of life, gain or aim at more, and be guiltless : “Lay not up,” saith our Lord, “treasures upon earth.”
        3. If, in spite of this, you do, and will lay up, money or goods, what “moth or rust may corrupt, or thieves break through and steal :” if you will add house to house, or field to field, why do you call yourself a Christian?
        4. You do not obey Jesus Christ. You do not design it. Why do you name yourself by his name? “Why call ye me Lord, Lord,” saith he himself, “ and do not the things which I say ”
        5. If you ask, “But what must we do with our goods, seeing we have more than we have occasion to use, if we must not lay them up? Must we throw them away?
          1. ” I answer, If you threw them into the sea, if you were to cast them into the fire and consume them, they would be better bestowed than they are now.
          2. You cannot find so mischievous a manner of throwing them away, as either the laying them up for your posterity, or the laying them out upon yourselves, in folly and superfluity.
          3. Of all possible methods of throwing them away, these two are the very worst; the most opposite to the gospel of Christ, and the most pernicious to your own soul.
          4. How pernicious to your own soul the latter of these is, has been excellently shewn by a late Writer.
            1. “If we waste our money, we are not only guilty of wasting a talent which God has given us, but we do ourselves this farther harm, we turn this useful talent into a powerful mean of corrupting ourselves : because so far as it is spent wrong, so far it is spent in the support of some wrong temper, in gratifying some vain and unreasonable desires, which, as Christians, we are obliged to renounce.”
            2. “As wit and fine parts cannot be only trifled away, but will expose them that have them to greater follies: so money cannot only be trifled away, but if it be not used according to Reason and Religion, will make people live a more silly and extravagant life, than they would have done without it:
            3. if therefore you do not spend your money in doing good to others, you must spend it to the hurt of yourself. You act like one that refuses the cordial to his sick friend, which he cannot drink himself without inflaming his blood.
            4. For this is the case of superfluous money; if you give it to those that want it, it is a cordial. If you spend it upon yourself in something that you do not want, it only inflames and disorders your mind.”
            5. “In using riches where they have no real use, nor we any real want, we only use them to our great hurt, in creating unreasonable desires, in nourishing ill tempers, in indulging foolish passions and supporting a vain turn of mind. For high eating and drinking, fine clothes and fine houses, state and equipage, gay pleasures and diversions, do all of them naturally hurt and disorder our heart.
            6. They are the food and nourishment of all the folly and weakness of our nature. They are all of them the support of something, that ought not to be supported.
            7. They are contrary to that piety and sobriety of heart, which relishes divine things.
            8. They are so many weights upon our mind, that make us less able and less inclined to raise our thoughts and affections to things above.”
            9. “So that money thus spent is not merely wasted or lost, but it is spent to bad purposes and miserable effects: to the corruption and disorder of our hearts, to the making us unable to follow the sublime doctrines of the gospel. It is but like keeping money from the poor, to buy poison for ourselves.”
            10. Equally inexcusable are those, who lay up what they do not need for any reasonable purposes. “If a man had hands, and eyes, and feet that he could give to those that wanted them; if he should lock them up in a chest, instead of giving them to his brethren, that were blind and lame, should we not justly reckon him an inhuman wretch? If he should rather choose to amuse himself with hoarding them up, than entitle himself to an eternal reward, by giving them to those that wanted eyes and hands, might we not justly reckon him mad ‘’”
            11. “Now money has very much the nature of eyes and feet. If therefore we lock it up in chests, while the poor and distressed want it for their necessary uses, we are not far from the cruelty of him, that chooses rather to hoard up the hands and eyes, than to give them to those that want them. If we choose to lay it up, rather than to entitle ourselves to an eternal reward, by disposing of our money well, we are guilty of his madness that rather chooses to lock up eyes and hands, than to make himself for ever blessed by giving to those that want them.”
        6. May not this be another reason why rich men shall so hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven
          1. A vast majority of them are under a curse, under the peculiar curse of God: inasmuch as in the general tenor of their lives, they are not only robbing God, continually embezzling and wasting their Lord’s goods, and by that very mean, corrupting their own souls; but also robbing the poor, the hungry, the naked; wronging the widow and the fatherless, and making themselves accountable for all the want, affliction, and distress, which they may, but do not remove.
          2. Yea, doth not the blood of all those who perish for want of what they either lay up, or lay out needlessly, cry against them from the earth
          3. O what account will they give, to him who is ready to judge both the quick and the dead :
      4. The true way of employing what you do not want yourselves, you may, fourthly, learn from those words of our Lord, which are the counterpart of what went before : “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven; where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break . through and steal.”
        1. Put out whatever thou canst spare, upon better security than this world can afford.
        2. Lay up thy treasures in the bank of heaven: and God shall restore them in that day. “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord, and look, what he layeth out, it shall be paid him again.”
        3. Place that, saith he, unto my account. Howbeit, “ thou owest me thine own self also l’”
        4. Give to the poor with a single eye, with an upright heart, and write, “So much given to God.”
        5. For “inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
        6. This is the part of a faithful and wise steward. Not to sell either his houses or lands, or principal stock, be it more or less, unless some peculiar circumstance should require it; and not to desire or endeavour to increase it, any more than to squander it away in vanity: but to employ it wholly to those wise and reasonable purposes, for which his Lord has lodged it in his hands.
        7. The wise steward, after having provided his own household, with what is needful for life and godliness, makes himself friends with all that remains, from time to time, of the “mammon of unrighteousness; that when he fails, they may receive him into everlasting habitations:” that whensoever his earthly tabernacle is dissolved, they, who were before carried into Abraham’s bosom, after having eaten his bread, and worn the fleece of his flock, and praised God for the consolation, may welcome him into Paradise, and to “the house of God, eternal in the heavens.” ; :
        8. We “charge you,” therefore, “who are rich in this world,” as having authority from our great Lord and Master, to be habitually doing good, to live in a course of good works.
          1. “Be ye merciful as your Father who is in heaven is merciful,” who doth good and ceaseth not.
          2. Be ye merciful, “How far?”—After your power, with all the ability which God giveth.
          3. Make this your only measure of doing good, not any beggarly maxims or customs of the world.
          4. We “charge you to be rich in good works;” as you have much, to give plenteously. Freely ye have received; freely give ; so as to lay up no treasure but in heaven.
          5. Be ye “ready to distribute” to every one, according to his necessity. Disperse abroad; give to the poor; deal your bread to the hungry. Cover the naked with a garment, entertain the stranger, carry or send relief to them that are in prison. Heal the sick; not by miracle, but through the blessing of God upon your seasonable support.
          6. Let the blessing of him that was ready to perish, through pining want, come upon thee. Defend the oppressed, plead the cause of the fatherless, and make the widow’s heart to sing for joy.
          7. We exhort you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to be willing to communicate. To be of the same spirit (though not in the same outward state) with those believers of ancient times, who remained stedfast, in that blessed and holy fellowship, wherein “none said, that any thing was his own, but they had all things common.”
          8. Be a steward, a faithful and wise steward of God, and of the poor; differing from them in these two circumstances only, That your wants are first supplied, out of the portion of your Lord’s goods which remain in your hands, and that you have the blessedness of giving.
          9. Thus “lay up for yourselves a good foundation,” not in the world, which now is, but rather, “for the time to come, that ye may lay hold on eternal life.”
          10. The great foundation indeed of all the blessings of God, whether temporal or eternal, is the Lord Jesus Christ, his righteousness and blood, what he hath done, and what he hath suffered for us.
          11. And “other foundation,” in this sense, “can no man lay;” no not an Apostle, no not an Angel from heaven. But through his merits, whatever we do in his Name, is a foundation for a good reward, in the day when “every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour:” therefore, “labour” thou, “not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life.” Therefore, “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” Therefore, let

            “No fair occasions pass unheeded by ;
            Snatching the golden moments as they fly,
            Thou by few fleeting years ensure eternity t”

             

          12. “By patient continuance in well-doing, seek thou for glory, and honour, and immortality.”

          13. In a constant, zealous performance of all good works, wait thou for that happy hour when the King shall say, “I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink. I was a stranger, and ye took me in ; naked, and ye clothed me. I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Come, ye blessed of my Father, receive the Kingdom prepared for you, from the foundation of the world !”

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