By Johann Gerhard (1582-1637), a German Lutheran pastor and professor of theology. He wrote dozens of books, including Sacred Meditations, a collection of 51 meditations published in 1606 from which this piece was taken.
The greedy man is the poorest of all men, because what he has fails him as much as what he does not have. He is the most distressed of all, because he is good and helpful to no one, and worse to himself. The beginning of all sin is pride, and the root of all kinds of evil is the love of money (I Timothy 6:10). Pride draws the soul away from God; greed turns it toward created things. Riches are held in possession in constant fear, they cause bitter pain if lost, and worst of all, they can have deadly effects on the soul. And riches will always perish— either the riches will desert you, or you them. If, therefore, your hope is placed in riches, what will become of that hope in the hour of death? How will you trust your immortal soul to God, if you could not trust the care of the body to him now?
The Almighty and most bountiful God cares for you; why do you doubt his power to sustain you? Greed is the height of idolatry because it puts created things in the place of God the Creator. The greedy man transfers the confidence that he ought to have in God to the things of the earth, which are the works of God’s hands. Whatever is loved more than God is preferred to God, and is hence put in the place of God. Many people, for the sake of mere worldly goods, will part with their heavenly inheritance which was bestowed on them by Christ himself. Judas sold his Lord for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15), and the greedy likewise sell the grace of Christ for earthly riches. How can one lift up his heart to God when they are seeking peace of soul in the riches of this world?
Christ says that riches are as thorns (Matthew 13:22), and in many souls these thorns choke out the good seed… As thorns pierce the body, so riches distract the mind with cares. You too will perish if you gather together only such riches as will perish. Those who lay up treasures upon the earth are like one who would store his fruit in a damp cellar, forgetting that there they will most quickly decay. How foolish are they whose only desires are for worldly riches. How can any material objects ever satisfy the soul, which is spiritual in its nature? Your soul was created for eternity, and you would do it an injury if you should confine its desires to objects that are by nature temporary. The more a soul rises in love to God, the less it will love riches. It is a good indication that our souls are fixing their attention on things above, if we lightly value the perishing things of the earth. And it is a certain sign that our souls have forsaken God when we are too much in love with riches and goods.
A greedy man is very unreasonable, because he brought nothing with him into this world; and yet, he is bent upon the acquisition of worldly riches, as though he would carry with him out of this world as much as he can possibly lay hold of. The greedy man is most ungrateful, because he enjoys so many of God’s blessed gifts, and yet never gratefully and trustfully turns his heart to the Giver of all these gifts. He whose heart is bound up in these earthly things does not really possess them, but is possessed by them.
The spirit of greed is not destroyed either by plenty or by need. Dire need does not diminish it, for the inability to obtain what he wants merely whets the desires of the greedy man. And neither does an abundance of the world’s good diminish it, for the more the greedy man obtains, the more he wants. As soon as one desire is gratified, others immediately spring up, just as the more wood you put on a fire the more fiercely it burns. Greed is like a mountain torrent, very small in its beginning, but enlarging and gathering new force as it rolls down the mountain side. Set strict limits, therefore, to your desire for wealth, and avoid a greedy spirit. Do not, O my soul, set your affections upon the things of this world, for the “world passes away” (I John 2:17; I Corinthians 7:31). Love the good that is eternal so that you may live the life that is eternal.
Why do you desire riches? This life is only a pathway to our heavenly fatherland, so then of what advantage is great wealth? It simply burdens the Christian pilgrim as a vast cargo does a ship. Whatever you love most is your God. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). If you love most of all these material, earthly, perishing riches, then you cannot love those higher, spiritual, heavenly, eternal riches. Why? Because earthly wealth weighs upon a man’s heart as a heavy burden, dragging it down to earth, whereas spiritual riches and virtues lift it up towards heaven.
Proverbs 23:4-5a — Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone…
Colossians 3:1-2 — Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
I Timothy 6:10 — For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Mark 8:36 — (Jesus said), “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”
O Lord, come to us and make use of our bread, silver, and gold. How well they are applied, if we spend them in thy service. AMEN.