With a word of direction to all backsliders.
By J O H N.B U N Y A N.
Written in 1663, while imprisoned in Bedford Prison.
This was John Bunyan's third book during his first incarceration.
irst, For Covetousness.
1. Covetousness; it is all one with desire; he that desires, covets, whether the thing he desires be evil or good. Wherefore that which is called coveting, in Exodus 20:17, is called desire, in Deuteronomy 5:21. As the apostle also saith, 'I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet' (Rom 7:7). That is, I had not known lust to be a sin, unless the law had forbid it. Wherefore, though lawful desires are good (1 Cor 12:31), and to be commended, yet covetousness, as commonly understood, is to be fled from, and abhorred, as of the devil.
2. Covetousness, or evil desire, it is the first mover, and giveth to every sin its call, as I may say, both to move and act; as was said before, the apostle had not known sin, except the law had said, Thou shalt not desire or covet; for where there is no desire to sin, there appears no sin.
3. Therefore covetousness carrieth in it every sin we speak of sins against the second table even as a serpent carrieth her young ones in her belly. This the scripture affirms, where it saith, 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbour's' (Exo 20:17). Covetousness will meddle with anything.
Now, there are in my mind at present these eight notes of covetousness, which hinder good works, and a Christian coversation among men, wherever they are harboured.
(1.) When men, to whom God hath given a comfortable livelihood, are yet not content therewith. This is against the apostle, where he saith, 'Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee' (Heb 13:5).
(2.) It is covetousness in the seller, that puts him to say of his traffic, it is better than it is, that he may heighten the price of it; and covetousness in the buyer, that prompts him to say worse of a thing than he thinks in his conscience it is, and that for an abatement of a reasonable price. This is that which the apostle forbids under the name of defraud, 1 Corinthians 6:8, and that which Solomon condemns (Prov 20:14).
(3.) It is through covetousness that men think much of that which goeth beside their own mouth, though possibly it goeth to those that have more need than themselves, and also that better deserve it than they.
(4.) It argueth covetousness, when men will deprive themselves, and those under them, of the privileges of the gospel, for more of this world; and is condemned by Christ (Luke 14:18-20).
(5.) It argueth covetousness, when men that have it, can go by, or hear of the poor, and shut up their bowels and compassions from them (1 John 3:17).
(6.) Also when men are convinced it is their duty to communicate to such and such that have need, yet they defer it, and if not quite forget it, yet linger away the time, as being loth to distribute to the necessities of those in want. This is forbidden by the Holy Ghost: 'Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.' Now, it is due from thee to the poor, by the commandment of God, if they want, and thou hast it; 'Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and tomorrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee' (Prov 3:27, 28).
(7.) It argueth a greedy mind also, when, after men have cast in their minds what to give, they then from that will be pinching and clipping, and taking away; whereas the Holy Ghost saith, 'Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give, not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver' (2 Cor 9:7).
(8.) And lastly, It argueth a filthy greedy heart also, when a man, after he hath done any good, then in his heart to repent, and secretly wish that he had not so done, or at least, that he had not done so much: this is to be weary of well-doing; (I speak now of communicating,) and carrieth in it two evils, First, It spoileth the work done. And, secondly, It, if entertained, spoileth the heart for doing any more so. 'The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful,' for 'the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand' (Isa 32:5, 8).
Now then, to dissuade all from this poisonous sin, observe, that above all sins in the New Testament, this is called idolatry (Eph 5:5; Col 3:5). And therefore God's people should be so far from being taken with it, that they should be much afraid of the naming of it one among another, lest it should, as adulterous thoughts, infect the heart, by the talking of it (Eph 5:3).
But why is covetousness called idolatry?
1. Because it engageth the very heart of man in it, to mind earthly things; it gets our love, which should be set on God; and sets it upon poor empty creatures; it puts our affections out of heaven, where they should be, and sets them on earth, where they should not be (Eze 33:31; Phil 3:18, 19; Col 3:1-3). Thus it changeth the object on which the heart should be set, and setteth it on that on which it should not. It makes a man forsake God, 'the fountain of living waters,' and causeth him to hew to himself 'cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water' (Jer 2:11-13). For,
2. It rejecteth the care, government, and providence of God towards us, and causeth us to make of our care and industry a god, to whom, instead of God, we fly continually, both for the keeping what we have and for getting more. This was Israel's idolatry of old, and the original of all her idolatrous practices. 'For their mother hath played the harlot,' that is, committed idolatry: 'she that conceived them hath done shamefully: for she said, I will go after my lovers, that gave me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, mine oil and my drink' (Hosea 2:5).
3. It disalloweth of God's way of disposing his creatures, and would have them ordered and disposed of otherwise than his heavenly wisdom seemeth meet; and hence ariseth all discontents about God's dealing with us. Covetousness never yet said, It is the Lord, let him do what he pleaseth; but is ever objecting, like a god, against everything that goeth against it; and it is that which, like a god, draweth away the heart and soul from the true God, and his Son Jesus Christ: 'And he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions' (Matt 19:16-22). Now then, that which engageth the heart, that rejecteth the providence of God, and that is for ordering and disposing of things contrary to God, and for breaking with God upon these terms, is idolatry; and all these do covetousness. 'The wicked boasteth of his heart's desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth' (Psa 10:3). Now the way to remedy this disease is, to learn the lesson which Paul had got by heart; to wit, 'In whatsoever state you are, therewith to be content' (Phil 4:11).