Topical and Doctrinal Notes
Thought: Being Rich
When you have read this lesson in the Gospel by Matthew, turn to the next Gospel (Mark 10:31) and you will find some additional teaching which will help you to understand better what the Lord meant. It sounds at first, as if the Lord said, that no one who is rich can enter heaven unless he first gives his wealth away. But that the Lord did not mean this, you can see from what He says in the story as told in Mark 10:24, where, when the disciples were astonished at what He had said, He explained, "How hard it is for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!"
"To trust in riches," means to set one's heart upon them, that is, to think, of them all the time, and love them better than the use that may be performed by means of them. It is not wrong to be rich, provided the man uses his wealth to be of use to others, to his country, and to his church. Indeed, it is a good thing to be rich, because the more money one has, the more good he can do with it. Swedenborg tells us that he has seen many rich people in heaven, and living there in splendor, in palaces, surrounded by beautiful grounds, and the palaces themselves most beautifully furnished and containing exquisite ornaments. But they are people who, when in the world, cared more for the good they could do by means of their wealth, than for the wealth itself. (H. 361, 362)
He saw also - in hell - other people, who when they had lived in the world, had been rich. They now lead a miserable, poor and squalid life. They are such as, when they had been in the world, had cared for their wealth only for themselves. They loved to hoard their money and their jewels, and to count them. When they spent their money it was only for the purpose of gratifying their own pleasure. They cared little or nothing for being of use to their fellow men.
Again there are those in hell who, when they were in the world, did indeed employ their money in business where it could be of use to others, but the richer they grew the more did they trust in themselves, and think that they deserved to be praised and rewarded for their success. They had paid no attention to the Lord's warning in the Word, that it is wrong to imagine, "My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth." (Deuteronomy 8:17)
What the Lord said, about its being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, must therefore be understood as meaning those rich people who trust in their riches, who care too much for them, and who become proud and conceited over them.
But one can be rich in other ways besides possessing money, and other material wealth. One can be rich in knowledges. This is what the Lord meant in the spiritual sense of His words. The rich young man who came to Him, represented the Jewish church where they had the Word, and so knew very, very many truths which people outside of the Jewish church did not know. The Jews were spiritually rich. But did the Lord then mean that those who have learned many things from the Word would not enter into heaven? On the contrary, the more one knows from the Word, the greater is his wealth and the more excellent his use in heaven, provided he makes the proper use of his knowledge and remains humble, recognizing that the Lord has given it to him, and that he cannot take any credit to himself for what he knows and for the good things he does with his knowledge. He also, like the man who possesses material wealth, must not "put his trust in riches"; that is, he must not become conceited because he knows much, for then he really steals it from the Lord, for he claims as his own what belongs to his heavenly Father.
You will notice in the story in Mark, that after the young man had told the Lord how he had kept the Commandments from his youth up, the Lord looked on him and loved him. This is what made him really rich. And the Lord loved to see him rich in goodness. But even the keeping of the Commandments will not help people to enter the kingdom of God, unless they realize and acknowledge that the power to keep them, and thus to be wise and good, is not theirs, but the Lord's; that therefore they are themselves not "rich," but that what they have is the Lord's.
This, then, is what constitutes wealth in heaven. And the fine clothes that the angels have, the jewels they wear, the beautiful gold and silver utensils they have in their homes, the houses built of costly stones, the magnificent lawns and flowerbeds and parks that surround their homes, the musical fountains that play in their gardens, the gentle birds that sing in the bushes and the trees, the mild and graceful beasts that are to be seen there - all these belong to the angels, because they are rich in knowledges, they know so many truths and live according to them. Every single thing about their persons and their homes is a picture of something good and true in their characters. And yet these things do not belong to them in any way different from that in which things in your home belong to you. The rooms, the tables, the chairs, the bed, the piano, the pictures, etc., in your home are yours; and yet they are not yours, but your parents. And so what the angels have is theirs, to use and do with just as they wish; and yet they know that all these things belong to their heavenly Father, and that He lets them use them because they make good use of them for the happiness of others. See about the rich and the poor in heaven, in H. 357-365.