One of the most powerful, corrosive, and destructive forces in all of history is very much at work today in all the world: envy. Envy is, in terms of Biblical faith, very clearly a sin, but, in the modern age, it comes disguised as a virtue. The motive force in much of the equalitarianism of our day is not a sense of brotherhood but an envy which seeks to level all things. Envy also masks itself as a concern, very commonly, for social justice, and it lays claims to saintly character while promoting hatred, revolution and murder.
Envy wars against status, but every revolution in the modern age has promoted a new elitism and established a social order more static, fixed, and class-conscious than those orders it displaces. Envy claims to promote equality, justice, and democracy, while in practice working to destroy all three of these things. Envy capitalizes on issues, not on principles. The world being a sinful and fallen order, the best of societies have glaring defects in need of correction, but envy capitalizes on these defects while avoiding principles. Envy does not correct: it destroys.
Because envy is sin, it wars against virtue and character. While capitalizing on the weaknesses of, let us say, the middle class, the doctors, technicians, press, clergy, and so on, it seeks in reality to suppress and destroy their character and strength. It says in effect, let none be better than myself. (Some years ago, as a young man, I saw in a particular church an evil family champion a pastor of bad character. In one incident, I learned that they liked him for his sins, because it "justified" them, whereas every godly man was slandered and resented by them.) The unwritten law in the hearts of envious men is, Let no man be better than myself.
Because envy is evil, it resents the good and is hence very destructive socially. It reduces church, state, and society to the lowest common denominator. Aristides the Just (C. 468 B.C.), an Athenian statesman and general was ostracized from the city in part because many people were resentful of hearing him called "the Just." Then and now, many people prefer a corrupt politician to a good and honest man: They resent excellence and superiority.
The role of envy in many spheres and with respect to many things could be cited at length, but our concern now is with a key area for envy: wealth and heirship. It is commonly said that we live in a very materialistic age; Pitrim Sorokin called it also a sensate culture. The lust for wealth, or at least the appearance of wealth, is commonplace. A variety of things, such as furniture, automobiles, and clothing, sell less for their durability and more for their utility in creating the proper image, the image of careless and assumed wealth.
Together with this lust for material and monetary wealth goes a resentment for the wealthy. The tacit premise is that, Let no man be wealthy if we cannot all be wealthy. Hence, the revolutionary urge is to destroy wealth and then try to recreate it for all, an illusory hope. The result instead is a wealthy group of social planners who will not allow any man to transcend their control or status.
At the same time, there is an intense envy and resentment of heirs. How dare anyone inherit wealth! Over the years, from professors, students, and a wide range of peoples, I have heard expressed a radical hostility to heirship. Our estate and inheritance taxes witness to this hatred, and today this uncontrolled envy of heirs has made the robbing of widows and orphans a matter of state policy. The estate of the father may be a limited one and of consequence only because of inflation, but envy strikes increasingly lower and lower, from the upper class to the middle class, and now increasingly lower on the economic scale. The income tax is similarly a consequence of envy.
Many churchmen are very much a part of this world of envy, and they promote it as gospel. The word "rich" (by which they mean richer than I) is for many the ultimate insult. Our Chalcedon mailing list friends report some examples of this. One clergyman said that it was immoral for any man to have an income in excess of $20,000 a year; another, several hundred miles away, said that an annual income of over $40,000 was unchristian and a sin. (It takes little imagination to guess what their own salaries were!)
If a goodly income is a sin, how much more so an inheritance in the eyes of these men! An heir receives money he has not earned, we are told, and therefore does not deserve. Such money should be taken from heirs and given to "the needy." In practice, taking money from the rich means giving it to an even richer state, not to the needy. Moreover, if failure to earn the money is the heir's problem, then why is it proper to give this money either to the state or to the needy, neither of whom have earned it? We have, in all envy and its social programs, a double standard.
There is one point, and a necessary point, which we must grant, and, in fact, we must insist on granting: the heir's money is unearned. This is a crucial point theologically, as we shall see. However, before proceeding to that fact, let us stop briefly to stress an important distinction. There is a very great difference between unearned wealth and unjustly gained wealth. My father left me no money, being a poor pastor, but he left me some books, (a very important form of wealth for me). I have a personal library of 25-30,000 books, many of which I inherited from my father, and from two other pastors, (and many of which I bought). I did not earn many of those books, (although many I did). Am I unjustly the owner of the unearned books? They were given to me as acts of love and grace, and I am happily and gratefully their present possessor. My books are a form of wealth for me, and they have been so also for friends and associates who have used them in their research. Only if I were to have some stolen books in my library would these be an illegitimate form of wealth. The distinction between legitimate and illegitimate wealth must not be obscured.
Now we are ready to deal with the key question, the unearned nature of wealth which is inherited. The modern world, being anti-Christian, is very hostile to heirship, whereas the Christian must regard it as central to his faith. There are far-reaching theological implications here. Very centrally, the doctrine of grace is involved.
The language of "rights" is basic to our humanistic age, which at the same time is the most murderous era in all history, very often in the name of the rights of man. Modern man assumes that he has a right to many things, and, with each decade, the catalogue of rights is increased, as is the scale of oppression and totalitarianism in the name of rights.
Theologically, however, man has no rights as he stands before God. All that he has is of grace, sovereign grace. Both man and his world are the creation of the triune God. No man is born into an empty world; we are all born heirs of our history, and we inherit the riches and the devastations of our forbears. We are what we are by the grace and the providence of God. St. Paul, in a key verse, struck at the pretensions of man, saying, "For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?" (I Cor. 4:7).
St. Peter says that life itself is a grace, a gift of God (I Peter 3:7). We are not the authors of life, nor the determiners of the conditions thereof. Life is a grace, a gift from God, and, for better or worse, we are all heirs. Our inheritance is often a marred one because of sin, but, all the same, we are heirs, redeemed or unredeemed. If we fail to recognize God's grace and purpose, or bow before His sovereignty, we are judged and disinherited.
But, if we are the redeemed, we are heirs of the Kingdom of God, confirmed heirs, heirs together with Christ, we are repeatedly told (Rom. 8:17; Gal. 3:29,4:7; Eph. 3:6; Heb. 6:7; James 2:5, etc.).
The Bible requires that we recognize the fact of grace and heirship. They are essential to the doctrine of salvation, and also to the Biblical way of life. What we are, we have received, and we are not our own (I Cor. 6:19). "Therefore let no man glory in men" (I Cor. 3:21) for any reason, neither in other men nor especially in ourselves. We are not only created by the Lord but also bought back and redeemed at the price of Christ's blood (I Cor. 6:20).
The envious man of today refuses to see all this. The world is a product of chance, and, in that realm of chance, man has struggled, fought, survived, and advanced himself. He has come so far that he can now self-consciously control and direct his future evolution. We have here the most radical doctrine of works in all history. The works involved are "red in tooth and claw." And man evolves by destroying lesser forms, including the abortion of unwanted and also potentially defective unborn babies, he believes.
This envious humanistic man feels justified also in striking at the born, heirs especially, in order to further his concept of social advance and justice. Because he is at war with God, this humanistic man rejects radically the idea of grace and heirship in any and every realm, from the theological to the societal. He does more than reject it: he wars against it, and it is a total war.
Some scholars write as though Social Darwinism were a thing of the past. Their works are simply a fraud. What has passed away is the Social Darwinism of the men of Carnegie's day and class, i.e., the Social Darwinism of the powerful and largely non-Christian or anti-Christian industrialists who believed in the manipulation of the state for their purposes. In their place, we have the Social Darwinism of socialism and modern democracies, a disguised form thereof but real all the same. Behind the facade of benevolence, the modern state applies a legal guillotine to all whom it deems unfit to serve.
In such a situation, more than ever, it is imperative for Christians to revive the Biblical doctrines of grace and heirship. In a world of grace, we are all heirs: we have received unearned wealth without any work or worts on our part. Heirship imposes upon us a major task of stewardship. The whole of the law gives us the pattern of stewardship for the heirs of grace. Our Lord sums it all up in six words: "freely ye have received, freely give" (Matt. 10:8).
This commandment was given to the disciples, and to us. It applies to all, whether rich or poor according to man's reckoning. We are all too prone today to assume that the duty to give freely or generously belongs to the rich, and the rest of us have the duty of receiving! It is, in fact, basic 10 envy that it demands that the envied give and the envier either receive or determine the disposition of that which is given. We have seen a great variety of peoples see themselves as the necessary recipients. The various minority groups believe that they have a right to gifts. So too do the elderly, and, along with the state school personnel, they constitute our most powerful lobby. Of course, industry, agriculture, and labor all seek subsidies or gifts. Envy leads to the world of coercion.
The Bible, however, says that all men begin with the grace of life. The redeemed are doubly the recipients of grace, and they are the heirs-designate of all things in Christ. They have received freely, and they must give freely.
The Christian position is thus founded on heirship and grace. We must recognize that we have received freely and that the Lord requires us to work for the reconstruction of all things in terms of God's law-word. This reconstruction requires that we give our lives, time, thought, effort, and money to that end. When James speaks of us as heirs (James 2:5), and as joint heirs with Christ the King, princes of grace, he summons us to fulfill or keep the royal law, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (James 2:8).
We are told, "thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth" (Deut. 8:18). We are told, "Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land" (Deut. 15:11).
Envy is divisive and destructive. It creates a world of conflict and hatred. Hatred of the rich is as much a sin as hatred of the poor. When we are commanded by God to love our neighbor, no qualifications are made exempting us from loving him if he is rich or poor, black or white. We are to fulfill, i.e., keep the law in relation to him by respecting the sanctity of his marriage, life, property, and reputation, in word, thought, and deed (Rom. 13:8-L0), and to see him as our God-given neighbor.
Some neighbors will indeed be problems, of that there is no question! However, we must remember that in this world of grace and heirship, among the things we often inherit are problems. We have them because God intended them, not for us to complain about but to meet in His grace and by His law-word. We must face them in the confidence of Romans 8:28, that indeed all things do work together for good to them who love God and are the called according to His purpose. But to be called of God means that we are fulfilling His calling.
If all is of grace, there is no place for envy. We are heirs by the adoption of grace in order that we might give of that which we have received in order to be faithful citizens and members of the Kingdom of God.
Let us leave the world of envy for the wealth of grace and heirship.
(Taken from Roots of Reconstruction, p. 129; Chalcedon Position Paper No. 27)