Money seems almost almighty in its power to do things, and make changes. It can make a desert blossom as a rose. It can even defy death. Medical skill holds the life here that otherwise would have been snuffed out. Great buildings go up. Colleges begin their life with apparatus and books, skilled instructors, and eager students. Mammoth enterprises spring into being. Hospitals and churches rise up with skilled attendants and talented preachers.
We have come, in our day, and perhaps peculiarly in our country, to think that there is no limit to the power of money. Our ideas of its value are really greatly exaggerated. That first sentence I used would be revised by many to read, "Money is almighty." The cautious words "seems" and "almost" would be promptly cut out.
Yet money has great limitations. It will help greatly to remember what they are. And many of us need the brain-clearing of that help. Of itself money is utterly useless, so much dead-weight stuff lying useless and helpless. It must have human hands to make it valuable. It gets its value from our conception of its value and from our use of it. It must have a human partner to be of any service at all.
In bad hands it becomes devilish in its badness. And I needn't put an "almost" in that sentence. It may be as a very demon, or as the arch-devil himself, as really as it may seem to be divine in its creative and changing power.
Then it is valuable only in this world, on the earth. At the line of death its value wholly ceases. Over that line it takes its place as a pauper. It is represented as being used for cobble stones in the streets of the new Jerusalem. Yet it would need to go through some hardening process to make it of any account at all as paving material.
We ought to remind ourselves of something else, too, that the crowd constantly forgets, and that we are tempted to forget when touched by the contagion of the crowd. And that is, that money is always less in its power than a strong, sweet, pure life. Maybe you think that comparison can't properly be made. You say that things so unlike can't be compared. But, whether consciously or intentionally or otherwise, that comparison is being made constantly in practical life, and most times to the advantage of money. Commonly the crowd reckons money more than character.
We do well to remind ourselves that its influence for good is always distinctly less than that of a life. To live a life pure and strong and wholesome in its ideals out among men is more than to be able to give money in any amount. To keep one's life up to such ideals in the heartless drive and competition of modern life means more than to extract large quantities of gold out of the mine of barter and trade, and to give some of it away.
And money is less than personal service. Great deference is paid to checks and subscriptions. The man who can draw a large check for some good object, and who may by dint of much dexterous handling be induced to write his name under some large figure, is treated with awe. But there's another man who stands higher up in the scale, and to whom hats should go farther off and more quickly. That is the strong man who gives personal service. There may be a blessed partnership between the man of money and the man of service. There often is. But he is an unfortunate man, to be pitied, who lets anything else crowd out of his life the privilege of giving some of his self out in personal service for others. These are some of gold's limitations.