" A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the goods which he possesseth."— S. Luke xii., 15. Our Lord is here warning his hearers against one of the most insidious and dangerous mistakes into which an individual can fall — the mistake that " having," is " possession." He includes within his admonition everything which man can possess ; and he exposes most forcibly, yea, even tragically, the folly of the human being who lives in such a delusion ; as also the inevitable disaster which is sure to follow. The rich fool was the victim of such an absurdity. He is presented standing, as we are to-day, among the abundance of a luxuriant harvest. His idea of the uses of abundance is to hoard it. So when he finds his barns inadequate to store the season's produce, he determines promptly to build larger. A very right and proper resolution, to preserve the abundant return until

366 SEEMO S O SPECIAL OCCASIO S. he can utilise it ; but an absurd conclusion if hoarding only in his motive. He is faithfully proceeding, however, on what he conceives to be a sound business principle ; and he is not ashamed to confess, that his ambition in the larger buildings is to provide the one thing needful for his happiness and peace, by increased facilities for greatly increased hoarding. He believes that the new barns will minister greatly to his happiness in the most effective manner. Accord-

ingly, he is gratified, as he anticipates the day when his new buildings completed and full to overflowing, he shall sit down among the plenty and soliloquise, " Soul thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease." " Soul take thine ease," — as if human life were an ignoble, aimless existence lower than that of the beast of the field, or of the worm that wriggles in the slime. There were two false principles at work in bringing him to this miserable conclusion ; and it is specially becoming to point them out, and emphasize their falsity, at such a celebration as this. 1. He confounded the meaning of the terms, " having," and *' possessing." He thought they meant the same thing. But he was in error.

THA KSGIVI G DAY. 36Y This rich agriculturist had obtained a rich return for his labour ; and by every principle of common sense, he should have set himself to employ it to the best advantage. But no. His idea of " having," is not " using," but " hoarding." " This is mine," he says practically, '* and I propose to do with it just what I please. I owe responsibility, in connection with it, to neither, God nor man. I shall enlarge my storage accommodation, and shut up my fruits there safely under lock and key. These are mine and I mean to keep them for myself alone." That was how he conceived of property in God's harvest, produced by God's earth, and cherished, and watered by God's sun and rain. His principle was false even from his own point of view. He claimed the harvest for himself, and he hoarded it for himself. A mo-

ment's reflection might have shown him, however, that hoarding is not possession, in the living, true, religious sense. God has endowed man with certain faculties and gifts, which are to be exercised and developed by certain things, which this world of His produces. Our bodies are to be sustained and developed, by lawful food ; and for them Mother Earth caters, by her

368 SERMO S O SPECIAL OCCASIO S. yearly supply of the good things of the harvest. Our minds are to be cultivated and matured by observation and study, and for these G-od's book of nature and the works of genius, the broad fields of history and human experience are the pasture grounds, in v^hich the human soul is to feed. We have, moreover, a spiritual character to develop ; and for that, Jesus is the very bread of our life. But neither body, soul, nor spirit of man or woman, possesses anything, which it does not take up into itself, and utilise by making part of its being. The demands of the body are satisfied when it has used certain elements of food ; but all food besides, is for the time being, practically nothing to the body, because it can use no more. An invalid may have spread out before him the choicest and most t-oothsome viands which can be obtained, and yet what are these to him, but a mockery and a sham, since he cannot partake of them ? These dainties are his, because his money purchased them ; and yet they are not his, for he cannot taste them. o one ever realises, like the bedridden sufferer, that one really owns only what he can use, and that one can get out of his possessions only as much as his nature can absorb.

THA KSGIYI G DAY. 369 and nothing more. So is it in the case of an illiterate man who has inherited a valuable library, or of the uncultured owner of a fine collection of paintings and other works of art, or of the millionnaire, who is unable to enjoy his vast treasure. The law will recognise the property of all three, confirm their title to it, protect them in the possession of it ; and yet it is not theirs, beyond the very limited use they can make of it. Likewise, in the matter of spiritual possession, it is the using that is the possessing. Religious observances, special opportunities for worship, the best books, and the privileges of superior Christian fellowship may all be at an individual's disposal ; but, unless he utilize them, so little are they his, that it were better far that he did not enjoy them ; for without them he would be relieved from an intolerable care, or spared a perilous snare. To own a bible is to possess a precious treasure ; but he, who fails to feed his spiritual nature on the truth of the bible, till it can be said that the bible possesses him, cannot be said to be a real owner. The dead book which one holds in his hand, must become a living book in his soul, before it can be really his property. The Christ 24

3*70 SERMO S O SPECIAL OCCASIO S. of the Gospels can only be your Christ, and mine, in the fullest sense, when we have in" corporated his spiritual personality with ours,

and are " living, moving, and having our being," inspired by his di\dne spirit. Any ecclesiastical or theological identity with Christ is a mere figment ; this personal, spiritual union is the only, because the religious, reality. Our Christ is ours, because we are his. Here is the conclusion of the whole matter, — the human being can only get out of any thing, or any personality just what his nature can take in body, soul, or spirit and nothing more ; and his nature can take only according to its particular ability. Just as the rose can take from the sunbeam its blush, the lily its virgin whiteness, and the violet its imperial purple, and nothing more ; so the individual can only get out of his surroundings, his possessions socalled, and his opportunities, just what his nature can take, and only that ; and all else besides is as nothing to him, because his nature cannot take it up into itself. An old Scotch proverb puts this thought in a nut-shell : — "A man has nae mair gudes than he gets gude o'." This rich fool piqued himself on the abundance

THA KSGIVI G DAY. 3*71 of the goods which he possessed ; and yet, after all, he only possessed a very small portion of them. All that he could not use personally, or did not choose to dispense as a steward, was only nominally his ; and nominal possession like that is often the greatest misery of all. Look at the miser whose burning desire is to hoard up daily more and more ; and yet, with a dark and terrible inconsistency, he has constantly the more burning desire to use ever less and less. What more horrible verdict could there be, on

the utter falseness of this principle, than his miserable fate ! He is well called. Miser, for misery is his name, and wretchedness must ever be with him. The Christian ideal of possession is stewardship. A steward acts for another ; and his duty is to utilise all his master's possessions entrusted to him, and to utilise them for the very best to his master. The Christian is, in the strictest sense of the term, a steward. "Whatever he possesses, he is to use. Be it life, or talents, or riches, all is to be used in the spirit of the faithful steward. That much-abused word, usury ^ conveyed originally the precise idea of the Christian steward. It means the using, with discretion,

372 SERMO S O SPECIAL OCCASIO S. all the gifts entrusted to us as human beings. He who cannot be a Christian usurer, ought to call in the help of others. Our Lord, you remember, chid the one talent man who hid his talent in the earth, because he did not take the counsel and help of others, to enable him to fulfil a trust, the duties of which, he could not himself perform. That unfortunate man was a hoarder simply, and our Lord convicted him of breach of trust. He had a talent and yet he had it not^ for he did not use it. Far better for him that another should have had it who could have used it. Lying hid in the ground it was a heavy load on his heart. Used, it would have been his, and it would have brought into his life a gleam of true happiness ; unused, it was not his and it shot through his soul the fiery dart of all unhappiness. His is the dark fate of all, who confuse the terms having and possessing.

" To have," is, " to hold, to hoard, to grasp in one's hand," saying, " this is mine." To possess," is, "to be lord of," "to order about," " to put to. good purpose." The true hoarder is lorded over by that which he hoards ; he is the slave of slaves. The true possessor is lord over all that is his ; he is the master, and whatsoever he

THA KSGIVI G DAY. 3*73 possesses is his humble servant. Possession of strength, or position, or wealth, with him means diligent using, and not idle abusing — manlyexercise, and not unmanly sloth — actual wearing-out, if need be, rather than rusting-out. 2. He looked for the reward and blessedness of life in the wrong direction. He expected to find his happiness in the goods he possessed. He said to himself, "There is my reward, for all the care and labour I have bestowed. In my swelling garners shall I find happiness. ' Soul thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.' " Most certainly Grod means his creatures to eat, drink, and be merry. All animate nature is a standing testimony to the fact. But eating, drinking, and merrymaking, are all to be done with the one motive — the perfection of our life. Beast, bird, and fish eat, drink, and are merry to make themselves better beasts, birds, and fishes. Man ought to eat, drink, and be merry to make himself a better man. The rich fool meant to eat, drink, and be merry for quite another reason. His ambition was not to be a better man ; his practice certainly tended to make him a worse man. Happiness he was seeking

3t4 SERMO S O SPECIAL OCCASIO S. in dead things ; he had not learned that its seat and centre are in the living soul. Poor Burns knew better, though his conduct belied his knowledge, when he sang : — " If happiness hae not her sea And centre in the breast,

ae treasures, nor pleasures, Could make us happy lang, The heart ay's the part ay, ' That makes us right or wrang." All our happiness lies in the extent to which our spiritual nature is developed ; and the right use of everything we have ought to be an element in the great process of spiritual development. Our Blessed Lord is our standard of character, and towards his sublime height should all our energies continually tend. Accordingly, the use of everything any one possesses, is only to be regarded as genuine, is so far as it is directed to promote true life ; and whenever anything possessed tends to hinder the progress of our spiritual life, or to drag it down, making it corrupt where it should be pure, and selfish where it should be sympathetic, then that


thing is not used, but abused, and there can be no real happiness springing out of abuse. The rich fool, like every one, naturally desirous to be happy, took the worst way of attaining his object. If he had put his produce to use, it would have done something for him, even though it had not done the best it could do ; but hoarded only, it really was nothing to him, except in the security it offered against future want, and there was very little in that for him after all. Ere his plans were executed, and he had time to sit down and congratulate himself on his success, the dread fiat went forth which neither rich nor poor can disobey, — " This night thy soul shall be required of thee." His happiness was nipped in the bud, as by a chilling frost ; from his goods, which were his reward, he was cruelly torn, and launched into the world of spirits poorer than the meanest peasant who toiled upon his lands, and infinitely more miserable. So passeth the glory of the world. There was a very vicious element in this rich man's resolution, which, even though he had been spared for many years to enjoy his treasures, must have gradually undermined his spiritual nature. At his own estimate, these enlarged

376 SERMO S O SPECIAL OCCASIO S. barns were to be instrumental mainly in placing bim in a position of independence both of G-od and man. Gome blight, or famine, or drought in future years he was safe ; let men do what they pleased he had his barns full, and what cared he ? In such a spirit, he could not be thankful. How can a man offer thanksgiving

at the feet of G-od, for the bounties of the harvest, if his whole aim in life is to attain independence of G-od, so that come good seasons or bad he can never want ? There can be no gratitude where no sense of present benefit exists. The Lord's prayer runs, " give us this day our daily bread," or as it may be rendered, "our bread for the coming day." o farther than that can the enlightened worshipper go, and no farther would he wish to go ; for ha knews that daily thanksgiving is bound up with daily bread, and true dependence on the Power Divine with the daily offering of the tribute of thanks. In so far, therefore, as this rich man's goods created in his mind the spirit of independence of G-od, they were a terrible snare. Well for him that he was called away suddenly and unexpectedly ! Had he lived out the full term of his days, it had been in all probability worse

THA KSGIVI G DAY. 3*77 for his spiritual uature. Most certainly it would have been the worse for his happiness, till the very end. It is as great a mistake to decry abundance in itself, as a snare, as it is to esteem it in itself, as a blessing. Abundance, whatever form it takes, is a great blessing from on high, if the possessor have the spirit to receive meekly, and to use wisely,* the gift. This rich man was highly favored of G-od His swelling barns were a great good in their precious fruits of the earth. They had for him, also, the elements of choicest happiness, if he had had the heart to perceive it. But he knew not the value of the good gift put into his hand ; and, in his igno-

rance and blindness, he converted G-od's blessing into a curse, and the possibility of choice spiritual gain, iato the reality of deep spiritual loss. Let no one despise any great gift, as if it could possibly be, of itself, a danger, or a curse ; but let every one cultivate the spirit which can recognise in every treasure, the gift of Grod, to be used for his glory, which must always be for our good. Then, whether it be ten talents, or twenty, or though it be only one which Grod has entrusted to us, we shall thankfully receive

378 SERMO S O SPECIAL OCCASIO S. the gift, and conscientiously administer it. We shall not vaunt our treasure, nor shall we hide it in a napkin ; we 'shall not weakly squander it, nor selfishly hoard it ; but we shall, as Grod the giver is our judge, frugally and wisely discharge our trust according to our light. In this matter, we are to follow no leader's bell, and call no man master. We are the trustees ; Grod is the truster ; between our souls and him the whole matter lies. Doubly erring was this unfortunate man as we have seen ; and disappointed inevitably in both ways must he have been, had he lived long enough. Had he been spared, he must have found to his cost (as so many are finding every day of their lives, who have not the heart or the power to mend it) that real possession is only in real use, and that true enjoyment of anything depends upon its right use in the promotion of our true life. He would undoubtedly have been taught by rough experience, that a man's life is not in these things ; whether or no he ever discovered, that these could be

valuable helps to develop his higher life, and sweeten it as well. ationally as well as individually this

THA KSGIVI G DAY, 3^9 great truth holds. We are to-day rendering thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest, and it is most proper that we should do so v^ith lustyjoy. For, after all is said and done, the grand fact stands eternally true, that in God we live, and move, and have our being. On his bounty we hang, on the regular recurrence of his seedtime and harvest we depend, and, when smiling plenty crowns the plain, there can be no fitter acknowledgment of our individual and national stewardship, than when as a people we ofierat our Father's feet the fit tribute of grateful praise. Our national thanksgiving is that, or it is nothing. But national life consists not in the wealth which a nation possesses. Poor Eome was living Eome, because of the stalwart virtues which alone can dignify a people. Eich Eome became dead Eome, because of the vices which plunge the most promising nation into degradation and shame. The nation which does not realise its great mission, as the vicegerent of God]to promote righteousness and virtue, is a nation that never can be strong, and never can be truly thankful for any good gift. Its, will be the spirit of the Eich Fool, who hoarded that, like the prodigal, he might lavishly indulge his


selfish tastes, or like the miser whose mind is engrossed and racked how to add to his pile the most, while taking from it the least. It is thus our better nature revenges herself for our sin, by making the vices which we cherish to scourge us with scorpion thongs. The right use of things considered in relation to the present which is ours, means no extravagance in charity and no blindness to the future, no neglect of ourselves and no indifference to our wants. But it means sound sense and discrimination, wise dispensing and earnest consideration, how the better always to fulfil our trust. Mingled with our national thanksgiving, as with all thanksgiving, there should ever be prayer for a riper spirit of stewardship, without which we shall never be made to understand that "a man's life conslsteth not in the abundance of the goods which he possesseth."



Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful