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"and he said unto them, take heed and beware of covetousness : FOR A man's life consistETH NOT IN THE ABUNDANCE OF THE THINGS WHICH HE POSSESSETH.
" SO IS HE THAT LAYETH UP TREASURE FOR HIMSELF, AND IS NOT RICH TOWARD GOD. " LUKE, XII. I 5-2O.
"and he SPAKE A PARABLE UNTO THEM, SAYING, THE GROUND OF A CERTAIN RICH MAN BROUGHT FORTH plentifully: and he thought within himself, SAYING, 'what shall I DO, BECAUSE I HAVE NO ROOM WHERE TO BESTOW MY FRUITS ?' AND HE SAID, ' THIS WILL I DO : I WILL PULL DOWN MY BARNS AND BUILD GREATER, AND THERE WILL I BESTOW ALL MY FRUITS AND MY GOODS. AND I WILL SAY TO MY SOUL, ' SOUL, THOU HAST MUCH GOODS LAID UP FOR MANY YEARS ; TAKE THINE EASE, EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY !" BUT GOD SAID TO HIM, 'THOU FOOL ! THIS NIGHT THY SOUL SHALL BE REQUIRED OF THEE : THEN WHOSE SHALL THOSE THINGS BE WHICH THOU HAST PROVIDED ?'
" SO IS HE THAT LAYETH UP TREASURE FOR HIMSELF,
AND IS NOT RICH TOWARD GOD. " LUKE, XII. I 5-2O.
Some people seem to be born impertinent.
Christ had been talking of the most profoundly interesting things in heaven and earth, when a worldling most inopportunely said, "Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me." It was an inexcusably inappropriate speech. But the man was not demanding anything wrong. His was not an unrighteous request. His brother had probably wronged him. But it showed that even the preaching of Jesus failed to draw him from worldly thoughts. Jesus was solemnly uttering most profound sayings about sin and eternity, holiness and the Holy Ghost, and all the time this man was saying to himself, " I wonder if I cannot somehow use the influence of this wise and eloquent preacher to get back from my brother the portion of the inheritance which is my due ?" His brother's covetousness had led him to a neglect
of relative duties, to the defrauding of a brother : this man's covetousness had led him to a neglect of pious duties.
It gave our blessed Lord an opportunity to utter a solemn warning against covetousness.
Covetousness is an inordinate desire to increase our material possessions. It will probably lead to foul means ; but if it do not it is covetousness nevertheless; it is an excessive desire, and therefore wrong and hurtful. It makes one strive to gain what one should not have, or to keep what should not be retained.
The following reasons should lead us to guard against this form of sin.
I. // is so insidioi4s. It is so possible to lead
a whole life of covetousness, and die without ever suspecting the taint. It is a secret, noise3
less, slow, sure, eating cancer in the vitals of the manhood. Every other sin erupts. Coming to the surface, we can perceive it. But covetousness shrinks and draws the fluids and the forces which keep life juicy and lively, down to a slow central heat which consumes them.
And " society" is not going to blame a man for being covetous. " Society" is made up of just such people. So, you may thoroughly cherish the sin of covetousness and incur no blame. Every other sin is disgraceful; lying, theft, adultery, murder, — these stain a man's reputation. But you may be covetous, and be not simply a great merchant or a great banker, but a leader in Bible and Tract Society movements, a Bishop in the church of God, a noted philanthropist, and die in the odor of sanctity and be damned as a sinner in eternity, at the moment some poor deceived preacher may be standing over your corpse upon earth and canonizing you as a saint. It is not disgraceful to be covetous, and society will not help you to reform, and it is a sin which eludes detection. Its very insidiousness ought
to be a warning to all people.
2. li is deceit/til. It does not show its colors. It never passes for a sin. It has a deal of "virtuous indignation" at being so classified. It is a respectability, a conservatism, a prudence, — in fine, a virtue.
It has the appearance of caring for one's own. It looks as though it might be the twin-brother of honesty. It pays its debts, and is not called
into court. It is a standing rebuker of the sins of idleness, gluttony, intemperance, and prodigality. No one can show any law of God or man which the covetous man breaks, because it is so exceedingly difficult in any particular case to demonstrate that the man is covetous, while everybody knows what covetousness is and everybody denounces the sin in general. There is no other devil that has such aptitude in putting on the appearance of an angel of light. It sings and prays and goes to church and contributes to church funds, and says grace at meals, and
does many things that ought to be done because they are good and beautiful : but the seen, the tangible, the perishable material things of this world, it makes to dominate over the soul of a man with a tyranny all the more dangerous because its chains are not seen, nor heard, nor felt to be chahis, but really seem to be an ornament of grace about the neck.
3. It is incurable. The point of the earnestness and vehemence of the warning lies here. Jesus says, most solemnly, " Take heed," and " guard against." Against the loss of what may be easily replaced, one gives little warning. It is that the absence of which is to make such a great chasm in this life, the loss of which is so irreparable, that it is carefully guarded. No man warns his friend against what can at the most prove an inconsiderable inconvenience, or if more only a temporary damage. It is a great peril which arouses all our interest in a friend. If we see him exposed to a contagious disease which has proved incurable in almost every case of the millions of cases which have been re6
ported, we grow concerned, and exert ourselves to remove him. For the two reasons just assigned, men who become covetous live and die without suspecting what ails them, and when the disease has firmly seated itself, the man can never be made to understand his condition. He resents the intimation that he is covetous. Therefore Christ does not say," Cure yourselves of your covetousness," but " Take heed and beware of covetousness." It \s possible to be cured. The love of God is sufficient for all things. The blood of Jesus cleanseth from all unrighteousness. But it is not probable. A thousand liars, harlots, thieves, and murderers are reformed and regenerated where one covetous man discovers his sinfulness and finds salvation.
4. It is unsatisfactory. The Lord says, "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." So a covetous man overreaches himself. What does he want ? More money, or what money represents, mate-
rial possessions of various kinds. Why ? That he may minister to his living. But life is of two kinds, — animal, that which connects soul and body, and spiritual, that which has the sustentation of its existence from what money never did represent. The former does not require so much. Indeed, a man cannot possibly invest in hi sbody many thousands of dollars. It has a limit of capability. And any man who simply exerts himself is most likely to secure all that his body needs without any anxious care. The true life, which is not breathing, hut being happy, can be had without " abundance" of possessions. These may be had without the happiness. If the one depended upon the other, then a man might struggle and be anxious for money, without such a show of unreasonableness. But a true life is not dependent upon material things. A man's life does not consist in what he HAS, but in ivhat he IS, and in what he DOES. The superabundance is absolutely useless. He cannot manage it. A man may have a hundred millions in the bank. He can only use now
what will pay for his dinner. All over is now useless to him : and so it will be at any moment of his life. A man that is great and good, is happy. A man that is neither, is wretched. A hovel does not degrade the in-dweller, nor a palace elevate. A king is a royal person in a hut ; a beggar is a beggar even if he slip into the palace and sit down on the throne. Life is from within.
That suggested to the great Teacher the parable in the text. A brief but very powerful dramatic sketch it is.
A certain man was already rich. He owned a large tract of land, for so the word signifies, which in our version is rendered "ground." It was a productive plantation. It "brought forth abundantly." He was rich and growing richer — growing richer very fast. He had built a barn. That was not sufficient. He built another. We really do not learn how many he did build. But his building could not keep pace with his crops. So, one day he considered the
case, and was mightily puzzled. He had reached the point of the perplexity of riches. He looked all about him, over his plantation and through his barns. Poor fellow 1 His concern deepened. He exclaimed, " What shall I do ? What shall I do ?"
There are two periods in a man's life when he asks that question, just that way : the one, when he has not enough, the other when he has too much. The way he answers the question in each case shows the man. This man had probably
A Prophylactic of Covetousness.
come into that country a poor boy, with his staff
in his hand, and shoeless and penniless. He had walked up and down the lanes. He had looked over the fences into men's fields and up at their comfortable farm-houses or stately mansions, and then at his own ragged and torn condition. The tooth of hunger struck into his vitals. He was faint. "What shall I do? What shall I do ?" He was no dreamer. He fell to work, willing to labor for mere victuals, and do meanest menial work for bread. And so he rose and grew. And so he came to the place we meet him in the parable — the second time of crying " What shall I do?" He had too much, — more than he needed, more than he could manage.
Let us listen to his soliloquy. " Look at these crops ! The barns are all full, and here is all this. Where shall I put it ? The fact is, my business is growing into a very big affair. I have reached the point where I must make a plan for all future life." — He pauses. He looks down at the ground, and up at the sky. He drops his head to one side and shuts his eyes,
that his thoughts may not be disturbed, — "Oh !" he says suddenly, " I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll pull down my barns and build greater. And then, when they are built and filled, I will say to my soul, '.Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years. Take thine ease, eat, drink, be merry.' " At seeing this way out of his difficulty, he rubs his hands and brightens up.
Have we been listening? So has Almighty God. He always listens to soliloquies, spoken or only thought. Now he speaks to our prosperous friend, in a tone very low like a whisper, and very startling like a thunder- .:lap. " Thou fool ! This night do they require thy soul. Then whose shall all these be ?"
This verdict of the Searcher of Hearts upon a human character should lead us to serious study of the whole case.
It is quite apparent that the man was not engaged in an illegitimate business — nor even in one that was at all questionable. He was not a
thief, nor gambler, — nor was he a speculative operator in stocks. He was neither banker nor merchant. If money has pollution in its touch, he avoided it. He was not exposed to the trials which beset those men whose business compels them to buy in the cheapest and sell in the ¦dearest market. He lived in the rural districts, away from the metropolis: and he was an agriculturist. If any man can lead a spotless life, surely a farmer can. Do farmers always ? No. And not more frequently than those in other pur-
suits. My life has been so divided that I have had about equal chance to study farmers, traders, and professional men, and the result of my observations is the conviction that farmers are about as good as the others a«d no better. I have known planters who were as mean as the meanest peddler I ever saw, and I have known men in Wall Street, and^yes, 1 think I may even say this — in Washington, — who were as good as any farmers I ever met. I have known farmers who
grumbled at the extortion of merchants, but who eagerly snatched at the advantage given them by a drought or blockade to lock up their corn and wait for still greater advance in the prices. But the employment of farming is one in which a man is subjected to the fewest temptations. If he do wrong, it is because // is in Jiim.
This man in the parable was a farmer, and— a fool.
But he was not a fool because he was rich. It is not true that "any fool can make money." It requires brains and thought and energy and perseverance, — all these in such amount and proportion as would make the man great in any other department. Nor does it follow that he was a sinner because he was rich. Ordinarily, if a man be very rich it is because he or some ancestor has done wrong. But it is not so always. Some men are so wise and good that with increasing liberality they grow rich. Job was that perfect man who won even the admiration of God, and he was the richest man of his
region, if not of his age. Abraham was the " friend of God," and he was a millionaire. In every age some of the saintliest have been among the most prosperous. To-day there is no better man or woman in garret or chapel than you may find in some grandest mansion or some loftiest church in this city. I hope I shall not be mobbed for saying it, but honestly I do not believe that all the viciousness of the world is among the rich. Men ought not to despise or hate the rich, but pity them, for with great difficulty, as the Master says, do they enter the kingdom of heaven. And he that sets the poor against the rich, inciting the many against the few, appealing to the passions of those who have not against those who have, turning servants against masters, employes against employers, labor against capital, wresting men's houses and lands and servants from them by preaching the crusades of agrarianism is, to speak after the manner of the French, " a Communist;" but to speak after the manner of God, " a fool."
But the man in this parable was at once a rich
man and a "fool."
A Prophylactic of Covetousness.
I. He was a " fool" because he could not comprehend that condition of things which he himself had created, nor the demands which they made upon him. He was short-sighted. He had not looked all through his work and laid his plans, and arranged his energies for the results which would naturally come from the working of those plans. When a wise man enters upon any undertaking he prepares himself for failure and for success, and arranges to make success still greater. When a wise man goes to a city he lays out his work and his capital and his
energy, so that each shall help all. This man fell to work to succeed. And he did succeed. But when success came, he was not ready for it. All which shows how little distance ahead of him the man had looked. He had no great ulterior aim. He was going on in the treadmill of business, and when the movable floor was by his own muscular exertion sent on an increased rapidity he was not ready for it, but tripped and fell.
Men generally suppose that it requires no preparation to be ready for success. This is a grave mistake. Look at the successful men around you in this city, and see what a difference. There are men here with millions who do not know what to do with them. Up to a certain point they could manage the increase by working it into their business, but now the business and the increase have grown so large together that they are utterly unmanageable. When a man reaches this point he begins to destroy, to tear down barns, that are good barns, and that would be quite sufficient for other men,
and build new ones, that are not better but greater. The new buildings are well enough, but the tearing down is not good. And yet you have seen a man pull down a splendid mansion, which was not old, and which cost a hundred thousand dollars, that on the same spot he might erect another which should cost a million. The intelligence which has projected the prosperous business does not always seem equal to the emergencies of prosperity.
What was the trouble in the case we are considering? The man did not comprehend his own case. It was not thai he had too little barn, but that he had too much corti. He was coming to love his corn too much, the corn he could not eat. It is a trait of human nature that men set their heart on riches, not so much when they are going as when they are increasing. He was striving to house corn that should have been distributed. After filhng the barns that were upon his own grounds there were plenty of other
barns, the houses of the needy, the houses of the widows, the mouths of orphaned infants, as Ambrose says. He did not seem to ha-'c ever thought that when God fills a fountain and then pours in more, it is that the drippings and spillings of the surcharged fountain may make rills and streams to refresh the surrounding foliage and irrigate the neighboring ground. He was sealing up a reservoir.
He had invited Success to be his guest. Success came, and the fool did not know how to entertain.
2. He was a " fool" because he misunderstood his relation to the external world.
See with what an air of proprietorship the man acts. "/ have no room where to bestow my fruits. I will pull down my barns and build greater; and there will I bestow all my goods and wy fruits." Will men never adjust themselves to the facts of God and the laws of
the Universe? God intends this Universe to go on growing forever. He has created man to glorify the world, to put the transfiguring toucli of mind on matter, and make the insensate glow with the light of the spiritual. He has created man so that he has his best growth and happiness while doing this blessed work. The moment the man begins to draw the world down on himself he begins to be crushed out of sight. The moment he begins to pour himself out on the world he grows and the world brightens.
We are not put in proprietorship in this world. The first thing of all is to recognize our work as that of agents, holding for another, to return to that other, and to give up whatever we return much beautified and enlarged- by having been entrusted to us.
"Fruits?" Why, nothing is fruit that is not enjoyable. "Goods?" Why, nothing is good that brings trouble and perplexity. And here was this man burdened with what he could not enjoy, and being about to put it away, "bestow"
it, where it is to be utterly useless. He was reversing the position of parties, he M'as misapprehending the uses and good that are in things, he was perplexing his intellect to devise ways of violating the fixed laws of the Universe, and to do this without bringing any harm to himself. Was anything more needed to justify the great Teacher in calling this man a " fool ?"
3. And, he did not know the difference between his body and his soul, the requirements of one and the demands of the other.
He did not know who he was. He really thought his flesh to be himself. He had not yet ascertained his identity.
A Prophylactic of Covetousness.
Hear what he says. After contemplating the destruction of his barns and the erection of others that should be larger, and meditating upon the fullness of the new barns and the amount of goods they should contain, he tells himself what he is going to tell his soul when that happy day should arrive. He would call up his soul, and say, "Soul, ihoji hast much goods laid up for many years. Take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." He never lived to hold that colloquy with his soul. If he had, it is quite easy to fancy what the soul would say in reply to such an address.
" Have I much goods?" "Yes." "Where?" "Yonder, in those many barns." "Are truth, love, righteousness, faith, hope, and immortality piled up in those capacious barns ?" "O, no." "What then?" " Corn ! plenty of corn, abundance of breadstuffs of all kinds ! Corn!" "Corn?" "Yes, corn !"" Corn? Have
I jaws for mastication, a throat for deglutition, and a stomach for digestion ? Am I, that am thinner than the air, and finer than the light, and wider than the world, to be fed like an ass, or an ox, a brute beast that boweth his head down and droppeth back into clods and nothingness? Why, what do you take me to be, that you offer me less ethereal food than that which enriches the angels who live above the Empyrean ? You ! you are not worthy of me ! ! Corn, corn indeed, and for your Soul! God help me!" "Why," says the fool, " that is what I have spent many years to obtain. I have risen early, sat up late, and eaten the bread of carefulness, that I might reach abundance, abandon care, and devote the rest of my life to ease. Come, Soul, eat, drink, and be merry, — take thine ease ; thou hast much food laid up for many years."
"Well," answers the Soul, "suppose I could take any pleasure in these gross perishables. You have only enough for many years. How many? Ten, fifty, a hundred? No matter how many, they are _y^^rj. They will end. But my
existence is unmeasured by the flight of years. When these are all gone and I shall still be existing, where then shall I find sustenance ? No, you have mistaken my whole nature, and you do not know yourself. You have been shortsighted. When the many years are ended, what then?"
Alas, the poor man had not looked so far. He acknowledged that he had nothing in the Universe except what he could put in barns. Hear him: "There will I bestow ALL my goods." In a barn : a flood could sweep it all away ; a fire destroy it in a single day. All he had was
at that risk. If one should sell all he had and sell himself, and invest the entire proceeds in a jewel and suspend it to a rotten thread that could hardly bear its weight, and swing it in the wind over an abysm, would he not be a fool? Such is a man who would be totally impoverished if all his material possessions were swept
4. He postponed his enjoyments.
There is a sense in which the old Epicurean saw of " Carpe diem," " Seize and enjoy to-day," holds good. If there be any real, sure happiness to be had now, one should not let it slip by postponing it to the uncertainties of the future. What pleasure we have ever had, we still have. What we have not, we may never have. The Past and the Future lie equally beyond our personal control. The Now must be packed full and close, — pressed down with hearty effort and with hearty delight. The fate of this man in the parable should be a warning. Many a man is like him. Many a man says, "When I have accumulated a fortune, and built a house, and established my family, I will settle down and have a good time !" Why not have a good time now ?
A man knows what he has in hand, and ought to know its capabilities of yielding him pleasure.
Suppose there be much pleasure to be had out of a greater amount of material possessions, there is much pleasure to be had from youth and health. Youth goes — is going every moment. Health may go in a moment. Elastic spirits, present friends, the activities of the to-day, are something. Money is not all. If money, youth, health, innocence, friends, good spirits, keen zest for pleasure, all could be had at once, it would be delightful exceedingly. But how many ever have them all at once ? Who has not some one of these? While waiting for another we may lose the one already in hand. If growing riches could not give the man ease of soul, what right had he to expect that a fortune fully grown would minister that pleasure ? And when is a fortune fully grown ? When he was a poor boy all he longed for was one moderate field and one modest barn, and he had pictured the delight he should have when these were compassed. He obtained them. He was as far from ease as ever ; and strove to add field to field and barn to barn. The very effort so weakened him that when they were purchased
and built he was a sadder but not a wiser man. When both your hands are full you must lay down one thing before you can take up another. If this man had contented himself with his full
A Fj^ophylactic of Covetousness.
barns, and sent the surplus all about him to the poor and needy and the starving, the men and women who were crying in agony " What shall I do ?" he would have relieved himself of a burden, and girdled his whole estate with the benediction and prayers of the poor, in the midst of which he might have had every rational enjoyment which God vouchsafes to man.
5. He relied upon a known uncertainty. In the first place he could not, on his theory, make this fine speech to his soul, until the barns had been removed and new ones had been erected. That required time. What might happen in that time he could not tell. All the " chances and changes of this mortal life" might be therein. As the timbers of the new barn were going up, they might come down upon him and cut him off utterly or leave him a mangled cripple, wretched for all life, quite past the anodynes that wealth can bring to pain.
But then, suppose he should live to see the barns and see them full ; how long might they remain ? If they stood, how long might they be full ? If full, how long might they be his ? If his, how long might he have any capacity for enjoying them ? All these questions point to the known instability of all human things. '^ Much goods — laid up— for many years !" Here was a triple uncertainty. And yet he was going to settle down at his ease, eat and drink and be merry, forgetting that in eating and drinking
men sometimes choke or go nto manifold diseases that dampen all merriiment.
6. He omitted preparation for a future certainty.
He had been accumulating for whom ? Then whose shall these things be? "He heapeth up riches and knowetli not who shall gather them." How purposeless such a life seems ! A man's death is announced in the papers. " He left a fortune of fifty millions." He " left" it— did he ? Why did he not stay with it ? What a palace, what parks, what equipage, what delicious food, what sumptuous furniture of books, and pictures, and statuary, and virhi, would not fifty millions buy ? If money can give what the soul needs he should have stayed by so huge a mass. But he could not stay. He was compelled to go. Then why did he leave it? Why not take it with him ? Alas ! he could not. The gate of the grave is so narrow that slender ghosts do barely struggle through, and houses and lands, and coffins and shrouds and bodies
are all torn off, and the soul is naked on the other side. He could not take his millions. To whom did he "leave" them? He could not
know. Take what precaution a man may, he can have no knowledge when he dies of the direction his estate is to take. His will may be broken after much of the estate is squandered in litigation. If it go to the designated heir, he may spend it upon swindlers and harlots, or die and let it fall to his father's enemy. " Left his estate !" O is not that sad ? Been all his life long from early childhood accumulating this estate, and now must leave it ! Alas !
— " So is he that layeth up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God." This is transcendent folly. The inan has so buried himself in the perishable that when that goes he is gone. He has lost himself in the material ; abstracted his inmost, highmost nature and emptied it, as one should spill upon the sands of the desert his
only bottle of water, when he knows that thence it can never be gathered up again. He passes into eternity with nothing ; as if one should go into a foreign land, a land of strangers, with none of their current money, and with nothing that could be converted into currency. On this side rich ; on that poor. Here the papers are full of accounts of his immense estate, where it lies and how it goes, — while he stands a pale and shivering spirit on the inside of the gate of death, with nothing. He is not rich toward God, nor rich in God. He hath not used the means at his control to please the owner thereof, and now he comes to the judgment a defaulter. He had not learned the blessed alchemy by which Love and Faith do change the baser metals of this world to gold which endures forever.
Dear brethren, the man in this parable had as much discrimination and good sense as most of the men around us. You and I think well of the intellects of those who succeed. He thought well of himself, as he knew hi? neighbors thought well of him. He saw in fancy all
these new barns rise as monuments to his great business capabilities. He was " smart," he was "clever." So bethought; so the world thought. When smitten down, his neighbors said, " How unfortunate ! just ip the midst of his great works /" And just before he was so smitten they were envying him !
The world wrote this epitaph on his tomb, — " A Success."
God wrote this epitaph on his tomb, — "A Fool."
My brethren, hear the warning of the Master, " Take heed and beware of covetousness." Whatsoever be the turn your worldly business take, let me beseech you to be rich toward God.
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