Great Texts of the Bible
A Man’s True Life
And he said unto them, Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.—Luke 12:15.
1. The Evangelist connects the text with a striking yet familiar episode; “One out of the multitude said unto him, Master, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.” Here was clearly a twofold issue, moral and legal. There was the question of right and there was the question of law. The one must be answered by the individual conscience, the other by the public tribunals. Christ declines to take over the duties of either. “He said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?” Then He turned to the multitude and resumed His work as a spiritual Teacher, charged to set forward the eternal truths which conscience, however falteringly, attests, and to lay down the moral principles which underlie all human happiness worthy the name. “And he said unto them, Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”
2. Evidently this Jew was a younger son, who could not easily forgive his elder brother for enjoying a double share of their father’s estate. The elder brother, it is plain, was also one of our Lord’s hearers, and likely to be, in whatever degree, attracted by Him; but, on the other hand, it may be taken for certain that he had no mind to part with any portion of his estate, or the appeal against him would not have been necessary. “Master,” cried the younger man, “speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.” Our Lord might, it is clear, have met this appeal by a direct discussion of its intrinsic merit. But in fact, placing Himself at the point of view of the speaker, who could not yet know at all that He Himself really was, He asks what commission He could be supposed to hold for deciding such questions at all. “Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?” And then, as if glancing at both the brothers—the elder, who held so tenaciously to his legal fortune, and the younger, who was so eager to share it—He rises into a higher atmosphere, and His words become at once instructive to all men and for all time. “Take heed,” He said, “and keep yourselves from all covetousness,” for one reason among others, but especially for one—that covetousness involves a radical mistake as to the true meaning and nature of life: “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”
You find Christ giving various counsels to varying people, and often jealously careful to avoid definite precept. Is He asked, for example, to divide a heritage? He refuses; and the best advice that He will offer is but a paraphrase of the tenth commandment which figures so strangely among the rest. Take heed, and beware of covetousness. If you complain that this is vague, I have failed to carry you along with me in my argument. For no definite precept can be more than an illustration, though its truth were resplendent like the sun, and it was announced from heaven by the voice of God. And life is so intricate and changing, that perhaps not twenty times, or perhaps not twice in the ages, shall we find that nice consent of circumstances to which alone it can apply.1 [Note: R. L. Stevenson, Lay Morals.]
A False Estimate of Life
1. Christ would warn His hearers against a false estimate of life. He told them that true life did not consist in anything external to man. Was the warning needed? Who ever said that life consisted in wealth? The saying of our Lord is a truism. But there are truisms and truisms. There are truisms which are admitted to be such in the conduct as well as by the speech of men. And there are truisms which are never questioned in conversation, and which are rarely acted on. To insist on truisms of the former class is no doubt an impertinence; to insist on truisms of this latter kind again and again, and even with importunity, is by no means superfluous; and the saying of our Lord is undoubtedly a truism of this description. The distinction which He draws between what a man has and what he is, is as obvious, when stated, as it is commonly overlooked. The saying that life consists not in what we have but in what we are, is as true as the practice of making life consist not in what we are but in what we have is common. Intellectually speaking, the world did not need these words of our Lord. Practically speaking, there is no one of His sayings which it could less dispense with.
2. We must not read the words of our Lord as if they meant, “A man’s life consists in poverty.” Jesus did not say that, and it is not true; the degradations of poverty are often as great as the dangers of wealth. It is probably more difficult for a man to live “a man’s life” in abject poverty than it is for him to do so amid the abundance of things. Money can do splendid service in providing the means for the cultivation of “a man’s life.” The pity is that so few who have it know how to compel it to do this. In the mere process of accumulation men are apt to forget the purpose of accumulation, and the hope of adding hundred to hundred, or of building more barns and larger, becomes a feverish instinct with no ulterior purpose whatever.
There is no evil in wealth itself, else our Lord had not spoken the parables of the Talents and the Pounds; and had He intended His charge to the rich young man to be a universal rule, He would certainly have represented one of the worthy servants as having given his Lord’s gift to the poor. But wealth becomes evil the moment it is made the end and aim of a man’s life, for it binds him to that which is temporal and physical, and blinds him to his heavenly destiny—to the things that are spiritual and eternal. As a means, however, it has as much right to its place in human life as any other gift of God; and within the kingdom which Jesus sought to found love would make its wise administration a blessing and a joy. To him for whom “it is more blessed to give than to receive” wealth must procure the greatest happiness, increasing, as it unquestionably does, his power to aid his fellows and to support all worthy causes.
I said, just now, that wealth ill-used was as the net of the spider, entangling and destroying: but wealth well used is as the net of the sacred fisher who gathers souls of men out of the deep. A time will come—I do not think even now it is far from us—when this golden net of the world’s wealth will be spread abroad as the flaming meshes of morning cloud are over the sky; bearing with them the joy of light and the dew of the morning as well as the summons to honourable and peaceful toil. What less can we hope from your wealth than this, rich men of England, when once you feel fully how, by the strength of your possessions—not, observe, by the exhaustion, but by the administration of them and the power,—you can direct the acts—command the energies—inform the ignorance—prolong the existence, of the whole human race?1 [Note: Ruskin, A Joy for Ever, § 12. (Works, xvi. 102).]
3. But Jesus regarded wealth as quite a subordinate thing. Human law has sometimes placed property before human life. It is notorious that in our courts of justice to-day offences against the person are often much more leniently dealt with than offences against property. The judgment of Jesus, we are sure, would be very different there. In His view a man’s life consisted not in his possessions; these were the accidents of his life; he had other and higher interests, and to these all His care was given. Let Him see a sick man, He was moved with compassion. Let Him see a little child, and His instinct was to take it up in His arms and bless it. Let Him see a multitude like shepherdless sheep, and He must be their Shepherd. The labours, the cares, the sorrows, the joys of men interest Him. But it is impossible to conceive of Jesus as being interested in money. “Shew me a penny,” He once said, and He looked at it, not to reckon what it could purchase, but to see what it might teach. In regard even to the higher uses of money, even its most unquestionable uses as means towards food and raiment, He said, “Take no thought, labour not for these.” It is certain that to Jesus money could never be worth fighting about, the loss or gain of it could never be a matter of great consequence, the decision of a question such as this could never seem worth His while. There can be little doubt that a great deal of the teaching of Jesus is diametrically opposed to the views which rule in the City and to the axioms and the aims of business life. We have come to attach vast importance, an altogether exaggerated importance, to the possession of wealth. In all the great centres of population there proceeds ceaselessly a twofold strife: there is the struggle of some for existence, a desperate struggle, the incidents of which make the tragedies of every day; and there is the struggle of some for wealth—no less anxious and tragical, though far more sordid than the other. Now to both of these classes Christ speaks. He says, “Is not the life more? Are there not needs which are greater than all these? Food, raiment, comfort, luxuries—at the best they are the means of life only, and if life be given up to the acquisition of these, is it not lost?” Victor Hugo reminds us that “truth is nourishment as well as wheat.” So it is undoubtedly, and it is nourishment of the nobler life. Let God come into a human life, and it becomes life indeed.
The Monastic theory is at an end. It is now the Money theory which corrupts the Church, corrupts the household life, destroys honour, beauty, and life throughout the universe. It is the Death incarnate of Modernism, and the so-called science of its pursuit is the most cretinous, speechless, paralysing plague that has yet touched the brains of mankind.1 [Note: Ruskin, in Life by E. T. Cook, ii. 129.]
4. Our Lord even regarded the possession of wealth as a serious disadvantage. Not that the rich will be punished in the next world to make up for their happiness in this. No such crude doctrine of compensation need be thought of; but as a matter of fact, the rich did not hear Christ gladly. Their wealth did, in point of fact, keep them from joining Him. In those days, it was not easy for anyone to adopt the wandering life of Christ’s disciples without first disposing of His moveable property. The suggestion to the rich young man, “Sell that thou hast,” means, “Give up your fine house,” not “Sell out your capital.” In the East, where investments in our sense are hardly known, wealth is largely in the form of gold and trinkets, which are not easily kept safe in the absence of the owner. In these words of our Lord the emphasis should fall on the words “Come, follow me,” rather than on “Sell that thou hast.” No sweeping condemnation of modern capitalism can be drawn from such passages; we must consider our Lord’s whole attitude towards money and its uses.
(1) Our Lord’s dislike of wealth seems to be based on the fact that it almost inevitably absorbs the time and attention of its possessor, which should be given to higher things. Money makes men busy and anxious, careful and troubled about many things. The rich man in His parables is either a luxurious sensualist, like Dives, or an “austere” man—a hard speculator—like the owner of the talents, or a money-spinner who intends to enjoy himself some day, like the rich fool. In each case, the rich man can have no time for the service of God, and the care of his own soul. Our Lord thinks much more of the loss to the rich man himself than of the injustice which his existence implies to the poor. The rich man forgets that life is more than a livelihood: “Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” Our Lord pities the mammon-worshipper more than He blames him: He regards him as one who has missed his way in life—as one who, in the words of the Roman satirist, has lost, for the sake of life, all that makes life worth living.
(2) The love of money grows by that which it feeds on. Covetousness does not seem to be the temptation of those who have nothing, but rather of those who have something. Few set their hearts on riches till the riches begin to increase. “Enough” has been caustically denned as “a little more than you have.” As the possession grows, the desire to possess is apt to grow in yet greater ratio. It is a sad sight, though common enough, to see how, when riches increase, a man’s bounty may not only not increase but steadily decline. When that is so, it means not only that the poor suffer, or that some cause of God suffers; more than that, the man himself suffers. His spiritual manhood is blighted, and it is a blight which spreads to every part of the nature.
Money grows upon men. They do not know how sweet it is until they have saved a bit, then they begin to be strangely enamoured. If they have not tasted blood they have tasted gold, and a mysterious passion begins to awake, the consequences of which none may foresee. It brings with it the sense of importance, power, large possibilities of honour and indulgence, until in the end the man is mastered by it and ruined by it, as bees are sometimes drowned in their own honey.1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson, The Gates of Dawn, 243.]
In a country parish we can often see things in their naked reality which are not seen, or not remarked, in a town. There was an old man, possessed of considerable means, who made me one of his trustees, a charge which I took for the sake of his grandchildren. I have never seen such a case of absolute slavery to avarice. His only daughter died next door to him, and when the water came through the roof and fell upon the bed, I suggested to him to mend the roof: and he said, “Na! Na! many a woman as good as her has had to come on the parish.” Her funeral day came, and he and I were next to the hearse. Just when the little procession was about to start he cried out, “Bide a wee,” and went into the house where the coffin had been lifted. I followed him, thinking he might be ill, but I found him drawing with both hands the fragments of the funeral bread into a heap which he carefully locked in a chest. Poor old man, his own time came soon after, and I did my poor best to comfort and prepare him. Within a few minutes of the end, he was earnestly trying to speak, and I bent over him to hear his last words. I thought he would be saying something that showed he was softened. What he did say was: “Tell them to buy the murnin’s in Dumfries; it’s a hantle cheaper than at K—’s” (the village shop).1 [Note: Prof. A. H. Charteris, in Life, by Hon. A. Gordon, 70.]
Oh what is earth, that we should build
Our houses here, and seek concealed
Poor treasure, and add field to field,
And heap to heap and store to store,
Still grasping more and seeking more,
While step by step Death nears the door?2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, Poems, 197.]
What True Life Consists in
1. It is plain that true life does not exclude the physical. There is a physical existence worth all your possessions. At least, so men have said. “Skin upon skin; yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.” Life is worth having at its lowest point. Life is worth living, if only as a stepping-stone to greater knowledge, and infinite riches, and eternal happiness. But no possessions can keep a man alive. Death knocks at the door of the castle and palace as well as at the poor man’s cottage or the beggar’s hut.
Some of the incidents of Wesley’s childhood must have deeply coloured his religion. One is the historic fire which consumed Epworth rectory in 1709, when Wesley was not yet six years old. On the midnight of August 24, 1709, it was discovered to be in flames. The rest of the household made a hurried and scorched escape, but John, in the alarm and hurry, was forgotten. The little fellow awoke to find the room so full of light that he thought it was day; he sprang from the bed and ran to the door, but it was already a dreadful tapestry of dancing flames. The strong wind, blowing through the open door, had turned the staircase into a tunnel of flame; the father found it would be death to climb it. He fell on his knees in the hall, and cried aloud to God for the child that seemed shut up in a prison of flame. Mrs. Wesley herself, who was ill, had—to use her own phrase—“waded through the fire,” and reached the street, with scorched hands and face; as she turned to look back at the house the face of her little son could be seen at the window. He was still in the burning house! There was no ladder; his escape seemed impossible. One man, with more resource than the rest of the crowd, ran in beneath the window, and bade another climb upon his shoulders. The boy was reached and, just as he was drawn through the window, he heard the crash of the falling roof behind him. “Come, neighbours,” cried the father, when his child was brought to him, “let us kneel down! Let us give thanks to God! He has given me all my eight children. Let the house go. I am rich enough.”1 [Note: W. H. Fitchett, Wesley and his Century, 32.]
2. But life is more than physical existence, more than the pleasures of sense. It is character—what a man, when stripped of his possessions, is before God. The life spoken of here is intensive, not expansive. Measured by what we are, and not by what we have, is Christ’s rule. You may find a shrivelled soul in the midst of a great fortune, and a noble soul in the barest poverty. Life before possessions!
In vain do men
The heavens of their fortune’s fault accuse,
Sith they know best what is the best for them;
For they to each such fortune do diffuse.
As they do know each can most aptly use:
For not that which men covet most is best,
Nor that thing worst which men do most refuse,
But fittest is that all contented rest
With that they hold; each hath his fortune in his breast.
It is the mind that maketh good or ill,
That maketh wretch or happy, rich or poor;
For some, that hath abundance at his will,
Hath not enough, but wants in greatest store;
And other, that hath little, asks no more,
But in that little is both rich and wise;
For wisdom is most riches; fools therefore
They are which fortunes do by vows devise,
Sith each unto himself his life may fortunize.1 [Note: Spenser, The Faerie Queene.]
(1) A man’s life consists in the abundance of the things he knows.
I was once the guest, for a little time, of a man who owned a magnificent art gallery. But he could say more than “I have these pictures.” He could say “I know them.” He had a marvellous pipe-organ in his house. But he could say more than “I have the organ.” He could say “I know the organ, its sweetness and its power.” Some men are content to say “I have this, that, and the other beautiful thing.” He is not so; he says, “These books—I know them; these flowers—I know them; they seem to me like children; they have a speech that is all their own, and I understand it.” By the things we know, our reason is enriched, and we are to live in our reason. We are to know the meaning of things is no less substantial than the things themselves. We are to know the things below us—that is power. We are to know the things about us—that is culture. We are to know the things above us—that is character.2 [Note: C. C. Albertson, The Gospel according to Christ, 143.]
(2) A man’s life consists in the abundance of the things he does.
He who plants a tree
Plants a hope;
Rootlets up through fibres blindly grope,
Leaves unfold unto horizon free.
So man’s life must climb
From the clouds of time
Unto heavens sublime.
Canst thou prophesy, thou little tree,
What the glory of thy boughs shall be?
He who plants a tree,
He plants love;
Tents of coolness spreading out above
Wayfarers he may not live to see.
Gifts that grow are best,
Hands that bless are blest;
Plant! Life does the rest.
Heaven and earth helps him who plants a tree,
And his work its own reward shall be.1 [Note: Lucy Larcom.]
(3) A man’s life consists in the abundance of the things he loves.
Walt Whitman was a strange man. He may have been a degenerate. But his degeneracy had genius in it, and he left a name that will never die. He once said, “I love God and flowers and little children.” Was there any such thing as bankruptcy for him? Not so long as God sits upon His throne, and flowers spring up in every meadow, and little children smile. Whitman was poor, but he lived an abundant life, for his inner resources were inexhaustible.2 [Note: C. C. Albertson, The Gospel according to Christ, 144.]
Shields’ old friend, the Rev. Hugh Chapman, who had ministered to him in his last days, said at the funeral service at Merton Old Church: “After a friendship of twenty-five years, I have no hesitation in saying that Frederic Shields knew and lived on his Bible as few whom I can recall. Literalist to a large extent he ever was, however mystically inclined in his rôle of artist, and there was about him somewhat of the rugged Covenanter who brooked no compromise where for him the honour of his Master seemed to be concerned. Severe to himself, he was infinitely tender towards those who suffered, nor could he hear the mention of pain without his eyes filling with tears. For those who knew him well, and who had sounded the depths of his remarkable personality, he had a unique charm, nor could you be with him for long without leaving his presence a better man. Frederic Shields hated money as much as he loved God, and it is these two points which stand out as I think of him now, promoted to his well-earned rest.”3 [Note: E. Mills, Frederic Shields, 347.]
3. We can possess of outward things only as much as we can use. 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 yearly supply of the good things of the harvest. Our minds are to be cultivated and matured by observation and study, and for these God’s book of nature and the works of genius, the broad fields of history and human experience are the pasture-grounds in which 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 utilize 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.
Wealth is a tremendous trust; it becomes a dangerous one when it owns its owner. Our Brooklyn philanthropist, the late Mr. Charles Pratt, once said to me: “There is no greater humbug than the idea that the mere possession of wealth makes any man happy. I never got any happiness out of mine until I began to do good with it.”1 [Note: Theodore Cuyler, Recollections of a Long Life, 274.]
As a teacher wandered in Qualheim, he came into a mountainous region, and saw a castle which was of dream-like beauty. “Who is the enviable man who lives in such a palace?” he asked. His guide answered: “He is an unhappy, helpless hermit, without peace, and without a home. He was born with great artistic gifts, but employed them on rubbish. He drew nonsensical and trifling caricatures, distorted all that was beautiful into ugliness, and all that was great into pettiness.”
“How does he occupy himself now?”
“Shall I say it? He sits from morning till evening, making balls out of dung.”
“You mean to say, he continues as he began. Is that his punishment?”
“Yes! Isn’t it logical? He obtained the castle, but cannot use it.” Then they went further and came into a garden, where they found a man grafting peaches on turnips. “What has he done?” asked the teacher. “In life he was specially fond of turnips, and now he wishes to inoculate peaches, which he finds insipid, with the fine flavour of turnips. He was, moreover, an author, and wished to rejuvenate poetry with bawdy peasant songs.” “Why, that is symbolism!” “Yes, and logic most of all.”2 [Note: A. Strindberg, Zones of the Spirit, 103.]
4. The true life, coming from God, is satisfying and is not bounded by this world. According to Christ’s teaching “a man’s life” consists in the cultivation of the possibilities, of the highest elements of his being, in the annihilation within it of all low desires, in the full set of its determination on the highest ideals, in the cultivation of that power of vision and of feeling by which a man comes to apprehend God and has a sense of the spiritual world, in the maturing of the faculty for drawing enjoyment from those sources which the world cannot dry up. To do that is to know what “a man’s life” means, and to do less than that is to live the life of an animal and not “a man’s life” at all; and, unless the world’s best men and women have been its greatest liars, to live a life like that is unspeakably magnificent and satisfying.
A man may pay too dearly for his livelihood, by giving, in Thoreau’s terms, his whole life for it, or, in mine, bartering for it the whole of his available liberty, and becoming a slave till death. There are two questions to be considered—the quality of what we buy, and the price we have to pay for it. Do you want a thousand a year, a two thousand a year, or a ten thousand a year livelihood? and can you afford the one you want? It is a matter of taste; it is not in the least degree a question of duty, though commonly supposed so. But there is no authority for that view anywhere. It is nowhere in the Bible. It is true that we might do a vast amount of good if we were wealthy, but it is also highly improbable; not many do; and the art of growing rich is not only quite distinct from that of doing good, but the practice of the one does not at all train a man for practising the other.1 [Note: R. L. Stevenson, Familiar Studies of Men and Books.]
Is not the body more than meat? The soul
Is something greater than the food it needs.
Prayers, sacraments, and charitable deeds,
They realize the hours that onward roll
Their endless way “to kindle or control.”
Our acts and words are but the pregnant needs
Of future being, when the flowers and weeds,
Local and temporal, in the vast whole
Shall live eternal. Nothing ever dies!
The shortest smile that flits across a face,
Which lovely grief hath made her dwelling-place,
Lasts longer than the earth or visible skies!
It is an act of God, whose acts are truth,
And vernal still in everlasting youth.2 [Note: Hartley Coleridge.]
The Way to True Life
1. Our Lord would have nothing to do with the paltry dispute between the two brothers. And yet, in the great truth which He proceeded to enunciate with regard to what constitutes life, there was the solution—the Divine solution—of the particular problem raised on the occasion and of all similar problems. “What about my inheritance?” was the question of him who viewed life from the worldly standpoint. “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth,” was the answer of Him who viewed life from above. This, in effect, was what Christ said, “Man, I am not a judge or a divider over you in things temporal and material. But listen to what I have to say as to the things which constitute real and true life, and you will not trouble yourself any longer about this inheritance.”
It was as if Christ had said, as He read the story of that angered and greedy spirit, “Man, my word is not to your brother: it is to you. Beware of covetousness. You are afraid of losing some property: but the thing you really stand to lose this day with your hate and your greed is your own soul. You are giving all the thought of your life to something that cannot satisfy you if you get it. Moreover, look into your own heart and confess yourself full of greed. Confess that if you could get the whole inheritance to-morrow and oust your brother, you would do it. It will take vastly more than getting that field to put your life right.” Thus to a narrow and twisted and unhallowed passion that was distorting this man’s life Jesus applied a calm, eternal principle. He let in upon the lurid thought of this man’s mind the calm and perfect light of truth and love.
For there are two ways of reforming men—an external and an internal. The first method pronounces decisions, formulates laws, changes governments, and thus settles all moral and political questions. The second seeks, before everything else, to renovate the heart and the will. Jesus Christ chose the latter plan. He remained steadfast to it, and this alone evinces the Divinity of His mission and the permanent value of His work. Suppose for a moment that He had adopted the former method when these brothers came to Him, what would have happened? His decision would only have settled a matter of civil right and would not have changed their hearts. If love and justice are to triumph, the two brothers, moved by the Saviour’s teaching, must themselves settle their difference amicably and equitably. No doubt this was the victory Christ sought to achieve.
2. Now Christ taught the way to a true life by fixing men’s thoughts upon Himself. He claimed to be life, and He declared that His mission was to give life in abundance. To have life, then, is to possess Christ, to be actuated by His motives, to reveal His trend of character and passion for goodness. This we can do by coming under the influence of His Spirit.
I read one day about the influence of a man over a peculiarly savage deer-hound. By persistent kindness he taught it to trust and to obey him, and gradually under his influence its whole nature was changed. Instead of being savage it became gentle, instead of being treacherous it became trustworthy. It came, through his influence, to live an entirely different life; and we might say with truth that it came to share the man’s life through trust and obedience. The analogy is, of course, a very imperfect one, but it is surely by no means either irreverent or unreasonable to find in such an incident an illustration of what Jesus meant when He said, “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life.” “He that followeth me shall have the light of life.” For it is verily true that the moment a man begins to trust and to obey and to follow, that moment he begins to share the ageless life of the Master, which has its roots in union with God and love for men.1 [Note: R. J. Wardell.]
3. This life can be strengthened in worship. And that means, not merely to engage in certain ceremonial acts on a Sunday, but to cultivate the habit of response to all that is beautiful and noble in nature and history and literature and art and everywhere. The mere lapse of years, to eat and drink and sleep, to be exposed to darkness and to light, to pace round the mill of habit and “turn thought into an implement of trade,” to taste to exhaustion sensuous delights—this is not life, but death disguised; but if men will be loyal to conscience and cultivate the habit of true worship, they shall know the meaning of joy, they shall know the meaning of peace, they shall know the meaning of strength, they shall know the meaning and feel the fulness of that “life which is life indeed.”
4. But, again, to enjoy this life, we must not keep it to ourselves; we must expend it in the interests of our fellow-men. Possession falls under the great law of distribution. To get we must give. Nothing is put into the hand of men that is not intended to be used for the good of society. The handful of corn is of small value in itself if put under lock and key, but, handed over to the ministry of nature, it may in due time become a great harvest. Distribution is not loss; it is only another form of gain. “He which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.”
Men ask whether they may not do what they please with their own. The answer is “Certainly, but you must first find what is your own.” “Is not my money my own?” “Certainly not, your very hand with which you grasp your pelf is not your own. The hand may have made the money, but who made the hand?” If anything is our own, how singular it is that we cannot take it away with us! The property is ours only that we may leave it. We brought nothing into this world and it is certain that we can carry nothing out.
To Mr. Morley, wealth was only a means to an end; he valued it only as it could be employed for noble purposes; he held it in trust for the good of others; he felt that it laid upon him the most binding obligations, and that he was accountable not only for making a right use of it, but the best use possible. The distribution of his money was therefore the main business of his life. It was a great responsibility to have the management of such a business as his; it was a far greater responsibility to have the money that business brought him. To accumulate it for its own sake was utterly foreign to his thought and feeling; to amass it for the highest ends, and be neglectful as to its wise distribution, was, in his view, worse than folly; to shirk the responsibility, and make others the almoners of his munificence, he regarded as being unfaithful to the trust reposed in him by the One “who giveth power to get wealth.” Mere giving, however enormous the amount bestowed, is, in itself, nothing, and may be worse than nothing. It may be done selfishly, simply to gratify an impulse; it may be done pompously, simply to gratify pride. As Lavater says, “The manner of giving shows the character of the giver more than the gift itself.” Therefore, when Mr. Morley found riches to increase, he felt it to be a religious duty to make the disposal of his money a matter of earnest and most careful solicitude. There was placed in his hands a mighty power for good or for evil, and he felt himself under obligation to God and man to spare no pains in using it to the best advantage for the Church and the world.1 [Note: E. Hodder, Life of Samuel Morley, 285.]
A Man’s True Life
Ainsworth (P. C.), A Thornless World, 65.
Albertson (C. C.), The Gospel according to Christ, 139.
Bersier (G.), Twelve Sermons, 107.
Bigg (C.), The Spirit of Christ in Common Life, 232.
Binney (T.), Money: A Popular Exposition, 36.
Faithfull (R. C.), My Place in the World, 127.
Hill (J. E.), Queen Charity, 365.
Inge (W. R.), All Saints’ Sermons, 69.
Knight (J. J.), Sermons in Brief, 51.
Liddon (H. P.), Passiontide Sermons, 259.
Peabody (F. G.), Mornings in the College Chapel, ii. 88.
Robertson (F. W.), Sermons, ii. 1.
Sampson (E. F.), Christ Church Sermons, 274.
Shepard (J. W.), Light and Life, 101.
Sinclair (W. M.), Difficulties of our Day, 96.
Voysey (C.), Sermons, xx. (1897), No. 46.
Wardell (R. J.), Studies in Homiletics, 139.
Christian World Pulpit, xiii. 209 (J. O. Dykes); lxiv. 341 (H. Hensley Henson); lxxiii. 104 (H. Hensley Henson).