And he spoke a parable to them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:…
I. A SOLEMN WARNING AGAINST COVETOUSNESS AS OBSCURING OUR VIEW OF, AND LEADING US TO DISREGARD, THE TRUE PRINCIPLE OF LIVING.
II. THE PROCESS BY WHICH A MAN MAY BECOME COVETOUS. The instance given by our Saviour is not an extreme one. It is one adapted rather for a standard example of a process subtle and gradual, from whose operation no man is exempt. The successive steps of the process, as here delineated, are:
1. Prosperity (ver. 16). His prosperity was not culpable. It was a blessing of God. It may have been creditable to the rich man. His good husbandry may have been thus rewarded. No gain could be more legitimate. He was rich in the crop, not through speculation in it, or in an exorbitant price put upon it, as it stood in the field.
2. Calculation (ver. 17). To plan, again, is not sinful. It is a duty rather. But, natural and right though the question ("What shall I do?") is, it is dangerous. One needs to guard vigilantly, lest he make so much of the question, "What shall I do to save?" that he shall make too little of the question infinitely more pressing, "What shall I do to be saved?"
3. The decision to increase his investments (ver. 18). In this decision, again, there is no necessary guilt. The purpose formed by the rich man was not of necessity a covetous one. True, he might, as one of the Fathers suggests, have made barns of the houses of the poor, the mouths of orphans and widows. But these are not the only lawful storehouses. Men may accumulate, may increase accumulations. We do right to broaden our plans, to tear down and build greater. All social and material progress would cease if this spirit of enterprise should be quenched. All improvements in our modes of travel, of business, of living, are results of this spirit, which grasps the significance of prosperity, wisely forecasts the future, and at critical junctures says, "I will tear down and build greater." It is a grand trait in man or nation, this of making large, bold plans for the future. Through it God is subduing the world. Nevertheless, be on your guard against this spirit. It can only be safely exercised under the most vigilant observation, lest we become selfish in our plans, making them centre in ourselves. This was the grand mistake which the rich man actually made, viz.:
4. The appropriation of his goods (ver. 19). Before, he had pressed the limit of innoceney; now he passed it. This was more than a dangerous choice; it was a guilty one. It became manifest now that he had long been suffering his sense of accountability to decline; it had died out; and, with atheistic hardihood, he erased the name of God in the deeds and bonds, and substituted his own. Such a process may have with us a similar result.
III. THE FOLLY OF THE COVETOUS MAN AS SEEN IN HIS FATE. He made at least three fatal mistakes:
1. He assumed that what we have is ours. This is not the reasonable or the natural view of property. The parable of the pounds is intelligible to children. The conception it presents, viz., that we hold our property in trust, is agreeable to our natural conviction.
2. That the soul is richer the more goods one has (ver. 19). "Soul, thou hast much goods." We shrink from the coarse suggestion that a man's life consists in his goods. But may it not consist in the abundance of his goods? No. Possessions are not life; cannot give it, cannot sustain it. It is true for every human being. Young man, or woman, seeking possessions and not life — you who have gained a little of earth's treasure, and are setting your heart upon it unawares — remember, oh, remember! that possessions are not life. This house, this stock, this land are not your life. Remember that you may make these things your life. They may become you by an unconscious process of transfer. Are your goods you? Consider. Subtract from your thoughts, your imagination, your affections, your purposes, your property, what will be left? Will your very life be gone? Will it make no substantial difference? Will you be rich toward God?
3. The rich man assumed that he could reckon on the future. This was a terrible mistake: God waked him from it. He stands transfixed. He listens to the terrible voice: "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee." "This night." Can it be? In the very midst of his hopes and plans, with the barns unbuilt, the fields unreaped,the figs untasted? May he die to-night? Is it fixed? Must he die to-night? Can it be possible that with his fortune secured his life is insecure; not merely that, is doomed? Whether he lies down upon his bed, or sits and watches, with all the house alight, or flees from God, will death come to-night? And to-morrow morning will they be whispering, "He is dead"? Will another master stand here in the dewy field and see the skimming swallow, and hear the droning bee? Will all his wealth be another's to-morrow? Will another build the barns, another store and spend the harvest? Who was this fool? May it be you? Among the human remains exhumed at Pompeii are those of a woman laden with treasure, hastily seized and still hugged tightly in her arms. She was evidently caught on the very threshold of her own dwelling by the avalanche of ashes. Her sudden fright remains upon her face, indelibly printed there, an awful suggestion of the horrors of the unexampled tragedy. What figure could more fitly illustrate our Saviour's warning! Well might it be placed in every square of the city, with mutely eloquent dissuasion, to admonish us of the danger of a covetous love of this world. Look upon this ill-fated woman. Look upon the rich fool. Listen to the Saviour's words. Take heed, and beware of covetousness.
(G. R. Leavitt.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: