Luke 12:13
Amid the important teaching of our Lord there comes an interlude by reason of a brother, who had been wronged out of his share of the inheritance, appealing for redress to Christ. He wanted our Lord to play the part of a small attorney and get conveyed to him some share. This our Lord deliberately declines to do, indicating that he has come into the world for higher work than worldly arbitration. This aspect of the subject has been well handled by Robertson of Brighton, and, following him, by Bersier of Paris. But our Lord does far better for the poor brother than if he had become arbitrator for him. He warns him against covetousness, and indicates that "a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." To back up the lesson, he relates a parable about a certain rich man whose whole concern was to multiply his possessions, but who is surprised by death while doing so. He leaves his wealth behind him, and enters the other world utterly poor. If by this timely warning our Lord succeeds in leading the claimant to the possession of better riches, then all will be well. And here we notice -

I. A MAN CAN FEVER BE SATISFIED WITH THINGS. (Ver. 15.) This is the great mistake men are making. They imagine that things can satisfy their hearts; whereas we are so constituted, with our affections and emotions, that fellowship with persons is indispensable to any measure of satisfaction, and to full satisfaction with no less a Being than God himself. All the effort, consequently, to be satisfied with things, with gifts, when the Giver is left out, proves vain. No abundance can satisfy the craving of the heart. And the feverish desire for more and more wealth on the part of worldly men demonstrates simply that they are on the wrong track altogether, and that satisfaction can never be found in things. Covetousness, consequently, as the idolatry of things, is a total mistake. It misinterprets human nature, and is doomed to terrible disappointment.

II. SUCCESS MAY DOOM MEN TO LIFELONG WRONG. (Vers. 16-18.) The rich fool, as the man in the parable has been generally called, is overwhelmed by success. It outgrows his calculations. His barns are too small; they must be pulled down to allow of bigger barns being built, so that years of anxious labor are provided out of his inordinate success. He gets steeped to the lips in care. His life becomes a ceaseless worry. His grasping only secures his misery. It is truly lamentable to witness the self-inflicted wrong which worldly minds experience as they try to garner more and more of this world's goods to the neglect of better things. How well our great dramatist understood this! In his poems Shakespeare says -

"The profit of excess
Is but to surfeit, and such griefs sustain,
That they prove bankrupt in this poor-rich gain.
The aim of all is but to nurse the life
With honor, wealth, and ease, in waning age;
And in this aim there is such thwarting strife,
That one for all, or all for one, we gage,
As life for honor in fell battle's rage,
Honour for wealth; and oft that wealth doth cost
The death of all, and altogether lost."

III. IN THE CAREER OF SUCCESS THERE IS ONLY A VAIN DESIRE FOR REST. (Ver. 19.) The soliloquy betrays the utter weariness of the man. After his bigger barns are built, away down the fretful years he will reach, he hopes, a time when he will be in a position to say to his soul, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." He longs for rest, but it will be years yet before he can think of it. All the worry and the fret of the interval must be passed before rest can come. His idea is to win rest by wealth; to buy it up by a certain measure of success. And the experience of all men is that rest is never got on this line at all. It is something that cannot be purchased, but must be God-given. How often do we see men who have retired with a competency at a loss how to kill time, and as weary and restless as ever!

IV. DEATH CUTS THE SOUL OFF AT ONCE FROM HIS WORLDLY POSSESSIONS. (Vers. 20, 21.) We never hear of millionaires carrying their money-bags with them. A moment after death Croesus is no richer than the beggar. The things which were so anxiously amassed remain to be divided among the heirs, while the owner goes out into another world absolutely penniless. The state to which death reduces him is pitiful indeed. Having forgotten God the Giver through occupation with his gifts, he faces his Judge without a single feeling or aspiration which, in God's sight, is valuable at all. A miserable and wretched soul receives dismissal from the gracious God whose bounty was ignored and whose Being was despised.

V. HOW ALL-IMPORTANT IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES TO ACCEPT OF CONTENTMENT AND REST AS THE SAVIOUR'S OFFERED GIFT. If the young man had accepted of contentment in place of cherishing covetousness, he would have been at ease at once. Rest of spirit and growth of spirit would thus have been secured, and he would have been on not only equal terms with, but most probably superior terms to, his more grasping brother. It is thus that Jesus deals with us. He can give us a present rest from sin, from worry, from care of all kinds, and make us rich in the sight of God. With the riches of the soul in graces and gifts, we may hope to pass into the Divine presence and enjoy the Divine society and escape being castaways. - R.M.E.







Who made Me a Judge era divider over you?
At first sight, Christ's refusal to interfere between these brothers seems astonishing. Is there not a question of justice to be decided? And who is so competent to deal with it as the Holy and Just One?

I. THE REASON OF THIS STRANGE REFUSAL. It is sometimes said that Jesus Christ only seeks the eternal salvation of the soul, and does not concern Himself about other human interests. This explanation is specious, and is eagerly accepted by infidelity. But we cannot leave such a weapon in the hands of unbelief. Our Lord assigns the highest importance to the soul's redemption from sin, and yet sympathizes with human nature in its entirety. Why, then, does Christ refuse to interfere in this dispute? There are two ways of reforming men — an external one and an internal one. The first method pronounces decisions, formulates laws, changes governments, and thus settles all moral and political questions. The second seeks, before every. thing 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. Observe here one or two results. Christ's refusal determines the relation of Christianity —

1. To political questions. I believe in the profound influence of Christianity on the political destiny of nations — it can help them to become free, great, and prosperous. But on what condition can it elevate them? Like Jesus Christ, it must act in a purely spiritual manner; it must free souls; it must preach justice, holiness, love.

2. To social problems. Christ's work consists in uniting in common respect and affection those who are divided by their interests. This mission should be ours. Let us oppose selfish pride and levelling envy; let us summon all men to prayer, to humiliation and to mutual pardon and love — to that sanctuary of spiritual equality where rich and poor meet together, remembering that God has made them both.

II. THE PRINCIPLE WHICH CHRIST ENUNCIATED,

(E. Bersier, D. D.)

There is no doubt that the greatest question of the day in Europe and even in America is Socialism. Socialism ought to be carefully distinguished from Communism; but the two words are often indiscriminately used, and this confusion renders Socialism odious to many, for —

"What is a Communist? One who hath yearnings,

For equal divisions of unequal earnings.

Idler or bungler, or both, he is willing

To fork out his penny and pocket your shilling."

"The magic of property," says Arthur Young," turns sand into gold." It has done more in this country to produce a spirit of self-help than State aid for the whole planet ever could do. In thus teaching the duty and necessity of self-help, the Church proves herself to be the chief friend of the poor. Not so Communism. By destroying the right of personal ownership in the means of production, and by fostering dependence on State-help, it undermines the energy and self-help of all classes, and is the enemy of the poor quite as much as of the rich. But was there not, many ask, a community of goods, and were not all things in common, in the primitive Church at Jerusalem. Certainly, but this community of goods was not compulsory, but purely voluntary. It did not come about by any sort of confiscation. "While it remained, was it not thine own?" were the words addressed to Ananias; "and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?" It was a voluntary act of love rather than a duty. Still less was it a right which the majority might assert against individuals. The estimate of comparative needs recognized when these Jerusalem Christians parted their possessions to all men, as every man had need, shows clearly that property was not alienated beyond control. This, then, was very different from the Communism taught at the present day, which demands an equality enforced by a central authority, and which, so far from inculcating a spirit of self-denial, looks for the self-indulgence of all. Modern Communists affirm that Communism was the natural outcome of the Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity implied in Christ's teaching. That the principle did not hold its ground is ascribed by them to the ambition and worldliness of the Church as she increased in power, especially after her official recognition as the State religion of the Roman Empire. On the other hand the defenders of the principle of individual property as opposed to Communism (which in their opinion is a "mutiny against society") deny that the Church ever sanctioned officially, or that her Founder ever recommended, such a custom as that of "having all things in common." As a matter of fact, we may say with an able Church historian, that the community in Jerusalem growing out of the society of the apostles, who were accustomed already to the common purse system, hit upon the daring plan of establishing a community of goods. And this was fostered by the first outburst of enthusiastic brotherly love, being all the more readily accepted in consequence of the prevailing expectation among the disciples of the approaching subversion of all things. Nowhere out of Jerusalem do we find any other early Christian community of goods. The arrangement at Jerusalem was not intended to be permanent, and perhaps those political economists are not far wrong who assert that it did more harm than good, and produced the chronic state of poverty that existed among "the poor saints at Jerusalem." The Master Himself had left no definite instructions as to the future social organization of His "little flock." It had been His plan all along to lay down general principles, leaving them to be worked out in the course of time, rather than to prescribe definite lines of conduct under given circumstances. The ideal of a perfect society was ever held up by Him to His most intimate disciples, he formed no plan, however, for realizing this ideal in a political polity. The working out of His principles was left to the "new leaven" which was to reform character, and thus indirectly society. The "patrimony of the poor" is not to be restored by means of violent social changes, but by moral influences working upon rich and poor alike. Christ's sympathy was with all classes, and He applied remedies to individuals in preference to propounding revolutionary theories for the construction of society. Happily the rich are beginning to recognize this truth. There is obviously an immense outgrowth in the generous distribution of wealth. But the rich have difficulties as well as the poor, and one of these lies in determining how to expend their money in a way that will prove beneficial to society. The question, "To whom or to what cause shall I contribute money?" must be a very anxious one to conscientious men of wealth. "How are we to measure," we may suppose rich men to ask, "the relative utility of charities? "The fact is, riches must now be considered by all good men as a distinct profession, with responsibilities no less onerous than those of other professions. And this very difficult profession of wealth ought to be learned by studying social science and otherwise with as much care as the professions of divinity, law, and medicine are learned. When in this way the rich accept and prepare themselves for the duties of their high calling, it will cease to be a cause of complaint that in the nature of things money tends continually to fall into the hands of a few large capitalists. The spirit of brotherly love which underlies Christian Socialism is being more and more understood in the present day." The great communistic principle, "All for each and each for all," is practically gaining ground.

(E. J. Hardy, M. A.)

Christian Age.
A camp-meeting incident taught us what manner of spirit was in this man. An honoured preacher was closing a moving sermon; his appeals to sinners were full of spiritual power; his voice was husky with deep feeling; the tears were streaming down his face as he urged sinners to repent and penitents to believe. A slight movement near by attracted our attention. Just outside the railing around the communion-place were two men deeply engaged. A life insurance agent, on one knee, ciphering out his arguments to his victim, who leaned toward him. The scene brought up the man who interrupted the sermon of Jesus. What would people think of a man who should, from his pew, cry out to the preacher in the midst of a mighty discourse, "What is the price of cotton to-day?" "What is gold worth?" He would perhaps be put out. Certainly he would deserve it. Such a man was he who broke in upon the sermon of Jesus with his request for the Master's intervention in the matter of a contested inheritance. How humiliating a thing it is that a man's mind could be so filled and saturated with business that the most solemn and awful words of even Jesus were heard as an idle, meaningless voice — heard and not feared. Mark our Lord's answer. He dismissed the man with one sharp word: "Man, who made Me a judge or a divider over you?" But the lesson must not be lost. This wickedness of utter worldliness is instructive. Turning to His disciples, Jesus "said unto them, Take heed and beware of covetousness." See what covetousness can do to the heart of man; see what it does in this man! It has consumed him!

(Christian Age.)

Mr. Richards, missionary in India, on his journey to Meerut, halted under the shade of a tree, in the outskirts of a large village, by the roadside. As he sat there two of the Zemindars of the neighbourhood came up, and respectfully saluting him, entreated him to act as an umpire between them, and settle a dispute in which they had been long involved about the boundaries of their respective lands. Mr. Richards declined interfering in the matter, but intimated his readiness to give them information respecting the important concerns of salvation. Having read and explained the Scriptures, they listened with attention and delight. The disputants embraced each other with apparent cordiality, and avowed that they would dispute no more about their lands, but love each other, and strive to seek and serve God.

(W. H. Baxendale.)

It may seem strange that to so natural a request Christ should return so discouraging an answer, and, withal, apply it with such a parable. But there are two things to be considered.

1. That it was not Christ's mission to reorganize society immediately, nor by a demonstrative act, but that He undertook to reorganize society by implanting those principles which should work in us reorganific wisdom. Certain great influences were to be infused into the heart, which gradually but surely would work out all needed changes, and work them out in the order of their proper succession and growth. It was for Christ to prepare the great influences and principles that the world needed, but for us to carry them out into practical execution. It is for God to bring forth the spring, and all its genial influences, upon the earth; but men must avail themselves of these influences, and by the plough, and by the seed, and by the ready hand of tillage, prepare the harvests that they are to reap. And so, in the New Testament, there are authoritatively established principles of love and justice, which, if practised, would evolve the world's harmony. And it is our business, each in his own place, and with reference to the age in which he lives, to apply these principles, and to change the face of society, and the administration of affairs in the world. This was the reason why our Saviour did not undertake that which He was asked to do.

2. But, in the case in hand, although there might be a matter of great injustice in the partition of the estate, the elder and stronger and shrewder, perhaps, getting advantage of the younger, and defrauding him; yet it was quite possible that both of these brothers might be alike under the influence of corroding and hateful avarice. A man may demand his dues with a spirit just as selfish as that which withholds them. A man may be just as selfish in seeking his rights as another man is in withholding them from him. Both the despot and his victim — the evil-doer and the evil-sufferer — may be in a like selfishness, in a common bitterness, and in a common guilt. Human life is full of such cases and scenes. Every day, men that are hard, coarse, selfish, avaricious, envious, contentious, are striving together, and in full conflict, each sometimes wronged and sometimes wronging; but either way, and always, actor or recipient, of a worldly spirit, of a corrupt nature, of an intense selfishness, of a despotic pride, unjust and unlovely. While Christ refused, then, to assume the office of civil justice, or to interfere even by advice, He gave to both of these men, and to all upon that occasion, the instruction which the motive of the petitioner seemed to suggest.

(H. W. Beecher.)

I. THE SAVIOUR'S REFUSAL TO INTERFERE.

1. He implied that it was not His part to interfere. "Who made Me a Judge or a Divider?" He stands aloof, sublime and dignified. It was no part of His to take from the oppressor and give to the oppressed, much less to encourage the oppressed to take from the oppresser himself. It was His part to forbid oppression. It was a Judge's part to decide what oppression was. It was not His office to determine the boundaries of civil right, nor to lay down the rules of the descent of property. Of course there was a spiritual and moral principle involved in this question. But He would not suffer His sublime mission to degenerate into the mere task of deciding casuistry. He asserted principles of love, unselfishness, order, which would decide all questions; but the questions themselves He would not decide. He would lay down the great political principle, "Render unto Caesar the things that be Caesar's, and unto God the things which are God's." But He would not determine whether this particular tax was due to Caesar or not. So, too, He would say, justice, like mercy and truth, is one of the weightier matters of the law; but He would not decide whether in this definite case this or that brother had justice on his side. It was for themselves to determine that, and in that determination lay their responsibility. And thus religion deals with men, not cases; with human hearts, not casuistry.

2. In this refusal, again, it was implied that His kingdom was one founded on spiritual disposition, not one of outward law and jurisprudence. That this lawsuit should have been decided by the brothers themselves, in love, with mutual fairness, would have been much; that it should be determined by authoritative arbitration was, spiritually speaking, nothing. The right disposition of their hearts, and the right division of their property thence resulting, was Christ's kingdom. The apportionment of their property by another's division had nothing to do with His kingdom. Suppose that both were wrong — one oppressive, the other covetous. Then, that the oppressor should become generous, and the covetous liberal, were a great gain. But to take from one selfish brother in order to give to another selfish brother, what spiritual gain would there have been in this? Suppose again, that the retainer of the inheritance was in the wrong, and that the petitioner had justice on his side — that he was a humble, meek man, and his petition only one of right. Well, to take the property from the unjust and give it to Christ's servant, might be, and was, the duty of a judge. But it was not Christ's part, nor any gain to the cause of Christ. He does not reward His servants with inheritances, with lands, houses, gold. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Christ triumphs by wrongs meekly borne, even more than by wrongs legally righted.

3. He refused to be the friend of one, because He was the friend of both. He never was the champion of a class, because He was the champion of humanity. We may take for granted that the petitioner was an injured man — one at all events who thought himself injured; and Christ had often taught the spirit which would have made his brother right him; but He refused to take his part against his brother, just because he was his brother — Christ's servant, and one of God's family, as well as he. And this was His spirit always. The Pharisees thought to commit Him to a side when they asked whether it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not. But He would take no side as the Christ — neither the part of the government against the taxpayers, nor the part of the taxpayers against the government,

II. THE SOURCE TO WHICH HE TRACED THIS APPEAL FOR A DIVISION. He went to the very root of the matter. "Take heed and beware of covetousness." It was covetousness which caused the unjust brother to withhold; it was covetousness which made the defrauded brother indignantly complain to a stranger. It is covetousness which is at the bottom of all lawsuits, all social grievances, all political factions. The true remedy for this covetousness He then proceeds to give. "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesses." Now observe the distinction between His view and the world's view of humanity. To the question, What is a man worth? the world replies by enumerating what he has. In reply to the same question, the Son of Man replies by estimating what he is. Not what he has, but what he is, that, through time and through eternity, is his real and proper life. He declared the presence of the soul; He announced the dignity of the spiritual man; He revealed the being that we are. Not that which is supported by meat and drink, but that whose very life is in truth, integrity, honour, purity.

(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

The Word of God, my friends, affords men direction in all the circumstances of life, inasmuch, at least, as it contains general rules which may be applied to particular cases.

I. INJUSTICE AND QUARRELS BETWEEN NEAR CONNECTIONS REGARDING THE PROPERTY OF DECEASED RELATIONS ARE VERY UNSEEMLY AND UNCHRISTIAN. It sometimes happens that the head of a family, or a very near relation, is no sooner laid in the grave, than the survivors, who expect to benefit in their substance by his decease, begin to strive about what he leaves behind him. How unbecoming, in the very face of such a memento of the vanity of earthly things, to be carried away by the desire of having, and that in such a way as to overlook the ordinary proprieties of life! Common feeling, not to speak of any higher principle, should at least teach them to keep such disputes to themselves (if they do at all arise), and not to outrage decency by making them public.

II. We may remark, from this passage, that those WHO HAVE ANY PROPERTY TO LEAVE BEHIND THEM SHOULD BE CAREFUL TIMEOUSLY TO SETTLE THEIR AFFAIRS BY A LATTER WILL, SO THAT JUSTICE MAY BE DONE AND DISPUTES PREVENTED AFTER THEY ARE GONE. In some cases the law of the land may be sufficient to divide an inheritance as justice and a man's own reasonable inclination might desire. In most cases, however, there would be room for litigation; and in many cases, especially where there is much property, something that equity or mercy requires will be neglected if there be no distinct testament. How far a man is at liberty to consult his own particular wishes on such an occasion, independently on the general principles of nearness of kindred, which are usually observed, is a very difficult question. No particular rules can be laid down to meet every case. The Christian should consult conscience, the Word of God, and, perhaps, also a judicious friend or two.

III. THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST DOES NOT INTERFERE WITH CIVIL RIGHTS OR HUMAN LAWS. NO doubt it is intended and fitted to influence them indirectly, for everything ought to be managed in a way consistent with its holy precepts; but it gives no countenance to its adherents to disregard existing institutions or to usurp the places assigned to others. Dominion is not founded on grace. The provinces of civil and ecclesiastical government are quite distinct. Not but that they may, and should, be so managed as mutually to assist each other; but still, their office is distinct, and relates to quite different things.

IV. Once more here, THIS PASSAGE IS UNFAVOURABLE TO MINISTERS ENGAGING IN SECULAR BUSINESS, ANN ESPECIALLY IN PUBLIC CIVIL OFFICES. (Jas. Foote, M.A.)

I. A RUDE INTERRUPTION.

1. This suggests a sad but common occurrence. Worldly thoughts obtruding themselves at unseasonable times.

2. This suggests a constantly-needed but oft-neglected duty. To take heed how we hear.

II. A FITTING REBUKE.

1. It rebuked the man for his gross view of our Lord's mission.

2. It rebuked the man for the worldliness of his spirit.

III. A MORAL LESSON.

1. The subject — covetousness.

(1)Covetousness is "an inordinate desire for gain"; "an avaricious disposition"; "a disposition to have more than others."

(2)Covetousness is foolishness.

(a)For after it has attained its object there is no satisfaction.

(b)It unfits the soul to enjoy spiritual things.

2. The elucidation of the subject.

(1)A parable.

(2)A very instructive parable.

(a)It shows God's goodness to the wicked (ver. 16).

(b)It shows the inadequacy of worldly prosperity to inspire gratitude (ver. 18).

(c)It shows the degrading influence of worldly thoughts:

(d)It shows the shortsightedness of worldliness.

(e)It shows that God's eye is on all.

(f)It shows the uncertainty of life.

(g)It shows the relation of time to eternity.

3. The Divine application.

(1)Selfishness and godliness incompatible (ver. 21).

(2)Anxiety a sin (ver. 22).

(3)The great duty. To be "rich toward God."

(D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

I. COVETOUSNESS IN ITS BEARING UPON THE RECEPTION OF TRUTH.

1. Consider for a moment the truths which Jesus had just been uttering.

(1)The sin of hypocrisy.

(2)The sin of the man-fearing spirit.

(3)The comprehensiveness of God's care.

(4)The blessed consequences of confessing Christ, and the dreadful consequences of denying Christ.

(5)The appalling sin — the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

(6)The Divine help promised in times of persecution.

2. In the midst of utterances such as these, this man, filled with worldly thoughts, interrupted our Lord in His address.

(1)Of how many in our day is this man a representative!

(2)The most solemn truths uttered in the sanctuary, or spoken by friends, often fall as seed upon a hard-beaten road.

II. COVETOUSNESS IN ITS BEARING UPON THE SOUL'S TRUE JOY. Two things are here stated.

1. That our Lord's mission was not to interfere in secular affairs.

2. That "a man's life," in the sense of true joy, does not arise from wealth or position or fame.

III. COVETOUSNESS IN ITS BEARING ON OUR FINAL DESTINY.

1. The parable shows that the most selfish of men may be prospered in worldly affairs.

2. The parable shows that the most abundant prosperity of the worldly-minded only intensifies their selfishness and blinds their spiritual vision.

3. This parable shows that, however farsighted and shrewd worldly-minded men may be in their business affairs, it is by their spiritual condition that God judges them.

4. This parable shows that the uncertainty of the time of death should have its legitimate weight with them.Lessons:

1. The sin to which our attention is here called is the crying sin of our age.

2. This is one of the most subtle and unconscious of all classes of sins to which we may be exposed.

3. It is a sin the most difficult to be reached by truth.

4. It is no less heinous and damning, because it is so subtle and unconscious.

(D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

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