To the earnest teacher nothing can be more irritating than a half-attentive attitude or a remark which indicates preoccupation of mind with other and inferior things. Think of Christ, towards the close of a day of controversy with the Pharisees, and in the midst of solemn speech as to the duty of a true man, invited on a sudden to decide in a family quarrel, to settle a dispute about some money or some acres of soil. We know nothing about the person who appealed to him ( Luke 12:13 )—"one out of the multitude." But it is evident that, while the discourse proceeded, he had been engrossed with the consideration of his own rights and interests; like many who may be in the multitude thronging around Jesus, but are secretly busied with their own concerns—earth-grubs, intent only on getting all they can get from others for themselves. The abrupt reply ( Luke 12:14 ) shows the displeasure of the Lord. It is a reply of reproof; it is a reply of instruction also. God has a great variety of spheres and ministries for men, and the Son of God will not contravene his Father's ordering. The judge, the measurer, the arbiter as to property, is a Divine calling. Those who are entrusted with it are God's servants. The State is no less sacred than the Church. Let each realize its own place, and each respect the other—the State looking to the Church as the expounder of the eternal principles, the Church looking to the State as charged with government and the settlement of the issues between man and man. "My kingdom," says the Christ, "is not of this world." The incident gives a new direction to the teaching of Jesus. It is a disclosure of the mind against which he must warn his followers. And then follows one of the most solemn and beautiful of expositions—that in which the Lord conveys his great lesson as to worldliness. Observe
specially addressed to the disciples, between Luke 12:21 and Luke 12:32 . The more public is the admonition concerning covetousness ; the more private is the admonition concerning carefulness. The two types of the one spirit—worldliness.
I. The former instruction is enforced by a parable, by observing the point of which we discern THE MEANING WHICH CHRIST GIVES TO THE WORD " COVETOUSNESS ," AND THE PRINCIPLE IN RELATION TO IT WHICH HE LAYS DOWN . Notice, it is the most insinuating, therefore the most dangerous, form of the temptation which is presented. The ground ( Luke 12:16 ) of a man already rich brings forth plentifully. There is no dishonesty charged; there is no financial finesse suggested; it is in the natural course of things. The money makes money, and good soil and good harvests aid, The covetousness is the greed of having rather than getting ; it is manifest in the thought as to that which has been already got. The anxiety is to treasure up for self. Existing barns are insufficient ( Luke 12:17 , Luke 12:18 ). What is to be done? There never enters the thought of any stewardship of the substance with which the man is enriched; never the feeling, "What I have God has given me. The labor of others, too, has helped me to acquire it. I am the custodian of so much of a commonwealth. God wills that I enjoy richly, but not that I keep all to myself. I enjoy in the measure in which the use of the gifts unites me to the will of him who is the Giver." Bengel remarks, "Not a word of the poor in all his self-communion." It is simply a hard, selfish "greater barns." Covetousness is not the desire to enjoy so much as the desire to have. First, the having of a great store; then, not until then ( Luke 12:19 ), "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." Very delicate is the Master's touch. The happiness in the wealth is a thing future, and the future never comes. Do we not often see abundance going about with a load of care on its back—fear about losses, anxiety about investments, etc.? The wealthy are often prevented from getting the full good of their wealth. They are possessed by their money more than they are possessors of their money. "The increase serves not as water to quench, but as fuel to feed the fire; he that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver." Christ is not condemning wealth or denouncing abundance of things. "The filling of the barns with plenty, and the bursting out of the vats with new wine," is represented ( Proverbs 3:9 , Proverbs 3:10 ) as the blessing prepared for those who honor the Lord with their substance. What he condemns is the vice which specially threatens the rich—the tendency to identify the life with the possessions ( Luke 12:15 ), to love the money, to hoard it, and regard it all as a treasure to be devoted to self. And truly the words of the Truth are most needful for our time. "The desire to accumulate is the source of all our greatness and of an our baseness." The baseness begins when the barn, with its "much goods" is regarded as the soul's portion; when that is the man's main interest; and, looking on to some day when the pile will be complete, he says in himself, "Then eat, drink, and be merry." Very striking the sentence ( Luke 12:20 ). "God says, Thou fool!" Folly indeed! Thomas Adams quaintly says, "The competency of earthly things is a blessing; but what is this to abundance? Is not he as warm that goes in russet as another that rustles in silk? Has not the poor laborer as sound a sleep in his flock bed as the epicure on his down bed? Doth not quiet lie oftener in cottages than in glorious mansions? And, for a good appetite, we see the toiling servant feed savourly of one homely dish when his surfeited master looks loathingly on his far-fetched and dearly bought dainties. This gentleman envies the happiness of his poor hind, and would be content to change states with him on condition he might change stomachs. It is not the plenitude, but the competency of these things that affords even content; so that a man's estate should be like his garment, rather fit than long." Folly indeed! What stupidity to contemplate the many years! "This night thy soul shall be required." Thy soul, thyself, without all the goods. "When I die, let my hands be outside my shroud," said the emperor, "that all may see they are empty." And what is to become of the "much goods"? Pass into the hands of others, possibly only to do them harm, neither the accumulator nor his kind made the better for all the gathering. "Fool, fool! this thou art, O man, who, without generosity of heart or liberality of hand, day by day scrapest the dust of earth to thy store, oblivious of the celestial crown above thy head, rich in man's estimation, but ( Luke 12:21 ) a pauper, a bankrupt towards God."
II. THE MORE GENERAL INSTRUCTION SOUNDS THE WARNING , "Take heed, and keep yourselves. from all covetousness." The more special and private instruction to the disciples is joined to the preceding parable by a "therefore" ( Luke 12:22 ). It, too, is an admonition against worldliness. It presents that aspect of the worldly spirit which more immediately tempted the disciples of Jesus; it gives also the key-note for that higher life which, as those joined to the Lord, they are called to live. The two parts of the discourse illustrate the meaning of St. Paul's saying as to "the new man created after God, in righteousness and true holiness [or, 'holiness of truth']" ( Ephesians 4:24 ). The righteousness which is incumbent on all, from the very nature of their existence and their relation to God and men, is represented in the part already considered; "the holiness of truth"—that plus which is because of our place in the body of Christ, and our relation to him as the Head of the body—is represented in the beautiful words which are prefaced by the injunction, "Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on." With some variations, a part of the sermon from the mount is repeated (see homiletics on the sermon). One or two remarks will here suffice.
1 . The life which marks the holiness of the new man created in Christ Jesus consists in a supreme preference ( Luke 12:31 ). What distinguishes this life is that it has a "rather" or a "howbeit" at its heart. Its first concern is the kingdom of the Father; its second is ( Luke 12:30 ) the things which the nations of the world seek after. "These things"—eating, drinking, clothing, etc., have their value. But the mind is not in search of them. They are not its good or portion. Its sympathies and craving are towards the eternally right and true. To realize that in self, and aid its fulfillment everywhere, is the highest aim and object of the being. The property of the soul rich towards God is, indeed, a vast property; but it has heights as well as lengths; it is the threefold estate—"all things are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's." The things which the nations of the world seek after are given into the bargain, so to speak, as far as they are necessities, to all who seek the Father's kingdom.
2 . For those in whom this life is formed, a rule is laid down ( Luke 12:22 ), "Be not anxious as to these things." The rendering of the Greek word in the Authorized Version might mislead. Christ himself has taught us to take thought for our life—to provide for the morrow. He bade his disciples gather up the fragments, that nothing might be lost. He had a bag, of which Judas was the bearer, from which things needful were purchased. It is a sign of the savage, not the civilized man, to live only for the present hour, wasting what he does not immediately consume. The teaching is that, living the true life, and preferring what is right to what is merely politic, we may reckon on God for the supply of all our need. As to eating and drinking, we will not ask the satiety of abundance, we will ask only sufficiency; and on this we may rely. He who feeds the ravens will not forget those who faithfully serve him ( Luke 12:23 , Luke 12:30 ). We are to labor constantly and diligently whilst we have strength, to sow and reap, to "provide things honest; "for labor is God's appointed means of feeding and clothing—as even the raven witnesses, which God feeds, but which yet is ever picking what it can find; as even the lily witnesses, which is faithful to the conditions of its growth. But we are to toil with a free heart, delivered from carking and worrying care, turning ever trustfully to the love of our Father in heaven. Matthew Henry puts it thus: " As in our stature, so in our state, it is our wisdom to take it as it is, and make the best of it; for fretting and vexing, carking and caring, will not mend it." "Do not live in suspense; do not cherish the doubting, doubtful mind," says the Lord to his followers. "Do not fear. A little flock you may seem; but the shepherding is perfect. Live generously, self-denyingly, self-sacrificingly (verse 31). The purses which hold good deeds never wax old. The treasure bestowed on that which is out of sight is laid up in the heavens (verse 33), and no thief can abstract it, and no moth can destroy it. Living in the unseen, in God's kingdom of grace as its subjects, your heart (verse 34) will settle towards its treasure; you will be prepared and fitted to be the princes of your Father's kingdom of glory."
A warning against covetousness.
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 . ( Luke 12:15 .) 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 . ( Luke 12:16-18 .) 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 . ( Luke 12:19 .) 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 . ( Luke 12:20 , Luke 12:21 .) 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.
The Lord , after leaving the Pharisee ' s house , speaks at great length to a numerous crowd waiting for him , addressing his words principally to his own disciples. The foregoing scene ( Luke 11:1-54 .), when the Master addressed his bitter reproaches to the learned and cultivated of the great Pharisee party, took place in a private house belonging to an apparently wealthy member of this, the dominant class. The name of the large village or provincial town where all this happened is unknown. The crowd who had been listening to the great Teacher before he accepted the Pharisee's invitation still lingered around the house. Many from the adjoining villages, hearing that Jesus was in this place and was publicly teaching, had arrived; so, when the Lord came out from the guest-chamber into the street or market-place, he found a vast crowd—literally, myriads of the multitude—waiting for him. The words descriptive of the crowd in ver. I indicate that a vast concourse was gathered together. His fame then was very great, though his popularity was on the wane.
The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully. The unhappy subject of the Lord's story was a common figure in Palestine in an ordinarily prosperous time. We have the portrait of a landowner whose farms do not seem to have been acquired by any unjust means. This man, after years of successful industry, having acquired great wealth, wholly devotes himself to it and to its further increase. He does not give himself up to excess or profligacy, but simply, body and soul, becomes the slave of his wealth; utterly, hopelessly selfish, he forgets alike God and his neighbor.