The Rich Fool!

William Bacon Stevens, 1857


Luke 12:13-21
Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."
Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."' "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

A striking feature in the parables of Jesus Christ, is their adaptation to the immediate circumstances in connection with which they were delivered. They are not fetched from afar--detached and isolated allegories. They are not strained and forced into positions to which they are not adapted; but they fall in most naturally with the subject of His discourse, and are mortised and tenoned so aptly to the occasion, that we can scarcely see the joint by which they are framed together.

The parable of the Rich Fool furnishes an instance of this felicitous illustration.

In the midst of a discourse to his disciples, one of the company, impatient of spiritual truth, and anxious only for worldly benefit, said unto Him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." But Jesus, aware of the jealousy of the Jews, should he exercise any judicial functions, said unto him, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?"

Whether this was a real cause, wherein a wronged brother desired one like our Lord, whom he considered a just umpire, to arbitrate between them--or whether, like the question of the Herodians about the tribute-money, or the efforts of the Scribes and Pharisees to extort from him a judgment concerning the woman professedly taken in adultery, a mere pretense to entrap him in his words, and, by causing him to exercise civil jurisdiction, furnish a ground of complaint against him, as a traitor or usurper--we know not. He was not entrapped--but, disclaiming all civil authority, and persisting in that of the Teacher, He warns him whose heart is so set upon a worldly inheritance, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

This great truth--that the real interests of life, the soul's life, lie outside our worldly possessions--a truth so opposed to the usual doctrines and feelings of the worldling, He enforces by a short but forcible parable, wherein covetousness, in its relations to God and man, time and eternity--is comprehensively portrayed.

Having delivered this parable and sealed it upon the mind by an aphoristic moral, Jesus resumes his discourse to his disciples, and leaves the offended brother to ponder the solemn truths which he had heard.

The first thing presented to us in this parable is the fact, that the riches of this man were honestly acquired. It was the legitimate produce of his fields. "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop." His wealth was not wrung from poverty, extorted by oppression, or amassed by fraudulent trade. It was not the result of greed and avarice, seeking out every avenue to gain and every method of accumulation--but the product of honest industry, crowned with the Divine blessing, "which makes the earth to bring forth abundantly and the clouds to drop fatness."

It was highly important to the success of this parable, that the riches of this man should be of this honest sort, for, had they been ill-gotten gains--the rebuke, in the minds of most people, would have rested upon the manner in which he acquired riches, rather than in the trusting to riches itself, however honestly obtained.

With the increase of his wealth, however--there is found no opening of his heart. The liberality of God to him calls out no liberality from him towards his fellow men; but, intent only upon hoarding up what he has: "He thought to himself--What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops."

"He thought to himself!" how expressive of the internal working of covetousness, which dares not utter itself in words--but which plots its plans in the recesses of the heart, away from the sight of men--but not away from the eyes of God.

Having revolved the matter on wholly selfish principles, never once thinking that he was God's steward to disburse those riches, rather than his banker to hoard them--he comes to a resolve "I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods." Beautifully does Ambrose allude to his perplexity about "having no place to store my crops." "No place!" "You have barns--
the bosoms of the needy;
the houses of the widows;
the mouths of orphans!"

To relieve the poor and the destitute did not, however, enter into his calculations; self-aggrandizement was his end and aim, as is evident by the address which he makes to his soul in view of the increase of his riches: "Soul, you have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry!" He felt himself placed by his actual abundance, beyond the caprice of fortune, and not thinking of the uncertainty of life, he settles down in the comfortable assurance, that henceforth his life will be one of enjoyment, with no cares to perplex, no toil to fatigue, no poverty to cramp, no fear to paralyze the desires and affections of his heart.

To human eyes, how bright and beautiful was his prospect! The future lay spread out before him enameled with light; visions of joy danced in jocund rounds before his eyes. He had . . .
no thought of sorrow;
no care for the morrow;
no concern for eternity.

He had entrenched his heart about with gold--adversities surely could not make a breach there! He had arranged all his schemes of life--death surely would not interrupt his long-cherished plans! He had just reached the point where most of all desired to live--the grave surely would not yawn beneath him at such a time!

It never seems to have occurred to him, that God, and not himself, was the disposer of his wealth, his happiness, his life. Absorbed in the things of time, his crops, his fields, his barns--he totally forgot his soul, or had any other idea of it, than that of a gross and sensual substance that could be filled and satisfied with the groveling things of earth. He was a materialist in doctrine--and a sensualist in practice!

But in this state of peace, plenty, and pleasure--his thoughts stretching out into the future, and his plans maturing to perfection, he is suddenly aroused by the voice of God, saying unto him, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?"

What a startling annunciation this! The curfew bell of the soul--extinguishing every light of hope and of joy, leaving it in the blackness of darkness forever! He was a "fool" to imagine that the soul needed no preparation for an exchange of worlds--for none he made or even thought of. He was a "fool" for supposing that his soul would be satisfied with wealth or pleasures of this world. He was a "fool" for believing that life had no other purpose than self-gratification, no other ends than sensual delights. He was a "fool" in thinking that his riches were his own, to hoard them in barns--rather than entrusted to him as a steward to disburse to the Lord's poor, and for the Lord's service.

Alas! how quickly do his dreams of pleasure, and schemes of greatness, and hopes of life--vanish at the solemn voice of God! Barns, stores, fruits, pleasures are scattered by that dread annunciation, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you!" Instead of building for a barn him--they must dig a grave! Instead of having "much goods laid up for many years"--he had nothing laid up for eternity! Instead of his soul taking ease and being merry--he must lie down in everlasting sorrow, saying "to corruption--you are my father; to the worm--you are my mother and my sister." So great is the change, so sudden the surprise, so mighty the wreck of wealth--when God calls the sinner to his judgment bar.

It was a saying of some of the Jewish doctors, that the angel Gabriel drew out the souls of the righteous by a gentle kiss upon their mouths. But not thus gentle was the death of the rich fool; for in the language of Theophylact, "Fearsome angels, like pitiless exactors of tribute, required of him, as a disobedient debtor--his soul." His departure was like that described by Job: "The wicked go to bed rich but wake to find that all their wealth is gone. Terror overwhelms them like a flood, and they are blown away in the storms of the night. The east wind carries them away, and they are gone. It sweeps them away. It whirls down on them without mercy."

Of the rich man thus driven away in his wickedness, Jesus well asks, "Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" He gathered--but another shall scatter; he laid up in store--but another shall lay out in waste; and what he provided for himself shall be used by others. In the words of the Psalmist, "He heaps up riches--and knows not who shall gather them."

Having thus interested them in the parable, our Lord draws out the moral in a short but comprehensive sentence. "So it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

"So,"--there is emphasis in this word, as it throws us back upon certain results, brought out in the rich man's case, which will find their parallel in the results of all who like him, "lay up treasure for themselves, and are not rich towards God."

"So," in the suddenness with which they shall be called away from their barns and wealth.

"So," in the scattering at their death of the riches, so carefully gathered in their life.

"So," in the requirements which will be made of their stewardship at the bar of God.

"So," in the folly of their course in setting their hearts solely upon things present and earthly.

"So," in the final ruin and misery which await all such rich fools beyond the grave.

But what is meant by "laying up treasure for himself?" The great pursuit of life, with most men--is the acquisition of wealth, as in the possession of it they expect to find their chief good and happiness. That money is the great idol of mankind--is evident to the most superficial observer. It is true that the people of this world have "Lords many and gods many"--but to Mammon is paid the chief homage of their hearts, and minds, and strength. Other idols have strong and powerful attractions--but their altars are deserted when Mammon beckons them away. The softest blandishments of pleasure, the most stirring scenes of ambition, the attractive pursuits of learning--yield to his superior claims.

All, of every rank and condition, are gathered together to the dedication of "the image of gold," which the Prince of this world has set up in the plains of earth. For money . . .
life is imperiled,
health is sacrificed, and
youth is blighted in the bud.

For money . . .
peace is discarded,
home is abandoned, and
friends are deserted.

There is nothing men will not do to get money! To acquire it, they will break every law of God, and every edict of man. They will . . .
stifle conscience,
hoodwink reason,
quench the Holy Spirit, and
barter every hope of Heaven!

Such is the universal passion, as demoralizing to man as it is hateful to God.

Leaving this general truth, and descending to particulars--the man who lays up treasures for himself, is one who regards his own interests alone. The eminently selfish man--such a one strives for riches, because riches beget honor. Want is always subservient to wealth; poverty always pays homage to plenty. He strives for riches--because riches bring pleasure. With wealth, he can gratify . . .
his senses,
his appetites,
his passions.

With wealth, he can . . .
build lordly mansions,
set up a stately equipage,
array himself in costly garments,
and fare sumptuously every day.

He strives for riches--because riches create influence and friends. "The rich man," says Solomon, "has many friends;" and again, "the rich man's wealth is his strong city." A moneyed man is always an influential man. He is always surrounded by those who call themselves friends, though in reality, they are fawning sycophants, human parasites. If born in poverty--his ambition is to rank among the rich; if born to fortune--he seeks to excel his ancestral wealth. If he springs from ignominy--he wishes to throw a mantle of gold over his mother's shame. Is he ignorant? wealth can atone for stupidity. Is he learned? wealth can ennoble knowledge, for "the crown of the wise is their riches."

Thus does the man, who lays up riches for himself, manifest, at all times (though it is often covered up from public view by an outward benevolence, which, after all, is concentrated egotism)--a grasping avarice, a clenching covetousness, a blunted conscience, a contracted, indurated heart. SELF is the center, self the radius, self the circumference of his plans!

He who lays up riches for himself--is one who regards this world alone. All the aims of such a man are bounded by the horizon of earth. He does not look beyond the earthly and sensual gratification which riches bestow--and he thinks not and cares not for another state of being. He counts upon life as extending many years. He boldly lays down plans which stretch far into the future. He toils on as if there was no death to interrupt his labors--as if life's tide would never ebb, as if earth had for him no grave. The world . . .
fills his eye,
engrosses his mind,
absorbs his affections,
and consumes his strength!

Oh, the short-sightedness and narrow-mindedness of the rich man! Well did David pray, "deliver my soul from men of the world--who have their portion in this life!" Well might our Lord declare, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle--than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of Heaven!" Well may God say of such, "You fool!" for when he shall be brought down to the grave, it shall be said, "Lo, this is the man who did not make God his strength--but trusted in the abundance of his riches; therefore shall his riches, like canker, eat into his soul forever!"

This is an outline sketch of one "who lays up riches for himself!" And if it appears so selfish and groveling to us--how abhorrent must it be to Him, who, looking beyond the outside coverings, searches the thoughts and tries the hearts of men!

But what is involved in the idea of being rich towards God? This implies two things:

1. Such a using of riches, as shall result to the glory of God. How this can be done is indicated in the 33rd verse of this chapter, "Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." And by the 20th verse of the 6th chapter of Matthew, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal."

Riches are used to the glory of God, and thus become, in a figurative sense, "treasures in Heaven," when the possessors of them regard themselves as stewards of God's bounty, and expend what they have, in the extension of Christ's kingdom on earth.

It must be confessed that much of the so-called benevolence of the day is nothing but refined selfishness, or egotistical philanthropy. Many give largely to a charitable object, because they know that a trumpet will be sounded before their alms, and it will "be seen by men." This is not true Christian benevolence, which, regarding ourselves as "bought with a price," and nothing that we have as our own--uses all in subordination to the one sacred principle of "doing all to the glory of God." The noblest use, then, to which wealth can be put--is to use it in carrying on those ordinances of grace and institutions of religion, which are linked with Christ's glory and man's salvation.

As these ordinances and institutions are extended, souls are saved, and every soul saved is a treasure laid up in Heaven. And as these means of grace are, in their earthly operations, sustained by money--so do we, through these benefactions, fulfill our Lord's injunction, and "lay up for ourselves treasures in Heaven," beyond the reach of thief, of rust, and of moth.

2. The expression, being rich towards God, implies a being rich in respect to God or Divine blessings. Under this phase of the subject, the riches do not consist in silver and gold, and goods, and fields, and barns, and plenty--but in that wealth of soul which is given by "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace." He only is truly rich--who has "put on Christ;" "for in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." For of such Christians, the Apostle says," all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's." He, therefore, who is so living by faith in the Son of God as to be daily advancing in godliness of heart, is, through the power of the Holy Spirit, laying up in Heaven treasures of love, joy, hope, peace--those soul-riches which will endure unto everlasting life.

When called from earth, instead of being like the rich fool--wrenched away from all his goods, wherein he trusted and delighted--he will pass to the full possession and enjoyment of that eternal, all-glorious, and undefiled inheritance which Christ has reserved for him in Heaven. He has sent his treasures before him--and death will bring him to his possessions again.

These two classes comprise all members of the human family. Under one or other of these heads, may each living being be ranked. To which do you belong?

Are you one of those . . .
laying up riches for yourselves?
endeavoring to satisfy your immortal soul with the husks of earth?
who live only for the world?
who concentrate all their interests in time?
who virtually ignore the soul, and Heaven, and God?

And do you not for such conduct, deserve to be called a fool? This is God's epithet--the deliberate judgment of infinite knowledge and wisdom; and it will be confirmed bye and bye by the accordant verdict of the universe. And what will you do when He whom you have thus far despised, shall say, "You fool! This night your soul shall be required of you!"

To all such, let me urge at once a radical change of conduct. Be no longer one of those who lay up treasures for themselves--but join yourselves to those who are rich towards God. Use your substance in such a manner as shall best prove your love, and gratitude, and reverence for God, and best advance the glory of His name and the salvation of souls.

And especially seek those spiritual riches which alone are to be found in Christ Jesus. The riches of faith, of hope, of love, of joy and peace in the Holy Spirit--"durable riches," which will ever increase in value, and ever impart bliss, when the world, with its treasures of gold and silver and precious stones, shall be burned up! Let your possessions be laid up in "everlasting habitations," not stored up on a world devoted to destruction!