Because you say, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that you are wretched, and miserable…
Man is by nature the neediest of all beings. Nor is it, as some might maintain, his disgrace and the signal of his inferiority that he is thus needy, but rather the mark of his native glory and pre-eminence. For it points to the number and greatness of his faculties. The lower the creature, the less his need; for the more feeble his sensibilities, narrow his powers, and torpid his desires. But, from the most sagacious and strongest of the animal tribes, how vast the difference, in capacity of intellect and feeling, to man! And no less vast the difference of need. He draws from the earth, from the water, and from the air, to satisfy his appetites and to satiate his curiosity; he ransacks every kingdom of nature for his comfort and aggrandisement, and is not content. Is there, then, no satisfaction for a man? God has not made His noblest creature for a wretched failure and a miserable want. Let him bring into light all his abilities and desires — they are not too many or too strong; those of the higher nature as well as the lower; those that tend up to God Himself and heaven and immortality, as well as those that tend downwards and abroad to earthly things. Let him unfold them without fear. The vast supplies from the foreseeing Creator, in the treasury of His truth, are ready. Let him appropriate them to his need. Man is a being that does not need daily bread and clothing and shelter alone; but he needs truth, needs duty, needs love, needs God. The mistake is in trying to gratify fully his nature with such outward things, neglecting the spiritual. It is just this foolhardy and hazardous assurance of satisfaction in outward prosperity, that I apprehend, the author of our text means to expose. Man — whosoever thou art, content with sensual good and clinging to outward treasure — that is not the true gold with which thou fillest thy coffers. That is not the durable raiment with which thou art clad. There are riches of goodness for the heart. To sustain this exhortation, it is not necessary to speak in the exclusive ardour of one idea, but the sober proportion that takes in man's whole estate. He needs, by various education, to get possession of all his members and faculties. He needs to fabricate, needs to manufacture, needs to discover and invent, needs to trade, needs to accumulate; so that every industrial faculty may be brought out, every hand employed, every talent put in motion — nay, so that the community itself may not fail, but be civilised. In setting before you a moral and spiritual need, I certainly do not forget these personal, social, and political necessities, nor would shove them by an inch from their place; but, admitting the latter, maintain the supreme importance, the predominating position of the former. The dull caterpillar may be content with lying upon the ground, hardly appearing animated, like a lump or brown leaf, when the wings are actually folded up within, to bear it into the sunshine and among all the blossoms of the landscape. So a man may be content with a low, earth-bound life, a state of half-manhood, because unconscious of the heaven-bestowed capacities by which he might live above the world. But the mere force of nature will not unfold the man as it does the insect. He may discourage and keep down these wings of the soul. He may, by sin and his rebellious will, wound and mutilate them as they instinctively strive to expand. Yet he cannot remain for ever unconscious of their existence. He cannot exercise them in the mean ways of the world in which he treads. Lacking their true element and use, they will pine and wither with dissatisfaction and remorse. We need the principle of devotion to God and others' good. We need the practice of the two great commandments of love to God and man. We need to be humble, need to be patient, need to be meek, to the Father above and our brethren below. We need these dispositions, not only as paying our debt to them, though they are our debt, but as the indispensable requisites of our own well-being.
(C. A. Bartol.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: