And he spoke a parable to them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:…
I. THE SINFULNESS OF THE RICH MAN. Notice the remarkable fact that he addressed his soul, when forming his plan for a long course of selfishness. Now, what had the soul to do with the indulgencies and enjoyments which he thought his riches would procure? Is it the soul which eats? Is it the soul which drinks? Is it the soul which luxuriates in voluptuous ease? Had he addressed his body, and thus seemed forgetful or ignorant of its being immortal, we must have wondered at him less, and had thought him less degraded; but to confess that he had a soul, and then to speak to that soul as though it were material, a mere animal thing, with fleshly appetites and passions, this marked him, at the very outset, as the creature of sensuality; as though he knew no higher use of faculties which distinguished him from the brute, than to give a zest to gratifications which he had in common with-the brute I But, nevertheless, there was truth in the address of the sensualist; he was not so mistaken as at first he may appear. He spake, indeed, to the soul as though he had reckoned it a part of the body, and thus seemed strangely to confound the corporeal and the spiritual; but was he actually guilty of an absurdity? With such a speech to make, ought he to have addressed himself exclusively to the body? Nay, he was more candid, rather than more ignorant, than the great mass of sensualists. Our accusation against men in general is, that they have made themselves all body. Through the corruption of human nature, and through the habits and practices of unrighteousness, the soul is so debased, and so surrenders the ascendency to the flesh, that man becomes as literally a mere animal, living only to gratify animal propensities, and looking not beyond the present scene of being, as though the immortal principle were extinguished, in place of dormant, and death were to be annihilation. We want to know whether, with the great body of unconverted men, it would virtually make much perceptible difference if they had no souls. What is there in their conduct which indicates the workings of an inextinguishable principle, or which would necessarily be much altered, if, in place of being inextinguishable, it were declared of this principle, that it should be quenched at death? So that the rich sensualist was not far wrong in speaking to his soul, as though it were his body. True, indeed, the soul could not literally eat, the soul could not literally drink; but the soul might have no taste, no relish, for spiritual things, the whole man might be given up to corporeal indulgencies, and the soul might be in such subjection, such slavery, to the flesh, as to think of nothing but how to multiply its gratifications or to increase their intenseness. And the case is thoroughly the same, when a man is not given up to mere animal pleasures. But now we wish to point out another thing to you — that the very essence of idolatry is discernable in this address of the rich man to his soul. It may justly be said, that the rich man substituted his stores for God, put them in the place of God, or looked to them to do for him what God alone could do. Capital is to this man in the place of Divinity; and he is virtually saying to his soul, not as the Christian ought to say, "Soul, thou hast a never-failing Guardian, who will be sure to provide for thee through the shifting scenes of life," but, as a worshipper of his own possessions might say — "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." But we do not suppose that we have even yet reached the extreme point of this rich man's offence. He must have greatly provoked God by his materialism, and probably still more by his idolatry, but it was to neither of these that God pointedly referred when He interfered in just judgment, and we therefore conclude that it was in another particular that the chief offence lay. And this particular seems to have been his reckoning on many years of life. If it had been his idolatry which had specially provoked retribution, it would probably have been on the immediate object of idolatry that vengeance would have descended. God might have said, "I will fatally blight thine harvest; I will utterly burn up thy crops: where then will be thy sustenance, where thy boasted security against want?" But the judgment is evidently directed against the insolent expectation of long life. The speech is virtually, "Thou hast assumed, or taken for granted, that thou hast many years to live, utterly forgetful that the times of every man are in My hand, and for this I will instantly visit thee. 'O fool! this night thy soul shall be required of thee.'" The rich man is called a fool, and is upbraided as a fool, on the ground of his having supposed himself quite sure of life; so that evidently the reckoning on the distance of death is given as what, more than anything else, had displeased God in his conduct. It is as though God could have borne yet longer with his voluptuousness, though he had actually confounded the material with the spiritual, and debased the soul into a mere slave to the flesh; it is as though God could have borne yet longer with his idolatry, though he had substituted his own storehouses for a presiding Deity, and given to the hoarded corn all the confidence which should have been given to an ever-active providence; but when he presumed to make sure of life, to reckon, not only that his goods would last many years, but that he should have many years in which to enjoy them, then it seems as if the provocation were complete, and vengeance could no longer be deferred. And there is evidently a peculiar invasion, as it were, of the prerogatives of God, whensoever a man calculates that death is yet distant. Life is that of which, even in appearance, no man can have a stock in hand. The life of to-morrow cannot be stored up to-day; though, in a certain sense, the supply of to-morrow's wants may be, supposing that we live till to-morrow. There is not, therefore, that shadow of an excuse for reckoning on the prolongation of life, which there may be for reckoning on a provision for its wants. The man who has a large stock of corn shows himself indeed unmindful of the sovereignty of God, if he conclude that on that account he cannot live to be needy; but he is infinitely outdone by another, who, because he believes himself in strong health, confidently concludes that he shall not soon die. We want very much to press this on your consideration. Every man who is not labouring earnestly to save the soul is reckoning on long life. We care not whether or not he acknowledge this to others, we care not whether or not he acknowledge it to himself: he may profess a thorough belief in the uncertainty of life, but the fact is that he makes sure of life, and the proof is that he takes no pains to secure his salvation. If he knew that he should die in a-week, if he knew that he should die in a month, he would not keep the next world out of sight, but would labour with all earnestness to prepare for the change which could not be deferred. And what, then, can it be, but a secret persuasion that he shall not die in a week, or that he shall not die in a month, which makes him altogether neglectful of the soul's interests? He would not be thus neglectful if persuaded that "in the midst of life we are in death," and it is fair to conclude that he is neglectful because not so persuaded, or rather because persuaded of precisely the reverse. And the fearful thing is, that this very reckoning upon life, which men would hardly perhaps think of classing amongst their sins, may be the most offensive part of their conduct in the eye of the Almighty, and draw upon them the abbreviation of that life, and thus the loss of the expected opportunities of repentance and amendment. A man determines that he will taste a little more pleasure, or accumulate a little more wealth, before attending to the high duties of religion. Now the great provocation may not be, as you might at first sight suppose, in the preference of worldly pleasure or worldly wealth to what is celestial and enduring, but in concluding that he shall have the time in which to eat or to drink or to gather in money. God did not strike down the rich man whose history is before us, so much because he was a sensualist, as because he was a fool — a fool in making sure of life when there was nothing to assure him, and in reckoning on life as a fixed term when it is only held from moment to moment. Oh! how easy to overlook this 1 how easy to keep out of sight the sin of reckoning upon life, whilst we are quite aware of the sin of misspending life!
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: