One pretends to be rich, but has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.
I. THE GUILT OF CONVEYING A FALSE VIEW OF OURSELVES; whether this be done by the merchant in his office, or by the charlatan on the platform, or by the quack in his surgery, or by the preacher in his pulpit, or by the "philanthropist" in the newspaper, or by the man or woman of embellishment in society, or by the artist on canvas, or by the author in his book, or whether done by the common miser or the conscienceless beggar. Here is the double iniquity of:
1. Falsehood, or, at any rate, falseness. The man is false to himself, and forgets what is due to himself; consequently, he does that which wrongs and injures himself.
2. Fraud; imposture. A man practises on his neighbours; he deceives them; in the worst cases he induces others to run most serious risks to their health or their fortune.
II. THE MISFORTUNE OF FORMING A WRONG ESTIMATE OF OURSELVES.
1. This is sometimes an appropriate penalty. For if a man "makes himself" rich or poor in the eyes of others, it is extremely likely that he will before long imagine himself to be so. It is one of the well attested facts of human experience, that what men try to persuade their fellows to think, they come in time to believe themselves. And this holds good when the object as well e,s the subject is the man himself. Try to convince others that you are clever, learned, kind, pious, and before many months have been spent in the endeavour you will actually credit yourself with these qualities. And the result is an entirely mistaken view of yourself. This is a punitive consequence; for there is no moral condition from which we have such urgent need to pray and strive that we may be delivered. Is it not the last stage on the downward road?
2. It is a grave spiritual peril. Solemn, indeed, is the warning addressed by the risen Lord to the Church at Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-19). But no warning can be too serious or too strong, whether addressed to the Church or the individual, when there is a false estimate of self, a supposition of wealth which is but imaginary, a false confidence which, if not awakened now, will be terribly aroused and shattered further on.
3. But a false estimate of ourselves may be, not a penalty, but rather a pity. When the heart thinks itself (makes itself) poor and destitute, while it is really "rich toward God," it suffers as it need not suffer, and it lacks the strength for doing good which it need not lack. And this is not unfrequently the case. Men have been misinstructed concerning the kingdom of Christ; and long after they have been within it they have been supposing themselves to stand outside it. Wherefore let those who teach take care how they teach, and let all disciples "take heed how they hear," that they may not think themselves wrong when they are right with God, rebels against the Divine Ruler when they are his accepted children. - C.
I. THERE IS THAT MAKETH HIMSELF RICH, YET HATH NOTHING.
There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing.
I. OUR UNIVERSAL POVERTY. However a man may estimate himself and conceit himself, there stand out two salient facts.
1. The fact of universal dependence. Whatever else may be dark and difficult about the co-existence of these two, the infinite God and the finite universe, this at least is sun-clear, that the creature depends absolutely for everything on that infinite Creator. People talk sometimes, and we are all too apt to think, as if God had made the world and left it. And we are all apt to think that, however we may owe the origination of our own personal existence to a Divine act, the act was done when we began to be, and the life was given as a gift that could be separated from the Bestower. If it were possible to cut a sunbeam in two, so that the further half of it should be separated from its vital union with the great central fire from which it rushed long, long ago, that further half would pale into darkness. And if you cut the connection between God and the creature, the creature shrivels into nothing. So at the very foundation of our being there lies absolute dependence. In like manner, all that we call faculties, capacities, and the like, are, in a far deeper sense than the conventional use of the word "gift" implies, bestowments from Him. As well, then, might the pitcher boast itself of the sparkling water that it only holds, as well might the earthen jar plume itself on the treasure that has been deposited in it, as we make ourselves rich because of the riches that we have received. "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his strength. Let not the rich man glory in his riches; but he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."
2. Then, turn to the second of the facts on which this universal poverty depends, and that is, the fact of universal sinfulness. Ah, there is one thing that is our own — "If any power we have, it is to will." Conscience tells us, and we all know it, that we are the causes of our own actions, though from Him come the powers by which we do them. The electricity comes from the central power-station, but it depends on us what sort of wheels we make it drive, and what kind of work we set it to do. So, then, there are these two things, universal dependence and universal sinfulness, and on them is built the declaration of universal poverty. Duty is debt. What we ought is what we owe. We all owe an obedience which none of us has rendered. We are all paupers.
II. THE POOR RICH MAN. "There is that maketh himself rich, and yet hath nothing." That describes accurately the type of man who ignores dependence, and is not conscious of sin, and so struts about in self-complacent satisfaction with himself, and knows nothing of his true condition. There is nothing more tragic than that a man, laden, as we each of us are, with burden of evil that we cannot get rid of, should yet conceit himself to possess merits, virtues, graces, that ought to secure for him the admiration of his fellows and the approbation of God. "The deceitfulness of sin" is one of its mightiest powers. You condemn in other people the very things you do yourself. Many of you have never ventured upon a careful examination and appraisement of your own moral and religious character. You durst not, for you are afraid that it would turn out badly. Then you have far too low a standard, and one of the main reasons why you have so low a standard is just because the sins that you do have dulled your consciences. Aye, and more than that. The making of yourself rich is the sure way to prevent yourself from ever being so. We see that in all other regions of life. If a student says to himself, "Oh! I know all that subject," the chances are that he will not get it up any more. And in any department, when a man says, "Lo! I have attained," then he ceases to advance. If you fancy yourselves to be quite well, though a mortal disease has gripped you, you will take no medicine, nor have recourse to any physician. If you think that you have enough good to show for man's judgment and for God's, and have not been convinced of your dependence and your sinfulness, then Jesus Christ will be very little to you. I believe that this generation needs few things more than it needs a deepened consciousness of the reality of sin and of the depth and damnable nature of it.
III. THE RICH POOR MAN. "There is that maketh himself poor, and yet" — or, as varied, the expression is, therefore hath great riches. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Consciousness of poverty is the only fitting attitude for any of us to take up in view of the fact of our dependence and the fact of our sinfulness. Then let me remind you that this wholesome recognition of facts about ourselves as they are is the sure way to possess the wealth. If you see your poverty, let self-distrust be the nadir, the lowest point, and let faith be the complementary high point, the zenith. The rebound from self-distrust to trust in Christ is that which makes the consciousness of poverty the condition of receiving wealth. And what wealth it is! — the wealth of a peaceful conscience, of a quiet heart, of lofty aims, of a pure mind, of strength according to our need, of an immortal hope, of a treasure in the heavens that faileth not. Do you estimate yourself as you are? Have you taken stock of yourself? Have you got away from the hallucination of possessing wealth? Have you taken the wealth which He freely gives to all who sue in forma pauperis? He does not ask you to bring anything but debts and sins, emptiness and weakness, and penitent faith. And then you will be of those blessed poor ones who are rich through faith, and heirs of the kingdom.
(A. Maclaren, D.D.)
I. Such are they who are unacquainted with their real character. "Among these may be reckoned all who are ignorant even of fundamental truths, or pervert them.
2. Such are they who, notwithstanding, entertain a high opinion of their spiritual condition. To beast of what we have not is the greatest folly; to glory of what we have is the most intolerable vanity.
3. Such are they who are indifferent to the means of obtaining relief, and the supply of their spiritual wants.
II. THERE IS THAT MAKETH HIMSELF POOR, YET HATH GREAT RICHES.
1. Persons of this sort commonly complain much of themselves and their condition.
2. The temper and conduct of such persons serves to discover the mistaken judgment which they have formed of their spiritual condition. From whatever cause this error in opinion may proceed, there is always something in the temper and conduct of people of this sort that shows the high value which they put upon the true riches, and the humbling sense they entertain of their apprehended spiritual poverty. This distinguishes them from those who only pretend to the character of which I am speaking.
3. Notwithstanding they think themselves poor, they have great riches. The Lord, whose loving-kindness is better than life, is their God, the strength of their hearts, and their portion for ever.
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