The Rich Man and God


The Rich Man and God

January 26th, 1992 @ 10:50 AM

There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Ecclesiastes 5:13

1-26-92    10:50 a.m.


Welcome the throngs and multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television.  You are now a part of our wonderful First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the senior pastor bringing the message entitled God and the Rich Man.  It is an exposition of two chapters in the Book of Ecclesiastes.  Solomon was the richest man who ever lived.  And out of the years and experience of his affluence and his world-famed riches, he wrote these words and made these avowals.

First: that riches do not buy domestic felicity, and strength, and quietness, and blessedness.  In the fourth chapter, [sixth] verse, “Better a handful with quietness than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind” [Ecclesiastes 4:6].  Money, riches can buy a house, but they cannot buy a home.  Poverty has slain its thousands, but riches and affluence has slain its tens of thousands.

Something over forty years ago, I was preaching in East Texas in Kilgore.  And after the service of the morning hour, a member of the church took me home with him for dinner and while his precious wife was preparing the meal, he and I sat on the front porch in an old-fashioned swing.   And as we sat there, he pointed to that vast sea of derricks.  When they brought in that oil field in East Texas, each one of those derricks represented a flow, a gusher of ten thousand barrels a day.  And as he pointed out to me that great mass of derricks, he also pointed out to me that his fence line in the sloping of the hill on which his home was built, that to the fence line of his property, there was not a derrick standing.

And the farmer said to me, “Preacher, when they were bringing in those oil wells, and coming up, and coming up, and coming up to my fence line I was expecting those gushers on my farm.  And he said, “In the strange providence of God, when they got to my fence line right down there, the holes were dry, not a drop of oil.”   And he said, “I felt the judgment of God on me.  All of my neighbors, all of my neighbors immensely wealthy, and I on this farm of poverty.”  Then he says, “As the days passed, all of those families down there broke up in separation and divorce, every one of them.”  He said, “There’s not a family down there that stayed together.  In their wealth and in their riches, their homes broke up in bitterness, and hatred, and separation.”  And he said, “Preacher, my wife and my children are still here.”  And he said, “I have decided that the best thing God ever did for me was when He stopped that oil flow at that barbed wire fence that separates my farm from those derricks.”  Solomon says that riches do not bring domestic felicity, and quietness, and gladness, and comradeship [Ecclesiastes 4:6]; you can’t buy it with money.

A second avowal of this richest man who ever lived: wealth cannot purchase happiness, gladness, joy, and an overflowing heart.  In the next chapter, “He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance with increase: this also is a grasping after the wind” [Ecclesiastes 5:10].  I do not know of a more pervasive delusion in America than this: “If I were rich, I’d be happy.  For me to be happy would be to be rich.”  Our Lord said, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things that he possesseth” [Luke 12:15].

What does wealth do in the presence of sorrow?  I so well remember Calvin Coolidge, then president of the United States, when his boy died, said, “The glamour of the White House has lost its appeal since my boy died.”  He died of blood poisoning.  And what do riches do in the presence of death?  I remember when Charles Lindbergh paid the largest ransom to a kidnapper in order to buy his boy back, his little child.  And when the child was returned, the child was dead.  Sorrow and death, money somehow can never assuage the hurt.

Nor does money fill the emptiness that we feel in our hearts.  In the pilgrimage of this life, there’s a vacuity, there’s a void in our very souls for something other than what money could buy.  I do not think there is a more famous saying in literature than this first sentence in Augustine’s Confessions, “O God, Thou hast made us for Thyself.  And we are restless till we rest in Thee.”

Again, wealth cannot buy health.  In the same chapter 5, “What profit has he who has labored for the wind?  All his days he eats in darkness, and he has much sorrow and sickness” [Ecclesiastes 5:16-17].  What can wealth do in the presence of a devastated life, in illness and despair?  My predecessor, Dr. George W. Truett, was greatly admired and loved by John D. Rockefeller Sr.  Rockefeller was a wonderful dedicated Baptist layman.  And Dr. Truett and John D. Rockefeller Sr. were riding in the back seat of a limousine, and Rockefeller said to the great pastor, he said,  “Dr. Truett, they say I am the richest man in the world, but what good does it buy me and what good does it do me?  I cannot eat.  I have an ulcerated stomach, and nothing I consume agrees with me.  And I’m bony and skinny, and my clothes don’t fit.  They hang on me like rags.  What good does my wealth do me?”  You can’t buy health with money.  It is a gift of God.

Again, in the next chapter 6: money can’t buy, wealth can’t assure, wealth can’t purchase the future:

A man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor, so that he lacks nothing for himself of all he desires; yet God does not give him the power to eat it, but a foreigner consumes it;  this is vanity, and it is an evil affliction.

 [Ecclesiastes 6:2]

No amount of wealth can buy the future, either the life that is now or the life that is yet to come.

In 1923, in the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago, there was a gathering of nine of the world’s most famous, wealthiest men.  Twenty-five years later, their lives tell this story: Charles Schwab, president of the world’s largest steel company, died in bankruptcy.  Samuel Insull, president of the world’s largest utility company, died penniless in a foreign land, a fugitive from justice.  Howard Hopson, president of the world’s largest company, died insane.  Arthur Cutten, world’s greatest wheat speculator, died abroad, penniless.  Richard Whitney, president of the New York Stock Exchange, released to die in dishonor from Sing Sing’s Penitentiary.  Albert Fall, member of the president’s cabinet, was pardoned from prison in order to allow him to die at home.  Jesse Livermore, the greatest bear on Wall Street, died a suicide.  [Ivar] Krueger, head of the world’s greatest monopoly, he owned all the companies that made matches, he died a suicide.  And Leon Fraser, president of the Bank of International Settlements, died of suicide.  Wealth cannot buy the future in this life.  I so well remember when George Eastman, Eastman Kodak Company, committed suicide.  Nor can wealth buy the future and the world that is to come.

I want to add, in your permission, to a story that moved my heart.  This rich man on a deathbed, consumed with his hands, enamored with his hands: and his wife called his best friend, Jim.  Known each other through the years; his wife called Jim and said, “Jim, come and talk to my husband.  He’s engrossed and he’s enamored and consumed with his hands.”  And Jim came, talked to his old friend and said, “There’s nothing wrong with your hands.”  And the dying man said, “Look, Jim, look!  They are so empty.”

Let me add to that my own imagination, “Jim, look!  They are so empty.”  And Jim makes a trek to the bank, and he brings out of the boxes at the bank and lays them before his friend, and he says, “Look my friend at these bonds.  Look at these bonds!  They’re yours.  And these stocks, look at these stocks!  They’re yours.  And look at these deeds!  They’re yours.  And look at these certificates of deposit!  They’re yours.  And look at these” . . . And he turns and the man is dead!  What do you do when you’ve built your last office building?  When you’ve sold your last hotel?  What do you do when you finish your last apartment complex?  And what do you do when you’ve made your last trade, and you face God and eternity?  Wealth can’t buy the future!  And once again, wealth cannot buy our salvation.

Number three: in the sixth chapter:

If a man begets a hundred children, and lives many years . . .

so that the soul is not satisfied in the years that are many . . .

I say that a stillborn child is better than he . . .

And if he lives a thousand years twice . . .

 [Ecclesiastes 6:3-6]

There is no rest for that man.  Great God!  Here is a stillborn child; born dead, and this wisest, richest man who ever lived avows that that stillborn infant is more blessed than this rich man who seeks to consume everything on himself and leaves out God [Ecclesiastes 6:3].  O Lord, how could it be?

I think of Dr. Samuel Johnson—always he put that “Dr.” in front of his name—he was the greatest literary critic in the 1700s in England.  And he is avowing that for a man to lean upon riches for salvation is to lean upon a shadow of despair.  He wrote:

To purchase Heaven has gold the power?

Can gold remove the mortal hour?

In life can love be bought with gold?

Are [heaven’s] pleasures to be sold?

. . . all that’s worth a wish— a thought,

Fair virtue gives unbribed, unbought,

Cease then on trash thy hopes to bind,

Let nobler views engage thy mind.

[from “To a Friend,” Samuel Johnson]

Money can’t buy God, and can’t buy salvation, and can’t buy heaven.  It’s an amazing thing to me that the rich man staggers before this tremendous verse in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast, saying, ‘I did it.’”

The rich man cannot understand grace.  He is given his life to works.  He worked and became wealthy.  He works and becomes successful; he worked for all of these things that he possesses in this life.  And in his indomitable commitment to labor and work, he faces the future and faces God and faces heaven: “I worked my way into heaven.  It’s by good works that I make myself worthy to stand in the presence of God.”

And the Bible and the Lord says a man can never be good enough to deserve it.  He can never work himself into the riches of glory.  If a man is saved, he’s saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ [Ephesians 2:8].  It is Jesus who paid the penalty for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3, John 12:27, Galatians 1:4].  It is Jesus who opens for us the doors of heaven [John 14:1-3].  No man is worthy in himself to stand in the presence of the great and mighty God. Somebody must intervene, somebody must be the intermediary.  Somebody must stand for us; somebody must open that gate of glory for us, and that Somebody is in the love and grace of our precious Lord Jesus.  We enter heaven because of His goodness, and His sacrifice, and His atoning love; “By grace are ye saved…that not of yourself; it is a gift of God” [Ephesians 2:8].  I don’t buy my salvation; I accept it as something the loving Jesus has done for me.  So wealth cannot buy happiness; it can destroy it.  So wealth cannot buy health; it can blight it.  So wealth cannot buy a home; it can ruin it.

And likewise, wealth cannot save our nation.  The wealth of America is unbelievable.  There are in our country thirty-five million TV sets.  It is a rule, not an unusual thing, to have two cars in every garage.  We are the bankers of the world.  We spend each year more than one hundred fifty million dollars on fortunetellers.  We spend over twelve billion dollars a year on recreation, more than five times the total spent on all religious activities.  I read where thirty seconds of advertising on the television of the Super Bowl this afternoon cost eight hundred thousand dollars.  We spend over fifteen billion dollars on alcoholic beverages, and maybe that’s the reason why there are sixteen thousand people in America who commit suicide every year.  Ah, the abundance and the abounding resources and riches of America!  And I do believe, thinking of the America I knew as a little boy and the America in which I am a minister today, I believe that America is fast disintegrating in the moral fabric of its very being.

Let me take a pericope out of ancient history: right in the middle of Italy, right in the middle of Italy was a little province named Latium.  It is spelled L-a-t-i-u-m, Latin; and in that little province was a kingdom with a little capital named Rome.  And those people were virtuous and moral and dedicated to each other and to the god they knew.  In five hundred years, there was not a divorce in Rome, not one in five hundred years.

And because of the moral fiber of those incomparable people, they conquered the world, that little Latium with its little capital Rome.  The Roman Empire included the entire civilized world.  What destroyed them?  When the Goths came, and the Visigoths came, and the Vandals came, and the Huns came, they overrun them as though they were nothing, because the fiber of the people had disintegrated.  They were corrupt because of their riches, and their wealth, and their glorious conquering achievements.  That’s what wealth does to a nation.

May I take one other in these recent days, recent years?  When I was a youth, if you wanted a doctor’s degree, you went to Germany.  The greatest theological schools in the world were in Germany.  The greatest educational schools in the world were in Germany.  And Germany was becoming a dominant influence in the intellectual world, in the world of commerce, in the world of achievement.  Germany was coming up and up and up, and then, and then at the very height of their marvelous achievements and recovery from the First World War, they began to use those influences that had created them as a great and mighty and growing nation; they began to use them in a disastrous and immoral way.  They sought to slay all of the Jews in their kingdom.  And their enemies; I’ve stood in Dachau right after the Second World War, and looked at those ovens where they burned their opposition.  And I stood in Mannheim, Germany, at the beautiful, incomparably beautiful officer’s training campus, those magnificent buildings on each side in that courtyard—tremendous courtyard in between—and I looked at one of the most beautiful buildings you’ll see in Europe, there at the front, that gorgeous and beautiful and impressive building.  And I asked, “In this training for the officers of the German army, these buildings around this great courtyard, what is that building there, the most beautiful of all?”  And I have the reply, “That was where the German army housed their prostitutes.  And when a man was selected to be trained as an officer in the German army, he was welcomed there, any day, any hour, any time, any night to be a guest of a chosen prostitute.”

No wonder Germany fell!  Any nation will fall that disintegrates inwardly, morally, corrupt from the inside.  And that goes for America!  We’ll either have a great turning to God in this country, or this country will gradually disintegrate into hatred and racial confrontations, and a thousand other things that can destroy a mighty people.  It did Rome; it did Germany, and we are no exception.

What is the gift?  Dear me, the time goes by!  What is the purpose of God’s gift, of riches, of wealth?  “As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God” [Ecclesiastes 5:19].   The Lord had written in Deuteronomy:

You say in your heart, My power and the might of my hand has gained me this wealth.

You must remember the Lord your God:

for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant.

[Deuteronomy 8:17-18]

Anything we possess is a gift from the hand of God, anything.  It comes from Him.  We cannot create it; all we do is to answer as good stewards to the Lord Jesus, that’s all!

I heard the beatinest story, and I just wonder if the guy got fired or not.  There was a preacher who took as his text this passage in Malachi:

Will a man rob God?  Yet you have robbed Me.

But you say, In what way have we robbed You?

In tithes and in offerings.

[Malachi 3:8]

And this preacher that I read about, stood up there in his pulpit to that most fashionable congregation, and he said, “I minister to a church of thieves.”  He said, “You have come to church this morning, and the cars in which you rode are stolen.  And you sit here in all of your finery; and the clothes you wear are stolen.  And you sit here in all of your beautiful jewelry; and your jewelry, your adornments are stolen.”  And then he emphasized his text, “You’ve robbed God in your tithes and your offerings [Malachi 3:8].  You’ve robbed God in order to buy all of these accouterments of wealth and adornment.”  I say, I wonder if they fired him.  I wonder if they fired him.

Dear Lord, what I have is my possession for a moment, for a brief, brief time, and it’s gone forever; and this gift of God so wondrously bestowed, dear Lord.  There’s no man in the world so admired as a rich man, and what an influence he has for good or for evil.  Dear Lord, let it be, let it be, please God, let it be that if anyone ask me, “What did you do last week?”  I can reply,

Last week: on Monday, I was holding Vacation Bible Schools in the Rio Grande Valley.  And on Tuesday, I was preaching in the Amazon jungle.  And on Wednesday, I was operating on a Negro in West Africa.  And on Thursday, I was handing out tracts in the Soviet Union.  And on Friday, I was teaching in a Christian school in Japan.  And on Saturday, I was giving out Bibles in Korea.  And on Sunday, and on Sunday, I was preaching the gospel in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and in thirty-one other missions and chapels in this city.

And you say to me, “Pastor, how in the earth could you do that and say that?”

You see, I turn myself into coin.  And when I gave that gift to the church it was used for the mission programs of the world, and to sustain this marvelous ministry in this incomparable church, and to preach the gospel in those thirty-one chapels in the city of Dallas.   O Lord, what a glorious thing God has done for us in giving us the opportunity to share in the mission of Jesus our Lord to the ends of the earth.