Uncertain Riches

by Glenn Conjurske

“Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in UNCERTAIN RICHES, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy, that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” (I Tim. 6:17-19).

Paul here refers to earthly riches as uncertain riches. And the wise king of Israel counsels us, “Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.” (Prov. 23:4-5). But we hardly need the word of God to inform us that such riches are uncertain. All wise men know this. It is, indeed, the general conviction of men, and as such finds its place in the old proverb, “Riches have wings.” But somehow those who have riches seem to miss the common conviction of mankind on the subject. This is no doubt because of what the Bible calls “the deceitfulness of riches.” (Matt. 13:22). They deceive those who have them. Therefore Paul charges those who are rich, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God. But how easy it is to be deceived by riches! How natural it is to our hearts to trust in money! How much easier it is (let it be said to the shame of all of us) to trust in a little handful of paper, than in the living God, who created ten thousand worlds. Ah! but we know what money will do, while we stand in doubt about what God will do. And this in spite of all of his great and precious promises—-in spite of the fact that he invites us to call him “Father”—-in spite of the fact that he calls himself “a very present help in time of trouble”—-in spite of the fact that not a sparrow can fall to the ground without him—-in spite of the fact that he numbers the very hairs of our heads. Such is the unbelief of the human heart.

Nevertheless “they that are rich in this world” have a peculiar propensity to trust in the riches which they possess. They fail to see the uncertainty of those riches. But the riches are nevertheless uncertain. In the first place, riches do have wings. They do fly away. Thousands have lost all through financial hard times, through the failure of banks, through unexpected reverses in business or investment, or through unexpected circumstances which ate up their money as the horse eats hay. But many suppose themselves too shrewd for such reverses. They have placed their investments upon too solid a foundation for reverses to touch them. They have caged their riches, so that, wings or no wings, they cannot fly away. They have laid up their treasures upon the earth, and yet do not believe that moth and rust may corrupt, or thieves break through and steal. More confidence have they in their riches, than in the word of Christ. Yet for all that, riches do have wings, and fly away. There is nothing secure under the sun—-no bank, no “securities,” as they are called, no government, and no society. There is no bank secure but the bank of heaven.

But riches are also uncertain because, while they remain, they often prove impotent to fulfill our expectations. To “trust in uncertain riches” is to expect something from them. This men commonly do. They do not trust in riches to gain heaven, for all men seem to understand that Gold goes in at any gate except heaven’s, as an old proverb says. But if men do not expect their money to open the gate of heaven, they do expect it to open every gate on this earth. It is for this life that men trust in money, and they do indeed have great expectations from it. Numerous old proverbs make money almost omnipotent. Money is power. Money is that art that hath turned up trump. Money is ace of trumps. Money makes dogs dance. Money rules the world. Money will make the pot boil. Money will do anything. And even the Bible says, “Money answereth all things.” (Eccl. 10:19). Yet for all that, money cannot buy happiness, though men expect it to make at least some substantial contribution to it. It cannot secure health, though men trust in it for that purpose. It cannot buy love. It cannot buy contentment. It cannot buy peace of mind. It cannot put the spark or the spice back into a dry or failing marriage. It cannot reclaim a wayward child. Though it has turned its thousands from the paths of rectitude, it cannot turn them back. It cannot, in other words, secure any of those things which are of the most value to mankind. Yet men trust in such “uncertain riches.”

But further, howsoever secure your bank, your investments, your “securities,” and your goods, your tenure of them is not secure at all. Supposing your wealth to be as solid as the everlasting hills, yet your life is a vapor, which appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. And not only is it short at best, but also uncertain at all times. The rich man who counted upon a long tenure of his goods—-had “much goods laid up for many years”—-was counted a fool in the eyes of heaven. “But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou has provided?” (Luke 12:20). The goods may remain indeed “for many years,” but your tenure of them may be cut short, and that at any time.

Such are the reasons for the uncertainty of riches. And yet in such “uncertain riches” men will trust.

But now the living God gives to us a simple prescription, better than any alchemy, by which we may turn these “uncertain riches” into substance as enduring as eternity, and every prophet of God is sent to “charge them that are rich in this world” to take that prescription. You who have this world’s goods, here is your divine alchemy: “That they DO GOOD, that they be RICH IN GOOD WORKS, ready to DISTRIBUTE, willing to COMMUNICATE, laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” This doing of good refers of course to doing good with their money. It is to distribute it, to communicate it.

This same prescription is given by the Lord himself in Luke 12:33. “Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.” Here are true and enduring riches, where your tenure of them will be as secure as the treasures themselves. And how simple a thing to lay up such enduring riches. Take the treasures which you hold in your hands, take the treasures which you have laid up in the bank, and give them where they are needed. Some poor woman, whose husband has left her, struggles month after month to feed and clothe her children, or to pay doctor or dentist bills, while you lay up your treasures in the bank. Say, would it not be reward enough just to see the light in the eyes of that woman, when you put a little cash into her hands? Some poor preacher struggles to feed his family and pay his rent, to buy books, and to keep his old car running, while some who are rich in this world could put a few hundred dollars into his hands, or a few thousand, and never miss it. No, it is not “tax deductible,” but would it not be reward enough to know that you had eased the burdens of a servant of the Lord? But there is much more reward than this yet coming. The money which you give to the poor is not lost to you. No, it is only put away into bags which wax not old—-transformed into a treasure in the heavens that faileth not. “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.” (Prov. 19:17). Give to the poor, and the Lord will pay you back, and I dare say with better interest than the bank.

But suppose the Lord should pay no interest at all. Still it were wiser to lend to him than to lay up in the bank. Lend five thousand dollars to the Lord, by giving it to the poor, and when your soul is required of you, you will yet have five thousand dollars, laid up in bags which wax not old, where no thief approaches, and no moth corrupts. Lay that five thousand up in the bank, at the highest rate of interest you can command, and when your soul is required of you, you will have nothing. “You can’t take it with you,” as men commonly say. No, but you can send it on ahead. Now suppose you were soon to move to another country, the laws of which allowed you to bring nothing in with you, but allowed you to send ahead of you as much as you pleased. Would you not send ahead as much as you could? This is exactly the case with all of us, and by distributing and communicating of our wealth now, we may transmute our uncertain riches into a treasure that faileth not. Who would neglect to do so?

Glenn Conjurske