Once upon a time, there was a young man (there was a young woman also, but I am more familiar with the young man). He was the son of believers; he was baptized; he was raised in a Calvinistic church, which preached that the end of all things is the glory of God; every day, the Bible was read in his home, giving sober instruction about the brevity of this life and about a coming eternity; he knew the Heidelberg Catechism and its teaching that the redeemed are not their own, but are the property, body and soul, of the Lord who bought them.
He was a fun-loving young fellow already in his teenage years. He found church and catechism a bore. At first, he attended catechism, because his parents made him. But he hardly ever knew his lesson; almost always the preacher would have to lead him, stumbling, word by word, through the answers. He had no time for this. His week was filled with friends, with games, and with television. Although he attended, he was not interested in the lesson. He never learned. Sometimes, he would fool around with his buddies, disrupting the class. When rebuked for this, he would sit sullenly by, looking at the clock, as the preacher went on explaining the Trinity, the covenant, and the return of Jesus to judgment. As he became older, his attendance fell off. At times, he skipped; at other times, he arranged his schedule so that he could not attend. Soon, he made a formal, public profession of his faith; and that was the end of catechism.
It was much the same as far as church was concerned. When he was younger, he had to go to church regularly with his parents. But he had made up his mind that the services, and especially the sermons, were a drag. He disliked church and made no effort to hear and understand, or to enter into the worship. It was dull! He itched to be finished with it. The fun was outside. When he became older, he would sit in the back with his friends. There, they could whisper and joke and pass the time. Before long, it became customary for him to skip the evening service altogether. Instead, there were parties, or television, or just driving around.
Much of Sunday was spent in front of the T.V. During the football season, the whole afternoon was devoted to the games.
He never read the Bible, much less any religious books or articles. He seldom prayed, and when he did, the prayer was formal and fast.
He had a good time, and there were many things to do. He had many friends. He had a car and a snowmobile. There were parties and movies and ball-games. He dated. He liked girls, and girls liked him. This all cost money; and, so, he got a job. Even while in high school, he worked part-time, much more than was necessary, although the schoolwork suffered.
Needless to say, he was never home. This bothered his parents, but he paid no attention. It was much more exciting, going out.
There were times, it must be admitted, when, strangely, all his fun left him cold and empty, times when he was restless, depressed, down. It was especially at those times that he drank too much and smoked pot.
He was in his early twenties when he met and fell in love with the young lady who became his wife. She was not from his church; in fact, her background was not Reformed at all. But she was pretty, and she was willing to join his church. He recalled some warnings of his parents about marrying in the church, but brushed them aside, reminding himself that the girls at church were too dead; and, besides, he knew them all like sisters.
The first years of their marriage, he worked long hours. In fact, they both worked. They had to, because they had gotten enormous debts. They had built a new house. They had furnished it with fine, new furniture. They had bought a new car. They also liked to eat out and to take a good vacation, now and then.
Often, he was much too tired on Sunday to attend church. He never went more than once. This was his only day of rest, he said. When he did go, he was critical of the preacher—much too long-winded and much too deep. He could not understand a word the preacher said. In fact, he changed churches, giving as his reason that the new preacher was more down-to-earth, although the real reason was that the consistory had angered him by reminding him that he did not attend faithfully, or pay his budget.
Then the children came. But only two. That was his decision. “Too expensive,” he argued. “I can’t afford them.” Secretly, he also thought that they would take too much of his time and get in the way of his pleasures.
Through hard work and good luck (he boasted), he became successful, quite successful. He established his own business and made it flourish. He became rich. With his money, he made new investments, which also paid off. He lived the good life. He ate and drank well. He traveled. He was a big man in financial and civic circles. He and his wife were recognized socially.
Between his work and his play, he was hardly ever home. He saw very little of the children and took almost no part in their upbringing. He soothed his conscience, occasionally, by assuring himself that all his hours away from home were for his children’s financial benefit and that, someday, the time would come that he could slow down and spend more time with the family. He never had time for the Bible or prayer.
It was on account of his work that he left the Calvinistic sphere of his upbringing. Business demanded that he move to another city. He did, although the city had neither a Reformed Church nor a Christian School for the children. The change of churches did not trouble him. “There is no difference,” he would say. To tell the truth, he much preferred the new church. There was little preaching, mostly jokes and stories. No one cared that a man would miss church for months on end; and the budget was low. As for the lack of the Christian School, he had long felt that tuition in the Christian School was much too high, and that his children could just as well be taught in the public school. Didn’t he support the public school with his taxes? And shouldn’t Christians be witnesses to the world?
In the new city also, he prospered. He had everything heart could desire. Life was good.
Still, there were times of depression. In fact, he was often worried—”up-tight,” he said. Worried about his business; about his investments; about his help; about high taxes; as time went on, about his children—wild, rebellious, running with a bad crowd, on drugs, in trouble; even about his marriage. He would drink then, heavily. And think: Always time to get things straightened out; everything will work out fine.
This fool was not yet 50 when God required his soul. There was no warning. What clearer, sharper warning could there be anyway, than the warning of the Word of God that he had despised and shut his ears to from childhood?
He lost his treasure at that instant, lost it all, and lost it forever.
And in the moment before he was sent away to eternal hell, the charges were placed against him:
- Idolatry: the love, the seeking, and the service of Mammon, all the while hating and rejecting the God of heaven and earth. For “no man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
- Unbelief: It was Jesus Christ and his kingdom that the fool trampled under foot when he rejected the preaching at church, the teaching in catechism, and Holy Scripture. This was the treasure that he despised when he chose the treasures of earth—destroyed by moth and rust, imperiled by thieves, and lost at death.
- Profaning the Covenant: Having sold his birthright for a morsel of meat, he counted the blood of the covenant, with which he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace.
These charges pressed him deeply into hell, for they were terrible charges, and he was, remember, the son of believers; baptized; raised in a church that preached the glory of God as the end of man; taught the Bible with its message of the brevity of life and an eternity to come; and familiar with the Catechism’s doctrine that the redeemed are not their own, but the property, body and soul, of the Lord who bought them.
This modern parable of a fool has a point: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” and do it in the days of your youth.