The Four Unfortunates

Excerpts taken and adapted from, Christ’s Secret of Happiness,
Written by Lyman Abbott


“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. –Luke 6:24-26

BEFORE considering Christ’s congratulations on the truly happy…

…found in Matthew’s report of the Sermon on the Mount, it will be well to consider his lamentations over the unfortunates of earth, reported only by Luke. There are four classes included in these lamentations: the rich, the self-satisfied, the merry, and the popular. These are they whom most men envy. Christ pities them. Why?

Jesus pities the rich, NOT because they are rich, but because they have received all that they asked for. The word rendered “consolation” the text of the Authorized Version, ”Woe unto you that are rich I for ye have received your consolation,” is derived from a Greek word meaning to call to one’s aid, and is used in the Gospel of John to designate the Holy Spirit. Christ pities not all rich men, not Joseph of Arimathea, for example, but him who makes riches his chief good the object of his reverence and of his supreme desire. It is not the rich, but they that wish be rich, who fall into temptation and a snare; it is not money, but the love of money, which is a root of all evil.

Alas, for the man who imagines that the object of life is to make money, and who measures his success by the amount of his accumulations; who thinks that man was created to amass material things, who does not know that material things were created to serve the higher life of true manhood; who has been inspired not by the enthusiasm of humanity but by the enthusiasm of accumulation. He gets the pleasures and the power which money confers, and for them he sacrifices the joy and the influence which life confers, and when the curtain is about to drop on the drama of his life, it is left for him to say: “And I hated all my labor wherein I labored under the sun: seeing that I must leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? Yet shall he have rule over all my labor wherein I have labored, and wherein I have showed wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.”

“If I were thou, O working bee,
And all that honey-gold I see
Could delve from roses easily,
I would not hive it at man’s door.
As thou, –that heirdom of my store
Should make him rich and leave me

Jesus pities the self-satisfied. The self-satisfied seems both to himself and to others a happy man; but of Paul’s experience of perpetual aspiration he knows nothing. He cannot understand the saying, “Not that I have already obtained or am already made perfect: but I press on, if so be that I may apprehend that for which also I was apprehended by Christ Jesus.” He has overtaken his ideal, and can see nothing to be desired beyond what he already has and is. He is perfectly satisfied alike with his possessions and with his attainments.

He has no interest in political reform, for his country is good enough for him as it is. He takes no interest in town or village improvements, for he says, ”What was good enough for our fathers is good enough for me.” Not impossibly he says to himself, if not to his fellow-members in the Church, that he has received the “second blessing” and enjoys perfect sanctification. He therefore no longer reaches forth unto those things which are before, for there is nothing before. If his orthodoxy forbids him to claim such perfect sanctification, his exercises of repentance are less a sorrow for sins that are past than a satisfaction in his present grace of repentance.

Alas for the self-satisfied man! His peace is the peace of death. When he awakes, it will be to look back upon a life without achievement because without aspiration. It will be to confess, I have fought no fight, I have run no race, I have had no faith to see the invisible ideal calling me ever to go higher and yet higher.

Jesus pities not all those who laugh, but those who do nothing else but laugh. He who compared himself to one playing in the market place that the children might dance to his music, does not denounce merriment. “A merry heart doeth good like medicine.” But he looks with pity upon those to whom life is only a stage on which nothing but comedy is enacted. Those who make a jest of everything, and who shut their eyes to everything of which they cannot make a jest; those who have no tears for the sorrowing, no heartaches for the afflicted; those who take nothing seriously, not even themselves; those who play the part of a king’s jester in life’s court, satisfied to be amusing and be amused, Christ pities.

Laughter cannot lock the door on sorrow. Sooner or later, bidden or unbidden, sorrow will enter. He who has never known how to enter into the griefs of others, through sympathy, will not know how to endure the visit of grief when she comes to sit at his own desolate fireside.

Jesus pities the popular man, the man of whom all men speak well. No man can go through this world and can live truly, honestly, and courageously without sometimes interfering with the schemes of the false, the dishonest, and the cowardly. By his life, if not by his words, he will rebuke the enemies of mankind; disclose their true character hidden behind their disguises; disturb their equanimity; and arouse their wrath. He who is determined that no one shall speak ill of him while he lives must expect that no one will speak well of him after he is dead.

Alas for those who are content with their riches; who are satisfied with themselves; who can make nothing but a jest of life; who are the successful courtiers of popularity!

They are not to be envied; they are to be pitied.