Trash or Treasure?

Homer and Langley Collyer were sons of a respected New York doctor. Both studied at Columbia University—Homer earned his degree in law, and Langley became an accomplished engineer and concert pianist. When their parents both died in the 1920s, the brothers inherited the family home and estate. The two men—both bachelors—were now financially secure.

But the Collyer brothers adopted a peculiar lifestyle not at all consistent with the material status their inheritance gave them. They retired into almost total seclusion. They boarded up the windows of their house and barricaded the doors. All their utilities—including water—were eventually shut off. No one was ever seen coming or going from the house except Langley, on his occasional, furtive midnight trips for food. From the outside, the multi-story house appeared empty.

On March 21, 1947, police received an anonymous telephone tip that there was a dead man in the Collyer house. Unable to force their way in through the front door, authorities entered the house through a second-story window. Inside they found Homer Collyer’s corpse, blind and paralyzed, starved to death. But this macabre scene was set against an equally grotesque backdrop.

The brothers were hoarders. They had collected everything—but especially junk. Their house was crammed full of broken machinery, auto parts, boxes, appliances, folding chairs, musical instruments, rags, assorted odds and ends, and incredible heaps of old newspapers. Virtually all of it was worthless. Enormous mountains of debris blocked all entries; investigators were forced to continue using the upstairs window for weeks while excavators worked to clear a path to the door.

Nearly three weeks later, as workmen were still hauling heaps of refuse away, someone made a grisly discovery—Langley Collyer’s body was buried beneath a pile of rubbish just feet away from where Homer had died. It seems Langley had been crushed to death in a crude booby trap he had built to guard his home from intruders.

The garbage eventually removed from the Collyer house totaled more than 140 tons. No one ever learned why the brothers were stockpiling their pathetic treasure, except an old friend of the family recalled that Langley once said he was saving the newspapers so Homer could catch up on world events once he regained his sight.

Homer and Langley Collyer make a sad but fitting parable of the way many people in the church live. Although the Collyers’ inheritance was sufficient for all their needs, they lived instead in unnecessary, self-imposed squalor. They cut themselves off from all else and treated their inheritance as a dump, carefully collecting and treasuring the world’s garbage.

Too many Christians live their spiritual lives that way. Disregarding the bountiful riches of an inheritance that cannot be defiled (1 Peter 1:4), they scour the wreckage of worldly wisdom, collecting litter. As if the riches of God’s grace (Ephesians 1:7) were not enough, as if “everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3) were not sufficient, they try to supplement the resources that are theirs in Christ. They spend their lives pointlessly accumulating sensational experiences, novel teachings, clever gurus, or whatever else they can find to add to their hoard of spiritual experiences. Practically all of it is utterly worthless. Yet some people pack themselves so full of these diversions that they can’t find the door to the truth that would set them free. They forfeit treasure for trash.

God’s people must not repeat such tragic ignorance. All the riches and resources we need are freely available and accessible to us in Jesus Christ. Believers cannot afford to ignore their rich inheritance in Him.

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