The Treasure

08.11.11 | Cecil Van Houten | Comments[9]

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”  2 Corinthians 4:7

In the first third of the twentieth century, William Randolph Hearst was a media baron and one of the most powerful men in the country.  His empire included nearly 30 newspapers, several magazines, among them Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping and Harper’s Bazaar and numerous other media properties.  For many years he presided over the largest newspaper and magazine business in the world.  If you were to compare him to one of today’s corporate titans you’d most likely choose Rupert Murdoch, the Chairman and CEO of News Corporation, the second largest media conglomerate in the world.  Although Murdoch and Hearst never met (Murdoch was only twenty in 1951 when Hearst died), they shared many similarities, among them a mutual love of power and politics, women, fine art and “yellow journalism”, as evidenced by the recent scandal surrounding "The News of the World", a British tabloid owned by NewsCorp.  Indeed, William Randolph Hearst was the Rupert Murdoch of his time.

While in his fifties, Hearst constructed a large castle in San Simeon, California.  Located on a 240,000 acre ranch, the Hearst Castle was filled with art, antiques, sculptures and tapestries from around the world.  With a net worth of over $400 million in today’s dollars, Hearst had no problem with a decorating budget.  But he didn’t view art as just an investment; he was a passionate collector with diverse tastes.  In a Newsweek interview in May 1946, when asked if his pleasure in the art treasures he had acquired equaled the amount of money he had spent on them, Hearst replied that the enjoyment he had received was only second in importance to the enjoyment others obtained from them.

As he amassed literally hundreds of pieces he built two warehouses, one on the east coast and one near Los Angeles.  There his staff catalogued and stored millions of dollars worth of art representing many cultures, time periods and styles.  He made donations of priceless works to museums and galleries around the world.  But his first love was acquisitions; the thrill of seeing a work of art, locating it and negotiating its purchase to add to his collection.

One day, while reading an issue of Creative Arts magazine, he saw a color reproduction of a beautiful painting by an obscure artist.  Hearst was fascinated by the technique and style and use of color.  He called his agent in New York City and asked him to track it down.  The agent spoke with all his contacts at various galleries around the country and came up empty handed.  Hearst instructed him to continue his search until the painting was found.  The agent traveled to Chicago, Toronto, Washington, D.C., Buenos Aires and Los Angeles, following leads and tracking down clues.

After several months the agent was forced to report to Hearst that, despite his best efforts, the painting could not be located.  Hearst was furious and fired him on the spot.  He then hired a detective agency and told them to pick up where his agent had left off with a simple instruction:  find the painting.

The agency searched for months and enlisted the services of art agents in London, Paris, Lisbon, Prague and Oslo.  Galleries and storage rooms across Europe were scoured to no avail, leads ended up going nowhere and ultimately, nothing could be found. 

William Randolph Hearst was not a man who tolerated incompetence.  He fired the agency but hired one of its detectives, put him on his personal payroll and sent him out, insisting that he find the piece of art.  Three more months passed.  By now Hearst had spent over a hundred thousand dollars and nearly two years on the search.  Finally one night he received a call from the detective.  He had news and wanted to speak to Hearst privately.  Two hours later he was shown into the massive study at the castle.  He sat and waited for several minutes until Hearst arrived.  The detective outlined the steps he had taken leading up to his discovery but warned Hearst that there was good news and bad news.

He said, “Mr. Hearst, I have found the piece and it is in excellent condition.”  Hearst replied, “Then what could possibly be bad news?”  The detective paused, squeezing the brim of his hat tightly between his fingers.  “Well, sir, it was in your own warehouse…in Santa Monica.  You bought it several years ago.”

Hearst was intent on finding something he thought he didn’t have and the entire time it was mere hours from where he lived.  His passion to acquire the painting drove him to spend a substantial amount of time and money on the search.  Even when told the piece could not be found, he was undeterred.  Three times he sent people to find it.  Ultimately one of them did, but to Heart’s consternation the painting was somewhere he never thought to look.  The treasure he so earnestly sought was already his.

As I thought about this story I couldn’t help but recognize the parallel in my own life and the many times I’ve searched for things only to discover they were already in my possession.  Not just material things like missing car keys or a book I’d misplaced.  I’m referring to spiritual truths.  How often do we forget to remember who we are in Christ?  How many times do we retrace the same steps when going through a trial or difficult period in our lives, instead of remembering what we’ve learned from past battles and using that experience as a benchmark from which to move forward?  The Christian life is not meant to be like the board game ‘Chutes and Ladders’.  Yes, at times life may seem to drop us from where we are on our journey back to the beginning.  But the reality is that no matter what happens to us in this life, we have a treasure inside us that sustains, protects and empowers.  It gives us joy in the midst of sorrow.  Comfort in the midst of pain.  And while it may seem that some days we’re taking two steps forward and three back, the reality is that we are more than conquerors through him who loves us.  He has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind.  Unlike William Randolph Hearst, we need to know what we already possess and not waste ourselves searching out things that are a poor substitute for the grace of God.  In contrast to the vain philosophies and relativistic morality of our times, as exemplified in books such as Rhonda Byrnes’ “The Secret”, in our position as believers in Christ we need to remind ourselves that we already have a power and a glory inside us that God alone can give.     

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”  (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)

Paul is reminding us that although we may go through all of these situations, we are not crushed, we are not in despair, we are not abandoned and we are not destroyed.  Why not?  Because of the treasure within us; the all-surpassing power that comes from God.  Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Christ has set us free.  We are justified by faith.  We are given the power to live an overcoming life.  But sometimes we forget.  Sometimes we slip back into self-reliance or legalism.  Paul had to remind the church in Galatia of that very fact, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  (Galatians 2:20)

Faith in God is not something to be collected like a piece of art.  It’s not one path to truth among many.  It’s not something that you can decide to embrace (or not) from day to day.  It’s not an object to be brought out of a warehouse and put on display when it suits you.  If you have so much clutter and spiritual junk in your life that you don’t realize who you are in Christ and who he is in you, something’s wrong.  And just like William Randolph Hearst, you’ll spend countless, wasted years in search of something you already have – a treasure of inestimable worth held in a fragile, everyday jar of clay.


Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 08.12.11 Randy Negley commented

Thanks Cecil , I needed that ! As I wipe my eyes I'm reminded what my sons have reminded me this past week and reinforced by your blog entry.
This verse also jumps out to us.

"2 Corinthians 3:4-6
King James Version (KJV)
And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;

on 08.13.11 Evan Sieling commented

Cecil, this is beautiful. Thank you.

on 08.13.11 Denise commented

Wow, this is really good. What an interesting story and a beautiful illustration of God's word. Your blog always makes me think. Thank you for sharing your gift of writing and relating truth.

on 08.14.11 Terry commented


You hit the nail on the head. The Lord has given us everything we need to live for Him. So why do we feel powerless against fear or unbelievers who say God isn't real? There is so much Christian music and books and tv but the greatest power is already inside us. I believe we are looking to other things to help us when as you say, we need to look inside at what the Lord has already given us.

on 08.15.11 Sandy commented

Hi Cecil. A timely reminder...... thanks.

on 08.17.11 Robin commented

This was a good illustration and a good reminder. What could be accomplished for the cause of Christ if we really took our new life and the power of the holy Spirit seriously? I always like your blogs but this one really hit home. Thanks :)

on 08.22.11 Gerald commented

I am a new listener (as of this spring) to Family Life. I listen to your PM PRAISE program when I'm driving home and enjoy it very much. When I heard you mention your blog I thought what does William Randolph Hearst have to do with Biblical treasure. Now I see. Thank you for giving a greater understanding of the Father's love for us.

on 08.30.11 Bill Kamberg commented

Very profound, Cecil - a great story. Why is it for some reason I am reminded of Dorothy? "There's no place like home...." Thanks for telling me this story.

on 09.08.11 vince commented

thank you !