Luk_16:25. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
THE more strongly the discourses of a minister bear upon the prevailing vices of the day, the more will they, whose besetting sin is pointed out and reprobated, pour contempt upon the preacher and his word. Our blessed Lord had spoken the parable of the unjust steward, in order to shew, that every one should consider himself as responsible to God for the use he makes of that which is entrusted to him. “The Pharisees, who were covetous, immediately derided him [Note: ver. 14.].” Our Lord, however, was not to be deterred by their derision; on the contrary, he addressed to them a personal and severe reproof, and added another parable, that should enforce, with tenfold energy, his preceding admonitions. He represented a rich man, after a short enjoyment of his carnal pleasures, doomed to eternal misery in hell; and a poor man, after a transient scene of sufferings on earth, exalted to a state of everlasting felicity in heaven.
In opening this parable we shall present to your view,
Their different conditions in this world—
The Rich Man enjoyed all that could gratify an earthly mind—
[High titles, stately mansions, superb clothing, pompous equipage, numerous attendants, sumptuous entertainments, courtly friends, and flattering sycophants, were his distinguished portion, his daily enjoyment — — — These were the things in which he took delight; nor had his vain earthly heart a thought or wish beyond them [Note: “Thy good things.”], Doubtless he was to many in his day an object of admiration and envy. And many amongst ourselves are ready to say, Give me but such a portion as his, and I desire no more.]
The Poor Man was as destitute as a human being could be—
[He wanted even the most common necessaries of life. In addition to this, he was “full of sores” from head to foot; without medical aid to cure them, or even a friendly hand to bind them up; so that “the very dogs came and licked them.” Unable to walk, he was carried, and, as if no man cared what became of him, was cast [Note:
.] at the Rich Man’s gate, to gather a scanty and precarious subsistence from the crumbs which fell from his table. Thus destitute of food, of health, of friends, a very outcast from society, he protracted a wretched existence, till death relieved him of his sorrows.
Who would have thought that these two men were of the same species, or that, if they were, a just and merciful God should put such a difference between them?]
But our minds will be reconciled to this seeming inequality of state, if we survey,
Their still more different conditions in the invisible world—
The Rich Man was reduced to a state of deserved misery—
[We read not of any enormous crimes that he committed; and therefore we cannot justly impute any to him. His elegant clothing and costly fare were not in themselves sinful, provided they were such as were suited to his station in life. That which constituted his guilt in the sight of God was, that his heart was set upon them; that he sought his happiness in them rather than in God; and that he lived solely for himself, to the neglect of those, whose necessities he should have delighted to relieve. And behold, what fearful punishment this iniquity brought upon him! His career of sin was soon terminated; and nothing of all his happiness remained to him but the guilt which he had contracted by it. He was buried indeed in a sumptuous manner; but what pleasure could he receive from funeral processions, sepulchral monuments, or flattering inscriptions? Alas! his body was insensible of the honours paid to it, and his soul was enduring unutterable anguish in the flames of hell. He prayed indeed, but his prayer was now too late. Had he called upon God when he was on earth, he might have obtained all the glory of heaven: but now he was refused, though he asked no more than a momentary mitigation of his pain. He begged that a messenger might be sent to warn and to convince his five surviving brethren, who were walking securely in his delusive steps: but neither could this be granted him; nor indeed would it have been of any use to those who disregarded the testimony of the sacred records. Instead of finding any relief, he was upbraided with his having sought an earthly portion, while he neglected those things which were to endure for ever; the remembrance of which folly could not but greatly aggravate his misery. Ah! how altered now his state, from honour to ignominy, from pleasure to pain, from affluence to extremest want!]
The Poor Man, on the contrary, was raised to a state of unspeakable felicity—
[As death put a speedy period to the enjoyments of the one, so it soon also terminated the sorrows of the other. Nothing is spoken of the burial of the Poor Man; he was carried unnoticed, unregretted, to the silent grave; or rather, his fellow-creatures probably rejoiced that they were rid of a public nuisance. Not but that he was honoured in his death; for though disregarded by men, he was attended by angels, who gladly received his departing spirit, and bore it on their wings to the regions of light and glory. Let our eyes now follow him to his blest abode: behold, he, who once had scarcely enough to satisfy the cravings of nature, is now sitting next to Abraham himself at the heavenly banquet [Note: At feasts they lay on couches; so that one seemed, as it were, to be in the bosom of the person next to him. In this view, the circumstance of his being in Abraham’s bosom is well worthy of notice.]; while the man who had “fared sumptuously every day” on earth, has not so much as a drop of water to cool his tongue! Nothing now remains to him of all his former sorrows, except indeed their sanctifying influence upon his soul. Now he has the good things which he sought on earth, the things in which alone he found delight. The enjoyment of the Divine presence was then his only consolation; and now it is his abiding, his ever-blessed portion.
Now let us contrast the two; and we shall confess that Lazarus with all his penury was, on the whole, an object of envy; while the Rich Man with all his indulgences was, on the whole, an object of the deepest commiseration.]
Let us learn from hence,
How vain are riches without grace!
[What could the Rich Man’s wealth procure him in this life? Nothing but food and raiment: nor were his delicacies more sweet to him, than to the cottager his homely meal. His riches could not ward off for a moment the stroke of death: much less could they “profit him in the day of wrath.” They served only to witness against him, and to “prey upon his flesh like fire [Note: Jam_5:1-5.].” Let not any then envy the great and gay; but rather seek to be rich in grace, and happy in the enjoyment of their God.]
What consolation will religion afford under the severest trials!
[Though Lazarus appeared so destitute, he doubtless had his comforts as well as his sorrows. He would console himself with such reflections as these: ‘I have no earthly treasures; but I have treasures laid up for me in heaven: I am diseased in body; but my soul flourishes in health and vigour: I am scantily supported with refuse crumbs; but I have meat to eat which the world knows not of: I am without a mortal friend to minister unto me; but God is my friend, and angels are my ministering servants: I have nothing that I can call my own in this life; but I have all the glory of heaven in the life to come.’ Yes, thousands of such considerations would raise his drooping spirits, and often render him happier than all the gratifications of sense could possibly have made him. And all who possess real religion in their hearts shall find it as conducive to their happiness in this life, as it is to their eternal felicity.]
How earnestly we should improve our time in preparation for eternity!
[Whether we be in prosperity or in affliction, we are hastening to the grave: the whole of this life is but as a dream: death will soon terminate our present joys or sorrows: and our condition in the future world will depend entirely on the manner in which we have lived in this state of probation. God has drawn aside for a moment the veil of the invisible world; and shewn us what we shall all be in a little time: yes; all of us shall be banquetting in heaven, or agonizing with inexpressible, unintermitted anguish in hell; and in whichever state we be, all transition from it will be prevented by an “impassable gulf.” Let us endeavour to realize these awful truths. Let us believe what the Scriptures have told us respecting the issue of a worldly life. Let us pity those who, like the five brethren, are hastening in the delusive paths of ease and pleasure to the place of torment. And let us live now, as we shall wish we had lived, when our state shall be for ever fixed.]