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There was a certain rich man, which had a steward
Christ’s servants are stewards
SHOW WHAT THINGS THEY ARE ENTRUSTED WITH, THAT ARE NOT THEIR OWN.
1. All earthly good things, as riches, health, time, opportunities.
2. Also spiritual goods, viz., the gospel and its ministration, spiritual knowledge, gifts, grace, the worship of God, and His ordinances, promises, providences, and care of His holy temple or vineyard.
II. SHOW WHY WE MUST CAREFULLY IMPROVE ALL THINGS THAT ARE IN OUR HANDS.
1. Earthly things.
(1) Because, whatsoever we have put into our hands is to advance the honour of our great Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, and to refresh, comfort, and support the whole household where we are placed.
(2) Because we have nothing that is our own; it is our Lord’s goods.
(3) Because if we are not faithful in the least, it may stop the hand of Christ from giving the greater things to us.
(4) It will be otherwise a wrong and great injustice to the poor, or to such for the sake of whom they that are rich are entrusted with earthly wealth, in withholding that which is theirs by Christ’s appointment from them; and so a clear demonstration of unfaithfulness both to God and man; and it may provoke God to take away from them what they have.
(5) Because we must in a short time be called to give an account of our stewardship; we must expect to hear Christ say, “What have you done with My gold and silver, My corn, My wool, and My flax? How is it that My poor have wanted bread and clothes, and My ministers have been neglected and forced to run into debt to buy necessaries to support their families?”
(6) Because if these good things be not rightly and faith fully improved as Christ commands, His poor and His ministers may be exposed to great temptations, and their souls borne down and sorely discouraged; and Satan may get advantages against them, for many snares and dangers attend outward want; moreover the name of God and religion may also thereby be exposed to the contempt of the world. Who can believe we are the people of God, when they cannot see that love to one another among them which is the character of true Christians? Or how should they think that we believe the way we are in is the true way and worship of God?
2. Spiritual things.
(1) The gospel and its ministration, because it is given to the end that we may profit thereby. It is Christ’s chief treasure, and that which He intrusts very few with. If not improved, He may take it away from us, as He has already from others. When that goes, God, Christ, and all good goes, and all evil will come in.
(2) Spiritual gifts, knowledge, etc., because given for the use and profit of the Church; and they that have them are but stewards of them, which they are commanded to improve (1 Peter 4:10). Use: Get your accounts ready; you know not but this night Christ may say, “Give an account,” etc. (B. Keach.)
All men are stewards of God
A friend stepping into the office of a Christian business man one day, noticed that he was standing at his desk with hit, hands full of banknotes, which he was carefully counting, as he laid them down one by one. After a brief silence the friend said: “Mr. H----, just count out ten pounds from that pile of notes and make yourself or some other person a life member of the Christian Giving Society!” He finished his count, and quickly replied, “I’m handling trust funds now!” His answer instantly flashed a light on the entire work and life of a Christian, and the friend replied to his statement with the question, “Do you ever handle anything but trust funds?” If Christians would only realize that all that God gives us is “in trust,” what a change would come over our use of money! “I’m handling trust funds now.” Let the merchant write the motto over his desk; the farmer over the income of his farm; the labourer over his wages; the professional man over his salary; the banker over his income; the housekeeper over her house expense purse; the boy and girl over “pocket money”--and what a change would be made in our life. A business man who had made a donation of one thousand pounds to a Christian enterprise, once said in the hearing of the writer--“I hold that a man is accountable for every sixpence he gets.” There is the gospel idea of “trust funds.” Let parents instruct and train their children to “handle trust funds” as the stewards of God’s bounty, and there will be a new generation of Christians.
The proper improvement of temporal possessions
I. That the common maxims of human wisdom in the conduct of worldly affairs, and even those of carnal and unjust policy, may be usefully applied for our direction in the concerns of religion, and they reproach the folly and slothfulness of Christians in working out their salvation; the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.”
II. The second observation is, that riches and other gifts of providence are but little in comparison with the greater and more substantial blessings which God is ready to bestow on His sincere and faithful servants; that these inferior things are committed to Christians as to stewards for the trial of their fidelity, and they who improve them carefully to the proper ends for which they were given, are entitled to the greater benefits which others forfeit, and render themselves unworthy of, by negligence and unfaithfulness. This is the meaning of the 10th and 11th verses--“He who is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in the least, is unjust also in much; if, therefore, you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true richest” We may further observe upon this head, that God hath wisely ordered the circumstances of this life in subordination to another. The enjoyments of our present state are the means of trying our virtue, and the occasions of exercising it, that so by a due improvement of them to that purpose, we may be prepared for the perfection of virtue, and complete happiness hereafter. This might be illustrated in a variety of particular instances--indeed, in the whole compass of our worldly affairs, which, according as they are conducted, either minister to virtue or vice. By the various uncertain events of life, as some are tempted to different distracting passions, to eager, anxious desire, to fear and sorrow, so there is to better disposed minds an opportunity of growing in self dominion, in an equal and uniform temper, and a more earnest prevalent desire of true goodness, which is immutable in all external changes; in afflictions there is a trial and an increase of patience, which is of so much moment as to be represented in Scripture as the height of religious perfection. Knowledge, likewise, is capable of being greatly improved for the service of mankind; and all our talents of this sort, which are distributed promiscuously to men, though little in themselves, and with respect to the main ends of our being, yet to the diligent and faithful servant, who useth them well and wisely for the cause of virtue, and under the direction of its principles, they bring great returns of real and solid benefit, which shall abide with him for ever. Thus it appeareth that Divine Providence hath wisely ordered the circumstances of our condition in this world, in our infancy of being, so that by the proper exercise of our own faculties, and the industrious improvement of the opportunities which are afforded us, we may be prepared for a better and happier state hereafter. But if, on the contrary, we are unjust to our great Master, and to ourselves, that is, to our highest interest, in the little, which is now committed to us, we thereby forfeit the greatest good we are capable of, and deprive ourselves of the true riches. If in the first trial which God taketh of us, as moral agents during our immature state, our state of childhood, we do not act a proper part, but are given up to indolence and sloth, and to a prodigal waste of our talents, the consequences of this folly and wickedness will naturally, and by the just judgment of God, cleave to us in every stage of our existence; of which there is a familiar instance every day before us in those unhappy persons who having from early youth obstinately resisted the best instructions, for the most part continue unreclaimed through their whole lives, and bring themselves to a miserable end. Let us, therefore, always consider ourselves as now under probation and discipline, and that eternal consequences of the greatest moment depend upon our present conduct.
III. The third observation is, THAT THE THINGS OF THIS WORLD COMMITTED TO OUR TRUST ARE NOT OUR OWN, BUT THE PROPERTY OF ANOTHER; BUT THE GIFTS OF GOD, GRANTED AS THE REWARD OF OUR IMPROVING THEM FAITHFULLY, HAVE A NEARER AND MORE IMMEDIATE RELATION TO OURSELVES, AND A STRICT INSEPARABLE CONNECTION WITH OUR HAPPINESS. “And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16:12.) The things which are said to be another’s, are, the unrighteous mammon, and others like it; God is the sovereign proprietor of them; they are foreign to the constitution of the human nature, and their usefulness to it is only accidental and temporary. But the other goods, virtuous integrity and the favour of God, enter deeper into the soul, and by its essential frame are a never-failing spring of joy and consolation to it in every state of existence.
It is very surprising that a man, who so much loveth and is devoted to himself, being naturally and necessarily so determined, should be so ignorant, as many are, what that self really is, and thereby be misled to place his affections on something else instead of it. By the least attention every man will see that what is meant by himself is the same person or intelligent agent, the thinking, conscious “I,” which remaineth unaltered in all changes of condition, from the remembrance of his earliest thoughts and actions to the present moment. How remote from this are riches, power, honour, health, strength, the matter ingredient in the composition of the body, and even its limbs, which may be all lost, and self still the same? These things, therefore, are “not our own,” meaning by that, what most properly and unalienably belongeth to ourselves; we hold them by an uncertain, precarious tenure, they come and go, while the same conscious, thinking being, which is strictly the man himself, continueth unchanged, in honour and dishonour, in riches and poverty, in sickness and health, and all the other differences of our outward state. But, on the contrary, state of religious virtue, which it is the intention of Christianity to bring us to, and which is the immediate effect of improving our talents diligently and faithfully, that “kingdom of God which is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost”; this is of a quite different kind, it entereth into our very selves, and closely adhereth to us; it improveth our nature, refineth and enlargeth its noblest powers; it is so much “our own,” as to become our very temper, and the ruling bent of our minds; there is nothing we are more directly conscious of in ourselves than good dispositions and good actions proceeding from them, and the consciousness is always accompanied with delight. The good man is therefore “satisfied from himself,” because his satisfaction ariseth from a review of his goodness which is intimately his own. (J. Abernethy, M. A.)
I. THE OFFICE OF STEWARD.
1. A steward is a man who administers a property which is not his own. His relation to property is distinguished on the one hand from that of those who have nothing to do with the property, because the steward has everything to do with it that he can do for its advantage; and, on the other hand, from that of the owner of the property, because the steward is no sense the owner of it, but only the administrator. His duty towards it is dependent on the will of another, and it may terminate at any moment.
2. The office of a steward is before all things a trust. It represents in human affairs a venture which the owner of a property makes, upon the strength of his estimate of the character of the man to whom he delegates the care of the property.
3. An account must at some time be rendered to some one.
(1) We are accountable to public opinion.
(2) To our own conscience.
(3) To God. If man has no account to give, no wrong that he does has the least consequence.
If man has no account to give, no wrong that is done to him, and that is unpunished by human law, will ever be punished. If man has no account to give, life is a hideous chaos; it is a game of chance in which the horrible and the grotesque alternately; bury out of sight the very last vestiges of a moral order. If man has no account to give, the old Epicurean rule in all its profound degradation may have much to say for itself (1 Corinthians 15:32).
II. HUMAN LIFE IS A STEWARDSHIP. We are stewards, whether as men or as Christians; not less in the order of nature than in the order of grace.
1. Every owner of property is in God’s sight a steward of that property, and, sooner or later, He will demand an account. Has it, however little, been spent conscientiously; or merely as the passion or freak of the moment might suggest?
2. Or, the estate of which we are stewards is a more interesting and precious one than this. It is situated in the world of the mind, in the region where none but knowledge and speculation and imagination and taste have their place and sway. Yet all this is not ours, but God’s. He is the Author of the gifts which have laid out the weed of taste and thought and knowledge; and each contributor to that world, and each student, or even each loiterer in it, is only the steward, the trustee, of endowments, of faculties which, however intimately his own when we distinguish him from other men, are not his own when we look higher and place them in the light of the rights of God. “Give an account of thy stewardship.” The real Author and Owner of the gifts of mind sometimes utters this summons to His stewards before the time of death. He withdraws the mental life of man, and leaves him still with the animal life intact and vigorous. Go to a lunatic asylum, that most pitiable assortment of all the possibilities of human degradation, and mark there, at least among some of the sufferers, those who abuse the stewardship of intelligence.
3. Or, the estate of which we are stewards is something higher still. It is the creed which we believe, the hopes which we cherish, the religion in which we find our happiness and peace as Christians. With this treasure, which He has withheld from others, God has entrusted us Christians, in whatever measure, for our own good, and also for the good of our fellow-men. Religion, too, is a loan, a trust; it is not an inalienable property.
4. And then, growing out of those three estates, is the estate of influence--that subtle, inevitable effect for good or for ill which man exerts uponthe lives of those around him. The question is, what use are we making of it; how is it telling upon friends, acquaintances, servants, correspondents, those who know us only from a distance--are we helping them upwards or downwards, to heaven or to hell? Surely a momentous question for all of us, since of this stewardship events may summon us before the end comes to give account.
5. And a last estate of which we are but stewards, is health and life. This bodily frame, so fearfully and wonderfully made, of such subtle and delicate texture that the wonder is that it should bear the wear and tear of time, and last as long as for many of us it does--of this we are not owners, we are only stewards. It is most assuredly no creation of our own, this body; and He who gave it us will in any case one day withdraw His gift. And yet how many a man thinks in his secret heart that if he owns nothing else, he does at least own, as its absolute master might own, the fabric of flesh and bones, nerves and veins, in which his animal life resides: that with this, at least, he may rightfully do what he will, even abuse and ruin and irretrievably degrade, and even kill; that here no question of another’s right can possibly occur; that here he is master on his own ground, and not a steward. Oh, piteous forgetfulness in a man who believes that he has a Creator, and that that Creator has His rights! Oh, piteous ingratitude in a Christian, who should remember that he is not his own, but is bought with a price, and that therefore he should glorify God in his body no less than in his spirit, since both are God’s! Oh, piteous illusion, the solemn moment for dissipating which is ever hurrying on apace! The Author of health and life has His own time for bidding us give an account of this solemn stewardship--often, too, when it is least expected. (Canon Liddon)
I. MEN ARE STEWARDS.
1. In regard to their talents.
(3) Physical, mental, and moral abilities.
2. In regard to their privileges. Each privilege is a sacred talent, to be utilized for personal, spiritual end. Golden in character. Uncertain in continuance.
3. In regard to their opportunities. Men are responsible not only for what they do, but also for what they are capable of doing.
II. MEN ARE STEWARDS ONLY. Whatever we have, we have received, hold in trust, and must account for to God.
III. THE RECKONING DAY IS COMING.
1. The day of reckoning is certain.
2. Uncertain as to the time.
3. Divine in its procedure. God Himself will make the final award.
4. Solemn in its character.
5. Eternal in its issues.
1. That moral responsibility is a solemn thing.
2. It is imposed upon us without our own consent.
3. That we cannot avert the day of reckoning.
4. That upon the proper use of our talents shall we reap the reward of life and blessedness.
5. That unfaithfulness to our solemn responsibilities will entail eternal disgrace and everlasting reprobation. (J. Tesseyman.)
The stewardship of life
I. THE TRUST REPOSED IN US--“Thy stewardship.” Stewardship is based upon the idea of another’s proprietorship.
1. Of the Divine Proprietorship.
2. Stewardship implies interests entrusted to human keeping and administration.
3. Stewardship implies human capability. Faithfulness cannot be compelled by an omnipotent Ruler. It is a subject of moral choice.
II. THE END OF OUR STEWARDSHIP AS HERE SUGGESTED--“Give an account. Thou mayest be no longer steward.” Moral responsibility is the solemn heritage of all rational intelligences.
1. The stewardship may be held to be determinable at death. Moral power continues, and moral obligations and duties rest on the spirit. So, there will be stewardship in eternity. But here the concern is with “the deeds done in the body.”
2. Stewardship may practically be determined before the last hour of mortal history. (The Preacher’s Monthly.)
The unjust steward
1. We are stewards, not proprietors.
2. Let me urge upon you to be faithful in whatsoever position in life you may be.
3. It is only as you are in Christ, and Christ in you, that you will be able to realize your true position, and act with true faithfulness. (A. F. Barfield.)
I. THE OBLIGATION TO THIS.
1. Because we are dependent on God.
2. Because we are accountable to Him.
II. ITS PROPER NATURE.
1. In general.
(1) It is provident of the future.
(2) It conceals not from itself the true state of matters.
(3) It is inventive of means for its well-being.
(4) It forms its purpose with greatest determination.
(5) It discloses clearly who or what can be of service to it for the accomplishment of its purpose.
(6) It does not content itself with purposes, but goes immediately to action.
(7) It employs the time without delay.
(8) It transacts everything with careful consideration.
2. In particular.
(1) It employs temporal goods in well-doing.
(2) It is mindful of death and the day of reckoning.
(3) It has an eye to eternal bliss.
III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF IT.
1. It obtains the approval of the Lord and Judge of all.
2. It renders us capable and worthy of receiving greater, truer, abiding goods. (F. G. Lisco.)
1. A regard to our own interest is a commendable principle. The great fault which men commit is, that they mistake the nature as well as the means of happiness.
2. There is another object which our Saviour has in view. It is to compare the sagacity and exertion which worldly men employ in order to attain their ends with the lukewarmness and negligence of the children of light. Do we not see with what ardour and perseverance those who place their happiness in wealth pursue their grand object?
3. We learn from parable, and the observations of our Saviour which accompany it, the manner in which riches may be applied for the advancement of happiness.
4. From this passage we may learn the benefit which good men may derive from observing the vices which prevail around them. This lesson our Saviour has taught us. By seeing vice, as it appears in the world, we may learn the nature and character, the effects and consequences of it.
5. But the principal object of this parable was evidently to teach us that the exercise of forethought is an important duty required of all Christians. Forethought, then, is necessary to reformation. It is not less necessary to improvement. For does not improvement presuppose that we seek or watch for opportunities of exercising our benevolent affections--of doing good and kind actions--and of supplying the importunate wants of the needy and the destitute? (J. Thomson, D. D.)
The unjust steward an example in one respect
If we were to wait for perfect men, men perfect in all parts and on all sides of their character, before admiring them or asking others to admire them, whom should we admire? what models or examples could we hold up before our children or our neighbours? Instead of turning so foolishly from the instruction human life offers us, we detach this quality or that from the character of men, and admire that, without for a moment meaning to set up all the man was or did as a complete model, an exact and full epitome of human excellence. We can call the attention of our children to the dexterity of a cricketer or a juggler without supposing, or being supposed, to make him the beau ideal of mental and moral character. We can admire Lord Bacon as one of “the greatest” and “wisest” of mankind, if we also admit him to have been one of “the meanest.” We can quote an eminent sceptic as a very model of patience and candour, yet deplore his scepticism. Both we and the Bible can detach noble qualities from the baser matter with which they are blended, and say, “Imitate these men in what was noble, pure, lovely,” without being supposed to add, “and imitate them also in what was mean, weak, immoral.” Why, then, should we deny our Lord the liberty we claim for ourselves? What should we expect of Him but the mode of teaching which pervades the Bible throughout? Above all, why should we suppose Him to approve what is evil in the men He puts before us, unless He expressly warns us against it, when we ourselves, and the inspired writers, seldom make any such provision against misconception? Read the parable honestly, and, according to all the analogies of human and inspired speech, you will expect to find some excellent quality in the steward which you will do well to imitate; but you will not for an instant suppose that it is his evil qualities which you are to approve. Do any ask, “What was this excellent quality?” Mark what it is, and what alone it is, that even his lord commends in the Unjust Steward. It is not his injustice, but his prudence. “His lord commended him because he had done wisely”--because on a critical occasion he had acted with a certain promptitude and sagacity, because he had seen his end clearly and gone straight at it. Did he not deserve the praise? (S. Cox)
I. IN THE PRESENT LIFE EVERY ONE OF US HAS THE CHARACTER AND PLACE OF A STEWARD.
II. THE TIME OF OUR STEWARDSHIP WILL HAVE AN END.
1. It will end certainly at death.
2. It may end suddenly.
3. Our stewardship, once ended, shall be renewed no more. When death comes, our negligences and mismanagement are fatal.
III. ON OUR CEASING TO BE STEWARDS, AN ACCOUNT OF OUR STEWARDSHIP WILL BE REQUIRED.
1. Who must give an account? I answer, every one that lives and is here a steward.
2. To whom? And this is to God; to God by Christ, to whom all judgment is com-mitred.
3. Of what will an account be demanded? The text says, of our stewardship, i.e., how we have acted in it while it lasted.
4. When will such aa account be demanded? The Scripture tells us--
(1) Immediately upon every one’s going out of his stewardship.
(2) Most solemnly at the last day.
5. what is conveyed in the expression, “Give an account of thy stewardship”?
(1) That God will deal with every one in particular.
(2) That notice is taken, and records kept of what every one now does, and this in order to a future judgment, when all is to be produced, and sentence publicly passed.
(3) Every one’s account called for to be given, shall be according to the talents wherewith he was entrusted.
1. Is every one in the present life to be considered as a steward of all that he enjoys? How unreasonable is pride in those who have the largest share of their Lord’s goods; as they have nothing but what they have received, and the more their talents, the greater the trust.
2. What cause of serious concern have all that live under the gospel, left, as stewards of the manifold grace of God, they should receive it in vain, and have their future condemnation aggravated by their present advantages, as neglected or abused?
3. Will the time of our stewardship have an end? What a value should we put upon it, as a season in which we are to act for eternity.
4. The believer has no reason to faint under the difficulties of his stewardship; seeing it will have an end, a most desirable one; and neither the services nor sufferings of the present time are worthy to be compared to the glory to be revealed.
5. When our stewardship ends, must an account be given up? It is hence evident, that the soul survives the body, and is capable of acting and of being dealt with in a way of wrath or mercy, according to the state in which it goes away; and hereupon--
6. How great and important a thing is it to die; it being to go in spirit to appear before God, and give an account of all that we have done in the body, and to be dealt with accordingly? What is consequent upon it? (Daniel Wilcox.)
In this parable the man was dispossessed from his place because he wasted goods which did not belong to him. He had been in various ways careless. The particular nature of his carelessness is not specified; but this is specified--that he was to be dispossessed because he was not faithful in the management of the property of another. Our subject, then, is: The use of funds not your own, but intrusted to your administration or keeping. Men think they have a complete case when they say, “Here is a power in my hand for a definite end, and I shall use it for that end; but I find that it is a power which may accomplish more than that: it can do good for more than the owner. I can use it and derive benefit from it. I can also benefit the community by my operations. Besides, it will never be known. Therefore men who are weaker than I will not be tempted by my example to do the same thing. It will never injure the owner, it will help me, through me it will benefit many others, and no evil shall come from it.” This would seem to make the thing secure; but let us examine the matter.
1. It would not be honest, and therefore it would not be wise, to use other people’s property for our own benefit, secretly, even if it were safe. If it did them no harm, if it did you good, and if nobody knew it, it would not be honest. You have no business to do it under any circumstances. And it does not make it any better that you have managerial care over property. In that event the sin is even greater; for you are bound to see to it that it is used for the purposes for which it was committed to your trust, and not for anything aside from that.
2. No man has a right to put property that is not his own to all the risks of commerce. What if a man thus employing trust funds does expect, what if he does mean, so and so? That is nothing. He might as well throw a babe out of a second-story window, and say that he hoped it would lodge in some tree and not be hurt, as to endanger the property of others held in trust by him, and say that he hopes it will not come to any harm. What has that to do with it? The chances are against its being safe.
3. No man has a right to put his own character for integrity and honesty upon a commercial venture. No man has a right to enter upon an enterprise where, if he succeeds, he may escape, but where, if he fails, he is ruined not simply in pocket, but in character; and yet this is what every man does who uses trust funds for his own purposes. He takes the risk of destroying himself in the eyes of honest men. He places his own soul in jeopardy.
4. No man has a right to put in peril the happiness, welfare, and good name of his family, of the neighbourhood, of the associates and friends with whom he has walked, of the Church with which he is connected, of his partners in business, of all that have been related to him.
5. No man has a right to undermine the security of property on which the welfare of individuals of the community depends in any degree. (H. W.Beecher.)
The Sunday-school teacher--a steward
I. First, then, THE STEWARD. WHAT IS HE?
1. In the first place the steward is a servant. He is one of the greatest of servants, but he is only a servant. No, we are nothing better than stewards, and we are to labour for our Master in heaven.
2. But still while the steward is a servant, he is an honourable one. Now, those who serve Christ in the office of teaching, are honourable men and women.
3. The steward is also a servant who has very great responsibility attached to his position. A sense of responsibility seems to a right man always a weighty thing.
II. And now, THE ACCOUNT--“Give an account of thy stewardship.” Let us briefly think of this giving an account of our stewardship.
1. Let us first notice that when we shall come to give an account of our stewardship before God, that account must be given in personally by every one of us. While we are here, we talk in the mass; but when we come before God, we shall have to speak as individuals.
2. And note again, that while this account must be personal it must be exact. You will not, when you present your account before God, present the gross total, but every separate item.
3. Now remember, once again, that the account must be complete. You will not be allowed to leave out something, you will not be allowed to add anything.
III. And now, though there are many other things I might say, I fear lest I might weary you, therefore let me notice some occasions when it will be WELL for you all to give an account of your stewardship; and then notice when you MUST give an account of it. You know there is a proverb that “short reckonings make long friends,” and a very true proverb it is. A man will always be at friendship with his conscience as long as he makes short reckonings with it. It was a good rule of the old Puritans, that of making frank and full confession of sin every night; not to leave a week’s sin to be confessed on Saturday night, or Sabbath morning, but to recall the failures, imperfections, and mistakes of the day, in order that we might learn from one day of failure how to achieve the victory on the morrow. Then, there are times which Providence puts in your way, which will be excellent seasons for reckoning. For instance, every time a boy or girl leaves the school, there is an opportunity afforded you of thinking. Then there is a peculiar time for casting up accounts when a child dies. But if you do not do it then, I will tell you when you must; that is when you come to die. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
A certain rich man had a steward
We learn here incidentally, how evenly balanced are the various conditions of life in a community, and how little of substantial advantage wealth can confer on its possessor. As your property increases, your personal control over it diminishes; the more you possess, the more you must entrust to others. Those who do their own work are not troubled with disobedient servants; those who look after their own affairs are not troubled with unfaithful overseers. (W. Arnot.)
Give an account of thy stewardship
An account demanded
1. An account of the blessings received, children of prosperity.
2. An account of the fruit of trial, members of the school of suffering!
3. An account of the time measured out to you, sons of mortality!
4. An account of the message of salvation received, ye that are shined upon by that light which is most cheering! (Van Oosterzee.)
How much owest thou unto my Lord?--
The obligations of Great Britain to the gospel
I. Our first appeal must be made to rest upon the BROAD BASIS OF OUR PRIVILEGES AS A NATION. How much, I ask, do we of this land owe to the God of all mercies, as inheritors of the noble patrimony of a constitutional government; as dwelling under the shadow of equal law; as enriched with a commerce which allies us with the most distant extremities of the earth; as honoured, in the great brotherhood of nations, for our literature, for our science, for our vanguard position in all the ennobling arts of life; as rich in agencies for promoting the physical and moral happiness of all classes of our people, providing for the young, the old, the fallen, the outcast--for the poor a shelter, and for the sick a home; as enjoying a liberty of thought and conscience, free as the winds which sweep round our shores, and yet as having a governing power over the opinions of other nations, which controls more than half the world? For how much of such blessings we are indebted to our Christianity, we may admit, it is not easy to determine. Here, then, I rest my first appeal to your gratitude as possessors of a national Christianity. Religion, says Burke, is the basis of civil society, and education in its truths is the chief defence of nations. It hallows the sanctions of law. It puts the seal of heaven on social order. It ministers to learning and the liberal arts. It strengthens the foundations of civil liberty. It refines the habits of domestic life. It makes each home that embraces it a centre of blessing to the neighbourhood, and every country that adorns and honours it a centre of light unto the world. And this is the religion which by the gospel is preached unto you. “How much owest thou unto my Lord?”
II. But let me urge a claim upon your gratitude, in the next place, ARISING OUT OF THAT PURE AND REFORMED FAITH, WHICH IN THIS COUNTRY IT IS OUR PRIVILEGE TO ENJOY. “How much owest thou unto thy lord,” for the glorious light and liberty of the Protestant faith, for the recovered independence of our ancient British Church, for the Protestantism of Ridley, and Latimer, Jewel, and other faithful men, who witnessed for the truth of God by their teaching, and some of them with their blood?
1. How much do we owe for a permanent standard of religious faith--for a “form of sound words” which yet bows implicitly to the decision of the sacred oracles to approve its soundness?
2. Again, how much do we owe for the clearer views--brought out anew as it were from the concealment and dust of ages--of the method of a sinner’s acceptance and justification, through faith in the merits of Christ to deliver, and by the influences of His Spirit to restore.
3. Again, we owe much to the men of those times for their vindication of the great principles of political and religious freedom, and the services thereby rendered to the cause of moral progress in the world.
III. I must not conclude, brethren, without urging upon you one form of gratitude, which, to those who have experience of it, will be far more constraining than any! have yet brought before you, I mean THE DEBT WHICH YOU OWE TO THE GOD OF ALL GRACE AS BEING YOURSELVES PARTAKERS OF THE SPIRIT AND HOPES OF THE GOSPEL. And I ask how much owest thou for a part in Christ, for a sense of forgiveness, for the weight lifted off the burdened conscience. (D. Moore, M. A.)
The universality of debt to God
I. I turn at first TO THE ESTABLISHED CHRISTIAN and ask, How much owest thou unto my Lord?
II. Is any here A LOVER OF PLEASURE MORE THAN A LOVER OF GOD? How much owest thou unto my Lord? “He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” O will ye defraud Jesus of the travail of His soul, by making an idol of the world and bowing down before it as before your God?
III. Are any among you offending God, BY DISREGARD OF HIS LAWS, OR UNBELIEF OF HIS GREAT SALVATION.
IV. There are persons who have DECLINED IN RELIGION. “Ye did run well, who hath hindered you?” O take with you words of penitence and sorrow, and turn to the Lord your God.
V. Once more. LET ME ADDRESS THE AFFLICTED SERVANT OF CHRIST, and say, How much owest thou unto my Lord? (R. P. Buddicom.)
Man’s debt to his Maker
I. I might remind you, in the first place, of our obligations to God, AS CREATURES OF HIS HAND. He not only made us, but He preserves us; “in Him we live, and move, and have our being.” Are there no obligations that we have incurred, in consequence of our constant reception of these varied mercies at the hands of God?
II. But I proceed to take another view of our subject, and to remind you HOW WE ARE INDEBTED TO GOD AS SINNERS AGAINST HIS RIGHTEOUS LAW. You will remember that the blessed Saviour teaches us to look upon sins in the light of debts. Surely there is none present who would have the hardihood to say that he owes nothing (Jeremiah 2:22-23).
III. Let me remind you next, of DUTIES THAT HAVE BEEN NEGLECTED. Alas I how long a list might here be made, in the catalogue of unworthiness, ingratitude, and guilt! To say nothing of our unprofitableness, under the public ordinances and means of grace, what says conscience as to our daily communion with God in privacy and retirement?
IV. I must remind you, further, of OPPORTUNITIES THAT HAVE BEEN UNIMPROVED. We have, first, the opportunities of gaining good, and then the opportunities of doing good.
V. But there is yet another view of our subject. How much do we owe unto Him, as those who have hopes of pardon through His mercy in Christ Jesus? (W. Cadman, M. A.)
Owing to God
A merchant, who was a God-fearing man, was very successful in business, but his soul did not seem to prosper accordingly; his offerings to the Lord he did not feel disposed to increase. One evening he had a remarkable dream; a visitor entered the apartment, and quietly looking round at the many elegancies and luxuries by which he was surrounded, without any comment, presented him with the receipts for his subscriptions to various societies, and urged their claims upon his enlarged sympathy. The merchant replied with various excuses, and at last grew impatient at the continued appeals. The stranger rose, and fixing his eye on his companion, said, in a voice that thrilled to his soul, “One year ago tonight, you thought that your daughter lay dying; you could not rest for agony. Upon whom did you call that night?” The merchant started and looked up; there seemed a change to have passed over the whole form of his visitor, whose eye was fixed upon him with a calm, penetrating look, as he continued--“Five years ago, when you lay at the brink of the grave, and-thought that if you died then, you would leave a family unprovided for--do you remember how you prayed then? Who saved you then?” Pausinga moment, he went on in a lower and still more impressive tone--“Do you remember, fifteen years since, that time when you felt yourself so lost, so helpless, so hopeless; when you spent day and night in prayer; when you thought you would give the world for one hour’s assurance that your sins were forgiven--who listened to you then?” “It was my God and Saviour!” said the merchant, with a sudden burst of remorseful feeling; “oh yes, it was He!” “And has He ever complained of being called on too often? “ inquired the stranger, in a voice of reproachful sweetness. “Say--are you willing to begin this night, and ask no more of Him, if He, from this time, will ask no more of you?” “Oh, never! never!” said the merchant, throwing himself at his feet. The figure vanished, and he awoke; his whole soul stirred within him. “O God and Saviour I what have I been doing! Take all--take everything I What is all that I have, to what Thou hast done for me? “
And the Lord commended the unjust steward
The unjust steward teaching a lesson prudence
HOW INTIMATELY MIXED UP WITH EACH OTHER ARE VIRTUES AND VICES, GOOD AND EVIL, IN THIS HUMAN WORLD. In fact, no bad man is without some redeeming quality; and no good man (who is merely man) is without some taint or defect that mars the harmony and soils the whiteness of character. In the best men there is something to regret; in the worst there is something to admire and to imitate. What, e.g., can possibly be worse than the general conduct of this steward? Here he is treated with generous confidence by his employer, and he is guilty first of a carelessness in dealing with his master’s property, which amounts to a breach of trust, and next of a deliberate effort to gain credit for personal generosity, and to make provision for his own future by falsifying the bonds in his keeping, which represent debts due to his employer. The man’s moral nature, we say, must have utterly broken down, before such conduct could have been possible; and yet our Lord discerns an excellence glittering amidst this moral darkness. He puts forth His hand, and He isolates from the corruption which surrounds it in the steward’s character, and He lifts up on high, that it may be admired and copied in Christendom to the very end of time one single virtue--the virtue of prudence.
II. THE HIGH RELIGIOUS VALUE OF PRUDENCE; its need and function in relation to the life and future of the soul. Prudence is in man what providence is in Almighty Cod. Its great characteristic is, that it keeps its eye upon what is coming; it looks forward to the future that really awaits us. What is that future? Nothing, most assuredly, nothing that lies within the compass of the few years, if indeed, there are to be a few years, that will precede our disappearance from this visible scene, but the existence beyond, of whatever character it be, to which, so far as we know, there is neither term nor limit. We know what to think of the men who trifle with baubles when great earthly interests are trembling in the balance, in those solemn moments which come and pass, and come not again, the moments on which all depends. Who can forget Carlyle’s description of the unhappy Louis XVI., when, in his endeavour to escape from the triumphant revolution, he was brought to a standstill by the suspicious officiousness of some of the petty local authorities of Varennes? A little nerve would have enabled the king to escape the barrier that his enemies had thrown across the public road, by making a slight circuit in his carriage through the adjoining fields, and in twenty minutes or half an hour he would have been safe among his friends; and the course of his own life and all European history might have been very different, to say the least, from the event. But he hesitated, and hesitation was ruin. He hesitated, and as they showed him into the parlour of the village inn he discussed, with the good-humoured courtesy that belonged to him, the precise quality of the burgundy that was placed upon the table. But meanwhile events outside were shaping themselves irrevocably into the fatal grooves of that long procession of humiliation and suffering which ended with the guillotine. This life, for many of us, is the halt at Varennes. It is incumbent on us first of all to feel how immense are the issues that depend on the use we make of its fleeting moments. We must bear in mind that its opportunities are as brief as the consequences that depend on them are incalculable. This power of anticipating the reality, the reality as distinct from the appearance, is the first ingredient of religious prudence. We, too, have the sentence of dismissal hanging over us; but do we understand what it means, as did the unjust steward in the parable? For the second business of prudence is to take measures to prepare for that which is coming on us, and to lose no time in doing so. We must not let things drift, and trust for a good issue to some imaginary chapter of accident; we must make friends, as did the steward, who will receive us in this new future into their houses. And who are those friends? Clearly the friends suggested by the parable are the poor. The story of Fernandez de Cordova, who wrapped up in his robe the leper who was lying deserted by all men on the roadside, and who set him down on his bed to find indeed that he had passed away, but also to trace on his brow, on his hands, on his feet, the marks of His sacred passion, embodies why the poor can be said to be received into everlasting habitations. They are not alone, they are identified with One who has shared their sufferings without sharing their weakness; and who knows well how to reward that which is done to Himself in them. Yes, most assuredly, one Friend there is whose power to help us is without limit. He can help us through our passage to our new home, for He died that by His death He might destroy him that hath the power of death, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. And He can provide for us when we get there, since among His parting words were these: “In My Father’s house,” etc. Are our relations with Him such as to warrant our claiming His help in the hour of need? (Canon Liddon.)
Lessons from the children of this world
1. From their sagacity learn to forecast how to please God; to forearm ourselves against all assaults and wiles of Satan; to fore-think, and to be in some measure provided beforehand of needful and proper expedients for any exigent or cross accident that may probably befall us.
2. From their industry learn not to be slothful in doing service, not to slack the time of our repentance and turning to God; to run with constancy and courage the race that is set before us; to think no pains, no travel, too much, that may bring us to heaven; to work out our salvation to the uttermost with fear and trembling.
3. From their hypocrisy and outward seeming holiness learn to have our conversations honest towards them that are without, not giving the least scandal in anything that may bring reproach upon the gospel; to shun the very appearances of evil; and having first cleansed the reside well, to keep the outside handsome too, that by our piety, devotion, meekness, patience, obedience, justice, charity, humility, and all holy graces, we may not only stop up the mouth of the adversary from speaking evil of us, but may also win glory to God, and honour and reputation to our Christian profession thereby.
4. From their unity learn to follow the truth in love, to lay aside vain janglings, and opposition of science falsely so called; to make up the breaches that are in the Church of Christ, by moderating and reconciling differences, rather than to widen them by multiplying controversies, and maintaining hot disputes; to follow the things that make for peace, and whereby we may edify one another. This doing, we may gather grapes of thorns; make oil of scorpions; extract all the medicinal virtue out of the serpent, and yet leave all the poisonous and malignant quality behind. (Bishop Sanderson.)
Ninth Sunday after Trinity;
It was a piece of sheer rascality from beginning to end. There was no honesty in the man. He was out and out a child of this world--an example of the bad faith and base principles which govern in those who have no fear of God before their eyes. Though he did most unjustly, he yet did “wisely.” There was a cunning, skill, calculation, farsightedness, and perfection of adjustment of means to his ends, worthy of all praise, if only it had been used in a better cause. And it is just here that we find the chief point in this parable. Separating the morality of the deed from the wit that directed it, the Saviour fixes upon the skill and prudence of this unjust man as an illustration of the foresight and calculation which should mark our conduct with reference to the necessities that are upon us in relation to eternity. There are three things specially noticeable in the case of this shrewd villain, in which his example furnishes copy for our imitation.
1. He considerately directed his thoughts towards the future. His worldliness and wickedness we are of course to eschew. But as he looked forward to his needs when his stewardship was ended, so are we to have respect to the solemn realities of the judgment and another life.
2. The unjust steward was also very diligent in improving his time, and making the most of his opportunities. If ever there was energy in him, it was now called into the fullest activity. Here was wisdom. Had he waited, postponed, delayed, the opportunity would have passed. O that miserable delusion. Time enough yet! How many has it utterly and irremediably ruined!
3. The unjust steward made very efficient use of very transient possessions. The control of his master’s estates was in process of passing for ever from his hands. But he was wise enough to make them yet tell for his advantage in the beyond. And in allusion to this the Saviour says, “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness”; that is, of the deceitful and fleeting riches of this world; “that when ye fail they may receive you”--or, ye may be received--“into everlasting habitations.” There is nothing so fleeting and uncertain as riches. But fleeting, deceptive, and uncertain as they are, so long as they are in our hands, they may be turned to good account, and made to tell advantageously upon our eternal peace. We cannot buy admission into heaven with money. But we can add to our blessedness with money, and attain to higher rewards in heaven by a right disposition of the possessions of this life. “ He that giveth to the poor, lendeth to the Lord”; and the same shall be returned again with interest. “The liberal soul shall be made fat.” Closehanded miserliness, and reckless waste and speculation, are as sinful and incompatible with piety, as profaneness and unbelief. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
Worldlings an example to Christians
I. THEY RECOGNIZE MORE CLEARLY THE NECESSITY OF PERSONAL EFFORT TO ENSURE SUCCESS. It was so with this unjust steward. Must do something. It is so with the politician, lawyer, business man. Instead of merely hoping, wishing, they put their shoulder to the wheel.
II. THEY RECOGNIZE MORE CLEARLY THE NEED OF THOUGHT, REFLECTION, ON THE METHODS TO BE ADOPTED. III. THEY ARE MORE WILLING TO MAKE PERSONAL SACRIFICES.
IV. THEY MORE FREQUENTLY MAKE SELF-EXAMINATION. Take stock. See whether they are advancing or going backward. (J. Ogle.)
The wisdom of making provision for the future
I. IT IS PART OF GREAT WISDOM TO PROVIDE FOR THE FUTURE.
1. This appears by the care and practice of all wise, rational men.
2. It appears by the care and labour of irrational or mere animal creatures.
3. It appears to be a point of great wisdom, because God Himself bewails the folly of His people of old upon this respect (Deuteronomy 32:29).
4. It must needs be great wisdom to provide for the future well-being of our souls, because all that were ever esteemed to be wise before or above all other things preferred this matter (Hebrews 11:25-26; 2 Corinthians 4:18).
5. Because there is no avoiding our entering into an endless state of joy or sorrow.
6. Because the soul far exceeds in worth the body and all things in this world.
7. Because God from eternity studied and provided for the future good of our souls and bodies for ever.
8. Consider how soon I or any may fail, how soon the youngest may like a flower fade away; it may be this year, this month, this week, nay, this night.
9. If you are not provided for your future state, consider how dismal at death your state will be. Is it not the highest wisdom to prevent or seek to escape the greatest evil, and be possessed of the greatest good?
10. Consider that God has found out a way to make us happy for ever; and observe what promises He has made to such as before all things seek the kingdom of heaven and His righteousness.
11. How have many thousands bewailed their great folly in not providing for the time to come!
II. WHAT FUTURE TIME IS IT SUCH WISDOM TO PROVIDE FOR?
1. Against that time when the means of grace may fail, or all provision for the future may utterly be cut off, or our understanding fail.
2. The hour of death.
3. The day of judgment.
III. SHOW WHEREIN A WISE AND PRUDENT CARE TO PROVIDE FOR THE FUTURE CONSISTS.
1. We ought to think of our future state, into which we shall and must pass, when the soul shall be separated from the body.
(1) Think of the certainty of a future state of joy or sorrow.
(2) The nearness of it,
2. Consider the necessity of your knowing Christ, or of being united to Him by faith; for unless you truly believe in Jesus Christ, you cannot be prepared for the time to come.
3. This wisdom consists in a careful use of the means God affords, and has ordained, in order to faith, or a sinner’s believing in Christ Jesus.
(2) The hearing of the Word (Isaiah 42:23).
1. This reproves such as pursue the world as if they came into it for no other end but to eat and drink and heap a little white and yellow earth.
2. It reproves such as prefer the world above the Word, and the body above the soul.
3. It reproves such as put the evil day afar off, as if we spoke of things that will be long before they come.
4. It commends those who are heavenly, it shows the saints only are truly wise. (B. Keach.)
Lessons that the Church may learn from the world
Note some respects in which the world shames the Church.
1. There is the clearness of vision with which the worldly man perceives the object of his pursuit.
2. There is the unremitting effort with which, in relation to the attainment of this world’s good, men pursue their object. Religion is not so real to most of us as markets and money are to merchants.
3. Think how careful men of the world are to use all their resources for the attainment of their end. No drones. No square men in round holes..
4. Think how determinedly the children of this world refuse to be deterred from prosecuting their schemes by the temporary failure of their efforts.
5. Is it not true that even the children of light themselves prosecute their worldly affairs in far more vigorous fashion than their religious duties? Does not care sometimes wellnigh crowd prayer out of our lives? Are we not all too prone to count our own private business that which must be done, and God’s work that which may be done? (J. R. Bailey.)
An example of wisdom from the unjust steward
I. THE WISDOM OF THIS WORLD. There are three classes of men. Those who believe that one thing is needful, and choose the better part, who believe in and live for eternity; these are not mentioned here: those who believe in the world, and live for it: and those who believe in eternity, and half live for the world. Forethought for self made the steward ask himself, “What shall I do?” Here is the thoughtful, contriving, sagacious man of the world. In the affairs of this world, the man who does not provide for self, if he enter into competition with the world on the world’s principles, soon finds himself thrust aside; he will be put out. It becomes necessary to jostle and struggle in the great crowd if he would thrive. With him it is not, first the kingdom of God; but first, what he shall eat, and what he shall drink, and wherewithal shall he be clothed. Note the kind of superiority in this character that is commended. There are certain qualities which really do elevate a man in the seals of being, lie who pursues a plan steadily is higher than he who lives by the hour. You cannot but respect such an one. The value of self-command and self-denial is exemplified in the cases of the diplomatist who masters his features while listening; the man of pleasure who is prudent in his pleasures; the man of the world who keeps his temper and guards his lips. How often, after speaking hastily the thought which was uppermost, and feeling the cheek burn, you have looked back in admiration on some one who held his tongue even though under great provocation to speak.
II. In contrast with the wisdom of the children of this world, the Redeemer SHOWS THE INCONSISTENCIES OF THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT. Now the want of Christian wisdom consists in this, that our stewardship is drawing to a close, and no provision is made for an eternal future. We are all stewards. Every day, every age of life, every year, gives us superintendence over something which we have to use, and the use of which tells for good or evil on eternity. Childhood and manhood pass. The day passes: and, as its close draws near, the Master’s voice is heard--“Thou mayest be no longer steward.” And what are all these outward symbols but types and reminders of the darker, longer night that is at hand? One by one, we are turned out of all our homes. The summons comes. The man lies down on his bed for the last time; and then comes that awful moment, the putting down the extinguisher on the light, and the grand rush of darkness on the spirit. Let us now consider our Saviour’s application of this parable. There are two expressions to be explained.
1. “Mammon of unrighteousness.” Mammon is the name of a Syrian god, who presided over wealth. Mammon of unrighteousness means the god whom the unrighteous worship--wealth. It is not necessarily gold. Any wealth; wealth being weal or well-being. Time, talents, opportunity, and authority, all are wealth. Here the steward had influence. It is called the mammon of unrighteousness, because it is ordinarily used, not well, but ill. Power corrupts men. Riches harden more than misfortune.
2. “Make to yourselves friends.” Wise arts, holy and unselfish deeds, secure friends. Wherever the steward went he found a friend. The acts of his beneficence were spread over the whole of his master’s estate. Go where he would, he would receive a welcome. In this way our good actions become our friends. And if it be no dream which holy men have entertained, that on this regenerated earth the risen spirits shall live again in glorified bodies, then it were a thing of sublime anticipation, to know that every spot hallowed by the recollection of a deed done for Christ, contains a recollection which would be a friend. Just as the patriarchs erected an altar when they felt God to be near, till Palestine became dotted with these memorials, so would earth be marked by a good man’s life with those holiest of all friends, the remembrance of ten thousand little nameless acts of piety and love. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
The superiority of the worldly man’s wisdom to the godly man’s
I. Our first object is TO ESTABLISH THE FACT, THAT “THE CHILDREN OF THIS WORLD ARE WISER IN THEIR GENERATION THAN THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT.” We hold unreservedly, in both these respects, the wisdom of “the children of this world” is a vast deal more conspicuous than the wisdom of “the children of light.” You need only cast your eye over the busy group of the world’s population, and you will observe for the most part a fixedness of purpose which is altogether admirable. If a man have turned his desires on the amassing of money, he will not be driven aside, even for a solitary moment, from the business of accumulation; it will be plain to all around him, that he is literally given up to the influence of one engrossing and domineering passion; and if pleasure and ambition do exert over him authority, they are but tributaries to the prominent desire, and in no sense the principal in the empire of his heart. The case is exactly the same with the man of ambition: he has fastened his wishes on some lofty point in the scale of human preferment, and it is not the syren voice of voluptuousness, and it is not the stern ruggedness of the upward path, by which he can be induced to turn away his eagle glance from the shadowy prize which floats above him. But if we turn from “ the children of this world” to “the children of light,” we shall not find the fixedness and constancy of purpose which we see indicated in “the children of the world.” But we go on to observe, in the second place, that wisdom is to be discovered in the choice and employment of means as well as in fixedness and constancy of purpose; and thus we think in this respect the comparison will go against “the children of light.” You cannot fail to observe among the men of the world a singular shrewdness in finding out the methods most likely to effect their designs, and as singular a diligence in trying and adapting them. You will see nothing irrelevant, nothing which in all probability is likely to frustrate in place of forwarding, no risks run unless the chances of advantage do more than apparently counterbalance the chances of damage. You will not find them endangering their property by exposing it to sharpers, as a Christian does his piety by bringing it in contact with unrighteousness. You will not observe them so dull of apprehension, when there are opportunities of personal aggrandizement to be improved, as religious men appear when God affords them occasions to become better acquainted with Himself. You will not detect in them that indiscreetness in making associations with parties who are not likely to help them, which you see in believers running heedlessly into fellowship with unbelievers. The complaint of the prophet has lost nothing of its force in coming down through a succession of centuries; “Men are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge.” And if in the choice of means, pre-eminence of wisdom must be denied to “the children of light,” then in the employment of means we fear they still less can be held supreme. If you take “the children of light” in the Church where they are professedly giving their whole soul to the service of God, and take “the children of this world” on the exchange, when avowedly occupied with their temporal aggrandizement, on which side will yon find the most devoted attention to the business in hand? If you take “the children of light,” when met by difficulties in their heavenward career, and “the children of the world” when stopped in the path of human preferment, which will set themselves with the most out and out energy to overleap the impediments? If you take “the children of light” when scoffers are around them jeering their piety, and “ the children of the world “when sarcasms are being passed on covetousness or ambition, which will he most moved
II. We come now to INVESTIGATE THE CAUSES TO WHICH THE SUPERIORITY UNDER REVIEW MAY BE LEGITIMATELY TRACED. In the first place it would seem well-nigh impossible that the delights of the next world should exert as powerful and pervading an influence as the delights of the present world, which address themselves directly to our senses. “The children of the world” have nothing to do but to follow the dictates of their senses; while we do almost say, that “the children of light” begin by doing violence to their senses. And thus, while worldly men may bring mind and body, and life together to the pursuit of their end, godly men have the body as well as the mind from the outset to the termination of their career to combat with; and if it be lawful to bring forward these truths, by way of excuse they may clearly be adduced, as accounting for the fact that the ungodly exhibit greater constancy of purpose than the godly; or in other words, that “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” Again, the unrighteous have only to do with one world; whereas the righteous have necessarily to do with two worlds. If I make the amassing of wealth my end, I may give to it an undivided and an undistracted attention, I concern not myself with the things of eternity; and what then shall interfere with my pressing on in the pursuit of the things of time? It is widely different with “the children of light.” There must be earthly matters just as well as heavenly matters which require their attention; they cannot detach themselves from commerce, or from labour, or from study, and care only for the soul as ii there were no body to provide for, just as the worldly care only for the body as if there were no soul to provide for; and though it may be perfectly true, according to some of our foregoing remarks, that the minor interests may be, and ought to be, made subservient to the major; it is equally true that the difficulty is almost incalculable of so using the present world as not to abuse it, and following the occupations of earth with the dispositions of heaven. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The children of this world wiser than the children of light
The words are a comparison, in which we have--
1. The persons compared, “the children of this world,” and “the children of light.” It is a very usual phrase among the Hebrews, when they would express anything to partake of such a nature or quality, to call it the son or child of such a thing. Thus good men are called “the children of God,” and bad men “the children of the devil”; those who mind earthly things, and make the things of this world their greatest aim and design, are called “the children of this world”; and those who are better enlightened with the knowledge of their own immortality, and the belief of a future state after this life, are called “the children of light.”
2. Here is the thing wherein they are compared, and that is, as to their wisdom and prudence.
3. The object of this prudence, which is not the same in both; as if the sense were that “the children of this world are wiser than the children of light” as to the things of this world; but here are two several objects intended, about which the prudence of these two sorts of persons is respectively exercised, the concernments of this world and the other; and our Saviour’s meaning is, “that the children of this world are wiser in their generation,” that is, in their way; viz., as to the interests and concernments of this world, “than the children of light “ are in theirs; viz., as to the interests and concernments of the other world.
4. Here is a decision of the matter, and which of them it is that excels in point of prudence, in their way; and our Saviour gives it to the “children of this world”; they “are wiser in their generation than the children of light.”
I. I SHALL ENDEAVOUR TO CONFIRM AND ILLUSTRATE THE TRUTH OF THIS, BY CONSIDERING THE SEVERAL PARTS AND PROPERTIES OF WISDOM.
1. They are usually more firmly fixed and resolved upon their end. Whatever they set up for their end, riches, or honours, or pleasures, they are fixed upon it, and steady in the prosecution of it.
2. “The children of this world” are wiser in the choice of means in order to their end; and this is a great part of wisdom, for some means will bring about an end with less pains, and difficulty, and expense of time than others.
3. “The children of this world” are commonly more diligent in the use of means for the obtaining of their end; they will sweat and toil, and take any pains, “rise up early, and lie down late, and eat the bread of carefulness”; their thoughts are continually running upon their business, and they catch at every opportunity of promoting it; they will pinch nature, and harass it; and rob themselves of their rest, and all the comfort of their lives, to raise their fortune and estate.
4. The men of the world are more invincibly constant and pertinacious in the pursuit of earthly things; they are not to be bribed or taken off by favour or fair words; not to be daunted by difficulties, or dashed out of countenance by the frowns and reproaches of men.
5. The men of the world will make all things stoop and submit to that which is their great end and design; their end rules them, and governs them, and gives laws to all their actions; they will make an advantage of everything, and if it will not serve their end one way or other, they will have nothing to do with it.
II. GIVE SOME PROBABLE ACCOUNT OF THIS BY CONSIDERING WHAT ADVANTAGES “THE CHILDREN OF THIS WORLD” HAVE ABOVE “THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT.”
1. The things of this world are present and sensible, and, because of their nearness to us, are apt to strike powerfully upon our senses, and to affect us mightily, to excite our desires after them, and to work strongly upon our hopes and fears: but the things of another world being remote from us, are lessened by their distance, and consequently are not apt to work so powerfully upon our minds.
2. The sensual delights and enjoyments of this world are better suited, and more agreeable to the corrupt and degenerate nature of men, than spiritual and heavenly things are to those that are regenerate.
3. The worldly man’s faith and hope, and fear of present and sensible things, is commonly stronger than a good man’s faith and hope, and fear of things future and eternal. Now faith, and hope, and fear, are the great principles which govern and bear sway in the actions and lives of men.
4. The men of the world have but one design, and are wholly intent upon it, and this is a great advantage. Application to one thing, especially in matters of practice, gains a man perfect experience in it, and experience furnisheth him with observations about it, and these make him wise and prudent in that thing. But good men, though they have a great affection for heaven and heavenly things, yet the business and necessities of this life do very much divert and take them off from the care of better things; they are divided between the concernments of this life and the other, and though there be but one thing necessary in comparison, yet the conveniences of this life are to be regarded; and though our souls be our main care, yet some consideration must be had-of our bodies, that they may be fit for the service of our souls; so that we cannot always and wholly apply ourselves to heavenly things, and mind them as the men of the world do the things of this world.
5. The men of the world have a greater compass and liberty in the pursuit of their worldly designs, than good men have in the prosecution of their interests. The “children of light” are limited and confined to the use of lawful means for the compassing of their ends; but the men of the world are not so strait-laced; they are resolved upon the point, and will stick at no means to compass their end.
1. Notwithstanding the commendation which hath been given of the wisdom of this world, yet upon the whole matter it is not much to be valued and admired. It is, indeed, great in its way and kind; but it is applied to little and low purposes, employed about the concernments of a short time and a few days, about the worst and meanest part of ourselves, and accompanied with the neglect of greater and better things. This ii wisdom, to regard our main interest; but if we be wrong in our end (as all worldly men are), the faster and farther we go, the more fatal is our error and mistake. “The children of this world” are out in their end, and mistaken in the main; they are wise for this world, which is inconsiderable to eternity; wise for a little while, And fools for ever,
2. From what hath been said, we may infer, that if we lose our souls, and come short of eternal happiness, it is through our own fault and gross neglect; for we see that men are wise enough for this world; and the same prudence, and care, and diligence, applied to the concernments of our souls, would infallibly make us happy.
3. What a shame and reproach is this to the children of light! (Archbishop Tillotson.)
It is merely the wisdom, the practical sagacity, the savoir faire of the steward that is commended to our attention and imitation. A bad thing may be well done. The most admirable qualities--industry, perseverance, bravery, quickness--may serve to accomplish a wicked as well as a righteous purpose. Few can withhold a tribute of applause from the forger who successfully copies a very difficult banknote, or elaborates a professedly medieval document so as to deceive even the experts. No one commends the morality of David when he played the madman at Gath, and scrabbled on the gate; but who has not smiled at his skill in meeting the occasion, in overreaching all his enemies, and making them serve him by the simple device of hiding the brightest intellect of the age under the vacant, silly stare of the idiot? The wisdom of the unjust steward, which we are invited to admire, appeared mainly in his businesslike apprehension of the actual situation in which he was placed, and his sagacity and promptitude in making the most of it. He looked the facts in the face. He did not buoy himself up with delusive hopes. He did not waste his brief opportunity in idle expectations. He manfully faced the inevitable, and this was his salvation. The ability to do so is a great part of what is known as a strong character (Marcus Dods, D. D.)
The true wisdom.
Our Lord pronounced the children of this world “wise in their generation”; and who can doubt that thousands who are lost would, with God’s blessing, be saved, did they bring the same prudence, and diligence, and energy to their eternal, as they do to their temporal interests? But in how many people is consummate wisdom joined to the greatest folly? They are wise enough to gain the world, and fools enough to lose their souls. Convince a man that the only way to save his life is to part with his limb, and he does not hesitate an instant between living with one limb and being buried with two. Borne into the operating theatre, pale, yet resolute, he bares the diseased member to the knife. And how well does that bleeding, fainting, groaning sufferer teach us to part with our sins rather than with our Saviour. If life is better than a limb, how much better is heaven than a sin? Two years ago a man was called to decide between preserving his life, and parting with the gains of his lifetime. A gold-digger, he stood on the deck of a ship that, coming from Australian shores, had--as some all but reach heaven--all but reached her harbour in safety. The exiles had been coasting along their native shores: and to-morrow, husbands would embrace their wives, children their parents, and not a few realize the bright dream of returning to pass the evening of their days in happiness amid the loved scenes of their youth. But as the proverb runs, there is much between the cup and the lip. Night came lowering down; and with the night a storm that wrecked ship, and hopes, and fortunes, all together. The dawning light but revealed a scene of horror--death staring them in the face. The sea, lashed into fury, ran mountains high; no boat could live in her. One chance still remained. Pale women, weeping children, feeble and timid men must die; but a stout, brave swimmer, with trust in God, and disencumbered of all impediments, might reach the shore, where hundreds stood ready to dash into the boiling surf, and, seizing, save him. One man was observed to go below. He bound around his waist a heavy belt, filled with gold, the hard gains of his life; and returned to the deck. One after another, he saw his fellow-passengers leap overboard. After a brief but terrible struggle, head after head went down--sunk by the gold they had fought hard to gain, and were loth to lose. Slowly he was seen to unbuckle his belt. His hopes had been bound up in it. It was to buy him land, and ease, and respect--the reward of long years of hard and weary exile. What hardships he had endured for it! The sweat of his brow, the hopes of day and the dreams of night, were there. If he parts with it, he is a beggar; but then if he keeps it, he dies. He poised it in his hand; balanced it for a while; took a long, sad look at it; and then with one strong, desperate effort, flung it far out into the roaring sea. Wise man I It sinks with a sullen plunge; and now he follows it--not to sink, but, disencumbered of its weight, to swim; to beat the billows manfully; and, riding on the foaming surge, to reach the shore. Well done, brave gold-digger! Ay, well done, and well chosen; but if “a man,” as the devil said, who once spoke God’s truth, “ will give all that he hath for his life,” how much more should he give all he hath for his soul? Better to part with gold than with God; to bear the heaviest cross than miss a heavenly, crown! (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness
The right use of unrighteous mammon
By the “mammon of unrighteousness” we are very clearly to understand money; but why it has been so called by Christ is not so evident.
Perhaps the simplest, as it is certainly the most obvious explanation, is because it is so frequently unrighteously acquired, and so much more frequently as the man’s own possession, and not as a trust of which he is merely a steward. But, however the epithet “unrighteous” may be accounted for, the thing which it characterizes is money. Now, there is a time when that shall fail. Death says to each man, “Give an account of thy stewardship, for thou mayest be no longer steward.” We can carry with us nothing out of this world. Money cannot-simply and only as money--be transferred into the world beyond; but it may be so used in this world as to add to and intensify a Christian’s happiness in the next. We are familiar with the fact, in our daily lives here, that money may become the means of procuring that which is better than itself. Thus knowledge is better than wealth; yet by a wise use of wealth we may acquire knowledge. So, by a judicious employment of money as trustees for God, in communicating to the necessities of the saints, we shall secure that those whom we have thus relieved shall receive us into everlasting habitations. This use of money will not purchase our admission into heaven; but it will make friends for us there, whose gratitude will add to our enjoyment, and increase our blessedness. It will not open the gates for our entrance. Only Christ is the door. Through Him alone can we gain ingress. But it will affect what Peter calls the “abundance” of our entrance, for it will secure the presence there of those who have been benefited by our faithful stewardship; and, chiefest of all, it will be rewarded with the approbation of Him who will say, “Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye did it unto Me.” It is of grace alone, through Christ, that we are permitted to enter heaven; but once there, the measure of reward will be graduated according to that of our faithfulness here as “good stewards of the manifold bounties of God.” Those who have been helped and blessed by our service will lead us up to the throne, and say, “This is he of whom we have often spoken, and to whom we were so much beholden in the life below”; and He who sitteth thereon will reply, “Well done: let it be done unto him as unto the man whom the King delighteth to honour.” Thus, though money cannot be taken with us into the future life, we yet may so employ it here, in stewardship for God, as to send on treasure before us into heaven, in the shape of friends, who shall throughout eternity redouble and intensify our happiness. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The mammon of unrighteousness
“Mammon” is just the Syrian word for money, and it is called “unrighteous “ or “unjust” because those to whom our Lord was speaking had made their money by injustice. It was as little their own as the unjust steward’s was. The steward was unjust because he had not regarded himself as a steward; and in so far as we have forgotten this fundamental circumstance, we also are unjust. We may not have consciously wronged any man or defrauded any; but if we have omitted to consider what was due to God and man, the likelihood is we have more money than we have a right to. The name, indeed, “unrighteous mammon,” is sometimes sweepingly applied to all wealth and material advantages, because there is a feeling that the whole system of trade, commerce, and social life is inextricably permeated with fraudulent practices and iniquitous customs--so permeated that no man can be altogether free, or is at all likely to be altogether free, from all guilt in this matter. Take any coin out of your pocket and make it tell its history, the hands it has been in, the things it has paid for, the transactions it has assisted, and you would be inclined to fling it away as contaminated and filthy. But that coin is a mere emblem of all that comes to you through the ordinary channels of trade, and suggests to you the pollution of the whole social condition. The clothes you wear, the food you eat, the house you live in, the money you are asked to invest, have all a history which will not bear scrutiny. Oppression, greed, and fraud serve you every day. Whether you will or not you are made partakers of other men’s sins. You may be thankful if your hands are not soiled by any stain that you have wittingly incurred; but even so, you must ask, What compensation can I make for the unrighteousness which cleaves to mammon? how am I to use it now, seeing I have it? Our Lord says, “You are to make friends with it, who may receive you into everlasting habitations.” You are so to use your opportunities that when your present stewardship is over you may not be turned out in the cold and to beggary, but may have secured friends who will give you a welcome to the eternal world. It is the same view of the connection of this world and the next which our Lord gives in His picture of the last judgment, when He says, “Inasmuch as ye have done it,” etc. Those whom we have done most good to are, as a rule, those whom we have most loved; and what better welcome to a new world, what more grateful guidance in its ways, could we desire than that of those whom here on earth we have loved most dearly? Can you promise yourselves any better reward than to meet the loving recognition and welcome of those who have experienced your kindness; to be received by those to whom you have willingly sacrificed money, time, opportunities of serving yourself? (Marcus Dods, D. D.)
A profitable investment
The old Jewish writers tell us of a certain avaricious Rabbi who was very anxious to invest his wealth to the best advantage. A friend undertook to do this for him. One day the Rabbi asked the name of the investment from which he was assured he would receive the highest interest. His friend answered, “I have given all your money to the poor.” You know, that if you were going to take a journey into some foreign country, you would change your English money for the currency of the place to which you were bound. You would convert your sovereigns, and bank notes, and shillings, into dollars, or roubles, or francs, or what not. Well, remember that we all have to take a journey into a land beyond the grave, where our money, and our pride, and our intellect, and our strength, and our success will not avail us--these will not be the currency of the country. Let us change our currency now, and get such property as faith, love, purity, gentleness, meekness, truth--these alone will pass current in the better country. Consecrate your wealth, or your work, or your influence, or whatever you have to God. (H. J.Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)
Making friends of mammon
Probably most of us understand that we are to do what good we can with our “goods” now, in order that when we die we may receive the reward of our good deeds. But that is a very partial and imperfect reading of the words. It is true that our Lord promises us an eternal reward: but “eternity” is a word that covers the present and the past as well as the future. It is true He promises that, if we make friends of mammon, then, when mammon fails us, our “friends will receive us”; and it is also true that mammon will fail us when we die, for it is very certain that we cannot carry it out of the world with us, even in the portable form of a cheque-book. But may not mammon fail us before we die? May we not, even while we are in this life, lose our money, or find that there are other losses for which no money can compensate us? We know very well that we may, some of us know it only too sadly, Riches have wings for use, and not only for show. It is not only the grim face of Death that scares them to flight; they flee before a thousand other alarms. The changes and accidents in which they fail us are innumerable; there are countless wounds which gold will not heal, endless cravings which it will not satisfy. And the very point and gist and value of our Lord’s promise is that, whenever mammon fails us, in life and its changes and sorrows no less than in death, if we have previously made friends out of it, these friends will open eternal tabernacles in which our stricken spirits may find refuge and consolation. It is this present, this constant, this eternal reward of a wise use of our temporal possessions on which we need most of all to fix our thoughts. And, remember, we all need it, the poor no less than the rich. For we all have some acquaintance with mammon, though for some of us, happily, it is a very distant acquaintance. We all have a little money, or money’s worth, at our control, and may take one of two courses. Well, now, suppose a man has lived long enough to feel his feet and to consider the courses that are open to him, and to be sincerely anxious to take the right course and to make the best use he can of his life. All around him he sees neighbours who are pushing on with the utmost eagerness in the pursuit of fortune, who are sacrificing ease, culture, pleasure, health, and at times conscience itself, in their love for that which St. Paul pronounces to be a root of all evil, a temptation and a snare, and which Christ says makes it very hard for a man to enter the kingdom of God. He has to determine whether or not he will join in this headlong pursuit--whether he, too, will risk health of body, culture of mind, and sensitive purity of conscience, in the endeavour to grow rich, or richer than he is. He sees that the dignity and comfort and peace of human life depend largely on his being able to supply a large circle of wants, without constant anxiety and care; but be also feels that he has many wants, and these the deepest, which mere wealth will not supply. Accordingly, he resolves to work diligently and as wisely as he can, in order to secure an adequate provision for his physical necessities, and to guard his independence; but he resolves also that he will not sacrifice himself, or all that is best and purest and most refined in himself, to the pursuit of money and what it will fetch. Hence, so far as he can, he limits his wants; he keeps his tastes simple and pure; and by labours that do not absorb his whole time and energies he provides for the due gratification of these tastes and wants. Hence also he gives a good deal of his time and energy to reading good books, let us say, or to mastering some natural science, or to developing a taste for music and acquiring skill in it. He expects his neighbour, who had no better start nor opportunities than he, to grow far richer than he himself has done, if his neighbour think only of getting and investing money. And therefore he does not grudge him his greater wealth, nor look on it with an envious eye; he rather rejoices that he himself has given up some wealth in order to acquire a higher culture, and to develop his literary or artistic tastes. Here, then, we have two men, two neighbours, before us. The one has grown very rich, has far more money than he can enjoy, more even perhaps than he quite knows how to spend or invest, but he has hardly anything except what his money will procure for him. The other has only a modest provision for his wants, but he has a mind stored with the best thoughts of ancient and modern wisdom, an eye which finds a thousand miracles of beauty in every scene of Nature, and an ear that trembles under the ecstasy of sweet harmonious sounds. By some sudden turn of fortune, mammon fails them both; they are both reduced to poverty: both, so soon as they recover from the shock, have to make a fresh start in life. Which of the two is better off now? Which of them has made real friends to himself out of the mammon while he had it? Not the wealthier of the two assuredly; for, now that he has lost his wealth, he has lost all that he had: he has lived only to get rich; when his riches went, all went. But the other man, the man who read and thought and cultivated Ins mental faculties, he has not lost all. His money has gone, but it has not taken from him the wise thoughts he had gathered from books, or his insight into the secrets and beauties of Nature, or the power to charm from the concord of sweet sounds. He is simply thrown more absolutely on these inward and inseparable possessions for occupation and enjoyment. While he had it he made friends to himself out of the mammon of unrighteousness; and, now that it has failed him, those friends receive him into tabernacles which are always open, and in which he has long learned to find pleasure and to take rest. Poor and imperfect as this illustration is, for there are losses in which even Science and Art, even Nature and Culture, can give us but cold comfort--it may nevertheless suffice to make our Lord’s words clear. For, obviously, if a man give a good part of the time he might devote to the acquisition of wealth to religious culture, instead of to merely mental culture; if he take thought and spend time in acquiring habits of prayer and worship and obedience and trust, in acquainting himself with the will of God and doing it; if he expend money, and time which is worth money to him, in helping on the works of the Church and in ministering to the wants of the sorrowful and guilty--he, too, has made to himself friends out of the mammon of unrighteousness, and friends that will not fail him when mammon fails him, but will receive him into tabernacles of rest. However poor he may be, he can still pray, and read his Bible, and put his trust in God, and urge the guilty to penitence, and speak comfort to the sorrowful; and, by his cheerful content and unswerving confidence in the Divine goodness, he may now bear witness, with an eloquence far beyond that of mere words, to the reality and grandeur of a truly religious life. Faith, hope, charity, righteousness and godliness, patience and meekness, will not close their doors against him, because mammon has slammed his door in his face. These are eternal friends, who pitch their tabernacles beside us wherever our path may lead, and who welcome us to the rest and shelter they afford all the more heartily because we have not where to lay our head. (S. Cox.)
The earthly life a heavenly training
It has been observed by an eminent critic, that the words, “mammon of unrighteousness” might be better rendered, “mammon of deceitfulness”; for Christ never condemned the possession of wealth as in itself an unrighteous thing. It is very often the righteous reward of praiseworthy toil. But He speaks of it as deceitful, because he who trusts to it will find that its promises are lies, and will fail at last, leaving him miserably alone; and with this failure Christ contrasts the certainty of eternal possessions. We can enter now into the meaning of the parable. If the riches of life--which are only one and a comparatively insignificant circumstance in man’s earthly history--may prepare him for eternity, then it follows that every circumstance of life--our wealth or our poverty, our work or our rest--may form a training. Here, then, seems to be the thought which Christ has shadowed forth in this earthly form--Every circumstance of man’s life may become a training for immortality. It is obvious that if this be true it is of supreme importance. But how is it possible for all our life to become a training for immortality? or, to use the words of Christ, how may we so make friends of our earthly circumstances, that when they have passed, we may have been prepared by their employment for the everlasting habitations? The tenth and eleventh verses of this chapter imply two great principles on which this possibility is founded--the eternity of God’s law, and the perpetuity of man’s character. On the one hand, it is possible to make every circumstance of life part of one grand training, because the law of the immortal life is the law of a blessed life here. “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.” These words imply that the law of God which guides us here extends over all worlds. The life of time is ruled by no different law from that which prevails in the great life of eternity. The faithfulness which makes men blessed here, is the same law of life which creates their blessedness there. This is obviously the first great principle that renders it possible for us to make our present circumstances an education for the everlasting world. If the law which prevails there were essentially different from that which prevails here, then no present conduct, no employment of the earthly, could prepare for the heavenly; we should have to learn a new rule of life, and every present circumstance would be vain as affording a preparation for the life to come. This is all we need know of the future, as far as regards our present conduct. This thought may perhaps be made clear to every one by taking an illustration with which we are all familiar. We know that in different countries different customs are adopted and different laws prevail. Actions, which in this land would be thought natural, would be considered absurd in another. Deeds, which in one land are common, might else where be regarded as crimes. The man who would travel into other countries must first of all acquaint himself with their social customs, and study the requirements of their laws. He thus prepares himself to enter other lands without danger, and live another life without difficulty. Now we have a journey to make at no distant period into another world. We stand looking at its dim outlines, seeing friend after friend depart, waving us their sad, solemn farewells, and knowing that we must soon set out for that distant region. But the law, whose fulfilment is love, pervades every world of the blessed. The love of God, which forms the Christian blessedness in this low earth, is the source of the highest angels’ bliss in the great eternity. Therefore we have no new law of life to learn. The other fact requisite to show this is the perpetuity of human character. See verse
11: “If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon,who will commit to your trust the true riches?” In their deepest meaning these words involve this principle--“Unfaithful in time, unfaithful in eternity.” Some illustration of this perpetuity of human character is afforded us by the difficulty of changing men’s characters in this world. How, for instance, can you change the character of a hard, selfish, worldly man? You cannot do it by reasoning. We know not what state may await us after death, but as far as we can gather from the teachings of the Bible, death immortalizes character. All life’s affections, and fellowships, and friendships--all the revelations we have of human nobleness and grandeur--if they teach us more of God by revealing the Godlike, become adiscipline for eternity. Every glory in nature--the pomp of autumn, the rejoicing beauty of the spring, the splendour of the sunset, or the majesty of the starry hosts--everything, in fact, in the outer world which raises our thoughts to the Divine, becomes a training for the immortal. Every dark temptation that makes us strong in resistive might; every gloomy doubt that by its conquest helps to strengthen our faith, every sorrow that drives us to repose more utterly on the eternal love, becomes a schooling for the higher world, where the presence of the Father is boundless joy. In conclusion, let us observe the practical application of the words of our text. They are a call to action. The duty to which Christ here summons us is to watch the formation of character. They contain also a lesson of encouragement. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)
The Christian’s farewell to business
I. A FAREWELL IMPORTS A LOOK BEHIND. What is there in the Christian’s last look at the world? It is a fact that that look must be taken. We may avoid many things, but not that. Of the end of business we can have no doubt. If it end not before death, it will at death. When the end comes, there will be a tenderness in the adieu. Of course, there will be much to make a farewell pleasant. Business will be an object of not unmingled regret.
1. But still, we say, there must be tenderness in the adieu. It is an adieu.
2. But there are other sources of regret. Business has been a source of positive enjoyment. It has supplied a wholesome excitement. It has exercised the active powers.
3. Nor can we omit to remark that when the Christian fails in death, he leaves, in business, that which has been the channel and scene of spiritual things. It is in business he has “exercised himself to godliness.” The place of work has been the place of prayer.
II. Let us now contemplate the Christian IN THAT BRIGHT PROSPECT WHICH IS BEFORE HIM WHEN HE LEAVES THE WORLD, as he looks forward to “the everlasting habitations” to which he will be “received” at his failure in death. That ground is Christ. It is not because we are by good works entitled to it, that we can obtain an inheritance above.
1. And, therefore, I remark, first, that though secular life closes at death, the Christian retains all that made that life holy and noble. With many, business was an end; with him, it was a means. With many, the thought, the care, the aim, the ambition, were all comprised in this outward world with him the outward world was but a glass, a tool, a stepping-stone.
2. And while the Christian retains his principles, which made his business good and holy and happy, those principles are transferred to a better sphere at death.
3. The Christian, in failing at death, will be able not only to expect the continuance of holy activity in a better sphere, but to connect his past with his future activity. (J. A. Morris.)
Wealth changed into the coin of heaven
Every rich man who is growing selfish and using all his money for earthly uses only should study this parable. It would surely cure him. Money may be made a grand thing both now and hereafter; for by liberality you can change it into the current coin of heaven. You are like an orphan maid I read of, whose kind master allowed her to give away the fruit of his garden, that she might raise up friends for herself among the neighbours. Wealth thus used is worthy of its name, which is just weal writ large. (J. Wells.)
Mammon, the world--ah, is it not adverse to the interests of our souls? What then? Believer, adversary though it be, you may make it your friend. A skilful seaman, when once fairly out to sea, can make a wind from the west carry him westward! he can make the wind that blows right in his face bear him onward to the very point from which it blows. When he arrives at home, he is able to say, the wind from the west impelled me westward, and led me into my desired haven. Thus if we were skilful, and watchful, and earnest, we might make the unrighteous mammon our friend; we might so turn our side to each of its tortuous impulses, that, willing or unwilling, conscious or unconscious, it should from day to day drive us nearer home. (W. Arnot.)
The everlasting dwellings
I. WHAT KIND OF DWELLINGS ARE THESE?
1. The sweetest peace reigns m them, as regards the body.
(1) There is no earthly burden.
(2) There are no afflictions or tribulations.
2. The sweetest peace, as regards the soul.
(1) There is no struggle.
(2) There is no peril.
3. The greatest joy reigns in them.
II. FOR WHOM ARE THE EVERLASTING DWELLINGS?
1. Not for sinners (Revelation 21:27).
(1) The unjust.
(2) The uncharitable.
(3) The unbelieving.
(5) The unchaste.
(6) The slothful.
2. Only for the just. To heaven we are led--
(1) By unwavering faith.
(2) By childlike humility.
(3) By a strenuous combat.
(4) By true justice. (Joseph Schuen.)
How the little may be used to get the great
I. First, then, I desire to consider briefly that strange, new standard of value which is set up here. On the one side is placed the whole glittering heap of all material good that man can touch or handle, all that wealth can buy of this perishable world; and on the other hand there are the modest and unseen riches of pure thoughts and high desires, of a noble heart, of a life assimilated to Jesus Christ. The two are compared in three points--as to their intrinsic magnitude, as to their quality, as to our ownership of them. Of the great glittering heap our Lord says: “It is nothing, at its greatest it is small”; and of the other our Lord says: “At its smallest it is great.” All the wealth of all the Rothschilds is too little to fill the soul of the poorest beggar that stands by their carriage door with hungry eyes. The least degree of truth, of love, of goodness, is bigger in its power to fill the heart than all the externals that human avarice can gather about it. Can we thus enter into the understanding of Christ’s scale and standard, and think of all the external as “that which is least,” and of all the inward as “that which is much”? The world looks at worldly wealth through a microscope which magnifies the infinitesimally small, and then it looks at “the land that is very far off” through a telescope turned the wrong way, which diminishes all that is great. But if we can get up by the side of Jesus Christ and see things with His eyes and from His station, it will be as when a man climbs a mountain, and the little black line, as it seemed to him when looked at from the plain, has risen up into a giant cliff; and all the big things down below, as they seemed when he was among them, have dwindled. That white speck is a palace; that bit of a green patch there, over which the skylark flies in a minute, is a great lord’s estate. Oh, dear brethren, we do not need to wait to get to heaven to learn heaven’s tables of weights and measures! One grain of true love to God is greater in its power to enrich than a California of gold. Take, again, the second antithesis, the “unrighteous mammon” and “the true riches.” That word, “unrighteous” in its application to material good, is somewhat difficult. If we keep strictly to the antithesis “unrighteous” must be the opposite of “true.” The word would then come to mean very nearly the same as “deceitful”--that which betrays. And so we have presented to us the old familiar thought that external good of all sorts looks to be a great deal better than it is. It promises a great many things that it never fulfils, tempting us as a fish is tempted to the hook by a bait which hides the hook. But the inward riches of faith, true holiness, lofty aspirations, Christ-directed purposes, all these are true. They promise no more than they perform. They bring more than they said they would. No man ever said, “I have tasted Thy love, and lo! it does not satisfy me! I have realized Thy help, and lo! it has not been enough!” And then the last contrast is between “another’s” and “your own.” Another’s? Well, that may mean God’s; and therefore you are stewards, as the whole parable that precedes the text has been teaching. But I am not sure that that is the only, nor indeed the principal reference of the word here. And I think when our Lord speaks of all outward possessions as being, even whilst mine, another’s, He means to point there, not only to the fact of stewardship, but also to the fact of the limitations and defects of all outward possessions of outward good. That is to say, there is no real contact between the outward things that a man has and himself. The only things that you really have, paradox as it sounds, are the things that you are. All the rest you hold by a very slight tie, like the pearls that are sewn upon some half-barbarous Eastern magnate’s jacket, which he shakes off as he walks. So men say, “This is mine!” and it only means “It is not yours.” There is no real possession, even while there is an apparent one, and just because there is no real contact, because there is always a gap between the man and his goods, because he has not, as it were, gathered them into himself, therefore the possession is transient as well as incomplete. It slips away from the hand even whilst you hold it. And just as we may say, “There is no present, but everything is past or future, and what we call the present is only the meeting point of these two times,” so we may say, there is no possession, because everything is either coming into my hands or going out of them, and my apparent ownership is only for a moment. I simply transmit.
“‘Twas mine, ‘tis his, and has been slave to thousands.”
And so it passes. And then consider the common accidents of life which rob men of their goods, and the waste by the very act of use, which gnaws them away as the sea does the cliffs; and, last of all, death’s separation. What can be taken out of a man’s hands by death has no right to be called his.
II. Notice for a moment the other broad principle that is laid down in these three verses, as to THE HIGHEST USE OF THE LOWER GOOD. Whether you are a Christian man or whether you are not, this is true about you, that the way in which you deal with your outward goods, your wealth, your capacity of all sorts, may become a barrier to your possessing the higher, or it may become a mighty help. There are plenty of people, and some of them listening to me now, who are kept from being Christians because they love the world so much. The world thinks that the highest use of the highest things is to gain possession of the lowest thereby, and that truth and genius and poetry are given to select spirits and are wasted unless “they make money out of them. Christ’s notion of the relationship is exactly the opposite, that all the out ward is then lifted to its noblest purpose when it is made rigidly subordinate to the highest; and that the best thing that any man can do with his money is so to spend it as to “purchase for himself a good degree,” “laying up for himself in store a good foundation that he may lay hold on eternal life.”
III. And now let me say one last word as to THE FAITHFULNESS WHICH THUS UTILIZES THE LOWEST AS A MEANS OF POSSESSING MORE FULLY THE HIGHEST. You will be “faithful” if, through all your administrations of your possessions, there runs, first, the principle of stewardship; you will be “faithful” if, through all your administration of your earthly possessions, there runs, second, the principle of sacrifice; you will be “faithful” if, through all your administration of your earthly possessions, there runs, third, the principle of brotherhood. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Christ here tells us plainly which is the path of wisdom. When we see a man making ducks and drakes of his money, we call him a fool--and so he is, from our point of view, because he might be acquiring solid advantages with what he is wasting. But, from the point of view of the gospel, we are just as great fools ourselves, for those solid advantages of which we speak are probably as far from being eternal as the others; keeping our eyes fixed upon the everlasting future, we must admit that every penny spent upon ourselves is as much wasted as if we had chucked it into the river. Do not then ask me, “May I allow myself this luxury?” or “May I not indulge this taste?” Of course you may, as long as it is harmless, but you will be wiser if you don’t, for you might with the same money be making friends for eternity. This saying of our Lord, then, is, in its fulness, for those that can receive it, and they are, perhaps, as few as they are happy; when we get to heaven and behold the richness of their reward, the overflowing happiness of those who have spent and been spent in making others happy, we shall wonder how we could have been so stupid as to waste our money on ourselves. For the rest of us, it is a principle which we must acknowledge humbly, even if we have not strength of mind to act upon it much at present. We may still decide, perhaps, to live up to our income, to live according to our rank, to maintain a certain style, and so on, but we will not be such contemptible hypocrites as to pretend that this is the path of Christian wisdom. The principle which Christ lays down we shall keep before our eyes, and we shall pray that it may sink little by little into our hearts, until it begin to bear fruit in our lives--the principle, I mean, that every penny spent on self is wasted, every penny we can learn to part with is saved because laid up with Him. (R. Winterbotham, M. A.)
Charity the road to wealth
You want to double your riches, and without gambling or stock-jobbing. Share it. Whether it be material or intellectual, its rapid increase will amaze you. What would the sun have been, had he folded himself up in darkness? Surely he would have gone out. So would Socrates. This road to wealth seems to have been discovered some three thousand years ago; at least it was known to Hesiod, and has been recommended by him in the one precious line he has left us. But even he complains of the fools who did not know that half is more than the whole. And ever since, though mankind have always been in full chase after riches, though they have not feared to follow Columbus and Gama in chase of it, though they have waded through blood, and crept through falsehood, and trampled on their own hearts, and been ready to ride on a broomstick, in chase of it, very few have ever taken the road, albeit the easiest, the shortest, and the surest. (J. C. Hare.)
Faithful in that which is least
On living to God in small things
Notice how little we know concerning the relative importance of events and duties. We use the terms “great” and “small “ in speaking of actions, occasions, plans, and duties, only in reference to their mere outward look and first impression. Some of the most latent agents and mean-looking substances in nature are yet the most operative; but yet, when we speak of natural objects, we call them great or small, not according to their operativeness, but according to size, count, report, or show. So it comes to pass when we are classing actions, duties, or occasions, that we call a certain class great and another small, when really the latter are many fold more important and influential than the former. We are generally ignorant of the real moment of events which we think we understand.
2. It is to be observed that, even as the world judges, small things constitute almost the whole of life.
3. It very much exalts, as well as sanctions this view, that God is so observant of small things. He upholds the sparrow’s wing, clothes the lily with His own beautifying hand, and numbers the hairs of His children. He holds the balancings of the clouds. He maketh small the drops of rain.
4. It is a fact of history and of observation that all efficient men, while they have been men of comprehension, have also been men of detail. Napoleon was the most effective man in modern times--some will say, of all times. The secret of his character was, that while his plans were more vast, more various, and, of course, more difficult than those of other men, he had the talent, at the same time, to fill them up with perfect promptness and precision, in every particular of execution. There must be detail in every great work.
5. It is to be observed that there is more real piety in adorning one small than one great occasion. This may seem paradoxical, but what I intend will be seen by one or two illustrations. I have spoken of the minuteness of God’s works. When I regard the eternal God as engaged in polishing an atom, or elaborating the functions of a mote invisible to the eye, what evidence do I there receive of His desire to perfect His works! No gross and mighty world, however plausibly shaped, would yield a hundredth part the intensity of evidence. An illustration from human things will present a closer parallel. It is perfectly well understood, or if not, it should be, that almost any husband would leap into the sea, or rush into the burning edifice to rescue a perishing wife. But to anticipate the convenience or happiness of a wife in some small matter, the neglect of which would be unobserved, is a more eloquent proof of tenderness.
6. The importance of living to God in ordinary and small things, is seen in the fact that character, which is the end of religion, is in its very nature a growth.
1. Private Christians are here instructed in the true method of Christian progress and usefulness.
2. Our subject enables us to offer some useful suggestions, concerning the manner in which Churches may be made to prosper.
3. Finally, some useful hints are suggested to the ministers of Christ. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
The value of little things
“Who has despised the day of small things?” Not the sagacious men of the world, to whom experience has taught the necessity of husbanding the minutes that make up days, and the pence that grow to pounds.
I. OUR LIVES FOR THE MOST PART ARE MADE UP OF LITTLE THINGS, AND BY THESE OUR PRINCIPLE IS TO BE TESTED. There are very few who have to take a prominent place in the great conflicts of their age, and to play their part in the arena of public life, The vast majority must dwell in humbler scenes, and be content to do a much meaner work. The conflicts which a Christian has to maintain, either against the evil in his own soul, or in the narrow circle where alone his influence is felt, appear to be very trivial and unimportant, yet are they to him the battle of life and for life, and true heroism is to he shown here as well as in those stander struggles in which some may win the leader’s fame, or even the martyr’s crown. It will stimulate us to faithfulness in such little things if we bear in mind the way in which the Master regards the humblest works that are done, and the poorest sacrifices that are made from a pure feeling of love to Him. He can recognize and bless the martyr-spirit even though it be shown in other ways than the endurance of bonds, or the suffering of death. There is not a tear of sympathy with the sorrows of others which we shed that falls without His knowledge. His presence is with us to encourage and strengthen us in these little as in the greater trials, and faithfulness here will have its own reward.
II. LITTLE DEFECTS WEAKEN THE INFLUENCE OF MANY VIRTUES. “One sinner” (the wise man tells us) “destroyeth much good,” and then following out the principle he proceeds to show by an expressive illustration how a little sin or even folly m a good man may rob him of much of the power that otherwise he would possess for good. “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour, so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.” The world is always on the watch for the faults of Christians. But the point on which we wish chiefly to insist is that men’s estimate of our character is regulated chiefly by their observation of little things.
III. LITTLE THINGS CONTRIBUTE MATERIALLY TO THE FORMATION OF CHARACTER. Under the operation of varied causes, of whose power over us we are hardly-conscious, we are continually growing in holiness or sinking lower and lower in sin, by a process so gradual as to be scarcely perceptible. Conversion may be sudden, but not sanctification. Our power of resistance is to grow by constant exercise; our love, fed by the ministry of Providence and grace, is to burn with an ever brighter and purer flame; our path is to be like the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. Thus, by listening to every voice of instruction, by using every opportunity, by watchfulness in the least things, are we to attain spiritual increase. There is a part of our Lancashire coast on which the sea is making steady encroachments. Those who have long been familiar with its scenery can point you to places over which the tide now rolls its waters, where a few short years ago they wandered along the grassy cliff, and stood to watch the play of the wild waves beneath. From year to year the observer may note continued alteration--fresh portions of the cliff swept away, and the bed of the ocean becoming ever wider. Were he to ask for an account of these changes, some would tell him that during a terrible tempest the sea had rolled in with more than its usual violence and carried away great fragments of solid earth--and fancy that thus they had told the whole story. His own eyes, however, gave him fuller information. He sees around him preparations for the desolations of the coming winter. Other places are now menaced with the fate of their predecessors, and the work is already being done--the process may be gradual, but sure--every tide of more than ordinary power is contributing something towards it--“by little and little” the work advances, and all is making ready for the fiercer storm which shall put the final stroke to what may seem to be the work of a night, but is in reality that of weeks and months. This is a picture but too true of incidents in the spiritual life of man. Sometimes the successive steps of the process are all hidden, and we see only the sad result; in others its advances may be more distinctly marked. (J. G. Guinness, B. A.)
Gradual attainment of holiness
Holiness of character is not a thing into which we can jump in a moment, and just when we please. It is not like a mushroom, the growth of an hour. It cannot be attained without great watchfulness, earnest effort, much prayer, and a very close walk with Jesus. Like the coral reef which grows by little daily additions until it is strong enough to resist the mighty waves of the ocean, so is a holy character made up of what may be called littles, though in truth each of those littles is of vast importance. Little duties prayerfully discharged; little temptations earnestly resisted in the strength which God supplies out of the fulness which He has made to dwell in Jesus Christ for His people; little sins avoided, or crucified; these all together help to form that holy character which, in the hour of need, will be, under God, such a sure defence to the Christian. (A. C. Price, B. A.)
Fidelity in little things
In every thought, word, and act of an intelligent agent, there is a moral principle involved.
1. Fidelity in little things commends itself to us, when we consider our inability to estimate the prospective value, power, and influence of the smallest things.
2. Fidelity in little things commends itself when we consider that it is only by attention to small things that we can hope to be faithful in great. Great events often turn on little hinges. Chemists say, one grain of iodine will impart its colour to seven thousand times its weight in water. So, often, a little deed containing a great moral principle will impart its nature to many hearts and lives.
3. Attention to small things is important, as it relates to our individual character. Its effect is subjective as well as objective. A beautiful character reaches its climax by progressive development. You cannot paint it on the life. It must be inwrought.
4. The example given us by Christ, our great prototype, should prompt us to fidelity in little things.
5. We should exercise the strictest fidelity in all things, small and great, because we are to be judged in view of these things. (J. W. Bledsoe.)
On religious principle
Consider the excellence of religious principle
1. In the energy of its operation.
(1) Promptness in decision.
(2) Determination to do one’s duty.
2. In the uniformity of its effects.
3. In the extent of its influence. It prompts to the discharge of every duty, and to the avoidance of every sin.
4. The simplicity of its character.
5. The perpetuity of its existence. Undecaying and immortal. (Essex Remembrancer.)
Faithful in little, faithful in much
Now let us look, for a moment or two, at these three principles.
I. From the highest point of view, TRUE FAITHFULNESS KNOWS NO DISTINCTION BETWEEN GREAT AND SMALL DUTIES. From the highest point of view--that is, from God’s point of view--to Him, nothing is great, nothing small, as we measure it. The worth and the quality of an action depends on its motive only, and not at all on its prominence, or on any other of the accidents which we are always apt to adopt as the tests of the greatness of our deeds. The largeness of the consequences of anything that we do is no measure of the true greatness or true value of it. So it is in regard to God Himself, and His doings. What can be little to the making of which there goes the force of a soul that can know God, and must abide for evermore? Nothing is small that a spirit can do. Nothing is small that can be done from a mighty motive. Faithfulness measures acts as God measures them. “Large” or “small” are not words for the vocabulary of conscience. It knows only two words--right and wrong. The circle that is in a gnat’s eye is as true a circle as the one that holds within its sweep all the stars; and the sphere that a dew-drop makes is as perfect a sphere as that of the world. All duties are the same which are done from the same motive; all acts which are not so done are alike sins. Faithfulness is one in every region. Large or small is of no account to the Sovereign eye. “He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward,” because though not gifted with the prophet’s tongue, he has the prophet’s spirit, and does his small act of hospitality from the very same prophet-impulse which in another, who is more loftily endowed, leads to burning words and mighty deeds. Faithfulness is faith fulness, on whatsoever scale it be set forth!
II. Then--in another point of view, FAITHFULNESS IN SMALL DUTIES IS EVEN GREATER THAN FAITHFULNESS IN GREAT. Great things that are great because they seem to have very wide-reaching consequences, and seem to be lifted up upon a pinnacle of splendour; or great things that are great because there was severe resistance that had to be overcome before we did them, and sore temptations that were dragging us down on our way to the performance of them--are really great and lofty. Only, the little duties that had no mighty consequences, no glittering splendour about them, and the little duties that had not much strife with temptation before they were done, may be as great, as great in God’s eye, as great perhaps in their consequences, as great in their rewards, as in the other. Ah, my brother, it is a far harder thing, and it is a far higher proof of a thorough-going persistent Christian principle woven into the very texture of my soul, to go on plodding and patient, never taken by surprise by any small temptation, than to gather into myself the strength which God has given me, and, expecting some great storm to come down upon me, to stand fast and let it rage. It is a great deal easier to die once for Christ than to live always for Him. It is a great deal easier to do some single mighty act of self-surrender, than daily--unnoticed, patiently--to “crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts.” Let us neither repine at our narrow spheres, nor fancy that we can afford to live carelessly in them because they are narrow. The smallest duties are often harder--because of their apparent insignificance, because of their constant recurrence--harder than the great ones. But do not let us forget that if harder, they are on the whole more needful. The world has more need of a great number of Christian people doing little things like Christians, than it has need of one apostle preaching like an apostle, or one martyr dying like a martyr. The mass of trifles makes magnitude. The little things are greater than the great, because of their number. They are more efficacious than the single lofty acts. Like the air which in the lungs needs to be broken up into small particles, and diffused ere it parts with its vitalizing principle to the blood, so the minute acts of obedience, and the exhibition of the power of the gospel in the thousand trifles of Christian lives, permeating everywhere, will vitalize the world and will preach the gospel in such a fashion as never can be done by any single and occasional, though it may seem to be more lofty and more worthy, agency. Honour the trifles, and you will find yourself right about the great things! Lastly: FAITHFULNESS IN THAT WHICH IS LEAST IS THE PREPARATION FOR, AND SECURES OUR HAVING A WIDER SPHERE IN WHICH TO OBEY GOD. Of course, it is quite easy to see how, if once we are doing, what I have already said is the harder task--habitually doing the little things wisely and well, for the love of Christ and in the fear of God--we shall be fitted for the sorest sudden temptations, and shall be made able to perform far larger and far more apparently splendid acts. Every power strengthens by exercise. Every act of obedience smoothes the road for all that shall come after. And, on the other side, the same process exactly goes on to make men, by slow degrees, unfaithful in all. Tampering with a trifle; saying, Oh, it is a small matter, and I can venture it; or, It is a little thing, too little for mighty motives to be brought to bear upon it--that ends in this--“unjust also in much.” My brother, life is all great. Life is great because it is the aggregation of littles. As the chalk cliffs in the South, that rear themselves hundreds of feet above the crawling sea beneath, are all made up of the minute skeletons of microscopic animalculae; so life, mighty and awful as having eternal consequences, life that towers beetling over the sea of eternity, is made up of these minute incidents, of these trifling duties, of these small tasks; and if thou art not “faithful in that which is least,” thou art unfaithful in the whole. He only is faithful that is full of faith. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Guilt not to be estimated by gain
I. The great principle of the text is, that he who has sinned, though to a small amount in respect of the fruit of his transgression--provided he has done so by passing over a forbidden limit which was distinctly known to him, has, in the act of doing so, incurred a full condemnation in respect of the principle of his transgression. In one word, that the gain of it may be small, while the guilt of it may be great; that the latter ought not to be measured by the former; but that he who is unfaithful in the least shall be dealt with, in respect of the offence he has given to God, in the same way as if he had been unfaithful in much.
1. The first reason which we would assign in vindication of this is, that, by a small act of injustice, the line which separates the right from the wrong is just as effectually broken over as by a great act of injustice. There is no shading off at the margin of guilt, but a clear and vigorous delineation. It is not by a gentle transition that a man steps over from honesty to dishonesty. There is between them a wall rising up unto heaven; and the high authority of heaven must be stormed ere one inch of entrance can be made into the region of iniquity. The morality of the Saviour never leads him to gloss over beginnings of crime.
2. The second reason why he who is unfaithful in the least has incurred the condemnation of him who is unfaithful in much, is, that the littleness of the gain, so far from giving a littleness to the guilt, is in fact a circumstance of aggravation. There is just this difference. He who has committed injustice for the sake of a less advantage has done it on the impulse of a less temptation. Nay, by the second reason, this may serve to aggravate the wrath of the Divinity against him. It proves how small the price is which he sets upon his eternity, and how cheaply he can bargain the favour of God away from him, and how low he rates the good of an inheritance with Him, and for what a trifle he can dispose of all interest in His kingdom and in His promises. It is at the precise limit between the right and the wrong that the flaming sword of God’s law is placed. It is there that “Thus saith the Lord” presents itself, in legible characters, to our view. It is there where the operation of His commandment begins; and not at any of those higher gradations where a man’s dishonesty first appals himself by the chance of its detection, or appals others by the mischief and insecurity which it brings upon social life.
II. Let us now attempt TO UNFOLD A FEW OF THE PRACTICAL CONSEQUENCES THAT MAY BE DRAWN FROM THE PRINCIPLE OF THE TEXT, both in respect to our general relation with God, and in respect to the particular lesson of faithfulness which may be deduced from it.
1. There cannot be a stronger possible illustration of our argument than the very first act of retribution that occurred in the history of our species. What is it that invests the eating of a solitary apple with a grandeur so momentous? How came an action, in itself so minute, to be the germ of such mighty consequences? We may not be able to answer all these questions; but we may at least learn what a thing of danger it is, under the government of a holy and inflexible God, to tamper with the limits of obedience.
2. Let us, therefore, urge the spirit and the practice of this lesson upon your observation. It is evangelizing human life by impregnating its minutest transactions with the spirit of the gospel. It is strengthening the wall of partition between sin and obedience. It is the teacher of righteousness taking his stand at the outpost of that territory which he is appointed to defend, and warning his hearers of the danger that lies in a single footstep of encroachment. It is letting them know that it is in the act of stepping over the limit that the sinner throws the gauntlet of his defiance against the authority of God. It may appear a very little thing, when you are told to be honest in little matters; when the servant is told to keep her hand from every one article about which there is not an express or understood allowance on the part of her superiors; when the dealer is told to lop off the excesses of that minuter fraudulency which is so currently practised in the humble walks of merchandise; when the workman is told to abstain from those petty reservations of the material of his work for which he is said to have such snug and ample opportunity; and when, without pronouncing on the actual extent of these transgressions, all are told to be faithful in that which is least, else, if there be truth in our text, they incur the guilt of being unfaithful in much. It may be thought, that because such dishonesties as these are scarcely noticeable, they are therefore not worthy of notice. But it is just in the proportion of their being unnoticeable by the human eye, that it is religious to refrain from them. These are the cases in which it will be seen, whether the control of the omniscience of God makes up for the control of human observation--in which the sentiment, that “Thou God seest me!” should carry a preponderance through all the secret places of a man’s history--in which, when every earthly check of an earthly morality is withdrawn, it should be felt that the eye of God is upon him, and that the judgment of God is in reserve for him. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Faithfulness in little things
In our text the Master declares that fidelity, which is an element of conscience, must be thorough. It must not be an optional thing, chosen when we see that it will be better than any other instrument to secure a desired end. It must belong to every part of life, pervading it. It must belong to the least things as much as to the highest. It is not a declaration that little things are as important aa great things. It is not a declaration that the conscience is to regard all duties as of one magnitude and of one importance. It is a declaration that the habit of violating conscience, even in the least things, produces mischief that at last invalidate it for the greatest, and that is a truth that scarcely can have contradiction. I propose to illustrate this truth in some of its relations to life. In the first place, I shall speak of the heedlessness and unconscientiousness with which men take up opinions and form judgments, on every side and of every kind, in daily life. In regard to events, men seldom make it a matter of conscience to see things as they are, and hear things as they really report themselves. They follow their curiosity, their sense of wonder, their temper, their interests, or their prejudices, instead of their judgment and their conscience. There are few men who make it a point to know just what things do happen of which they are called to speak, and just how they happen. How many men were there round the corner? “Twenty,” says the man, quickly. There were seven. How long did you have to wait? “Two hours, at least.” It was just three-quarters of an hour by the watch. So, in a thousand things that happen every day, one man repeats what his imagination reported to him, and another man what his impatient, irritable feelings said to him. There are very few men that make it a matter of deliberate conscience to see things as they are, and report them as they happen. This becomes a great hindrance to business, clogs it, keeps men under the necessity of revising their false impressions; expends time and work; puts men on false tracks and in wrong directions; multiplies the burdens of life. But its worse effect is seen in the judgments and prejudices which men are liable to entertain about their fellow-men, and the false sentences which they are accustomed to issue, either by word of mouth or by thoughts and feelings. In thousands of men, the mind, if unveiled, would be found to be a Star-chamber filled with false witnesses and cruel judgments. The effect in each case may be small, but if you consider the sum-totals of a man’s life, and the grand amount of the endless scenes of false impressions, of wicked judgments, of causeless prejudices, they will be found to be enormous. This, however, is the least evil. It is the entire untrustworthiness of a moral sense which has been so dealt with that is most to be deplored. The conscience ought to be like a perfect mirror. It ought to reflect exactly the image, that falls upon it. A man’s judgment that is kept clear by commerce with conscience ought to reveal things as they are, facts as they exist, and conduct as it occurs. Now it is not necessary to break a mirror to pieces in order to make it worthless. Let one go behind it with a pencil, or with a needle of the finest point, and, with delicate touch, make the smallest line through the silver coating of the back; the next day let him make another line at right angles to that; and the third day let him make still another line parallel to the first one; and the next day let him make another line parallel to the second, and so continue to do day by day, and one year shall not have passed away before that mirror will be so scratched that it will be good for nothing. It is not necessary to deal it a hard blow to destroy its power; these delicate touches will do it, little by little. It is not necessary to be a murderer or a burglar in order to destroy the moral sense; but ah! these million little infelicities, as they are called, these scratchings and raspings, take the silver off from the back of the conscience--take the tone and temper out of the moral sense. Nay, we do not need even such mechanical force as this; just let the apartment be uncleansed in which the mirror stands: let particles of dust, and the little flocculent parts of smoke, settle film by film, flake by flake, speck by speck, upon the surface of the mirror, and its function is destroyed, so that it will reflect neither the image of yourself nor of anything else. Its function is as much destroyed as if it were dashed to pieces. Not even is this needed; only let one come so near to it that his warm breath falling on its cold face is condensed to vapour, and then it can make no report. Now there are comparatively few men who destroy their moral sense by a dash and a blow, but there is many a man whose conscience is seared as with a hot iron. The effect of this is not merely to teach us the moral lesson that man is fallible; it is to diminish the trust of man in man. And what is the effect of diminishing that? It is to introduce an element which dissevers society, which drives men away from one another, and takes away our strength. Faith in man, trust in man, is the great law of cohesion in human society. And so this infidelity in little things and little duties works both inwardly as well as outwardly. It deteriorates the moral sense; it makes men unreliable; it makes man stand in doubt of man; it loosens the ties that bind society together, and make it strong; it is the very counteracting agent of that divine love which was meant to bring men together in power. The same truth, yet more apparently, and with more melancholy results, is seen in the un-trustworthiness and infidelity of men in matters of honesty and dishonesty. The man that steals one penny is--just as great a transgressor as if he stole a thousand dollars? No, not that. The man that steals one single penny is--as great a transgressor against the laws of society as if he stole a thousand dollars? No, not exactly that. The man that steals one penny is--just as great a transgressor against the commercial interests of men as if he stole a thousand dollars? No, not that. The man that steals a penny is just as great a transgressor against the purity of his own conscience as if he stole a million of dollars. The danger of these little things is veiled under a false impression. You will hear a man say of his boy, “Though he may tell a little lie, he would not tell a big one; though he may practise a little deceit, he would not practise a big one; though he may commit a little dishonesty, he would not commit a big one.” But these little things are the ones that destroy the honour, and the moral sense, and throw down the fence, and let a whole herd of buffaloes of temptation drive right through you. Criminals that die on the gallows; miserable creatures that end their days in poorhouses; wretched beings that hide themselves in loathsome places in cities; men that are driven as exiles across the sea and over the world--these are the ends of little things, the beginnings of which were thought to be safe. It is these little things that constitute your peculiar temptation and your worst danger. (H. W.Beecher.)
Little things tests of character
Can you discover a man’s character more accurately by his public, extraordinary acts, than by his ordinary, everyday conduct and spirit? Which is the true Marlborough--the general in the field winning brilliant victories, or the peculator in his chamber manipulating papers for defrauding the public treasury? Which is the real man--Lord Bacon on the bench, or Lord Bacon with open palm behind his back feeling for bribes? Which is the true woman--the lady in the parlour courteously receiving her guests, or the termagant rendering home wretched by everyday exactions and scoldings? Jesus teaches that the little things of everyday life reveal true character, and show the man as he is in himself, by referring to the ordinary tempers by which he is governed. Is it not plain, when simply announced, that general conduct in little things is a truer test of a man’s real character than occasional isolated acts could be?
1. Little things make up the vast universe. The clouds gather up the rains in moisture, and part with them in drops. The stars do not leap fitfully along their orbits, but measure with equal movement each consecutive mile. All the analogies of nature point to the minute as essential to the harmony, glory, and utility of the whole. And little things are as necessary in their places in the moral, as in the physical world.
2. Jehovah is observant of little things. Sparrows. Lilies. Jehovah neglects nothing. Nothing is so little as to be beneath His notice. His providence regards with equal distinctness a worm and a world, a unit and a universe. You are unlike your God and Saviour if you neglect little things.
3. Little things engross the most of life. Great events are only occasional. Frequency and regularity would take away from their greatness, by rendering them common. We shall find little to do, if we save our energies for great occasions. If we preserve our piety for prominent services, we shall seldom find place for its exercise. Piety is not something for show, but something for use; not the gay steed in the curricle, but the plough-horse in the furrow; not jewellery for adornment, but calico for home wear and apron for the kitchen.
4. Attention to little things is essential to efficiency and success in accomplishing great things. Letters are little things, but he who scouts the alphabet will never read David’s psalms. The mechanic must know how to sharpen his plane, if he would make a moulding; the artist must mix colours, if he would paint landscapes. In every direction the great is reached through the little. He will never rise to great services who will not pass through the little, and train his spiritual nature, and educate his spiritual capabilities. Through faithfulness in the least he rises to faithfulness in the much, and not otherwise.
5. Little things are causes of great events, springs of large influences. To know whether a thing is really small or great, you must trace its results. Xerxes led millions to the borders of Greece. It looked to the world like a big thing. The whole vast array accomplished nothing. It turned out a very small business. The turning of a tiny nee.lie steadily toward a fixed point is a little common thing, but it guides navies along safe and sure paths, over unmarked oceans. So a magnetic word has guided a soul through a stormy world to a peaceful haven. A simple, secret prayer has pierced and opened clouds to pout down showers of spiritual blessings upon a city or state.
6. Conscientiousness in little things is the best evidence of sincere piety.
7. Faithfulness in little things is essential to true piety. The principle of obedience is simply doing what the Lord requires because He requires it. There is nothing little if God requires it. The veriest trifle becomes a great thing if the alternative of obedience or rebellion is involved in it. Microscopic holiness is the perfection of excellence. To live by the day, and to watch each step, is the true pilgrimage method. (J. L. Burrows, D. D.)
Trial of fidelity
Here are two great truths suggested to us.
1. That we are here in this world merely on trial, and serving our apprenticeship.
2. That it is our fidelity that is tried, not so much whether we have done great or little things, but whether we have shown the spirit which above all else a steward should show--fidelity to the interests entrusted to him. The two verses following, in which this is applied, may best be illustrated by familiar figures. “If,” says our Lord, “ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust that which is real?” He considers us all in this world as children busy with mere playthings and toys, though so profoundly in earnest. But, looking at children so engaged, you can perfectly see the character of each. Although the actual things they are doing are of no moment or reality; although, with a frankness and penetration not given to their elders, they know they are but playing, yet each is exhibiting the very qualities which will afterwards make or mar him, the selfish greed and fraud of one child being as patent as the guileless open-handedness of the other. To the watchful parents these games that are forgotten in the night’s sleep, these buildings which as soon as complete are swept away to make room for others, are as thorough a revelation of the character of the child as affairs of state and complicated transactions are of the grown man. And if the parent sees a grasping selfishness in his child, or a domineering inconsiderateness of every one but himself, as he plays at buying and selling, building and visiting, he knows that these same qualities will come out in the real work of life, and will unfit their possessor for the best work, and prevent him from honourable and generous conduct, and all the highest functions and duties of life. So our Lord, observant of the dispositions we are showing as we deal with the shadowy objects and passing events of this seeming substantial world, marks us off as fit or unfit to be entrusted with what is real and abiding. If this man shows such greed for the gold he knows he must in a few years leave, will he not show a keener, intenser selfishness in regard to what is abiding? If he can trample on other people’s rights for the sake of a pound or two, how can he be trusted to deal with what is infinitely more valuable? If here in a world where mistakes are not final, and which is destined to he burned up with all the traces of evil that are in it--if in a world which, after all, is a mere card-house, or in which we are apprentices learning the use of our tools, and busy with work which, if we spoil, we do no irreparable harm--if here we display incorrigible negligence and incapacity to keep a high aim and a good model before us, who would be so foolish as to let us loose among eternal matters, things of abiding importance, and in which mistake and carelessness and infidelity are irreparable? (Marcus Dods, D. D.)
We are being watched
A merchant sees among his clerks one whose look and bearing are prepossessing, and he thinks that by and by this lad might possibly make a good partner; he watches him, but he finds him gradually degenerating into slipshod ways of doing his work, coming down late in the mornings, and showing no zeal for the growth of the business; and so the thought grows in his mind, “If he is not faithful in that which is another man’s, how can I give him the business as his own? I can’t hand over my business to one who will squander what I have spent my life in accumulating; to one who has not sufficient liking for work to give himself heartily to it, or sufficient sense of honour to do it heartily whether he likes it or no. Much as I should like to lift him out of a subordinate situation, I cannot do so.” Thus are determined the commercial and social prospects of many an unconscious youth, and thus are determined the eternal prospects of many a heedless servant of God, who little thinks that the Master’s eye is upon him, and that by hasting to be rich he is making himself eternally poor, and by slackness in God’s service is ruining his own future. (Marcus Dods, D. D.)
Influence of little things
A jest led to a war between two great nations. The presence of a comma in a deed lost to the owner of an estate one thousand pounds a month for eight months. The battle of Corunna, in 1809, is said to have been fought, and the life of that noble officer Sir John Moore sacrificed, through a dragoon stopping to drink while bearing despatches. A man lighting a fire on the sea-shore led to the Rev. John Newton’s honoured labours and life of usefulness.
We sin by omitting cheap acts of beneficence in our daily walk and among our early companionship. The web of a merciful life is made up of these slender threads. (J. W. Alexander, D. D.)
A man who was hung at Carlisle for house-breaking declared that his first step to ruin was taking a halfpenny out of his mother’s pocket while she was asleep. Another offender, convicted of housebreaking at Chester, said at the gallows, “You are come to see a man die. Oh! take warning by me. The first beginning of my ruin was Sabbath-breaking. It led me into bad company, and from bad company to robbing orchards and gardens, and then to housebreaking, and that has brought me to this place.”
Faithfulness shown in restitution of wrongful gains
A brother in the ministry took occasion to preach on the passage, “He that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.” The theme was, “that men who take advantage of others in small things have the very element of character to wrong the community and individuals in great things, where the prospect of escaping detection or censure is as little to be dreaded.” The preacher exposed the various ways by which people wrong others; such as borrowing, by mistakes in making change, by errors in accounts, by escaping taxes and custom-house duties, by managing to escape postage, by finding articles and never seeking owners, and by injuring articles borrowed, and never making the fact known to the owner when returned. One lady the next day met her pastor, and said, “I have been to rectify an error made in giving me change a few weeks ago, for I felt bitterly your reproof yesterday.” Another individual went to Boston to pay for an article not in her bill, which she noticed was not charged when she paid it. A man going home from meeting said to his companion, “I do not believe there was a man in the meeting-house to-day who did not feel condemned.”
After applying the sermon to a score or more of his acquaintances, he continued, “Did not the pastor utter something about finding a pair of wheels?” “I believe not, neighbour.”. He spoke of keeping little things which had been found.” “Well, I thought he said something about finding a pair of wheels, and supposed he meant me. I found a pair down in my lot a while ago.” “Do you,” said his companion, “ know who they belong to? Mr. B.
-- lost them a short time ago.” The owner was soon in the possession of his wheels. (Vermont Chronicle.)
Unfaithfulness in little
A king appointed one servant over his gold treasure, another over his straw. The latter’s honesty being suspected, he was angry because the gold had not been trusted to him. The king said, “Thou fool, if thou couldst not be trusted with straw, how can any one trust thee with gold?” (Archbishop Trench.)
Momentary unfaithfulness to be avoided
A Corsican gentleman, who had been taken prisoner by the Genoese, was thrown into a dark dungeon, where he was chained to the ground. While he was in this dismal situation the Genoese sent a message to him, that if he would accept of a commission in their service, he might have it. “No,” said he; “were I to accept your offer, it would be with a determined purpose to take the first opportunity of returning to the service of my country. But I would not have my countrymen even suspect that I could be one moment unfaithful.”
Ye cannot serve God and mammon
The crime of avarice
I. REASONS WHY AVARICE SHOULD BE GUARDED AGAINST.
1. The avaricious man usually leads a miserable life, making no use of his wealth.
2. Avarice takes away a man’s peace of mind.
(1) The avaricious man is in constant disquietude--
(a) Through terror of losing his possessions.
(b) Through envy of others, and the craving to possess their property.
(c) Through desire to accumulate more wealth.
(2) The avaricious man is inconsolable at the loss of his riches.
2. Avarice is a base vice, and the source of many other vices.
3. Avarice almost inevitably leads to eternal ruin.
II. MEANS TO BE ADOPTED FOR GUARDING AGAINST AVARICE.
1. Endeavour to know yourself, your inclinations, passions, desires; and examine yourself in order to ascertain whether you cannot find some symptom of avarice within yourself. Such symptoms are--
(1) A greater confidence in temporal goods than in Almighty God (Psalms 52:7).
(2) Unscrupulousness in the manner of acquiring temporal goods.
(3) Excessive grief at the loss of temporal goods.
(4) If you do not use temporal goods for the glory of God, nor for your own and your neighbours’ needs.
2. Strive to keep from your soul the vice of avarice,
(1) By continual struggle against the concupiscence of money and riches Psalms 62:10).
(2) By the exercise of opposite virtues, especially that of Christian charity. You will experience the joys earned by these virtues.
(3) By supplication for the removal of the temptation. (Chevassu.)
The two masters
“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” (Matthew 6:24). In one point of view, this sounds very strangely; for nothing is more certain than that we can serve two masters. Every child that is dutifully reared serves two masters--its father and its mother; and it is quite possible for one to be a servant of a whole family of masters. But in order that this may take place, it is indispensably necessary that the masters should be alike in feeling, and identical in interest. But if masters are antagonistic the one to the other, if their interests are not only different but conflicting, if to serve one of necessity puts you in opposition to the other, then it is impossible to serve two. And the more you look at it the plainer it becomes. Suppose one man represents perfect honour, and another represents perfect meanness, and you undertake to serve both of them, what sort of success will you have? Suppose one man be called Truth, and another be called Falsehood, and you attempt to serve both of them, is it not plain that you will either hate the one and love the other, or else hold to the one and despise the other? You cannot serve both at the same time. No man can serve purity and lust at the same time. No man can serve good nature and anger at the same time. Are God and mammon, then, antagonistic? And what are the ways in which man is looked at from the two spheres--the Divine and the earthly? Mammon regards man as a creature of time and this world, and thinks of him, plans for him, educates him, and uses him, am it, like the beast of the field, he only had existence here, and as if his existence was only related to the comforts that belong to this state of being. But God looks upon man as a creature of eternal duration, passing through this world. The chief end and interest of men are also viewed antagonistically. In short, man in his immediate and visible good, is that which mammon regards. On the other hand, God regards not indifferently the interests of our body; but more He regards the interests of our being. Mammon builds men in the finer traits which they possess in common with animals. God would build men in those traits which they have in common with Him. One builds for this world exclusively. The other builds for this world and the next. There is nothing more certain than that a man’s character depends upon his ruling purpose. Let us look at it. A man may be a thoroughly worldly man--that is, all his ruling aims, and desires, and expectations, may make him worldly; and yet he may be observant of external religious services. A man is not to be supposed to be less a worldly man because when the Sabbath day comes round he knows it. He maybe, also, a believer in the gospel, and in the most evangelical and orthodox type of doctrine--as an idea. It is quite possible for a man to be supremely worldly, and yet to have strong religious feelings. There is nothing more common than instances which go to show that we like as a sentiment things that we do not like as an ethical rule. Nay, it is possible for a man to go further, and yet be a thoroughly worldly man. And here it is that the distinction comes in. Although a man may be a servant of mammon, and may serve him with heart and soul; yet, externally, there may be a great many appearances that look as though he was serving God. And men really seem to think that they can serve God and mammon [
1. There is reason m believe that the morality of multitudes of men, though they are good in some degree, leaves out that which alone can make it a ground of complacence and trust. A man may be a moral man, and leave out the whole of the life to come. The Greeks were moral men, many of them. The Romans were moral men, many of them.
2. There is reason to fear that the religion of multitudes of professors of religion is but a form of church-morality. You may tell me that this is a misjudgment. I hope it is. But what sort of lives are we living, when it is possible to misinterpret them? What if I should have occasion to say the same things about your allegiance to the government that I have said about your religion? There is not a man of any note in the community about whose allegiance you have any doubt. If I point to one man, you say, “He is not true to his country.” If I point to another man, you say, “He is loyal”; and you state facts to prove it. You say, “When his personal interest came in collision with the interest of the country, and one or the other had to be given up, he gave up his personal interest.” But when God’s claims come in collision with your personal interests, God’s claims go down, and your personal interests go up. Now, there ought to be no cause for doubt that you are Christians. A man is bound to live towards his country so that there shall be no mistake about his patriotism. And God says, “You are bound to live towards Me so that in some way men shall see that you are My children.” You are bound to live in everything as you do in some things. You are attempting, partly through ignorance, partly by reason of carelessness, and partly on account of too low an estimate of the sacredness of your religious obligations, to serve God with your right hand, and mammon with your left; and men see it, and they doubt you; and that is not the worst of it--they doubt God, they doubt Christ, they doubt the reality of religion. And to be the occasion of doubt concerning matters of such grave importance, is culpable. No man, therefore, has a right to allow any mistake to exist in the matter of his Chris tian character. There is need, Christian brethren, of severe tests in this particular. You need to settle these questions: “Where is my allegiance? Am I with God, and for God supremely?” (H. W. Beecher.)
The two contrary masters, or the inconsistency of the service of God and the world
For the opening and prosecuting of which words, consider--
1. What these two masters are.
2. What it is to serve them.
3. How none can serve them both.
4. Why none can serve them both.
5. The use and application.
For the first of these, these two masters are God and the world, but with much difference, as we may see severally. God is a Lord and Master absolutely, properly, and by good right in Himself; being in His own nature most holy, most mighty, most infinite in glory and sovereignty over all His creatures. Again, He is a Lord and Master in relation to us: and not only by right of creation and preservation as we are men and creatures, but also by right of redemption and sanctification, as new men and new creatures.
1. He hath made a covenant with us, first of works, and then of grace.
2. He hath appointed our work.
3. He hath as a Master appointed us liberal wages, even a merciful reward of eternal life.
Thus is God a Lord and Master. Now, on the other side, the world is called a master or lord, not by any right in itself, of over us, but--
1. By usurpation.
2. By man’s corruption, and defection from the true God.
3. By the world’s general estimation, and acceptation of the wealth and mammon, as a lord and great commander; which appeareth--
(1) By subjecting themselves to the basest services of wealth for wealth.
(2) By affecting wealth as the chief good.
(3) By depending (as servants on their masters) on their wealth.
Concerning the service of these masters, we must mark, that our Saviour saith not, A man cannot serve God that hath riches, but, He cannot serve God and riches. For he that cannot distinguish between having the world, and serving the world, cannot understand this text and conclusion of Jesus Christ. Our Lord well knew it was lawful both to have, and to seek, and to use the world holily and humbly. But how may we conceive that one cannot be servant to two masters, or to these two? In these conditions:
1. Not at the same time.
2. Not in their proper commands; for as they are contrary lords, so they command contrary things, and draw to contrary courses. One calls to works of mercy, charity, compassion, liberality, and the like; the other to cruelty, and unmercifulness, to shut our eyes from beholding our own flesh, to shut our ear from the cry of the poor, to shut our purse and hand from the charitable relief of Christ’s poor members. And how can one man obey both these in their contrary commands?
3. No man can serve two masters in sovereignty, unless they be subordinate one to the other, and so their commands concur in order one to another, and cross not one another.
The reasons whereof are these:
1. A servant is the possession of his master; and one possession can have but one owner and possessor at once.
2. The servant of the world sets up his wealth as an idol in his heart; by which the worldling forsakes the true God, and turns to most gross idolatry. So of the second reason.
3. The apostle (Romans 6:16) asks thus, “Know ye not, that to whomsoever ye give yourselves as servants to obey, his servants ye are whom ye do obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” But the distinction implies that they cannot obey both together.
4. No man can serve these two masters, because a man cannot divide his heart between God and the world; and if he could, God will have no part of a divided heart, as Elijah said in that case (1 Kings 18:20).
How may I know what master I serve?
1. Whom hast thou covenanted withal? God or the world? To whom hast thou wholly resigned thyself? Is thy strength become God’s? Is thy time His? thy labour His?
2. Every servant is commanded by his master. God’s servant knows his Lord’s mind and pleasure, and readily attempts it, even in most difficult commandments.
3. Every servant receives wages of his own master, and thrives by his service. Of whom doest thou receive wages?
4. Which of these two masters lovest thou best? He that is thy master, thy affection must cleave to him, as is said of the prodigal.
5. If thou beest the servant of God, thy wealth is His servant as well as thyself. (T. Taylor, D. D.)
Oneness of service
What we all want is unity of character. We are, most of us, too many characters folded up into one. This want of unity of character is the chief secret of almost all our weakness. No life can be a strong life which has not a fixed focus. Another consequence of this uncertainty of aim and this divided allegiance is that we really are missing the goodness and happiness of everything. We have too much religion thoroughly to enjoy the world, and too much of the world thoroughly to enjoy religion. Our convictions haunt us in the world, and our worldliness follows us even to our knees. But there is a worse consequence than this. The Holy Spirit is grieved in us, and Christ is wounded, and the Father is dishonoured. For, which is worse, to be half loved or not to be loved at all? Where you have a right to all, is not partial love a mockery and an insult? The question, the all-important question is, What is the remedy? But first, before I speak of that, let me draw your attention to a distinction which is not without its force. The word “masters” in the text does not actually carry the meaning of “masters “ and “servants” in the ordinary acceptation of the phrases. It might be literally translated, according to the root of the word, “proprietors” or “lords.” “No one can serve two proprietors.” This emphasizes the sentence. God has a property, all property, in you. By right you are His. The world is not your proprietor. You are not made to be the world’s But now I return to the question, “How can we best attain to serve one lord?” I should answer first, without hesitation, by making that one Master, or Proprietor, or Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ. And more than this. God has given the govern merit and the sovereignty of this world till the day of judgment, to Jesus Christ. Therefore He is our Proprietor and our Master. Therefore I say, begin with believing that you are forgiven. Let Jesus--as your own dear Saviour--occupy His right place in your heart. The rest is quite sure. You will want no other Masher. All life is service. The happiness or the unhappiness of the service depends on who is the master. If self is the master, the service will be a failure! If the world is the master, the service will soon become drudgery I If Christ is the master, the service will be liberty; the law will be love, and the wages life, life for ever. If self, and the world, and Christ, be all masters, the diluted service will be nothing worth. There will be no “service” at all. Self will go to the top, and self will be disappointed. But if the “Master” be one, and that one God, that concentration will give force to every good thing within you. Life will be a great success. The service will be sweet. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Impossible to serve God and mammon
We cannot possibly serve both God and mammon. “When you see a dog following two men,” says Ralph Erskine, “you know not to which of them he belongs while they walk together; but let them come to a parting-road, and one go one way, and the other another way, then will you know which is the dog’s master. So while a man may have the world and a religious profession too, we cannot tell which is the man’s master, God or the world; but stay till the man come to a parting-road. God calls him this way, and the world calls him that way. Well, if God be his master, he follows truth and righteousness, and lets the world go; but if the world be his master, then he follows the flesh and the lusts thereof, and lets God and conscience go.” It is always so. The lukewarm can never be trusted, but the heartily-loving are ever loyal.
The Pharisees also, who were covetous
Lovers of money
Those “lovers of money” heard what things?
As rulers of the people they heard the parable of the “unjust steward,” and their own doom as men entrusted with the priceless riches of God’s teaching pronounced: “How is it that I hear this of thee?” They heard, “He that is faithful in that which is least”--money--“is faithful also in much.”
I. “LOVERS OF MONEY” DERIDE A STRICT SCRUPULOSITY. “Be faithful in the least.” Many of the customs of trades and professions are out of harmony with the gospel teaching on strict conscientiousness.
II. “LOVERS OF MONEY” DERIDE THE TEACHING OF THE GOSPEL ON SELFDENIAL. Self-denial and a race for wealth are incompatible things: “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
III. “LOVERS OF MONEY” DERIDE THOSE WHO CALL THE PURSUIT OF RICHES THE WORSHIP OF “MAMMON.”
IV. “LOVERS OF MONEY” NEED ROUSING BY A STERNER TEACHING. Was not the Saviour impelled to the utterance of the parable of “Dives and Lazarus”--look at it--by the looks of contempt implied in the word ἐξομυκτήριζον, the distended nostril and curled lip of these Pharisees? Does this help to explain our Lord’s unusual severity: “In hell he lift up his eyes, being in torment” “Nothing will shake “the lover of money” but stern teaching, and not always that. (Clerical World.)
Ye are they which justify yourselves before men
Men often highly esteem what God abhors
Show how and why it is that men highly esteem that which God abhors.
1. They have a different rule of judgment. God judges by one rule; they by another. God’s rule requires universal benevolence; their rule is satisfied with any amount of selfishness, so it be sufficiently refined to meet the times. The world adopts an entirely different rule, allowing men to set up their own happiness as their end. But God’s rule is, “Seek not thine own.” God regards nothing as virtue except devotion to the right ends. The right end is not one’s own, but the general good. Hence God’s rule requires virtue, while man’s rule at best only restrains vice. Men very inconsiderately judge themselves and others, not by God’s rule, but by man’s. Here I must notice some of the evidences of this, and furnish some illustrations. Thus, for example, a mere negative morality is highly esteemed by some men. Again, a religion which is merely negative is often highly esteemed. So also of a religion which at best consists of forms and prayers, and does not add to these the energies of benevolent effort. Again, the business aims and practices of business men are almost universally an abomination in the sight of God. Professed Christians judge themselves falsely, because they judge by a false standard. One of the most common and fatal mistakes is to employ a merely negative standard. The good Christian in the world’s esteem is never abrupt, never aggressive, yet he is greatly admired. He has a selfish devotion to pleasing man, than which nothing is more admired. Now, this may be highly esteemed among men; but does not God abhor it? (C. G. Finney, D. D.)
God knoweth your hearts.
I. This truth is eminently calculated to deepen our sense of the unapproachable greatness of the God with whom we have to do.
II. This truth illustrates, not the greatness only, but also the forbearance and mercy of God.
III. This truth should teach you, my brethren, the folly, not to dwell on the guilt, of formality and hypocrisy.
IV. This truth is adapted to console and encourage the often misjudged and afflicted people of God.
V. This truth assures us beforehand of the equity of the Divine awards at the judgment-day. (C. M. Merry.)
God’s knowledge of the heart
At the present day many persons have photographs of their faces taken, which they present to their friends. But if it were possible to have an album of photographs taken of our sinful souls, revealing and blazoning forth all the evil deeds they had each done, all the evil words they had ever spoken, and all the evil thoughts they had ever thought, how hideous and horrible would such pictures be! Would any man dare to give his true soul-photograph to any brother man? I think not; and far less to his friends. Yet the things and thoughts we would thus conceal from others, and even from ourselves, are all known to God. He has full and faithful photographs of all; for He is perfectly cognizant of every single one of our evil deeds, and words, and imaginations. Nay, possibly we unwittingly carry about with us complete photographs of our own souls. May not the unsaved soul carry this record with it at death? May not unsaved sinners be thus both their own self-accusers and witnesses before the judgment-seat of Christ? Nor can anything except His blood, “which cleanseth from all sin,” blot and wash out the record of our iniquities, and prepare the soul, by the grace of God, to receive the image of His Son. (Sir James Simpson.)
Every man presseth into it
I. THE STATE OF THE CHURCH IN THE NEW TESTAMENT.
1. A kingdom.
2. The kingdom of heaven.
II. THE DISPOSITION OF THOSE WHO SEEK THIS KINGDOM. Violent.
1. Between us and the blessed state we aim at there is much opposition; and therefore there must be violence.
(1) The means of grace and salvation are opposed from within us.
(2) There is also opposition from the world.
(a) Snares and delights, to quench our pleasure in the good things of the Spirit.
(b) Fears, terrors, and scandals, to scare us from doing what we ought.
2. God will have this violence and striving, to test the truth of our profession.
3. God will have us get these things with violence, that we may value them more when we have them.
4. The excellence of the thing requires violence.
5. The necessity requires it. The kingdom of heaven is a place of refuge as well as a kingdom to enrich us.
III. THE SUCCESS OF THIS EAGERNESS. The violent take the kingdom by force. Why?
1. Because it is promised to the violent (Matthew 7:7; Revelation 3:19-21).
2. The spirit whereby a man is earnest is a victorious spirit. The Spirit of God possesses them; and with His help they cannot fail.
3. Only the violent take it, because God offers it on this condition alone.
4. Only the violent can prize it when they have it. (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
Taken by force
Let us look in a large way at this important truth. Everything great on earth has to be achieved by long, earnest, persistent toil. If you seek to become master of any art, any literature, any science, any accomplishment, you do not sit down and say, “God is the giver of all good, and I shall not be so arrogant as to strive for that which He alone can bestow.” You know very well it can only be had by meeting every obstacle and conquering it. The very value of the thing is estimated often by the straining endeavour, the unconquerable zeal, and the cease less labour which are requisite to its attainment. We so often see only the results in certain lives, and not the long processes which have been leading up to those results, that we are tempted sometimes to forget this. A poet writes some verses that cause the whole nation’s soul to burn and glow; an orator makes some speech that thrills his country to its very heart’s core; a philosopher observes some phenomena which open up a whole field of scientific truth. We are dazzled with the success; we are forgetful of the long, patient hours of study and of thought which have gone before. Millions had seen apples fall before Newton did, and it revealed nothing to them; millions had seen the kettle lid blown off by steam before Watt did, and it suggested no thought to them; millions had lost their dearest friend before Tennyson lost Hallam, and they wrote no “In Memoriam”; millions had watched nations reeling with the shock of revolution before Burke gazed on the shattered throne and the polluted altar of France, and no burning words of eloquence fell from their lips or from their pen. To the souls trained in patient thought the revelation of great truth comes--or rather, what are common facts to others are revelations to them. Don’t call these things accidents. “The accidental falling of an apple was the cause of the discovery of the laws of gravity,” says a popular treatise. A fearful untruth. The cause of the discovery was the long period of deep self-sacrificing thought which Newton had given to Nature. “What a lucky man Newton was to have that apple fall before him!” said a young man once, in my hearing. “Rather,” said a thoughtful man, standing by, “what a lucky apple to fall before Newton!” There is a world of truth in that. So one might go through the whole range of human experience and culture, and everywhere the kingdom that you want to become master of has to be taken by force. The door is opened to the persistent knocking. The bread is given to the unwearied demand. The treasure is found by the one who has been seeking. Now we come to the highest life of all--to the culture of that part of our nature which transcends all else. Is it not this great principle which pervades all the physical and mental world; which we see in every tiny plant as it struggles through the earth towards the light, in every mighty oak scarred with the lightnings and storms of ages, in every torrent that fights its way towards the ocean; which we see in every achievement of physical science, in every path she has constructed across mountain or morass, in every railroad for which she has torn and blasted a way through the granite of the earth; which we see in every great painting that has glowed with beauty on the canvas, in every great work of the sculptor who has made the cold marble breathe and live; which we see in every page of every great book in which Science records her facts, or poet, or historian, or philosopher has penned his researches and his thoughts--is not, I say, this great principle, which thus meets us everywhere--in all noble results, and all great achievements, in every department of human thought and life--to be found anywhere in the grander life of the immortal soul? Surely itis, brethren, and we ignore the teaching of Christ and of His apostles if we regard Christ’s religion as merely a means by which we are to be saved from all trouble and responsibility about the future. There are people who tell you that all you have to do is to “accept Christ,” “believe in Him,” and then He has done all for you--you need have no more anxiety or trouble. All through those Epistles, which are so full of the gospel of the grace of God, and where Christ and Him crucified is the central fact of the Christian faith, the apostle, in words which thrill with the living power of deep personal experience, speaks of the Christian life as a ceaseless, protracted, fearful struggle. Be exhausts things sacred and profane to find imagery to depict and to impress this truth. The Christian life is a race for which no previous preparation is too careful; in which every nerve is to be strained, and on which all our force is to be concentrated, that we may “ obtain the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). (T. T. Shore, M. A.)
Than one tittle of the law to fall
Power and perpetuity of law
If you have read the Pentateuch, and especially the books of Exodus and Leviticus, with care, you have perhaps wondered why a system of laws, so complicated, so careful of little things, so rigidly exact in its directions about them, should ever have been enacted.
Viewing it in certain aspects, it may be that a sort of half suspicion has crossed your minds that legislation of this kind is really unworthy of such a being as God. But when the purpose of its Divine Author is seen, when the relation of the Law of Moses to the Jews as a separated people and to the gospel dispensation is fully understood, the whole system appears in quite a new light. The marks of Divine wisdom and goodness are clearly discernible in all its parts, even in its minutest details. This Mosaic code is “the Law” spoken of in the text. It embodies many precepts of universal application and eternal authority--it included, indeed, the whole moral law; but as a code, it was enacted for a specific end, and was to continue in force for a specific period. Until this end was gained, and this period completed, not a jot or tittle of it could be annulled. The system possessed all the mighty power of law--nothing could set it aside. To regard or to treat any one of its provisions as an effete or antiquated or useless thing, was, in effect, to charge the Divine Lawgiver with folly. Hence the strong language in which our Lord asserts its power and its perpetuity until the fulness of the time had come. “Heaven and earth may pass away, but one jot or tittle of the law cannot fail.” These words announce a great truth; what is here affirmed of the law in a distinctive sense is true of law universally. God, who called the universe into existence by the word of His power, governs it according to the counsel of His own will. Now the great truth which the text asserts is this, viz., THAT THE LAWS WHICH GOVERN THE UNIVERSE ARE OF INFINITELY MORE CONSEQUENCE THAN THE UNIVERSE ITSELF--that it is of unspeakably more importance that the former should be maintained than that the latter should exist--that all the creatures of God, rational and irrational, should obey the laws to which He has been pleased to subject them, that they should work in harmony with these enactments, than that any or all of them should be kept in being. Glorious as are all the works of God, yet if you should take any one of them, consider it apart from all others, or view it as a mere isolated thing, you would perceive little, if any, excellence in it. It would indeed bespeak the creative energy of Him who made it, but you could not discover from it alone whether He is wise and good, or the reverse. It is only when you regard it in its relations to other things, and ascertain why it was made, and see its exact fitness to an end, that its real “glory and greatness as a work of God shine forth. How beautiful to us is the spectacle of a field of waving corn? Its very verdure is refreshing to the eye, because adapted to the structure of our organ of vision, while its yellow ripeness gives the promise of an abundant supply of the food we need. But--if we may imagine such a thing--transfer it to a world of creatures with a constitution totally unlike ours, its beauty would vanish because its fitness to an end would be lost. The glory of creation, then, arises mainly from the benign ends and perfect adaptations of its countless parts. And hence it is that the universe must be, as we have already said, under law to God, and that the maintenance of the laws which govern it is vastly more important than the existence of the universe itself. In the working of the stupendous mechanism of the heavens, all is orderly and harmonious so long as the law which governs its movements is obeyed. But suppose the reverse of this to be the case--that the law of gravitation was liable to incessant interruptions, that the forces which produce the beautiful steadiness we now observe operated according to no fixed rule, either as to direction or degree, so that satellites should rush off into boundless space, or dash furiously against each other, and the planets, starting from their orbits, should wander at their will through immensity, or should be suddenly deluged with the fogs or the flames (as the case may be) of a comet, while this fair earth of ours, according as chance drove her near to or far distant from the sun, were converted into a fiery furnace or a globe of ice. We may try to fancy the state of things under such a reign of anarchy, though the boldest imagination must come far short of the reality. But the main question is, can we suppose that God would suffer, even for a moment, such a lawless universe to exist? No. He is a “God of order,” and it were far better to remand creation to its original nothingness, than to permit disorder and confusion thus to gain the mastery over it; better annihilate it at once, than not maintain its laws in full supremacy and force. “Heaven and earth may pass away, but one jot or tittle of the laws shall not fail.” Let us, if you please, take another illustration from THE EARTH ON WHICH WE DWELL. Here, too, we observe a grand and complicated system of physical operations incessantly going on, of physical laws perpetually at work. But suppose that the whole of this wonderful economy of nature were mysteriously disturbed--that her processes, apparently so complicated, yet never confused, were suddenly left to chance, and were subject to no laws, so that men sowed fields and reaped nothing, and then again where they planted nothing they reaped abundance; so that their food one day ministered nourishment, and the next deadly poison; nor could they tell whether the water they drank would quench or increase their thirst; that the darkness of night, the light of day, the heat of summer, the frost of winter, lasted through periods so indefinite, and were liable to changes so great and sudden, that none could predict what a moment would bring forth; I ask, again, could God permit this goodly earth of ours to fall into a condition so utterly lawless and so destructive to all the creatures that dwell upon its surface? No indeed. Better a thousandfold that it were blotted from existence than that it should become such a prey of anarchy, such a plaything of chance, without law, without life--a world as dishonouring to its Maker as it would be intolerable for man. But let us come nearer home and TAKE AN ILLUSTRATION FROM MAN HIMSELF. In whatever aspect we view him, whether as a physical, social, intellectual, or moral being, we find him the subject of laws--of laws unchangeable as the eternal Lawgiver Himself; and harsh as the announcement may sound, it is nevertheless true that not to maintain these laws would be far greater evil than the destruction of the human race; better that men should perish than that these laws should be set aside. We may not trifle with any one of these laws, to which He who “formed us of clay and made us men” hath subjected our physical nature. If we do, it is at our peril; for although these laws are not enforced by precisely the same penalty, yet we should ever remember that each has a penalty of its own; and whether it be more or less severe, we must endure the punishment if we venture to violate the law. Let the motive which prompts a man to disregard the laws of health, or the manner in which the thing is done, be what it may; let him, for example, turn night into day--whether he be a student, whose intense zeal for knowledge keeps him at his books when he should be in bed, or a miserable sensualist, who gives his midnight hours to revelry and banqueting--the inevitable result to him will be a ruined constitution. God will not modify the order He has established so as to suit the convenience of your depraved appetites; He will not change His laws to accommodate either the unwise student or the miserable sensualist. “Heaven and earth shall pass, but not one jot or tittle of His law.” So it is with men considered as SOCIAL BEINGS. There are laws of social life ordained of God, and though we cannot always trace their operation so distinctly as we can the working of those which govern the material creation, we may still be certain that the former are just as uniform and immutable as the latter. We only need to open our eyes and look at what is going on around us to be convinced of this truth. Economy, diligence, prudence, truthfulness, unswerving probity, on the one hand, and extravagance, self-indulgence, falsehood, deceit, trickery, on the other, do not yield their respective fruits at random or by chance. No. There is a law which renders these results invariable. “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, nor a corrupt tree good fruit.” The trickster, the time-server, the two-faced flatterer, may secure the position or the office on which his heart is set, but real honour and lasting power he never wins. God’s law forbids it. And the experience of all ages embodied in the proverbs of all nations, as well as the word of eternal truth, proves that in the long run such men always reap their proper reward, and go at last to their own place. Thus far we have viewed the teaching of our text mainly as it bears upon men’s present interests and their earthly life. It contains lessons of still higher moment. We know that this world is the prelude of another, and even here below we have, in the relation of youth to age, a striking image of the relation which subsists between this world and the next, between our present life and the everlasting life to come. He who wastes the period which God has allotted to make a man of him--a period short indeed, as it consists of only a few years, but sufficient for the purpose if rightly improved--wastes what he never can replace. Such is the law of our present earthly existence, and in it we see shadowed forth the law of our future and eternal life. The very gospel, which brings life and immortality to light, emphatically proclaims that sin and suffering are conjoined by a law immutable as the eternal throne. It is surely needless for me to bring arguments to substantiate the charge that you are a sinner against God. Your own conscience confesses it, “your own heart condemns” you. Well, this word of Him who cannot lie tells you, in terms too plain to be misunderstood, that perish you must for ever, unless saved through the righteousness and atonement of the Son of God. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but one jot or tittle of the law cannot fail.” Let me, in conclusion, add as a word of warning, that the instrument with which the devil most successfully assails the young and the old is scepticism in regard to the momentous truth taught in the text. This is his grand temptation, and was the weapon with which he gained his dismal triumph over the common mother of our race. “Why not eat of the tree of knowledge,” he asked, “that stands in the midst of the garden--its form so beautiful to the sight, its fruit so sweet to the taste?” “I am under a law,” replied Eve, “that forbids me to touch it, and it is enforced by the awful penalty of death.” “But surely,” rejoined the tempter, “you must have misapprehended the meaning of your Maker; it is not to be supposed that He will ever inflict upon you a punishment so dreadful for an offence so trifling.” Alas! “She took, she ate, earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat sighing, gave signs of woe that all was lost.” Precisely so does the same “father of lies” deceive the youth with reference to the connection that subsists between the springtide and the summer and autumn of our present life. He who is old enough to understand anything, however inconsiderate of the personal bearing of the truth, knows perfectly well that he must sow the seed if he would reap the harvest. (J. Forsyth, D. D.)
There was a certain rich man
Dives and Lazarus
THE ALLOTMENTS OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE ON EARTH ARE NOT ALWAYS EVENLY BASED UPON A REGISTER OF HUMAN DESERT.
1. The rich man is not offered as a luminous exhibition of personal worth (see Luke 16:19-21).
2. On the other hand, Lazarus was a beggar, and frightfully diseased. His condition was pitiable. But it does not follow that he had been immoral, nor that he was under judgment for crime. Neither of these men represented in the parable took his moral state, or received his everlasting reward, from his earthly lot.
II. THE QUESTION AS TO A MAN’S ACCEPTANCE WITH GOD TURNS ON PERMANENT CHARACTER.
1. The name which this poverty-stricken invalid bears is all that is given us at this stage in the story to indicate that he was a religious man. It is simply the ancient Eleazar put into the New Testament Lazarus--the Hebrew translated to Greek--and means “God is my help.” It is plain that our Lord Jesus designed this as a sufficient description of him. As Alford shrewdly remarks, he purposed “to fill in the character of the poor man.” He doubtless gave the appellation, as Bunyan bestowed the name of his hero in Pilgrim’s Progress: he called his name “Christian” because he was a Christian. And this beggar here is called “God is my help,” because he was a good man, living according to his light by the help of God.
2. But the other man’s character is under a full exhibition. He was luxuriously self-seeking. He lavished his wealth upon himself, and fed his appetites unrestrainedly. He was inhumane. The very brutes in Perea were less brutal than Dives. The rich man was not only in his conduct heartless, but in his custom irreligious; for the Jewish law demanded consideration of the poor with a hundred reiterated precepts; these he habitually disobeyed. And in the end of the tale we have the intimation that, above everything else, Dives never paid any attention to what Moses and the prophets were thundering in his ears from the Scriptures about making preparation for another world which was lying out beyond this. We reach the conclusion that in this parable the rich man represents a worldly sinner.
III. Again: WE LEARN HERE THAT DEATH IS THE INEVITABLE EVENT WHICH USHERS IN THE CERTAIN IMMORTALITY OF EACH HUMAN SOUL.
1. Both of these men died.
2. Both of these men found themselves living after they had died.
IV. WHAT COMES AFTER DEATH IS TO US OF FAR MORE IMPORTANCE THAN WHAT COMES BEFORE.
1. For, first, it gathers up now into itself whatever went before, and includes all its consequences.
2. And then what chines after death introduces fresh and heavy experiences of its own. The contrast is offered of highest felicity with most extreme suffering. That other life will be quite as sensitive as this, and possibly more so. Power of suffering may be augmented. There will be recognition of friends and relatives and neighbours in that new existence. These souls all appear to know each other in those moments of terrible candour. And they understand each other, too, at last; there is great plainness of speech among them.
V. THE GOSPEL INVITATION REACHES ITS LIMIT IN THIS STATE OF OUR EXISTENCE.
1. There will be no increase in the ordinary means of grace.
2. No novel form of address will be possible (Luke 16:30-31). (C. S.Robinson, D. D.)
The rich and the poor, here and hereafter
The case is that of one who had great wealth, and enjoyed it, and lived handsomely, but took no thought to the poor brother outside. He had his evil things in the same hour in which the brother in the grand house had his good things; and this went on, day after day, white the two men neared another life: but when that life began, there came a change. Now, it seems clear, from the way in which the case is put, that this change, which was in fact a revolution, and brought with it a precise reversal of the states of those two men, came in a line of predetermined events. It implies the working of a law, which may have been fulfilled in countless instances already, and is destined to act and rule so long as the lots of men are unequal in this life. If this be so, it ought to make those of us uneasy, who perceive, in comparing themselves with their neighbours, that they are having their good things now. It seems a just inference from this parable, which was undoubtedly intended as a lesson and a warning for us all, that Almighty God, the Righteous and Just, although He may for the present permit the poor to suffer, has made a law in the due execution whereof there may be expected a complete upset of conditions by and by, on our passage into another life. Many years ago, in the early winter, I found myself one evening at a rich man’s table, with others bidden to the feast. We had our good things. Nothing was wanting to the completeness of our entertainment in which appeared, in their order, all delicious viands, with condiments and delicacies, and whatsoever is pleasant to the eyes and good for food. There shone the precious metals, and rare porcelains and crystal, while, amidst roses and other choice flowers appeared, in rich warm hues as of the ruby and the topaz, the fruit of the vines of distant lands. As one surveyed the cheerful company under the soft brilliancy of many lights, it was a pleasant scene; in their lifetime they were receiving their good things; and not as dissolute revellers, but after the way of the highly respectable, to whom all this came as to men and women to the manner born, and living, as became their station, the life of the rich and the free. In less than an hour after leaving that scene, I found myself descending, by dim and muddy steps, the basement of a miserable house in the same city, and entering a room some feet below the level of the sidewalk. What light there was in that forlorn apartment came from a dull tallow candle; the feeble ray fell on bare walls and a bare floor, and showed no furniture but an old bedstead, without clothes or bedding, or so much as a truss of straw. On the floor sat two children, thinly clad, crouching close to an old rust-eaten stove, in which a faint redness glimmered through the choked-up ashes, the very mockery of a fire. The little ones had no food; their mother, they said, was abroad to see if she could get them a bit of something to eat, while a neighbour had given her the candle by the aid of which I made out the pitiful scene. There was the other side of the parable; the old, old story: “and likewise Lazarus evil things.” Under the winter’s evening, the two rooms told their separate stories to the Lord; the “good things” there, the “evil things” here; just as it has been from the beginning. Alas I the heart dies down at such contrasts. Who could look on two such pictures within the same hour, and admit that things are as they ought to be in this world? And if, at such a moment, he remembers the words of the parable, it cannot but occur to him, as was just now said, that there must be a hidden law of adjustment, whose working will be revealed in due season. He must say to himself: It cannot be that these things are to last for ever; and moreover, it cannot be that he who is indifferent to them while they last can finally go unpunished. Indifference on these points is crime; and crime must bring retribution. We have, then, in the words of our Lord in the parable a very serious intimation; and, in common daily experience, an argument of great persuasive force urging us to heed it. It is one of the gravest of questions how we are to deal with the terrible problems thus raised; problems which could not be more urgent or more practical; which relate to both worlds at once; to the estates of men in this life, and to the estates of those same men in the life hereafter. We want light on a dark question; infidelity and anti-Christian social science fail us here; the latter amuses us with a jack-a-lantern, leading nowhere but into greater embarrassments; the former blows out what light remains, and by destroying society reduces all men everywhere to present terror and ultimate barbarism. Fortunately for the human race there are ideas as different from infidel or socialistic notions as light from darkness; ideas put forth by our blessed Lord, and kept afloat by the powerful agency of that religion which He founded and sustained. In these ideas, fully realized and widely applied, resides the only hope of relief. Let us recall them to our thoughts and see in what subtle and perhaps unsuspected way they help us all--the poor who are in misery here, and the rich who are in peril hereafter. First, then, Christianity never has attempted to eliminate the rich as a class. It is God’s will that there shall always be the rich and the poor. But although the rich are permitted to be among us and to have a place in His Church, yet another thing is true. They are told that their riches are a real and a deadly peril; as if a man had in his house what might at any moment take fire or explode and destroy his life. And, more than this: the vast difference between them and the poor is one of those which seem to be unfair and unjust, in a human point of view. I mean that if you take man and man there is no reason a priori why the rich man should not be in the poor man’s place and the poor man in the rich man’s, and often no reason can be found in the characters of the men themselves. “Why is not that poor brother where I am and I in his place? It seems scarcely just to him now; it cannot go on for ever.” If all the rich felt thus the sorrows of the poor would be at end, even for this life; and the rich would feel thus if they were penetrated with the spirit of the gospel. Even so much as there is (and blessed be God! there is much of this nobility of Christian love), has done and is doing a vast deal of good, and alleviating the misery and sorrow of the poor. (Morgan Dix, D. D.)
Dives and Lazarus
I. THE RICH MAN IN HIS AFFLUENCE AND ENJOYMENTS.
II. LAZARUS IN HIS POVERTY.
1. A beggar.
3. Afflicted in person.
III. THE DEATH OF LAZARUS.
1. At his death he becomes the subject of angelic minis tration.
2. He is conveyed in triumph to glory.
IV. THE DEMISE OF THE RICH MAN.
1. His riches could not save him from death.
2. They could only secure him an imposing funeral.
1. That piety on earth is often allied with poverty and suffering.
2. That earthly prosperity and magnificence are no proofs of the Divine favour.
3. That whatever be our condition in this world, we are travelling towards another.
4. That death is inevitable to all stations and ranks. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Dives and Lazarus after death
I. WE SEE LAZARUS IN THE ABODE OF THE BLESSED. His state is one of--
1. Repose, after the toils of life.
2. Dignity, after the humiliating scenes of his earthly adversity.
3. Abundance, after want.
4. Bliss, after grief and sorrow.
II. WE ARE REFERRED TO DIVES AS CONSIGNED TO THE REGIONS OF THE LOST. “In torments.”
1. Torments arising from the awful change he had experienced when death removed him from his wealth and luxuries on earth. 2. Torments from unallayed desires. He seeks now even for one drop of water, but in vain.
3. Torments from the bitter and despairing anguish of his doomed spirit.
4. Torments of keen self-reproach.
5. Torments from the direct infliction of the righteous wrath of
6. Torments from having the world of joy and glory within the range of his distracted vision.
III. WE ARE REMINDED OF HIS UNAVAILING PRAYERS.
1. For the alleviation of his own agonies.
2. For additional means to save his brethren.
1. How awful it is to die in a carnal, unregenerate state.
2. How connected are the concerns of time with the realities of eternity. “Whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap.”
3. How all-important is real personal piety.
4. The sufficiency of the means appointed for man’s salvation. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Lessons from the parable
1. Let us learn here that “one thing is needful”--the care of the soul. What can riches do without this?
2. Let us learn, that, if the word of God revealed in the Scriptures, if the gospel of Jesus Christ, if the promises and the warnings written there, do not convince us, do not turn us to God--then nothing would.
3. Observe from this parable, that hell will be the portion not only of the grossly wicked, the swearer, the adulterer, the drunkard, the dishonest, the liar; for we read not, that the rich man was any of these: yet he perished.
4. What comfort may this parable give to the Christian in suffering! (E. Blencowe, M. A.)
The rich man and Lazarus
I. THE CONTRASTS.
1. In their external circumstances.
(1) One rich; the other poor.
(2) One elegantly clothed; the other as a beggar.
(3) One sumptuously fed; the other desiring the rich man’s crumbs.
(4) One in health; the other physically wretched.
(5) One socially influential; the other in beggarly isolation.
2. In their spiritual condition.
(1) One exulting in his wealth; the other contented in his poverty.
(2) One satisfied with his earthly possessions; the other seeking treasure in heaven.
(3) One selfish and ungodly; the other a self-sacrificing believer.
3. In their eternal destiny.
(1) One cast into hell; the other carried into heaven.
(2) One tormented; the other comforted.
(3) One associated with demons; the other in companionship with Abraham.
(4) One in unalterable anguish; the other in permanent blessedness.
II. THE LESSONS.
1. As to Providence.
(1) Worldly prosperity no proof of acceptance with God.
(2) Poverty and distress no proof of Divine abandonment.
(3) Worldly isolation compatible with Divine companionship.
2. As to spiritual life.
(1) Ease, luxury, and social elevation do not lead to spiritual-mindedness.
(2) Beggary, physical helplessness, and deprivation of all worldly comforts, not able to wean the believer from God.
(3) The Holy Scriptures God’s best guide to spiritual truth.
3. As to the future state.
(1) That man has an immortal nature.
(2) That death does not affect the constituents of this nature in respect either to
(a) Its consciousness;
(3) That death does not affect the moral condition of this nature.
(4) Heaven and hell, respectively appointed for the good and bad.
(5) Heaven and hell, eternally separated by an impassable gulf. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
A wealthy but sad family
I. A WEALTHY FAMILY. “Wore purple and fine linen every day.” Probably the great magnates of the neighbourhood.
II. A LARGE FAMILY. Six brothers.
III. A FAMILY WHICH DEATH HAD VISITED. “The rich man died and was buried.” Death will neither be bribed by wealth, nor wait for preparation.
IV. A FAMILY, ONE OF WHICH WAS IN HELL. Secular wealth is sometimes soul-degrading.
V. A FAMILY WHOSE SURVIVING BROTHERS WERE ALL ON THE ROAD TO RUIN.
VI. A FAMILY WHOSE DECEASED BROTHER RECOILED AT THE IDEA OF REUNION.
VII. A FAMILY WHO POSSESSED ALL THE MEANS THEY NEEDED OR WOULD EVER HAVE FOR SPIRITUAL SALVATION. (Anon.)
Opportunity for charity
“There was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate.” This is a fact of importance in the history of Dives. Lazarus enters on the stage not merely to present a striking contrast to the rich man’s state, but as one with whom the latter had relations. Lazarus represents opportunity for the exercise of humanity. That is the chief if not the sole purpose for which he appears in the first scene. (A. B. Bruce.)
Wealth making friends for the future
What a vastly greater benefit Dives might have gained through Lazarus, had he only turned his acquaintance with him to account in good time. Had he made of him a friend with his worldly possessions he might have been his companion in paradise. But now, so far from attaining that felicity, he cannot even obtain the little favour he craves. (A. B. Bruce.)
This parable is full of sharp contrasts.
1. There is the contrast in the life of these two men. The one rich, the other a beggar. The rich man had great possessions, yet one thing he lacked, and that was the one thing needful. Lazarus, the beggar, was after all the truly rich man, “as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”
2. Next, there is a contrast in the death of these two men.
3. And there is a contrast in the after time for these two men. The rich man was buried, doubtless, with great pomp. Some of us have seen such funerals. What extravagance and display take the place of reverent resignation and quiet grief! Of the beggar’s burial place we know nothing.
4. But the sharpest contrast of all is in the world beyond, from which for a moment Jesus draws back the veil. (H. J. Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)
Dives and Lazarus
I. THE UNEQUAL DISTRIBUTION OF THE GIFTS OF PROVIDENCE AMONGST MANKIND.
II. THE DECISIVE ADJUSTMENT OF THINGS THAT TAKES PLACE AT DEATH.
III. THE EVERLASTING SEPARATION THAT TAKES PLACE AT DEATH BETWEEN THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED.
IV. THE VIEW THAT IS TAKEN OF THIS LIFE WHEN ONCE THEY GET OUT INTO THE FUTURE.
V. THE SUFFICIENCY OF THE REVELATION THAT GOD HAS GIVEN TO CONFIRM ALL THESE THINGS. (J. E. Beaumont.)
Dives and Lazarus
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF DIVES IN HIS TWO DIFFERENT STATES OF EXISTENCE.
1. In this world Dives was possessed--
(1) Of an abundance of earthly good.
(2) He knew how to enjoy this abundance, according to the usual meaning of this phraseology.
(3) He was probably, so far as pertains to human nature in these circumstances, possessed of entire ease of mind.
2. At death his situation was in all respects reversed.
(1) He was disembodied.
(2) In absolute want of all things.
II. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF LAZARUS IN THE PRESENT WORLD, AND IN THE FUTURE.
1. In this world, Lazarus was--
(1) In a state of the most abject poverty.
2. In the future world he was--
(1) Rich in the abundance of all things.
(3) Happy. (T. Dwight, D. D.)
The rich man and Lazarus
I. THE RESEMBLANCE BETWEEN THESE TWO MEN.
1. The parable speaks of a rich man and a poor man; and the resemblance between them may be traced, first, in the mortality of their bodies. They were both men, sinful men, and consequently dying men. No sooner is it said that “the beggar died,” than it is added, “the rich man also died.” And thus must end the history of us all.
2. These men resembled each other also in the immortality of their souls. The soul of the poorest amongst us is as immortal as the soul of the richest.
3. To these two points of resemblance between these men, we may add a third, not indeed absolutely expressed here, but, like the fact we have just alluded to, evidently to be inferred--accountableness to God. It was not chance which placed them where they are. They went thither from a bar of judgment.
II. Let us proceed to notice, secondly, THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THESE TWO MEN, WITH THE GROUNDS OR REASONS OF IT. They differed in two points.
1. In their earthly portion. How great a contrast! Where shall we find its origin? It warns us against judging of men’s character by men’s condition. That diversity of condition, which we may wonder at but cannot alter, which has prevailed more or less in every age and nation notwithstanding every attempt to put an end to it, that diversity must be traced to the sovereign will of God. And He suffers, or rather He establishes it, because it is conducive to our welfare and His own glory.
(1) It serves to show us, among other things, the poverty of the world and the all-sufficiency of God.
(2) Besides, this diversity of condition, this mixture of poverty and riches on the earth, answers a further end--it proclaims to thoughtless man another world. There must be a world in which the just Governor of the universe will assert His justice, will vindicate His character, and render to the sons of men according their works,
2. The two men it speaks of differed in their eternal condition. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The contrast in eternity
The first truth here suggested is that by the allotments of His providence in the present world, God does not distinguish between the righteous and the wicked. It has been the grief of many good men, that the dispensations of providence in this world afford so little evidence of the impartiality and rectitude of the Divine government. Whether it be to show the comparative meanness and significance of all earthly good, or that the Father of mercies is kind even to the evil and unthankful, or to illustrate their own impenitence and obduracy, or to give them the opportunity of filling up the measure of their iniquity! or to accomplish all these purposes--the fact is unquestioned--that thus far in the history of the world, by far the greater portion of those who, like the rich man in the parable, have fared sumptuously every day, have been of the wicked rather than of the righteous. The real disposition of the Divine mind toward holiness and sin must be exhibited in the distribution of good and evil in accordance with their respective characters. The present world, therefore, is but the season of trial, with a view to a future retribution. We must look beyond, if we would see the line of demarcation between the friends and foes of God drawn with visible and permanent distinctness. This difference will be clearly and distinctly made, at the end of the world. The time of trial on the earth was never designed to be long. Human life with all its invaluable opportunities, is but “a vapour that appeareth for a little while and then vanisheth away.” Every man then enters upon allotments, which, so far from being influenced by his earthly standing, are exclusively determined by his moral character. There will be a difference of character, of place, of society, of employment, of prospects. They will be unlike in every conceivable particular. (G. Spring, D. D.)
Worldly gratification and its terrible mockery
My friends, do you remember that old Scythian custom, when the head of a house died? How he was dressed in his finest dress, and set in his chariot, and carried about to his friends’ houses; and each of them placed him at his table’s head, and all feasted in his presence? Suppose it were offered to you, in plain words, as it is offered to you in dire facts, that you should gain this Scythian honour, gradually, while you yet thought yourself alive. Suppose the offer were this: You shall die slowly; your blood shall daily grow cold, your flesh petrify, your heart beat at last only as a rusted group of iron valves. Your life shall fade from you, and sink through the earth into the ice of Caina; but, day by day, your body shall be dressed more gaily, and set in higher chariots, and have more orders on the breast--crowns on its head, if you will. Men shall bow before it, stare and shout round it, crowd after it up and down the streets; build palaces for it, feast with it at their tables’ heads all the night long; your soul shall stay enough within it to know what they do, and feel the weight of the golden dress on its shoulders, and the furrow of the crown-edge on the skull--no more. Would you take the offer, verbally made by the death-angel? Would the meanest among us take it, think you? Yet practically and verily we grasp at it, every one of us, in a measure; many of us grasp at it in its fulness of horror. Every man accepts it, who desires to advance in life without know ing what life is; who means only that he is to get more horses, and more footmen, and more fortune, and more public honour, and--not more personal soul. He only is advancing in life, whose heart is getting softer, whose blood warmer, whose brain quicker, whose spirit is entering into living peace. And the men who have this life in them are the true lords or kings of the earth--they, and they only. (John Ruskin.)
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus
I proceed to observe the vast difference between men’s conditions in this world and the other. The rich man prospered here, and was afterwards tormented. And it is very agreeable to the wisdom of God to make such a difference between men’s conditions in this world and the other, and that for these two reasons:
1. For the trying of men’s virtue.
2. In order to the recompensing of it. From this consideration of the difference between the condition of men in this world and the other, we may infer--
(1) That no man should measure his felicity or unhappiness by his lot in this world.
(2) We should not set too great a value upon the blessings of this life.
(3) We should not be excessively troubled if we meet with hardship and affliction here in this world, because those whom God designs for the greatest happiness hereafter may receive evil things here.
(4) We should do all things with a regard to our future and eternal state. (Archbishop Tillotson.)
The true valuation of man
In this life, under the managery of ordinary Providence, the worst men may abound with the good things of this life, and better men are sometimes shortened and want even the necessary conveniences of life. Of this I shall speak but a word, because it is a matter of easy observation. This David, Job, and Jeremiah stumbled at. That right, property, and title are founded in nature, not in grace. God gave the world and the things thereof unto the sons of men. If I would prove this to be mine, I must prove my title, not by miracle, but as the law and usage of the country where I dwell do state and determine; therefore I will say no more in this particular.
I. That if we would take a right estimate of man, we must consider him in respect to a double state--here and hereafter--and that for these two reasons:
1. Because there is less of man here and more hereafter.
2. Because man is more valuable than this world represents him to be.
I. The first of these I will make appear in three particulars, that there is less of man here and much more hereafter.
1. In respect of his time and continuance in being.
2. In this state there is less of right judgment of things and persons. Things here go under false appearances, and persons here are under the power of lying imaginations.
3. Less of weal or woe is in this state than in the other, for men in this state do not fully reap the fruit of their own ways; they do not come to the proof of the bargain they have made. In the respects before mentioned and others that possibly might be superadded, it appears that there is less of man in this world. But I may also adjoin, by way of exception, some particulars to the contrary, for I must acknowledge that in some respects our being in this world is very considerable.
I will instance in three particulars--
1. In respect of man’s possibility.
2. In respect of man’s opportunity.
3. In respect of man’s well-grounded faith and expectation.
I now come to the second reason. Why, if we would make a just estimate of man, we must consider him in respect to his double state of existence, in time and in eternity. For man is a much more valuable creature than his affairs in this world represent him to be, and this I will make appear in three particulars. Because--
1. Man is here in his state of infancy; yea, he is as it were imprisoned and encumbered with a gross, dull, and crazy body.
2. In this state man is neither as he should be, nor, if he himself well consider, as he would be. The state of man in this world doth represent him subject to the same vanity that all other creatures lie under (Job 17:14). This state represents a man as very low and mean because he is subjected to low and mean employments--fit only to converse with other creatures. This present state represents a man in a condition of beggary, dependence, and necessity (Job 1:21). This state represents a man as worn out with solicitude and care for himself, as being tormented with fear, and more to seek than any other creature. This state represents man to be in danger from him that is next him, and of his own kind; for so is the world through sin become degenerate, that one man, as it were, is become a wolf to another. Lastly, the state of man in this life represents his condition other ways than indeed it is; that is, it represents a man the object of the devil’s envy, usurpation, and tyranny. He is called the “Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph
2:2). For the close of this particular I shall add a word or two of application.
1. If so be there is less of man here and more hereafter, if when we would take a right estimate of man we must consider him in respect of his double estate, hereafter as well as here, then those persons are guilty of the greatest madness and folly that consider themselves only in order to this life; whereas these men have souls to save or to lose, and there is another state that will commence and begin after the expiration of this.
2. My next inference from what hath been said is--that we should not be tempted in this life to do anything to the prejudice of our future state, the state of eternity; but to let things be considered according to the true worth and value, lest they find cause to repent, when it is too late, of the pleasures they took in their unlawful actions.
II. The second proposition is--that the state of man in the life to come holds a proportion to his affairs in this life.
1. Let it be understood that I have no intention at all to speak one word to countenance the creature’s merit with God, for that I conceive to be incompatible to the condition of the highest angel in glory properly to merit anything at the hand of God.
2. Again, when I say the state of man in the world to come holds a proportion to his affairs in this world, you must not understand it means worldly circumstances of wealth, honour, pleasure, strength, or worldly privileges. Therefore in the affirmative, two things there are belonging to men in this state which are the measures of our happiness in the future state--
(1) The internal disposition and mental temper.
(2) The illicit acts which follow the temper and are connatural to it. These are our acquisitions, through the grace and assistance of God, which always is to be understood as principal to all good, though it be not always expressed, for all good is of God.
And for this I will give you an account that it must be so.
1. From the nature of the thing, for goodness and happiness are the same thing materially; in nature they are the same, as malignity and misery are the same in nature too.
2. From the judgment of God, and those declarations which He hath made of Himself in the Scriptures, which everywhere declare that He will render to every one according to right (Romans 2:6-8). Then let men look well to their mental dispositions, and to their moral actions. This is of a mighty use in religion to understand the true notion of moral actions. From the words of the text I shall observe briefly two things more--First. That worldly prosperity is no certain forerunner of future happiness; for this is a thing heterogenial, and is from distinct and quite other causes.
The providence of God governs the world, and the laws of the kingdom of Christ are quite different things.
1. Let no man make himself a slave to that which is no part of his happiness.
2. Let him take his chief care about that which is in certain conjunction with happiness, and that is the noble generous temper of his soul, and the illicit acts of his mind. Secondly. We see from hence that men change terms, circumstances, and conditions, one with another in the world to come.
For an account of this--
1. Things many times are wrong here, but they will not be wrong always.
2. The present work is to exercise virtue. This is a probation state, a state of trial, and if so, there must be freedom and liberty of action.
3. The final resolution and last stating of things is reserved to another time when no corrupt judge shall sit, but He shall come that shall judge the world in righteousness.
The use I will make of this is--
1. Therefore, do not envy any one’s condition; it is not safe, though glory attend upon it for a while (Psalms 37:1).
2. Satisfy thyself in thine own condition if it be good and virtuous, for then it is safe.
3. Have a right notion and judgment of the business of time, which is to prepare for the future state.
I will conclude this discourse with these four inferences:
1. Then it is folly and madness for men--as frequently they do--to estimate or consider themselves wholly or chiefly by their affairs in this world, and by the good things thereof, such as are power, riches, pleasures.
2. Then it is the great concernment of our souls not at all to admit of any temptation or suggestion to do anything in this life to the prejudice of our state in eternity.
3. Then it is fairly knowable in this state, and by something thereof as a foregoing participation or sign, what our state and condition for sort and kind will be in the world to come.
4. Then faith and patience to go through the world withal, for the day draws on apace for the stating and rectifying of things, the proportioning of recompense and reward to action, and the completing and consummating what is weak and imperfect for the present. He is unreasonably ira patient and hasty who will not stay and expect the season of the year and what that brings, but mutters and complains of injury and hard measures because he cannot have harvest in seed-time. (B. Whichcote.)
The sin of neglecting to be charitable
Here are three great aggravations of the rich man’s uncharitableness--
I. That here was an object presented to him.
II. Such an object as would move any one’s pity, a man reduced to extreme misery and necessity.
III. A little relief would have contented him.
1. That unmercifulness and uncharitableness to the poor is a very great sin. It contains in its very nature two black crimes.
(1) Inhumanity; it is an argument of a cruel and savage disposition not to pity those that are in want and misery.
(2) Besides the inhumanity of this sin, it is likewise a great impiety toward God. Unmercifulness to the poor hath this fourfold impiety in it--it is a contempt of God; an usurpation upon His right; a slighting of His providence; and a plain demonstration that we do not love God, and that all our pretences to religion are hypocritical and insincere.
2. That it is such a sin, as alone, and without any other guilt, is sufficient to ruin a man for ever. The parable lays the rich man’s condemnation upon this, it was the guilt of this sin that tormented him when he was in hell. The Scripture is full of severe threatenings against this sin (Proverbs 21:13). Our eternal happiness does not so much depend upon the exercise of any one single grace or virtue, as this of charity and mercy. Faith and repentance are more general and fundamental graces, and, as it were, the parents of all the rest: but of all single virtues, the Scripture lays the greatest weight upon this of charity; and if we do truly believe the precepts of the gospel, and the promises and threatenings of it, we cannot but have a principal regard to it.
I know how averse men generally are to this duty, which make them so full of excuses and objections against it.
1. They have children to provide for. This is not the case of all, and they whose case it is may do well to consider that ii will not be amiss to leave a blessing as well as an inheritance to their children.
2. They tell us they intend to do something when they die. It shows a great backwardness to the work when we defer it as long as we can. It is one of the worst compliments we can put upon God to give a thing to Him when we can keep it no longer.
3. Others say, they may come to want themselves, and it is prudence to provide against that. To this I answer--
(1) I believe that no man ever came the sooner to want for his charity. David hath an express observation to the contrary (Psalms 37:25).
(2) Thou mayest come to want though thou give nothing; in which case thou mayest justly look upon neglect of this duty as one of the causes of thy poverty.
(3) After all our care to provide for ourselves, we must trust the providence of God; and a man can in no case so safely commit himself to God as in well-doing.
But, if the truth were known, I doubt covetousness lies at the bottom of this objection: however, it is fit it should be answered.
(1) I say, that no man that is not prejudiced, either by his education or interest, can think that a creature can merit anything at the hand of God, to whom all that we can possibly do is antecedently due; much less that we can merit so great a reward as that of eternal happiness.
(2) Though we deny the merit of good works, yet we firmly believe the necessity of them to eternal life. (Archbishop Tillotson.)
1. Riches constitute a serious, though not insuperable, obstacle to one’s salvation; and poverty, in itself undesirable, is, in a spiritual aspect, less dangerous than riches.
2. Before Him who seeth not as man seeth, the millionaire has no advantage over the mendicant.
3. The soul is the same self-conscious existence immediately after death that it was before; and death ushers some, at once, into a state of conscious enjoyment, and some into a state of conscious misery.
4. They that would not, while probationers, cry to God for mercy, will, in eternity, look in vain for mercy to either God or man.
5. Those whom God designs to save He finds it necessary to chasten, so that life’s evil things may wean them from the world and fit them the better to enjoy an eternity of good things. But there are men of the world who have their portion in this life. They prefer enjoying the pleasures of sin for a season, rather than to suffer affliction with the people of God, and hence they in their lifetime receive their good things, but are tormented in the world to come.
6. While here, sinners are urged to cross the moral chasm which separates them from saints, for Christ has bridged it; but after death it becomes to them an unbridged, impassable gulf.
7. How deluded are they who suppose that converse with the dead is possible, or that the unseen world can, in that way, be partly unveiled. An inspired book was God’s wise and chosen mode of acquainting us with spiritual truths, and he who has this book, yet disregards its teachings, will, in eternity, reap the bitter consequences. (T. Williston.)
Dives and Lazarus
I. THE FUTURE STATE IS ONE OF RETRIBUTION.
II. THE FUTURE STATE IS ONE INTO WHICH MEMORY ENTERS AS A FACTOR OF HAPPINESS OR MISERY.
III. IN THE FUTURE STATE INTEREST IS FELT IN THOSE WHO ARE STILL IN THE BODY.
IV. GOD BESTOWS UPON US HERE AND NOW ALL THE PRIVILEGES WHICH ARE NEEDFUL TO PREPARE FOR THE FUTURE STATE. Conclusion:
1. The seriousness and solemnity of this earthly probation.
2. The folly of those who use this life simply for their own gratification.
3. The nearness of eternity.
4. The justice of God’s requirement of assent to His truth and compliance with His demands.
5. The importance of an immediate acceptance of the gospel, and immediate preparation for judgment. (J. R. Thomson, M. A.)
Luxury disregarding severing
Mdlle. Taglione, the celebrated dancer, spent her last London season at Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1847. She said she would not return to London, being dissatisfied with the admiration which she received. The season was exceptionally brilliant, “though it was said that bread was dear, and the misery of the people great.” “One would never suspect it,” said the famous dancer, “to see so many splendid equipages, and so many diamonds on the white shoulders of the ladies.”
“The age cannot be very good,” remarked Hannah More, “when the strawberries at Lady Stormonth’s breakfast last Saturday morning cost one hundred and fifty pounds.”
Too respectable for hell
A wealthy merchant of Philadelphia, who would not listen to the gospel message in health, sent for me at his deathbed. I told him, “I have nothing new to tell you. You are a sinner, and here is a Saviour. Do you feel your guilt, and will you take a Saviour?” “No. There must be some better place than hell for a man of my respectability.” (S. H.Tyng, D. D.)
Riches and perdition
Ay, and so it is with the wicked man nowadays. He gets rich, but what is the use of being wealthy if you must be damned? Fool that he is, if he buys a gold coffin, how would that help him? Suppose he is laid out with a bag of gold in each hand, and a pile of it between his legs, how will that help him? Others seek to get learning, but what is the good of learning if you sink to perdition with it? Take up the learned man’s skull, and what is the difference between that and the skull of the merest pauper that scarcely knew his letters? Brown unpalpable powder, they both crumble down into the same elements. To die in a respectable position, what is the use of it? What are a few more plumes on the hearse, or a longer line of mourning coaches? Will these ease the miseries of Tophet? Ah! friends, you have to die. Why not make ready for the inevitable? Oh! if men were wise, they would see that all earth’s joys are just like the bubbles which our children blow with soap; they glitter and they shine, and then they are gone, and there is not even a wreck left behind. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The just retribution of selfishness
How marvellously just was the retribution of selfishness! with what wonderful precision was the punishment adapted to the sin! During the life of Lazarus, he had laid at the rich man’s gate, whence he could behold the pomp, and hear the revelry, that reigned in the gorgeous mansion; and he had asked only for the crumbs that fell from the table, and even these were denied him. But after death the rich man and the beggar are literally made to change places. Dives is placed where he can be a spectator of the happiness of Lazarus; and he desires, but desires in vain, a single drop from those gushing fountains which he saw on the other side of the gulf. You cannot but observe how accurately Dives has become what Lazarus was, and Lazarus what Dives. Lazarus was the beggar, now Dives is. Lazarus saw, though he did not share the abundance of Dives; Dives now sees, but only sees, the abundance of Lazarus. Lazarus asked for crumbs, and Dives asks for a drop. Crumbs were refused, and now even the drop is withheld. Thus the selfish man is made to feel his selfishness through being placed in the precise position of the supplicant, whom his selfishness had caused him to neglect. It may be thus in regard to every other sin, that the wicked will be so circumstanced in futurity, that their sins will be forced on their recollection, and thus conscience be kept for ever on the alert--for ever on the fret. And all--for indeed these are things too dreadful to be dwelt on long--all we can say is, that if the selfish man is to beg in vain from the victims of his selfishness, if the envious is to be forced to gaze on the splendour of those whom he envied, if the seducer is to be made to feel himself for ever the seduced--yea, if punishment is to be so exactly the picture of crime, that a man shall seem to be eternally receiving in his own person the very wrongs that he did to others, so that every stroke beneath which he writhes will appear as the reflected blow of his own violence rebounding on himself, then, indeed, must we be living under a government which will vindicate its righteousness; and he who, in Scriptural language, “ sows the wind,” must be a spectacle of justice when compelled to “reap the whirlwind.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Self-denial necessary to salvation
This rich man was no opera sinner, but he was simply living to and for self; he enjoyed life, as men say, to the full; he got out of it all the satisfaction he could; self was the centre round which his thoughts, his time, his money revolved; he indulged his taste for fine dress and good food without restraint. In the face, then, of this awful warning, ask yourself the question, Can it be said that my life is marked by self-denial? do I, for Christ’s sake, and for that only, do that which is against my natural inclinations, and leave undone that which I should otherwise be inclined to do? or, on the other hand, is it my constant aim and desire to get as much enjoyment for myself as I can in life, if not to the loss and injury of others, yet without any particular thought or care about them? And it will not do to reckon as acts of self-denial instances in which our wills and inclinations have been thwarted, either by others, or by the direct action of God’s providence. We must all of us endure a great many crosses and disappointments whether we will or no; no doubt the rich man had occasionally his cares and vexations. These do not leave the stamp of the cross upon our lives, except when they are made to minister to our spiritual good through a willing and loving acquiescence in the will of our Heavenly Father. They may become only the occasion of fresh sin in the shape of fretfulness and discontent. Self-denial is something very different from these. It is the habit of mind which leads us in everything to ask, not how may I best please myself, but, how may I best serve God and aid the souls and bodies of others? Take, for instance, the question of time. We are naturally selfish about our time; we like to spend it in the manner which most gratifies self. Self-denial will set us about asking, Can I, by giving this or that hour which I should otherwise devote to amusement, bring any aid or pleasure to others? Or again, take the question of money. We naturally like to spend our money on ourselves, or on some object which brings gratification to self. Self-denial will suggest to us to give up something which we should otherwise have liked in order to devote the money to God. And do not let us shrink back as though self-denial were some hard, bitter thing: it brings with it greater pleasure than self-indulgence. And we may begin, if we have never practised it before, by small acts; God accepts even the cup of cold water given for Christ’s sake. (S. W.Skeffington, M. A.)
Conscious existence after death
I. THERE IS SUCH A THING AS CONTINUANCE OF EXISTENCE--AND OF CONSCIOUS EXISTENCE--AFTER DEATH.
II. THIS CONDITION OF CONSCIOUS EXISTENCE MAY BE ONE OF INTENSE MISERY.
III. CONSIDER WHAT IT WAS IN THE RICH MAN’S EARTHLY LIFE WHICH LED TO SUCH CALAMITOUS RESULTS. (Gordon Calthrop, M. A.)
The mind made a hell
A great and rich man in one of our towns in the West was once taken sick and lost his mind. When he recovered from his sickness he was still a deranged man. He seemed never to know his own wife or children. He forgot all his old friends. For seven long years he was in this unhappy state. One day, while sitting in the room where his daughters were, he sprang from his chair and cried out in great joy, “Thank God I am out at last!” I cannot describe the scene of that hour. He embraced and kissed his daughters. He wept with joy on the bosom of his wife, and acted as if he had not seen them for many years. At last he said to them, “For seven long years I have been in a burning hell. It was a horrible cavern of lakes and rocks and mountains of fire. I saw millions there, but could find no friend. I was ever burning, yet never consumed; ever dying, yet never dead. No light of the sun shined there, and no smile of God was seen. I remembered there every sinful thing I had done, and was tormented in my soul. I thought of the sufferings and death of that blessed Saviour, and how I had treated Him. There was no rest to my soul day nor night. I had no hope there. Yet I wandered in madness to find some way of escape. At last, as I stood on the top of a high rock blazing with heat, I saw in the distance a little opening like the light of the sky. I jumped headlong down, and with all my powers made my way towards it. At last I climbed up to it, and worked and struggled through; and, blessed be God, here I am again, with my beloved wife and children.” Now, my friends, suppose there is no such place as hell. Suppose some one should be so foolish as to hope that there is no such place. Yet remember, that if God can make a man’s own mind such a hell as this while he is yet in this world, He can find a still more fearful hell for him in the world to come. (Bishop Meade.)
Where is hell?
“Where is hell?” was the question once asked by a scoffer. Brief but telling was the reply, “Anywhere outside of heaven.” (Biblical Museum.)
No relief possible in hell
It is an overpowering reflection! but we have sometimes emboldened ourselves to inquire what would bring relief and support to the lost in hell? What could soften the keenness of that flame? And two considerations have raised themselves in our mind as those which, could they be indulged, might yield the assuagement that we had ventured to suppose.
1. The first consideration we should demand is, that the sufferer of the doom might feel that it was inevitable. The idea of fate sets us free from the sense of blame.
2. The second consideration which might subdue the fierceness of infernal agonies, would be that they are undeserved. It would be joy to the prisoners, could they only reflect, “We are the victims of arbitrary justice!” Spirit has not, however, passed into such regions with either of these consolations, nor found them there! Spirit never, in fearful soliloquy, spake: “Necessity wrought this chain, and malignity locked it!” Spirit never exclaimed: “Despite of myself, I was dragged hither, and here in violation of all truth and equity I am chained!”… It is the converse of these thoughts that deepens the outer darkness, that accumulates the horrors of the pit. “It need not have been.” What a self-upbraiding! “Justice had none other recourse.” What a self-condemnation! “Why would ye die?” is the rebuke for ever in their ear! “We indeed justly,” is the confession for ever on the tongue! (R. W. Hamilton.)
It is something--it is a step towards higher reaches of faith, to be well assured of the existence and reality of this invisible realm, in which the spirits of the departed energize (for surely such is the plain teaching of the parable) after they are severed from the body, and go through all the processes of consciousness, thought, and feeling. It is something to believe, or rather something to realize the truth, that there is indeed a world, more thickly peopled with the spirits of the departed than this earth is with the bodies of the living; and that among the inhabitants of this world there are movements of mind, actings of the will, the memory, the understanding, the affections: on the one hand, a spiritual intercommunion with Christ and the members of Christ, fetching deepest peace into the soul; on the other, all the agitations of fear, remorse, compunction, and despair. The realm is to us a shrouded realm, but surely not the less real because we cannot apprehend it with our senses. Let us now consider briefly what the text implies of the circumstances, sentiments, and character of the rich worldling, who is represented as undergoing torments.
I. As to his circumstances. It is sufficiently indicated that he was a Jew by descent. He calls Abraham father, and Abraham, though separated from him by a great gulf, though unable to render him assistance, or comply with his request, does not refuse to recognize hire. “Abraham said unto him, Son, remember.” What! a son of Abraham, and yet an outcast! Circumcised the eighth day, and yet a reprobate! A child of God’s covenant, and yet a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction!
II. From the position and circumstances of this rich worldling, we next proceed to consider his sentiments. He is represented as imploring Abraham to save his five brethren from the doom in which he had irretrievably involved himself, by sending them an unearthly warning of the reality of a future state of existence, and of its horrors for the ungodly. It does not seem that every spark of natural affection, exile from God and from happiness though he be, is extinguished in this man’s breast.
Let me mention a third point, still more favourable to his salvation, than the two preceding, but still quite insufficient to secure it: this is, that so far as appears from the narrative, he had not been guilty of any crime, of any gross or palpable offence whatever.
He had not hurled blasphemous defiance against the Most High.
My brethren, these remarks may serve to confute the fatal error of those in whose estimation the only real sins in existence are sins of commission.
How many are there who congratulate themselves on the many wrong things which they have never done.
What, then, was the sin, a wilful and impenitent continuance in which ensured the eternal loss of this worldling’s soul? The sin, in its root (for every sin has a root, a state of mind out of which it springs and to which it is referable), was unbelief.
But I must hasten on to point out the particular development of unbelief with which this narrative presents us.
If a man have no realizing apprehension of a future state, still more if he entertain doubts respecting some revealed” particulars of that state, the natural consequence, the practical operation of such views, will be a living for this world.
All beyond the grave is, in such a man’s apprehensions, hazy, indistinct, uncertain.
His aim was to enjoy himself, to lead a life of ease and self-indulgence.
He secluded himself, as much as he could, from annoying sights and distressing sounds.
Whenever, accidentally, misery or want met his eye, he turned away as from an object distressing to contemplate. And hence, probably, more than from any settled hardness of heart, sprang his culminating offence, his entire lack of service to God’s poor. Behold then, brethren, in these words, the origin and development of that sin which, cherished to the end of his days, issued in the ruin of his soul--practical unbelief; a living unto self and for this world; an entire forgetfulness of the wants of others. Nothing flagrant, nothing vicious, nothing openly immoral, but quite enough to conduct him to that awful realm, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. My brethren, our subject admits of, or rather it challenges, a close application to our own circumstances, and that in regard both of the times on which we are fallen, and of the place in which our lot is cast.
1. A subtle disbelief of the spiritual world in general, and of a future state of existence (at least on the side of eternal punishment), is fast insinuating itself into the minds of the respectable, the educated, and thoughtful classes. Again, there is a growing, and even avowed, disbelief among the most earnest and thoughtful men of the day on the subject of eternal punishment. And here I would remark that disbelief of the future world, in any of its aspects, is very closely connected with disbelief of the unseen world which is at present around us. I shall suppose, then, the case of a man who, while orthodox in all the main articles of his religious belief, and nominally a member of the Church, has allowed his faith in things unseen and eternal to be secretly sapped. In that he resembles Dives.
2. The second point to which I shall call your attention, in applying to our own consciences the warning of the text, is the atmosphere of religious privilege, which my academical hearers specially, but those residing in the city also in good measure, habitually inhale. Yet who does not know that, where no corresponding zeal and spirituality exist in the heart, this frequency of religious ordinance and privilege acts rather as a soporific than as a stimulant, makes eternal things more hazy and less substantial than they were, when worship more rarely recurred?
3. Now, our Lord, in the parable before us, represents this development of resources as having a dangerous tendency, as contributing something material to strengthen the impenitence of the natural heart. (Dean Goulburn.)
Natural affection distinguished from the faith and love of the gospel
We desire to show what light she parable throws on the obligation and the motives of Christian benevolence: First, by setting before us, in the rich man, a character in which that grace is deficient; and, secondly, by setting before us, in Lazarus, a fitting object for its exercise.
I. We find in the rich man a character devoid of Christian benevolence, or the Christian principle of benevolence; and this defect rendered all his goodness of any other sort unavailing. For that he was good in some points and in a certain sense we gather from the conclusion of the parable. And why does he select his brothers alone, from the victims of his example? It must be--it can only be--from the relentings of fraternal tenderness. The earnestness of his prayer, that they might not “also come to the place of torment,” marks the still remaining sensitiveness of his natural sensibilities, and the strength of his natural affection. In the first place--how little is that sensibility and natural affection to be depended upon, which even the condemned in the place of torment may feel! What! will you build your hope of heaven on a virtue which you may share in common with the accursed inmates and inhabitants of hell? Will you plume and pride yourselves on your kindly feelings, or your goodness of heart, as a security that all is well, and that ultimately, somehow or other, you cannot but be happy, when you see much of that kindliness of feeling, and what you call goodness of heart, in the regions of everlasting woe? Learn, then, ye who are living in friendship with the world, yet still in conscious enmity against God--loving perhaps your brother, according to the flesh, with much tenderness of human affection, yet untaught to love your God with all your heart, and to love your neighbour for His sake--learn to estimate the real worth, or rather worthlessness, of your much.vaunted goodness of heart. It is not a goodness that will carry you to heaven. But, in the second place, we must put the case more strongly still. We must observe that this natural sensibility and affection, when the views are thus enlarged by taking in eternity as well as time, may become itself the very source of misery and torment. It is evidently so represented in the case of this rich man. His solicitude about his brothers very much increased his own sufferings, and aggravated the agony of his own hopeless condetonation. This is a very striking and appalling view to take of the misery awarded to the impenitent and unbelieving. It shows how the very best, the most amiable and generous, feelings of the unrenewed and unregenerated soul, may become themselves the means and occasions of its sorer punishment. Experience even here on earth shows, that affection makes us partakers of the sufferings as well as the joys of our fellow-creatures and friends. His love to his brothers on earth superseded his love to his Father in heaven. And fitly therefore now, that very love is made to minister the punishment due to him for his breach of the first and great commandment. He loved his brethren independently of God. He made them partakers of his pleasures; and partakers also of his sin. Have you no fear, I ask--that in the very attachment you are now forming--in the very affection you are now indulging--in the friendship and love which every day is rendering more intense, as you lavish on its object all proofs and tokens of tenderest regard--you may be but treasuring up the very instruments of wrath against theday of wrath? Cultivate the charities of social and domestic life; but be sure that you cultivate them as in the sight of God, and in the full and steady prospect of eternity.
II. We turn now to the other party in this scene, the other figure in this picture. We consider the beggar, and his claim to sympathy and relief. It is a claim which the benevolence of mere natural feeling overlooked, but which the benevolence of Christian principle insists upon having regarded. It is in this light, accordingly, that the Christian considers his fellow-men; as being either actually partakers, or capable of yet becoming partakers, of the grace and the glory of God. This is the ground of the esteem in which he holds them--this the measure of the value he assigns to them. How different is this esteem of men, on account of the worth and value of their souls, from the careless and casual sympathy of mere natural compassion, and how vastly more effectual as a motive of benevolence? The man of natural kindness and sensibility, touched with the sight of woe, and moved to pity and to tears, may utter the voice of tenderness, and stretch forth the hand of charity. But the object of his compassion has no great importance or value in his eyes. All the interest he takes in him is simply on account of his present suffering. But now, if you were to view that individual in the light in which Christianity represents him; as one of those whom the Father willeth to save, and for whose souls He gave His own Son to die; how would the intensity of your concern in Him be deepened, and how would your sense of obligation to Him be enhanced! Again, how different is this Christian view of the preciousness of every human being, from the view which mere infidel philanthropy takes! On the infidel hypothesis--what at the best, in the eye of enlightened benevolence, is the race of man? A succession of insects--creatures of a day, fluttering their few hours of shade and sunshine, and then sinking into endless night. Is it worth while to fret and toil much for such a generation? It is the gospel alone that shows the real value of man--of individual man--as having a spirit that will never die; and enforces the regard due to him from his fellow-men on the ground of his being the object of the regard of their common God. See, then, that you love him as God loves him. God is kind to the evil and to the unthankful, because He would have them to be saved. Be you kind to them also; and with the same view. Abound towards them in all good works.
Melt their hearts, though hard and sullen as lead, by heaping your benefits as coals of fire upon their heads. (Dr. Candlish.)
The rich man’s prayer
I. A good act at a wrong time.
II. A good prayer for a wrong purpose.
III. A good effort with no effect. (The Preacher’s Analyst.)
The retributive power of memory
Those who believe in the immortality of the soul must also believe in the immortality of its faculties--reason, memory, conscience.
I. WHAT, THEN, IS MEMORY? LET US FIRST DEFINE THE FACULTY. Every one is aware of the fact that the knowledge which we have once acquired, the things we have seen and done, the experiences that we have had, though not always present to the mind, are nevertheless so retained, that the same things may be, and often are, recalled to our mental notice. Every one is fully conscious of such a fact in his own history. We designate this fact by the term memory. Memory is, therefore, the mind’s power of preserving and knowing its own past history. It is the same in both worlds. We are, moreover, so constructed, that we cannot discredit the knowledge given by memory. I am as certain of what I distinctly remember, as I can be of anything. The absolute loss of memory would destroy the whole framework of man’s mental existence, by limiting his intellectual life to the impressions of the passing moments.
II. LET ME SAY THAT MEMORY OPERATES IN OBEDIENCE TO ESTABLISHED AND PERMANENT LAWS. By them we conduct the process of memory. We do it without labour, yea, by necessity, having no power not to do it. Thus we think of ourselves as intelligent, conscious, voluntary, in both worlds, in both exercising memory according to fixed laws, some of which at least rule our present life.
III. I WISH TO CALL YOUR ATTENTION TO THE EXTENT OF ITS RETENTIVE AND REPRODUCTIVE POWER. In the amazing greatness of this power, as we observe it in time, we shall perhaps find the condition of at least conjecturing what it will be in eternity. It was the opinion of Lord Bacon that nothing in one’s antecedent history is ever irrecoverably forgotten.
Coleridge held the same view. We know, as a matter of positive experience, that the prominent and leading facts of life past are safely retained in the bosom of memory. The many instances of remarkable memory that we gather from history are an instructive commentary upon the greatness of this power. Themistocles, we am told, could call by their names the twenty thousand citizens of Athens. It is said of Cyrus, that he could repeat the name of every soldier in his army. There are also many striking and peculiar cases of resuscitated knowledge, in which apparently extinct memories are suddenly restored. Numerous instances of quickened memory, under the influence of physical causes, show what the mind may do under special and extraordinary exaltations of its activity. Persons on the brink of death by drowning are said to have unusually vivid visions of the past. If such be memory here, in this nascent state of our being--this mere infancy of our intellectual life--what may it not be, and what may it not do, when, with our other faculties, freed from a body of flesh and blood, it shall soar in progressive expansion and enlargement through the ages of a coming eternity?
IV. WHAT IS TO BE THE IMPRESSION OF MEMORY UPON OUR HAPPINESS OR MISERY IN THE FUTURE WORLD? That so great a power will make an impression upon the soul, pleasant or painful, according to the character of the facts embraced in the exercise, is an inference derivable not only from the greatness of the power, but equally from the ample materials of our present experience. (S. T. Spear, D. D.)
The memory of the lost
I. THERE IS SATISFACTORY EVIDENCE THAT THE MEMORY OF EARTHLY SCENES WILL BE RETAINED IN ETERNITY. This is implied in the very nature of retribution. The soul is to be punished for the deeds done in the body; and unless it remember those deeds, how can it know for what it is punished? The nature of retribution, and the end of God’s government in it, require that the soul should remember. Moreover, the philosophy of the mind itself teaches the same thing. Go to the place of your birth, and look at the objects that were familiar to you in early days, and the scenes and events of childhood, which have been gone from you for years, will come thronging up from the storehouse of memory, and you will almost think yourself a child again. The past is not for ever gone, and at the appropriate signal it can all be summoned before us. And is there any evidence that death will break this chain of memory?
II. NOT ONLY WILL THE MEMORY EXIST IN THE FUTURE WORLD, BUT IT WILL PROBABLY POSSESS FAR GREATER ACTIVITY AND ENERGY THAN IN THE PRESENT LIFE, AND THUS BE ENABLED TO RECALL THE PAST WITH A DISTINCTNESS AND VIVIDNESS NOW WHOLLY UNKNOWN. That our knowing faculty will be vastly increased is expressly asserted in the Word of God. Why not, then, the remembering faculty, which is so intimately associated with it?
III. WHAT SUBJECTS WILL PROBABLY BE MOST PROMINENT IN THE REFLECTIONS OF THE LOST SOUL.
1. They will remember the gifts of Providence, for which they requited their Maker with ingratitude and rebellion.
2. They will doubtless remember the spiritual privileges which they failed to improve.
3. Sinners will remember in eternity the evil influence which they exerted while on earth, and all the fatal consequences of it. (D. B. Coe.)
Like Fear, like Hope, like Love, like Conscience, Memory has a place, a large place, in the heart, in the life, and therefore in the gospel. Whose to-day is not the product of a number of yesterdays? Whose present is not the very fruit and harvest of his past? We should expect that this thing--call it faculty, gift, talent, infliction, or what you will--would have a place, and it has a large place, in Revelation; for Revelation is nothing else than God speaking to man as he is, and calling him to something of which he has in him already the capability and the germ. God Himself ascribes to Himself memory; speaks of remembering, and remembering not; speaks of remembering man’s sorrows and His own mercy; speaks of that other faculty, the reverse of memory, the power of forgetting, which is a more Divine faculty still, when it is exercised, as in the mind and heart of God, in so putting away a man’s sins that He remembers them no more. And God bids man exercise memory; bids him remember his own sins, and be ashamed, bids him remember God’s commandments, and set himself to obey; bids him remember his last end, and make preparation: bids him remember death, judgment, and eternity, and the great gulf fixed.
1. Remember, we will say first, God’s dealings with thee. O, it is not philosophy, it is mere commonplace vulgar infidelity, which makes any of us doubt whether God has been about our path and about our journey in the time past of our life. If we have not seen Him, it is the worse for us.
2. Remember the opportunities, seized or neglected, with which God in the past has furnished and endowed you. Who can think of his school-days, and not reproach himself bitterly with neglects, now irreparable, of instructions and influences which might have altered the very complexion of his life? Who can remember his friends, and not mourn over evil done and good left undone? And when we pass from these outward gifts to such as are altogether spiritual; when we think of the Word of God, and His House, and His Ministry, and His Sacraments; then, there is a solemnity, an awfulness, even as it is heard in this life, in the charge, “Son, remember.”
3. Remember the blessings God has showered upon thee. (Dean Vaughan.)
Memory in another world
I. In another state, MEMORY WILL BE SO WIDENED AS TO TAKE IN THE WHOLE LIFE. We behove that the contents of the intellectual nature, the capacities of that nature also, are all increased by the fact of having done with earth and having left the body behind. But whether saved or lost--he that dies is greater than when yet living; and all his powers are intensified and strengthened by that awful experience of death, and by what it brings with it. Memory partakes in the common quickening. There are not wanting analogies and experiences in our present life to let us see that, in fact, when we talk about for getting we ought to mean nothing more than the temporary cessation of conscious remembrance. Everything which you do leaves its effect with you for ever, just as long-forgotten meals are in your blood and bones to-day. Every act that a man performs is there. It has printed itself upon his soul, it has become a part of himself; and though, like a newly painted picture, after a little while the colours go in, why is that? Only because they have entered into the very fibre of the canvas, and have left the surface because they are incorporated with the substance, and they want but a touch of varnish to flash out again! As the developing solution brings out the image on the photographic plate, so the mind has the strange power, by fixing the attention, as we say (a short word which means a long, mysterious thing) upon that past that is half remembered and half forgotten, of bringing it into clear consciousness and perfect recollection. The fragmentary remembrances which we have now, lift themselves above the ocean of forgetfulness like islands in some Archipelago, the summits of sister hills, though separated by the estranging sea that covers their converging sides and the valleys where their roots unite. The solid land is there, though hidden. Drain off the sea, and there will be no more isolated peaks, but continuous land. In this life we have but the island memories heaving themselves into sight, but in the next “the Lord” shall “cause the sea to go back” by the breath of His mouth, and the channels of the great deep of a human heart’s experiences and actions shall be laid bare. “There shall be no more sea”; but the solid land of a whole life will appear when God says, “Son, remember!” So much, then, for my first consideration--namely, that memory in a future state will comprehend the whole of life.
II. Another thing is, that MEMORY IN A FUTURE STATE WILL PROBABLY BE SO RAPID AS TO EMBRACE ALL THE PAST LIFE AT ONCE. We do not know, we have no conception of it, the extent to which our thinking, and feeling, and remembrance, are made tardy by the slow vehicle of this bodily organization in which the soul rides. As on the little retina of an eye there can be painted on a scale inconceivably minute, every tree and mountaintop in the whole wide panorama, so, in an instant, one may ran through almost a whole lifetime of mental acts. Ah, brethren, we know nothing yet about the rapidity with which we may gather before us a whole series of events; so that although we have to pass from one to another, the succession may be so swift, as to produce in our own minds the effect of all being co-existent and simultaneous. As the child, flashing about him a bit of burning stick, may seem to make a circle of flame, because the flame-point moves so quickly, so memory, though it does go from point to point, and dwells for some inconceivably minute instant on each part of the remembrance, may yet be gifted with such lightning speed, with such rapidity and awful quickness of glance, as that to the man himself the effect shall be that his whole life is spread out there before him in one instant, and that he, Godlike, sees the end and the beginning side by side. Yes; from the mountain of eternity we shall look down, and behold the whole plain spread before us. Once more: it seems as if, in another world, memory would not only contain the whole life, and the whole life simultaneously; but would perpetually attend or haunt us.
III. A CONSTANT REMEMBRANCE. It does not lie in our power even in this world, to decide very much whether we shall remember or forget. There are memories that will start up before us, whether we are willing or not. Like the leprosy in the Israelite’s house, the foul spot works its way out through all the plaster and the paint; and the house is foul because it is there. I remember an old castle where they tell us of foul murder committed in a vaulted chamber with a narrow window, by torchlight one night; and there, they say; there are the streaks and stains of blood on the black oak floor; and they have planed, and scrubbed, and planed again, and thought they were gone--but there they always are, and continually up comes the dull, reddish-black stain, as if oozing itself out through the boards to witness to the bloody crime again! The superstitious fable is a type of the way in which a foul thing, a sinful and bitter memory--gets engrained into a man’s heart. He tries to banish it, and gets rid of it for a while. He goes back again, and the spots are there, and will be there for ever; and the only way to get rid of them is to destroy the soul in which they are. Memory is not all within the power of the will on earth; and probably, memory in another world is still more involuntary and still more constant. A memory, brethren, that will have its own way; what a field for sorrow and lamentation that is, when God says at last, “Now go--go apart; take thy life with thee; read it over; see what thou hast done with it!” One old Roman tyrant had a punishment in which he bound the dead body of the murdered to the living body of the murderer, and left them there scaffolded. And when that voice comes, “ Son, remember I” to the living soul of the godless, unbelieving, impenitent man, there is bound to him the murdered past, the dead past, his own life; and, in Milton’s awful and profound words,
“Which way I fly is hell--myself am hell!”
There is only one other modification of this awful faculty that I would remind you of; and that is--
IV. That in a future life MEMORY WILL BE ASSOCIATED WITH A PERFECTLY ACCURATE KNOWLEDGE OF THE CONSEQUENCES, AND A PERFECTLY SENSITIVE CONSCIENCE AS TO THE CRIMINALITY OF THE PAST. You will have cause and consequence put down before you, meeting each other at last. There will be no room then to say, “I wonder how such and such a thing will work out,” “I wonder how such a thing can have come upon me”; but every one will have his whole life to look back upon, and will see the childish sin that was the parent of the full-grown vice, and the everlasting sorrow that came out of that little and apparently transitory root. The conscience, which here becomes hardened by contact with sin, and enfeebled because unheeded, will then be restored to its early sensitiveness and power, as if the labourer’s horny palm were to be endowed again with the softness of the infant’s little hand. It is not difficult to see how that is an instrument of torture. It is more difficult to see how such a memory can be a source of gladness, and yet it can. Calvary is on this side, and that is enough! Certainly it is one of the most blessed things about “the faith that is in Christ Jesus,” that it makes a man remember his own sinfulness with penitence, not with pain--that it makes the memory of past transgressions full of solemn joy, because the memory of past transgressions but brings to mind the depth and rushing fulness of that river of love which has swept them all away as far as the east is from the west. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The present life as related to the future
Let us notice some particulars in which we see the operation of this principle. What are the “good things,” which Dives receives here, for which he must be “tormented” hereafter? and what are the “evil things,” which Lazarus receives in this world, for which he will be “comforted” in the world to come?
1. In the first place, the worldly man derives a more intense physical enjoyment from this world’s goods than does the child of God. He possesses more of them, and gives himself up to them without self-restraint. Not many rich and not many noble are called. In the past history of mankind the great possessions and the great incomes, as a general rule, have not been in the hands of humble and penitent men. In the great centres of trade and commerce--in Venice, Amsterdam, Paris, London--it is the world, and not the people of God, who have had the purse, and have borne what is put therein. So far as this merely physical existence is concerned, the wicked man has the advantage.
2. In the second place, the worldly man derives more enjoyment from sin, and suffers less from it, in this life, than does the child of God. The really renewed man cannot enjoy sin. His sin is a sorrow, a constant sorrow, to him. He feels its pressure and burden all his days, and cries, “O wretched man, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” And not only does the natural man enjoy sin, but, in this life, he is much less troubled than is the spiritual man with reflections and self-reproaches on account of sin.
This is another of the “good things” which Dives receives, for which he must be “tormented”; and this is another of the “evil things” which Lazarus receives, for which he must be “comforted.”
1. In view of this subject, as thus discussed, we remark, in the first place, that no man can have his “good things”--in other words, his chief pleasure--in both worlds. There is no alchemy that can amalgamate substances that refuse to mix. No man has ever yet succeeded, no man ever will succeed, in securing both the pleasures of sin and the pleasures of holiness--in living the life of Dives, and then going to the bosom of Abraham.
2. And this leads to the second remark, that every man must make his choice whether he will have his “good things” now, or hereafter. Every man is making his choice. The heart is now set either upon God, or upon the world.
3. Hence we remark, in the third place, that it is the duty and the wisdom of every man to let this world go, and seek his “good things” hereafter. Our Lord commands every man to sit down like the steward in the parable, and make an estimate. He enjoins it upon every man to reckon up the advantages upon each side, and see for himself which is superior. (W. G. T. Shedd, D. D.)
Memory as an element in future retribution
Memory is that power of the soul by which it retains the knowledge acquired by the perceptions and consciousness of the past. Its operations are altogether inscrutable by us, and we can give no other account concerning them than this: that God has so made us that our minds have this particular power. Memory is in every man the infallible autobiographer of the soul, and on its pages, however much they may be now concealed from view, are recorded every thought and feeling, every word and action, everything experienced and everything perceived, during the course of life. As in our meteorological stations, by a delicate instrument, with which some of you may be acquainted, the strength and direction of the wind are by the wind itself registered without intermission from hour to hour, so on the tablets of memory the whole history of the soul is by the soul itself recorded with the most minute and unerring exactness. Not indeed that all that is at every moment consciously present to the mind. There is such a thing as forgetfulness, but over against that we must place the fact that things forgotten at one time are remembered at another, so that we may fairly conclude that nothing is ever completely lost by the soul. Memory furnishes the material on which conscience shall pronounce, and conscience gives to memory the sting which turns it into remorse. This is evident, even in the present life. Our own experience testifies thereto; and though a poet has sung in strains of beauty of the Pleasures of Memory, there are few of us who could not tell a thrilling tale of its agonies as well. But in the case of the world to come, over and above these things which make memory even here a scourge to the sinner, there are three considerations which are calculated to intensify its power of torment.
1. Memory shall there recall the events of time as seen in the perspective of eternity. In the crowd and hurry of the present, things bulk before us disproportionately. We need to be at a distance from them before we can estimate them rightly. That is one reason why the past is seen always more correctly when it is past, than it was when it was present; and why it is, that in taking a review of anything, we observe more clearly where we have failed, or in what we have been to blame, than we did at the time when we were engaged in it. You may despise now the blessings which you enjoy, but when they have gone from you to return nevermore, you shall see them in their proper brightness, and upbraid yourselves for your madness in letting them go unimproved.
2. But another thing calculated to intensify the power of memory as an instrument in the retribution of the future life, is the fact that there it shall be quickened in its exercise, and we shall not be able to forget anything. Things of which we are now oblivious shall there be brought back with lurid distinctness to our remembrance, and actions long buried beneath the sands of time shall, like the ruins of Pompeii, be dug up again into the light, and stand before us as they were at first. Among ancient manuscripts which modern research has brought to light, there are some, called by learned men palimpsests, in which it has been discovered that what was originally a gospel or an epistle, or other book of Holy Scripture, had been written over by a medieval scribe with the effusions of a profane poet; but now, by the application of some chemical substance, the original sacred record has been produced, and is used as an authority in settling the reading of disputed passages. So the pages of memory are palimpsests.
3. Another thing which will intensify the power of memory as an element in future retribution is the fact that, in the case of the lost, conscience shall be rectified and give just utterances regarding the events reviewed. As he now is, the sinner can look back with mirth on come hour of frantic dissipation, or some deed of shame; but then conscience will compel him to contemplate such things with the agony of remorse. As he now is, he can congratulate himself on having done a clever thing when he has overreached his neighbour; but then he will lose sight of the cleverness of the act in the guilt by which it was characterized. As he now is, he can gloss over his excesses by speaking of himself, in the specious and entirely deceptive phraseology of the world, as “fast,” or “a little wild,” or “sowing his wild oats,” or the like; but then conscience will insist on calling things by their right names, and each act of wickedness will stand out before him as rebellion against God. Thus, with conscience rectified and memory quickened, it is not difficult to account for the agony of the lost, while at the same time the retributive consequences of sin in the future life are seen to be not the effects of some arbitrary and capricious sentence, but the natural and necessary results of violating the law which was written at first upon our moral constitution.
1. Look at these things in their bearing on the privileges which at present we so lightly esteem. Every blessing disregarded now will there be recalled by memory, and transformed by conscience into an upbraiding reprover and a horrible tormentor.
2. Again, let us apply the principles which have been before our minds this morning to the opportunities of doing good to others which we have allowed to go by us unimproved. Behold here, how the conscience of this man gives sting to his memory as he recalls the resources which were at his command, and sees how much he might have done with them for the promotion of the welfare and happiness of his fellow-men. Never before had he seen his responsibility for them as he sees it now, and now that he does see it in its true light he is not able to act according to its directions, so that the perception of it only magnifies and intensifies his agony. But is there no voice of warning in all this to us? (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Reflections of sinners in hell
I. WE HAVE REASON TO BELIEVE THAT THE DAMNED WILL HAVE REFLECTIONS.
1. Their natural powers and faculties will not only be continued, but vastly strengthened and enlarged.
2. They will not meet with the same obstructions to mental exercises that they meet with here in their present state of probation. Here their cares, their troubles, their employments and various amusements, dissipate their thoughts and obstruct reflection. But there such objects will be entirely removed from their reach and pursuit.
3. God will continually exhibit before their view such things as will excite the most painful reflections and anticipations. He will set their sins in order before them, in their nature, magnitude, and peculiar aggravations, so that they cannot obliterate them from their minds. He will exhibit all his great, amiable, and terrible attributes of power, holiness, justice, and sovereignty before them, and give them a constant and realizing sense of His awful presence and displeasure. He will give them no rest and no hope. Let us now--
II. TAKE A SERIOUS VIEW OF THEIR BITTER REFLECTIONS IN THE REGIONS OF DESPAIR.
1. They will realize what they are. Rational and immortal beings, which can never cease to exist nor to suffer.
2. They will realize where they are. In hell.
3. The damned will reflect whence they came to that place of torment. They will reflect upon the land of light and the precious advantages they there enjoyed, before they were confined to the regions of darkness.
4. They will reflect upon all that was done for them, to prevent them from falling into the pit of perdition.
5. They will realize that they destroyed themselves, which will be a source of bitter and perpetual reflections.
6. They will reflect upon what they had done, not only to destroy themselves, but others.
7. They will reflect upon what good they might have done, while they lived in the world.
8. It will pain them to think how they once despised and reproached godliness, and all who lived holy and godly byes.
9. Their clear view of the happiness of heaven will be a source of tormenting reflections.
10. Finally, they will reflect not only upon what they have been, and might have been, but upon what they are, and always will be. They will reflect that being filthy, they shall be filthy still; that being unholy, they shall be unholy still; and that being miserable, they shall be miserable still.
1. If the state of the damned has been properly described, then it is of great importance that ministers should preach plainly upon the subject, and if possible, make their hearers realize the danger of going to hell.
2. If the miseries of the damned be such as have been described, then it deeply concerns sinners to take heed how they hear the gospel.
3. If the miseries of the damned be such as have been described, then we see why the Scripture represents this world as so dangerous to sinners.
4. If the miseries of the damned arise from bitter reflections, then all sinners, in their present state, are fit for destruction. They have just such views, and feelings, and reflections in kind, as the damned have.
5. If the miseries of the damned, and the character of sinners, be such as have been described, then there is reason to fear that some sinners are very near to the pit of perdition. They are in the broad road which has led many such persons as they are to the place where there is no light, and no hope. The symptoms of eternal death are upon them, though they know it not. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The influence of memory increasing the misery of the lost
What, speaking of a lost soul, will he remember in another world?
I. THE POSSESSIONS HE HAD IN THIS: “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.” Yes, all shall be recollected: the gains in business that this lost soul in perdition secured when he was an inhabitant of our world; his patrimonial possessions, his accumulations of wealth, his splendid mansions, his gay equipage, his sumptuous living, his retinue of servants, everything that constituted his gaiety and his grandeur, and all his pomp and circumstance. But what advantage will it be to have a voice perpetually saying to him throughout eternity, “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things”? Oh, the sting of that past tense--“thou hadst”!
II. LOST SOULS WILL REMEMBER THEIR WORLDLY PLEASURES. The poet has said, and every man’s experience sustains the propriety and truth of the expression, “Of joys departed never to return, oh how painful the remembrance.” Think of the votary of this world’s pleasure, think of the man of fashion, think of the woman given up to little else than earthly delights, suddenly arrested in their career, and carried into eternity, away from all their pleasures, to a land where no sounds of mirth, no voice of song, no note of music, ever break upon the ear.
III. THE LOST SOUL WILL REMEMBER IN ETERNITY HIS SINS. The great multitude forget theirs now as soon as they are committed; and any man that sets him. Bell down to the task of counting the number of his transgressions, will find he is engaged in as hopeless a work as numbering the stars that burst on his view on a clear winter’s night. The lurid flashes of perdition will throw light on this subject, and for ever settle the question, that sin is an infinite evil; and then all excuses will be silenced.
IV. THE LOST SOUL WILL RECOLLECT IN ETERNITY ITS MEANS OF GRACE, ITS OPPORTUNITIES OF SALVATION, ITS ADVANTAGES FOR OBTAINING ETERNAL LIFE.
V. THE LOST SOUL IN ETERNITY, WILL REMEMBER ITS IMPRESSIONS, CONVICTIONS, PURPOSES, AND RESOLUTIONS, ON EARTH. Sometimes it is painful to you now to think of this, and you are ready to say, “Oh, that I had never heard that sermon; oh, that I had never had those impressions; oh, that those convictions had never taken hold of my heart! I cannot enjoy my sins as I once did; I am half spoiled for the world, though I am not a member of the Church.” Yes, and you know, that often the scene of festivity, in which others experience no interruption, is marred for you. Then think, young man, think what will be the case in eternity, when a voice shall say, “Son, remember thy impressions; remember thy convictions.” (J. A. James.)
The eternity of memory
Death destroys neither the soul’s capacities nor energies. Memory is eternal; it therefore behoves us to ask with what we are storing it.
1. Consciousness lies at the foundation of all responsible life, and soon merges into the fuller day of self-consciousness. Self-consciousness is the knowledge which self attains when it says “I,” and recognizes that “I” is distinct from anything else in the universe; and involves three things--the knowledge of “myself,” of something not “myself,” and of the relations arising between what is “myself” and what is not “myself.”
2. In order to make these relations explicit, we need a faculty to tell us that we existed yesterday, and what other faculty is this but memory? But unless we make memory to subsist in two parts, as a capacity to retain and an energy to recall, we shall not explain its workings, or be able to see in what way it is deathless.
3. The principles by which active memory works among the treasures of passive memory to recall things new and old, are called the primary and the secondary laws of association. Ideas and actions have relation to time, and connect with each other like links in a chain. Sometimes we perceive the connection between the ideas which memory recalls, at other times we do not; and yet there is some connection, just as when a row of balls is struck at one end, the force is transmitted through them, and the ball at the other end takes up the motion and the journey of the impinging ball.
4. But if memory is thus complete and deathless--as without doubt it is--some one may ask, “How is it possible for any to go from an imperfectlife, with its imperishable record, and derive any pleasure from its contemplation?” I answer: “In the life of heaven love will predominate, and by the laws of association it will bring forth from the storehouse only such reminiscences as are pure and holy.” Conclusion: In view of all this, how wise and necessary for our future happiness to fill the present life and its passing moments with kind words, upright thoughts, and useful actions. And, on the other hand, will not the memory of an evil life, if unchecked by grace and unrestrained by holy love, constitute a source of keenest misery? Will not a deathless memory work upon the quickened conscience, and gnaw like a worm that never dieth, or burn like a fire that is never quenched? (L. O. Thompson.)
Materials for a future judgment in the constitution of the human mind
The argument from memory for a future judgment is powerful, because, on every excursion of the mind into the past, there is now a judgment of conscience, and an expectation of a righteous award. Now if there be within the circle of our natural knowledges or capacities the prediction of any event, we look inevitably for some grounds of the prediction, or some signs that it is a probability, and that the event promised will take place. If it be rumoured among the people of a vast city that a new and magnificent Hall of Justice is to be built, and if there be seen a multitude of workmen collecting materials at the stated place of the proposed building, those materials are a strong proof of the truth of the common rumour. And just so, when the conscience of all mankind tells of a judgment to come, and we see how the materials for that judgment are accumulating, and the demand and necessity for it increasing, and how the busy memory is occupied with collecting and arranging those materials, the proof becomes very strong; the common rumour of the world and of the individual conscience is so corroborated, that one who looks fairly at the light of nature, even apart from that of Revelation, cannot doubt. And every instance of the power of memory, every elucidation of the laws under which the mind acts in its operations of remembrance, and every instance of the manner in which conscience accompanies this work, affords additional conviction. The first instance we shall give of the involuntary power of memory, is that noted one presented by Coleridge, which shall be related mainly in the words and with the conclusions of that eminent man. The fact that the case may be so familiar to some of our readers as to be almost a truism does not lesson its importance. A young woman, he says, of four or five-and-twenty, who could neither read nor write, was seized with a nervous fever, during which the priests and monks in the neighbourhood supposed that she became possessed of the devil. She continued incessantly talking Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, in very pompous tones, and with most distinct enunciation. The case had attracted the particular attention of a young physician, and by his statement many eminent physiologists and psychologists visited the town, and cross-examined the case on the spot. Sheets full of her ravings were taken down from her own mouth, and were found to consist of sentences coherent and intelligible each for itself, but with little or no connection with each other. Of the Hebrew, a small portion only could be traced to the Bible; the remainder seemed to be in the Rabbinical dialect. A trick or conspiracy was out of the question. Not only had the young woman ever been a harmless, simple creature, but she was evidently labouring under a nervous fever. In the town of which she had been a resident for many years, as a servant in different families, no solution presented itself. The physician, however, determined to trace her past life, step by step; for the patient herself was incapable of returning a rational answer. He searched out the place of her nativity, and from a surviving uncle learned that the patient had been charitably taken by an old Protestant pastor at nine years of age, and had remained with him some years, till his death. Of this pastor the uncle knew nothing, but that he was a very good man. With great difficulty he at length discovered a niece of the pastor’s, who had lived with him as his housekeeper, and had inherited his effects, and who remembered the girl. Anxious inquiries were made concerning the pastor’s habits, and the solution of the phenomenon was soon obtained. For it appeared that is had been his custom for years to walk up and down a passage of his house, into which the kitchen door opened, and to read to himself with a loud voice out of his favourite books. A considerable number of these were still in the niece’s possession. She added, that he was a very learned man, and a great Hebraist. Among the books were found a collection of Rabbinical writings, together with several of the Greek and Latin Fathers; and the physician succeeded in identifying so many passages with those taken down at the young woman’s bedside, that no doubt could remain in any rational mind concerning the true origin of the impression made on her nervous system. “This authenticated case,” Coleridge concludes, “furnishes both proof and instance that relics of sensation may exist for an indefinite time in a latent state, in the very same order in which they were originally impressed; and as we cannot rationally suppose the feverish state of the brain to act in any other way than as a stimulus, this fact, and it would not be difficult to adduce several of the same kind, contributes to make it even probable that all thoughts are in themselves imperishable; and that, if the intelligent faculty should be rendered more comprehensive, it would require only a different and apportioned organization, the body celestial instead of the body terrestrial, to bring before every human soul the collective experience of its whole past existence. And this, perchance, is the dread book of judgment, in whose mysterious hieroglyphics every idle word is recorded. Yea, in the very nature of a living spirit, it may be more possible that heaven and earth should pass away, than that a single act, a single thought, should be loosened or lost from that living chain of causes, to all whose links, conscious or unconscious, the free will, our only absolute self, is coextensive and copresent.” This last remark respecting the copresence of the will in all our intelligent life, conscious or unconscious, is of the utmost solemnity and importance. Dr. Abercrombie relates another example, which he puts under the phenomena of dreams, but which is in reality a development of memory. It occurred with one of his own intimate friends, a gentleman connected with one of the principal banks in Glasgow. He was at his place at the teller’s desk, when a person entered, demanding payment of the sum of six pounds. There were several waiting, who were entitled to be attended to before him; but he was extremely impatient, and rather noisy; and being likewise a remarkable stammerer, he became so annoying that another gentleman requested the teller to pay him his money and get rid of him. He did so, accordingly, but with an expression of impatience at being obliged to attend to him before his turn, and thought no more of the transaction. At the end of the year the books of the bank could not be made to balance, the deficiency being exactly six pounds. He spent days and nights in endeavouring to discover the error, but without success; when at last one night retiring to bed much fatigued, he dreamed of being at his place in the bank, where the transaction with the stammerer passed before him in all its particulars. He found on examination that the sum paid had not been inserted in the book of accounts, and that it exactly amounted to the error in the balance. His memory, which had failed him during the day, had wrought during sleep with perfect exactness. This was simply an instance of the revival of old associations, which had passed for a season from the mind and been forgotten. Thus it is that all mistakes in our accounts for eternity, arising from forgetfulness here, will be rectified when the mind acts with its full power in the spiritual world. The stars come out by night that were hidden by the day, and ten thousand thousand worlds of transactions and of consequences will be revealed in the firmament of man’s consciousness, when the delusions of time and sense shall have given way to the realities of eternity. From the experience of Niebuhr, the celebrated Danish traveller, Dr. Abercrombie relates an instance of the vividness with which, as the light of the day of this world is retiring, the past realities, that are to encircle our being in the judgment, throng upon the mind; whether they be scenes of innocent delight, or of guilt and terror. When old, blind, and so infirm that he was able only to be carried from his bed to his chair, he used to describe to his friends the scenes which he had visited in his early days, with wonderful minuteness and vivacity. When they expressed their astonishment, he told them that as he lay in bed, all visible objects shut out, the pictures of what he had seen in the East continually floated before his mind’s eye, so that it was no wonder he could speak of them as if he had seen them yesterday. With like vividness the deep intense sky of Asia, with its brilliant and twinkling hosts of stars, which he had so often gazed at by night, was reflected, in the hours of stillness and darkness, on his inmost soul. Now these were simply the beautiful images of nature, that, having once made their impressions on a sensitive soul, could never be forgotten. But if pictures daguerreotyped, as it were, upon the soul from abroad, can thus be reproduced after the lapse of a lifetime, as vivid as when the soul first received into its depths, as in a mirror, the reflection of the glory of God’s universe, how much more certainly, with how much greater exactitude, must everything which the mind itself has originated, every spontaneous movement of thought and feeling, every development of character, be treasured in the memory, to be reproduced when conscience calls for it! If Niebuhr’s memory had been filled with scenes of sin, or with the recollection of sensual and sinful pleasures, instead of those exquisite images of Oriental scenery, how intensely painful would his old age have been in the reproduction of such accumulated forms of evil, with conscience passing judgment on them all! Sometimes the acquisitions, the knowledges, of the earliest period of life, long utterly disused and forgotten, come suddenly and spontaneously again into power and exercise, as indestructible possessions of the soul. Sometimes it seems as if an invisible power were busy removing or replacing at will, as in a camera obscura, the pictures in the memory. Sometimes those that lie lowest, at the bottom of the pile, are placed uppermost, excluding all others, and sometimes the last drawn are the last seen. But how easy for the Divine Being, acting simply by the laws of the mind, to bid the soul stand still, and to draw forth before it, plate after plate, the impressions of every moment, hour, day, week, of existence, and let the conscience meditate upon it! And what an employment for a guilty and unpardoned soul! Even a single scene of guilt may fully arrest and occupy the mind for almost any period. There are cases of persons, whose sane and healthy action of mind has been disordered, having their consciousness arrested upon one single event or idea, and remaining involved in that event, or revolving that idea, for the period of near fifty years. This we call insanity. But suppose an immortal mind to stand thus petrified as it were in the eternal world for a similar interval of time, brooding in guilty consciousness over some one scene, idea, or act of guilt. Would not this be one of the direst images by which the mind can body forth its conceptions of the misery of hell? When the missionary, Mr. Moffat, had once been preaching to the natives in Africa, his attention was arrested by a young man in the midst of a group that had gathered around him, to whom he was preaching over from memory the sermon he had heard, imitating Mr. M.’s gestures, as well as repeating his language, with great solemnity. He repeated the sermon almost verbatim, and when Mr. Moffat remarked to him that he was doing what he himself could not have done, he did not appear conscious of any superior ability, but touched his forehead with his finger, and remarked, “When I hear anything great, it remains there.” By “great,” he evidently meant in the sense of solemnity as connected with the soul’s destiny in the eternal world. And indeed there is nothing great but with reference to eternity, nothing worth preserving or remembering but in its relation to that. But all things that have the stamp of that greatness remain there, as the poor untutored negro observed, there in the mind, and can never pass from the memory. The instances of memory we have presented are most of them involuntary, spontaneous; they are instances of power, of activity, which could not be checked or prevented. Had it been ever so much against the will of the master of the faculty, that would have made no difference. The busy operator, with the utmost indifference to the soul’s wishes, would have brought out and displayed the mind’s innumerable stores. It is no matter whether they be full of sin and shame, or such as the mind would delight to avouch and greet again as its creations or possessions. The memory does not ask whether the mind be pleased with them, but starts them into being. Nay, the more displeasing they are, the more certain they are to be recalled; for this is one manifest way in which the law of association acts, and anything which the mind greatly fears, is for that very reason held tight to it. If you put by an article of your experience, and say that it is proscribed, debarred from remembrance; if you say, I never wish to see that again, let it be buried and never have a resurrection--it may be a single word, deed, look, event, or incident--the very label which you put upon it, “never to be revealed,” the very burial service which you perform over it, the very act of your will, consigning it to eternal banishment and forgetfulness, secure its eternal existence and power over you. Your unwillingness to look at it compels you to look. Your dread and unwillingness give it, in fact, an additional, morbid, torturing action within you, and attraction over you. Hatred is, in some respects, a stronger bond than friendship. What we hate and dread we remember with a dreadful energy, and so long as the hatred and dread exist, the object of it cannot be forgotten. We have reason to believe that even to a guilty soul nothing will be more dreadful, more hateful, than the realities of past sins. The state of a man’s system in health may not attract his notice. It seems the very plenitude of health to be in such enjoyment of it, that no particular sensations excite notice. But let there be a festering wound in any organ in the system, and it shall excite more notice than the healthful state of the whole system besides. If there could be such a thing as a coal of living fire wound up as a ganglion in a man’s nervous system, it would compel and concentrate all his attention. But every sin, unforgiven, is such a coal of fire. The secretions of evil, of guilt, in our experience, are secretions of irritating, painful action, secretions of remorse, compelling the remembrance. The more painful they are, the more we would forget them; but of course the more we would forget them, the more certainly we remember them. We can quicken memory, but we cannot dispossess it of any of its stores, we cannot make ourselves forget. The very attempt at forgetfulness does but startle the memory. The involuntariness of memory is the security for its full and impartial action at the judgment. The involuntariness of memory grows out of the nature of the law of association. By this law of our being, one thing, by having been connected with another, suggests and recalls it. In this way all events and all thoughts may be so linked together that if one be preserved the whole are inevitably in existence. Now there being a connection between every thought and thing in God’s universe, and some other thought or thing, and between every experience in our nature and some other experience, it is impossible, under this law, but that all should come to light, impossible that anything whatever should be lost. If two persons, or things, or ideas, are seen but once in proximity or relation, the association may be weak; one may not now necessarily suggest the other. But if seen often, the association becomes so strong as to be inevitable and irresistible. Thus, if a man be a notorious drunkard, every time you see that man you will think of his habit of drunkenness; or if a man be a profane swearer, every time you see that man, or ever hear of him, you will think of his habit of profane swearing. The thought of a man conspicuous in a page of history which is well known, brings up the details of that history. What person ever thinks of William Tell, without seeing the child, the arrow, and the apple? If there be an alarm-bell, which we are accustomed to hear rung only on occasions of danger, the sound of the bell will always suggest the image of the danger; so, the moment we hear the fire-bell, the mind inevitably pictures the evil of which it is the warning. In the country, when the bell tolls slowly and at measured intervals, you instantly think of death and a funeral. On the other hand, the noise of sleigh-bells brings to the mind all ideas of life and activity; a bracing atmosphere, a fine road covered with snow, the laughter of merry parties, the health and activity of winter. Again, you can scarcely hear the sound of the violin, but it suggests the dance; of the drum, but it brings before you all the excitement and fury of war. A case of surgical instruments tells you of ghastly wounds. The smell of camphor in a room makes you inquire if any one be ill; so does the sight of a physician entering the house. These arc common instances of the operation of the law of association, in regard to things seen or known in connection or relation. It is a law, which, even viewed merely in an external operation, as a cord, binding our knowledges in bundles, may be as powerful for evil as for good. We may lay hold upon it for the accomplishment of a happy and useful training of the mind and heart, or an education in all folly and misery. The law of association is at the foundation of most of our prejudices and superstitions. Children, whose minds are filled with nursery tales of ghosts and goblins, are afraid to be left alone in the dark; darkness has become associated in their mind with frightful images. Now it is possible to conceive of its being associated wish nothing but images of security and repose. The degree of activity and wideness of sweep in this law, in different minds, may make a genius out of one person, a dull plodder out of another. It has much to do with the development and power of the imagination. The might and majesty of its action, amidst sublime materials, may be seen in the poetry of Milton, whose imagination combined, in such intensity and comprehensiveness, the associative and aggregative faculty. The constitution of the mind of John Foster was remarkable in this respect. His associations were intensely vivid, so that words affected him with all the power of realities. In one of his Essays he speaks of a young person (and he is supposed to refer to himself, at a period when he was enchanted with the stories of Gregory Lopez and other recluses), with whom at any time the word “hermit “was enough to transport him, like the witch’s broom-stick, to the solitary hut, surrounded by shady, solemn groves, mossy rocks, crystal streams, and gardens of radishes. The words “woods” and “forests” are said to have produced in his mind the most powerful emotion. In one of his letters he says, “I have just been admiring the marvellous construction of the mind, in the circumstance of its enabling me, as I sit by my candle here, in a chamber at Chichester, to view almost as distinctly as if before my eyes, your house, the barn, the adjacent fields, neighbouring houses, and a multitude of other objects. I can go through each part of the house, and see the exact form of the looms, tables, maps, cakes of bread, and so on: down to my mother’s thimble. Yet I still find myself almost three hundred miles off. At present I take no notice of the things now about me; but perhaps at some future time, at a still greater distance, I may thus review in imagination the room in which I now write, and the objects it contains; and I find that few places where I have continued some time can be thus recollected without some degree of regret; particularly the regret that I did not obtain and accomplish all the good that was possible at that place, and that time. Will it be so, when hereafter I recollect this time, and this place?” This is exceedingly striking, and we are here brought from mere external things, whether of knowledge or imagination, to inward experiences, the voice of conscience, the goings on of our inward and permanent being. Here it is, and in the circle of the sweep of connection between the moral responsibilities of that permanent being and the world around us, that the law of association acts for eternity; and if it be true, as Wordsworth declares, that the faculty of imagination was given us to incite and support the eternal part of our being, equally true it is that the associative law and faculty bears reference to the same. It is with reference to the responsibilities and realities of eternity, and to the materials which we ourselves have gone on voluntarily providing for eternity, that it possesses such indestructible and unlimited dominion. Without this law, the memory would be a thing of chance, a perfect chaos. By this law, all things are connected, so connected, that, begin at whatever part of the chain you may, be sure of whatever link you please, all the rest will follow, or may be regained. There can be nothing lost, nothing forgotten. But this law is not that of mere connection, by evident and known links of circumstances; it is also that of suggestion. One idea, or train of ideas, that may have been introduced by direct connection with some present person or thing, shall suggest to the mind another, by mere resemblance or contrast, or by an abrupt transition, of which, at the time, we can give no account. The causes by which the law of association is thus rendered active and powerful are multitudinous almost beyond computation. And they respect almost equally the power and activity of memory, and the processes of present thought. If I see a face resembling that of a dear absent or departed relative or friend, I say, it reminds me of that beloved individual; it may also suggest to me a thousand busy thoughts in the present or for the future. Now the occasions on which this suggestive power is exercised are as multiplied as the experiences of our being. The various innumerable and interminable relations between external things, cause and effect, resemblance and contrast, nearness of time and place, position, preceding or succeeding, high or low, first or last, order or disorder; and in moral and intellectual processes and experiences, the same and other relations, influenced and varied by everything that can have power in building up our being, in developing our character; as the home and discipline of childhood, the instructions and examples of the family circle, the tenor of our pursuits and studies, the books read, the kind of minds conversed with, the habits of sentiment, opinion, feeling, action, formed and indulged; all these are occasions and influences, on and under which the law of association works. The part which this law of association, therefore, is to play in men’s future judgment, and in the determination of their state for eternity, is evident. Without it, except by an external manifestation of things, as in a book, there could be no judgment, and but a weak self-condemnation. If, for example, when a man sees a fellow-being with whom, in time past, he has had transactions, the sight of that person did not recall those transactions, if each particular were a thing to be remembered by itself, and had no associating links of thought and feeling, no power of relation to bring up other things, a man might meet a person whom he has greatly injured, and yet not meet again the memory of that injury. A man might meet another, against whom he has borne false witness, so as to fill the slandered man’s life with misfortune and misery, and yet might feel little or no compunction at the meeting, because of the want of this law of association, whereby things that have been together, or related together, suggest each other. Accordingly, because of the weakness of this law of association in some persons, there is a great defect in memory; and of course the vividness of one’s recollections must be greatly dependent on the energy and power with which this law acts. A man’s compunction or remorse for sin will depend greatly on his remembrance of the circumstances and feelings with which the sin was committed. And if by any means it could be possible to evade this law of association, if you could break up the inevitable chain that connects every part of a man’s being with all his feelings and memories, and with him every creature and thing he has ever had to do with, if you could loosen some link, and part the series, then a man’s condemnation and misery on account of sin might be not so inevitable, that is, his self-condemnation, and his misery from compunction and remorse. So much of the essence of this article of remorse depends on the remembrance of things in their order and connection, on the remembrance of associated feelings, on the remembrance of little circumstances that surrounded any act, and made up what might be called the scenery of it, that if a man could succeed in getting rid of these, if he could break the links of association, if he were not bound inevitably and for ever to them, or if he could make a chaos or confusion out of them, he would be comparatively secure. But there is no possibility of this. In being judged, a man is to be thrown back, not on the bare recollection of his sins, but on all the circumstances and feelings in and with which they were committed. Not merely the sin will be remembered, but all the then reproaches of conscience, all the light under which it was committed, all the self-deception exercised will be made plain, all the aggravations of the sin will come to view, and all the dreadful feelings that followed it will be renewed and deepened. Every sin of injury against others, against the feelings of others, against the interests of others in any way, will be connected with all the materials of compunction and remorse that preceded, accompanied, or grew out of it. And sometimes little circumstances, or what seemed little at the time, shall have extraordinary power, be invested with a world of feeling and of meaning. A single look, a single word, a circumstance that passed like a flash of lightning, shall have meaning and feeling enough connected with it to be dwelt upon for ever and ever. We might consider this in the case of the murderer; a dying word, a dying look of his victim, shall have more horror to him in the recollection, than the bare remembrance of his crime could ever have. And there may be cases in which the exercise of a cruel, severe, or hard-hearted disposition, the turning away from the cry of a fellow-being in distress, the infliction of a pang on the feelings by a cruel or contemptuous word, shall be followed by the face of the man so grieved, by the picture of the wounded spirit, with the arrow festering in it, in the soul of the sinner, to dwell there for ever. For it must be that every injury shall have a time for its revenge; every violence done to the feelings, or the welfare of others, shall be perfectly remembered, and in this very way memory shall have its revenge. So that a dying murdered man, if he wished for eternal vengeance on his murderer, wished to make it secure beyond escape and for ever, and had the command over the mind of the assassin to write there whatever he pleased through eternity, need only say that one word, “remember.” And every poor, oppressed bondman, and every individual helplessly borne down by a man greedy of gain, and every creature, indeed, unjustly treated in any way, need only say, “remember.” For this law of association makes such remembrance eternally perfect. And this law, though it be less active and apparently less perfect now in some persons than in others, and sometimes exceedingly deficient, yet is perfect and universal in the very structure of our being; and when the peculiar causes that now hinder its perfect operation in some minds shall be removed, will bring everything together. We often look with surprise in this world at some men’s carelessness in regard to sin, at the hardness of their conscience, at the utter absence of conviction. It is principally because this law of association is not now in active operation in regard to the past. And hence a man sometimes thinks he has escaped from his past sins, or that the remembrance of them, if it comes, will not be so severe and terrible, the consciousness of them not so fresh, so lively, so powerful. But it will. And, moreover, there are things on which, at the time, he dwelt but for a moment, flashes of thought and feeling, gone as soon as experienced, and movements of the soul covered and put out of view by other successive movements, on which he is to dwell, and which he is to experience again, at leisure. Flashes of thought, feeling, judgment, that passed at the time like lightning, although with a voice as of God’s thunder; he is to see them again and deliberately; he is to hear the peal again, and dwell upon it; he is to listen to the voice of conscience again, and dwell upon it. And he is to do this with larger associations still, a more comprehensive circle of associated considerations, than he then deemed himself encompassed by. His connections with the universe, his place under God’s government, his attitude in regard to God’s law, his place under the atonement, his relation to Jesus Christ, all his relations as a spiritual being, are to be dwelt upon. How the law of God, and the character of God, and the weight of his own infinite obligations to God were connected with his own sins, with every one of them, he did not care to consider, when he committed them. What light they threw upon them, how much more aggravated they made them than they were when considered merely with reference to society or to one’s self, he had not time, in the whirl of sin, to think of. What they were in the light of the cross of Christ, in reference to the suffering of Christ, in reference to the scheme of redemption, their associations with this scheme, and the condemnation they draw for ever from it, he had neither time nor inclination to examine. He would not have had inclination, if he had had time; and this was a part of the operation of the law of association, from which, above all else, if he had seen it, he would have desired to be released. But he will have plenty of time for its consideration. And the law of association in his mind will carry him, in all these directions, into an infinitude of conviction and remorse. In the direction toward God, as well as toward men, toward Christ as well as toward God, toward the law and the gospel, the associated relations, consequences, and condemnation of his sins will be boundless and eternal. This is the structure of our being. What subject, exclaimed Mr. Burke, on one occasion, does not branch out into infinity? This is especially the case with the moral relation of our being. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. How single circumstances connect worlds of dreadful meaning, we sometimes see developed in a striking manner. A man’s sins in this world are often like old forgotten, buried, coins. They have grown rusty and illegible. They are laid away in the mind like the lumber in the shop of an antiquary. But they all have an image and superscription. They have dates and hieroglyphics, full of meaning. And there is a process by which they may be restored. The rust can be rubbed from the surface, and by fire, if no way else, the letters can again be read. So it is with men’s forgotten sins. They are to have a resurrection. Some of them shall rise even with the body, shall pass from this earthly body into that spiritual body, which is to spring from it. For as the body that is laid in the grave is to be in some sense the germ of that body which is to be raised, so the character of the body which is to be raised shall be determined by the character of the body which is interred. He that soweth to his flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption. Sin is the seed, sin and death shall be the harvest. Neither can the sins, which are not written in a man’s constitution, be forgotten, any more than those which, in their consequences in his spiritual body, are to rise with him in the resurrection. All shall come to light. The image and superscription shall be visible. The consideration of this law of our nature suggests some solemn admonitions, not only with reference to the inevitable memory and production of all our past experience at the judgment, but with reference to the character we are forming now. What are our habits of association? Do they bind us to God and salvation? Are we linked by them to the cross and the Saviour? We have the power to connect ourselves everlastingly with the elements of heaven or hell. A man may surround his soul with the scenery of either world, may live with fiends or angels beforehand. With what thoughts does he keep company? What are the habitual trains of association in his ideas and feelings? They bind him to themselves, whatever be their nature, every day, month, year, more closely, more unalterably, more indissolubly. If they are evil--and they are evil--if God be excluded from them, then they grow stronger and stronger, till a man is taken in his own iniquity, and holden with the cords of his sin. And at length it were as easy to change the very laws of nature as to change the current of association, which has become indissoluble habit. Of what infinite importance is it that the train of a man’s habitual associations be elevated and holy! Let him remember that his daily habits of association are his education for eternity. They may grow up and steal upon him as imperceptibly in progress as the green blade steals from the ground and passes into the ripe full corn in the ear, ready for the harvesting. But their daily tenor is developing and’ fixing his character for eternity. Therefore, with what tender care and mercy does God surround us with truths, providences, and influences, to win us to Himself, to gain for His love and grace the ruling place in our affections. (G. B. Cheever, D. D.)
The power of memory
The completeness of passive memory to receive and retain everything that comes in contact with the mind, even though it enter consciousness as faint as a ray of light from a star so remote that it twinkles one second and fades the next, is one of the interesting--shall I say startling?--discoveries of mental science. And the proof of this, though indirect, amounts to a demonstration.
1. A first fact is the wonderful power of recollection which some men are known to possess. Sir Walter Scott repeated a song of eighty-eight verses which he had never heard but once, and that, too, three years before. Woodfall, the stenographer, could report entire debates a week after they had been delivered in the House of Commons, and this without any help from writing. But instances like these need not be multiplied. In old age the scenes of childhood and youth reappear with startling clearness, and ofttimes the sins of youth are recalled by a terrified conscience.
2. A second fact is seen in the flood of memories which sudden danger brings to consciousness--the chief events of life, and, among these, things entirely forgotten. This is the experience of persons rescued from drowning or violent death. Admiral Beaufort states that during the moments of submergence every incident of his life seemed to glance across his recollection, not in mere outline, but the whole picture filled up with every minute and collateral feature. (L. O. Thompson.)
The boon of forgetfulness
Great sinners have even prayed for madness as a blessing, because they knew that memory would perish with the mind, of which it is a part. But nature was ever saying to them, “Son, remember.”
The intoxicating cup owes not a little of its fascination to its power of drowning hateful memories. Lord Byron says--
“I plunged amid mankind.
Forgetfulness I sought in all, save where ‘tis to be found,
And that I have to learn.”
“Oh, give me the art of oblivion,” cried Themistocles. A man once offered to teach a philosopher the art of memory for five talents. “I will give you ten talents,” was the reply, “if you will teach me the art of forgetting.” Very touching is the old-world fable that between earth and the happy plains of Elysium--the classical heaven--the river Lethe flows, and that whoever tastes its waters forgets all his past. The heathens knew that there could be no happiness hereafter unless somehow memory let go its hold of past sins. Gentle sleep owes its healing power to this, that it helps us to forget. Oh, to bury our dead past as men bury their dead out of their sight; for one sin vividly remembered has sometimes power to make the whole life bitter. “Forgetfulness,” it has been said, “is the daughter of time,” but our parable shows that she is not always the daughter of eternity, as forgetting is impossible to the unpardoned. (J. Wells.)
You can’t rub it out!
“Don’t write there,” said a little newspaper boy to a dandified youth, whom in the waiting-room of a railway station he saw about to scratch something with his diamond ring on a mirror that was hanging on the wall. “Don’t write there!” “Why not?” “Because you can’t rub it out!” So would I have you, my unconverted hearer, to be careful what you write, in your words and actions, on the tablets of your memory. You can’t rub it out! and as you think of that surely you will agree with me that “the time past of your lives may suffice to have wrought the will of the Gentiles.” (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Power of memory
It is the teaching of modern science that no force is lost in the universe. It may be changed into other forces, but its equivalent is perpetuated. Heat becomes motion, and motion stopped becomes heat. Hence any change in the universe must affect every part of the universe. The jar of the present moment shakes the world, and, Proctor says, all worlds. By your voice you set in motion currents of air which meet on the other side of the globe. No man can speak blasphemy or foulness even in privacy without having the whole universe for an audience. We are moved upon by physical influences, born ages ago, in the remotest domain of space. In like manner the forces which originate in this world affect all worlds. Nothing is lost in the hard domain of matter. Is it likely that anything is lost in the sensitive realm of mind? Let us not think that the mental history of our life is to be lost. Great libraries have been lost and scholars have wept, but the book of the human soul has not yet been destroyed, and all its obscure passages will yet be illumined. All that is needed is a sensation strong enough to bring the past to life. The judgment bar of Christ will make us remember. What a terrible retribution would be the giving of a lost soul to the contemplation of himself! With what anguish would he look on his own vanquished years! “Sad memory weaves no veil to hide the past.” Hour after hour, year after year, the past life is unfolded, and in the midst of that past he beholds the form of Jesus and seems to hear His words of sorrow and of doom:--“All thy life long have I stretched forth My hands to thee, and thou wouldest not.”
A great gulf
The bridgeless gulf
I. In trying solemnly to speak upon this matter, I shall commence with this--THERE IS NO PASSAGE FROM HEAVEN TO HELL--“They which would pass from hence to you, cannot.” Glorified saints cannot visit the prison-house of lost sinners. They did both grow together until the time of the harvest; it is not necessary, now that harvest has come, that they should lie together any longer. It were inconsistent with the perfect joy and the beatific state of the righteous, with its perfect calm and purity, that sin should be admitted into their midst, or that they should be permitted to find companionships in the abodes of evil. Those who are nearest and dearest must be divided from you, if you perish in your sins.
II. As we cannot go from heaven to hell, so the text assures us, “NEITHER CAN THEY COME TO US THAT WOULD COME FROM THENCE.” The sinner cannot come to heaven for a multitude of reasons. Among the rest, these:
1. First, his own character forbids it.
2. Moreover, not only does the man’s character shut him out, but also the sinner’s doom. What was it? “These shall go away into everlasting punishment.” If it is everlasting, how can they enter heaven?
3. Moreover, sinner, thou canst not go out of the prison-house because God’s character and God’s word are against thee. Shall God ever cease to be just?
III. But now, once again to change the subject for a few minutes, I have to notice in the third place, that while no persons can pass that bridgeless chasm, so NO THINGS CAN. Nothing can come from hell to heaven. Rejoice ye saints in light, triumph in your God for this--no temptation of Satan can ever vex you when once you are landed on the golden strand; you are beyond bowshot of the arch-enemy; he may howl and bite his iron hands, but his howlings cannot terrify and his bitings cannot disturb.
IV. Again, we change the strain for a fourth point, and this a terrible one. As nothing can come from hell to heaven, so nothing heavenly can ever come to hell. There are rivers of life at God’s right hand--those streams can never leap in blessed cataracts to the lost. Not a drop of heavenly water can ever cross that chasm.
1. See then, sinner, heaven is rest, perfect rest--but there is no rest in hell; unceasing tempest.
2. Heaven, too, is a place of joy; there happy fingers sweep celestial chords; there joyous spirits sing hosannahs day without night; but there is no joy in hell.
3. Heaven is the place of sweet communion with God.
4. There is no communion with God in hell. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The impassable gulf
There is in a forest in Germany a place they call the “deer-leap,” two crags about eighteen yards apart, between them a fearful chasm. This is called the “deer-leap,” because once a hunter was on the track of a deer; it came to one of these crags; there was no escape for it from the pursuit of the hunter, and in utter despair it gathered itself up, and in the death agony attempted to jump across. Of course it fell, and was dashed on the rocks far beneath. Here is a path to heaven. It is plain, it is safe, Jesus marks it out for every man to walk in. But here is a man who says, “I won’t walk in that path; I will take my own way.” He comes on until he confronts the chasm that divides his soul from heaven. Now his last hour has come, and he resolves that he will leap that chasm, from the heights of earth to the heights of heaven. Stand back, now, and give him full swing, for no soul ever did that successfully. Let him try. Jump! Jump! He misses the mark, and he goes down, depth below depth, “destroyed without remedy.” Men! angels! devils! what shall we call that place of awful catastrophe? Let it be known for ever as “the sinner’s death-leap.” (De W. Talmage, D. D.)
The state of the soul after death
I. DYING DOES NOT SUSPEND CONSCIOUSNESS. The Bible knows nothing of “dormant souls.” Death takes down the scaffolding, but not the edifice.
II. DYING DOES NOT EFFACE REMEMBRANCE OF THE LIVING. Thought speeds back to earth and earthly friends. Those on earth may forget the spirit world, but those in that world forget not earth.
III. DYING DOES NOT CHANGE CHARACTER. A physical change cannot affect moral quality.
IV. DYING BRINGS CONDITION AND CHARACTER INTO ACCORD. These two men, whose outward condition was so unlike, were equally different in character. When death came, each went to his own place, one to be “comforted,” because the germinant seeds of peace and love were in his own heart; the other to be “tormented,” because the devouring flames of unbelief and selfishness were in his own bosom.
V. DYING RENDERS THE CONDITION RESULTING FROM CHARACTER PERMANENT. Man may hope theft although he die impenitent, he will in the future life find some path to heaven. But the Bible points to none. The rich man had new light, but it did not make him penitent. It did not humble him for his sin. It did not banish his unbelief. It did not expel his selfishness. It did not fill his heart with love. It helped him to see, what perhaps he had before disbelieved, that life on earth is the only time to prepare for life beyond the grave. The only way to heaven is by coming into harmony with God. (P. B. Davis.)
The great gulf
The gulf is not one of space or locality, but must be sought in the souls of individuals. It is not of place, but of being. It existed before the rich man and Lazarus died. Death did not create it. As in life, so in death, there can be no passing over it. Between the spiritually-minded man and the carnally-minded man a gulf is fixed. One cannot be as the other: nothing is so impossible. Between the pure wife and mother and the harlot that walks the streets a great gulf is fixed. The gulf cannot be passed--one cannot go to the other. You say, “Cannot the pure woman fall?” She cannot fall, and remain what she is. To fall would not be to cross the chasm; to fall would be filling it up; no gulf would any longer exist; she would have become even as the other. But look at it in this way--each remaining what she is, could either transfer to the other her personal qualities? Could the one on the blissful side convey one drop of purity or joy of womanhood to the other poor wretch in her flame of torment? Would not she have to refuse for herself, and for all her sisters, a drop of water for the cooling of her blistered tongue? No, there can be no crossing; only a filling up. And, if I were disposed to use this parable on either side of the controversy in reference to the future, I should say, in the case of the rich man, that process had already begun. But I do not think it legitimate to use it on either one side or the other. The gulf does not symbolize fixedness of destiny; but the dividing lines of good and evil character, and consequent misery and bliss. No man can live in sin and selfishness, and reap ultimate advantage. A process is going on in him as he thus lives, which separates him in ever greater distance from the possibilities of spiritual peace and bliss. (W. Hubbard.)
If one went unto them from the dead
Lazarus and his message
1. There is something common to this life and that to come. Heaven will give us the full gratifying banquet; but here we have, as it were, the crumbs of the heavenly table, not tossed to us disdainfully, but furnished to us compassionately that we may not perish whilst we are waiting for the hour when all our holy appetites shall be satisfied to the full.
2. Now concerning our estimation of the relative worth of this life and the life beyond. “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”--says Christ. “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father”--says Christ. Evidently, then, our Lord, whilst He had the warmest sympathies, the truest natural affections, and the keenest eye for whatever gleamed forth of interest in human affairs--loving the earth, though not “earthly”--evidently our Lord makes thepreponderant motive of life here, the expectation of complete and satisfying life hereafter.
3. Now concerning the law on which the decision turns as to where we shall be placed in a world to come. In Christ’s last public parable, the test of the judgment is Love. The Gentile nations are brought before Him; the sheep--those who are ready for the green pastures of the ancient but ever fresh kingdom--why are they ready? Because they did whatsoever good their hand found to do. If anybody wanted help and needed pity, they brought help and did not spare their pity; but the goats were those who might have given help, but gave none; who might have given pity, but had none to give. They had no tears ready; and they rather avoided a prison if they had friends in it; for who wants to have to do with friends whose fortunes have fallen? Now how very simple all these tests are, but very searching; but they are all comprised and infolded in this one word “love.” Hadst thou any real love? What other test could there be than this?
4. Concerning then the changes and stages of the world to come. Did our Lord say anything about a man getting a bad place in the next world, and afterwards being better off? No. Did He say anything to make persons comfortable in the supposition that there was such a Divine mercy; that if they lived as they would, carelessly here, nevertheless the smart might not be so very keen hereafter? Was it likely that our wise Lord would encourage us in the too common spirit of postponement? Was it likely that our Lord, who was intent upon the best, would allow people foolishly to congratulate themselves that they might aim at something very far below the best, and that at least they would be sure to escape the worst? The only security is this--faith in the heart, that life of the Lord Jesus Christ, which purifies this world and every other: the one life by which a man may be in heaven whilst on earth; the one life by which the very lowest who sit even upon the dunghill, dependent upon the crumbs, and often weeping over their own sorrows, may have communion with God’s holy, exalted angels who soar in His presence, or rest at His feet, and who neither shed tears nor suffer pain. (T. T. Lynch.)
The sufficiency of the Divine revelation
I. THERE IS A REVELATION GIVEN TO MAN, TO GUIDE HIM TO HAPPINESS.
II. THE REVELATION WHICH IS GIVEN TO MAN IS SUFFICIENT FOR HIS SALVATION.
III. IF THE GIVEN REVELATION IS NEGLECTED, AN EXTRAORDINARY INTERPOSITION IS NOT TO BE EXPECTED.
IV. THE NEGLECT AND CONTEMPT OF THE REVEALED WORD WILL PROVE THE INEVITABLE RUIN OF THE UNGODLY. (The Preachers’ Treasury.)
The moral effect of a visit from the dead
The folly of demanding that one should visit us from the dead, for the double purpose of proving the future state and preparing us for it, will appear if you will look thoughtfully--
1. At the sort of witness and testimony demanded. As to the witness, it is for “one from the dead,” and his proposed duty is to “testify” to the living.
Not an angel; but a dead man. And he is to come back to earth not to work prodigies, but to bear witness. If such a spirit were seized with either a voluntary or involuntary impulse to return to his earthly theatre of action and begin life afresh, in what way would such a wanderer make himself known to your senses? Can you tell? Now the first thing necessary to your satisfaction would be to recognize him as a human soul, fresh from the fields of immortality. If there should be more than one, you must know all of them to be veritable witnesses in order to believe them, and how will you settle this in each case? In this world a witness, oral or by parole, is always recognized through his body. But the body which this spirit wore on earth lies unstirred in the sepulchre. The general character of human spirits, and the possession of specific secrets for their identification, are very insecure signs, on which we can place but slight dependence. And does it mend the matter at all, even if his body should be raised for this visit? Here you see that the men who reject the evidence of miracle in all other cases insist upon the working of the most stupendous miracle possible, before they will believe one word in this case. Supposing, then, that God had granted the request of Dives by sending Lazarus back to the “five brethren,” and they had recognized him, how would his visit have acted upon their minds morally if they were men of thought, reason, and common sense? Let us see. Right there the thrilling spectacle of spectral testimony begins. Their very first thought would relate to the reality of the witness himself; whether he were an entity or a phantasm. They would demand of him the proof that he had really lived and died, and visited the shaded provinces of departed souls, that he had become known to their brother there, and returned to this globe in a provable identity. They would then demand proof that, as a witness, his own mind was not influenced by optical illusion, spectral disease; that it was solid, sound, and well balanced, and so that his narrative was not the fruit of an excited fancy. Nay, they would need to convince themselves that their own brains did not reel before him in delusion. When all this should be settled, then the real difficulties of the apparition witness would but just begin, if he were not scouted and ridiculed until he were ready to abandon his own convictions and discredit his own story. The very attempt to express the first sentence would confound him, because it would discover to him a set of ethereal conceptions taken up into his own incorporeal existence, with which earth had no analogies, and therefore has no words nor methods by which they can be intelligibly stated or understood.
2. Testimony so given, and by such a deponent, would be totally inadequate to its alleged purpose, both in its nature and effects. How can the eye of the body fixed upon a corporal being convince the understanding about the invisible things of the eternal world? These are things of faith, not of sight, like so many colours of the rainbow. If the risen Christ is no proof to the senses, much less can one like ourselves from the dead be a convincing witness to warn us. It is much more likely that we should want to kill him than to be “persuaded” by him; just as the Jews callously wanted to kill Lazarus of Bethany when Jesus had raised him from the dead. I can easily understand how the presence of a man raised from the dead might terrify a guilty sinner; how the apparition might put him under an appalling spell, so that his heart fluttered; a prisoner under the charms of magic; but I cannot see how the bondage of evil habits could be broken, or the deceptive charms of sin dissolved by such a startling apparition. Even the pure presence of an angel stooping to an earthly mission has been so terrific to holy men, that they have feared death in consequence. But how, if a ghastly spectre should glare upon guilty and hardened men from the solitudes of eternity, and address them in sepulchral tones; surely their blood would curdle, their nerves shrink, their hearts faint, and their life become ice. How can all this be related to genuine repentance? (T. Armitage, D. D.)
The claims of revealed truth
I. THERE EXISTS A REVELATION FROM GOD, DESIGNED FOR THE GUIDANCE AND SALVATION OF MAN.
II. THIS REVELATION IS FULLY QUALIFIED TO ACCOMPLISH THE PURPOSES FOR WHICH IT WAS GIVEN.
III. ON THE REJECTION OF REVELATION, IT IS NOT TO BE EXPECTED THAT ANY SUPERNATURAL VISITATIONS WOULD PRODUCE A SAVING IMPRESSION ON THE HEART.
1. The cause Which produces the rejection of the message of God in His written Word, will operate also against the message which might be taught by supernatural agency.
2. It is equally easy to explain away a supernatural visitation, as it is to explain away the evidence of revelation.
3. The inefficiency of supernatural visitations has been shown by experience.
4. It is the positive arrangement of God, that His word, as given in the inspired record, and proclaimed in the established ordinances of grace, shall be the only means of persuasion and conversion; and the promise of the Spirit’s influence does not extend to any other instrumentality.
IV. THE REJECTION OF DIVINE REVELATION, IS THE CAUSE OF FUTURE CONDEMNATION AND MISERY. (J. Parsons.)
The Divine authority and sufficiency of the Christian religion
I. THE SUFFICIENCY OF THE STANDING REVELATION OF GOD’S WILL IN THE SCRIPTURES, TO BRING MEN TO REPENTENCE.
1. The Scriptures give us sufficient instructions what we should believe, or are a sufficient rule of faith.
2. The Scriptures give us complete directions in matters of practice, or are a sufficient rule of life.
3. The Scriptures are attended with sufficient evidence of their truth and divinity.
4. The religion of Jesus proposes sufficient excitements to influence our faith and practice.
II. THE VANITY AND UNREASONABLENESS OF THE OBJECTION AGAINST THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION, AND OF DEMANDING ANOTHER. (President Davies.)
The unreasonableness of unbelief
I. CONSIDER THE EVIDENCE OF DIVINE TRUTH PRESENTED BY ONE RISEN FROM THE DEAD.
1. The impressions made by one who was seen to rise from the grave, and gave to the spectators his testimony concerning a future state, would undoubtedly be great and solemn.
2. The evidence which would attend everything said by such a person would be irresistible.
II. EXAMINE THE EVIDENCE OF DIVINE TRUTH FURNISHED BY THE SCRIPTURES, AND THE ADVANTAGE WHICH THEY POSSESS FOR CONVINCING AND PERSUADING THE MIND. In this examination--
1. The thing that meets us is, that the Scriptures were written by God, and were therefore written in the best manner that was possible to accomplish their end. The things which are communicated in the Scriptures concerning our future existence are in their nature the most solemn and impressive which can be conceived. They are such as God thought it wisest and best to communicate, and are therefore certainly the wisest and best possible. In their own nature also, and as they appear in themselves to our eyes, they possess an immeasurable solemnity and importance.
3. Beside the things which a person risen from the dead could unfold, the Scriptures afford many others pre-eminently important and affecting.
4. All these things come directly from God Himself, and are invested with His authority.
5. The Scriptures were attested by miracles very numerous, and certainly not less solemn and impressive than the resurrection of a man from the dead.
III. SHOW THAT THE DOCTRINE IS TRUE. On this subject I observe--
1. That we ourselves do not ordinarily dispute the truth of the scriptural declarations, nor the sufficiency of the evidence by which they are supported; and yet are in very few instances persuaded to repent.
2. Those who were witnesses of these very miracles generally did not repent.
3. Among all the persons with whom, while they were anxiously solicitous about their salvation, I have had opportunity to converse, I do not remember even one who ever mentioned his own indisposition to repent, as in any degree derived from the want of evidence to support the truth of the Scriptures.
1. It is manifest from these considerations that the reason why mankind do not embrace the gospel is not the want of evidence.
2. From these observations, it is clear that no evidence will persuade a sinful heart. (T. Dwight, D. D.)
The sufficiency of the Divine revelation
I. IT IS UNREASONABLE TO EXPECT THAT GOD SHOULD DO MORE FOR THE CONVICTION OF MEN, THAN TO AFFORD THEM A STANDING REVELATION OF HIS MIND AND WILL; SUCH AS THAT OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES IS. This is strongly implied in Abraham’s first answer, “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them”; as if he had said--having such means of conviction so near at hand, why should they desire and expect any other? It is in this case of the Scriptures, as in that of God’s providence; God does not commonly prove His providence to men by extraordinary instances of His power, and by changing the course of nature, to convince every man in the world that He governs it; but by standing testimonies of His wisdom, and power, and goodness; by these God does sufficiently satisfy considerate men of His government and care of the world. The case is the same as to Divine revelation. We tempt God by demanding extraordinary signs, when we may receive so abundant satisfaction in an ordinary way.
II. IT IS, UPON THE WHOLE MATTER, VERY IMPROBABLE THAT THOSE WHO REJECT THIS PUBLIC REVELATION OF GOD, SHOULD BE EFFECTUALLY CONVINCED, THOUGH ONE SHOULD SPEAK TO THEM FROM THE DEAD.
1. Because, if such miracles were frequent and familiar, it is very probable they would have but very little effect; and unless we suppose them common and ordinary, we have no reason to expect them at all.
2. Men have as great or greater reason to believe the threatenings of God’s Word as the discourse of one that should speak to them from the dead.
3. The very same reason which makes men to reject the counsels of God in His Word, would, in all probability, hinder them from being convinced by a particular miracle.
4. Experience does abundantly testify how ineffectual extraordinary ways are to convince these who are obstinately addicted and wedded to their lusts.
5. An effectual persuasion (that is, such a belief as produceth repentance and a good life) is the gift of God, and depends upon the operation and concurrence of God’s grace, which there is no reason to expect either in an extraordinary way or in an extraordinary degree, after men have obstinately rejected the ordinary means which God hath appointed to that end.
1. Since the Scriptures are the public and standing revelation of God’s will to men, and the ordinary means of salvation, we may hence conclude that people ought to have them in such a language as they can understand.
2. Let us hear and obey that public revelation of” God’s will, which, in so much mercy to mankind, He hath been pleased to afford to us.
3. Those who are not brought to repentance, and effectually persuaded by this clear and public revelation, which God hath made of His will to men in the Holy Scriptures, have reason to look upon their ease as desperate. (Archbishop Tillotson.)
The sufficiency of Scripture
I. AT FIRST SIGHT WE MIGHT THINK IT ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE FOR US NOT TO OBEY ONE RISING UP FROM THE GRAVE, AND STANDING BEFORE US WITH ALL THE SIGNS AND MYSTERIES OF A SPIRIT COME FROM THE UNSEEN WORLD. In most of us there is a shrinking fear of the supernatural as well as of wonderment, and we can well understand the terror the night-spectre was adapted to produce in the mind of Eliphaz, the friend of Job. The message may or may not be remembered, but, in either case, evil does its work. The memory of the vision becomes fainter and fainter, and the ring of the message dies away in the distance, until at last it is heard no more, thought of and felt no more. Besides, what is simply heard by the ear is apt to be twisted into some meaning of our own construction, and, like tradition generally, be overloaded with strange fables and unnatural descriptions. Hence we learn from the declaration of Abraham--
II. The great value and importance of the sacred scriptures. They are ever before us, ever so plain and simple that “a wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein.” To us we have not only the testimony of Moses and the prophets, but of our Lord Himself. With the whole of God’s moral revelation before us, bearing with it the evidence of the most ancient life, combined with the evidence of a life wherein ancient and modern meet in harmony and truth, what need we more? It may be said to us, “If we believe not Christ, neither will we believe if one rose from the dead.”
II. WHY IS THIS? WHY DID ABRAHAM FORESEE THE INUTILITY OF GIVING ANY ADDITIONAL INFORMATION BEYOND WHAT IS ALREADY GIVEN? Why, if the Bible fails, will a spirit from the dead fail also? The answer is to be found in the intensity and deep-rootedness of man’s selfishness. Herein is the problem of man’s rejection of the truth of God solved--herein is the mystery of our unbelief and hardness of heart explained. It was selfishness that made a wreck of Dives. He lived for himself, and in that life overlooked the claims of God and man; he lived for “the good things” of the world, and closed out from his conceptions and practical living the “good things” of God. (W. D. Horwood.)
Do we need a new revelation?
I. THE DIVINE MESSAGE OF THE BIBLE IS SUFFICIENT FOR ITS PURPOSE.
1. The purpose of revelation is moral and active.
2. Jesus Christ believed and taught the sufficiency of revelation for this purpose.
II. NO SUPERNATURAL MARVEL WILL ACCOMPLISH THIS PURPOSE MORE EFFICIENTLY.
1. The great difficulty to be overcome is not intellectual, but moral.
2. The active and moral purpose of revelation cannot be effected by any external supernatural event.
(1) Do not place great reliance or, the homiletical effect of lurid pictures of hell. They may deaden conscience while they rouse fear. Dante is not sufficient without Moses and Christ.
(2) Do not expect too much from the curative effects of future punishment.
(3) Do not regret the loss of miracles. Spiritualism has not proved itself to be a gospel of salvation for character.
(4) No longer wilfully refuse to obey the truth, which is able to make us wise unto salvation. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
Impotent desires in hell
Is there love in hell? Do the spirits of the lost remember still those whom they have left behind? And can they feel indeed an interest about their spiritual welfare? Or, are they words which do not bear upon the great point of the parable, and of which, therefore, we are not to look for any parallel in the things of life? Or, was it a mere selfishness still, that he might escape his brothers’ reproaches, when they should come to upbraid him for his bad example, that Dives said, “I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: for I have five brethren, that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” I incline to think that if we are to apply the words to ourselves at all, they convey to us this fact--that in that wretched world, there may spring up desires, good desires, but that it will be too late. For ever and for ever those desires may live, but never to be gratified. And who shall say what an amount of torment might lie in an eternity of impotent and unsatisfied longings? I can conceive of nothing more horrible than to have continually aspirations after something good, yet all the while the consciousness that that good, and after which we aspire, is a thing utterly and eternally impossible. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The request of Dives for his five brethren
I. NOW IT IS ADMITTED BY THIS LOST MAN THAT REPENTANCE IS NECESSARY.
1. I remark, in the first place, that a messenger from the dead--that is, from another world--could not give to you or to me, or to any one else, information more distinct, more explicit, more comprehensive, on any subject that it concerns man to know in order to his repentance and salvation, than the sacred writings have already furnished.
2. Again, such a messenger could not authenticate his mission and his message by evidence more clear, more satisfactory, more convincing, than that by which the Divine authenticity of these writings are sustained.
3. Besides, that disposition of heart, which prevents your repentance under the discoveries and the motives and the influences of revealed truth, would render you impenitent still, “though one rose from the dead.”
4. Besides these, there is another consideration: all agents and instruments, ordinary or extraordinary, can only succeed as they are attended by the Divine blessing and influence.
5. If, however, these reasonings fail to produce conviction in any mind now before me, then I have another species of evidence in reserve--most unbending; and it is evidence derived from fact. The request has been granted; the thing has been tried; and it has utterly failed.
II. NOW WHAT ARE THE PRACTICAL CONCLUSIONS AT WHICH WE SHOULD ARRIVE FROM THIS SUBJECT?
1. And the first is--the sufficiency of revealed truth; so that if persons are not awakened and brought to repentance and conversion by its light and evidence and influence, all extraordinary methods and agencies would be in yam.
2. Secondly, on the admission of the sufficiency of the Divine revelation, then it follows that it is as unreasonable, as it is impious and ungrateful, to desire and to wish for more.
3. Thirdly, as extraordinary messengers and agents would be useless, I infer that we are not to expect them.
4. Again: I draw another conclusion--humbling, admonitory, and it is this. On the admission that we have sufficient means of instruction and of repentance and of salvation furnished, then how inexcusable the folly and how aggravated the guilt of those who still remain impenitent!
5. And then finally, having yourselves experienced the power and efficacy of Divine truth, and having yourselves experienced repentance unto life, and yourselves richly participating in the blessings of grace and salvation, then be concerned (as it is meet and right and your bounden duty) for your fellowsinners, that they may be brought to repentance; for your fellow-creatures, that they may be partakers with you of “like precious faith” and love and life and happiness and salvation. (R. Newton, D. D.)
A preacher from the dead
I. First, it is thought that if one did come from the dead to preach, there would be A CONFIRMATION OF THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL, and a testimony borne at which jeering infidelity would stand aghast in silence. Stop, we will see about that.
1. If, my friends, the testimony of one man who had been raised from the dead were of any value for the confirming of the gospel, would not God have used it before now? Now, God knoweth best; we will not compare our surmises to Divine decision. If God decided that resurrection men should be silent, it was best it should be; their testimony would have been of little worth or help to us, or else it would have been borne.
2. But again, I think it will strike our minds at once, that if this very day a man should rise from his tomb, and come here to affirm the truth of the gospel, the infidel world would be no more near believing than it is now. Infidelity would still cry for something more. It is like the horse-leech; it crieth, “Give, give!”
3. And besides, my friends, if men will not believe the witness of God, it is impossible that they should believe the witness of man.
II. It is imagined, however, that if one of “the spirits of the just made perfect” would come to earth, even if he did not produce a most satisfactory testimony to the minds of sceptics, HE WOULD YET BE ABLE TO GIVE ABUNDANT INFORMATION CONCERNING THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. Surely he would have brought down with him some handfuls of the clusters of Eshcol; he would bare been able to tell us some celestial secrets, which would have cheered our hearts, and nerved us to run the heavenly race, and put a cheerful courage on. Nothing more could we know that would be of any use. Tattlers, idle curiosity people, and such like, would be mightily delighted with such a man. Ah! what a precious preacher he would be to them, if they could get him all the way from heaven, and get him to tell all its secrets out! But there the matter would end. It would be merely the gratification of curiosity; there would be no conferring of blessing; for if to know more of the future state would be a blessing for us, God would not withhold it; there can be no more told us. If what you know would not persuade you, “Neither would you be persuaded though one rose from the dead.”
III. Yet some say, “SURELY, IF THERE WERE NO GAIN IN MATTER, YET THERE WOULD BE A GAIN IN MANNER. Oh, if such a spirit had descended from the spheres, how would he preach? What eloquence celestial would flow from his lips!” I do believe that Lazarus from Abraham’s bosom would not be so good a preacher as a man who has not died, but whose lips have been touched with a live coal from off the altar. Instead of his being better, I cannot see that he would be quite so good. Could a spirit from the other world speak to you more solemnly than Moses and the prophets have spoken? Or could they speak more solemnly than you have heard the word spoken to you at divers times already? Ah I but you say, you want some one to preach to you more feelingly. Then, sir, you cannot have him in the preacher you desire. A spirit from heaven could not be a feeling preacher. It would be impossible for Lazarus, who had been in Abraham’s bosom, to preach to you with emotion. Such a preacher could not be a powerful preacher, even though he came again from the dead. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The sufficiency of the Bible
It will be a solemn thought to-night, when, in your own room, you open that holy volume, and think, “This Bible, that is being now preached, this Bible which I am reading, is the highest, best, last, only means by which God undertakes and promises absolutely to convert, teach, comfort, edify, save me. What then? If the hearing and reading God’s Word have not turned my heart, then the resurrection would not do it I nothing would do it!” And with this conclusion, I am confident that all experience will agree. Great events, surprises, sorrows, bereavements, will, by God’s grace, bring a man to his Bible, and then his Bible will bring him to God; and then it would seem as if those events converted him; but the truth is, that God’s Word did the work--the rest only brought him there. But let us understand clearly what this Book is. What is the Bible? It is the likeness which the Holy Spirit has taken of the mind of Christ. And what is Christ? The likeness of the mind of the Father. Then what is the Bible? The exact and perfect transcript of the Spirit, as the Spirit is the perfect transcript of Christ, and as Christ is the perfect transcript of the mind of God. That is the Bible. No wonder then that whatever is to be done, it is this which must do it. But now we are directed to the manner in which the Bible is to be savingly used. “If they hear not”--that is, if they do not realize it even as if they heard a voice--if they donot hear and obey--“Moses and the prophets, then they would not be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Scripture-evidence sufficient to make men religious
I. GOD HAS GIVEN US SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE TO PROVE THE TRUTH OF RELIGION, AND SUFFICIENT ARGUMENTS TO ENFORCE THE PRACTICE OF IT. God has given us all that evidence to prove the truth of Christian religion, and all those arguments to enforce the practice of it, which it was agreeable either to the wisdom of God to give, or the reason of men to expect.
1. As to the intrinsic evidence from the excellency of the nature of the thing itself, the duties which Christian religion requires are such as are plainly most agreeable to our natural notions of God, and most conducive to the happiness and well being of men; and this is a proof which might alone be sufficient to convince a wise man that his religion was from God.
2. Besides the intrinsic evidence for the truth of religion from the excellency of the nature of the thing itself, it is moreover proved to be taught and confirmed of God by the most credible and satisfactory testimony that was ever given to any matter of fact in the world.
II. The second general proposition I designed to speak to is that such men as will not be persuaded to be sincerely religious by that evidence and those arguments which God has afforded us, WOULD NOT BE PERSUADED
BY ANY OTHER EVIDENCE OR MOTIVE OF RELIGION WHICH THEIR OWN UNREASONABLE FANCY COULD SUGGEST TO THEM TO DESIRE.
III. In order to the making men truly religious, it is not necessary that God should on His part work more miracles to give them greater convictions, but only THAT THEY ON THEIR OWN PART SHOULD BECOME REASONABLE PERSONS, LAY ASIDE THEIR UNJUST PREJUDICES, AND FORSAKE THEIR UNREASONABLE LUSTS, WHICH HINDER THEM FROM CONSIDERING THE TRUE FORCE OF THE ARGUMENTS OF RELIGION. They have no concern for the interests of truth and virtue. The love of this present world has blinded their eyes, and it is for that reason only that they receive not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto them (1 Corinthians 2:14). (S. Clarke, D. D.)
I. First, then, let us consider WHETHER THE EVIDENCE UPON WHICH REVELATION STANDS BE IN ITSELF GREATER OR MORE CONVINCING THAN THE EVIDENCE OF ONE COMING FROM THE DEAD CAN BE.
II. THAT THE OBJECTIONS WHICH UNBELIEVERS URGE AGAINST THE AUTHORITY OF REVELATION WILL LIE STRONGER AGAINST THE AUTHORITY OF ONE COMING FROM THE DEAD. For, first, as to the nature of this sort of evidence, if it be any evidence at all, it is a revelation, and therefore, whatever has been said against the authority of revelation, will be applicable to this kind of it. And, consequently, those who, upon the foot of natural religion, stand out against the doctrine of the gospel, would much more stand out against the authority of one coming from the dead. And whether it would weigh more with the atheist, let any one consider. For no revelation can weigh with him; for the Being of God, which he disbelieves, is supported with greater arguments and greater works than any revelation can be. And therefore, standing out against the evidence of all nature, speaking in the wonderful works of the creation, he can never reasonably submit to a less evidence. Let, then, one from the dead appear to him, and he will, and certainly may, as easily account for one dead man’s recovering life and motion, as he does for the life and motion of so many men, whom he sees every day. But, further, let us suppose a man free from all these prejudices, and then see what we can make of this evidence. If a dead man should come to you, you must suppose either that he speaks from himself, and that his errand to you is the effect of his own private affection for you, or that he comes by commission and authority from God. As to the first case, you have but the word of a man for all you hear, and how will you prove that a dead man is incapable of practising a cheat upon you? Or, allowing the appearance to be real, and the design honest, do you think every dead man knows the counsels of God, and His will with respect to His creatures here on earth? If you do not think this, and I cannot see possibly how you should think it, what use will you make of this kind of revelation? Should he tell you that the Christian faith is the true faith, the way to heaven and happiness, and that God will reward all true believers, you would have much less reason to believe him than now you have to believe Christ and His apostles. But, on the other side, should you suppose this man to come by the particular order and appointment of God, and consequently that what he says is the word and command of God, you must then be prepared to answer such objections as you are now ready to make against the mission and authority of Christ and His apostles. First, then, we ask, How this commission appears? If you say because he comes from the dead, we cannot rest here, because it is not self-evident that all who come from the dead are inspired. And yet farther than this you cannot go, for it is not supposed that your man from the dead works miracles. The mission of Christ we prove by prophecies and their completion; by the signs and wonders He wrought by the hand of God; by His resurrection, which includes both kinds, being in itself a great miracle and likewise the completion of a prophecy.
III. By considering the temper of infidelity. For where unbelief proceeds, as generally it does, from a vitiated and corrupted mind, which hates to be reformed, which rejects the evidence because it will not admit the doctrine, not the doctrine because it cannot admit the evidence; in this case all proofs will be alike, and it will be lost labour to ply such a man with reason or new evidence, since it is not want of reason or evidence that makes him an unbeliever. (T. Sherlock, D. D.)
A standing revelation the best means of conviction
I. TO STATE AND LIMIT THE DUE EXTENT OF IT.
II. TO CONFIRM THE TRUTH, SO STATED, BY VARIOUS ARGUMENTS AND REFLECTIONS. After which I shall--
III. DEDUCE SOME INFERENCES FROM IT. As to the extent of this assertion, we may observe--
I. 1. That it is evidently to be under stood of such persons only as are placed in the same circumstances with the five brethren in the parable; such, consequently, as have been born, where the true religion is professed, and bred up in the belief of it; have had all the early prejudices of education on the side of truth, and all manner of opportunities and advantages towards acquainting themselves with the grounds of it; and yet, notwithstanding all these advantages, have shut their eyes against it, and withstood its force.
2. Neither is the assertion to be rigorously extended to all those who have been educated under the influence of a Divine revelation, and yet lived in opposition to the rules of it; for there is great reason to believe that there are many persons who, through the heat of their lusts and passions, through the contagion of ill example, or too deep an immersion in the affairs of life, swerve exceedingly from the rules of their holy faith, and yet would, upon such an extraordinary warning as is mentioned in the text, be brought to comply with them.
3. That even of these profligate creatures themselves it is not said that so astonishing a scene would make no manner of impression, would have no present influence upon them; but only that it would not produce a lasting effect, nor work an entire conversion.
II. Second general head TO CONFIRM BY VARIOUS ARGUMENTS AND REFLECTIONS. And--
1. We will suppose that such a message from the dead as that for which the rich man here intercedes is really in itself an argument of greater strength and force to persuade a sinner out of the error of his ways than any standing revelation, however so well attested and confirmed. I will show, nevertheless, that it would not be complied with. Because--
(1) It is not for want of strength that the standing ordinary ways of proof are rejected, but for want of sincerity, and a disinterested mind in those to whom they are proposed; and the same want of sincerity, the same adhesion to vice and aversion from goodness, will be equally a reason for their rejecting any proof whatsoever.
(2) A motive, however stronger in itself than another, may yet make a weaker impression when employed, after that the motive of less though sufficient strength hath been already resisted. For the mind doth, by every degree of affected unbelief, contract more and more of a general indisposition towards believing; so that such a proof, as would have been closed with certainty at the first, shall be set aside easily afterwards, when a man hath been used to dispute himself out of plain truths, and to go against the light of his own understanding.
(3) The peculiar strength of the motive may of itself, perhaps, contribute to frustrate the efficacy of it, rendering it liable to be suspected by him to whom it is addressed. He is conscious how little he hath deserved so extraordinary a privilege.
(4) How far these suspicions of his will be improved and heightened by the raillery and laughter he will be sure to meet with on this head from his old friends and companions.
(5) Time and a succession of other objects will bring it about. Every day the impression loses somewhat of its force, and grows weaker, till at length it comes to lie under the same disadvantage with the standing proofs of the gospel. Hitherto I have supposed that the evidence of one risen from the dead hath really the advantage, in point of force and efficacy, of any standing revelation, how well soever attested and confirmed; and, proceeding on that supposition, I have endeavoured to show that such evidence, however in itself forcible, would certainly not be complied with.
But the truth is, and, upon a fair balance of the advantages on either side it will appear that the common standing rules of the gospel are a more probable and powerful means of conviction than any such message or miracle:--
1. For this plain reason, because they include in them that very kind of evidence which is supposed to be so powerful, and do, withal, afford us several other additional proofs of great force and clearness. Among many arguments by which the truth of our religion is made out to us, this is but one, that the promulgers of it--Jesus Christ and His apostles--did that very thing which is required to be done, raised men and women from the dead, not once only but often, in an indisputable manner, and before many witnesses.
2. Another great advantage which the standing proofs of the gospel have over such an extraordinary appearance, that this hath all its force at once upon the first impression, and is over afterwards in a declining stale, so that the longer it continues upon the mind, and the oftener it is thought of, the more it loses; whereas those, on the contrary, gain strength and ground upon us by degrees, and the more they are considered and weighed the more they are approved.
3. That, lot the evidence of such a particular miracle be never so bright and clear, yet it is still but particular, and must, therefore, want that kind of force, that degree of influence, which accrues to a standing general proof, from its having been tried and approved, and consented to by men of all ranks and capacities, of all tempers and interests, of all ages and nations. (Bishop Atterbury.)
I. 1. One coming from the dead, angel or man, cannot bring a doctrine more necessary, there being in the Scriptures sufficient direction about the way to true happiness, for which we have not only express testimony, but apparent reason and sensible experience.
2. Better arguments cannot be urged, nor more persuasively. The gospel is “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24); and surely God knoweth all the wards of the lock, and what kind of keys will fit the heart of man. What do we need more to move us? Shall God pipe to you in a sweeter strain than that of gospel grace or gospel promises? Is the giving Himself and His Christ a price too cheap to purchase your hearts? or must He thunder to you in a more dreadful accent than the horrors of everlasting darkness? Oh! but one that cometh from the dead is supposed to testify his own sight and knowledge, and so to speak more feelingly. And have not God’s messengers some experience? Cannot they say, We declare to you the things which we have seen and heard and felt?
3. It is not because he could propound these truths with more certainty, for these things are already propounded to our understandings, and we have sensible confirmation.
(1) They are propounded to our understandings with a fair and full credibility. The holy Scriptures have in themselves a self-evidencing light, by which they make it out to the consciences of men that they are of God.
(2) We have sensible confirmations. We are wrought upon by sense. Now is not ordinarily the word as sensibly confirmed to us as it would be by a vision or apparition from the dead?
(a) There is the holiness of professors (1 Corinthians 14:25).
(b) There is the constancy of the martyrs that have ratified this truth with the loss of their dearest concernments.(Revelation 12:11).
(c) Then there is the inward feeling of God’s children; they find a power in the word, convincing, changing, comforting, fortifying their hearts. They have answerable impressions on their hearts (Hebrews 8:10).
(d) Those that have no experience of this have a secret fear of the power of the word (John 3:20).
(e) There are also outward effects of the power of the word; its propagation throughout all the world within thirty years or thereabout.
(f) Then consider the many sensible effects of the word, as the accomplishment of prophecies, promises, threatenings, and answer of prayers. God’s providence is a comment upon Scripture.
II. Against it. THERE ARE MORE RATIONAL PREJUDICES THAT LIE AGAINST ANY OTHER WAY THAN THIS WAY THAT GOD HATH TAKEN. As to instance in the matter in hand.
1. It is no mean scruple about the lawfulness of hearkening to one that should come from the dead, since they are out of the sphere of our commerce, and it is a disparagement to the great doctor of the Church. Against consulting with the dead, see Deuteronomy 18:10-12, with 14, 15.
2. It is not so sure a way. How could we trust or believe any one that should bring a message from the dead, since impostors are so rife? Satan can turn himself into an angel of light.
3. It is not so effectual a course as some think. The Jews would not believe Lazarus, when, after he had been four days dead, he was raised up again.
4. It is not so familiar a way, and therefore not so fit to instil faith, and reduce men to God’s purpose by degrees, as the written Word, to which we may have recourse without affrightment, and that at all times.
1. That man is apt to indent with God about believing and repenting upon terms of his own making (Matthew 26:42). God will not always give sensible confirmation.
2. There lie more prejudices by far against any way of our devising than against the course which God hath instituted for the furthering of our repentance. Man is an ill caterer for himself. All God’s institutions are full of reason, and if we had eyes to see it we could not be better provided for.
3. God in giving the Scriptures hath done more for us than we could imagine, yea, better than we could wish to ourselves. He hath certainly done enough to leave us without excuse. Try what you can do with Moses and the prophets. It is a great mercy to have a rule by which all doctrines are to be tried, to have a standard and measure of faith, and that put into writing to preserve it against the weakness of memory and the treachery of evil designs, and that translated into all languages.
4. That we are apt to betray present advantages by wishes of another dispensation, as that we may have oracles and miracles. It is but a shift to think of other means than God hath provided. Man is ever at odds with the present dispensation. It is a sign the heart is out of order, or else any doctrine that is of God would set it a-work.
5. Those that like not the message will ever quarrel at the messenger; and when the heart is wanting, something is wanting.
6. How credulous we are to fables, and how incredulous as to undoubted truths; spirits and apparitions, these things are regarded by us, but the testimony of the Spirit of God speaking in the Scriptures is little regarded.
III. HOW TO IMPROVE THE SCRIPTURES TO REPENTANCE.
1. Believe them as you would an oracle or one from the dead. Consider the authority and veracity of God. The authority of God: God commandeth men to repent; charge the heart in the name of God, as it will answer to him another day.
2. Urge thy heart with it; recollect yourselves: “What shall we then say to these things?” (Romans 8:31). (T. Manton, D. D.)
That a standing revelation of God is evidence sufficient for Divine things
1. What we are to understand by a Divine revelation.
2. For the several kinds of Divine revelations. That they were various the apostle to the Hebrews tells us (chap. 1:1).
And, therefore, in the third place, to show you what advantages this standing revelation of the Scripture hath above private revelations made to particular persons, and frequently repeated and renewed in several ages--
1. It is a more certain way of conveyance of things, and more secure and free from imposture.
2. It is a more general and universal way of conveyance, which is evident from the common experience of the world, who have pitched upon this way of writing things in books, as that which doth most easily convey the knowledge and notice of things to the generality of men.
3. It is a more uniform way of conveyance--that is, things that are once written and propagated that way lay equally open to all, and come in a manner with equal credit to all, it being not morally possible that a common book that passeth through all hands, and which is of vast importance and concernment, should be liable to any material corruption without a general conspiracy and agreement, which cannot be but that it must be generally known.
4. It is a more lasting way of conveyance.
5. It is a more human way of conveyance, which requires less of miracle and supernatural interposition for the preservation of it. I come now to the fourth thing I proposed to be considered--namely, that there is sufficient evidence of the Divinity of the Scriptures.
Now for the Scriptures of the New Testament, I desire but these two things to be granted to me at first--
1. That all were written by those persons whose names they bear.
2. That those who wrote those books were men of integrity, and did not wilfully falsify in anything. I should come now to the fifth and last thing--namely, that it is unreasonable to expect that God should do more for our conviction than to afford us a standing revelation of His mind and will, such as the books of the holy Scriptures are. (Archbishop Tillotson.)
Ghosts do not deter men from sin
By a ghost we mean the spirit of man stripped of its earthly appendages--without the material and visible conditions which distinguish his appearance among men. Now, it is not necessary for a man to go out of the world to realize this condition. The world is full of such ghosts. They are coming forth out of the depth of their ruin, their woe, and talking to us. But who heeds them?
1. See the ruined rich men--men of society, stripped of everything that marked them among men. They are but ghosts stalking among us. They talk to us of the folly, the vanity of riches, of the bitterness that comes with ill-gotten gains. They speak of the torment at the end of every such course. Who listens to these gibbering ghosts? Is there one man in a thousand who is turned from his course by what they say?
2. Then there are the ghosts of those who have been destroyed by intemperance. Oh, what hideous wrecks, ghosts--what testimony they bear! They are dead, yet they speak; but who listens? The young man sees, listens, and with a laugh turns to his glass.
3. So is it with the horrible evil of licentiousness. We see all around us the haggard ghosts of men who were once respectable, possessed of all that gives grace and symmetry and manhood to men, now but a mass of putrid rottenness. These hideous ghosts, too, tell their warning in vain in the ear of men. If one will not hear these, who come forth from the dens of hell, neither will they be persuaded. He reasons from a wrong principle, from a false knowledge of human nature, who asserts that men would be convinced by the testimony of the dead.
4. Look at the criminal classes. It has been asserted that men have been made worse, instead of better, by observing the punishment of criminals. Christ continually acted upon this knowledge of human nature. When asked for a sign, something occult, He refused, saying no sign but that of Jonah should be given. The story of Jonah teaches simple obedience. In conclusion. The Word is sufficient--
1. In its duties. A perfect rule of life.
2. In its motives.
3. In its promises. (G. F. Kettell, D. D.)
A spectre would not produce conviction in sinners
You can hardly imagine it possible that the most hardened of mankind would be proof against warning uttered by a spectral form, coming mysteriously in the stillness of midnight--the form of a friend or a kinsman well remembered, though long ago deceased--which should stand at your bedside, and declare, in unearthly tones, the certain doom of the unrighteous; and when you contrast with the message thus fearfully delivered, the ordinary summons of the gospel, whether as read or preached, you feel it, perhaps, little more than an absurdity to contend that practically there is as much of power in the latter as in the former. Yet we are persuaded--we are certain, that the parable put into the mouth of Abraham may be vindicated by the most cogent yet simple reasoning. Just consider that the effect of a messenger threatening us with punishment unless we repent, depends chiefly on our assurance that it is actually a messenger from God. Now tell me which is the strongest--the evidence which we have that the Bible is God’s Word, or that which we could be supposed to have that the grave has given up its tenant, and that the spectre has spoken to us truth? You will hardly say that there is room here for dispute; you will hardly say that man could have a better reason for believing what might be said to him by a departed friend or relation, than he has for believing what is written in the Bible. The evidence that the spectre was commissioned by God, could not surely be greater than that Christ and the apostles were commissioned by God; therefore the man who is not persuaded by Christ and the apostles, might be expected to remain unpersuaded by the spectre. He has no greater amount of evidence to resist; why, then, is he more likely to yield? But you may say, the messenger from the grave may not, indeed, have greater credentials than Christ and His apostles, but those credentials are more forced on the attention; they are more addressed to the senses, and therefore, are more likely to excite repentance. Now this seems very plausible. A man may quite neglect the Bible; he may not study its evidences; and thus, whatever their strength, they must be practically ineffectual. But he cannot be inattentive to the spectre. The shadowy thing stands by him, causing his blood to run cold, and his knees to tremble, and it speaks to him in thrilling accents, to which he cannot, if he would, turn a deaf ear. We admit this, but we cannot admit that the words of the spectre are more likely to make a permanent impression than of a living preacher speaking in the name of God and that of Christ. The spectre speaks to me to-day; addresses itself to my senses, and thus takes, as you think the most effectual mode of producing an impression. But what evidence shall I have to-morrow of the supernatural visitation? There will be nothing but the memory of the occurrence--there will be no witness but my own recollection to which to appeal, and then how easy to suspect that the whole was a delusion! How natural to call in question, whether it has been more than a dream, more than the coinage of a disordered and overwrought mind! I have historical accumulated proof that Christ came forth from the dead, and sent me a message which bids me forsake sin, but I should have no such proofs in regard to the supposed spectre; and, therefore, the almost certainty is that however scared and agitated I might be at the moment when the apparition stood before me, I should soon get rid of the impression I soon persuade myself that I had been acted on by my own distempered fancy; and, perhaps, laugh at my own credulity. If I can despise Christ, who returned from the dead, though there is given me irrefragable evidence of His return, why should I be expected to give heed to Lazarus, who might indeed come back to me but leave no lasting proof that he had deserted the grave? No! no! A buried kinsman might come and preach to you, but you would not give heed, if you could be deaf to the voice of Moses and the prophets. You have as good grounds to believe me, while I am now speaking the words of Christ, as you would have if I re-appeared after death, and came, in my grave-clothes, to re-occupy this pulpit. Let it be so. Let there be re-enacted the scene in the cave of the Witch of Endor: “Call me up Samuel,” said Saul, to this poor woman, and “an old man cometh up, and he is covered with a mantle--” Call up whom you will; let any minister whom you have been long accustomed to hear, and whose voice has long been silent in death, suddenly re-appear, and assume, for a moment, the office of a teacher, what a fearful silence, what a throbbing of the heart, what terror of the spirit! He speaks in well-known accents; he makes you shudder, and you can scarcely so control your agitation as to listen to his words. But what could he say which you had not already heard? What could he do more than make the attempt to tell you what is delineated in the Bible? You remember the description in the Book of Job of the appearance of the spectre--a description, pronounced by one of the greatest writers in our language, “unequalled in fearful sublimities.” It is this: “Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up; it stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof: an image was before mine eyes; there was silence, and I heard a voice, saying,”--What did it say? With what marvellous and mighty tidings did this spectre come charged? This is all it said: “Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker?” Do we need a ghost to tell us that? do we not know that already? Oh! the spectre might come; but it could tell you nothing to make heaven more attractive, or hell more terrible, than is delineated in the Bible--nothing to make it more certain than it already is, that unless you repent, you shall surely perish. Oh, no; there could be no more powerful truth uttered; no more convincing evidence afforded than now that you are listening to me, who have never entered the invisible world. It would give a solemnity--an awful unearthliness to the ministry if it were conducted by a visitant from the separate state; but the pleasures and the business of life would produce gradually the same effect as now, obliterating the impressions made by the solemn discourse. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
A common delusion exposed
It is not necessary that these men should expect some one to rise from the dead in order to be like Dives. That is only an accident of the parable. The true likeness lies here--in thinking that God will deal with us in some new way; in a man’s thinking that he may neglect his present means of serving God, and of growing to love Him, and yet that in some way or other, over and above these ordinary means, he shall be interfered for, and that work done in him which is not to be done as things now are. One of the most common forms of this delusion, which lies lurking in the heart of many a man, is to expect that death will do it. Perhaps the man has seen death-beds; and he knows very well that upon a death-bed a man will begin to cry out, and that there will be a sort of show of change sometimes coming from the man’s excited feelings at such a time, which is very often nothing more than his trying to deceive himself by putting on an appearance of religion when he can have no more of this world. For the experience of many death-beds has convinced me, as I believe it has convinced many others who attend them, that, so far from the death-bed being the place where you will seethe greatest sincerity, there are very few places where you oftener see men hypocrites, very few times and very few places, where men are more desperately striving to deceive themselves, because they feel that now it is almost hopeless to turn. And so the tempter comes to them with this deceit. They dare not look the whole matter in the face; they dare not see that it is everything which needs to be changed within them; and so they go on in a vain show deceiving themselves even to the end. And yet I believe that this is lurking in the heart of very many of us at this moment--“I cannot, so long as common life and its temptations are round about me, I cannot shake off this worldliness; but it will be altogether a different thing when I come to the great reality of a death-bed.” Another very common form is, that men believe that old age will do it for them. They say, “My passions are so strong now that I am young; but when I am older, when I have passed through all this burning heat of life, and when I get to that time when everything fades upon the senses, I shall find it comparatively easy to turn then, and then I will turn.” And others believe that some sudden sickness will do it, or that some sudden supply of serious thoughts will do it, or that some outward thing or other will convert them, turn them to God, and make it easy for them to begin to live heartily a religious life. Oh! I ask you as reasonable men, do not these deceits abound amongst us Have we not people who think, and who do not mind saying to themselves, that it is their children, or their work, or their particular temper, or the people round about them, or the necessity of conforming to this or that evil custom--that it is something accidental which makes them sin, and that when this accident is removed, then they shall begin to serve God in truth and verity? And oh! have we not on every side of us delayers of repentance, and delayers in receiving the communion, and delayers in leading a life of devotion--all hoping still to be better, all thinking that some time or other there will be some alteration in their lives which will make it easy for them to repent, and that then they too shall become saints and be saved? And, even, once more, in those who in the main are leading a life altogether of a different character from this, in those who are striving to serve God, yet are not they too greatly hindered by this self-same temptation? I ask you, have you not too often secretly given way to the difficulties which prevent you from forming habits of earnest prayer, which prevent you from leading a life of greater devotedness and zeal, of greater self-denial and earnestness? Are you not perfectly well aware that you have often given secretly way to the continuance in you of some temptation, which you know to be contrary to God’s will, and which you are in a measure striving against, which you do not altogether rule over, which you have not yet cast out, or some evil habit, or some worldly desire or gratification? And yet, how exactly does our Lord’s reproof apply to every one of these cases! That reproof is, as I have shown you, that they have proof enough; that they have the means, the means which the wisdom of God sees to be fittest, and deems to be sufficient; that what they want is not more help from God, but the using the help they have got; that if they had more help from God, it would only expose them to a greater condemnation, for that those who do not yield to that help which is sufficient, would not yield to any measure of help, and so that the only result of their having more help would be that they would incur greater condemnation by sinning against greater light, and being lost in spite of greater assistance. (Bishop S. Wilberforce.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Luke 16". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26