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The Lord's teaching on the right use of earthly possessions with regard to the prospect of another world, in the form of the two parables of the unjust steward, and Dives and Lazarus.
Luke 16:1, Luke 16:2
And he said also unto his disciples. There is no doubt that this important teaching belongs to the last portion of our Lord's life, and it is probable that it is closely connected with the parable of the prodigal son just related. It is not likely that two such weighty sermons had been preached at the same time, but in the evening, or on the following day, or at least on the next sabbath, the same auditory that listened to the prodigal son we believe were startled and enthralled by the story of the unjust steward, and then, or very shortly after, by the awful and vivid picture of life beyond the grave in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. There is a close link of thought between the parable of the unjust steward and that of the prodigal. The heroes of both these narratives, in the first instance, had a considerable share of this world's goods entrusted to their charge, and by both, in the early portions of the story, these goods were misused and wasted. The Greek words used of the "wasting" of the prodigal and of the steward were in both cases the same (Luke 15:13; Luke 16:1). No parable in the New Testament has been so copiously discussed or has received so many end such varying interpretations at the hands of expositors. We will at once put aside all the ingenious, but from our point of view mistaken, interpretations which see in "the steward" the Pharisees, the publicans, Judas Iscariot, or Satan. The parable has a broader, a more direct, a more universally interesting, meaning. It contains a deep and important teaching for every man or woman who would wish to rank among the followers, of Jesus Christ. Now, our Lord would have all men look forward gravely and calmly to the certain event of their death, and. in view of that event, would have them make careful and thoughtful preparation for the life which was to come after death. To press this most important lesson home, the Master, as his custom was at this late period of his ministry, conveyed his instruction in the form of a parable. The sketch of a steward about to be dismissed from his office, and who thus would be stripped of his income, was a fit emblem of a man about to be removed from this world by death. The steward in the parable-story felt that, when dismissed, he would be as it were alone, stripped of all, and destitute. The soul of such a man, when dead, would be also stripped of everything, would be alone and destitute. The question here might be asked—Why take for the principal figure of the parable so immoral a character as an unjust steward? The answer is well suggested by Professor Bruce, "For the simple reason that his misbehaviour is the natural explanation of the impending dismissal. Why should a faithful steward be removed from office? To conceive such a case were to sacrifice probability to a moral scruple." Roughly, then, two things all-important to us are taught here:
(1) that dismissal, death, will certainly come;
(2) that some provision certainly ought to be made for the life that lies beyond—the life that comes after the dismissal, or death.
There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. The story of the parable contains little incident. There is the rich man, clearly a noble of high rank, whose residence is at a distance from his estates, the scene of the little story. Over these he has placed, as administrator or factor, the one called here a steward; the revenues of the lands this official has wasted; he appears to have been generally a careless if not a dishonest servant. The owner of the estates, when he becomes aware of the facts of the case, at once gives notice of dismissal to the steward, desiring him, however, before yielding up his office, to give in his accounts. Appalled at the sudden and utter destitution which lay before him, the steward occupies the short time of office yet remaining to him in devising a plan by which he would secure the good offices of certain persons who were in debt to his master. He (the steward) had yet a little time of power remaining before he was turned adrift; he would turn this to account, and would do a good turn to these men, poor neighbours of his, and debtors to his lord, while he was in office, and so win their friendship, and, on the principle that one good turn deserves another, would be able to reckon on their gratitude when all else had failed him. With the immorality of the act by which he won the good will of these debtors of his master we have nothing to do; it is simply a detail of the picture, which is composed of figures and imagery chosen for their fitness to impress the lesson intended to be taught. Give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. This taking away the position and privileges of the man represents the act of death, in which God takes away from us all the varied gifts, the possessions, and the powers large or small with which we are eutrusted during our lifetime. Our day of dismissal will be the day of our passing away from this life.
What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship. This day of dismissal must be prepared for; very carefully, very anxiously, the man who has received the sentence of doom ponders over his future. The lesson of the Master is spoken to all; it is a solemn warning to each of us to see what we can do by way of providing for the inevitable day when we shall find ourselves alone and naked and perhaps friendless in the great, strange world to come. The hero of the parable seems suddenly, after a life of carelessness and thoughtlessness, to have awakened to a sense of his awful danger. So the voice of the real Owner of the goods, which we have so long deluded ourselves into thinking were our own, comes to us, bidding us make ready to give them back again to him, their Owner, and at the same time to render an account of our administration of them. The voice comes to us in the varied forms of conscience, sickness, misfortune, old age, sorrow, and the like; well for us if, when we hear it, we at once determine, as did the steward of the parable, to make a wise use of the goods in our power for the little time they are still left to us to dispose of as we will.
I am resolved what to do. The first part of the parable teaches, then, this great and all-important lesson to men—that they will do well to provide against the day of dismissal from life. The second part points out very vividly how kindness, charity, beneficence, towards those poorer, weaker, more helpless than ourselves is one way, and that a very sure and direct way, of. so providing against the inevitable dissmission, or death.
Luke 16:5, Luke 16:6,
and 7 simply paint in the details of the interesting picture of the parable. This singular plan of providing for himself by becoming a benefactor of the debtor, remarks Professor Bruce, was by no means the only possible one under the circumstances; but the Speaker of the pa-table made his hero make choice of it as the aim of the imaginary narrative was to teach the value of beneficence as a passport into the eternal habitations. Various explanations have been suggested to account for the difference in the gifts to the debtors. It is probable that when our Lord spoke the parable, reasons for these varied gifts were given, such as the circumstances of the debtors. It is scarcely now worth while to frame ingenious guesses respecting the details, which apparently do not affect the grand lessons which the story was intended to teach.
And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely. This, again, is a detail which has little bearing on the main teaching. It is a graphic and sarcastic eulogy which a good-humoured man of the world would pronounce upon a brilliant and skilful, although unprincipled, action, and it completes the story as a story. It seems evident that the intentions of the steward in regard to the debtors were carried out, and that they were really indebted to him for the release of a part of their indebtedness, and that the owner of the property did not dispute the arrangement entered into by his steward when in office. For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. This was a melancholy and sorrowful reflection. It seems to say, "I have been painting, indeed, from the life. See, the children of this world, men and women whose ends and aims are bounded by the horizon of this world, who only live for this life, how much more painstaking and skilful are they in their working for the perishable things of this world than are the children of light in their noble toiling after the things of the life to come. The former appear even more in earnest in their search after what they desire than do the latter. There is underlying the Lord's deep and sorrowful reflection here, a mournful regret over one feature that is, alas! characteristic of well-nigh all religious life—the unkindness which religious professors so often show to one another. One great division of Christianity despises, almost hates, the other; sect detests sect; a very slight difference in religious opinion bars the way to all friendship, often to even kindly feeling. With truth Godet remarks here "that the children of this world use every means for their own interest to strengthen the bonds which unite them to their contemporaries of the same stamp, but, on the other hand, the children of light neglect this natural measure of prudence; they forget to use God's goods to form bonds of love to the contemporaries who might one day give them a full recompense, when they themselves shall want everything, and these shall have abundance."
And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness. Then, with his usual solemn formula, "I say unto you," the Lord gave out his moral interpretation of the parable. His words were addressed to possessors of various degrees of wealth. "You will soon have to give up all your worldly goods; be prudent in time, make some real friends out of the mammon of unrighteousness; by means of that money entrusted to your care, do good to others who are in need." The mammon of unrighteousness. This word "mammon" does not denote, as some have supposed, the name of a deity, the god of wealth or money, but it signifies "money" itself. It is a Syriac or Aramaic term. The words, "of unrighteousness," are added because in so many eases the getting of money is tainted with unrighteousness in some form or other; and, when possessed, it so often hardens the heart, as the Lord himself said in another place (Luke 18:25), that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. "What the steward of my story," said the Master, "did to men of his world, see that you with your money do toward those who belong to your world." That, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. So that when you shall be dismissed from being stewards of God's possessions, that is, when ye shall die, "when ye suffer the last eclipse and bankruptcy of life," that then others, your friends, may receive you (welcome you) into everlasting dwellings. The majority of the older authorities here, instead of" when ye fail," read, "when it (money) shall fail you" (by the event of your death). The sense of the passage, however, remains the same, whichever reading be adopted. But now a deeply interesting question arises—When the Lord speaks of friends receiving us after death into eternal homes, to what friends is he alluding? Great expositors, Ewald and Meyer, for instance, tell us that he means the angels. But the plain sense of the parable points, not to angels, but to poor, weak, suffering persons whom we have helped here; these, then, must be the friends who will receive us, or welcome us, in the world to come. A further query suggests itself—How will these be able to receive us? To such a question no definite reply can be given. We know too little of the awful mysteries of that world to be able even to hazard a surmise as to the help or the comfort which grateful, blessed spirits will be able to show to their brethren the newly arrived, when they receive them. His word here must suffice us; well will it be for us, if one day we practically discover the holy secret for ourselves. Godet has a weighty note with which he concludes his exposition of this difficult but most instructive parable: "There is no thought more fitted than that of this parable, on the one hand to undermine the idea of merit belonging to alms-giving (what merit could be got out of that which is another's? and is not all money, are not all goods out of which we bestow our alms, God's?); and on the other, to encourage us in the practice of that virtue which assures us of friends and protectors for the grave moment of our passing into the world to come." One beautiful and exquisitely comforting thought is shrined in this playful and yet intensely solemn utterance of Jesus. The eternal tents, the "many mansions," as John calls them, will have among their occupants, it is certain, many a one whose life on earth was hard and sorrowful. These are now enjoying bliss indescribable, these poor Lazaruses, to whom this world was so sad, so dreary a habitation. And perhaps a portion of their blessedness consists in this power, to which the Lord makes allusion here, of assisting others—the helped here becoming the helpers there. Although the teaching of Christ and his chosen servants here and elsewhere shows us distinctly that no merit can attach to almsgiving, seeing that our alms are only given out of property entrusted to us for a short time by God for this and other similar purposes, yet the same authoritative teaching informs us that God has regard to almsdeeds done in the true spirit of love, in determining our eternal destiny. Thus a message direct from heaven informs the Roman legionary Cornelius that his prayers and alms were come up for a memorial before God. Paul writes to Timothy to charge the Ephesus Christians "that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life." In the parable of Lazarus and Dives we shall find this principle yet more clearly illustrated. These are only a few out of the many passages where this generosity and almsgiving is commended to the believer with peculiar earnestness.
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. This and the next three verses are closely connected with the parable of the unjust steward. Our Lord no doubt continued speaking, and these four verses contain a general resume of what may be called his reflections on the important piece of teaching he had just delivered. We have here the broad rule, upon which God will decide the soul's future, laid down. If the man has been faithful in his administration of the comparatively unimportant goods of earth, it is clear that he can be entrusted with the far more important things which belong to the world to come. There is, too, in these words a kind of limitation and explanation of the foregoing parable of the unjust steward. The conduct of that steward, regarded in one point of view, was held to be wise, and we, though in a very different way, were advised to imitate it; yet here we are distinctly told that it is fidelity, not unfaithfulness, which will be eventually re-warded—the just, not the unjust steward.
The unrighteous mammon. As above in the parable, "mammon" signifies money. The epithet "unrighteous" is used in the same sense as in Luke 16:9, where we read of the "mammon of unrighteousness."
And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's. Here we have our earthly possessions plainly spoken of as the goods of another, that is, of God, and of these goods we are but the temporary stewards. Who shall give you that which is your own? We have here a very magnificent promise. Although on earth man can possess nothing of his own—here he is but a steward for a time of property belonging to another—yet a prospect is held out to him that, if he be found faithful in the trust while on earth, in the world to come something will be given to him really and truly his own. There will be no dismissal or death there.
No servant can serve two masters … Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Very vividly is this experience brought out in the great parable which immediately follows There the rich man was evidently one who observed the sacred ritual of the Law of Moses: this we learn without doubt from his conversation after death with Abraham. Thus he tried, after his light, to serve God, but he also served mammon: this we learn, too, clearly from the description given to us of his life, from the mention of the gorgeous apparel and the sumptuous feeding. The service of the two was incompatible, and we know from the sombre sequel of the story to which master the rich man really held, and whom—alas for him!—in his heart he despised.
And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. This shows that many of the dominant sect had been present and had listened to the parable of the unjust steward. Although scrupulous, and in a way religious men, these Pharisees were notorious for their respect and regard for riches, and all that riches purchase, and they felt, no doubt deeply, the Lord's bitter reproach of covetousness. They, the rulers and leaders of Israel, the religious guides, were evidently attacked in such teaching as they had been lately listening to, not the common people whom they so despised. The scornful words alluded to in the expression, "they derided him," were no doubt directed against the outward poverty of the popular Galilaean Teacher. "It is all very well," they would say, "for one springing from the ranks of the people, landless, moneyless, to rail at wealth and the possessors of wealth; we can understand such teaching from one such as you."
And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts. The part the Pharisees played in public imposed upon the people. The great influence which they exercised was in great measure due to the respect generally felt for their strict and religious lives. The hypocrisy of this famous sect—it was probably in many cases unconscious hypocrisy—and the false colouring which it gave religion, contributed not a little to the state of things which led to the final disruption of the Jewish nation as a nation some forty years after these words were spoken. It is only a student of the Talmud who can form any notion of the Pharisee mind; a superficial study even of parts of this strange, mighty collection will show why our Lord was so seemingly hard in his rebukes of these often earnest and religious men; it will show, too, why the same Divine Master at times seemed to change his words of bitter wrath into accents of the tenderest sympathy and love. For that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God. Especially alluding to that haughty pride of men in wealth and money, which, after all, is not theirs.
The Law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. Some expositors discern so little connection between the sayings contained in these verses which intervene between the two great parables of the unjust steward and the rich man and Lazarus, that they consider them as a number of sayings of the Master collected by Luke and insorted here. A clear thread, however, runs through the whole piece between the two parables. Probably, however, here, as in many parts of the Gospel, we only have just a bare sketch, or precis, of what the Lord said; hence its fragmentary character. Here (in the sixteenth verse), the Master went on speaking to the Pharisees who derided him (verse 14). "Up to the period of John the Baptist," said the Master, "the old state of things may be said to have continued in force. With him began a new era; no longer were the old privileges to be confined to Israel exclusively; gradually the kingdom of God was to be enlarged, the old wall of separation was to be taken down. See, every man is pressing into it; the new state of things has already begun; you see it in the crowds of publicans, sinners, Samaritans, and others pressing round me when I speak of the kingdom of God."
And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the Law to fail. "Yet think not," went on the Master, "that, though things are changing, the Divine Law will ever fail. The mere temporary and transitory regulations will, of course, give place to a new order, but not the smallest part of one letter of the Divine moral Law will fail." "One tittle." This is the rendering of a Greek word the diminutive of "horn," which denoted the horn or extremity of a Hebrew letter, by the omission or addition of which—to give an instance—the letter d becomes the letter r; thus with the horn it is ד, daleth, d; without the horn ר, resh, r. The heresiarch Marcion (second century) here, in his recension of St. Luke, changes the text thus: "It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than for one tittle of my sayings to fail." Marcion, who refused fallow the Divine origin of any part of the Old Testament, was afraid of the testimony which this assertion of our Lord would give to the Divine authority of the Pentateuch. In illustration of his saying that the moral Law given to the Jews was changeless, and while earth endured would never fail, the Master instances one grave chapter of the Law with which there had been much tampering-that of divorce. "See," he said, "the new state of things which I am now teaching, instead of loosening the cords with which the old Law regulated human society, will rather tighten them. Instead of a laxer code being substituted, I am preaching a yet severer one. My law of divorce is a severer one than that written down by Moses."
Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband, committeth adultery. The teaching of the rabbis in the time of our Lord on the question of the marriage he was exceedingly lax, and tended to grave immorality in the family life. In the late unlawful marriage of Herod Antipas with Herodias, in which so many sacred and family ties were rudely torn asunder, no rabbi or doctor in Israel but one had raised his voice in indignant protest, and that one was the friend and connection of Jesus of Nazareth, the prophet John the Baptist. Divorce for the most trivial causes was sanctioned by the rabbis, and even such men as Hillel, the grandfather of that Gamaliel whom tradition speaks of as the rabbi whose lectures were listened to by the Boy Jesus, taught that a man might divorce his wife if in the cooking she burnt his dinner or even over salted his soup (see Talmud, treatise 'Gittin,' 9.10).
SS. Luke and Paul, different to the great masters of profane history, like Thucydides, or Livy, or Xenophon, were evidently at no pains to round off their narratives. They give us the account of the Lord's words and works very much as they had them from the first listeners and eye-witnesses. When the notes and memories were very scant and fragmentary, as appear to have been the case in the Lord's discourse which St. Luke interposes between the parable of the steward and that of Dives and Lazarus, the fragmentary notes are reproduced without any attempt to round off the condensed, and at first sight apparently disconnected, utterances. So here, directly after the fragmentary report of certain sayings of Jesus, the great parable of Lazarus and Dives is introduced with somewhat startling abruptness; nothing of St. Luke's is added—simply the original report as Luke or Paul received it is reproduced.
The following is probably the connection in which the famous parable was spoken.
When the Lord spoke the parable-story of the unjust steward, he pressed home to the listeners, as its great lesson, the necessity of providing against the day of death, and he showed how, by the practice of kindness here towards the poor, the weak, and the suffering, they would make to themselves friends who would in their turn be of use to them—who would, in their hour of sore need, when death swept them out of this life, receive them into everlasting habitations.
We believe that the Master, as he spoke these things, purposed—either on that very occasion, or very shortly after, when his listeners were again gathered together—supplementing this important teaching by another parable, in which the good of having friends in the world to come should be clearly shown. The parable of Lazarus as Dives, then, may be regarded as a piece of teaching following on to and closely connected with the parable of the unjust steward.
Nine verses, however, as we have seen are inserted between the two parables. Of these, verses 10-13 are simply some reflections of the Master on the parable of the steward just spoken. Then comes verse 14—a scornful interruption on the part of the Pharisee listeners. Our Lord replies to this (verses 15-18), and then goes on, either then or very soon after, to the same auditory, with the parable of Lazarus and Dives, which is, in fact, a direct sequel to the parable of the unjust steward, and which St. Luke proceeds to relate without any further preamble.
There was a certain rich man. He is thus introduced by the Lord without any details respecting his age or place of residence—nameless, too! Seems he not to have been reading from that book where he found the name of the poor man written, but found not the name of the rich; for that book is the book of life?". Tradition says his name was Nimeusis, but it is simply a baseless tradition. Which was clothed in purple and fine linen. The words which describe the life of Dives were chosen with rare skill; they are few, but enough to show us that the worldly hero of the story lived a life of royal magnificence and boundless luxury. His ordinary apparel seems to have been purple and fine linen. This purple, the true sea purple, was a most precious and rare dye, and the purple garment so dyed was a royal gift, and was scarcely used save by princes and nobles of very high degree. In it the idol-images were sometimes arrayed. The fine linen (byssus) was worth twice its weight in gold. It was in hue dazzlingly white. And fared sumptuously every day. With this princely rich man banquets were a matter of daily occurrence. Luther renders the Greek here, "lebte herrlich und in Freuden." Thus with all the accompaniments of grandeur this nameless mighty one lived, his halls ever filled with noble guests, his antechambers with servants. Everything with him that could make life splendid and joyous was in profusion. Some have suspected that our Lord took, as the model for his picture here, the life of the tetrarch Herod Antipas. The court of that magnificent and luxurious prince would certainly have well served as the original of the picture; but Herod was still living, and it is more likely that Jesus was describing the earth-life of one who had already been" dismissed" from his earthly stewardship, and who, when he spoke the parable, was in the world to come.
Luke 16:20, Luke 16:21
And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. In striking contrast to the life of the rich man, the Master, with a few touches, paints the life of the beggar Lazarus. This giving a name to a personage in the parable occurs nowhere else in the evangelists' reports of our Lord's parabolic teaching. It probably was done in this case just to give us a hint, for it is nothing more, of the personal character of the poor sufferer who in the end was so blessed. The object of the parable, as we shall see, did not include any detailed account of the beggar-man's inner life; just this name is given him to show us why, when he died, he found himself at once in bliss. Among the Jews the name very often describes the character of him who bears it. The Greek name Lazarus is derived from two Hebrew words, El-ezer ("God-help"), shortened by the rabbis into Leazar, whence Lazarus. He was, then, one of those happy ones whose confidence, in all his grief and misery, was in God alone. Well was his trust, as we shall see, justified. The gate at which he was daily laid was a stately portal (πυλών). Lazarus is represented as utterly unable to win his bread. He was a constant sufferer, covered with sores, wasting under the dominion of a loathsome, incurable disease. This representative of human suffering has taken a strange hold on the imagination of men. In many of the languages of Europe the name of the beggar of the parable appears in the terms "lazar," "lazar-house," and "lazaretto," "lazzaroni." Unable himself to walk, some pitying friend or friends among the poor—the poor are never backward in helping others poorer than themselves, thus setting a noble example to the rich—brought him and laid him daily close by the splendid gates of the palace of Dives. The crumbs signify the broken fragments which the servants of the rich man would contemptuously, perhaps pityingly, toss to the poor helpless beggar-man as he lay by the gate. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. These were the wild, homeless pariah dogs so common in all Eastern cities, who act as the street-scavengers, and are regarded as unclean. This mention of the dogs clustering round him does not suggest any contrast between the pitying animals and pitiless men, but simply adds additional colour to the picture of the utter helplessness of the diseased sufferer; there he lay, and as he lay, the rough homeless dogs would lick his unbandaged wounds as they passed on the forage.
And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. At last kind death came, and relieved Lazarus of his sufferings. His dismissal, as might have been expected, preceded that of the rich man; for he was enfeebled by a deadly disease. We must not, of course, press too much the details we find in parables; still, from our Lord's way of speaking of the great change in the cases of both Lazarus and Dives, it would seem as though there was absolutely no pause between the two lives of this world and the world to come. The rich man evidently is pictured as closing his eyes upon his gorgeous surroundings here, and opening them directly again upon his cheerless surroundings there. Lazarus is described as being borne at once into Abraham's bosom. Indeed, some interpret the words as signifying that the body as well as the soul was carried by angels into Paradise. It is, however, better, with Calvin, to understand the expression as alluding only to Lazarus's soul; of the body of the pauper nothing was said, as men probably contemptuously, if not carelessly, buried it with the burial rites which such homeless, friendless ones too often receive. The place whither the blest Lazarus went is termed "Abraham's bosom." This term was used by the Jews indifferently, with "the garden of Eden," or "under the throne of glory," for the home of happy but waiting souls. The rich man also died, and was buried. There is a terrible irony here in this mention of burial. This human pageantry of woe was for the rich man what the carrying by the angels into Abraham's bosom was for Lazarus—it was his equivalent; but while these empty honours were being paid to his senseless, deserted body, the rich man was already gazing on the surroundings of his new and cheerless home. After the moment's sleep of death, what an awakening!
And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments; more accurately, in Hades (the unseen world of the dead) he lift up his eyes. The idea of suffering does not lie in these first words, but in the participle "being in torments," which immediately follows. It is noticeable that, in this Divine picture of unhappy life in the other world there is no coarse, vulgar word-painting such as we meet with so often in mediaeval human works. The very fact of the man's being unhappy is gently represented. The graver aspect of the torments we learn from the hapless one's own words. Still, it is all very awful, though the facts are so gently told us. "Being in torments:" How could it be otherwise for such a one as Dives? The home of the loving, where Abraham was, would be no home for that selfish man who had never really loved or cared for any one save himself. What were the torments? men with hushed voices ask. A little further on the doomed one speaks of a flame and of his tongue apparently burning, owing to the scorching heat; but it would be a mistake to think of a material flame being intended here. There is nothing in the description of the situation to suggest this; it is rather the burning never to be satisfied, longing for something utterly beyond his reach, that the unhappy man describes as an inextinguishable flame. Were it desirable to dwell on these torments, we should remind men how lustful desires change rapidly into torture for the soul when the means for gratifying them exist not. In the case of Dives, his delight on earth seems to have been society, pleasant jovial company, the being surrounded by a crowd of admiring friends, the daily banquet, the gorgeous apparel, the stately house,—these details more than hint at the pleasure he found in the society of courtier-friends; but in the other world he seems to have been quite alone. Whereas among the blessed there appears to be a sweet companionship. Lazarus is in the company of Abraham, who, of course, only represents a great and goodly gathering. "Abraham's bosom" is simply the well-known expression for that feast or banquet of the happy souls judged worthy of an entrance into Paradise. But in that place where the rich man lifted up his eyes there seems a strange and awful solitariness. A total absence of everything, even of external causes of trouble, is very noticeable. He was alone; alone with his thoughts. And seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. His intense longing seems to be for companionship. "Oh for a friend," he seems to say, "who could speak to me, comfort me, give me the smallest alleviation of the pain I suffer!" What picture of a hell was ever painted by man comparable to this vision of eternal solitude, peopled alone by remorseful memories, described by Jesus? As the Divine Speaker advanced in his thrilling, melancholy description of the rich man's condition in the world to come, how vividly must the listeners have recalled the Master's earnest advice to them, in his former parable of the steward, to make to themselves while here friends who would receive them into everlasting habitations! They saw the meaning of that detail of the parable then. Were flay, in their luxurious abundance, were they making friends here who would help them there in the eternal tents? Were they not, perhaps, making the same mistake as the rich man of the story? The question might be asked—Why is Abraham, the father of the chosen race, the centre of this blessed life in Hades? In reply, firstly, it must be remembered that the whole colouring of this parable is peculiarly rabbinic, and in the schools of the rabbis the life of the blessed in Paradise is represented as a banquet, over which, until Messiah come, Abraham is represented as presiding. And, secondly, when the parable was spoken, the Saviour was actually on earth; his great redemption work had still to be accomplished. There was truth as well as error mingled in that strange rabbinical teaching. Messiah, as Messiah, when the parable was being probably acted, had not entered that realm where Abraham and many another holy and humble man of heart were in the enjoyment of exquisite bliss.
But Abraham said, Son; remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. Abraham here simply bids the tortured man to call to his memory the circumstances of the life he had lived on earth, telling him that in these circumstances he would find the reason for his present woeful state. It was no startling record of vice and crime, or even of folly, that the father of the faithful calls attention to. He quietly recalls to the rich man's memory that on earth he had lived a life of princely splendour and luxury, and that Lazarus, sick and utterly destitute, lay at his palace gate, and was allowed to lie there unpitied and unhelped. And because of the studied moderation of its language, and the everyday character of its hero Dives—for he, the rich man, not Lazarus, is the real hero, the central character of the great parable-lesson—the lesson of the parable goes home necessarily to many more hearts than it would have done had the hero been a monster of wickedness, a cold calculating or else a plausible villain, a man who shrank not from sacrificing the lives and happiness of his fellow-men if their lives or happiness stood in his way. Dives was merely a commonplace wealthy man of the world, with self-centred alms, and the sin for which he was condemned to outer darkness was only that everyday sin of neglecting out of the mammon of unrighteousness—in other words, out of his money—to make for himself friends who should receive him into the eternal tents.
And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Although the whole thought which runs through this parable is new, and peculiar to Christ, yet the colouring of the picture is nearly all borrowed from the great rabbinic schools; one of the few exceptions to this rule being this chasm or gulf which separates the two regions of Hades. The rabbis represented the division as consisting only of a wall. "What is the distance between Paradise and Gehenna? According to R. Johanan, a wall; according to other teachers, a palm-breadth, or only a finger-breadth" ('Midrash on Koheleth'). What, asks the awestruck reader, is this dreadful chasm? why is it impassable? will it be for ever there? will no ages of sorrow, no tears, no hitter heartfelt repentance succeed in throwing a bridge across it? Many have written here, and kindly souls have tried to answer the stern question with the gentle, loving reply which their souls so longed to hear. What is impossible to the limitless love of God? Nothing, wistfully says the heart. But, when interrogated closely, the parable and, indeed, all the Master's teaching on this point preserves a silence complete, impenetrable.
Luke 16:27, Luke 16:28
Then he 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. The condemned acquiesces in this dread fact; convinced of the utter impossibility of any interchange of sympathy between him and the dwellers in the realms of bliss, he ceases to pray for any alleviation of his own sad and wretched state. But another wail of woe quickly rises from the awful solitude. What means this second prayer of the doomed man? Are we to read in it the first signs of a new and noble purpose in the lost soul, the first dawning of loving thoughts and tender care for others? It seems, perhaps, unkind not to recognize this; but the Divine Speaker evidently had another purpose here when he put these words into the mouth of the lost rich man—he would teach the great lesson to the living that a selfish life is inexcusable. On first thoughts, the rich man's request to Abraham appears prompted alone by his anxiety for the future of his brothers who were still alive; but on examination it would seem, to use the striking words of Professor Bruce, that he wished rather to justify his own sad past by some such. reflection as this: "Had only some one come from the dead with the calm, clear light of eternity shining in his eyes, to inform me that this life beyond is no table, that Paradise is a place or state of unspeakable bliss, and Gehenna a place or state of unspeakable woe, I should have renounced my voluptuous, selfish ways, and entered on the path of piety and charity. If one had come to me from the dead, I had surely repented, and so should not have come to this place of torment."
Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. The reply of Abraham was especially addressed to those Jews who were standing round him and even asking for a sign. They had all read and heard again and again the Books of Moses and the records of the prophets; if these guides had failed to show them the right way, a special messenger sent to them would be quite useless.
Luke 16:30, Luke 16:31
And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. The Master not only wished to drive home this momentous truth to the hearts of the group of varied ranks and orders listening to him then; his words were for a far larger auditory, so he prolongs the dialogue between Dives and Abraham. "If Lazarus from the dead would only go to them," pleaded the lost soul. "Even if I send," replied Abraham, "and Lazarus goes, they will not be persuaded.'' They would see him, listen to him, perhaps, and then, when the first feelings of amazement and fear were dying away, would find some plausible reasons for disregarding the messenger and his message. Criticism would discuss the appearance; it would be disposed of by attributing it to an hallucination, or others would suggest that the visitant from the other world had never been really dead, and these pleas would be readily taken up by others who cared not to examine the question for themselves, and so life, careless, selfish, thoughtless, would go on as it had done aforetime. A striking example of what the Lord asserted through the medium of the shade of Abraham took place within a few days from that time. Another Lazarus did come back again from the dead into the midst of that great company of friends and mourners and jealous watchers of Jesus gathered round the sepulchral cave of Bethany, and though some true, faithful hearts welcomed the mighty sign with awful joy, still it served not to touch the cold and calculating spirit of Pharisee, scribe, and Sadducee, thirsting for the blood of the Master, whom they feared and hated, and whose word had summoned back the dead into their midst. The mighty wonder wrought no change there. One went unto them from the dead, and yet their hard hearts only took counsel together how they might put Lazarus again to death.
And so the parable and this particular course of teaching came to a close. Perhaps it is the deepest, the most soul-stirring of all the utterances of the Master. Expositors for eighteen centuries have drawn out of its clear, fathomless depths new and ever new truths. It is by no means yet exhausted. This voice from the other side of the veil charms and yet appals, it terrifies and yet enthrals all ages, every class, each rank of men and women. There are many other important items of special teaching which have been scarcely touched on in the notes above. Among the more interesting of these is the brief notice of the life which the blessed lead in Paradise. The happy dead are represented as a wide family circle. Abraham is pictured with Lazarus in his bosom. The image is taken from the way guests used to sit at a banquet. John at the Last Supper occupied a similar position with regard to the Master (John 13:23, John 13:25) to that occupied by Lazarus with regard to Abraham here. The two extremes of the social scale are thus represented as meeting in that blessed company on terms of the tenderest friendship. With these were Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets (Luke 13:28). "All the just," as Marcion gives it in his recension of St. Luke. And while the Paradise-life for the blessed dead is described as a holy communion of saints, there is evidently no corresponding communion in the case of the unhappy dead. The selfish rich man finds himself in an awful solitude. The suffering is rather represented by the image of the void; there are no external causes of pain apparently; hence his longing to speak a word with Lazarus, to feel the touch of a friendly sympathizing hand, if only for a moment, to distract his burning remorseful thoughts. There was nothing to live for there, nothing to hope for, but he felt he must go on living—hopeless. As no special crime, no glaring sin of lust or wanton excess or selfish ambition, is laid to the rich man's charge, and yet when dead he is represented as lifting up his eyes, being in torments, many, especially men belonging to those schools which are generally unfriendly to the religion of Jesus Christ, have endeavoured to show that the condemned was condemned on account of his riches, while the saved was saved because of his deep poverty. Nor is this error alone common to the Tubingen school, and to brilliant free-lances in religious literature like M. Renan. Some such mistaken notion doubtless materially aided the rise and the popularity of the mendicant orders, who played so important a part in the Christianity of the Middle Ages in so many lands. But the burden of our thrilling parable emphatically is not "Woe to the rich! blessed are the poor!" The crime of the life to which so awful a punishment was meted out as the guerdon, was selfish inhumanity, which Christ teaches us is the damning sin. (See his words in his great picture of the final judgment, Matthew 25:41-46.) Lazarus was no solitary individual; he was one of the many suffering poor who abound in this world, and to find whom the rich need not go far from their own gates. Lazarus represents here the opportunity for the exercise of Dives's humanity. Of this, and doubtless many like opportunities, Dives cared not to avail himself. He was apparently no ill-natured, cruel man, he was simply self-centred, delighting in soft living, generous wines, costly fare, sumptuous clothing, good society. He loved to be surrounded with applauding, pleasant guests; but the Lazaruses of the world, for him, might pine away and die in their nameless awful misery. Professor Bruce, with great force, puts the following words into the beggar Lazarus's mouth; these words tell us with startling clearness what was the sin of Dives: "I was laid at this man's gate; he knew me; he could net pass from his house into the street without seeing my condition, as a leprous beggar, yet as a beggar I died." Dives here was endowed richly with all the materials of human happiness, but he kept all his happiness to himself, he took no trouble whatever to diffuse his joy and gladness, his bright and many-coloured life among that great army of weak, poor, woe-begone brothers and sisters who go far to make up the population of every great city. That riches are not in themselves a ground for exclusion from the blessed life is plainly shown by the position occupied by Abraham in that happy family circle of the blessed. For Abraham, we know, was a sheik possessed of vast wealth. Then, too, in the latter part of the parable, when the imminent danger which the five brothers of the lost Dives ran of being similarly lost, was discussed, the danger is represented as springing from their careless disregard of the Law and the prophets, and not from the fact of their being rich men. When Ezekiel sought for examples of the most righteous men that had ever lived, he chose, it must be remembered, as exemplars of mortals living the fair, noble life loved of God, three men distinguished for their rank and riches—Noah, Daniel, and Job (Ezekiel 14:14, Ezekiel 14:20).
The unjust steward.
Whereas the three preceding parables were spoken to the Pharisees, this is spoken to the disciples. It is not quite certain whether all the parables were uttered at or about the same time; but the use of the word "also" (Luke 16:1) suggests that they were. Anyhow, the saying before us has reference to a different kind of wasting from that of the younger son—a wasting against which the followers of Jesus are solemnly warned. We are called to listen to the Master as he indicates temptations and enforces duties within the special circle of discipleship. This parable is a saying hard to be understood. Many explanations have been given. A very learned commentator, appalled by the difficulties connected with the interpretation, abandoned the attempt, declaring that the solution of the problem is impossible. And truly, if we canvassed all the schemes of exposition which have been proposed, all the inferences which have been founded on clauses, and all the speculations which have been raised, we should find "no end in wandering mazes lost." Let our aim be less ambitious; let us try to get hold of some plain, practical instruction which shall help us to be better disciples of Jesus Christ. The outline of the story is simple. The dramatis personae are not numerous. A wealthy landowner has a steward who, in the management of his estates, possesses a large discretionary power. He is informed that this steward has, not stolen or wrongfully applied, but by neglect or want of skill has squandered, the estate entrusted to him. He is called to account and is dismissed peremptorily. Now comes into view the adroitness of the man. He wishes to have some friends who can do him a good turn when he is out of a situation; and so, before news of his dismissal reaches any, while it is supposed that he has full power, he calls together those who are in arrears of rent or are otherwise indebted to his lord. We can imagine the trembling with which they obey the summons. How bland and smiling is the factor! What kind inquiries as to wife and children and belongings! And then, "By the way, what is the amount of your obligation?" Two specimens are given. One person owes a hundred measures of oil. "Take your pen," says the factor, "score out the hundred, and make it fifty." Another owes a hundred measures of wheat. "Take your pen, write down eighty." All retire charmed, loud in the steward's praise. Had he not secured a warm place in their regard? When told of his downfall, would not they all cry, "Shame!" and speak of him as the tenants' friend, and welcome him to their houses? The point of the lesson which Christ would teach is this—separate the energy from the dishonesty, the foresight from the fraud, and as he, for his own wrong ends, was wise and calculating, so, for your right ends, practise a wisdom like his, though nobler than his: "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye die, or fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations." Now, without puzzling ourselves over the details of the parable, consider the lessons inculcated as to
(1) Christian responsibility;
(2) Christian administration; and
(3) Christian service.
I. CHRISTIAN RESPONSIBILITY. In the relation of the steward to the rich man we have a foreshadowing of the relation in which we stand to God. "Steward" is the word which indicates this relation. To every one of us is given a charge of goods whose Owner is God. Our own constitution—physical, mental, moral—is a trust; all our endowments—talents, powers of whatsoever kind—are a property of which we are farmers; and he who thinks that he can do as he likes with these, that he can dissipate his substance by intemperance, or alienate his strength from higher ends, is false to his Maker and false to himself. So with regard to all our influence—direct and indirect—it is a power delegated to us by the Almighty, and to be realized under the sense of the account to be rendered to him. Money, relationships, social positions,—all are items of the estate over which we are set. Do we all realize this as we should? Do we not sadly forget this fact of stewardship? Christ speaks of "the mammon of unrighteousness." Here is an explanation which has been given. "The ears of Jesus must have been repeatedly shocked by the kind of rashness by which men speak, without hesitation, of 'my fortune,' 'my land,' 'my house.' He who felt keenly the dependence of man on God perceived that there was in this feeling of property a sort of usurpation, a forgetfulness of the real owner; in hearing such language he seemed to see the tenant changing into the master." Ah! does he not hear such language every day? Is it not in the air? Is it not in our own feeling? Are we not, in many ways, changing the tenant into the master, the steward into the owner? taking the goods, and using them without giving praise to him whose they are? Would that the answer given to the first question in an old Catechism were written into the texture of every life—"Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever."
II. Connected with Christian stewardship is THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIAN ADMINISTRATION. And may it not be said that this is a truth far too little studied and practised? When we hear of depressions of trade, of hard, dull times, we may well reflect on the saying of the Prophet Haggai (Haggai 1:5, Haggai 1:6), "Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages, earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes." In regard to Christian objects, is there not much to learn from such tact and prudence as the steward's in the parable? Do we not need them much in the conduct of benevolent enterprises? Competition may be healthy; but a competition which, in a limited area, or on mere windmills, spends a force which should be far more diffusive, is not only not healthy, it is a loss and a scandal. Is not this the kind of competition which is too prevalent in ecclesiastical and in charitable spheres? Otherwise must we not confess that, through our want of inventiveness or wisdom in management, our want of skill to turn opportunities to the best advantage, of the sagacity which is exercised in worldly matters, we lay ourselves open to the reproach, "The children of this age are wiser in their generation than the children of light" (verse 8)? Realize that, whether there is much or little, faithfulness is demanded of the steward—such a disposal or investment of all wealth as that the Lord's interests are farthered. To each of us is given the charge, "So allocate the mammon of unrighteousness, the uncertain, unstable wealth which you possess, that it shall not hinder, but help you to the everlasting habitations." How many does that mammon hinder! How few of us so use our money as to advance not only Christ's cause but our own holiness! But should it not be rendered a means of spiritual gain? It is concerning this fidelity to God in the laying out of the perishable riches that Christ hints that they in whom it abounds will not want the friendly welcome when the tent of this tabernacle is dissolved, and the spirit passes into the everlasting habitations.
III. A word as to CHRISTIAN SERVICE. This mammon, which was meant to be an instrument for the accomplishment of our stewardship, is apt to assume the bearing of a master. At first it is the slave, the most obedient, until, by constant trafficking with it and by taking it into the region of our affections, it becomes our love; and when it is the love of a man, the consideration which to him is first, the supreme point of his interest, then it ascends from the kitchen into the parlour, and claims the self as its own. This mammon-rule, mammon-worship, is one of the most distinct features of the day, and few of us know how deep is its mark in our souls. Here is the choice—this mammon, or Christ with the thorn-crowned brow; this mammon, or God himself. One or other we may serve; Christ insists we cannot serve both (verse 13). "That usurping lord has a will so different from God's will, gives commands so opposite to his, that occasion must speedily arise when one or other will have to be slighted, despised, and disobeyed, if the other be regarded, honoured, and served. God, for instance, will command a scattering, when mammon will urge to a further keeping and gathering; God will require spending on others, when mammon or the world will urge a spending on one's own lusts. Therefore, the two Lords having characters so different and giving commands so opposite, it will be impossible to reconcile their services: one must be despised if the other is held to; the only faithfulness to the one is to break with the other; 'ye cannot serve God and mammon.'" "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve. There is to be no playing at religion. A saintly voice has thus interpreted the election: may the "amen' to his words arise from our souls! O God, thou sweetness ineffable, make bitter for me all carnal comfort which draws me away from the love of eternal things, and in evil manner allures me to itself by the view of some present delightsome good. Let me not be overcome, O Lord, by flesh and blood. Let not the world and the brief glory thereof deceive me. Let not the devil and his subtle fraud supplant me. Give me strength to resist, patience to endure, and constancy to persevere. Give me, instead of all the comforts of the world, the most sweet unction of thy Holy Spirit and the love of thy blessed Name."
The rich man and Lazarus.
A parable so striking and solemn that, as has been said, "they must be fast asleep who are not startled by it." It is in several respects unique. Figure is so blended with reality, so rapidly passes into reality, that we are doubtful where and how far to separate between the form of truth and the truth itself. Indeed, it has been questioned whether the discourse is to be regarded as a parable at all; whether it is not to be regarded as the record of facts and experiences. Alone, too, of all the pictorial sayings of Jesus, it carries thought into the region behind the veil; it gives us a glimpse into the hidden economy. He who has access to the invisible takes us whither the eye of man has never pierced. And yet it is most difficult to settle on what principle we shall interpret the mysterious conversations reported, and what signification we are to attach to the words concerning the world of the dead. Let us not strain the sentences beyond the meanings which they are fairly entitled to bear; let us aim at a calm, truthful, practical application of Christ's teaching to heart and conscience.
I. Consider THE RELATION OF THE PARABLE TO THE WORDS WHICH PRECEDE, AND TO THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH SURROUND, IT. The Pharisees, we are told in Luke 16:16, had derided the teaching as to "the mammon of unrighteousness," their opposition having been intensified by the declaration, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." The reply of Christ contains an indictment with two counts, in respect of which their mammon-worship was made apparent.
1. Their self-justifying spirit before men. Their piety was so disposed as to attract the observation and win the applause of men. It was the covering of covetousness, because it indicated a dependence on men, a wish to make gain of godliness. The parable which follows illustrates the same state of mind and heart under another phase of the same world-worship. Certainly the portrait of the rich man resembles the Sadducee rather than the more severe and abstemious Pharisee. But extremes often meet. Pharisee and Sadducee have this in common—man and the present are more than God and the future: to look well, to stand well with society, is really the horizon of the aim and the prize of the ambition.
2. Their merely outward and legal righteousness. In their casuistry they tampered with the eternally right and good; and their essential unbelief was proved by the failure to see that Moses and the prophets prepared men for that kingdom of God to which John had pointed, and into which he had called every one to press. They were so imbedded in their respectabilities that they felt no need of this kingdom, and did not receive it. The parable presents a man who, having Moses and the prophets, had never awakened out of a false, carnal security, had never seen his real poverty and wretchedness. And all, in the latter part of the tale, which brings out his awakenment when too late—the torments of his conscience, his appeal, his cry, his pleading for his brethren—is intended to vivify the worthlessness and worse than worthlessness of the trust on which the Pharisee was built up, and to declare that, before the judgment-seat of the Eternal, Moses and the prophets would witness against him for his rejection of the Light that had come into the world.
II. Now, having seen its root in moral conditions which Christ intended to lay bare, REGARD THE SALIENT FEATURES OF THE SKETCH BEFORE US.
1. There is a rich man. No particulars as to his estate are given; no judgment is passed on his character. It is not said that he had amassed his wealth by unfair means, or that he was unjust, or that he was harsh; he is simply presented as rich, fond of show and glitter and good living. Now and again a monarch might assume his robe of costly purple, but purple and fine linen are the ordinary dress of this Dives, and the appointments of his table are always splendid. A jovial, magnificent personage, to whom menials in gorgeous array do homage, and whom all the flunkeydom of his city silently reverences. There is only one drawback. At the entrance to his palace, a beggar—a miserable creature, full of sores—is laid; one so reduced that he is glad of the crumbs which fall from the table. Such crumbs are dainties to him. Clearly, no effort is made to relieve this beggar; none is employed to heal his diseases; his only guardians and mediciners are the curs which prowl about Eastern cities. The "inhumanity of man" is condemned by the action of these curs.
2. The rich man has no name, the beggar has—Lazarus, or Eleazar, "God's help." Beautifully Augustine asks, "Seems not Christ to you to have been reading from that book where he found the name of the poor man written, but found not the name of the rich; for that book is the book of life?" Thus day by day, the millionaire, reclining on his couch, his table groaning with delicacies, elegantly sipping at this, and taking that, and withal complaining of indigestion, occasionally sallying forth and dazzling all by his splendour, is yet offended by the loathsome thing at the gate, from which the eye is withdrawn. Day by day the gaunt form of haggard poverty obtrudes on the rights of wealth; squalor, in all its hideousness, stares into the face of wealth. Is it not the contrast which, instead of lessening, becomes more intense as the curious complexity which we call civilization develops?—civilization, with its heights separated only by hand-breadths from its depths. Day by day it is so, until—
3. "Died." Ah! a word which it is impossible to expunge, which gathers up the fears and tears, which crowns or crushes the hopes of men. First the beggar. To him death is a message of relief, bidding away from sores which dogs have licked to joys in which angels share, from the flagged pavement, hard and cold, of the palace of the rich man harder and colder still, to the embrace and warmth and fulness of Abraham's bosom. "It is well," says Dives, when he misses the bundle of rags and disease; "it is the best thing which could happen to that Lazarus!" But the clock moves on; the "purple and fine linen" begin to hang about the limbs; the viands come and go untasted; there is the sickness, the sick-bed, the muffled knocker, the bated breath of physicians and attendants. Oh, horror of horrors! it is death! All must be left. The hands which used to be so full are now still, starched, and empty! The poor to die,—that is good; but the rich man also to die! What is the difference between the two? Of the one the burial is noted; no doubt a grand affair, for which, possibly, he had himself arranged. I have heard of a Dives, who, afraid that he might not have a sufficiently splendid coffin, procured a sarcophagus from Egypt, and lay down in it to be sure that it would fit. The burial; yes, but something more! Beggar and millionaire are in Hades—the shell of the Old Testament—the unknown place, the unseen region which contains the departed until the coming of the Lord. What of the beggar? While he was on earth man in pity carried him to the palace gate, and laid him there to starve and rot unless the crumb was thrown to him. When he dies angels carry him to the place of bliss, though not yet heaven, which was signified sometimes by the word "paradise," sometimes by the phrase "under the throne," sometimes by "Abraham's bosom." For the millionaire there is only Hades; no purple robe and fine linen, no sumptuous feast; the robe and the linen are now only a garment of fire, the sumptuous feast only a reminiscence continued in torments. To him Hades is only the reservation to the judgment of the great day.
4. And there is the awakenment. The Lord describes it in sentences which it is better only to summarize. The eyes of Dives are lifted up, and lo! near, yet far off, is Abraham, and—can it be?—with him Lazarus; no rags now, no sores now; his now the "purple and fine linen" and the sumptuous living, for he is in the bosom of Abraham. And through these distances there rings a cry—no cry to the Father in heaven, no cry for repentance; only to "Father Abraham," and only a respite from the pain, even a moment's respite; a cry which is still charged with the old hauteur, "Send that beggar to serve me." To this he has come; there is no thought of banquet or wines; only the tip of the erstwhile beggar's finger dipped in water and cooling the tongue. Alas! the reply sounds the knell of all hope; mild, yet awful, it is, "Son, remember!" What? The good things are exhausted. He had got all that he had lived for; he had, in the bygone existence, a choice of things, and he had made his choice. His reward was drained. Lazarus had no portion in the world which was gone from sight. His election had been outside of it. He has come to his choice; he has entered on his reward. "He is comforted, but thou art tormented." For the rest, even supposing the will to grant the request, it cannot be. "There is a great gulf fixed" (verse 26), and no passage may be between the upper and lower sides of the Hades of the dead. "Without God, and without hope." Is it a touch of still surviving humanity, or is it lest the misery be aggravated, that the petition of Dives proceeds, "Then send him where there is no gulf fixed; send him to my father's house, to my five brethren" (verses 27, 28). "They have Moses and the prophets" (verse 29). "Nay, but if one went to them from the dead, they will repent" (verse 30). "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" (verse 31).
CONCLUSION. What a variety of "instruction in righteousness" is suggested by this parable! It invites thought in the direction of the most awful questions which connect themselves with human destiny.
1. As to the Hades—the condition, or place, of the dead. Dean Alford proposes a good. rule of interpretation: "Though it is unnatural to suppose that our Lord would, in such a parable, formally reveal any new truth respecting the fate of the dead, yet, in conforming himself to the ordinary language current on these subjects, it is impossible to suppose that he whose essence is truth could have assumed as existing anything which does not exist. It would destroy the truth of our Lord's sayings ii' we could conceive him to have used popular language which does not point at truth." What is that, then, in the figures, in the symbols employed, as to which we can say, "Here is matter to be pondered and believed in"? Christ seems to put the stamp of his approval on these things.
(1) That there is a conscious personal life after death. If this is not true, he would have started from a falsehood.
(2) That in this future life the identity of the self is preserved. All references imply this. The rich man lifts up his eyes. He sees Lazarus. He cries, "Father Abraham!" He recalls his father's house and his five brethren. The I who was is the essential I for ever.
(3) That in the other world, the intermediate Hades, there is a separation between the evil and the good. We should not unduly strain the meaning of "the great gulf fixed." It is in Abraham's reply to a soul in which there is no sign of a turning to God; which is as far from the faith of the patriarch as hell is from heaven. Between a soul thus godless, and the holy dead who are at rest in the Lord, there is a great gulf fixed. But to press this into an argument for a hell of endless torment is to overstep the limits of parabolic interpretation. Yet, undoubtedly, a most solemn warning is conveyed—the warning that, in the world to come, the distinctions of character are sharp, clear, and fixed; that then the real tendencies of mind are manifested, and find their natural affinities. As to the torment of this Dives in Hades, Luther hit on the right explanation when, in one of his sermons, he exclaims, "It is not corporeal. All is transacted in the conscience as he perceives that he has acted against the gospel. Nothing was actually spoken by him, but only internally felt." It is in view of this that we apprehend the scope of' the recorded conversation. That is the outward form in which the emotion, the terror, of the conscience is portrayed. For, the retribution, whose fire is not quenched, is pointed to in the saying, "Son, remember!" "It is not necessary to imagine anything beyond the stroke, stroke, stroke, ever repeating, of a scorpion-conscience," recalling, revivifying all the past, the real character of actions being made evident, as with the force of a fire from whose heat nothing can be hidden. To perceive the awful vengeance-taking on every soul of man that doeth evil, it is not necessary to suppose more than the quickening of conscience into full energy, than the continual accusation of the soul which forgets nothing, or finds all preserved, eternized for it, "when the roaring cataract of earthly things is still."
2. To return to the most pressing instruction of the parable; life or death is the choice before every one of us. Death; if to any one comforts are more than duties, if the plane of the existence is a merely worldly one—good things of one kind or another, and the kingdom of God left out of the reckoning. The rich man is not condemned because of his riches; the poor man is not carried into Abraham's bosom because of his poverty. The riches were the temptation, and the soul had been mastered; but one may be rich and yet simple in heart as a child, not trusting in the riches, willing to distribute, and recognizing the stewardship to God for all. One may be poor, yet greedy, showing covetousness by the fierceness with which the sense of want is expressed, by the bitter envying of the more fortunate, by the utter absence of poverty of spirit. But," Son, remember!" if thou livest for good things, thou mayest have them; but then, the greater the prosperity, the greater the curse, the more fatal will the possession be to the true life—the life in God. By-and-by, for even the hardest and dullest there is an awakenment—to shame and everlasting contempt. Here, messages of love, the very pleading of the one risen from the dead may fail to reach the heart; there, where the ever-shifting scenes of this world disappear for ever, shall be heard the voice of conscience, speaking only for doom.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Cleverness and sagacity.
There is a wide difference between worldly cleverness and spiritual sagacity; of these two acquisitions, the former is to be questioned if not avoided, the latter to be desired and attained. Christ's teaching here will be entirely misunderstood if we fail to discriminate between them.
I. THE EMPLOYER'S COMMENDATION OF HIS STEWARD'S CLEVERNESS. "His lord" (not our Lord) commended the unjust steward because he had acted "shrewdly" (not "wisely") (Luke 16:8). What does this commendation amount to? It cannot be a justification of his action upon the whole,—that idea cannot be entertained, for this action on the steward's part was wholly adverse to the employer's interests. It was simply a compliment paid to his keenness; it was equivalent to saying, "You are a very clever fellow, a very sharp man of the world; you know how to look after your own temporal affairs;" only that, and nothing more than that, is meant.
II. OUR LORD'S COMMENDATION OF SPIRITUAL SAGACITY.
1. Jesus Christ could not possibly praise cleverness when devoid of honesty. He could not do that for two reasons.
(1) Because mere cleverness without honesty is a criminal and a shameful thing; no amount of imaginable "success" would compensate for the lack of principle; he who pays truthfulness for promotion, conscientiousness for comfort, purity for gratification, self-respect for honour or applause, pays much too high a price, does himself an irreparable wrong, sins against his own soul.
(2) Because mere cleverness does not succeed in the end. It did not here. The steward of the text would have been better off if he had shown less sharpness and more fidelity; if he had been faithful he would not have been reduced to a dishonourable shift to secure a roof above his head. It does not anywhere. No one is more likely to outwit himself than a very clever man of the world. Unprincipled dexterity usually finds its way to desertion and disgrace. Success begets confidence, confidence runs into rashness, and rashness ends in ruin. No wise man would bind up even his earthly fortunes with those of his clever, unscrupulous neighbour.
2. Jesus does praise sagacity in connection with integrity. He would like the "children of light" to show as much forethought, ingenuity, capacity, in their sphere as the "children of this world" show in theirs. He counsels them, for instance, to put out their money to good purpose, so as to secure much better results than it is often made to yield. Make friends with it, he suggests. What better thing can we buy than friendship? Not, indeed, that the very best fellowship is to be bought like goods over the counter or like shares in the market; but by interesting ourselves in our fellow-men, by knowing their necessities and by generously ministering to them, we can win the gratitude, the blessing, the benediction, the prayers of those we have served and succoured. And how good is this! What will personal comforts, bodily gratifications, luxuries in dress and furniture, any visible grandeurs, weigh against this? Nay, more, our Lord suggests, we may make even money go further than this; it may yield results that will pass the border. It, itself, and all the worldly advantages it secures, we know that we must leave behind: but if by its means we make friends with those who are "of the household of faith," we relieve them in their distress, help them in their emergencies, strengthen them as they pass along the rough road of life,—then even poor perishable gold and silver will be the means of helping us to a fuller, sweeter, gladder welcome when our feet touch the other shore of the river that runs between earth and heaven. This is true sagacity as compared with a shallow shrewdness. It is to make such of our possessions, and of all our resources of every kind, that they will yield us not only a passing gratification of the lower kind, but rather a real satisfaction of the nobler order, and even lay up in store for us a "treasure in the heavens," enlarging the blessedness which is beyond the grave.
(1) Is our wisdom limited to a superficial cleverness? If so, let us "become fools that we may be wise" indeed.
(2) Are we making the best use of the various faculties and facilities God has committed to our trust? There are those who turn them to a very small account indeed, to whom they are virtually worth nothing; and there are those who are compelling them to yield a rich harvest of good which the longest human life will be too short to gather in.—C.
Our indebtedness to our Lord.
"How much owest thou unto my Lord?" Taking these words quite apart from the context to which they properly belong, we may let them suggest to us the very profitable question, how much we, as individual men, owe to him who is the Lord of all.
I. WE OWE HIM FAR MORE THAN WE CAN ESTIMATE. Who shall say how much we owe our God when we consider:
1. The intrinsic value of his gifts to us. How much are we indebted to him who gave us our being itself; who gave us our physical, mental, and spiritual capacities; who has been preserving us in existence; who has been supplying all our wants?
2. The wisdom of his gifts; their moderation, not too large and liberal for our good; the conditions under which he grants them—in such wise that all manner of virtues are developed in us by our necessary exertions to obtain them.
3. The love which inspires them. The value of a gift is always greatly enhanced by the good will which prompted its bestowal. God's gifts to us his children should be very much more highly valued by us because all that he gives to us is prompted by his Fatherly interest in us; all his kindnesses are loving-kindnesses.
4. The costliness of one supreme Gift. "He spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all." The costliness of that surpassing Gift is such as we have no standards to compute, no language to express.
II. EACH ONE OF US HAS HIS OWN SPECIAL INDEBTEDNESS. "How much owest thou unto my Lord?"
1. One man has been long spared in sin, and has been reclaimed at last; he owes peculiar gratitude for long patience and merciful interposition at the last.
2. Another has had his rebelliousness suddenly and mightily broken down; he is under peculiar obligation for God's redeeming and transforming grace.
3. A third has been led almost from the first by the constraining influences of the home and the Church; he owes very much for the earliness and the constancy and the gentleness of the Divine visitation. Which of these three owes most to the heavenly Father, to the Divine Saviour, to the renewing Spirit? Who shall say? But we can say this, that—
III. WE ALL OWE MORE THAN WE CAN HOPE TO PAY. We are all in the position of him who "owed ten thousand talents," and had not to pay (Matthew 18:1-35.). When we consider the unmeasured and practically immeasurable amount of our indebtedness to God, and also consider the feebleness of our power to respond, we conclude that there is but one way of reconciliation, and that is a generous cancelling of our great debt. We can only cast ourselves on the abounding mercy of God in Jesus Christ our Lord, and accept his forgiving love in him. For his sake he will forgive us "all that debt," will treat us as those who are absolutely free and pure: then will uprising and overflowing gratitude fill our hearts, and the future of our lives will be a holy and happy sacrifice, the offering of our filial love.—C.
The wisdom of fidelity.
Between the text and the verse that precedes it there is some interval of thought. There may have occurred a remark made by one of our Lord's apostles: or we may supply the words,—" as to the supreme importance and obligatoriness of fidelity, there is the strongest reason for being faithful at all times and in everything;" for "he that is faithful in that which is least," etc. This utterance of our Lord is seen to be profoundly true, if we consider—
I. THE LAW OF INWARD GROWTH. The Lord of our nature knew that it was "in man" to do any act more readily and easily the second time than the first, the third than the second, and so on continually; that every disposition, faculty, principle, grows by exercise. This is true in the physical, the mental, and also in the spiritual sphere. It applies to acts of submission, of obedience, of courage, of service. One who is faithful to-day will find it a simpler and easier thing to be faithful to-morrow. The boy who faithfully studies at school, scorning to cheat either his teacher or his fellows, will be the apprentice who faithfully masters his business or his profession; and he will be the merchant on whom every one may rely in large transactions in the market; and he will be the minister of state who will be trusted with the conduct of imperial affairs. Fidelity of habit will grow into strong spiritual principle, and will form a large and valuable part of a holy and Christ-like character. "He that is faithful in that which is least will," in the natural order of spiritual things, "be faithful also in much." Of course, the converse of this is equally true.
II. THE PRINCIPLE OF DIVINE REWARD. God blesses uprightness in the very act, for he makes the upright man something the better and the stronger for his act of faithfulness. That is much, but that is not all. He holds out to faithfulness the promise of a reward in the future. This promise is twofold:
1. It is one of heavenly wealth, or wealth of the highest order. The proprietor of the estate (Luke 16:1) would remove the unfaithful steward altogether; but he would treat faithfulness very differently—he would be prepared to give him something so much better that it might even be called "true riches" (Luke 16:11); nay, he might even go so far as to give him lands, vineyards, which he should not farm for another, but for himself, which he should call "his own" (Luke 16:12). The Divine Husbandman will reward fidelity in his service by granting to his diligent servants "the true riches;" not that about which there is so much of the fictitious, the disappointing, the burdensome, as there is about all earthly good, but that which really gladdens the heart, brightens the path, ennobles the life—that noble heritage which awaits the "faithful unto death" in the heavenly country.
2. It is inalienable wealth, that will not pass. Here a man points to his estate and says complacently, "This is mine." But it is only his in a secondary sense. He has the legal use of it, to the exclusion of every other while he lives. But it is alienable. Disaster may come and compel him to part with it; death will come and undo the bond which binds it to him. It is only his in a certain limited sense. Of nothing visible and material can we say strictly that it is "our own." But if we are faithful to the end, God will one day endow us with wealth with which we shall not be called to part; of which no revolution will rob us, of which death will not deprive us—the inalienable estate of heavenly honour and blessedness; that will be "our own" for ever.
III. THE GROUND FOR PRAISE AND PATIENCE.
1. Bless God that he is now righteously endowing and enlarging his faithful ones.
2. Live in the well-assured hope that the future will disclose a much larger sphere for spiritual integrity.—C.
The true riches.
We must gain our idea of the sense in which the word "true" is to be taken by our knowledge of Christ's use of it. And we know that he used it as distinguishing, not the correct from the incorrect, or the existing from the imaginary, but the valuable from the comparatively unimportant, the substantial from the shadowy, the essential from the accidental, the abiding from the transitory. It is in this sense that he says of himself, "I am the true Light;" i.e. "I am not that which renders the smaller service of revealing outward objects and the outward path, but that which renders the supreme service of making clear Divine and heavenly truth, and the way that leads home to God himself." Thus he speaks also of himself as "the true Bread;" i.e. not the food which sustains for a few hours, but that inward and spiritual nourishment which satisfies the soul and makes it strong for ever. Similarly he declares that he is "the true Vine;" i.e. the Divine Author of the soul's refreshment, strength, and joy. We shall, therefore, find in "the true riches" those treasures which are truly valuable, which permanently endow their possessor, in opposition to those other treasures which are of inferior worth. We glance at—
I. THE INFERIOR CHARACTER OF EARTHLY TREASURE. NO doubt these riches, which are not entitled to be called the "true riches," have a worth of their own which is far from contemptible. Indeed, they render us services which we cannot help calling valuable; they provide us with shelter, with food, with raiment, with instruction, and even (in the sense of Luke 16:9) with friendship. But they neither supply to us nor secure for us lasting satisfaction.
1. They do not supply it in themselves. The possession of wealth may give, at first, considerable pleasure to the owner of it; but it may be doubted whether there is not more pleasure found in the pursuit than in the possession of it. And it cannot be doubted that the mere fact of ownership soon ceases to give more than a languid satisfaction, often balanced, often indeed quite outweighed, by the burdensome anxiety of disposing of it.
2. They do not ensure it. They can command a large number of pleasant things; but these are not happiness, much less are they well-being. That life must have been short or that experience narrow which has not supplied many instances in which the riches of this world have been held by those whose homes have been wretched, and whose hearts have been aching with unrest or even bleeding with sorrow.
II. THE SUPREME VALUE OF SPIRITUAL GOOD.
1. There are true riches in reverence. To be living in the fear of God; to be worshipping the Holy One; to be walking daily, hourly, continually, with the Divine Father; to have the whole of our life hallowed by sacred intercourse with heaven;—this is to be enriched and ennobled indeed.
2. There is real wealth in love. Our best possession at home is not to be found in any furniture; it is in the love we receive, and in the love we have in our own hearts: "The kind heart is more than all our store." And to be receiving the constant loving favour of a Divine Friend, and to be returning his affection; to be also loving with a true and lasting love those for whom he died;—this is to be really rich.
3. There are true riches in the peace, the joy, the hope, of the gospel of Christ. The peace that passes understanding; the joy that does not pall, and which no man taketh from us—joy in God and in his sacred service; the hope that maketh not ashamed, that is full of immortality;—these are the true riches. To be without them is to be destitute indeed; to hold them is to be rich in the sight of God, in the estimate of heavenly wisdom.—C.
Ingenuity is an excellent thing in its way; it counts for much in the conduct of life; it renders valuable aid in our "taking possession of the earth and subduing it;" it has its place and function in the spiritual sphere, A holy love will press it into its service and make it further its benign and noble aims. But there is a dividing-line, which is such that no ingenuity will enable us to stand on both sides of it. We must elect whether we will take our place on this side or on the other of it. That line is found in the service of Jesus Christ. To be his servant is to have withdrawn from the service of the world; to remain in the latter is to decline "to serve the Lord." We may be loyal enough to this present world, may be animated by its spirit, governed by its principles, numbered amongst its friends, and—
I. YET MAKE A LOUD PROFESSION OF PIETY; or
II. YET ENJOY A GOOD REPUTATION FOR RELIGION,—witness the Pharisees of our Lord's time and the false prophets of an earlier age; or—
III. STILL COUNT OURSELVES AMONG THE PEOPLE OF GOD; for many of those whom God "knoweth afar off" are persuaded of themselves that they are quite near and very dear to him. In nothing do men make greater mistakes than in the estimation that they form of their own moral and spiritual worth. But no man can live under the dominion of any one sin or with his heart yielded to the objects and interests of time, and—
IV. YET BE A TRUE SERVANT OF CHRIST. For to be the servant and follower of Christ is:
1. To have surrendered self to him, and the spirit of selfishness is the essential spirit of worldliness.
2. To have sworn undying enmity to all the false doctrines and pernicious habits which abound in "the world," and which both characterize and constitute it.
3. Not to be living for time, but to be building for eternity.—C.
The explanation of false judgment.
"Herein is a marvellous thing," that the men who were reputed to be the best and wisest among the people of God went so far astray in their judgment and their behaviour that they treated with positive contempt the Good and the Wise One when he lived before their eyes and spoke in their hearing. It demands explanation.
I. AN APPARENTLY UNACCOUNTABLE FACT. Here we have:
1. Heavenly wisdom derided by those who were divinely instructed. The Pharisees had the Law of God in their hands. Moreover, they had it in their minds and memories; they were perfectly familiar with it; they knew it well to the last letter. They had the great advantage of the devotional Scriptures following the legal, and the didactic and the illuminating prophetic Scriptures added to both. Then, to crown all, came the enlightening truths of the great Teacher himself; yet they failed to appreciate and even to understand him. Nor did they simply turn from him without response; they took up the position of acute and active opposition—"they derided him;" they sought to bring his doctrine into popular contempt.
2. Divine goodness derided by those who were exceptionally devout. No man could impeach the devoutness of the Pharisees, that is to say, so far as manner and habit were concerned. Their outward behaviour was reverent in the extreme; their habit of life was regulated by rules that brought them into frequent formal connection with God and with his Word. Yet with all their exterior piety they saw the Holy One of God living his transcendently beautiful his positively perfect life before them, and, instead of worshipping him as the Son of God, instead of honouring him as one of the worthiest of the sons of men, they actually judged him to be unholy and unworthy, and they endeavoured to bring him under the contempt of all good men! Such was their moral perversity, their spiritual contradictoriness.
II. THE TRUE EXPLANATION OF IT. That which accounts for this radical and criminal mistake of theirs was spiritual unsoundness. They were all wrong at heart; they loved the wrong thing, and a false affection led them, as it will lead all men, very far astray. Everything is explained in the parenthetical clause, "who were covetous." For covetousness is an unholy selfishness. It is a mean and a degrading carefulness about a man's own circumstances, a small and a withering desire for an enrichment at other men's expense; it is an affection which lowers and which enslaves the soul, ever dragging downwards and deathwards. And it is also a guilty worldliness. It is not that ambition to make the most and best of the present, which may be a very honourable aspiration; for "all things are ours [as Christian men], things present" as well as things to come (1 Corinthians 3:22); it is rather the moral weakness which allows itself to be lost and buried in the pursuits and pleasures of earth and time; it is the narrowing of the range of human attachment and endeavour to that which is sensuous and temporal, excluding the nobler longings after the spiritual and the eternal. This worldliness is not only a guilty thing, condemned of God; but it is a disastrous thing, working most serious evils to mankind.
1. It distorts the judgment.
2. It leads men into wrong and mischievous courses of action; it led the Pharisees to take such an attitude and to initiate such proceedings against Christ as culminated in his murder.
3. It ends in condemnation—such severe judgment as the Lord passed on these blind guides (see Matthew 23:1-39.). If we would be right at heart and in the sight of God, it is clear that "our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees."
(1) Multiplied ceremonialism will not suffice.
(2) Perfected proprieties will not avail.
(3) Only a humble, trustful, loving heart will make us right.
A true affection, the love of Christ, will lead us into truth and wisdom, will commend us to God, will land us in heaven.—C.
Divine and human judgment.
This declaration of Christ was a judgment in a double sense. It was drawn down upon themselves by the Pharisees, who had been doing their worst to bring into derision he doctrine and the character of our Lord. This reply was not indeed a retort, but it was of the nature of a judgment. It declared the mind of Christ, and it declared it in strong disapproval of evil-doing and strong condemnation of an evil spirit. It brings before us three subjects of thought.
I. OUR DESIRE TO STAND WELL WITH OUR BRETHREN. "Ye … justify yourselves before men." The desire to be justified of man is almost universal.
1. It may be a right and worthy sentiment. When the approval of man is regarded in the light of a confirmation of God's acceptance of us or of the commendation of our own conscience, then is it right and honourable.
2. But it may be of very little value indeed; it is so when it is sought merely as a matter of gratification, irrespective of the consideration of its true moral worth. For the approval of man is often a very hollow and always a transient thing; change the company, and you change the verdict; wait until a later day, and you have a contrary decision. The hero of the past generation is the criminal of the present time. And it may be that the man or the action the multitude are praising is the one that God is most seriously condemning. Of what value, then, is "the honour that cometh from man"?
(1) Care nothing for the opinion of the selfish and the vicious.
(2) Care little for the judgment of those whose character you do not know.
(3) Be desirous of living in the esteem of the good and wise.
II. GOD'S SEARCHING GLANCE. "God knoweth your hearts." Men do not see us as we are; we do not know ourselves with any thoroughness of knowledge; the power we have and use to impose on others reaches its climax when we impose on ourselves, and persuade ourselves that those things are true of us which are essentially false. Only God "knows us altogether;" for it is he alone that "looketh upon the heart," that is "a Discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." His glance penetrates to the innermost chambers of our soul. He sees:
1. The motives by which we are actuated in our deeds; seeing often that apparently good deeds are inspired by low or even bad motives, and that deeds which society condemns are relieved by unselfish promptings.
2. The feeling that accompanies our expression; whether it is slight or whether it is deep; often perceiving that it is more or that it is less than we imagine it to be.
3. The purpose of our heart toward himself; determining whether, in the presence of much profession, there is genuine devotedness; whether, in the absence of profession and even of assurance, there is not true godliness in the soul.
III. THE DIVINE REVERSAL. "That which is highly esteemed," etc. Of those things concerning which these strong words are true, there are:
1. Assumed and also unpractical piety. The hypocrite is hateful in the sight of Absolute Purity; we know what Christ thought of him. Less guilty and yet guilty is the mere ceremonialist—he who has no more piety than is found in a multitude of sacred ceremonies, who has not learned to regulate his life or to regard the claims of others. To frequent the sanctuary on one day, and the next to take a mean advantage of some weak brother, is odious in the sight of the common Father.
2. Self-seeking philanthropy—the show of doing good to others which is nothing more than a profitable pretence, a course of conduct which has a benevolent aspect but which is secretly aiming at its own enrichment.
3. Irreverent activity. Men often yield great admiration to those whose lives are full of successful labour, who build up large fortunes or rise to great eminence and power by much energy and unremitting toil. But if those men are living godless lives, are excluding from the sphere of their thought and effort that Divine One, "with whom they have [everything] to do," and whose creative, preserving, and providing love has everything to do with their capacity, must we not say that the lives of these men are so seriously defective as to be even "abomination in the sight of God"?—C.
The sin and doom of selfish worldliness.
This parable, taken (as I think it should be), not in connection with the immediately preceding verses (16-18), but with those that come before these (with Luke 16:1-15), is a very striking confirmation of the doctrine delivered by Christ concerning selfishness and worldliness. He brings its sinfulness and its doom into bold relief.
I. WHERE THE RICH MAN WAS WRONG.
1. Not in being rich. He is not brought forward as the type of those whose very possession of wealth—because ill-gotten—is itself a crime and a sin. He may be supposed to have entered on his large estate quite honourably.
2. Not in being vicious. There is no trace of drunkenness or debauchery here.
3. Not in being scandalously cruel. It is not a monster that is here depicted; not one that took a savage and shameful pleasure in witnessing the sufferings of others. He was so far from this that he consented to the beggar being placed at his gate, and that he allowed his servants to give the suppliant broken pieces from his table; he was not at all unwilling that the poor wretch outside should have for his dire necessity what he himself would never miss. This is where he was wrong.
4. He was living an essentially selfish and worldly life. God gave him his powers and his possessions in order that with them he might glorify his Maker and serve his brethren. But he was expending them wholly upon himself, or rather upon his present personal enjoyment. If he parted with a few crumbs which he could not feel the loss of, that was an exception so pitifully small as to serve no other purpose than that of "proving the rule." It went for nothing at all. His spirit was radically and utterly selfish; his principles were essentially worldly. It was nothing to him that outside his gates was a world of poverty, of which poor Lazarus was only one painful illustration; that sad fact did not disturb his appetite or make his wines lose anything of their relish. It was nothing to him that there were treasures of a better kind than those of house and lands, of gold and silver; that there was an inheritance to be gained in the unseen world; enough for him that his palace was his own, that his income was secure, that his pleasures there was no one to interrupt. Selfishness and worldliness characterized his spirit; they darkened and degraded his life, and they sealed his doom.
II. THE SEVERITY OF HIS DOOM. "In hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments;" "There is a great gulf fixed." Jesus Christ was not now unveiling the future world for curious eyes; he was simply using current language and familiar imagery to intimate to us that the man who has lived a selfish and worldly life will meet with severe condemnation and grievous penalty in the next world; a penalty in regard to which he has no right to expect either mitigation or release.
1. Are our lives governed by the spirit of active benevolence? To throw the crumbs to Lazarus is far from "fulfilling the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). We must go a very long way beyond that infinitesimal kindness. We must have a heart to pity the poor and needy; a soul to sympathize with them and share their burdens (Matthew 8:17); a generous hand to help them (Luke 10:33-37). The sorrow and the sin of the world must be upon our heart as a serious and heavy weight, and we must be ready to make an earnest effort to soothe the one and to subdue the other.
2. Have we regard to the day of trial and the future of retribution (see Matthew 25:41-46)?—C.
Luke 16:19, Luke 16:20
Poverty at the gate of wealth.
Here is a picture which we recognize in England in this nineteenth century quite as readily as it would be recognized in Judaea in the days of our Lord; it is that of poverty and wealth in very close association. It is not only a picture to look upon but a problem to solve, and one of much urgency as well as great difficulty.
I. POVERTY AND WEALTH IN CLOSE JUXTAPOSITION. As the rich man of the parable could not enter his house without seeing Lazarus lying in rags and sores at his gate, so are we unable to pass our days without being impressed with the fact that "the poor [even the very poor] we have with us," and indeed all around us. Lazarus lies at our gate. Not only have we the professional beggar, who has adopted "begging" as his means of livelihood, but we have the whole army of the unfortunate, who have been incapacitated by some means, and who cannot "work that they may eat;" and we have also another large and equally pitiable multitude of the ill-paid, who cannot earn enough by the honest industry in which they are employed to sustain themselves and their families. And so it comes to pass that in England to-day, side by side with competence, with wealth, with inestimable affluence, is poverty walking in rags, lying in loneliness, shivering with cold and hunger, working without reward that is worthy of the name. It is a sad sight in a Christian land; and it is not sad alone, it is alarming; for such extremes are full of evil and of peril.
II. THE PAINFUL ASPECT OF THIS FEATURE OF OUR MODERN LIFE. For who can doubt:
1. The dangers attending great wealth? It leads to luxury, and luxury favours sloth, indulgence, a false standard of the worth and purpose of life, a proud heart, and a haughty bearing. In circumstances where there is no necessity for energetic and patient labour, and where there is every opportunity of enjoyment, many evil weeds grow fast, and there the best flowers that grow in the garden of the Lord too often languish. Or who can doubt:
2. The perils of extreme poverty? These lead down by a straight and steep path to servility, to craftiness and cunning, to falsehood, to dishonesty, to envy and hatred. And who can fail to see:
3. The evil influence on the State of these two extremes? Here there can be no true brotherhood, no proper association and co-operation; here is separation from one another, a division as great as that which is interposed by the high mountain range or the broad sea; nay, greater than that! Many English people see more and know more of the inhabitants of Switzerland than they see and know of the denizens of the streets of another part of their own parish. It is the uninteresting and objectionable poor at their gate who are the "strangers."
III. ONE MITIGATING FEATURE. This juxtaposition of poverty and wealth provides an opportunity for the exercise of sincere benevolence and of the highest Christian wisdom. To the Christian heart there is a plaintive plea which cannot be unheard or disregarded, even though Lazarus be kept out of sight and hearing by judicious arrangements. And to the honest patriot there is an inviting and urgent problem to which, far more than to the questions of fortifications and armaments, he will give earnest heed, viz. how to bring about an approachment, an intermingling, of all classes and conditions of men, a better distribution of the great resources of the land.
IV. THE TRUE HOPE OF ADJUSTMENT. Whither shall we look for a better distribution of the riches of the land?
1. Almsgiving can only touch the fringe of the difficulty.
2. Economic changes may have a valuable part to play in the matter; but we are not yet agreed as to the best course to take.
3. Beneficent legislation will certainly bring its large contribution; it can do two things: it can
(1) educate the whole nation, and so provide every citizen with necessary weapons for the battle of life; and it can
(2) do much to remove temptation from the path of the weak. But it is:
4. Spiritual renewal which must prove the main source of social reconstruction. Change the character, and you will change the condition of men. And the one force which will effect this is the redeeming and regenerating truth of God, made known by the holy lives and in the loving words of the disciples of Jesus Christ.—C.
A dangerous delusion.
The rich man found himself undergoing the penalty of a selfish and worldly life, and, bethinking himself of his five brethren, he desired for them the advantage which he himself had not possessed; he prayed that a visitant from the unseen world might appear to them and warn them of the danger in which they stood. He thought this extraordinary privilege would accomplish for them what the ordinary influences around them had not wrought. He was assured that in this notion he was mistaken; if they were not hearing "Moses and the prophets, neither would they be persuaded though one rose from the dead."
I. THE ONE HOPE FOR ERRING AND SINFUL MEN—that they may be persuaded. They are living in sin; for selfishness and worldliness are such in the sight of God that they may be said to be sin itself; they are the soul turning from the living God to find its centre, its sphere, its satisfaction, in its own poor self, in the material and transitory good of this present world. And living in sin, men are living under God's high displeasure, under his solemn and awful condemnation, in peril of final banishment and penalty in the future. The one hope for them is that they will be persuaded:
1. To consider. To consider whence they came, whose they are, unto whom they owe their powers and their possessions, what is the true end and aim of human life, their accountableness to the God whom they have neglected and displeased, the nearness of death, the greatness of eternity.
2. To repent. That is, not to be convulsed with a strong and passing agony of soul, nor to use the current and approved language of contrition, but to change their minds, their views, their feelings; to have in their hearts a deep sense of shame and of regret that they should have so sadly misspent their powers and. lost their opportunities.
3. To resolve. To come to a deliberate and fixed resolution to live henceforth unto God their Saviour.
II. THE REFUGE OF THE DISOBEDIENT, There are many who, when they thus recognize their duty, are "not disobedient to the heavenly vision;" they say, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" and proceed without delay to do his holy will. But there are others who weakly and wrongly postpone the hour of decision and of return. They think that the time will come for them to enter the kingdom of God, but it has not yet arrived. There has not happened to them any great visitation. God has not appeared in any striking and overwhelming form. There will come an hour when it will be made manifest to them that they must no longer delay; when they will be mightily constrained to yield themselves to the service of the Supreme; then they will freely and gladly respond; meantime they will pursue the old path of selfishness and worldly pleasure.
III. THE VANITY AND THE FOLLY OF THIS RESORT,
1. The vanity of it. Jesus Christ taught that men, if they were unmoved by the sacred truths they learned in Deuteronomy and Isaiah, would not be stirred to newness of life even by an apparition flora the unseen world; that it was not by the extraordinary and the startling, but by the divinely true, that souls were to be saved. And this doctrine is in conformity with the known facts of our human experience. Men that know their Lord's will but delay to do it will find some excuse for disobedience when the unusual or even when the supernatural is before them. The disobedient heart goes on in sinful procrastination, with a vague and feeble hope that this hour will come; but it does not arrive. He has a vision of sudden death, but he rises from the sick-bed to pursue the old path; he loses some companion and is powerfully admonished of his own mortality, but he returns from his friend's grave the same man that he was before; he goes to hear the wonderful preacher and listens with admiration not unmixed with fear or even trembling, but he awakes on the morrow with a closed mind, with an unbroken heart. Some great trouble overtakes and overthrows him, but his soul is hardened, and the "sorrow of the world worketh death" and not life in his case. His hope is a vain one.
2. The folly of it. Why should he wait for the extraordinary, the supernatural? Has he not at hand everything he needs to convince him and to induce him to take the step of spiritual decision? Why want some one from heaven to bring down the word of truth or the Saviour himself (Romans 10:6)? All that we want we have.
(1) Our conscience is urging us to a life of holy service.
(2) Our reason tells us that our present and eternal welfare is bound up with the forgiveness and the favour of the living God, in whose power we stand and who holds all our future in his sovereign hand.
(3) Our Divine Father is summoning us to his side, to his hearth, to his table, and is waiting to welcome us.
(4) Our gracious Saviour is inviting us to an immediate and to an absolute trust in himself.
(5) The Holy Spirit of God is pleading and striving with us. There is no reason, there is no excuse, for a single day's delay. Every one to whom it is right to listen, everything to which it is wise to yield attention, says, "Come." It is only the evil voices around us and from below that say, "Wait." Delay means the doom of Dives; immediate obedience leads along the paths of heavenly wisdom and holy service to the home of the blessed.—C.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
Money as a means of grace.
The previous chapter was spoken against the pride of the Pharisaic party, who were too exclusive to welcome publicans and sinners to the same feast of privilege as themselves. The parable now before us was spoken against their covetousness. It will be found that, as the graces are to be found and grow together, so do the vices of mankind. The idolatry of wealth goes hand-in-hand with pride. In warning his disciples, however, against the vice, our Lord inculcates positive truth, and brings out in his parables the important fact that money may either be a means of grace to men, or a temptation and a snare. The first parable, about the unjust steward, shows us one who was wise in time in the use of money; the second parable, about the rich man and Lazarus, shows us one who became wise when it was too late and his doom was sealed. The story need be no moral difficulty to us. The all-important point is the deprivation of his stewardship. It was taken from him on the ground of injustice of some kind. In view of his exodus from the stewardship, he prudently makes his lord's debtors his debtors too, by largely reducing their liabilities. Having thus made friends with them all, he awaits his dismissal with confidence, and expects befriendment when out of his situation. It is his prudence, not his motives, that our Lord commends. Now, to our Lord's spiritual eye, this was a beautiful representation of what a soul may do in prospect of dismissal from his earthly stewardship at death. He may take the money he happens to possess, and, feeling that it is not his own absolutely, but God's, and that he is only a steward of it, he can use it liberally, making the troubles of his brethren lighter, so that, having laid them under obligations to him, he can calculate with certainty upon their cordial sympathy in the world beyond the grave. A prudent outlay may make hosts of friends among the immortals beyond; in a word, money may be utilized as a very important means of grace.
I. MAMMON IS A BAD MASTER. (Luke 16:13.) We start with this thought as a kind of background to the more comforting teaching which our Lord here emphasizes. The soul that is enslaved by mammon becomes miserable. Is not this implied in the term "miser," which designates the slave of money? The poor slave is kept grinding away, amassing more and more, and yet never getting any benefit from all the lust of gold. Nothing seems more foolish and insane than the race for riches; nothing more ruinous than the snares into which the runners fall. When life's end comes and the accumulated hoard has to be left behind, the condition of the soul is pitiful indeed.
II. ON THE OTHER HAND, MONEY MAY BE MADE A VERY USEFUL SERVANT. (Luke 16:1-9.) For nothing is gained by denying that money is a great power. How much it can accomplish! Every department of enterprise regards money as the "one thing needful." So powerful is it, that people by the use of it may become thoroughly hated, as many selfish speculators and covetous people are every day. On the other hand, it may be so wisely laid out as to increase our friends to troops. A judicious use of money can gather friends around us by the thousand. It may serve us by increasing our list of friends.
III. MONEY CAN BE USED BY US TO SERVE GOD. (Luke 16:10-12.) This is the gist of Christ's teaching in the parable before us; and we never use money aright until we have got this idea driven home of serving God by it. And to emphasize this, let us notice:
1. Money is God's, and we are never more than stewards of it. This truth underlies the whole parable. The very rich man who has the steward is God. We are all his stewards, faithful or unfaithful, as the case may be, in our use of his money. It is never ours apart from God; it is ours only as his stewards. Other things are held far more surely—for example, education, thoughts, culture. They enter our being and become ours, we have reason to believe, for evermore. But money is only ours for a time—a loan from God to be put out to a proper use.
2. We are faithful in our stewardship when we give ungrudingly to those who are in real need. God gives us "enough and to spare" for the purpose of laying the needy under obligation. In this way we transmute our money into gratitude. The gratitude of the assisted is better than the money, for it abides and can be enjoyed when money cannot.
3. God guarantees the gratitude and the reward. Some of the recipients may turn out to be ungrateful, but "he that giveth unto the poor lendeth unto the Lord," and "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." We are, therefore, sure of the highest recognition when for the Lord's sake we help our fellows.
IV. THE TRULY GENEROUS AND LIBERAL SOUL HAS A WELCOME AWAITING HIM IN THE ETERNAL TABERNACLES. (Luke 16:9.) The expression, "eternal tabernacles," to adopt the Revised Version, seems to indicate everlasting progress to be realized in the next life. We shall be moving onwards even there to higher and higher attainment. Those we have befriended here will receive us into their eternal tents. There will be recognition and fellowship and its accompanying progress. What a judicious outlay to have all this awaiting us in the world to come! What a means of grace money may thus become] and what a help to glory] Let the so-called unjust steward, then, admonish us to make the most of our capital on earth, that we may have the best heavenly return from it when we have left the money behind us for ever.—R.M.E.
The misuse of money.
The possibility of making "friends of the mammon of unrighteousness" has been clearly set before us by our Lord in the preceding parable. The "eternal tents" may afford us warmest welcome if we have conscientiously used our money. But the Pharisees who needed the warning against covetousness only derided him for his pains. It is supposed that it was his poverty which they thought took away his right to speak as he did of riches. He is consequently compelled to turn upon them a severer rebuke, and he does so in the sentences preceding, as well as in the substance of, the next parable. The intermediate sentences need not long detain us. Christ charges the Pharisees with self-justification. Now, this can only take place "before men." It is an appeal to a mere human tribunal—to those who can only judge by the appearance, but cannot search the heart. God, he tells them plainly, will not endorse this justification. He will reverse the sentence of self-complacency. He follows up this by stating the permanence of the Law. The reputation of the Pharisees may wither and decay, but not one tittle of the Law shall fail. And in present circumstances he declares that the Divine kingdom is being stormed by anxious men who have learned to humble themselves in penitence and pass into exaltation through pardon. They ought to see to it that they are not induced by lust to play fast and loose with the unchanging Law, and to imagine that they can divorce their wives on the usual pretexts, and be guiltless. Bat now we must proceed to the striking parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Upon the details of the story we do not tarry. It is an exquisitely powerful picture. The artist is here at his best. The rich man in his "purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day;" the poor man "laid at his gate, full of sores," and thankful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table and for the attention of the dogs; then two deaths, when lo! the positions are reversed, and the poor man finds himself in the bosom of Abraham and with his good things all about him, while the rich man finds himself in utter poverty, in need of everything and sure of nothing. The picture closes, too, all hope for such a selfish soul as the rich man proved himself to be. The following lessons are here taught us.
I. EVERY ONE WITH MEANS HAS AMPLE OPPORTUNITY IN THIS LIFE OF BEING GENEROUS. (Luke 16:20.) The friends of the poor man laid him, or, as the word (ἐβέβλητο) may mean, "threw him down" at the rich man's gate. £ There could be no doubt about the rich man's opportunity; it was pressed upon his notice. And amid all the artificial separations which civilization makes between rich and poor, there is always some friendly hand to force opportunity upon us. "The poor we have with us always." They appear, do what we may, at the feast of life, and we cannot exclude them from our considerations. It requires an effort to be utterly ungenerous. Now, we ought to bless God that he has not left us with any excuse for hard-heartedness. He brings the world's needs to our very gates. He emphasizes opportunity. He gives us outflow for our generosities, He will not leave us in our hard-heartedness, but calls us evermore to nobler things.
II. SELF-INDULGENCE MAKES PEOPLE ABSOLUTELY PITILESS. (Luke 16:21.) Mosheim, in a suggestive discourse from this parable, reminds us at the outset of the words of Peter about "fleshly lusts warring against the soul." £ It is wonderful how hardhearted luxurious living can make people. The rich man in the parable can find in his heart to pass out and in and never once to relieve his poor brother. The latter may have got crumbs from the rich man's table, but if he did, it was more likely by the servants' charity than by the master's orders. From the self-indulgent worldling he got no consideration. He is ignored, for the selfish soul has become pitiless. When self is supreme, it can shut out all consideration of others from one's thoughts. When they obtrude themselves or are obtruded upon our attention, we say, alas! that they have no claim upon us, forgetting that they are our brothers. Against such hardheartedness we should all be upon our guard.
III. DEATH, IN DEPRIVING THE SELFISH SOUL OF HIS GOOD THINGS, LEAVES HIM NECESSARILY IN TORMENT. (Luke 16:22, Luke 16:23.) Good living is a most dangerous habit when it constitutes any man's all. A soul, to be confined to this tariff, is in danger of dying into utter want. The round of sensual indulgence goes on day after day, the appetites are gorged, and man sinks down into the animal pure and simple. Now, if the world beyond makes no provision for such gross indulgences; if it has no venison and champagne; if the appetites are left without a larder and the famine of the senses has come;—what kind of life must the poor soul have? It needs no furnace of actual fire to secure his torment. The burning desire, within which nothing can quench, leaves him of necessity in torment. If God has made no provision for the intemperate, for the gourmand, for the dissolute, in their environment beyond the grave, must not their lusts, denied satisfaction, be perpetual torment? The torment of unsatisfied desire, the hunger of a self-centred spirit, must be terrible!
IV. UNBELIEF IS INEXCUSABLE, AND MAY BE INVINCIBLE. (Luke 16:27-31.) The selfish worldling had evidently been living without regard to a future life. In his torment he realizes that his five brethren are living the same heedless life. Lest, therefore, they should come and increase his torment, he asks that Lazarus be sent on a special mission to warn them about their doom. Now, it is plain that, with Moses and the prophets in their hands, they were without excuse. What, then, did Moses and the prophets teach? They do not teach with great distinctness the doctrine of a future life. They undoubtedly imply that doctrine. But the question is—Did the rich man or his brethren need that doctrine to guard them against inhumanity of life? Must I tremble before prospective torment ere I am convinced that I ought to be generous and considerate? £ Nay, do I not know by the law of conscience that such conduct as is inhuman must incur the curse of God? Even the pagans are inexcusable when they live inhuman lives. Besides, we must not, with the rich man, imagine that a prescribed miracle may overbear all unbelief. Unbelief may be invincible. No miracle may be strong enough to defeat self-will. May we all be kept from such a hardened state!
V. ABRAHAM, AS HE CHERISHES LAZARUS IN THE OTHER LIFE, SHOWS US HOW A RICH MAN MAY PERPETUATE HIS KINDLY OFFICES AND INFLUENCE. (Luke 16:23-25.) It has been very properly observed that in Abraham we have a rich man in blessedness, as a set-off to the other rich man in torment. Abraham was very probably the richer of the two while in life, but he had used his wealth for the good of his fellows. He had cherished the poor and needy. And so it is to good-hearted, faithful Abraham that the consolation of Lazarus is committed. Here the habits of helpfulness which the patriarch had cultivated upon earth find exercise in the better world. What a prospect is thus opened up to the large-hearted! Heaven will be full of opportunity for ministration. Those whose lot has been a hard one in this world will be taken to the bosom of the patriarchs of God—those who have become "seniors" in his house of many mansions—and receive from them the compensation which God has in store for all who have learned to love him.—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Luke 16". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26