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Access over 100,000+ Sermons from Ancient to Modern : Christian Books : XXVI. THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS.

The Parables Of Our Lord by William Arnot


|There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 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: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, 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. 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. 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. 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. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 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.| -- LUKE xvi.19-31.

The intervening portion of history, contained in verses 14-18, should not be permitted to conceal from us the intimate relation that subsists between this and the preceding parable. The application of the first for the reproof of covetousness, touched a besetting sin of the Pharisees, and stung them to the quick. Unable to bear in silence a rebuke which their own consciences recognised as just, they interrupted the preacher with rude derision. They attempted to shield their own open sores from painful probing by raising a laugh at the expense of the reprover. I suspect they reckoned without their host in this matter. This man spake with authority, and not as the scribes; the common people heard him gladly. His speech was too divinely grave, and too palpably true, to be turned aside by the clumsy wit of the men whom it condemned. Intermitting for a moment the thread of his parabolic preaching, he turned aside and addressed a few withering words directly to these uneasy interrupters.

From the introduction of a new subject abruptly in the 18th verse -- the much agitated question regarding a man's right to put away his wife -- I think it probable that the interruption had been repeated and continued; that it took the form of a dialogue, the Pharisees throwing in what they considered a damaging question, and Jesus giving an answer by turns -- a scene which is frequently repeated in modern missions among the heathen.

When this episode was over, the Lord resumed his theme where it had been broken off. I think it probable, both from the terms of the narrative, and the nature of the case, that if these Pharisees had not been present, or if they had held their peace when the preaching galled them, the matter of verse 19th would have touched that of verse 13th -- the parable of the rich man and Lazarus would have been connected in place as well as in purport with that of the prudent steward.

When he had followed up the first parable with a pungent application regarding the abuse of riches, |the Pharisees, also, who were covetous, heard all these things, and they derided him.| To them, in reply to their jesting, he spoke the words verses 14-18, and then resumed, in verse 19th, |There was a certain rich man,| &c.

Dr. Trench's disquisition regarding the latent union between covetousness and prodigality, involving a proof that the discourse about the rich man was applicable to the Pharisees who were not of prodigal habits, although very good in itself, is scarcely relevant; inasmuch as it is not the parable of the rich man, but the reproofs intervening between it and the unjust steward that are expressly addressed to the Pharisees.

At the beginning of the chapter, addressing his own disciples particularly, although some of the Pharisees were present, he had taught them from the case of the prudent steward to use the possessions of this world with a view to their bearing on the next; and now, to complete the lesson, he will teach them, by a terrible example, the consequences of neglecting that rule.

But before we proceed to examine the parable in detail, it is important to determine generally regarding its nature whether it is an allegory in which spiritual things are represented by sensible objects, or simply an instructive example, historic or poetic, charged like other examples with moral warning and reproof. The parable of the sower is an allegory: the sower represents not a sower, but a preacher; the seed represents not seed, but the Gospel: whereas in the inner substance, as well as the outward form of the lesson, the good Samaritan is simply a good Samaritan, and the wounded traveller is simply a wounded traveller. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is not allegory; it belongs to the class of the Samaritan, and not to that of the sower. It is not like a type, which a man cannot read until it is turned; but like a manuscript, which delivers its sense directly and at first hand.

It is true a figurative meaning has been applied to it, as to all the rest, both in ancient and modern times. In this case the lesson, when metaphorically rendered, possesses a remarkable measure of beauty, truth, and appropriateness. The rich man is the Jewish nation, by God's gift rich in position and privilege, but selfishly keeping all to itself, despising and neglecting others. Lazarus represents the Gentiles, spiritually poor, naked, hungry, homeless, within reach of the privileged people, yet by them left destitute. Both die: the old dispensation runs out, and Jews and Gentiles are together launched into |the last times.| By apostolic messengers, the poor outcasts are now led unto the blessed privileges of the Gospel; these stones become children of Abraham; while the Jews, who enjoyed so good a portion in the former dispensation, are cast out. In this case, as in that of the Samaritan, it is easy so to turn the polished instrument in the light, that it shall throw off bright glimpses of great evangelic facts and doctrines. Perhaps the Lord, in constructing it, kept this capability in view; but we must take the parable as in the first instance and mainly a direct moral lesson, accounting its allegorical capabilities secondary, and to us uncertain.

The description of the rich man is short, but full. He |was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day.| He maintained a royal state and a prodigal expenditure. This excess of luxury was not confined to great occasions; it was the habit of every day.

Here, as in other cognate parables, great wisdom is displayed in bringing the whole force of the rebuke to bear on one point. It is not intimated that this man made free with other people's money, or that he had gained his fortune in a dishonest way. All other charges are removed, that the weight lying all on one point may more effectually imprint the intended lesson. To have represented him as dishonest or drunken, would have blunted the weapon's edge. Here is an affluent citizen, on whose fair fame the breath of scandal can affix no blot. He had a large portion in this world, and did not seek -- did not desire any other. He spent his wealth in pleasing himself, and did not lay it out in serving God or helping man. It is not of essential importance whether such a man miserably hoard his money, or voluptuously spend it in feasts and fine clothing. Some men take more pleasure in wealth accumulated, and others more in wealth as the means of obtaining luxuries. These are two branches from one root; the difference is superficial and accidental: the essence of the evil is the same in both -- a life of self-pleasing -- |without God in the world.|

By a transition, purposely made very abrupt, we learn next that a beggar named Lazarus was laid at this rich man's gate, full of sores. Whether the position was chosen by the man himself, or by his friends for him, the motive is obvious -- it was expected that where so much was expended, perhaps also wasted, some crumbs might come the beggar's way.

The name of the poor man is given, while the rich man is left nameless. Generally, Christ's kingdom is not of this world, and, in particular, it does not imitate this world's kingdoms in throwing the common people into anonymous heaps, and recording the names of only the great. I saw in an extension of the parish churchyard the graves of the two hundred men who perished in the pit accident at Hartley a few years ago. They were grouped in families of two, three, four, or five, and these family groups were arranged in extended rows; but all were nameless. Near them slept the dust of the hereditary owners of the soil under monumental marble, loaded with statuary and inscriptions. Subjects of Christ's kingdom, |it shall not be so among you.| Nor is the law which obtains in the heavenly the direct reverse of that which obtains in the earthly kingdom; it is not the poor, but the |poor in spirit,| to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs. The names that are recorded in the Lamb's book of life are neither those who have nor those who lack this world's wealth, but those who are poor in spirit and rich in grace.

|The dogs came and licked his sores;| perhaps the dogs, always plentiful in eastern cities, that had no master; perhaps the dogs that belonged to the rich man, and had turned aside to lick the beggar's sores when their master rode past on the other side, and hid from the sight of misery within the drapery of his stately mansion. The act attributed to the dogs accords, as is well known, with their instincts and habits. It is soothing to the sufferer in the sensations of the moment, and healthful in its effects. When the beggar's fortunate brother took no notice of his distress, the dumb brutes did what they could to show their sympathy. The stroke, though it wears all the simplicity of nature, is in the parable due to consummate art; the kindness of the brute brings out in deep relief the inhumanity of man.

|And it came to pass that the beggar died.| Towards this point the narrative hastens. Here on the border is the hinge on which the lesson turns. The whole parable is constructed and spoken in order to show how this life bears on eternity; and to make eternity, thus unveiled, bear reciprocally on the present life. The death of Lazarus happened in the ordinary course of things: his sufferings came to an end. Not a word of his dust, whether it was buried, or how. Of design, and with deep meaning, the body is left unnoticed, and the history of his soul is continued beyond the boundary of life, as the real and uninterrupted history of the man: in the same breath and in the same sentence that intimates his death, we are informed that he was carried by angels into Abraham's bosom. The dying and the entrance into the rest that remaineth are expressed in one sentence, the two clauses connected by a copulative conjunction: the Lord means manifestly to teach us, as he afterwards taught the repenting malefactor on the cross, that there is no interval to his people between departing from the body and being with Christ.

Nor did Jesus then reveal the immortality of the soul: the doctrine was already accepted, and he assumed it in his discourse as a truth known and acknowledged. Even the resurrection of the body was a commonplace among the immediate disciples of Jesus during the period of his ministry: |Thy brother shall rise again,| said the Lord to Martha. |I know that he shall rise again,| she replied, |in the resurrection at the last day:| this was a belief that she previously possessed.

Abraham's bosom, we may assume, was already an expression employed by the Jews to designate the place of the blessed beyond the grave. It accords much better with the Lord's purpose and method to suppose that this phrase and the term paradise, which he afterwards employed to express the same idea, were adopted by him from the current custom, than that they were then first introduced.

|The rich man also died and was buried.| Here, for once, the rich and the poor meet together: the beggar died, and the rich man died too. The same event happened to both, and in both cases the same terms are employed to record the events; but very remarkable is the difference introduced immediately after the article of death. What came after death in the case of Lazarus? He was carried by angels into Abraham's bosom. What came after death in the case of this rich man? He was buried. Perhaps as much could not have been said of Lazarus. The rich man was carried from a sumptuous table to a sumptuous tomb; and the poor man perhaps had not where to lay his head, when its aching had ceased at length. It may be that his body did not find a grave. His spirit found happy rest and holy company; and we can afford therefore to lose sight of the dissolving dust. First and last the one had excellent earthly accommodation, and the other had none; but conversely, he who had neither a house when living nor a tomb when dead, walked with God while the tabernacle stood, and went to God when it fell; whereas he who made the earth his portion got nothing for his portion but earth.

It would be a mischievous perversion of the parable to suppose that because the one was rich he was cast out, and because the other was poor he was admitted into heaven: the true lesson is in one aspect the reverse proposition: an ungodly man is in the highest sense poor in spite of his wealth; and a godly man is in the highest sense rich, in spite of his poverty.

We enter now, or rather have already entered, the region where the parable must needs glide, not indeed from the literal into the metaphorical, but from a foreground where every object is distinctly seen to a background where the real objects cannot be seen at all, and where, accordingly, only signals are thrown up to tell what is their bulk and their bearing. When the line of the instruction goes through the separating veil and expatiates in the unseen eternity, it must become dim and indistinct to our vision. The moment that the parable in its progress goes beyond the sphere of the present life, our effort to follow it is like the struggle of a living creature out of its element. Even when the Lord of that unseen world is our instructor, our conceptions regarding it are necessarily indirect, second hand, and obscure. In this region the capacity of the scholar is infantile, and, consequently, the ability of the teacher cannot find scope. While, therefore, those parts of the parable which lay within our sphere were direct and literal, the latter portion, lying beyond our sphere, is necessarily indirect and expressed by signs: consequently, though sufficiently precise in its larger leading features, it is, in its minor details, indistinct, inarticulate.

|The beggar died;| this is sufficiently direct and literal: |and was carried by angels into Abraham's bosom,| -- there we are already beyond our depth. The horizon is dim now, by reason of distance and intervening clouds. Equally obscure is the other line of information when it has crossed the boundary of time. The rich man died and was buried; this we clearly comprehend: but |in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment,| -- these are events of the eternal world, shadowed forth in the language and according to the conceptions of the present. We perceive the direction in which they lie, and can understand the moral lesson which they contain, but the things themselves are shrouded from our intellectual vision in impenetrable darkness. Not perhaps intentionally in the structure of the parable, but necessarily, on account of the place where its scene is latterly laid, a veil thicker than that of allegory is wrapped around it.

In accordance with the use of the word in classic Greek, and of the corresponding term in the Hebrew Scriptures, we might assume that |hell| (Hades) only indicates generally the world of spirits, as distinguished from this life in the body; while the expression |being in torment,| serves to determine the specific region or condition in that world to which the rich man was consigned: the term, however, wherever it occurs in the New Testament, seems to be applied, in point of fact, to the place of punishment, except in passages that are directly quoted from the Old Testament. Both were now in the world of spirits; but the beggar in that world was in Abraham's bosom, and the rich man in torment. Both spirits near the same time passed from this world by the same narrow passage; beyond the boundary their paths diverged in opposite directions. Each went to his own place as certainly and as necessarily as vapour rises up, and water flows down. The ransomed man entered the Father's house and joined the company of the holy; the ungodly gravitated, according to his kind, into the place of woe.

Having lifted up his eyes, |he seeth Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom, and he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me.| Deeper and deeper into the mystery we are led at every step. While the outline of the landscape is defined sufficiently for the purpose or affording a landmark to direct our course, all the lesser objects are entirely concealed by the distance. We must beware lest, in straining to get a glimpse of the invisible, we should mistake the flitting shadows that the unnatural effort sets afloat in the humours of our own eyes for the veritable objects of the spiritual world.

Here I would fain arrest attention on one guiding and dominating consideration, which may become a thread to lead us safely through the labyrinth, saving us the trouble of working out difficult speculations, and averting from us the danger of injuring ourselves by falls in the dark. The Lord delivered and the evangelist recorded this parable for the purpose of teaching, warning, directing, not spirits disembodied in the other world, but men in the body here. |All things are for your sakes;| the great Teacher determined all his words and acts by a regard to the benefit of his people. Even when Lazarus died at Bethany, he said to his followers, |I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent that ye might believe;| his absence led to the resurrection of Lazarus, and that event, he foresaw, would confirm their faith. So here, his aim is not to show how much he knows of the separate state, or to astonish the world by the display of its secrets; it is to give men while they are in the body those views of the separate state which will tell most effectually in leading the wicked to repentance, and in establishing believers in the faith.

Taking the Teacher's aim as the determinating principle in the interpretation of his discourse, I gather that the dialogue between the rich man and Abraham does not describe absolutely what is possible and actually takes place in the world of spirits, as if it were addressed to an inhabitant of that world, but gives such pictures of it, or signs regarding it, as are intelligible to an inhabitant of this world, and as will best bring the realities of the future to bear with beneficial effect upon the present character of men. By a system of coloured lights we contrive to warn the conductors of engines on our railways of danger to be avoided on the one hand, and to intimate the line of safety on the other. The things regarding which the engineers get instruction are not within their view. A red or a white light are not like the things in the distance that are to be dreaded or desired; but a red or a white light displayed serves the purpose when the things themselves cannot be made known. There everything is determined with a view to immediate practical benefit. I think this helps me to grasp the difficult portions of the parable. The purpose of the Lord was not to display his own knowledge or gratify our curiosity. He ever acted as the Saviour of the lost; he never swerved from that aim. It was his meat to do the Father's will, and to finish his work. In this particular case, accordingly, the object which he kept in view was not to convey to men in the body the absolute knowledge of a state, for knowing which their faculties are unfit, but to convey to them in time such shadows or signals of danger and safety as the actual state of matters in the unseen world truly suggested, and in such forms as that living men, from their view-point, and with their mixed constitution, could comprehend and appreciate.

When this principle is permitted to dominate, the exposition of the dialogue becomes comparatively both short and easy.

I do not know whether the saved are within view of the lost in a future state, or whether any communication can pass between them; I only know that this parabolic picture, constructed as from a view-point within the present world, is the exhibition best fitted to make the diverse conditions of the good and the evil beyond the grave effectual to warn and instruct living men in the body. If any one should curiously inquire about flame, what is its nature, and how it can hurt a spirit, I can give no information on the subject, and I can gather none from the parable. One thing I know, that this representation is a red light hung out before me, as I am rushing forward on the line of life -- hung out to warn me of danger, and hung out by the hand of him who came to save the lost. I understand perfectly what the beacon means to me: it is my part to take the warning which it gives; and, as to the exact state of events and capabilities in the world to come, I shall learn all when I enter it. It may be quite true that there is not a flame like that which we are accustomed to see, and not a body, previous to the resurrection, that may be burned in it. But he who gave the word is my Friend; and he is true; I shall trust him. He knows what I understand by a flame; he knows how I am affected by the thought of the pain which it inflicts. Knowing all these, he has employed that word in order to apply the terrors of the Lord for my warning; he has done all things well. The minute features of the dialogue all serve to give point to the main conception. The request for a drop of water contributes to bring out the intensity of the suffering; the answer of Abraham shows that, beyond the boundary of this life, there is no hope of relief. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners -- it was to this world he came; but no Saviour goes to that other world to win back the lost who have permitted the day of grace to run out. Christ is the way unto the Father; but there is no way of passing from death unto life, if the passage has not been made in this present world.

Interpreting the rich man's intercession for his brothers on the same principle, I do not know and cannot learn here, whether those who have passed through death into the next world unsaved, remember the character of the relatives whom they left behind on earth, or whether, remembering their condition, they will or can make intercession in their behalf. All that I gather certainly on the subject from this parable is, that although a brother may permit his brother to abide in sin without instruction or reproof, while all are living here and walking by sight; yet, if the fate that awaits the impenitent were adequately believed and realized, he who believed and realized it, could not refrain from effort to arouse the slumberers, and lead them to repentance. Again, as in previous parts, I am taught here not what I shall wish when I shall be in the world of spirits, but what I should do now while I am in the body and under grace. I should get the message sent to every heedless brother who is wasting his day of grace, while a messenger of flesh and blood may be found, and there is a way by which I may reach the objects of my solicitude.

By aid of the same machinery -- the dialogue between the rich man and Abraham -- another lesson is brought from the world of spirits to the land of living men -- the lesson that those who refuse to believe and obey under the means of grace which God has appointed in the Church, would not be more pliable if prodigies were shown to them by way of overcoming their unbelief. The conception, although conveyed by the lips of the rich man after he had gone to his own place, that a miracle of power would, if it were exhibited, bring alienated hearts submissively back to God, springs native here in time. It is the deceit with which many sing themselves to sleep -- they would believe if one rose from the dead. There are two answers to it: -- one is, it would not be effectual although it were granted; and the other is, even though it were fitted to accomplish the object, it will not be given.

The conclusion of the whole matter is, delays are dangerous; |Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.|

Some lessons still remain, that invite our attention, and will repay it.

1. For mankind, after this life is done, another world remains, consisting of two opposite spheres or conditions, one of holiness and happiness, the other of sin and misery. The Jewish people and their rulers persistently demanded of Jesus that he would show them a sign from heaven; and this demand he as steadily refused to gratify. Unlike all false prophets, the Lord Jesus maintained silence in regard to the particular characteristics of the unseen world; but one thing in compassionate love he made known with abundant clearness, that there is an absolute and permanent separation between good and evil in the world to come, and that there are distinct places of rewards and punishments.

Some people labour hard to shake from their own minds the belief in a place and state of retribution. To these I would affectionately suggest that to disbelieve it will not destroy it. Even in Scotland -- the narrow end of an island nowhere very broad -- I have met with persons well advanced in life, of good common education, and good common sense, who had never seen the sea. Suppose that these persons should have cause greatly to dread the sea, and should therefore ardently desire that there were no such thing in existence. Suppose further, that, in the common way of the world, the wish should become father to the thought, and that they at last should firmly believe that there is not a sea. Would their sentiment change the state of the fact? Sinners, to whom the name and nature of a place of punishment are disagreeable, have no more power to annihilate the object of their aversion than the shepherds of the Cheviots to wipe out the sea by a wish. The sea is near those men though they have never seen it; and, if they were cast into it, they would perish, notwithstanding their opinion. Ah! the thing which by God's appointment is, cannot by our arguments be blotted out of being.

2. There is a way from this present life to the place of future misery, and also a way to the place of future blessedness. The way from this world to the place of woe was made by man's sin; the way from this world to the place of rest was made by the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. By the one way you can glide easily down; by the other you may climb toilsomely, but surely up. The one goes with the corrupt affections; the other against them. But let it be remembered that the way of life, though hard, is not unhappy; the struggle, when once fairly begun, is a grand, gladsome thing. Forth from this world there are only two paths; by one or other of these two all men take their departure; on one or other of these two paths we all are treading now. We owe it to Christ that a way into safety has been opened for our sinful world: |I am the way, ... no man cometh unto the Father but by me.|

3. There is no way over from one of these future states to the other. The great gulf between them is fixed. This is the main fact of the parable, and hereon its greatest lesson grows. The great gulf is fixed, and after death none can change his place. This fact we now know without further revelation, and if we believe it not on the testimony of Jesus, neither would we believe it although one should rise from the dead to declare it. This parable, in some of its minute features, is to our vision necessarily obscure, because the scene is laid in the life to come, but its main outline is as clearly visible as any temporal object could be. It teaches with great perspicuity that when immortal spirits, at the dissolution of the body, are thrown into the eternal world, it is no longer possible that their place or their condition should be changed: those who will not learn from this word of Christ that the condition of the departed is for ever fixed at death will not learn it in time to profit by the lesson.

4. Our Lord has thus emphatically taught us that there is no possibility of passing from one state to another beyond the boundary of this life in order that he may thereby constrain us to make the needful transition now. The impassable gulf between the saved and the outcast in eternity is a dreadful sight; it was the compassionate Jesus who drew aside the curtain and exposed it to view, and it was his great love that moved him to make this revelation. There is a line that crosses our path a little way forward from the spot where we stand to-day -- a line that divides our time from our eternity -- invisible to our eyes, but known unto God. We never know as we advance what step of the journey will carry us over this line. Christ has told us that if we pass it unsaved we cannot obtain a change of condition beyond it; and he has revealed to us this truth in order that we might be induced now to make our calling and election sure. These terrors of the Lord are displayed in order to persuade men. There is no impassable gulf now between a sinner and the Saviour; the way is open, and the perennial invitation resounds from the Gospel, |Come unto me;| but to those who pass from this life without having obeyed that call, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin, no more a refuge from judgment.

This word of Christ is not of any private interpretation; it may have pointed to Herod or to the Pharisees in the first instance, but it was of the nature of a seed, and its applications multiply a hundred times a hundred fold down through the history of the world. We may find the rich man in this land to-day as certainly as in the circle that listened that day to the preaching of Jesus. We find the counterpart of this picture, not only in individuals, but in associated churches; and if Christians, both in their private and corporate capacities, are rich both in temporal means and spiritual privileges, they need not go far to seek for the Lazarus who is laid at their gate. Lazarus lies in the streets and lanes of our opulent cities; and, oh, he is full of sores! For his sake, for Christ's sake, for our own sake, we must go out and show him kindness. Dives lost his opportunity, -- lost it for ever: we must |haste to the rescue| lest we lose ours too. If we love the Lord, our love will stir and burst out and overflow in life. The life that will exercise itself in Christ-like charity must begin now; and if a new life in the Lord begin, it will reveal itself in love's labour. If we are bought with a price and quickened by the Spirit, the beggar at our gate will soon discover the change. He will not be left longer to the mere promptings of natural instinct among his neighbours for the soothing of his sorrows; the warm skilful hand of intelligent and affectionate brotherhood will raise him up and minister to his wants. Lazarus, instead of having only a dog to lick his sores, will be compassed about with human affections, and all his wants supplied. As a diseased, miserable, neglected lazar world felt the coming of Christ, the poor and destitute of the world's inhabitants will know when a loving, hopeful Christian comes within reach. Who touched me? might the huge world have said, if it had possessed intelligence, when God became man and dwelt among us. Who touched me? will the outcasts on the earth begin to cry as they awaken to consciousness, when a revived Church has visited them in their prison, and brought to them the bread of life.

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