Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.The Unjust Steward
We call this parable the Parable of the Unjust Steward—i.e. a fraudulent, dishonest steward—and such undoubtedly he did become; but not deliberately dishonest up to the time when his lord called him suddenly to account. He was accused to his lord that he had wasted his goods; not a purposed and continued fraud, but a long-continued faithlessness to his trust. He had forgotten that he was the trustee for his lord's possessions, and he had lived on neglecting plain duties, until at last the goods began to perish.
The man, then, was guilty of being unfaithful to his trust. And it is this that gives the parable its terrible significance for us.
There are not many, it is to be hoped, who, looking back upon their lives, can charge themselves with long-continued and deliberate sin against light and knowledge; but how many may there be who, looking back upon some critical moment in the past, are driven to confess: 'I have not been faithful to my Lord, or to my trust. My Lord's goods have not waxed, but waned, in my trusteeship. I have been negligent and unfaithful, and so far, therefore, a dishonest steward.'
I. This, then, is the question which each of us has to ask of himself and of his own life: 'What manner of steward have I been of those things that my Lord has entrusted to me?'
God has given each one of us something to do in His household. Every one of us is, in a larger or smaller degree, a steward of the Lord.
Two great gifts of God, at least, are given to every one—Time and Opportunity. Time—that fleets so swiftly, and so often unheeded, passing by moments and days, and running up to years, bringing life to a close, is God's great trust to every one of us. And Opportunity—those moments fraught with blessings and help, or hindrance and evil, to one's fellow-men, and which may become the means of increasing the Master's goods or of diminishing them; those opportunities in life that come so often unrecognised, or that are allowed to pass unheeded; this time which we waste and kill, these opportunities that we disregard and lose, are the goods of our Lord: every man has more or less of them, and will have to account for them. Time that fleets and opportunity that passes never to return—these are the gifts and the stewardship of every man.
II. We have to give an account, sooner or later, to our Lord and Master of how we have used these great gifts, and many another besides; but of these two surely every one of us has to give an account. Think for a moment of the many stewardships we all have from time to time given us; and how these stewardships are terminated—now, at one time, one stewardship, and now, at another time, another.
If a man has not kept his Lord's trust, and has to answer to Him for wasted time and wholly neglected opportunities, how awful must be his account! The best of men has some such moments in his life, when he looks back on his past life, and is forced to the question: What account can I render to my Lord of my stewardship? Thank God that our merciful Lord, more merciful than man, is the Master to judge us, not by what we have done, but by what we have striven to do.
References.—XVI. 2.—S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii. p. 98. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 192, and vol. xli. No. 2445.
I want to put before you a few thoughts not unfamiliar in one of the most familiar departments of our life—our work. We are constantly face to face with the contrast which comes before us when we leave the house of God and go back to mix with the world, and to do our work; and we immediately feel its pressure. The spirit of the world makes it very difficult for us to hold that true proportion which should exist between the things which are seen and the things which are unseen.
I. Saviours of Society.—Now the words of my text were put by our Blessed Lord into the lips of a thoroughly worldly man, with whom we come in contact in that well-known parable—the Parable of the Unjust Steward. We want to remember, do we not, that our Lord's advice to us is just this—as you mingle with the world, as you come in contact with men who are living for the world, who have as their aim securing all that the world can give, caring little or nothing what may happen so long as they secure that, then He would seem to say to us, Do not judge them, do not say hard things, do not forget that they, too, have been redeemed by the Saviour of the world, but try to learn from them a lesson which will help you in your struggle for your Christian freedom, and remember that if you are as true to your aims as they are to theirs, then you will go amongst your fellow-men as saviours of society.
II. An Account asked for.—You and I must give an account of our stewardship; we must give an account of the way in which we have lived our life, and used our time, and our money, and our talents. Get time to think. Anticipate the account which you must give of your stewardship. I do not doubt for one moment that our hearts are stirred by the tender appeal of the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; but have you let Him enter the great citadel of your will?
III. Endurance to the End.—We may go forth and redeem the time, we may rejoice in being able to meet these temptations which conquered us of old, and saying 'No' where we once said 'Yes'. Rise, for the day is passing. Yes; and a place in the ranks awaits us. Each has his part to play, and the past and the future are nothing in the stern face of today. And the man that endureth to the end the same shall be saved, and the great Captain of our salvation will also have His word of commendation to those who endure to the end. 'Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.'
Reference.—XVI. 4.—S. Gregory, How to Steer a Ship, p. 141.
The Sense of Obligation
This is a question which occurs, as is well known, in the Parable of the Unjust Steward.
The one characteristic, then, which the master signals out for appreciation in the steward is his shrewdness, his foresight, his prudence. 'The lord,' i.e. the master, 'commended the unjust steward because he had done wisely'—not rightly, or honourably, but prudently.
I. That is the feature of his conduct, the one feature, which Jesus Christ holds up to the admiration and imitation of Christians. He says, in effect, 'Why will not My disciples learn from men of the world the everyday lesson of common sense; why will they not follow the same business-like principle in the spiritual life as in commercial life'; why should it be true now, and is it to be true for ever, that 'the children of this world are in'—or, 'as regards'—'their generation wiser than the children of light?'
God says to every man: 'You have only one earthly life to live. If you waste the golden days of youth, if you dissipate them in indolence or frivolity, they will never come back to you; and all that you might have been and ought to have been, you will never be.' Yet how pitiful is the thousand times repeated tale of misspent years and squandered opportunities, and hopes as disappointing as the bitter apples of the Dead Sea!
II. 'The children of this world,' 'the children of light'—how strange and sad is the contrast which the Lord in the parable points between them! It is as though He said: 'Look at yon man of business; his heart is set upon making a fortune; see how careful he is, how sedulous, how thrifty; he rises so early, he goes to bed so late, he eats the bread of carefulness; many a time all through the day he sits at his desk, he is the creature of industrious habit, he denies himself, it may be for many years, every needless pleasure, indulgence, or extravagance; and he gains his reward. He began life as a clerk at £1 a week, and he ends it as head of a great commercial house. But now look at the man who aspires to win heaven—how easily he takes things, how little trouble he gives himself about them! The time that he spends in prayer, in the study of God's Word, in public worship—what a poor fraction it is of all his life! He seems to think it is possible to saunter into heaven. But why should it be reasonable to assume that the pearl of great price is the only treasure which can be had for the mere asking, without the necessity of working for it?'
III. Our Lord speaks especially of riches. Among all His words in the Gospel none perhaps are more intuitively wise than the words which He used about riches.
Riches are not wrong, but they are spiritually perilous. Our Lord says in the parable, Use them well, not foolishly or selfishly, but so as to make friends by your wise generosity—friends among the poor, the hungry, the necessitous, the suffering, 'that when ye fail,' i.e. when ye die, 'they may receive you into the everlasting habitations'.
This is the law of the future life; but it is the law of the present life as well.
IV. I cannot read the Parable of the Unjust Steward without feeling that underlying it all is the threefold relation which characterises the Church of Jesus Christ.
There is the great Master, the Lord of All, who will one day summon all His servants to render their account. There are the stewards, whoever they may be, the ministers of the great Master, the intermediaries between Him and His tenants at will; it is expressly stated that the parable was addressed to the disciples. There are the tenants themselves, whose life is so uncertain, so precarious; and they are all indebted in a larger or less degree to the same great Master.
To them all comes the question of my test—'How much owest thou unto my Lord?'
—Bishop Welldon, The Gospel in a Great City, p. 99.
References.—XVI. 5.—E. A. Stuart, His Dear Son and other Sermons, vol. v. p. 65. XVI. 5-7.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. i. p. 231.
You remember the story, and how the lord commended the unjust steward because he had done wisely. He could not help admiring him because he was a good business man of the day, who had done the wisest and best thing for himself.
Let us apply this thought to our spiritual life.
I. Our Personal Salvation.—Are we sure that we are in a state of salvation? Surely we should be. If not, it is true of us that 'the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light'.
II. Likeness to Christ.—How far have we attained to Christ's likeness? Daily we must be getting more and more like Him, and must be opening our souls more and more to the Holy Spirit and losing our hold on the things of earth. Remember it is true that 'without holiness no man shall see the Lord,' and if we are not cultivating it, do we not incur the reproach that 'the children of this world are in their generation' wiser than we?
III. Use of Talents.—Are we using our talents properly, or are we intending to steal all the Gospel privileges without making any return to God?
(a) Money.—The time will come when God will say, 'What about your money'? That is a talent which He has given to us.
(b) Influence.—What a tremendous talent! Parents, are you pointing your children heavenwards? Men and women in business or in society, are you witnessing? Think of the way political parties take trouble to get others to believe with them, and then take shame for the graceless way in which we go through life and never seek to win a soul for God.
If, instead of working for God, we only work for self; and if, instead of striving after holiness, if, instead of giving something to God, we keep it all for self, then remember we are living examples of the truth of these words: 'The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light'.
In Essay xvi. of The Friend, Coleridge, writing in 1809, declares that the maxims of genuine expedience are little regarded by the very people who profess to obey nothing higher than expedience—so much so, 'that I dare hazard the assertion that in the whole chapter of contents of European ruin, every article might be unanswerably deduced from the neglect of some maxim that had been repeatedly laid down, demonstrated, and enforced with a host of illustrations in some one or other of the works of Machiavelli, Bacon, or Harrington. It would be a melancholy but very profitable employment,' he continues, 'for some vigorous mind, intimately acquainted with the recent history of Europe, to collect the weightiest aphorisms of Machiavelli alone, and illustrate by appropriate facts the breach or observation of each, to render less mysterious the present triumph of lawless violence. The apt motto to such a work would be: The children of darkness are wiser in their generation than the children of light.'
References.—XVI. 8.—Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 97. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 205. R. W. Church, Village Sermons, p. 259. H. Allen, Penny Pulpit, No. 1660, p. 319. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of Christ, p. 191. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 274. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 75.
The Eternal Tents
'The Eternal Tents:' This is our Lord's description of heaven; and if we would feel the force of it and catch its true interpretation, we must remember the history of ancient Israel. That history, so long, so troublous, began far back with the call of Abraham to leave his pleasant home in the land of Haran. Linked with the call was a promise, which came to him we know not how, that of his descendants God would make a great nation and give them a goodly land for their heritage.
That was the beginning of Israel's national history—the call of Abraham and the promise to his seed after him. And you remember how nobly he made the heroic venture of faith and, at the call of God, abandoned all that he had—all that, in the worldly judgment, was worth having—and set out in pursuit of a far-off hope and a transcendent ideal. He went forth with his tent and his family and his flocks and herds, and journeyed to and fro; and through the discipline of his homeless life the revelation grew ever clearer and the hope more sure. He died ere the promise was fulfilled, but he left his children a heritage of tents and flocks and herds, and a heritage more precious still—a faith and an example.
I. Such was the ancient history of Israel, and it was never forgotten. The Jews in after generations looked back to it with wonder and pride, and it served them as an emblem of human life. They recognised in that long and weary wandering a parable of the hungry-hearted life of the children of men. 'We are strangers before Thee,' they said, 'and sojourners, as were all our fathers'; 'Here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come'. And the entrance into the Promised Land and the winning of the Holy City—that prefigured to them the glad consummation when they should be gathered home to the City of God and the Father's house.
And this, you observe, is the thought which underlies the curious phrase of our text—'the Eternal Tents'. Its peculiarity is that it is what is called a contradiction in terms; for, if there be one thing which less than any other can be predicated of a tent, it is that it is eternal. This is precisely what a tent is not. It is a frail and fleeting thing, pitched today and struck tomorrow, a fitting image of life's transience: 'Mine age is departed, and is removed from me as a shepherd's tent'. Yet Jesus says 'the Eternal Tents'. Had He followed the line of thought familiar to the Jewish imagination, He would have said: 'Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when it shall fail, they may receive you into the Eternal City, the City which hath the foundations'. But no, He gives the phrase this odd turn and says 'into the Eternal Tents,' combining two contradictory ideas—on the one hand, stability, endurance, and, on the other, un-settlement, uncertainty.
II. What would He teach us by this description of heaven. I think He means, in the first place, to disabuse our minds of an idea to which they are prone. He would have us understand that, while there will be rest in heaven, it will not be the rest of inactivity.
And there is another lesson in our text It was not for nothing that the Israelites endured that long ordeal of homeless wandering ere they reached their 'city of habitation'. It was their discipline in faith and courage, their preparation for the heritage which God had appointed for them. And so our earthly life, with all its unrest and weariness and disappointment, is our discipline for the service which awaits us in the City of God.
—David Smith, Man's Need of God, p. 165.
References.—XVI. 9.—W. M. Sinclair, Christ and Our Times, p. 279. T. C. Fry, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 390. E. W. Attwood. Sermons for Clergy and Laity, p. 327. F. B. Woodward, Sermons (1st Series), p. 268. W. C. Wheeler, Sermons and Addresses (2nd Series), p. 134. C. Moinet, The Great Alternative and other Sermons, p. 215. R. F. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 289. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 34; ibid. vol. ix. p. 165. XVI. 10.—J. Keble. Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, pt. i. p. 283. W. Scott Page, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxii. p. 46. XVI. 10-12.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 83. XVI. 11, 12.—J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, pt. i. p. 274. XVI. 11-32.—Expository Sermons on the New Testament, p. 105. XVI. 12.—H. J. Pope, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 281. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. ii. p. 45. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 28. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 91. XVI. 13.—C. Parsons Reichel, Sermons, p. 341.
One inevitable characteristic of modern war is, that it is associated throughout, in all particulars, with a vast and most irregular formation of commercial enterprise. There is no incentive to Mammon-worship so remarkable as that which it affords. The political economy of war is now one of its most commanding aspects.... Even apart from the fact that war suspends, ipso facto, every rule of public thrift, and tends to sap honesty itself in the use of the public treasure for which it makes such unbounded calls, it therefore is the greatest feeder of that lust of gold which we are told is the essence of commerce, though we had hoped it was only its occasional besetting sin.
—W. E. Gladstone.
Why, Mammon sits before a million hearths,
Where God is bolted out from every house.
A young lady, sitting next Tennyson one evening at a dinner-party, spoke contemptuously of a certain marriage as a very penniless one. The poet rummaged in his pocket till he managed to extract a penny, which he slapped down loudly on the table at her side, crying, 'There, I give you that That is the God you worship!'
Commerce has set the mark of selfishness,
The signet of its all-enslaving power
Upon a shining ore, and called it gold.
Before whose image bow the vulgar great,
The vainly rich, the miserable proud,
The mob of peasants, nobles, priests, and kings,
And with blind feelings reverence the power
That grinds them to the dust of misery.
But in the temple of their hireling hearts
Gold is the living god, and rules in scorn
All earthly things but virtue.
—Shelley's Queen Mab.
Men must be the slaves either of duty or of force.
There was a laughing Devil in his sneer,
That raised emotions both of rage and fear,
And where his frown of hatred darkly fell,
Hope withering fled, and mercy sigh'd farewell.
—Byron, The Corsair.
'I do not recollect,' says Washington Irving, after a visit to Sir Walter Scott, 'a sneer throughout his conversation, any more than there is throughout his works.'
Reference.—XVI. 14-18.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 183.
'I often have a kind of waking dream,' Dean Church once wrote to a friend. 'Up one road the image of a man decked and adorned as if for a triumph, carried up by rejoicing and exulting friends, who praise his goodness and achievements; on the other road, turned back to back to it, there is the very same man himself, in sordid and squalid apparel, surrounded not by friends but by ministers of justice, and going on, while his friends are exulting, to his certain and perhaps awful judgment. The vision rises when I hear, not just and conscientious endeavours to make out a man's character, but when I hear the loose things that are said—often in kindness and love—of those beyond the grave.'
References.—XVI. 16.—Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 156. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 31; ibid. vol. x. p. 8; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 379. XVI. 16-24.—Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 100. XVI. 17.—Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 371. XVI. 17-19.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 79. XVI. 18.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 70; ibid. (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 103. XVI. 19.—C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 333. Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 175. XVI. 19, 20.—J. H. Jowett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 97. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons (2nd Series), p. 224. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. i. p. 291.
After describing the profligate luxury of the Court of Louis the Great, Thackeray (in The Four Georges, 1.) adds: 'A grander monarch, or a more miserable starved wretch than the peasant his subject, you cannot look on. Let us bear both these types in mind, if we wish to estimate the old society properly. Remember the glory and the chivalry? Yes!... But round all that royal splendour lies a nation enslaved and ruined; there are people robbed of their rights—communities laid waste—faith, justice, commerce, trampled on, and wellnigh destroyed.'
Compare Professor Villari's account of the castle of Ferrara: 'That grim, quadrangular building,' with 'subterranean dungeons guarded by seven gratings from the light of day. They were full of immured victims, and the clanking of chains and groans of human beings in pain could be heard from their depths, mingling with the strains of music and ceaseless revelry going on above, the ringing of silver plate, the clatter of majolica dishes, and clinking of Venetian glass.'
There is a greater army
That besets us round with strife,
A starving, numberless army,
At all the gates of life.
The poverty-stricken millions
Who challenge our wine and bread,
And impeach us all as traitors,
Both the living and the dead.
And whenever I sit at the banquet,
Where the feast and song are high,
Amid the mirth and the music
I can hear that fearful cry.
And hollow and haggard faces
Look into the lighted hall,
And wasted hands are extended
To catch the crumbs that fall.
Very sensitive people, who cannot overcome their sensibility, are perforce selfish in this world of pain. They must forget that there is suffering. Their pity makes them cruel. They cannot bear the sight of suffering; they must shut the door upon it. If he is a Dives, such a man must first of all insist that the police shall prevent people like Lazarus, covered with sores, from lying in plain sight at the gate. Such men must treat pain as, in these days of plumbing, we treat filth. We get the plumber and the carpenter to hide it so well that even our civilised nostrils shall not be offended. That we call modern improvement in house-building. Even so we get the police to hide suffering from us; and, when that help fails, or is inapplicable, we appeal to the natural sense of decency in the sufferers, and demand, on the ground of common courtesy, that they shall not intrude their miseries upon us.
—Prof. Royce, The Religious Aspect of Philosophy, pp. 99, 100.
References.—XVI. 19-21.—A. P. Stanley, Sermons on Special Occasions, p. 127. XVI. 19-31.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 465; ibid. vol. viii. p. 121. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 101. XVI. 22.—S. H. Fleming, Fifteen Minute Sermons for the People, p. 57. W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 123.
The Fatal Power of Inattention
There is a well-known picture by Gustave Doré, which portrays this parable of the rich man and the beggar. We are shown the rich man in the midst of Oriental luxury, and at the foot of the marble steps the diseased Lazarus. So far the picture is worthy of the genius; but Doré has introduced one other feature which shows that he has misread the Saviour's story. Over the beggar an Eastern slave is bending with a scourge of twigs in his uplifted hand. He has been bidden drive Lazarus away, for his misery is as a death's head at the feast. And Doré is wrong in introducing that, for our Lord does not hint that Dives was disturbed—he was not consciously and deliberately cruel; he was only totally and hopelessly indifferent. What wrought the ruin of that pleasure-lover was not inhumanity so much as inattention. The attitude of innumerable people toward the great questions of the religious life is just the inattentive attitude of the rich man to Lazarus at his gate.
I. How perilous the inattentive spirit is we have only to open our eyes to see. (1) It is one of the lessons that reach us every day as we walk through the crowded streets of a great city. Readers of Marcus Aurelius will remember how he bases the art of life upon attention. (2) Again we might throw light upon the matter by considering the common laws of health. You never meet a man who hates these laws, or breaks them in a spirit of rebellion. But you meet many who are inattentive, and who constantly and recklessly neglect them. Whatever other functions pain may have, one is that it serves to fix attention.
II. I wish now to say a word or two on some of the causes of this inattention. (1) Perhaps the commonest cause of all is custom. 'One good custom doth corrupt the world,' and it does so, because it lulls to sleep. It is a bad thing to grow accustomed to the wrong. (2) Another cause of inattention is a lowered vitality. When we are weary, and the flame of life is low, somehow we can neither grasp nor grip. 'I am come to give abundant life,' says Christ, and to give it here and now, and not tomorrow. Do you not see, then, how fellowship with Christ wakens a man's attention to the highest? (3) But the deepest cause of inattention is still to seek. The deepest cause of it is lack of love. Love is quick to see the need of others, and to read what is hidden from a thousand eyes, and to discern beyond the veil the things that matter; for only he who loveth, knoweth God.
—G. H. Morrison, The Wings of the Morning, p. 174.
References.—XVI. 23.—S. H. Fleming, Fifteen Minute Sermons for the People, p. 61. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 239. XVI. 23-25.—Ibid. (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 132.
I. The parable teaches, first, that if we dedicate our lives to the good things of this world, we shall forfeit the good things of the next. This is written in broad and deep lines throughout the picture, and if this is not intended as a serious truth, then the whole parable is a mischief and a snare. Earthly greatness gives no warrant of heavenly greatness. We may most truly possess the present life by living for the next, but we cannot gain a drop of cold water in the next by living for this. If we store up our good things in this life, death will make us bankrupt. This is the first solemn lesson of the parable, this is the unchanging law of righteousness.
II. The lesson goes still further, and teaches that self-gratification in this life will be followed by the retribution of anguish in the next. The subtle explanation of future pain as being nothing more than the gnawings of the sinner's conscience—an evasion intended to deny the direct infliction of retribution by the hand of God—will certainly not satisfy the picture given in this parable. The rich man has entered into a state and into circumstances in which pain is inflicted upon him. The retribution of our sin is not left to our own conscience in this life. Why, then, should we imagine that it will receive no direct punishment in the life to come? What, then, will be the form which such retribution will take? Thank God, I do not know. It is enough to know that the God of love is a consuming fire to the ungodly. Terrible is He in righteousness. Let us, therefore, fear Him.
III. The parable further teaches that the most un-honoured condition of earthly life cannot exclude from the most honourable status in the heavenly life. Poverty and affliction on earth are not a sign of God's displeasure.
IV. The parable, further, emphasises the genuine continuity of this life with the next. The life beyond death will be related to the life here with as perfect continuity as our life today is related to that of yesterday. Continuity is also taught here in the form of immediateness. Jesus teaches in this parable that judgment and reward begin immediately after death. It is true that the consummation of penalty and reward cannot come till the completion of His kingdom, but the beginnings do not tarry.
—John Thomas, Concerning the King, p. 154.
About eleven I preached at Elsham. The two persons who are the most zealous and active here are the steward and the gardener of a gentleman, whom the minister persuaded to turn them off unless they would leave 'this way'. He gave them a week to consider of it; at the end of which they calmly answered, 'Sir, we choose rather to want bread here, than to want "a drop of water" for ever'.
—Wesley's Journal for April, 1764.
References.—XVI. 24.—W. J. Hills, Sermons and Addresses, p. 72. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 9. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 340.
You recollect, of course, that these words are put into the mouth of Father Abraham in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. I need hardly do more than recall the barest outlines of that story of a rich man, who was evidently a selfish man, certainly an unobservant man in the most charitable judgment, and obviously lived for himself and 'did' himself, as we should say today, well, and the story of a beggar who lay at his gate. Not only does it give us at least a picture of a day in their common lives, but it lifts the veil and gives a picture of the future of the two men in the eternal world—the one comforted the other tormented. The one tormented, and rightly so, proffers a request to Abraham for a slight alleviation of his pains, and this is part of the answer, 'Son, remember'.
I. The Sin of Inattention, not merely inattention with regard to the cry of Lazarus at the gate, but inattention to the real facts of life, the great facts of salvation, of Christ's life and death, the great fact of His Gospel call with which we have been familiar all our days, is the crying, the universal sin of today. And I deduce this, I think quite rightly, from what the Saviour said here and the confirmation of daily observation. For a man's quality is wholly determined by the things he takes notice of.
'Son, remember' that the things with which thou art most commonly familiar will be thy condemnation if they are unacted on. It may have been that there were other things which claimed this man's attention—so much business to be ordered, so many reins and strings to be held in steady command—that he had no surplus mind to give to that poor man's need. It certainly is so with regard to the things of Christ. There is so much competition, there is so much of the battle and of the element of warfare in business and in professional life. There is so much to do in making ends meet that actually we have no time seriously to set our hearts on to the things that belong unto our peace. But in the name of God, I pray you, 'Son, remember'.
II. What a Wonderful Power Memory is!—I suppose it is the strongest power and the most inexplicable of any of which you or I are either master or servant, for it is very doubtful if a man is ever master of his own memory, if he is anything but a slave to his memory—memory with its subtle power of destroying time and space in a lightning flash, memory with its power of recollecting things long ago dead and buried, memory with its total disregard of the conventions, and which intrudes upon our holiest moments thoughts of sins. It is a wonderful power, the power of memory; but wonderful as it is, the Word of God leaves me in no doubt as to this—that death will intensify it, that death will increase its strength. Death intensifies the power of memory, the consciousness of those things of which it is conscious now, though it would fain forget the fact. The only thing that death does is to bring out the things we try to hide, and the colours we try to paint out. This is the import of the Saviour's words in this parable, 'Son, remember'; you will never be able to do other than remember. This is what the eternal world will mean to thee. All that dreadful power of memory will increase in strength and possibility, and the eternal memory of a lifelong forgetfulness will be the worm that dies not and the fire that is not quenched. 'Son, remember.' And the Word of God makes it plain to me that memory will be the foundation of heaven's joy. For hearken, hearken to the song of the redeemed, hearken to those whose joy is made perfect in His presence. What inspires their song? Memory. 'Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood... unto Him be glory.' 'Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.' Yes, memory is the foundation of heaven's blessedness, and memory is the foundation of the eternal remorse of those who, like the rich man, are to reap the harvest of a life of heedless, careless, indifferent inattention. 'Son, remember.'
References.—XVI. 25.—Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 376. F. St. John Corbett, The Preacher's Year, p. 109. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii. p. 19. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 107. XVI. 26.—S. Cox, Expositions, p. 155. J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, pt. i. p. 20. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix. No. 518. XVI. 27-28.—T. H. Ball, Persuasions, p. 249. S. H. Fleming, Fifteen Minute Sermons for the People, p. 65. XVI. 29-31.—W. E. Barton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 179. XVI. 30.—H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1496, p. 105. XVI. 30-31.—J. C. M. Bellew, Christ in Life: Life in Christ, p. 134. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 507.
I. Our Lord seeks to paint in this parable a series of solemn, dramatic contrasts that shall startle, if it may be, these Pharisees out of their complacent selfishness. (1) He first sketches the contrast between Dives and Lazarus in life, a contrast the more impressive because the painter does not bring his two figures together from the opposite ends of the earth, or even from east and west of the same city only. Lazarus gasping in the shadow of the gateway, and the purple drapery of Dives moving behind the blossom and leafage of the courtyard in the hall beyond, might have been seen by the passer-by from the same point of view; so it is no outburst of eccentric idealism that leads the painter to put two such figures on one canvas. (2) Christ now paints another contrast, a contrast dealing not with the things that are seen and temporal, but with the things that are unseen and eternal. The contrast is resumed beyond the grave, but the figures are transposed. The next world has its contrasts as well as this. (3) A contrast of character underlies this picture. Little is told us of the beggar beyond the contrast in character implied in the name chosen to describe him; Lazarus or 'God my helper'. The rich man's life was turned away from God, and turned towards himself; the beggar's was turned away from himself and turned towards God.
II. The parable or allegory passes from the dramatic into the didactic stage. (1) It teaches that in vain are the destinies of a lost soul appealed to the court of natural affection. Those destinies cannot be reversed or modified by mere relationship to Abraham. The rich man, with the true instinct of a Pharisee, turns for help in Hades to his great ancestor Abraham. The vain confidence of the Pharisee is abroad in our own day. The creed of Universalism, which makes God a mere synthesis of our flesh and blood relations, and affirms that His infinite Fatherhood will never suffer a single human soul to finally perish, is but a modernised Pharisaism set free from tribal limitations. (2) The parable asserts that the contrasts of the hereafter are maintained by the inexorable necessities of the Divine government. 'Beside all this, there is a great gulf fixed.' The chasm that formed itself in life has been made impassable by a Divine decree. (3) The parable intimates that the permanence of the contrasted destinies in the life beyond the grave is certified by the permanence of human character. If Christ had meant to hold out the faintest hope of final restoration, He would have so turned and shaped the dialogue that it would have exhibited progress rather than retrogression in the temper of this lost spirit. (4) This parable teaches that these final contrasts in the destinies of the future life rest upon a common probation in this. It is a part of the Pharisaism of human nature to claim, as the rich man claimed, that the probation is very imperfect. But God has His answer ready in every history. God will have His method of dealing with men who have had an imperfect probation. That method is no concern of yours. You cannot claim to enter that category. At the very least, you have sufficient light for your repentance.
Luke 16:31I. God has done all that can be done.
II. The reason for men's rejection is wholly in themselves. Faith is an act of the will, not of the understanding. Hence the sole cause of unbelief lies in the man himself. 'Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life.'
III. God will do no more.
References.—XVI. 31.—Bishop Boyd-Carpenter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 66. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. iii. p. 224. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 232. H. Windross, Preacher's Magazine, vol. v. p. 32. Archbishop Temple, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 401. G. Bellett, Parochial Sermons, p. 228. H. Howard, The Raiment of the Soul, p. 177. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 344. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. No. 143. J. H. Jellett, The Elder Son, pp. 15 and 30. K. C. Anderson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 332. XVII.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 114. XVII. 1.—F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 177. XVII. 1, 2.—H. H. Almond, Sermons by a Lay Head Master, p. 193. XVII. 2.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 289; ibid. (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 210.
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.
Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
So he called every one of his lord's debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?
And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
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.
If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?
No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.
And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.
The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.
And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.
Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.
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.