Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
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") (ver. 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.
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. (Ver. 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. (Vers. 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. (Vers. 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. (Ver. 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.
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.). 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.
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 (ver. 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" (ver. 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" (ver. 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.
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 ver. 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.
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.
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.). 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.
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. (Ver. 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. (Ver. 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. (Vers. 22, 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. (Vers. 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. (Vers. 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.
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.
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 (it may be taken) 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.
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.
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.